Year A – Easter Day – Acts 10:34-43

Acts 10:34-43 – Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ-he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’
Summary – Peter is addressing Cornelius and his household, speaking about how Jesus was anointed the Spirit, did miracles and died and rose again. Cornelius will become the first Gentile (and household) to become Christians. The larger purpose of this passage is to induct Gentiles as Gentiles into the Church, and not requiring them to undergo circumcision as proselytes to Judaism. Peter himself needs to see the Spirit baptize these uncircumcised Gentiles, so that he will give testimony that Gentiles do not need to be circumcised prior to baptism (see Acts 15). This becomes clear in the next two verses after our reading: Acts 10:44–45 – “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. 45 All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.”

Insight – Have you ever watched a Jesus film? Around Easter they tend to play on various TV channels. I have not seen them all and I am always a little uncomfortable with the whole depiction of Jesus in film, anyway; but one serious problem is how Christ is shown after the resurrection. Many times Christ makes a mere appearance and has a kind of ghostly sheen. But look at Peter’s testimony: “God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses….” At first glance this sounds like the films get it right, Jesus magically appeared to a few people. But keep reading: “and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” They ate and drank with Jesus after the resurrection. The risen Jesus was no ghost, as He Himself assured the disciples. He was completely able to eat and drink in His resurrection body. In fact this is proof that the kingdom had come because Jesus said of the whole passover meal: Luke 22:16 – “I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And He said of the cup: Matthew 26:29 – “But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” On Easter Sunday, Jesus  “had been made known to [the disciples on the Emmaus road]  in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35). It was specifically the resurrection day eating and drinking that would confirm the kingdom had come in Christ and it was specifically in the breaking of bread that Jesus may be recognized. This is still true, Jesus has pledge His presence in the bread and wine of the Eucharist.

Child’s Catechism – What did Jesus do to prove His kingdom had come? He ate and drank with the disciples after His resurrection.

Discussion – How is feasting a proof of the kingdom?

Prayer – O God, the risen Christ revealed himself to his disciples in the breaking of bread. Feed us with the bread of life and break open our hearts, that we may know him not only in the good news of the scriptures, but risen in the midst of your pilgrim people. Amen.

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Year A – Sixth Sunday of Easter – Acts 17:22-31

Sixth Sunday of Easter
Acts 17:22-31: Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him-though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we too are his offspring.” Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’

Summary – This famous speech given by Paul in Athen on “Mars Hill” demonstrates the apostolic defense of the faith. In speaking to these pagan thinkers, Paul does not appeal to Scripture (as he does in the synagogues), he begins with their own culture as a point of contact. He then moves on to provide a biblical description of the Creator-God which has a certain rational consistency. Essentially, if this is the Creator, then He is not limited to your altar or shrines. He is the one who gives life to all. Now he appeals to the biblical story again in that from one person God made all the nations and is sovereign over them. He did this so we would reach out to find him. Here he once again makes the point of contact some of the poetic words of pagan writers (Epimenides, c.600 B.C. and Aratus, c. 315–240 B.C.). Then Paul moves to call them to account, emphasizing that the proof is that God raised a man (Jesus) from the dead.

Insight – The Christian faith is grounded in the historical events of the OT, leading to the life of Jesus of Nazareth. We proclaim that after a vicarious death for sins, God raised Jesus from the dead and this Jesus ascended to rule from heaven. Therefore, Jesus is Lord. These beliefs are not leaps into the darkness of irrationality. One need not sacrifice the fullest intellectual curiosity for truth in believing this Gospel. God has provided sufficient evidence for all the world to be “without excuse” (anapologetous – “without an apologetic” Rom. 1:20), since He has “furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). On the other hand, men can erect a Standard (“of reason” or “evidence”) which never yields to the Triune God whose existence is the foundation for truth, knowledge, reason, logic and evidence. You can’t get rationality in a universe made by chance. Rationality only makes sense if there is a God to account for it. At the end of Paul’s address, many scoffed over the resurrection. Were they doing so because they had a superior rationality? Paul had already successfully argued that their entire culture was bound in irrational practices (idolatry) since the Creator is not made of metal. Rather, we are God’s offspring and therefore we should expect God to further reveal Himself in a human being and one who showed Himself evidentially to walk in the power of God. The Greeks here did not have a superior Standard of truth; they had a bias against creation/matter/physicality. Only by yielding their alleged Reason and worldview to be examined in the light of the true God’s revelation could they truly come to a higher level of rational understanding.

Child’s Catechism – Where do we live? In Him we live, move, and have our being.

Discussion – What is the greatest intellectual challenge for you to believe the Bible?

Prayer – O LORD, from whom all good things do come; Grant to us thy humble servants, that by thy holy inspiration we may think those things that are good, and by thy merciful guiding may perform the same; through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

Year A – Fifth Sunday of Easter – Acts 7:55-60

Fifth Sunday of Easter
Acts 7:55-60: But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died.

Summary – Despite the tragic subject matter, this is really a precious, tender portrait of Stephen’s death, because of the ministry of Christ to him in the midst of his death (Ps 23:5).  Blessed by the light of Christ’s face shining upon him, literally, Stephen was granted sight of Heaven, and we’re told specifically that he saw Christ ‘standing’ to watch as His faithful servant was attacked.  Did you know that this is the only time in the New Testament where you’ll find Christ ‘standing’ at the right hand of the Father?  He is always otherwise found regally seated there, but not at this moment.  Christ knew the terror of a moment like that and He was not unaffected by it – He was not simply a casual Heavenly observer or disinterested witness. He was moved to His feet.  He’s not a High Priest above being touched by our pains (Heb 4:15).

Insight –  We are called to walk by faith, not by sight (2Cor. 5:7). But there is a time when our faith will be transformed into sight; our vision into beholding. Stephen’s faith was sight at this moment. Christ was risen indeed and not only risen, but ascended and received into the most honored position of Heaven: the right Hand of the Father’s throne. Since Christ was there, it is only through Him that anyone can now approach the Father.  And with the sight of this, Stephen’s heart was no longer troubled.  He not only faced his violent death faithfully, but found the grace to repeat the words of His Savior, praying mercy on his foes . . . a prayer that was  answered, at least in part, through the life of the chief of sinners, to whom we’re also introduced in this passage: Saul, who would become St. Paul.

Child’s Catechism -What did Stephen see? He saw Jesus standing at the right Hand of the Father as his advocate.

Discussion – Why were the men so angry with Stephen?  Specifically, they lost control when he claimed that Christ was at the right hand of the Father, why was this statement so infuriating to them?

Prayer – Merciful Father, our times are in Your good hands.  We praise You for caring for us, Your people, so tenderly.  We praise and thank you for the way you shepherd us through the hardships You have for us.  We praise  You for Your steadfast love and sufficient grace.  And we praise You for giving us a Savior like Christ, Who was acquainted with suffering, and apart from Whom, no one can come to You.  Give us His heart of mercy and cause the light of His face to shine on us in our dark hours we pray, in His name, Amen.

(Contributed by Pastor Ben Rossell)

Year A – Fourth Sunday of Easter – Acts 2:42-47

Fourth Sunday of Easter
Acts 2:42-47: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Summary – Following the blessing of the first fulfilled Pentecost in which over three thousand men were converted, we now have a summary of the life of this Pentecost church in Jerusalem. There are several features of their life together highlighted by Luke: Apostles teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers. Their life together was a community of Word and Sacrament which yielded the fruit of sharing in order to meet all needs.

Insight – Whereas last week, our reading from The Acts provided a wonderful summary of the gospel, this week, we find a golden summary of church life.  There is a refreshing simplicity and balance to the picture of Christ’s Church in her infancy: doctrine and practice; body and soul; outward growth and inward unity. Here Luke seems to be bragging about the believers’ giving.  Christ had taught them that no one would ever give up his family or land without receiving a hundred times back what he lost [Mt 19.29].  He also taught that true generosity occurs when gifts are given to those unable to ever repay [Lk 14.13].  Here is a beautiful portrait of what these things looks like “day by day”.  Lastly, after recently having been challenged to eat as a Christian, what a great summary we have of just that idea in verse 46.  They ate with “glad and generous hearts.” (Insight from Ben Rossell)

Child’s Catechism – To what should Christians devote themselves? To “the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

Discussion – In what ways can we work to help our church toward being more like this picture?

Prayer – Gracious Father it is You Who open Heaven to give rain, sun, and life.  You give health and growth to the dust of the ground and our bodies that came from it.  With these, Your good gifts, we make our bread, tables, and roofs.  Put gladness and generosity in our hearts so that we will be like Your Son, by Whose willing poverty we have been made rich, and in Whose perfect name we pray, Amen.

 

Year A – Third Sunday of Easter – Acts 2:14a, 36-41

Third Sunday of Easter
Acts 2:14a, 36-41: But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.’ Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.

Summary – The first Lesson for this week is once again from Acts 2. This is the first sermon Peter preached on the day of Pentecost. This portion is the climax of the sermon. Peter’s conclusion is that since Christ was raised and has ascended, you should know certainly that God is made Him both Lord and Messiah. This left his hearers asking what they could do to be saved? And the answer was to repent and be baptized in Jesus name, with the explanation from Joel 2 still resonant:  “For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” He exhorted them to separate themselves from “this corrupt generation” who crucified Jesus.

Insight – This is one of the most glorious passages in the entire New Testament.  It is a section of the very first sermon preached in the Church.  What a testimony to the power of the promised Holy Spirit to change human hearts only minutes after He descended from Heaven!  We see His power in Peter’s restored courage: whereas before he shrank in retreat before a single servant girl, he now boldly proclaims the gospel into the faces of thousands of the men of Israel – the same men who [as he loudly points out] crucified Christ.  He was right.  Whereas before they preferred to see a murderer returned to their midst and the innocent Christ tortured to death on a cross, now their hearts were “smitten” and they cried out in desperate repentance.  We are also given a gloriously vivid summary of the gospel: God has made Christ Lord; the only response to this is repentance and baptism in His name; that goes for you, your children, and everyone in the far-away world who will believe.

Child’s Catechism – Are children included in the new covenant promises? Yes, for the “promise is to you and your children and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”

Discussion – Do you sense the power of God’s Spirit in your life – in courage to speak for Christ and in conviction for and repentance from sin?  How did Peter set a good example of Spirit-empowered action?

Prayer – Our Father, we praise You for the gift of Christ and His Spirit.  We praise You for the birth of Your Church and the glory of Your gospel, Your power.  Cause us to understand and love Your gospel more deeply.  Cause us to despise our sin and walk in repentant lives, worthy of a baptism in the name of the Shepherd Who has laid down His life for us, His sheep.  Cause Your Church to continue to grow, glorious and unstoppable, as she has since her Pentecostal birthday.  And make us greatly useful for Your service to that end every day of our lives. Amen.

Contributed by Ben Rossell

Year A – Second Sunday of Easter – Acts 2:14a, 22-32

Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 2:14a, 22-32: But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. ‘You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know- this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. For David says concerning him, “I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover, my flesh will live in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.” ‘Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, “He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.” This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.

Summary – Peter preaches on the day of Pentecost. The name “Pentecost” means 50 because the celebration was on the 50th day after the Firstfruits feast (Lev. 23:16). Peter has been instructed by Christ to wait for the Spirit to come and that has happened (2:2). Now Peter proclaims boldly that Jesus of Nazareth was attested by miracles performed by God’s power and yet He was handed over to be crucified. Note the emphasis, “you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law (e.g., Romans).” But God raised Him up and this was according to the Scriptures. Peter teaches that these passages do not refer to David whose body was buried there. Rather David prophesied about Jesus who is at God’s right hand. We are witnesses of these things.

Insight – Have you ever “witnessed” something “first hand”? Perhaps it was a special event, like seeing the President or meeting a celebrity. Perhaps it was a tragedy, like seeing the Twin Towers being destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001; or even a car crash. In some cases you are called upon to “testify” – to tell as a witness what you saw for legal purposes. This is what Peter is doing after setting the stage to explain that Jesus was unjustly crucified, still God raised Him up. Peter and hundreds more were witnesses of these things. Paul recounts this “testimony,” saying, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:3–6).

Child’s Catechism – How did Peter know that Jesus was raised from the dead? Peter was an eyewitness to the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

Discussion – Why is it important that our faith rests on eyewitness testimony?

Prayer – Collect for Second Sunday of Easter: Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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