Year A – The Third Sunday of Easter – Psalm 116:1–4, 12–19

Psalms 116:1–4, 12–19: I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my supplications. 2 Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live. 3 The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. 4 Then I called on the name of the LORD: “O LORD, I pray, save my life!”  12 What shall I return to the LORD for all his bounty to me? 13 I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD, 14 I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people. 15 Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful ones. 16 O LORD, I am your servant; I am your servant, the child of your serving girl. You have loosed my bonds. 17 I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice and call on the name of the LORD. 18 I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people, 19 in the courts of the house of the LORD, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the LORD!

Summary – Psalm 116 is a deliverance Psalm which is cited in the New Testament in several places (2Cor. 4; Rom. 3). It pictures the righteous man who loves the Covenant Lord and calls out to Him. This man is trapped, snared in death, but He calls for God to save him and deliverance comes. The writers asks, how can I repay the Lord? The answer is lifting up the cup of salvation and paying vows in the presence of the people. This Psalm includes a beautiful verse regarding the death of believers: “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful ones.” The psalmist uses this to note, “O LORD, I am your servant.” In other words, my death is very precious. The writer will offer sacrifices of thanksgiving in the House of the Lord. The shape of this Psalm is very Messianic. God delivers Jesus from the cords of death (after death) and Jesus lifts up the cup of salvation with His disciples on the day of resurrection.

Insight – Many people today use credit cards and so get something we want and then pay for it later (not always a good way to do it). We may have to pay in installments over months (or years) to “pay off” what we have received. The idea of “repayment” is one of the strong themes in this Psalm. It is the response of the psalmist to the Lord’s rescue and deliverance. “What shall I return to the LORD for all his bounty to me?” God’s goodness and mercy is so overwhelming, how can I repay Him? But of course there is no repayment of grace or else it is not grace at all, it is “works.” The answer of the psalmist shows the true nature of delighting in the Lord. The psalmist will delight in the cup of salvation. He will give thanks with joy in the presence of the people of God. Paying vows with a thanksgiving sacrifice meant a sacrificial meal which was a way to give thanks to God for His goodness. Since in the is rite, the sacrificial animal must be eaten on the same day (Lev. 7:15), this implies (given the amount of food) that it required family, friends, and even the poor, to participate in this celebratory meal. When we realize the salvation-deliverance that we have in Christ, we too can only respond with joy and thanksgiving at the Table of the Lord. Our “repayment” in joy in Christ and a heart of thanks.

Child’s Catechism – How do we repay the Lord for our salvation? We cannot repay Him; we can only rejoice and give thanks in His presence.

Discussion – What are some celebratory meals that your family enjoys? Do they have a mood of thanksgiving? If not, plan one.

Prayer – Collect for Third Sunday of Easter – O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Year C – Seventh Sunday in Easter – Psalm 97

Psalm 97 (NRSV)

The Lord is king! Let the earth rejoice;
let the many coastlands be glad!
Clouds and thick darkness are all around him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
Fire goes before him,
and consumes his adversaries on every side.
His lightnings light up the world;
the earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,
before the Lord of all the earth.

The heavens proclaim his righteousness;
and all the peoples behold his glory.
All worshipers of images are put to shame,
those who make their boast in worthless idols;
all gods bow down before him.
Zion hears and is glad,
and the towns of Judah rejoice,
because of your judgments, O God.
For you, O Lord, are most high over all the earth;
you are exalted far above all gods.

10 The Lord loves those who hate evil;
he guards the lives of his faithful;
he rescues them from the hand of the wicked.
11 Light dawns for the righteous,
and joy for the upright in heart.
12 Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous,
and give thanks to his holy name!

Summary – Psalm 97 triumphantly declares God’s kingly reign over the whole earth, demonstrated in the mighty working of the Holy Spirit in bringing false religion to an end, providing justice and deliverance for God’s people, which results in their joy and gladness. The psalm divides itself into four portions, each containing three. The psalm is divided into four portions, each containing three verses. The reign of God and the coming of His kingdom in the earth is described (Ps 97:1-3); its effect upon the earth is declared (Ps 97:4-6); and then its influence upon the heathen and the people of God is illustrated (Ps 97:7-9). The last part urges us to holiness, gladness, and thanksgiving (Ps 97:10-12).

 

Insight – Verse 2 says, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.” What is righteousness, and what is justice? When the Bible talks about God’s righteousness it refers to God’s goodness and moral perfection. God is the source of all good, and there is no evil or wrong doing in Him. All that He does, and all that He is, is good. Righteousness also means that God is faithful. That means that God keeps His promises. He always tells the truth, and He does what He says He will do, and He means what He says and says what He means. So righteousness means God is good, and he always tells the truth. Justice is very similar to righteousness. Righteousness refers to who God is in Heaven, and Justice is the outworking of God’s righteousness on earth. God judges our thoughts, words, and actions based upon His own perfection. God is fair.

The problem for us is that we are sinners, and we have told lies, and we have done wrong. So if God is going to judge us according to His righteousness, and if we are to get justice, then that means we will all be punished, because none of us are perfect.

But God provided a substitute for us, Jesus Christ, to stand in our place. Instead of God judging all of us, He judges one person for us all. We all deserve to be punished, but because God is fair, God has to punish someone. And Because God is merciful, He punished Jesus instead of us. Because Jesus took our punishment, our punishment is now gone! And Because He lives forever, we will live forever too. We can see that the foundation of God’s throne is righteousness and justice, and that is because Jesus Christ Himself is the righteous one who satisfies God’s justice.  Praise God for His amazing grace and mercy for providing a way for sinners to to be right with Him.

Catechism – What is the foundation of God’s throne? Righteousness and justice.

Discussion – Discuss further how Jesus satisfied God’s demand for justice. Discuss how God’s goodness and truthfulness (righteousness) are important to the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Prayer – O Holy, Righteous Judge of all the earth, You have created the world in order that you might save it. You have demonstrated your love to us by sending forth Your Son Jesus to be our Savior. Please grant us Your Holy Spirit, that we would trust in Jesus and in Your promises, which You have made to us in Your Holy Word, that we would rejoice and be glad at your righteousness and justice, and thus be saved. In Jesus name. Amen.

Submitted by Michael Shover

Year C – The Fourth Week of Lent – Luke 151-3,11-32

Gospel Lesson – Luke 15:1-3,11-32 NRSV

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable:

11 Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on.27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31 Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

Summary – This classic story is known to us as “The Prodigal Son.” While most of the narrative is fixed on the wayward son, the real “moral of the story” has to do more with the father’s forgiveness than with the younger son’s repentance. In the story the father symbolizes God. The prodigal son symbolizes the tax collectors and sinners of verse 1 specifically, and generally all who are lost in sin. The elder brother symbolizes the self righteous Scribes and Pharisees of verse 1, or anyone for that matter who claims to serve God, while resenting the fact that God forgives sinners. Jesus’ teaching is simple and powerful – through God’s gracious and unmerited forgiveness, those who are lost in sin and not worthy to be considered sons, are restored to son-ship and made heirs of the kingdom. We should rejoice.

Insight – While rummaging through the pig slop looking for food, the lost son realizes his self inflicted predicament. He comes to his senses, and goes home and tells his father, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your slaves.” The younger son was an heir, but he spurned that blessing, and lost it. He repented, and was content to being only a slave in his Father’s house. His father was not content with him being a slave though, and restores him to his status as a son and an heir. The older son, though externally faithful, was an heir, and yet did not recognize the blessings he had. Rather he considered himself a slave (v. 29). Through anger, un-thankfulness, resentment, and self-righteousness, the older son that was an heir found himself not on the inside feasting with his long lost brother and his father, but rather on the outside (v. 28). He had refused to go into the feast, and thus he had disinherited himself from the blessings of his father.

This Lenten season, let us be reminded once again what Galatians 4 says, “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Gal. 4:6-7). True sons repent. True sons are thankful. True sons count their blessings and do not consider their service to God as slavery. Therefore be encouraged that you are an heir of God, and that you have the Spirit of His Son given to you at your baptism. But take heed, lest your heart becomes deceitful and wicked and unthankful and resentful at God’s goodness toward you and towards others. If not checked now, you might not have opportunity to check it later. Then you might just find yourself on that final day, just like the older son, on the outside of the feast looking in. Take the time now and confess your sins, be thankful that you are one of God’s children, and that you have other brothers and sisters to feast with in the kingdom of God, especially your Big Brother, Jesus who purchased the feast, and your adoption, with his own blood.

Catechism – Why is the Lord’s Supper a celebratory meal? Because we were once dead, but have come to life, we were lost, and have been found.

Discussion – Discuss the importance of repentance and thankfulness, and the relationship that has to being a son and an heir of God.

Prayer – O Lord, our Father, we give you thanks and praise for all that you have done for us. We were dead, and your Spirit made us to live. We were lost, and you found us. We were hungry, and you feed us with the spiritual food of the most precious body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. You prepare a feast for us when we deserve to eat with the pigs. You embrace us anew with love and joy, even after we rejected you and spurned our inheritance. Thank you so much Father for loving us, and giving us the Spirit of your Son Jesus, that we might cry to you, Abba, Father. In your Son’s name we pray. Amen.

Submitted by Michael Shover

Year C – Transfiguration – Psalm 138

Summary-Psalm 138 in its metrical form comes from the Genevan Psalter which recently celebrated its 450th birthday just last year.  The Protestant Reformation brought many changes to how God was worshiped by His people.  For over a thousand years, church members could not understand the Bible as it was read to them in Latin.  Reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin worked tirelessly to translate the Bible into such languages as French and German, so that people could hear and understand for themselves what was being read each Lord’s day from the pulpit.  Another triumph of the Reformation was the inclusion of the congregation in singing the psalms.  They no longer needed trained choirs to hear the psalms chanted in Latin.  Now everyone could lift up their voices and praise God through the singing of the psalms in their own language.  This psalm, written in English, is a testimony to our reformed forebearers’ dedication in equiping us to lift up praises to God in music.  

Insight–Do you know the difference between a christian, and an atheist?  The answer can be summed up with one word–gratitude.  We see many people in the world who receive God’s blessings.  The Bible tells us that God showers these blessings from above on both the righteous and unrighteous.  The big difference between the two is not what they get, but how they respond.  Psalm 138 is a song written by David to help us respond rightly to our Heavenly Father in worship by saying thank you to Him.  King David commands us to thank God with all our hearts, to sing forth our praises, “because He loved us and is faithful to us” (v 2).  The word for love here is “hesed” or God’s covenant love.  David may have originally written this psalm in response to God’s covenant blessing promised to him in 2 Sam 7.  He may have written it for the many times that God saved David from his enemies.  Whatever the reason, this psalm repeatedly tells us to say, “thank you.”  We sing, “thank you”, as we are saved from our enemies.  We say, “thank you” when God delivers us from anger of our foes.  We say, “thank you” for everything that God provides, for His faithfulness to His promises, for his love.  He promises to be our covenant God.  As we sing this psalm of praise, give thanks to God that you can sing it in your own language.  It is indeed a blessing to be able to do so.

Contributed by Mike Fenimore

Year B – Proper 21 – Now Thank We All Our God

The well know celebratory hymn, Now Thank We All Our God, sounds jubilant as though it was written in a time of prosperity and plenty. But it was  written as a result of the terrible and tragic Thirty Years War by Martin Rinkart, a Lu­ther­an min­is­ter, was in Eil­en­burg, Sax­o­ny. Like scenes from the last few decades in Africa, this city saw a great torrent of refugees with broken lives. Plague and famine were everywhere and pastors conducted dozens of funerals every day. At one point the Swiss Army surrounding the city required a high ransom but Rinkart pleaded with them to lower their required ransom and they did. Shortly after that the war ended and Pastor Rinkart wrote this hymn for a celebration. This is truly a hymn of thanksgiving for God’s mercy and Pastor Rinkart’s voice used once for pleading to the Swiss is preserved in this grateful hymn of praise.

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessèd peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.