Year A – Lent 4 – John 9:1-41

John 9:1–41 – As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” 13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” 18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” 24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out. 35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

Summary – This story in John’s gospel highlights Jesus’ work in healing a man born blind. The Gospel of John is a marvelous exposition of “Signs” that call for faith. They are arranged as follows:

The Seven + One New Creation (Signs in John)
1. New Creator: Water into wine (2:1-11)
2. Redeemer/Healer: Prevents death of nobleman’s son (4:46ff)
3. True Sabbath: The paralyzed man at the pool (5:2-9) GO SIN NO MORE
4. Bread of Life: Multiplication of loaves (6:1-14)
5. Light of the World: Born blind, healed on Sabbath (9:1-7) IT WAS NOT HIS SIN
6. Resurrection & Life: Delays/death then raises Lazarus (11:1-44)
7. Living Water: Water & blood on the cross (19:34-35)
+ 8. New Adam/Gardener: The resurrection (20:1-29) “First Day” (8th Day)

From this you can see that both the 3rd and the 5th sign have to do with the Sabbath. In the early part, the disciples question whose fault this blindness is: his or his parents? Of course, if the man were born blind . . .  how could his own sin cause state at birth? It seems that perhaps they were somewhat muddled in their thinking. Jesus corrects them. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”However it is clear that is some cases one’s sin can affect him in drastic ways (see 5:2-9). The rest of the story reveals the glory of God through this astounding sign in John.

Insight – This Gospel reading is an amazing and even amusing story. This blind man received his sight from Jesus, but the Pharisees who claimed to have sight (so as to lead others) could only “see” a Sinner. Their system of righteousness which included Sabbath-work kept them from seeing what was right in front of their face. The righteous (but) blind Pharisees reasoned that, “This man [Jesus] is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.” The unrighteous (but) seeing man (healed by Jesus) reasoned, “If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.” For a while the Pharisees were in power, so they used that power to perform the first excommunication in the New Testament, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us? So they put him out [of the synagogue].”

Child’s catechism – Who is Jesus? Jesus is the light of the world.

Discussion – Can you say with the blind man and John Newton (in Amazing Grace), “I once was blind, but now I see”?

Prayer – O Lord, thank you for opening our eyes to see the light of your glory. Help us to love you more and to walk in your light. Amen.

Year A – Lent 3 – John 4:5-42

John 4:5–42 – So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. 7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” 27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 30 They left the city and were on their way to him. 31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” 39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

Summary – 1) The Well Source – The “woman at the well” passage in John 4 is well known for several key teachings: Jesus gives living water; worship in spirit and truth; fields are white for harvest; and one sows and another reaps. All of these new covenant teachings demonstrate the main theme of John: see Jesus in these signs and actions and believe. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (1:12).  2) The Well Example – John 4 gives unlikely model of faith: a serial adulterer, Samaritan woman, then her townsfolk. The Samaritans were despised mongrels (1Kgs. 17:25ff) who engaged in worship on Mt. Gerizim until the destruction of their temple in 128 BC (by Jewish Hasmonians) and again in 52 AD. Samaritans were despised by Jews. “Good Samaritan” was an oxymoron. This is another proof that John shows glory unveiled in Jesus, speaking louder than impressive powers and worldly testimony. This sinful woman was thoroughly unqualified to be a witness on Law and Order. Yet, she is more effective in sharing her faith than anyone else in this Gospel.

Insight – Are you like this woman? Or are you like the Pharisees that Jesus left? Jesus gives living water to those who trust in Him. This water quenches the thirst of the soul for an actual Savior of the world (v42); while leaving dry-mouthed those who seek a Pharisaic legalistic “messiah.” Before a person receives this water, whether Pharisee or Prostitute, they must come to actually see with their sin. They acknowledge: “I have no husband.” Jesus must say, “this you have said truly.” Therefore: We must deal with a person’s deepest need before the lesser magistrates of sin. You can’t clean yourself up and come to Jesus. Come just as you are, honestly, and letting go of all pride. Do you have this water from Jesus?

Discussion – Have you gone to the well? Would you let her represent you?

Prayer – Collect for the Third Sunday of Lent: Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Year A – Lent 2 – John 3:1-17

John 3:1–17  – Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Summary –  Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews discusses Christ’s Messianic ministry (v. 2) and the “kingdom of God” (vv. 3, 5) with Jesus. Many hearers are stuck in wooden and dumb literalisms (e.g., “destroy this temple,” ch. 2). Here Nicodemus misunderstands this “new birth” as a literal natural birth. Jesus is describing a spiritual renewal. The word in“again” (v3) in the popular phrase “born again” in Greek is anothen. It often means “from above” rather than “again.” Hence the NRSV has it as born from “above,” just as John 19:11 – “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above” (anothen, 19:11). We have new life from Spirit of heaven “above.” a) The cross as the basis of our kingdom acceptance (v15); b) God’s love is the motivation for kingdom salvation (v16); c) God’s kingdom purpose is that the world might be saved (v17).

Insight – Jesus came to bring a new age. Being “born again” relates to the Messianic kingdom of God. Elsewhere it is called the “regeneration,” or the new world (palingenesia, lit. “rebirth,” Matt. 19:28). Here the same idea is in “born again/from above.” Nicodemus should have known this (v. 10). This was not “new revelation” (e.g., Ezek. 36:26, Jer. 31:33). In Isaiah 59:19–60:4ff, the essential terms and concepts of this dialogue are found: “For He will come like a rushing stream, which the wind of the LORD drives. And a Redeemer will come to Zion. . . . My Spirit which is upon you. . . . Nations will come to your light.” Jesus calls for faith in Himself because He is the unique (only-begotten) Son of God (vv. 16-18). God’s action in sending Christ was “that the world might be saved through Him.” God’s purpose and intention is expressed as world salvation (1Jn 2). Like many kingdom promises, this can only be fulfilled progressively. Like the mustard seed, the leaven, the growth of the waters covering the sea and entrance of nations into the new Jerusalem, this is best understood as the cumulative outcome of all salvation history.

Child’s Catechism – Can your recite John 3:16? For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Discussion – Do you believe that God is good and that good will be ultimately seen in the world?

Prayer – God of wilderness and water, your Son was baptized and tempted as we are. Guide us through this season, that we may not avoid struggle, but open ourselves to blessing, through the cleansing depths of repentance and the heaven-rending words of the Spirit. Amen.

Year A – Epiphany 7 – Matthew 5:38-48

Matthew 5:38–48 – “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Summary – In the Sermon on the Mount thus far, we have seen 1) the beatitudes that picture character of the Kingdom of Jesus; Jesus embodied these characteristics and in His passion and death he was denied all of the blessings of the beatitudes. poor in spirit (humble), who are mournful (who acknowledge sin), are meek, desire righteousness, are merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, persecuted, insulted and are slandered for righteousness sake. 2) Kingdom people that express the character of Jesus are salt and light in the world and they are righteous, beyond the righteousness of hypocritical scribes and Pharisees. In this section, Jesus directly contradicts the teachings of the religious leadership of Israel. This is signaled by a variation of the statement, “You have heard that it was said.”

Matthew 5:21 You have heard that the ancients were told … But I say to you (MURDER VI Commandment)
Matthew 5:27 “You have heard that it was said . . . but I say to you (ADULTERY VII Commandment)
> Matthew 5:31 It was said  . . . but I say to you (DIVORCE IX Commandment)
> Matthew 5:33 you have heard that the ancients were told . . . but I say to you (FALSE VOWS III & IX Commandment)
Matthew 5:38 “You have heard that it was said . . . but I say to you (EYE FOR AN EYE X Commandment)
Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said . . . but I say to you (LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR VI Commandment)

How should we interpret these? Here are three principles: 1) Continuity – Since Jesus did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, we should accept that Jesus is not contradicting Moses or other prophets. Rather, he is contradicting the legalistic interpretation of the Law that came through the Pharisees and scribes. 2) Radicalism in the application of the Law and Prophets – He is taking the Law to the root, not just actions, but motivations, words, emotions. There are many examples of this throughout the Old Testament too, such as Psalms 15:1–3:  “O LORD, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill? 2 He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, And speaks truth in his heart. 3 He does not slander with his tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbor, …Psalms 15:4 He swears to his own hurt and does not change.” 3) Jesus uses hyperbole, an expansion and exaggeration to make a point.  We use these too, “I’ve told you a million times.” “I am so hungry I could eat a horse.” “I have a million things to do.” Jesus does this in this way: “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you … If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off.”

Insight – Unlike the Pharisaic approach which claimed righteousness by not physically murdering and by not physically committing adultery, etc., – we cannot earn anything through  keeping the Law because we regularly  desire, emote, and speak in ways that violate the character of God. It is impossible for sinners to achieve righteousness through the Law. Jesus raised the Standard so high in His interpretation of the Law that we must find another way. That way is His perfect righteousness which we receive by faith.

Discussion – Since we cannot be “perfect” in thought, word, and deed, do we give up seeking to be obedient to God’s Law? How do we live with sin, yet continue in faith and seek to be obedient? [Remember the Collect for this day]

Prayer – O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing; Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

 

Year A – Epiphany 5 – Matthew 5:13-20

Matthew 5:13–20 – “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Summary – This passage can be summarized in three main points: 1) As a kingdom disciple, you must not become a moron (v13). His people are illustrated with two vivid pictures: salt and light. Salt in manifold in its mean. It preserves and flavors food, among other things. During the time of Jesus, salt soil contained many impurities. The actual “salt” (sodium chloride) could dissolve and it was of no use. Salt was a common wisdom image and so the words used for “lost it’s taste” also means to “make foolish” (moraino). The Church is to have an antiseptic and savory influence in society. 2) As a kingdom disciple, you must shine (vv14-16). We are mirrors of the light of Christ. Christ is the very personification of light (John 8:12). All who catch and reflect the light of Christ are themselves called “light” (Eph. 5:8). At least three biblical images arise for the function of light: a) Light dispels darkness (John 1:4-5). b) Light gives guidance (Ps. 119:130). c) Light reveals the reality of sin (Ps. 90:8). 3) As a kingdom disciple, you must stand on the authority of God’s Word in its fulness (vv17-20). The authority of the Old Covenant written Word is not diminished by the Messianic age, but the incompleteness is filled (Heb. 1:1-2). Jesus did this by fulfilling the types and shadows of the old covenant, the “ceremonial law” and the narrative of Israel’s story (Col. 2:17).  Since, we find that many such laws have passed away, e.g., “Thus he declared all foods clean” (Mark 7:19) – this “fulfillment” is related directly to the cross (temple veil torn) and resurrection (new creation) of Christ (2Cor. 5:17; Is. 65). He brought a new “heavens and earth” of the new covenant, and thus, the Torah of Israel has passed away (Gal. 3). We are to affirm the absolute authority of the Word fulfilled in Jesus. In this our righteousness must exceed that of the religious leaders of Israel, scribes and Pharisees.

Insight – When disciples are saline in a bland and rotting world, this comes through in all aspects of our lifestyle, our relationships with neighbors, the service we render in the workplace.  Our faith therefore must be visible in the way we treat family, friends, coworkers, how way we treat our employees or serve our employer, even in how we drive our car.

Discussion – How salty are you? Are you shining the light? Are you standing on the Word of God fulfilled in Christ? Does Christ call for an excessively high standard of righteousness (exceeding the scribes and Pharisees? [No, their righteousness was skin-deep and they were hypocrites (Matt. 23).]

Prayer – Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP Ephany 5)

Year A – Epiphany 4 – Matthew 5:1-12

Matthew 5:1–12  – When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

If you were in the position of the Jews at the time of Christ, you would want to know about the kingdom. In Matthew this is the first instruction on the kingdom. At the end of chapter 4, Jesus announced the kingdom of heaven and called for repentance. Now He explains the character of the kingdom. This is a vision of the kingdom from the lips of our Lord who is represented as prophet and king, the son of David. Note, it was ON THE MOUNTAIN, signifying the prophetic role. He SAT DOWN signifying his kingly position. He TAUGHT WITH AUTHORITY. The kingdom of God transforms the people of God (Dan. 7:13-14) since the kingdom is given to the people of the king (Rev. 11:15). This vision is of a “happy” (Greek: makarioi) people. “Happy” is a little insufficient. But “eulogeo” is really the Greek word that means “blessed.” This word means experiencing the favor of God. Rejoice today because we are called into His presence, not outer darkness, but His presence. We are given eyes through these words to “see God” – to see the character of what God’s kingdom, His rule is to be like. That kingdom has presence now there are also some future tense aspects: “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” and “for they will inherit the earth.”

Insight – These Beatitudes begin with the most important foundation: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This kind of poverty is recognizing that without Christ, we have nothing to commend ourselves before God. He is the Vine and apart from Him, we can do nothing. It is to recognize that no amount of attempts at being righteous by good works or self-effort gets us into the kingdom (Eph. 2:8-9). The first step of faith in the King of this Kingdom is turning away from ourselves to Him. A good example of the contrast between those who are “rich in their own spirits” vs the “poor in spirit” is the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18:10ff).

Child’s Catechism – Who are the first that are blessed? Blessed are the poor in spirit.

Discussion – What is the opposite of being “poor in spirit”? Can you think of examples in our culture today?

Prayer – ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  Amen.

Year A – Epiphany 3 – Matthew 4:12-23

Matthew 4:12–23 – Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16 the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” 17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. 23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

Summary – Christ fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah 9 as he makes his “base of operations” Capernaum, since this place would be the first place enlightened by the ministry of Jesus. Jesus proclaimed repentance since the kingdom was drawing near in Himself. This passage also describes the call of several key apostles: Peter, Andrew, James and John. Jesus promised to make them fishers of men if they followed Him. This passage also reports the beginning of the healing ministry of Jesus. Jesus went throughout the area, ministering in the synagogues, proclaiming the news of the coming kingdom and “curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” This is the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus after His baptism and testing in the wilderness (Mt. 4:1-11).

Insight – It is interesting that the means God chose of sharing the good news of Christ was a dozen feeble disciples, several of whom were common fisherman. God did not have this news first announced in the centers of power in the world. There was an actual “evangelist” that announced in Rome the “good news” to the people, like an anchorman on the news today who would announce in the public square “news” worthy of proclamation. But the gospel of Jesus was not announced by such an evangelist. Rather, the first proclamation about Jesus after His resurrection was by one of these fishermen who had been given the Spirit and had walked with Jesus. It was Peter who would proclaim, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The effect of the Spirit was recognized: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus” (Acts 4:13). Such is the work of God in us to take the ordinary and bring about an extraordinary transformation through His Spirit.

Discussion – What are some ways that God changed Peter in order to bring about his transformation to become the Pentecostal preacher and early church leader?

Prayer – O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the Peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP Epiphany)

Year A – Epiphany 2 – John 1:29-42

John 1:29–42 – The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” 35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

Summary – John recognizes that Jesus is the Christ (1:29-34). The Baptizer’s ministry of baptism through the Jordan was to “manifest” Christ. John confesses that Jesus is the Lamb of God who “takes away our sins” (1Jn. 3:5, Lev. 4:32, and paschal lamb, Ex. 12). The confirmation is that He is One who confers the Holy Spirit since the Spirit is embodied upon Him in the dove. This draws upon the fulfillment of new covenant themes. John confesses He is the “Chosen One” of God or “Son of God.” This passage shows the transitional nature of the Baptizer’s ministry. John was there (lit., “stood,” perf. tense) while Jesus was passing by (pres. tense) which emphasizes the shifting from John’s baptism to the ministry of Jesus. That leads to John’s disciples recognizing that Jesus is the Christ (1:35-39). The calling of the disciples begins with a very understated incident. Two of John’s disciples believe John’s word about Jesus and begin to follow Him (literally walking behind him). Jesus then “turned and saw them following” (v38). Jesus asks an open ended question, “What do you seek”? The response to Him is somewhat encoded. These disciples (probably John himself with Andrew) ask, “Where are do you stay”? They certainly wanted to ask more, just imagine . . . But the question is pregnant. The term for “stay” is significant in John’s writings. It is meno or “abide.” Where does Jesus abide? In the Father (and He is in Me). Jesus bids them to see this for themselves, “Come and see.” In the last part of the passage Peter recognizes that Jesus is the Christ (1:40-42). The Gospel never mentions it, but John himself with Andrew, is the first to receive the Baptizer’s testimony and to “see” where Jesus “abides.” Now Andrew testifies to Simon (Peter). “We have found the Messiah.” So now the disciples are leading others to Jesus. Perhaps at the beginning, they thought the Baptizer was He, but now they have “found” Him. As a result, Simon (Peter) comes to Jesus, just as did John and Andrew. Jesus calls Simon. First he “looks” “into him” (Lk. 22:61) and then names him, “Peter” (rock).

Discussion – Once I was meeting some Chinese college students who had never been in a church, nor read the Bible, and they knew nothing of Christianity. We were in a church fellowship hall which had banners on the wall. One of the banners was, “The Lamb of God.” One Chinese woman turned to me and asked, “Why Lamb? Why not pig or cow?” How would you answer the question, “Why the Lamb of God”?

Prayer – Almighty God and Loving Father, You sent Your only-begotten Son as a sacrificial Lamb for us to die the death we should have died. For this we give you endless praise. Grant that we continually have the joy of knowing that our sins are washed away through the once-for-all work of this Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.

Year A – Epiphany – Matthew 2:1-12

Matthew 2:1–12  – In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” 7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Summary – Most Christians are familiar with the story of Magi coming from the East. We often see the icon’s three kings on camels at this time of year, though the text here does not specify three. In our nostalgic view of Christmas we picture three kings bowing to the newborn Jesus, along with animals and shepherds, and sometimes Santa Claus. The real story is much more dramatic that Christmas pageants. The Gospel of Luke, written to a Rome-wide audience, contrasts the birth of Jesus with the claim of Caesar Augustus claiming to be a god (Lk. 2). But in Matthew (written to Jews) the contrast is between the infamous Herod the Great, titled by Rome as “King of the Jews” (39 BC), and the actual King of the Jews, the Messiah to all nations. Herod the Great is a study in a wicked ruler; he was hated by the Jews of his day. He had many people killed, even his  (favorite) wife and some of his own children. However, he was a major player on the world scene at this time.  He presented many costly presents for the likes of Julius Caesar, Antony, Cleopatra, and most of all, Augustus (Octavius) Caesar. Matthew makes clear that through the prophecies of the Scriptures the birth place of the Messiah could be known and possibly the general time (Mic. 5:2; Dan. 9:24ff). When the Magi found Jesus, probably 1-2 years old at the time (after Jesus was born, v1). They knelt down and worshiped Him and gave Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. God warned them against the evil of Herod and they “went home by another way.” The Magi event is one of the major themes of Epiphany because it is the first hint that the true King of the Jews is actually the Savior of all Nations, the Light of the world.

Insight – There is a well-known song about the visit of the Magi, “We Three Kings” which was written by an Episcopal minster, John Henry Hopkins, Jr. in 1852. The insight that Hopkins put to poetry was that the gifts given have symbolic significance. “Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain,  Gold I bring to crown Him again.” Gold symbolizes Christ’s kingship. “Frankincense to offer have I; Incense owns a Deity nigh.” This aromatic resin was often used in the worship of gods. Finally, a very interesting observation on the last gift. “Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom; Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, Sealed in the stone cold tomb.” The last verse of this carol has reference to the resurrection: “Glorious now behold Him arise; King and God and sacrifice.” (To hear my new version of the tune of this hymn, go here.)

Child’s Catechism – What did the Magi bring to Jesus? Gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Discussion – Many believe the Magi were Persian wise men and star gazers (e.g., from the areas where Daniel lived, current day Iraq). How do you think the Magi knew about Christ?

Prayer – O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the Peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP, Epiphany)

 

Year A – Epiphany 1 – Matthew 3:13-17

Matthew 3:13–17 – Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Summary – Why did Jesus need to baptized? After all Jesus did not need to have His own sins washed away, did He? It’s difficult for us to see the multiple meanings in the rite of baptism. We tend to think only about the washing away of sins, which is a very central part of the meaning, but not the whole picture in the Bible. Christ’s baptism was “to fulfill (plãroõ) all righteousness” (Mt. 3:15). Matthew uses “fulfill” (plãroõ) 16 times. Except for the two cases in which it means “fill” in a quantitative sense (13:48 “full” & 23:32 “fill”), every other usage refers to “fulfilled” Scripture. How did this event fulfill Scripture? John’s baptism of Jesus involved a renewal of Israel, crossing the Jordan (as before with the Red Sea, Joshua, Elijah, and Elisha) to “manifest” the Anointed One, “Christ” (Jn. 1:31, Ps. 2:2). Hebrews teaches Christ was appointed “by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 5:10). He “appoints a Son, made perfect forever” (Heb. 7:28). When did this happen? This happened at Jesus’ baptism (Luke 3:21, 4:18).  John was qualified to be Levitical priest, as was his father (Luke 1:5). However, John did not do his ritual cleansings at the temple, under the corruption of the Sadducees. Levitical priests were appointed through a ritual washing, an anointing with oil, and vesting (clothing) (Ex. 28:41, Num. 3:3). Jesus was consecrated as a priest by John in the baptismal event (Matt. 3:13-17). John is like the “last Levitical priest” who anoints the Melchizedekian High Priest, Jesus. Jesus did not get symbolic oil at a corrupt temple; He received the actual Spirit coming down as a dove. Because of this, “having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth” the Spirit on us (Acts 2:33). This is the meaning of the word, “Christ” (anointed), and it goes back to the event of Jesus’ baptism when He was anointed.

Insight – So do we “follow the Lord” in baptism? Christ’s baptism is a model for us. But not in the way most Baptists think of it. In our baptisms we are cleansed; we “cross” or “pass” into Christ, and we are clothed. In baptism, we gain a new status as adopted sons and daughters of the Father. We are vested with the Spirit and called “sons/daughters” of God. Priestly ordination is a picture of the “royal priesthood” in Christ (1 Pet. 2:9). Our new identity is conferred in baptism, even as it was for Israel in the crossing of the Red Sea (1 Cor. 10:1-4). This is all another way of saying what Paul states definitively. We are “all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27). And yes this can happen to babies!

Child’s Catechism – What happened to us in baptism? We were clothed with Christ.

Discussion – Imagine if you found out that you were the lost child of a king. Now you are being invited to come to the palace and receive recognition of your status. How would that change the way you look at your life?

Prayer – Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen. (BCP)