Year C – Easter Sunday – Luke 24:13-49

Luke 24:13-49 (ESV)

13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29 but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” 33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

36 As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them.

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

Summary–Up to this point in his account of that first Easter Sunday, Luke has reported the empty tomb, the message of the two angels in dazzling robes (“He is risen!”), and Peter’s visit to  the tomb.  He has not yet reported any appearance of the Risen Christ to his disciples.  He now picks up the story with Christ’s first appearance to his disciples.  It is a stirring and joyful account of the Risen Savior appearing to two of Christ’s disciples as they walked home to Emmaus from Jerusalem.  While recounting all they had seen over the past two days, a stranger caught up with them asking what they were talking about.  Surprised at the strangers ignornance of the events, they explained what had happened to Jesus of Nazarath and how their women went to the tomb and returned with the report of what the angels had said.  The stranger then explained to the two that according to the entire Old Testament it was the path of suffering that would bring the Messiah to glory.  Arriving in Emmaus, the two asked the stranger to dine with them.  While breaking bread they suddenly realized that it was Jesus himself, risen from the dead!  The two run all the way back to Jerusalem to tell the Eleven what they saw.  Jesus then appeared to others, including his apostles who just hours before despaired over the loss of their savior.  The narrative concludes with Christ’s words that he would send them out to do what his father had promised and to be ready to receive power from on high.

Insight–In the early morning of that first Easter Sunday, where was the hope?  Who waited in anticipation for all that was promised by Jesus and the prophets?  What about those apostles who walked with Jesus those past three years, witnessing many miracles and marvelling at his teachings?  Did they have any hope?  No, not one of them.  Not one of the apostles expected Jesus to arise from the grave.  That thought was the farthest thing from their minds.  Jesus was dead!  He was not coming back.  Happy days of fellowship with the mighty prophet of Israel would never return.  What about these men that Luke describes in our text?  These two men who saw so much and had such hope.  Did they have any hope left?  Hear their words, “…we hoped that he was the one who would redeem Israel…We hoped (past tense) but now all hope is gone.”  There was no hope that morning in Jerusalem; but there should have been.  They missed what was clearly told in everything that the prophets had spoken.  They missed the whole story of the Messiah  receiving glory and victory through suffering.  They missed Genesis 3:15 that in the process of crushing the head of the serpent, Messiah’s own heal would be bruised.  They missed Ps. 118 vs 22 in how the rejected stone becomes the cornerstone.  They missed Isa 53, 55, and 59; Jeremiah 23, Ezekial 17; Daniel 2; Mic 5; Hagai 2; Zechariah 3, 6, 9, 11, 12, and 13.  They missed Malachi 3.  They missed all the Scriptures explaining this simple fact, that the Messiah would suffer to enter into his glory.  We must not miss what Christ came to do.  He came to pay for our transgressions, to redeem us from our sins.  We have hope in this, that Jesus was truly and bodily raised from the dead.  The world needs this hope.  Your neighbor despairs in their circumstances.  But fear not, Christ is truly risen.  Tell them this for there is no other hope found in the world from than this truth.  Jesus is risen, he is risen indeed!

Catechism–(Q) Is Jesus raised from the dead? (A) He is risen indeed!

Discussion–What ways does the world try to discredit the bodily resurrection of Christ? (Body taken from tomb; story a myth; Apostles lied).  What evidence is there to the bodily resurrection?  (The explosion of the 1st Century Christian Church; the life stories of each of the apostles, the testimony of all of the Scriptures, both Old and New; etc.)

Prayer–Father God, we praise you for vindicating your son in raising him from the dead.  We rejoice with great gladness and look forward to the day when we will eat with him in heaven at the banquet held in his honor.  Give us the persistence to remain in hope for this coming that you would be glorified in us through your son.  We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Contributed by Michael Fenimore

Year C – Easter Sunday – Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

Psalm Lesson – Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 NRSV

 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his steadfast love endures forever!

Let Israel say,
“His steadfast love endures forever.”

14The Lord is my strength and my might;
he has become my salvation.

15 There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the Lord does valiantly;
16     the right hand of the Lord is exalted;
the right hand of the Lord does valiantly.”
17 I shall not die, but I shall live,
and recount the deeds of the Lord.
18 The Lord has punished me severely,
but he did not give me over to death.

19 Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.

20 This is the gate of the Lord;
the righteous shall enter through it.

21 I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
22 The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Summary – These verses of Psalm 118 are about salvation, that is, how God rescues and saves His people. Because God loves us forever and ever, He promised to save us (v.1-2). So it is good and right that we should thank Him for this salvation. Because God’s strength is what saves us (v.14), the righteous are glad to sing songs about it. The song is in verses 15 and 16 –

“The right hand of the Lord does valiantly;
     the right hand of the Lord is exalted;
the right hand of the Lord does valiantly.”

This song reminds us that God is a mighty warrior who fights the battle for us. His “right hand” is the hand that wields the sword in battle (v.16; Ex. 15:6, 12). But the way the Lord is victorious and strong in battle is through the crucifixion and resurrection of the Messiah (v. 17-18). Jesus’ death and resurrection is the gate that we must enter through to have salvation (19-21). This is hard for people to understand, it doesn’t make sense to them. But it is the most important thing for salvation, yet, people reject it. How can God’s “strong right hand” win the battle of salvation by sending His son to die and rise from the dead?  But this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes. And so, all we can do is rejoice and be glad in it (v. 23-24).

Insight – In the sermon this past Sunday, Pastor Gregg spoke about how Israel was saved from the poison of the snakes that bit them in the wilderness. All they had to do was look at a copper snake that Moses made, and they would be healed. The cure seemed pretty silly and doesn’t make sense to us. How could people be cured of a poisonous snake bite by simply looking at a metal snake? But it worked. And that is a marvelous work of God. Our salvation from sin is no less marvelous. We have all been bitten by the serpent of sin, and its poison is running through our veins, and it will kill us unless God gives us a cure. So, he tells us to look to Jesus on the cross, and to believe in His resurrection. Jesus’ death and resurrection was how God used His strong right hand to swing His mighty sword and win the victory of our salvation. He killed the enemies of Sin and Death and Satan by killing and resurrecting Jesus. This is a wonderful and marvelous thing that He has done for us. And now the cross of Christ is the gate of the Lord that the righteous must enter to have salvation (v.19-20). This Easter Sunday, rejoice with glad songs of salvation, giving thanks for the marvelous victory that God has won for us by His strong right hand in the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus. Amen.

Catechism – Who is your strength, your song and your salvation? The Lord.

Discussion – What is a cornerstone? What happens if you reject the cornerstone? Explain how the death and resurrection of Jesus was like a sword blow that killed Sin, Death, and Satan.

Prayer – Almighty God, you have lovingly kept your promise to crush the head of the serpent by bruising your Son. Give us, we beseech Thee, eyes to marvel at Your steadfast love which endures forever, that we may gather into the tents of the righteous and sing glad songs of salvation. And this we pray in the Name of the One who died and is alive forever more, Jesus Christ. AMEN.

Year C – Palm Sunday – Psalm 118:1-2,19-29

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!

Let Israel say,
“His steadfast love endures forever.”

Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord;
the righteous shall enter through it.
I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Save us, we pray, O Lord!
O Lord, we pray, give us success!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
We bless you from the house of the Lord.
The Lord is God,
and he has made his light to shine upon us.
Bind the festal sacrifice with cords,
up to the horns of the altar!

You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God; I will extol you.
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!

Summary – This Psalm is a joyous song of praise to God, whose love endures forever.  In the lectionary’s division of the psalm, we particularly notice verses 19-29, which are bound up in the coming of Christ.  There is a very joyous spirit in verses 19-21, which have a sort of “gate” theme, pertinent of course to Christ the truly “righteous” one who entered the gates of Jerusalem during the triumphal entry.  Also, verses 25-26 mirror exactly the triumphal entry as Hebrew for “save us” in verse 25 is the term we all know, “Hosanna,” and the words of verse 26 are shouted verbatim as Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey.  However, there is a somber undertone to these verses, too.  Verses 22-23 and the “stone the builders rejected” is applied by Jesus to Himself just after the Triumphal Entry in Matthew 21.  He was teaching in a parable that He was the Son of God, who would be rejected and killed by the tenants of the vineyard.  Then in verse 27 the psalmist says, “Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up on the horns of the altar.”  Indeed, He who came in the name of the Lord was the sacrifice nailed to the altar of the cross.

Insight – When I was graduating High School, there was a mixture of excitement and fear.  But at the time, it was mainly excitement.  Those four years of hard work and other difficulties were over!  But even though it was an extremely exciting thing, there was a looming sense that there was another huge hurdle coming my way.  What was I going to do next with my life?  This Palm Sunday is an exciting day!  Christ went into Jerusalem with many people excitedly hailing Him and calling on Him to “save”!  And yet, there is something looming.  Five days later in our church calendar is Good Friday, and Christ’s death.  The very same people who were joyously welcoming their true King, very soon after were riotously calling for His execution.  So rejoice that Christ is King, and even rejoice that He came to die.  But do it with a sense of awe and wonder this Palm Sunday, knowing that His joyous coming was to accomplish our salvation.

Child Catechism – What does Hosanna mean?  It means “SAVE!”

Discussion – Given the connection of this Psalm to Christ, and the connection between joy in the midst of looming death, what can you say about the psalm’s final verse:  “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.  For His steadfast love endures forever”?  What does that truth mean for your life now?

Prayer – Our Lord and true King, we recognize your lordship over all things.  Exercise your rule firstly in our hearts that we, in this Lenten season, would truly regard our sins and cry “save us.”  We know that our sins took you to the cross and thank you that your love is steadfast and eternally enduring.  Make us all the more aware of your goodness, we pray.  In Christ’s name, Amen.

Year C – 5th Sunday in Lent – Psalm 126

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us;
we are glad.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like streams in the Negeb!
Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.

Summary – This is the 7th of the Songs of Ascent, the Psalms from 120-134.  Often read communally especially on certain feast days, these Psalms emphasize localized Yahweh worship–at the temple in Jerusalem–as well as national identity as a people.  In this Psalm, there is first a remembrance.  The Psalmist recalls what occurred earlier when the Lord “restored their fortunes.”  It was like a dream come true, and there was much laughter and rejoicing.  Other nations also recognized their good fortune and realized that God had blessed them.  Israel, too, recognized that it was God who had done great things.  Secondly, there is a petition.  The Psalmist asks God to again restore their fortunes.  Comparing it to water in the wilderness, he exhibits faith that sadness will be turned to joy when this happens, and bountiful crops also will result.

Insight – One of the field studies we took while I was in Israel was a tour through the Negev region (which in this Psalm, is spelled Negeb).  There are a couple of words that come to mind in trying to describe the Negev.  Dry.  Dead.  Barren.  Colorless.  Silent.  The entire mountainous landscape was made up of sand-colored rocks, sand-colored earth, and sand-colored sand.  No one in their right mind would try to live there, or could live there, unless they knew the secret.  At one of the stops we took, our bus parked, we got out, and we began following our professor down a path.  As we turned a corner into a valley, the entire landscape changed.  This valley, or “Wadi,” was fed by some sort of spring, and we hiked along the stream for about an hour, through small plants and trees, watching lizards scurrying around and Ibex’s nimbly negotiating the cliffs on the other side.  Water made all the difference.  Where just around the corner there was no water, there was absence of life.  Here, where there was water, there was abundance of life.  Psalm 126 captures this image vividly for us.  When the Lord “restores the fortunes” of His people, blessing them and abundantly providing for them, it is like streams in the Negev: life and joy appear where once there was death.  So have faith, and call upon the Lord with your requests: he is the only one capable of turning the natural world upside-down!

Child Catechism – When God blesses His people, what is their response?  They are joyful and glad.

Discussion – What various groups recognize God’s blessing when He restores the fortunes of His people, according to the Psalm?  Why does the Psalm praise God for restoring the people’s fortunes in the past and then ask Him to do it again?  Who obviously gets NO glory in the restoration of fortunes, and why is that important for us?

Prayer – Lord, you have acted mightily on behalf of your people throughout history.  We thank you for your grace and ask that you continue to restore our fortunes.  In this Lenten season we pray that you would by your Holy Spirit defeat the sins that entangle us and restore us to you that we might be glad as streams in the Negev.  Turn our tears to joy, and our mourning to thankfulness.  In Christ’s Name, Amen.

Year C – 4th Sunday of Lent – Psalm 32

How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
Whose sin is covered!
How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity,
And in whose spirit there is no deceit!

When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away
Through my groaning all day long.
For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me;
My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. Selah.
I acknowledged my sin to You,
And my iniquity I did not hide;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord”;
And You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah.
Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to You in a time when You may be found;
Surely in a flood of great waters they will not reach him.
You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble;
You surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go;
I will counsel you with My eye upon you.
Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding,
Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check,
Otherwise they will not come near to you.
Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
But he who trusts in the Lord, lovingkindness shall surround him.
Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous ones;
And shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart.

Summary – We may see this Psalm as consisting in 4 parts:  Intro (1-2), Unconfessed sin (3-4), Confession of Sin (5-7), and Outro (8-11).  The Intro and Outro mirror each other, while Unconfessed Sin and Confession of sin negatively mirror each other.  In the Intro and Outro, we find that the one who has his sins forgiven is “blessed,” and those who trust in the Lord are loved.  These people have much to be joyful and thankful about (v 11).  The middle two sections give a set-up (Unconfessed Sin) and the resolution/remedy (Confession of Sin).  David’s personal state as he lived in unconfessed sin is one of abject misery.  His “body wasted away,” he “groaned,” and his “vitality was drained away.”  This is effected by God’s hand (v 4).  But when he finally decides to confess his sins, just like that God “forgave the guilt” of his sins (v 5).  David then exhorts other believers, on the basis of his own experience, to confess sins for as Isaiah 55 says, God will “abundantly pardon.”

Insight – In a county where there are many Amish folks, the sight of a horse-and-buggy is not unusual for us.  I am often amazed at the calm of the horses despite noisy vehicles flying past them at alarming rates.  However, I know that part of the reason for that is their “blinders” which block out the horse’s peripheral vision so they can only see the road ahead.  They also have bits, bridles, and reigns which keep them in the correct part of the road.  With this picture in mind, it is easy to see what David means when he tells us in Psalm 32 to not “be as the horse or mule who have no understanding.”  David admits that he struggled with sin and that God’s hand was heavy upon him to teach him the error of his ways, until he confessed his sins and was forgiven.  I have heard of some Amish horses who know the way home and don’t need to be driven to get there.  David wants us to be more like those kinds of horses.  He tells us that we ought to confess our sins and repent without having to be driven by bit and bridle.  Don’t wait, he says, confess immediately and often.  Keep your accounts short and maintain a forgiven status before God, for lovingkindness will surround you.

Why must you confess your sins?  I must confess my sins to obtain forgiveness from God.

Discussion – Can you think of people in the world who don’t seem to struggle with remorse and misery even though they have unconfessed sin?  Why do you think this is?  Do you think it is actually true?  How does this square with David’s experience?

Prayer – Most merciful God, your forgiveness is more forthcoming and dependable than we deserve, even moreso than we can imagine.  Be praised for your goodness to us, and build in us hearts which always confess our sins with humility and transparence, that we may be forgiven.  We desire to have no deceit in our hearts but to live and walk before you as blessed, for we have no iniquity counted against us.  Be most glorified for your Son’s sacrifice.  Make us the People you have foreordained, those who bear your Name to the world.  We love you, and offer this prayer in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Year C – Second Sunday in Lent – Psalm 27

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?

When evildoers assail me
to eat up my flesh,
my adversaries and foes,
it is they who stumble and fall.

Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me,
yet I will be confident.

One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple.

For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will lift me high upon a rock.

And now my head shall be lifted up
above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud;
be gracious to me and answer me!
You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you,
“Your face, Lord, do I seek.”
    Hide not your face from me.
Turn not your servant away in anger,
O you who have been my help.
Cast me not off; forsake me not,
O God of my salvation!
10 For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
but the Lord will take me in.

11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
and lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.
12 Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;
for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they breathe out violence.

13 I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living!
14 Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!

Summary – In this powerful and poetic psalm, David calls on the Lord for salvation from His foes, faithfully recognizing that Yahweh is the only help worth relying on.  The life and times of King Hezekiah in 2 Kings 18-20 read in conjunction with Psalm 27 (especially in light of vs 6 which connects Yahweh’s mercy on Hezekiah to the Davidic line) forms an interesting parallel.  Hezekiah, in the face of the massive horde of Sennacherib, stood firm believing that the Lord is his stronghold and he needed to fear no one.  “Though an army encamped” (vs 3) against Hezekiah, he did not fear, and the Angel of the Lord struck down the army overnight!  Thus, Hezekiah’s head was “lifted up above [his] enemies” (vs 6, cf. 2 Chron 32:23).  Then when Hezekiah was mortally ill (2 Kgs 20:1-6) his prayer to Yahweh (“I have walked before you in faithfulness”) was like David’s in verse 8, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.”  In the final verse, David turns his driving poetry to the reader.  Rather than focusing on his personal experience, he admonishes the reader to wait for the Lord, be strong, and take courage.

Insight – There are two things that frighten me badly:  cornfields at night, and criticism from other people.  Especially the second one (there aren’t actually aliens in cornfields!).  Sometimes it can seem like “an army is encamped against me” if people disagree.  What frightens you?  One thing we all have in common is fear, and King David was no different.  But rather than shrinking back in fear when his enemies were all around him, he called on God to save him.  His prayer was a mixture of trust in God’s promises and supplication to God’s goodness and faithfulness.  Ultimately, our greatest accuser can be our own hearts, telling us we are sinners who are un-save-able.  But with David, let us say that because God is greater than our hearts (1 John 3:19-22), and has sent Jesus to take on our sin, we will be confident, knowing that we will look on the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

Child Catechism – Who is your light and salvation?  The Lord.

Discussion – List the problems David is dealing with in Psalm 27 (examples: evildoers and war).  List the ways God overcomes those problems.

Prayer – O Lord, our stronghold, hide us we pray in your son Jesus Christ that we may hold our head up high knowing our acceptance surely.  We know that you have powerfully saved your people and we believe that you will continue to do so.  Teach us your ways and set us on a straight path so that the natural desires that war within us would be defeated.  We believe that we will see your goodness throughout our lives and will wait for you, knowing that it is your mighty arm that fights for us.  Through Christ, Amen.

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 C – Third Sunday after Epiphany – Christ is Made the Sure Foundation

Summary–“Christ is Made the Sure Foundation” comes from one of England’s great hymn translators, John Mason Neale (1818-1866).  Although called to serve as a parish priest, chronic illness forced Neale to work as the warden of an almshouse, a charitable residence for the poor.    While serving in this capacity, he translated hundreds of ancient Latin, Greek and Russian texts into hymns for the Church of England.  Today’s text comes from a 7th century Latin poem on Ephesians 2:20-22.

Insight–We live in a world where many church denominations claim that they are the one true church.  Hundreds upon hundreds of churches fight for their particular teachings of the Bible, all claiming there’s as truth.  The Apostle Paul lived in a world of divisions as well.  But his divisions didn’t fall between Presbyterians and Methodists or Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox.  The divisions of his day fell between Jews and Gentiles.  Our hymn uses the teachings of Paul to argue against such divisions, both in his day and in ours.   Christ is the foundation, the chief cornerstone of the Church who reconciled the Jew and Gentile into one new and complete man.  The stone laid beneath the two walls which diverge at right angle from each other now binds both together and gives strength and cohesion to the whole.  In fact, by His death, he broke down the middle partition seperating the two walls.  The foundation stone which binds and unites the two walls has been laid.

Our hymn this week uses the picture of a temple, built on the foundation of Christ to exhort us to live together with other Christians as one building; one people of God.  There are so many people who love God but look and act differently than we do.  But if they put their trust in Christ then they are a part of the same building as we are.  They put their weight on Christ, their foundation, and so do we.  They take their direction from the cornerstone, and so do we.  Walls can’t work against each other if they are to remain standing.  We must see that all those who put their faith in Christ, who lean on His strength and follow His word are a part of His temple.  Sing loudly that Christ is our foundation, that He is binding us together as one.  He is doing this for His glory and that we will reign with Him forevermore. 

1 Christ is made the sure foundation,
Christ the head and cornerstone,
Chosen of the Lord and precious,
Binding all the church in one;
Holy Zion’s help forever,
And our confidence alone.

2 To this temple, where we call You,
Come, O Lord of Hosts, today;
With Your wonted lovingkindness
Hear Your people as they pray.
And Your fullest benediction
Shed within its walls alway.

3 Here bestow to all Your servants
What they ask of You to gain,
What they gain from You forever
With the blessèd to retain,
And hereafter in Your glory
Evermore with You to reign.

4 Laud and honor to the Father,
Laud and honor to the Son,
Laud and honor to the Spirit,
Ever Three and ever one;
One in might and one in glory
While unending ages run.

Contributed by Mike Fenimore

Year C – 2nd Sunday After the Epiphany – Of the Father’s Love Begotten

Summary–This week’s hymn, “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” was written during a time of great controversy in the history of the Christian Church.  In the 4th century, uproar ensued over the nature of Jesus.  Arius, a priest from Alexandria, argued that Jesus was not co-eternal with the father.  In other words,  since Jesus was begotten from the Father, he must have had a beginning.  God can’t have a beginning; therefore, Jesus is not God.  The debate raged across Christendom and grew so heated that the Emperor Constantine himself had to call a council of Church elders together in order to establish once and for all the Church’s official stance on the nature of the Trinity.   The council, held in Nicea, condemned Arius’s teaching, and later summazied Christian orthodoxy in the great Nicene Creed.

Marcus Aurelius C. Prudentius (348-410) respected judge who later became a monastic poet, wrote a series of poetic letters on his understanding of  the Trinity around the time of the Nicean Council.  “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” was translated and formed into a chant and later a metrical hymn from Prudentius’s writings. From the very first line, we sing that Christ is both human and divine, and rather than simply being made by God, he was “begotten” of the very same substance. With each stanza, we both affirm and align our faith with the broader faith of the Church, and we deny any belief that says that Christ is not fully divine. This hymn is thus a hymn of proclamation, calling us to sing out our faith – “every voice in concert ring, evermore and evermore!”

Insight–In a debate, words matter.  But what about individual letters?  The Arian controversy centered on a single little greek letter, the iota.  By removing this letter to the word, “homousious”, the council of Nicea made their point that Christ was not created from a similar substance from God the Father.  No, Christ is eternally begotten, not made and is of the SAME substance with the Father.  Take that letter out of the word and Christ is only a man like you and me.  Keep it in and He is God.  What an impact that a single letter can have.  It was so important that men died fighting to keep that letter in the word.  At one point, the Church leader Athanasius felt that the whole world was against him and his view of that one letter, but he fought on.  Blessed are we to have such leaders fight for that one letter.  Blessed are we to be able to sing with the Church that Christ is the Alpha and Omega, begotten of the Father and the source of all Creation.  Individual letters do matter.  The doctrine of the Trinity stands or falls on it.

1 Of the Father’s love begotten,
Ere the worlds began to be,
He the Alpha and Omega,
He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see,
Evermore and evermore!

2 Oh that ever-blessèd birthday,
When the Virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
Bare the Saviour of our race;
And that Child, the world’s Redeemer,
First displayed His sacred face,
Evermore and evermore!

3 Praise Him, O ye heaven of heavens!
Praise Him, angels in the height!
Every power and every virtue
Sing the praise of God aright:
Let no tongue of man be silent,
Let each heart and voice unite,
Evermore and evermore!

4 Thee let age, and Thee let manhood,
Thee let choirs of infants sing;
Thee the matrons and the virgins,
And the children answering;
Let their guileless song re-echo,
And their heart its praises bring,
Evermore and evermore!

5 Christ, to Thee with God the Father,
And, O Holy Ghost to Thee,
Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving,
And unwearied praises be:
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory,
Evermore and evermore!

Contributed by Mike Fenimore

Year C – Baptism of our Lord – How Lovely Shines the Morning Star

Summary–Today’s hymn was born in a time of great darkness.  Philipp Nicolai (1566-1608) wrote this chorale during a massive plague in the town of Unna, Germany where he served as a Lutheran pastor.  His window overlooked the village cemetery where sometimes as many as thirty burials took place in a single day. It seemed that every home in the town was mourning for a stricken family member. Many questioned if God could be in such a dark place.   But pastor Nicolai kept his attention on His firmly on God who was in control even in such dark times.  Listen to how his faith kept him going.  “There seemed to me nothing more sweet, delightful, and agreeable,” Nicolai wrote, “than the contemplation of the noble, sublime doctrine of Eternal Life obtained through the Blood of Christ. This I allowed to dwell in my heart day and night.” It was in the midst of suffering that Nicolai wrote ‘Wie schon leuchtet der Morgenstern”.

Insight–It is simply amazing how, no matter how dark the situation, even the small sliver of light will pierce a dark room.  Nicolai’s beautiful hymn tells us that we have the brightest light this world has ever known shining as clearly and as powerfully as the morning sun, sweeping away all remains of the night and washing everything in the light of Christ’s presence. We read in the book of Revelation that Jesus Christ is our Morning Star. He came and took upon himself all the darkness and wickedness that we had hidden in ourselves…he bore them on the cross of Calvary, he bore them so that we wouldn’t have to, he bore them because he knew we couldn’t.  How beautiful an act of love, How lovely is that Morning Star!  Equally as amazing is that this light is now so that ‘the nations see and hail afar the light in Judah shining.’ Gone are the days when God’s light only shined on His chosen people of Israel with the greatest promise in the world’s history. Not until the Morning Star appeared on the earth was the message changed from ‘come and see’ to ‘go and tell’ …For the Bridegroom is coming, and soon! He, the King who will judge the world, is coming again soon…so be ready, be pining in your heart for the return of this light.

How lovely shines the Morning Star!
The nations see and hail afar
The light in Judah shining.
Thou David’s Son of Jacob’s race,
My Bridegroom and my King of Grace,
For Thee my heart is pining.
Lowly, holy, great and glorious,
Thou victorious Prince of graces,
Filling all the heav’nly places.

O highest joy by mortals won,
True Son of God and Mary’s Son,
Thou highborn King of ages!
Thou art my heart’s most beauteous Flower,
And Thy blest Gospel’s saving power
My raptured soul engages.
Thou mine, I Thine; sing hosanna!
Heav’nly manna tasting, eating,
Whilst Thy love in songs repeating.

Now richly to my waiting heart,
O Thou, my God, deign to impart
The grace of love undying.
In Thy blest body let me be,
E’en as the branch is in the tree,
Thy life my life supplying.
Sighing, crying, for the savor
Of Thy favor; resting never
Till I rest in Thee forever.

A pledge of peace from God I see
When Thy pure eyes are turned to me
To show me Thy good pleasure.
Jesus, Thy Spirit and Thy Word,
Thy body and Thy blood afford
My soul its dearest treasure.
Keep me kindly in Thy favor,
O my Savior! Thou wilt cheer me;
Thy Word calls me to draw near Thee.

Thou, mighty Father, in Thy Son
Didst love me ere Thou hadst begun
This ancient world’s foundation.
Thy Son hath made a friend of me,
And when in spirit Him I see,
I joy in tribulation!
What bliss is this! He that liveth
To me giveth life forever;
Nothing me from Him can sever.

Lift up the voice and strike the string,
Let all glad sounds of music ring
In God’s high praises blended.
Christ will be with me all the way,
Today, tomorrow, every day,
Till traveling days be ended.
Sing out, ring out, triumph glorious,
O victorious, chosen nation;
Praise the God of your salvation.

Oh, joy to know that Thou, my Friend,
Art Lord, Beginning without end,
The First and Last, eternal!
And Thou at length—O glorious grace!—
Wilt take me to that holy place,
The home of joys supernal.
Amen, Amen! Come and meet me!
Quickly greet me! With deep yearning
Lord, I look for Thy returning.

Contributed by Mike Fenimore