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The Promise of Ashes

Date: February 10, 2016
Liturgical Day: Ash Wednesday (Year C)

ashes to ashes
a sign of our sinfulness
God’s amazing grace

Summary:
Ashes on our foreheads are a sign of death — a sign of our sinfulness and brokenness. They are also a sign of God’s ability to bring new life out of death. With amazing grace, out of mercy and love, God forgives us, and grants us the gifts of a clean heart; a renewed and right spirit.

Download Sermon: 2016 Ash Wednesday C

The First Sunday in Lent; Year C (2/14/2016)

Lessons:
Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16 (11)
Romans 10:8b-13
St. Luke 4:1-13

Prayer of the Day:
O Lord God, you led your people through the wilderness and brought them to the promised land.  Guide us now, so that, following your Son, we may walk safely through the wilderness of this world toward the life you alone can give, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

4:1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’ ”  5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ”  9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’  11and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ”  12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

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St. Luke 4:1-13 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Tempted; Tested; Prepared

“…for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” This phrase, from the opening sentence of Sunday’s Gospel lesson, is an indicator of where this story will take us. For forty days Jesus is in the wilderness. Led by the Spirit. Tempted by the devil. Fasting the entire time. Famished by the end.

Both “forty” and “wilderness” are strong Biblical themes. One recalls the forty days and forty nights Noah and his family spent in the ark before a new chapter in the world’s history began; the time Moses spent on the mountain, receiving the Ten Commandments from God; the years Israel wandered in the wilderness, making their way from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. In each of these instances the period of forty is a time of testing; a time of preparation; a time of making ready for what is to come. And indeed, this is the case in the public ministry of Jesus. St. Luke reports on Jesus’ birth, and tells a story about his family in Jerusalem when he was twelve years ago. But then nothing, for nearly twenty years, until he is baptized by John in the River Jordan. Then, the Spirit leads him into the wilderness, and immediately upon returning his public ministry begins. He is ready. The time is right. The heart of this story is about to begin.

It is also significant that during this time of preparation Jesus is “tempted by the devil.” Often times commentators have suggested that this means the devil is seeking to convince Jesus to turn away from his calling, and give up on what God has in store for him. Yet St. Luke uses the verb πειράζω (peirazo) — a word that is used often in the Gospels to describe those who are trying to discredit Jesus in front of his followers. My Greek-English lexicon offers this as one definition for πειράζω: “to obtain information to be used against a person by trying to cause someone to make a mistake—‘to try to trap, to attempt to catch in a mistake.’ ” This is not so much a story that illustrates Jesus’ capacity to resist temptation, with the implication that he will help us do the same. It is more so the proclamation that Jesus cannot be defeated by all the forces of evil. At the start of this story, the ending is present: this is one who comes to the world with power, and who has the capacity to fulfill the promises he makes.

And so we too, now, begin our forty days. Forty days of reflecting on our sin and our need for a Savior. Forty days of stretching and deepening our faith and our trust in God. Forty days of drawing near to the word of God, so that when the day of Easter arrives, and God’s people celebrate the resurrection, we can hold fast to the mystery of faith with our whole hearts. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. In the wilderness, Jesus proves that the has every right to promise us the gift of God’s Kingdom. In faith we give him thanks, and give ourselves to him.

So welcome to Lent. May God bless these days. May the Holy Spirit inspire our faith. And may the Risen Christ be with us and among us, now and always.

A good Lent to you all!

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How does Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness prepare him for his public ministry?
  2. What is the nature of the opposition he experiences from the devil?
  3. How does Jesus’ faithfulness in the wilderness assure us of who he is?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How will I become more aware of my need for forgiveness during these forty days?
  2. What spiritual practices will I embrace to help me draw near to the promise of Christ?
  3. What are my personal hopes for growth during Lent this year?

Ash Wednesday; Year C (2/10/2016)

Lessons:
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
or
Isaiah 58:1-12
Psalm 51:1-17
2nd Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
St. Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Prayer of the Day:
Almighty and ever-living God, you hate nothing you have made, and you forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create in us new and honest hearts, so that, truly repenting of our sins, we may receive from you, the God of all mercy, full pardon and forgiveness through your Son Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

[Jesus said,] 6.1 “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 5 And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

St. Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Life-Changing Glory

Date: February 7, 2016
Liturgical Day: The Last Sunday after the Epiphany; The Transfiguration of Our Lord (Year C)

transfiguration
Jesus, Moses, Elijah
life-changing glory

Summary:
When Moses stands in the presence of God; when Peter, James and John are with Jesus on the mountain as he appears in glory with Moses and Elijah; when we gather for worship as the word is broken open and the meal is distributed; the power and presence of God is able to transform us for faithfulness. Even as Bronco fans (and, OK, Panther fans too…) anticipate an extraordinary experience this afternoon, we remember that every Sunday morning is an opportunity to be touched and inspired by God in deep and powerful ways.

Download Sermon: 2016 Transfiguration C

The Transfiguration of Our Lord; Year C (2/7/2016)

Lessons:
Exodus 34:29-35
Psalm 99 (9)
2nd Corinthians 3:12–4:2
St. Luke 9:28-36 [37-43a]

Prayer of the Day:
Holy God, mighty and immortal, you are beyond our knowing, yet we see your glory in the face of Jesus Christ. Transform us into the likeness of your Son, who renewed our humanity so that we may share in his divinity, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

9.28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

[37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39 Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. 40 I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41 Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42 While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43 And all were astounded at the greatness of God.]


St. Luke 9:28-36 [37-43a] New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

The New Moses; The New Exodus

It is one of the more extraordinary stories in the New Testament. The crowds are not sure just who Jesus is, but Peter knows: “[You are] The Messiah of God.”  (Luke 9:20) Jesus speaks of his approaching passion (“The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” — Luke 9:22), and of what it will be like to follow him (“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” — Luke 9:23-24). Then, about eight days later, Jesus makes his way up the mountain to pray, with Peter, James and John.

While there, Jesus is “transfigured” in their presence. It is a strange word — transfigured — but it refers to an even stranger reality. St. Luke tells us that the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. (St. Matthew adds that his face shone like the sun.) But even more importantly, Jesus is seen to be standing with Moses (the leader of Israel during the Exodus, when God brought them from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land) and Elijah (arguably the greatest of all the Hebrew Bible prophets). Moses has a place at the heart of the great salvation story in the Hebrew Bible, and Elijah is one of the few people in the Bible who never dies (2nd Kings 2:11-12).

This is amazing, and the disciples clearly are dumbfounded by what they are seeing. But then the story takes another step into the unbelievable. The three of them are standing together “in glory” (Were Moses and Elijah similarly transfigured?), and they are “speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” The English translation doesn’t catch the whole of it. “Departure” translates the Greek word ἔξοδον (exodon). They are speaking of Jesus’ exodus. The disciples can’t possible know this but we do: in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God is accomplishing a salvation even greater than when the Jews were saved from slavery in Egypt. This new exodus will not be an exodus from land and place, but an exodus from brokenness and sinfulness. Saved this time not through the plagues and the sea and forty years of wandering in the wilderness, but saved through the resurrection and the proclamation of new life.

Eight days after Peter identifies Jesus as Messiah, God identifies Jesus as the beloved son (for the second time: see Luke 3:22), who will become God’s instrument of exodus (Moses), and the means by which people are given life eternal (Elijah). This isn’t just a magic trick, or an example of Jesus flexing his spiritual muscles for his audience. No: this is a pronouncement of who Jesus is and will be: Messiah, Savior, leader of the new exodus.

His disciples kept silent. But what will I do?

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why is Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah when he is transfigured?
  2. How must Peter, James and John have understood this event?
  3. Why does the church turn to this story on the Sunday before Lent every year?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What does it mean to me that Jesus is my savior?
  2. What do I think of when I imagine Jesus, Moses and Elijah standing together, transfigured?
  3. What does this story teach me about the nature of God, and of God’s intentions for me?

Sent… into the World

Date: January 31, 2016
Liturgical Day: The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

here in our hometown
Jesus, stirring us to serve
sent into God’s world

Summary:
In Jesus’ innaugural sermon, it seemed to go quite well at first. But before long, his listeners became enraged, and tried to throw him off the hill to his death. How do we respond to his words this week? Do we embrace them with gusto? Or oppose them with the same measure of rage?

Download Sermon: 2016 Epiphany 4C

The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany; Year C (1/31/2016)

Lessons:
Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6 (6)
1st Corinthians 13:1-13
St. Luke 4:21-30

Prayer of the Day:
Almighty and ever-living God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and love; and that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command, through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

4:21 Then he [Jesus] began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’ “ 24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

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St. Luke 4:21-30 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Surprise and Scandal

Last week we considered the surprise that took place when Jesus preached his first sermon in Nazareth. He read from Isaiah 61; words first spoken to the people of Israel when they were being held in captivity by the Babylonians. Isaiah promised them that the day would come when God’s Messiah would arrive and lead them back to freedom and hope.

Jesus read these same words to his listeners, and declared: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus wasn’t encouraging their hope that a Messiah would one day come. He was claiming to be the one sent by God — and for those who watched him grow up in their midst, nothing could have been much more surprising than this!

Now this week we continue the story, and discover that the surprise of last week is followed by the scandal of this week. The story turns on a dime when Jesus interprets Isaiah 61 by saying, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’ ”

But Jesus doesn’t imagine himself as being sent by God to work for the advantage of his hometown friends and neighbors. In fact, he doesn’t seem to be exclusively focused on the nation of Israel. Instead, as Elijah was sent away from his home to support a widow at Sidon, and as Elisha healed the leprosy of a militarily official from Syria, so too Jesus will understand his particular role as expanding the reach of God’s kingdom from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and eventually to the ends of the earth. His old friends and neighbors don’t take much of a shine to this. In fact, they are so upset that they drag him to the edge of town and try to throw him off the cliff.

We might look down at them for doing so, but the truth is: their reaction isn’t all that unusual. 19th Century American poet Edwin Markham famously penned these lines:

He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him in!
[From the poem “Outwitted”]

We all want to be included. We all want to imagine that our faith will be a source of blessing for ourselves and our families. But if personal gain is at the heart of what we expect from Jesus, we too will find his approach scandalous. He comes not to draw a circle around us, to shut out others and to care for us. Instead, he come to stretch any circles we might imagine, so they include those whom we might not be inclined to welcome; those whom God loves; those for whom Christ is willing to die.

Insiders may find this scandalous. But it is the scandal of the Gospel. The scandal of a God who loves all of creation. The scandal of a God who seeks to move through us to draw others into the promise of our faith.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What is so scandalous about what Jesus says to his hometown friends and neighbors?
  2. Why do the people of Nazareth react so strongly to Jesus’ words?
  3. How do his life and ministry reach out beyond Israel?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Who do I find myself tempted to exclude?
  2. What would it look like for me to turn 180 degrees, and offer them a hand of welcome?
  3. What does my church do that welcomes others as Jesus did?

The Scriptures Fulfilled

Date: January 24, 2016
Liturgical Day: The Third Sunday after the Epiphany

anointed by God
good news, release and comfort
the scriptures fulfilled

Summary:
In the first sermon Jesus preached at his hometown synagogue, he declares his intent to meet our most urgent needs; and not only to meet our most urgent needs, but to transform our minds so that those things that matter most to him, begin also to matter most to us. Amen! Come Lord Jesus!

Download Sermon: 2016 Epiphany 3C

The Third Sunday after the Epiphany; Year C (1/24/2016)

Lessons:
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
Psalm 19 (7)
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
St. Luke 4:14-21

Prayer of the Day:
Blessed Lord God, you have caused the holy scriptures to be written for the nourishment of your people.  Grant that we may hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that, comforted by your promises, we may embrace and forever hold fast to the hope of eternal life, through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

4:14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

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St. Luke 4:14-21 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

 

Today this Scripture Has Been Fulfilled

Imagine what it must have been like for the people of Nazareth on that day when Jesus returned to preach his first sermon in his hometown after the beginning of his public ministry. St. Luke tells the story in some detail — we’ll begin reading it this week, and finish next week. He has been traveling throughout Galilee to rave reviews. “Praised by everyone,” St. Luke tells us. No doubt his friends and neighbors have heard the news. Miracles, healings, Bible classes… the boy next door has clearly grown up and become a man — even a man of God, filled with the Spirit, if the reports coming in to Nazareth are accurate. Continue reading

Miracles — Wonders — Signs

Date: January 17, 2016
Liturgical Day: The Second Sunday after the Epiphany

miracle as sign
the very power of God
present in Jesus

Summary:
In St. John’s Gospel Jesus performs seven miracles — interpreted by St. John as “signs” of who Jesus is — and the first of them is changing water to wine in Cana. Here Jesus affirms community, celebrates marriage, and joins with the bride and the groom with an overflowing of joy, blessing and the presence of God.

Download Sermon: 2016 Epiphany 2C

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