One Little Word

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Category: Devotional Messages (page 1 of 45)

Weekly Devotional Message

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?

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 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

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany; Year C (1/17/2016)

Lessons:
Isaiah 62:1-5
Psalm 36:5-10 (8)
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
St. John 2:1-11

Prayer of the Day:
Lord God, source of every blessing, you showed forth your glory and led many to faith by the works of your Son, who brought gladness and salvation to his people.  Transform us by the Spirit of his love, that we may find our life together in him, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

2.1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”

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St. John 2:1-11 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 First of His Signs

It is no surprise to most of us by now that stories about Jesus sound a bit different in John’s Gospel than they do in the others. Matthew, Mark and Luke are called the “Synoptic” Gospels (from “syn” for similar and “optic” for appears; these three Gospels appear similar to one another). John’s Gospel is unique. Fewer parables. Fewer exorcisms. Less talk about the Kingdom of God.

What people have noticed about John’s Gospel is that the first portion of it contains a number of “signs” like the one in this morning’s lesson. Seven actually: (1) turning water into wine, (2) curing the official’s son, (3) curing the paralytic, (4) multiplication of loaves, (5) walking on water, (6) healing a blind man, and (7) the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Continue reading

The Baptism of Our Lord; Year C (1/10/2015)

Lessons:
Isaiah 43:1-7
Psalm 29
Acts 8:14-17
St. Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Prayer of the Day:
Almighty God, you anointed Jesus at his baptism with the Holy Spirit and revealed him as your beloved Son. Keep all who are born of water and the Spirit faithful in your service, that we may rejoice to be called children of God, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

3:15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
[18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. 19 But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20 added to them all by shutting up John in prison.]
21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

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St. Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 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.

 

I Am Your Father… You Are My Son

We couldn’t wait: my family and I went to “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” a few days after it opened in theaters. We weren’t quite fanatic enough to hit the midnight showing on the first day, but we were among those who saw it in the first week. Hundreds of thousands, evidently. They took in $686.4 million worth of receipts through New Year’s Day, and this  movie is on track to be one of the most profitable movies ever filmed.

vadorWe watched a few of the earlier episodes to get excited for the event. And so this week, as I’ve been preparing for this coming Sunday’s sermon, I have had in the back of my mind that moment during “Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back” when the deep resonant tones of James Earl Jones, the voice for Darth Vader, called to Luke Skywalker, saying, “I am your father.” It was an announcement that altered the course of the story, and one that has been remembered and repeated countless times.

I don’t know what sort of voice called down from the heavens in the 22nd verse of this Sunday’s Gospel lesson, but there is a part of me that wants to believe it sounded like James Earl Jones. St. Luke tells us that when John baptized Jesus the heavens opened up, the Holy Spirit descended like a dove, and a voice called out: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Continue reading

The 2nd Sunday of Christmas; Year C (January 3, 2016)

Lessons:
Jeremiah 31:7-14
or Sirach 24:1-12
Psalm 147:12-20
or Wisdom of Solomon 10:15-21
Ephesians 1:3-14
St. John 1: [1-9] 10-18

Prayer of the Day:
Almighty God, you have filled all the earth with the light of your incarnate Word. By your grace empower us to reflect your light in all that we do, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

[1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.]
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ ”) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart,who has made him known.

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St. John 1: [1-9] 10-18 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.

Growing as a Family

I am grateful to have spent the last week with my family in Minnesota. We dashed out from Saint Peter even before worship had ended on Christmas Day and caught a flight to Minneapolis. We were able to sit down to Christmas Day dinner with my family for the first time since 1983. And it has been quite a while since all the cousins have been in the same room at the same time. We had a great visit, and it was well-timed — especially with my mom getting on in years.

It reminded me, once again, of how important family is to faith development. When I was little, I was loved into the Christian faith by my family. I prayed every night with my parents. I sat on the piano bench and sang hymns and carols with my grandmother. My grandfather’s steady faithfulness was an inspiration. I worshiped every week with my whole family. I certainly learned about the faith in Sunday School and Catechism. And to a certain degree I practiced it during youth gatherings. But I was loved into the faith by my family. As often is the case.

This coming Sunday, at Saint Peter, we are going to experience some of the same. People of all ages are invited to join us at 9:40 a.m. in the Fellowship Hall to celebrate our faith. We’ll invite families to experience this event together. And those who are not with their families will gather with others — both of their own generation and of various generations — as we eat, pray, sing Christmas carols, and explore the belief that Jesus is the Word Made Flesh among us; the fullness of God, who grants us grace. Continue reading

Christmas Eve; December 24, 2015

Lessons:
Isaiah 9:2-7
Psalm 96
Titus 2:11-14
St. Luke 2:1-14 [15-20]

Prayer of the Day:
Almighty God, you made this holy night shine with the brightness of the true light. Grant that here on earth we may walk in the light of Jesus’ presence and in the last day wake to the brightness of his glory; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

2.1 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. 8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see-I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,  14“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

[15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

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St. Luke 2:1-14 [15-20], 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.

Light in Darkness

As is my habit, I started working on this week’s electronic devotional message by opening last year’s message to see what I had written then. (I don’t want to accidentally post the same message two years in a row, right?) Of course the file was there. I had started working on it early last year, actually. But the message was blank. Blank because on December 23, when I had anticipated finalizing the message and posting it on the internet, I was recovering at home after a three-day stay in the intensive care unit at Swedish Hospital, being treated for some circulation troubles.

That was a challenging week for us all. I was weakened by the experience, my family was rattled at the severity of my illness, and my congregation was without my leadership at worship on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. As it turned out, they ended up going without my leadership for the entire Christmas season!

It was, in some ways, a dark Christmas. Uncertainty reigned. We were taking it day-by-day. There was a long road to travel before we could live with some measure of ease and confidence again. Continue reading

The Fourth Sunday of Advent; Year C (12/20/2015)

Lessons:
Micah 5:2-5a
Luke 1:46b-55 (52) or Psalm 80:1-7 (7)
Hebrews 10:5-10
St. Luke 1:39-45 [46-55]

Prayer of the Day:
Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. With your abundant grace and might, free us from the sin that binds us, that we may receive you in joy and serve you always, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Text:

5.2 But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
who are one of the little clans of Judah,

from you shall come forth for me
one who is to rule in Israel,

whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.

3 Therefore he shall give them up until the time
when she who is in labor has brought forth;

then the rest of his kindred shall return
to the people of Israel.

4 And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.

And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth;

5 and he shall be the one of peace.

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Micah 5:2-5a. New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Micah of Moresheth

We continue our mid-week look at the Hebrew prophets with Micah; specifically, “Micah of Moresheth” (1:1). The word “micah” means “Who is like Yahweh?” Micah’s ministry took place somewhere around 735 to 700 b.c. This is a period of upheaval and crisis. Ahaz, one of the kings who ruled during these years (in between Jotham and Hezekiah), was one of Judah’s disobedient kings, and during his reign the faithfulness of the people waned. They still worshipped God, but it had more to do with attention to ritual than drawing near to God and having a heart-felt experience of faith. It also was a time when people weren’t particularly committed to practicing justice, or reaching out to their neighbor in love. Continue reading

The Third Sunday of Advent; Year C (12/13/2015)

Lessons:
Zephaniah 3:14-20
Isaiah 12:2-6 (6)
Philippians 4:4-7
St. Luke 3:7-18

Prayer of the Day:
Stir up the wills of your faithful people, Lord God, and open our ears to the preaching of John, that, rejoicing in your salvation, we may bring forth the fruits of repentance; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

    .3.14 Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; 
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away the judgments against you,
he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.
16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands grow weak.
17 The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
18 as on a day of festival.
I will remove disaster from you,
so that you will not bear reproach for it.
19 I will deal with all your oppressors
at that time.
And I will save the lame 
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.
20 At that time I will bring you home,
at the time when I gather you;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes, says the Lord..

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Zephaniah 3:14-20, New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Zephaniah

The very first sentence of the Old Testament book Zephaniah describes him as a descendant of Hezekiah (his great-great grandfather), a good king (They weren’t that common in those days!) who ruled over Judah from 715 to 697 b.c. It also describes Zephaniah as a prophet who served during the reign of Josiah, who ruled from 640 to 609 b.c. He lived in Jerusalem, and his ministry probably took place between 630 and 625 b.c. This was a time when the power of Assyria was rapidly expanding. Zephaniah was aware of, and deeply troubled by, a rise of pagan worship in Judah and Jerusalem. His strong message to the people was that they needed to turn back to the Lord, if they hoped to survive as a people.

The first two chapters of Zephaniah contain hard words, both for Judah and for the surrounding nations. He describes the Day of the Lord as a time of wrath, trouble, distress, crashing ruin, devastation of darkness and calamity… But the book takes a dramatic turn at 3:8. In what seems like a strong word of Advent encouragement, the prophet declares:

8 Therefore wait for me, says the Lord…
12 For I will leave in the midst of you
a people humble and lowly.
They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord—
13 the remnant of Israel;
they shall do no wrong
and utter no lies,
nor shall a deceitful tongue
be found in their mouths.
Then they will pasture and lie down,
and no one shall make them afraid.

Removed from their midst will be the “proudly exultant ones” — those who are “haughty in my holy mountain.” Remaining will be those who are humble, lowly, blameless and truthful — God will renew them, take joy in them, and save the from disaster. It is a vision of the future for the people of Judah. A time when judgment is passed. A time when fear is gone. A time when God stands in the midst of the people, their strength and their security.

Surrounded by mighty world powers, poised to destroy their nation (as they Assyrians had already done to Israel), this was a word that gave God’s people hope. No matter how difficult the years to come might be, God will have the final say. Judah will be purified and restored. God’s purpose will win out. For those who love God, there is reason to have hope — even when signs of hope seem absent from the world around them.

And so there is for us as well…

Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What concerned Zephaniah about the people of his day?
  2. How did his words warn those who were turning away from God?
  3. Why did his words mean for those who were humble and faithful?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What word of caution do I receive from Zephaniah’s story?
  2. How might I keep track of the faithfulness of my own worship life?
  3. In what ways does Zephaniah inspire me to make a positive difference in the world?

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The Second Sunday of Advent; Year C (12/6/2015)

Lessons:
Malachi 3:1-4 or Baruch 5:1-9
St. Luke 1:68-79 (78)
Philippians 1:3-11
St. Luke 3:1-6

Prayer of the Day:
Stir up our hearts, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son. By his coming give to all the people of the world knowledge of your salvation; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

3.1 See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

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Malachi 3:1-4 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.

Malachi 

MalachiIt is the final book of the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament). He is the last of the twelve minor prophets to speak from the pages of Scripture. We know so little about him that some wonder whether “Malachi” is his name or his description. Translated into English, the Hebrew word malachi means “my messenger.” Malachi was a prophet: a messenger from God to the people.

Four short chapters. 18 paragraphs. 1,700 words. The book begins simply enough: “An oracle. The word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi.” [Malachi 1:1] Malachi most likely began his ministry somewhere around 420 b.c., after the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, at a time of great unfaithfulness among the priests and people of Judah. The people had returned from their exile in Babylon. The great Temple in Jerusalem had been rebuilt. And Malachi called the people to faithfulness, as a way to prepare for the coming of God’s Anointed One.

Malachi begins his book with a description of God’s deep love for the people of Israel, but he continues with hard words about their lack of faithfulness. The Priests have drawn the people away from true worship, and from their commitment to God. The people have intermarried with their pagan neighbors, forsaking the ways of God, and setting themselves up for the judgment that surely will come.

In words that we Christians believe foreshadow the coming of John the Baptist in the spirit and power of Elijah, Malachi announces that one will come, sent by God to prepare the people. These final words from the Old Testament are a fitting transition to the New Testament, which opens with stories of their fulfillment.

These words come first to us as good news: the messenger will come as one in whom we delight. One sent by God, “whose steadfast love endures forever.” But these words bring a challenge with them as well. Malachi asks us: who can endure the arrival of God’s messenger? He comes like a refiner’s fire. He comes like a fuller’s soap. His ministry is to burn away our imperfections; to wash away our sin. When the messenger of God enters our lives, it changes us. We will never again be the same.

What a powerful image for our faithfulness! We are loved by God, just as we are, but we are not left by God, just as we are. God’s presence in our lives is like a “refining fire.” It seeks to destroy all in us that is broken and sinful; all in us that draws us away from what is holy and righteous and good.

Welcome to Advent — the season in which God seeks to refine us, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of the Christ. And so we pray, “Come Lord Jesus. Come Holy Spirit. Prepare us to be the people God intends for us to be.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What role does the prophet Malachi play in ancient Israel?
  2. What situation does God send Malachi to address?
  3. How does his ministry and message help us understand John the Baptist?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. In what ways does my life need to be refined?
  2. How might God be preparing to change me in this Advent season?
  3. What would it look like for my faith and faithfulness to grow this year?

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