The Transfiguration of Our Lord; Year A (2/26/2017)

Exodus 24:12-18
Psalm 2 (or 99)
2nd Peter 1:16-21
St. Matthew 17:1-9

Prayer of the Day:
O God, in the transfiguration of your Son you confirmed the mysteries of the faith by the witness of Moses and Elijah, and in the voice from the bright cloud you foreshadowed our adoption as your children. Make us  heirs with Christ of your glory, and bring us to enjoy its fullness, through Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

17.1 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

St. Matthew 17:1-9, 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.

Listen to Him

In this week’s Gospel lesson, we get a glimpse of Jesus, accompanied by his inner circle. Jesus takes Peter and James and John and leads them up to the top of a high mountain. There, they receive what is perhaps their clearest glimpse of who Jesus truly is. Before their very eyes he is transformed. His clothes become dazzling white: whiter than any known bleach could ever make them. And as these three disciples look on in amazement, they see that Jesus is standing and talking with Elijah and Moses (two of the greatest figures in the Hebrew Bible).

Once again Peter puts his foot in his mouth. Grasped by fear, and not knowing what he is saying, Peter proposes to Jesus that they erect three dwellings (some translations say “tents”) there on the mountain, to memorialize what has just taken place. It seems that he is so awed by this event that he wants to spend some time there – to bask in its glow for a while.

Once again Peter is chastised. This time it is not by Jesus, it is by God’s very voice. As soon as Peter speaks, a voice thunders from the clouds (an echo of St. Matthew 3:17, at Jesus’ baptism): “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!”  Here God desperately tries to get Peter’s attention, to move him away from his preconceived notions of what it will meant to follow Jesus, and to help him see Jesus’ mission for what it is. And how is Peter instructed to do that? He is commanded to “listen.”

Dealing with Peter is like dealing with a young child who is wild beyond control. In those times, one can hardly get the little one’s attention. Speak quietly. Speak sternly. Yell. Nothing seems to work. Finally, the only effective way to communicate is to lovingly hold the child’s face, one hand on each cheek, look eye-to-eye, and speak softly and calmly. Then, finally, with all other distractions kept at bay, a connection can possibly be made.

We love Peter for his impetuous nature. He is so often the one, when all others are frozen by fear or bewilderment, who is able to speak out or do something. But his great strength can also be his great weakness. His tendency to act without much thought has now put him at odds with what God is doing in Jesus. And so the voice of God invites him into the discipline that will make all the difference for Peter: “Listen to Jesus.” Listen to his words. Listen to his life. Listen to his example. Listen to his ministry. Listen to his care for the people of this world. Listen to his willingness to give even his own life, so that others might know God’s grace.

In these forty days that lead up to Easter, may we listen to the words, the life, the example and the ministry of Jesus. And may our listening open up our eyes (as it eventually does for Peter) to what it means to live as God’s faithful people today.


David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How is Peter’s impulsive nature a strength in difficult times?
  2. How does Peter’s tendency to act without thinking get him in trouble?
  3. Why does God command Peter to Listen to Jesus? How will that help?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When am I tempted to follow my own instincts, instead of working hard to discern God’s will?
  2. Who has been helpful in calling me back to God’s word, and helping me redirect my efforts?
  3. How can I, during this season of Lent, spend additional time with God, seeking to better understand God’s will for me?

The Seventh Sunday after Epiphany; Year 7 (2/19/2017)

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
Psalm 119:33-40 (33)
1st Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
St. Matthew 5:38-48

Prayer of the Day:
Holy God of compassion, you invite us into your way of forgiveness and peace. Lead us to love our enemies, and transform our words and deeds to be like his through whom we pray, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

5:38 [Jesus said,] “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

St. Matthew 5:38-48, 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.

Towards Perfection

There are some teachings in the Bible which are harder to embrace than others. I like to tease our Catechism students, advising them to pray the Lord’s Prayer with a certain degree of fear and trembling. I’ve sometimes asked them to whisper “and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” — inviting them to hope and trust with me that God’s inclination to forgive will not be limited by our capacity to forgive. So also in today’s Gospel. What sense can we make of our Lord’s command, to his disciples and to us, that we “be perfect, therefore, as [our] heavenly Father is perfect?”

Nobody, of course, can be perfect as God is perfect. We learn as early as the third chapter of Genesis that brokenness defines the human condition. The kings and prophets of Ancient Israel confirm this time and time again. (Just ask any of the StPLC members who are reading the Bible in 90 days what they have observed so far about faithfulness in the Old Testament…) The disciples and followers of Jesus prove this to be true over and over again. Martin Luther teaches us that, “by our own reason or strength we cannot believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called us through the Gospel, enlightened us with its gifts, and sanctified and preserved us in the true faith…”

So why does Jesus demand that we be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect?

It helps, perhaps, to know that the Greek word translated perfect is actually τέλειοι (teleioi) which can mean perfect, but which also can mean finished, completed, fulfilled or accomplished. It is the same word Jesus uses in the 19th chapter of St. John when, dying on the cross, he cries out, “It is finished.” Finished, not meaning his life is finished and he is no more. But finished, meaning that he has completed what God intended in him. In dying, Jesus defeats the power of death so that in rising he can give us the gift of new life.

We become part of the completeness of the kingdom of God not when we live perfectly, but when the Holy Spirit calls us, enlightens us, sanctifies us and preserves us. When we become welcomed into the kingdom of God. When we find ourselves forgiven, renewed, and empowered to begin again as followers of Christ.

It is then that the whole of the Sermon on the Mount becomes both our desire and our destination. Grateful to God, we find opportunity to spend the rest of our lives striving to enlighten the world, to model righteousness, to honor and respect one another, to uphold marriage and family, to speak plainly and truthfully, to give of ourselves more than is required, to love both neighbor and enemy, to practice faithfulness with humility, to forgive without limits, to live without worry, to refrain from judging others… We may not achieve this perfectly. (In fact: we will not achieve this perfectly!) But as these faithful ideals take hold of our hearts, and redirect our desires, the work of Christ becomes fulfilled in us.

Be perfect, therefore. Created and sustained by God. Claimed and named by Christ. Inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit. God’s broken, faithful people, hoping beyond hope that the words of Jesus might be fulfilled in us. Thanks be to God, who invites us into this life.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How might giving more than required or loving an enemy honor God?
  2. What do Jesus’ words here and in St. John 19:30 have to do with each other?
  3. Do we think of the “perfect faithful life” as a requirement, a goal, or a desire?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When has God called and/or enlightened me?
  2. How has God strengthened me to be more faithful than I ever could have been on my own?
  3. Which of my enemies (or opponents) do I think God is currently wanting me to love?

The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany; Year A (2/12/2017)

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
or Sirach 15:15-20
Psalm 119:1-8 (1)
1st Corinthians 3:1-9
St. Matthew 5:21-37

Prayer of the Day
O God, strength of all who hope in you, because we are weak mortals we accomplish nothing good without you. Help us to see and understand the things we ought to do, and give us grace and power to do them, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

5:21 [Jesus said,] “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”

St. Matthew 5:21-37 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.

But I say to you…

This weekend Saint Peter Lutheran Church, like many Lutheran Churches, will assemble for it’s “Annual Congregation Meeting.” Members and supporters will reflect on the ministry that God accomplished among us in the past year, and look forward to what lies ahead for us in the coming year. We’ll talk about congregational priorities, approve a spending plan for 2017, elect a leader or two, and give thanks to God for the privilege of living together as the body of Christ in Greenwood Village (and its surrounding neighborhoods).

Honestly: these kinds of meetings can be a little dry. This will be the 34th one I have attended, and some of them have been richer experiences than others. But I still look forward to participating each year, and imagining what sort of ministries God will make possible  through the vision we embrace, the decisions we make, and the commitments we take on.

StPLC Narrative Budget

This year we are shifting how we talk about ministry a bit. Instead of budgets and spending limits and comparisons with previous years, we are talking about ministries, and priorities, and the stories we believe God is seeking to tell the world through Saint Peter Lutheran Church. There is is the story of how God is forgiving us, renewing us, calling us and granting us new life through Word and Sacrament. There is the story of how God is making a difference in the world through our love and compassion. We’ll consider the story of how God is expanding our knowledge, deepening our trust, and strengthening our resolve to live as followers of Jesus. And the story of how God’s presence becomes real through the love and care we share with each other. And finally, the story of how God is drawing others into an experience of grace through the witness of our lives, so that they too might be graced by the presence and power and promise of our God. These are stories told about us; stories told through us. But mostly, they are stories told by God, inviting the entire world to experience the faith that sustains us.

In the Sermon on the Mount, a portion of which we read this Sunday for our Gospel lesson, Jesus has a grand vision for his followers. They will not simply be people who refrain from murder or adultery or false oaths. They will be, instead, people who stretch themselves, and demonstrate their faithfulness to God as they treat each other with love, respect and dignity; as they honor and celebrate the marriage bonds that ground their lives together; as they show themselves to be people whose word is their bond, and can be trusted.

Jesus has high hopes for his listeners, and he has high hopes for us. How will we rise above the minimum standards of what is expected of a faith community? How will our stewardship of ministries and congregational resources proclaim our deep passion for the ways God has blessed our lives? How will the world see the love we have for God, and the love God has for us, by the way we do ministry together? It’s going to be a great meeting! See you on Sunday.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What are the minimum standards of obedience for a faithful person?
  2. How is Jesus stretching this, and calling his followers to a richer witness?
  3. How did the disciples do at living up to these expectations?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What are the minimum standards of faithfulness for a Christian (or a Lutheran!)?
  2. How do I plan to rise above this in the coming year?
  3. How do I hope my congregation rises above this in the coming year?

The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany; Year A (2/5/2017)

Isaiah 58:1-9a [9b-12]
Psalm 112:1-9 [10] (4)
1st Corinthians 2:1-12 [13-16]
St. Matthew 5:13-20

Prayer of the Day:
Lord God, with endless mercy you receive the prayers of all who call upon you.  By your Spirit show us the things we ought to do, and give us the grace and power to do them, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

5:13 [Jesus said,] “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. 14 You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

St. Matthew 5:13-20, 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.

An Invitation to Shine

You are the light of the world; you are the light of the world.
So shine, shine, shine where you are.
You are the light of the world.
(Chris Tomlin, © 2000, ThankYou Music)

When Lutherans deal with matters of faith, we often like to speak in terms of “Law and Gospel.” Law, simply defined, has to do with those times when God’s word convicts us of sin. The Law helps us to see what it is that God asks of us, and points out to us how far short we have fallen of God’s expectations. Gospel, simply defined, has to do with those times when God’s word forgives us. The Gospel puts us at peace with God through this gift, offers us the possibility of a new beginning, and allows us to live with hope and joy. One of our commitments is to distinguish, as clearly as we can, between Law and Gospel, without ever disconnecting them from one another. The Law creates within us the desire to be forgiven, and the Gospel responds by assuring us that forgiveness is ours.

When we reflect on texts like this weekend’s Gospel, we occasionally ask ourselves whether this is an example of Law or Gospel. Jesus is speaking to his disciples and he declares to them: “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world… You are a city on a hill.” Then, echoing the words we lift up after every baptism, Jesus says, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (more…)

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany; Year A (1/29/2017)

Micah 6:1-8
Psalm 15 (1)
1st Corinthians 1:18-31
St. Matthew 5:1-12

Prayer of the Day:
Holy God, you confound the world’s wisdom in giving your kingdom to the lowly and the pure in heart.  Give us such a hunger and thirst for justice, and perseverance in striving for peace, that in our words and deeds the world may see the life of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

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

St. Matthew Matthew 5:1-12, 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.

Blessed Are They; Blessed Are You

blessed (blĕsʹĭd) adj. From the Greek μακάριος (ma-kar’-ee-os), a prolonged form of the poetical μάκαρ (meaning the same). (1) supremely blest; (2) by extension, fortunate, well off: blessed, happy.

In ancient Greece, only the gods were thought to be “blessed.” Existing largely on Mt. Olympus, they lived a life of ease and joy. Human beings were never considered blessed in the same way as the gods, but Greeks came to believe that to the extent humans had the characteristics of the gods they could experience happiness. The word “blessed” came to describe this sort of happiness.

This reference to ancient history begs the question: what do the gods of contemporary society promote in terms of blessedness or happiness? We live in a world where prosperity, power, fame and independence are understood by many to be the keys that unlock happiness in this life. Thrive in these areas, and life becomes about as good as it can be. (more…)

The Third Sunday after Epiphany; Year A (1/22/2017)

Isaiah 9:1-4
Psalm 27:1, 4-9 (1)
1st Corinthians 1:10-18
St. Matthew 4:12-23

Prayer of the Day
Lord God, your loving kindness always goes before us and follows after us. Summon us into your light, and direct our steps in the ways of goodness that come through the cross of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

4:12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali,14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

15  “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—

16 the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”

17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately the y left the boat and their father, and followed him.

23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

St. Matthew 4:12-23, 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.

Follow Me

A man had fallen away from his church. A friend of his decided to give him a call about a tennis match they were scheduling for later that week. The friend called from the phone at Christ the Lord Lutheran Church where he was attending a meeting. The phone rang, and the man glanced at his Caller I.D. It said, “Christ the Lord.” He thought Christ the Lord was on the phone waiting for him to answer. This turned out to be a wake-up call for him, and in its own way, it motivated him to become involved in his faith community once again.

In the Lutheran Church we have a strong tradition of considering what it means to be called by God. Not called on the telephone – God’s call usually comes in ways that are a bit more subtle than that. But our conviction is that everyone is called, by God, to a particular ministry, as we seek to spread the good news of Jesus Christ throughout the world. (more…)

The Second Sunday after Epiphany; Year A (1/15/2016)

Isaiah 49:1-7
Psalm 40:1-11 (8)
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
St. John 1:29-42

Prayer of the Day:
Holy God, our strength and our redeemer, by your Spirit hold us forever, that through your grace we may worship you and faithfully serve you, follow you and joyfully find you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

1:29 The next day [John] saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples,36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

St. John 1:29-42, 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.

Come and See

The Toastmasters Club is famous for helping people become proficient at public speaking. A friend once spent some with them, and came away with one conviction: the most important parts of a speech are the first and the last things said. Setting aside the very last words Jesus speaks in St. John (a bizarre exchange with Peter — read it at John 21:20-23), his (almost) last words are “follow me” and his first words are located here in this week’s Gospel lesson.

John the Baptizer is with his disciples, carrying out his central responsibility. (“I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.”) As they are standing together one day, John watches Jesus walk past them. He declares to his followers: “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” And it works! His two disciples hear John’s words, and begin following Jesus. (more…)

The First Sunday after Epiphany; The Baptism of Our Lord; Year A (1/8/2017)

Isaiah 42:1-9
Psalm 29 (3)
Acts 10:34-43
St. Matthew 3:13-17

Prayer of the Day:
O God our Father, at the baptism of Jesus you proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit. Make all who are baptized into Christ faithful to their calling to be your daughters and sons, and empower us all with your Spirit, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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

St. Matthew 3:13-17, 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.

”This Is My Son”

Those of us who worship regularly during Advent will find this (and next) Sunday’s Gospel lesson(s) to be somewhat familiar. The middle two Sundays, every Advent season, are given over to John the Baptist, and the baptism of Jesus. Now, as we begin this span of time between Christmas and Lent, we do the same. On Sunday we will once again turn to the account off Jesus’ baptism (St. Matthew 3:13-17), and next week we will focus on the teaching of John about Jesus (St. John 1:29-42).

We do so under the theme of epiphany. Our tradition used to be that a season called “Epiphany” was located between the seasons of Christmas and Easter. Now we have two times during the church year that technically are not seasons. There is the “Time after Epiphany” which begins on the first Sunday after January 6th (which is the “The Epiphany of Our Lord”) and continues until Ash Wednesday, and there is the “Time after Pentecost” which begins after the Day of Pentecost, and continues until Advent begins. During the Time after Epiphany, we focus our attention on what we can learn about God. Epiphany is a Greek word, which means “to shed light upon.” The question of the season is: “How do these passages from the Bible shed light upon who God is, and what God is seeking to accomplish for us and through us?”


The First Sunday of Christmas (1/1/2017)

Isaiah 63:7-9
Psalm 148
Hebrews 2:10-18
St. Matthew 2:13-23

Prayer of the Day:
O Lord God, you know that we cannot place our trust in our own powers. As you protected the infant Jesus, so defend us and all the needy from harm and adversity, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

2:13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;

she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20 “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

St. Matthew 2:13-23, 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.

Innocents and Innocence

This weekend we turn our attention to a dramatic story about the Holy Family when Jesus was a young child. Two years or so after the birth of Jesus, Magi arrive from the east to honor this newborn King. Herod feigns interest, but he is mostly afraid of losing his throne. The wise men slip out of town without reporting back to Herod (he had asked them to bring back word as to where the new King was born, but they were warned in a dream not to do so), and Joseph, also informed in a dream about Herod’s intent, flees with Mary and Jesus to Egypt.

It is a dramatic story, and there are any number of ways to enter into it. We might reflect on the two Josephs (one the father of Jesus, and one the son of Jacob), their dreams and their faithfulness to God. We might reflect on Egypt as a place where God’s people find refuge (the Holy Family: refugees from the murderous intents of King Herod; and ancient Israel: refugees from the ravages of a severe famine). We might reflect on God’s saving action (working through Moses to bring Israel to the Promised Land, and working through Jesus to bring forgiveness and new life to the world).

Yet the middle of the text derails these possibilities. It is quite likely that none of these connections to the Hebrew Bible will even be heard, because of the horrific reaction of King Herod to the possibility that his successor may have been born nearby. (more…)

The Nativity of Our Lord; Christmas Day (12/25/2016)

Isaiah 52:7-10
Psalm 98
Hebrews 1:1-4 [5-12]
St. John 1:1-14

Prayer of the Day:
Almighty God, you gave us your only Son to take on our human nature and to illumine the world with your light. By your grace adopt us as your children and enlighten us with your Spirit, through Jesus Christ, our Redeemer 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. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 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. 

St. John 1:1-14, 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 Feast of the Nativity

I have this theory about Christology. Christology is a Greek word which combines Χριστός (Christos: meaning “Messiah” or “Christ”) and -λογία, (logia: meaning “word” or “study”). It refers to the field of study which is primarily concerned with the nature and person of Jesus of Nazareth, and what it means to call him the Christ. My theory is this: on Good Friday, the followers of Jesus are primarily frightened, worried that the Roman soldiers might do the same to them that they did to Jesus. If, at that time, they truly believed Jesus to be the fullness of God, present in human form, it wouldn’t have made any sense for them to be frightened of such a comparatively inconsequential entity as the Roman Empire. In the early days of the Christian movement, the church has not yet reached the conclusion that Jesus of Nazareth is God in human form. They think of him as a wise Rabbi (like many of their teachers), or a Prophet like Isaiah (who spoke God’s word to them), or a Messiah (like Cyrus of Persia, sent to bring freedom to God’s people). But God in human form? Not so much. (more…)

%d bloggers like this: