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.

The most obvious example of this, of course, is the call that a congregation (or religious institution) will issue to a person they want to serve with them in ministry. In our church, we have set up an elaborate system for training and evaluating those who believe God is calling them to serve as pastors. There is an equally robust set of procedures in place that determine how a congregation goes about finding a new person to serve them as a pastor. When a congregation chooses a new leader, it calls him or her to join them in ministry.

Yet this sense of call is not restricted to religious professionals. Through the waters of our baptism, each of us is called by God to become agents of the Gospel – the presence of Jesus Christ – wherever it is God calls us to serve (Let your light so shine, that others may see your good works…). Some of us are teachers, and our call is to be Christ-like in caring for the students entrusted to us. Some of us are parents, and our call is to raise our children in a faithful environment. Some of us are in the business world, and our call is to honor justice and righteousness as we work on behalf of our employer. Some of us are in the trades, and our call is to honor God with quality work and respect for our customers. In every vocation God transforms what we do, and uses it to grace the lives of those who come in contact with us; uses it as an opportunity to proclaim that people of faith make a difference in the world, as they see their involvement in the workplace as an opportunity to glorify the God who equipped them for the work they do.

When Jesus happens upon Simon, Andrew, James and John at the Sea, they are hard at work doing what God had called them to do: they are professional fishermen, feeding their villages and supporting their families by working hard at their trade. Jesus doesn’t call them to stop fishing. He transforms them as fishermen, so that they no longer exclusively focus on fish, but begin to use their skills of gathering to gather people for the kingdom of God.

One aspect of faithfulness has to do with discovering what it is God has called and equipped us to accomplish in this world. As we do so, we are aware that God also wants to transform the way in which we serve, so that in all that we do, the justice and mercy and grace of God’s kingdom are proclaimed to all.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Text:

  1. What skills and abilities have the four fishermen in this week’s Gospel lesson developed?
  2. How does Jesus transform those abilities for the sake of the Gospel?
  3. What do we know about the witness that those four eventually make on behalf of their faith?

Connecting with This Week’s Text:

  1. What gifts and abilities has God given to me?
  2. How have I made use of them in fulfilling my primary responsibilities?
  3. How might the daily routines of my life be different, if I saw them as opportunities to do ministry?

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.

The very first words Jesus speaks in John’s Gospel form a question for these two disciples of John: “What are you looking for?” And then, when they ask where he is staying, Jesus makes the first of many declarations in John’s Gospel. He says, “come and see.”

Come and see. The first invitation to a new life of faith. The first invitation to become part of this great story God is beginning to tell in Christ. The first invitation to draw near to Jesus, and in doing so draw near to the power and presence and promise of the good news.

These disciples do just this, of course. Not only do they come and see where Jesus is staying: they stay with him. And what is the result? They become convinced he is the Messiah. And they join him in inviting others to come and see. Andrew steps up as the first Christian evangelist: he immediately finds his brother, Simon, and invites him to come and see Jesus. Simon will never be the same. And neither will the history of the Christian movement.

Come and see. If we join Andrew and Jesus in extending this invitation today, what will people see if they come? What kind of witness will our lives, and our churches, give to the transforming, gracious presence of Christ in our midst? That’s the challenge. If we invite them to come and see, it is essential that what they see is Christ.

I am writing today at Rainbow Trail Lutheran Camp, in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Colorado, about an hour west of Cañon City. A group of us are creating the Bible study to be used this summer at Rainbow. Through this study we’ll invite each other to consider what we need to do in order to love God, neighbor and self in everything we say and do. It is going to be a challenging study. It will help campers and staff alike to re-evaluate what faithfulness looks like, and how we can offer a strong witness to the world. And just maybe, it will give us something to show to anyone who comes our way. God willing, perhaps they will see our desire to love God, neighbor and self in everyone we say and do.

Come and see. Please consider joining us in extending this invitation. And in living so that others have something valuable to see. The love of God, moving through us, and touching the world. That’s something worth seeing!

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What is John’s role in salvation story of our faith?
  2. How does he accomplish this with his followers? With others in his day?
  3. How does Andrew continue the work John has begun?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Who might I invite to “come and see?”
  2. If they come to me, or to my church, what are they likely to see?
  3. What do I need to do to make sure what they see is the love of God in Christ?

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?”

This shifts the conversation about Sunday’s Gospel lesson. During a different time of year, we might reflect on Jesus’ baptism, and ask what it means for us. How can a careful and thoughtful conversation about our Lord’s baptism help us better understand what baptism means for us?

But during this Epiphany season, we ask what St. Matthew 3:13-17 has to teach us about God.

  • Why did Jesus travel all the way from Galilee to where John was baptizing, so that he could be baptized, and what does this teach us about God?
  • What does John’s reluctance to baptize Jesus teach us about God?
  • What does Jesus’ insistence on being baptized teach us about God?
  • How is it that by being baptized, Jesus “fulfills all righteousness,” and what does that teach us about God?
  • What does the descent of the Spirit on Jesus after his baptism teach us about God?
  • What does the voice from the heavens teach us about God — especially about how God is present in the person of Jesus?

Epiphany is a rich season, as we explore the depths of God’s presence, promise and power in our lives. And it appears there is much to explore this Sunday. Come join us for Bible Study on Wednesday (at noon), or for worship on Sunday (at 8:30 or 10:45). Or better yet, in the next day or two, log in to and let me know what you think. Maybe together we can learn something about the God who is made known to us in Jesus, the Christ.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What point does John make in resisting the invitation to baptize Jesus?
  2. What connection does Jesus make between baptism and righteousness?
  3. How does the voice from heaven put this entire story into context?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What have I come to believe about my baptism?
  2. How is this similar to — or different from — what I believe about Jesus’ baptism?
  3. What does the voice from heaven teach me about God? About Jesus?

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. The Magi slip away, but Herod soon realizes he has been duped. Acting on a tip from the chief priests and the scribes (that the king should come from the line of David, whose historic hometown is Bethlehem), and information from the Magi (that the star over Bethlehem first appeared about two years earlier), “he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under…”

Jesus is safe, having already been taken to Egypt by his parents. But we find ourselves overwhelmed at the senseless death of these innocent young ones, and the extraordinary pain their families must be experiencing.

On the one hand, we might wish this story didn’t have to come so soon after our Christmas celebration. It was just one week ago, after all, that we gathered at the manger with Mary and Joseph and shepherds and angels, and gazed with wonder at this newborn King. Couldn’t we have stayed with this aspect of the story for a week or two, before the pain and anguish of the world crashes in?

But no. The world does crash in. The birth of the Prince of Peace elicits a murderous response from the King of the Jews. Peace is replaced by terror. Life is replaced by death. God’s will is replaced by humanity’s rebellion.

Yet there is hope. Jesus is well, and will return. Herod will pass away, but God’s presence won’t. Nor will God’s grace. This, after all, is the heart of the Christmas story. No matter how dark the world, the light of Christ will not be extinguished. Not then. Not now. Thanks be to God!

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What do King Herod’s actions tell us about him?
  2. What do Joseph’s actions tell us about him?
  3. How does God work through these two individuals?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What do the ties between Jesus’ story and the Old Testament tell me?
  2. When have I seen someone, like Herod, threatened by the work of God?
  3. How will I stay connected with God’s will and word through my life?

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…)

The Nativity of Our Lord; Christmas Eve (12/24/2016)

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. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. 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. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 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. 

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 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; 18 and 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.]

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.

The Fourth Sunday of Advent; Year A (12/18/2016)

Isaiah 7:10-16
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 (7)
Romans 1:1-7
St. Matthew 1:18-25

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

1:18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

St. Matthew 1:18-25. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Brilliant! They Won’t Be Expecting That!

A number of years ago, for a Christmas season all-ages Sunday School event, we watched “An Unexpected Christmas” — the story of Christmas as told by the kids of St Paul’s Church, Auckland, New Zealand. [You can watch the video here: An Unexpected Christmas] It is a lovely exploration of how God planned out and executed the story which stands at the center of the Christmas  season.

Angel from Auckland
Angel from Auckland

While the heavenly host look on in anticipation at every step of the way, God suggests unexpected twists and turns that will take place as the Christ Child is introduced to the world. After each new revelation, a somewhat mischievous young angel with round eyeglasses blurts out, “Brilliant! They won’t be expecting that!”

So far this Advent we have been tending to messages about the end of time, and the ministry of John the Baptizer. But this weekend we turn our attention to the Christmas story itself. Not the familiar version from St. Luke (“In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered…“), but the less-well-known account from St. Matthew’s Gospel. And in this account, as the kids of Auckland would remind us, we discover that it is a surprising story indeed. (more…)

The Third Sunday of Advent; Year A (12/11/2016)

Isaiah 35:1-10
Psalm 146:5-10 (8) or Luke 1:46b-55 (47)
James 5:7-10
St. Matthew 11:2-11

Prayer of the Day:
Stir up the wills of all who look to you, Lord God, and strengthen our faith in your coming, that, transformed by grace, we may walk in your way; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

11.2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written,

‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’

11 “Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

St. Matthew 11:2-11. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

The Feast Day of St. Nicholas 

According to a very old legend, about 300 years after the birth of Christ a child was born to a poor family in Turkey. His family didn’t have much, but they always shared with others.

When he was only a teenager he joined a monastery and became a priest.While he was in the monastery he learned of a poor family who lived in the village nearby. The family didn’t have enough money to afford dowries for their teenage daughters, so the daughters couldn’t be married. In those days, unmarried women might starve to death or be sold into slavery.
When the young man heard about this family, he decided to do something. In the dark of night he took a bag of gold — enough for the dowry of the oldest daughter — and went to the family’s house. He didn’t want them to know who had given the gift, so he threw the bag of gold through an opening in their roof (a “chimney” used for heating and cooking). On the following two nights he tossed two more bags through the hole so that the other two daughters would have dowries and could also marry. There are other legends about this man. Most are stories about how he cared for children or people in need. In time he was called “a saint.” Oh, by the way, his name was Nicholas.


The Second Sunday of Advent; Year A (12/4/2016)

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19 (7)
Romans 15:4-13
St. Matthew 3:1-12

Prayer of the Day:
Stir up our hearts, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son. By his coming nurture our growth as people of repentance and peace; 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 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”
Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance.Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

St. Matthew 3:1-12. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.

This weekend we take our annual two-week journey through the life of John the Baptizer. Featured in each of the four Gospel accounts (actually, the account of John baptizing in the Judean wilderness is the first story covered by all four of the Evangelists: Matthew, Mark Luke and John), John the Baptizer is a pivotal figure at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

He is described as a prophet, with camel’s hair clothing, a leather belt, and eating what he can harvest from the land. This is how prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah are depicted — the first century observer would notice this immediately. Perhaps this is why “the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him.”

But what strikes our ear is not the appearance of John. It is, instead, his message. Repent. The Kingdom has come near. Prepare the way. Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Whatever doesn’t bear good fruit is destroyed. One more powerful than me is coning. He will gather his wheat, but the chaff he will burn.

It is the message of a prophet.

John’s message has much in common with the messages carried to God’s people by so many other prophets. His role isn’t to predict the future (this would be a prognosticator). Rather, as a prophet, John’s role is to point out that there are two distinct paths through life. One path leads to blessing and the other path leads to destruction. This message has heightened importance for John’s listeners, due to the presence of Jesus. These paths also diverge related to him. One path leads to knowing Jesus, and experiencing the presence and power of God. The other path misses this entirely.

So what does the path to blessing — the path to Jesus — look like? For John the Baptizer, it looks like repentance.

Repentance is a crucial theme in John’s ministry. Those of us who live in the 21st Century may not immediately understand how central this is. These days, repentance has become linked to confession, which usually leads to absolution. In some people’s minds, this is the “get out of jail free” card that comes with Christian faith. If we own up to God about what we’ve done wrong (confession), God will forgive us and let us start over again (absolution). What John has in mind is far more profound than this.

In the Greek New Testament, the word for repentance is μετανοία (metanoia). Literally translated, it refers to a transformation (metamorphosis) of the mind (noetics: the science of the intellect or of pure thought; reasoning). What John calls for is not a ritual listing of past sins, and the hope to have the charges dismissed. John calls for the transformation of how a believer thinks. About sin. About new life. About faithfulness. About God. A transformation that comes when the believer’s heart and mind are captured by Jesus, the Christ.

John came to prepare the people of his day. He comes to prepare us as well. For Christ.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why do people flock to John, where he is baptizing and preaching in the wilderness?
  2. What is his primary message to those who listen to him?
  3. How does this prepare people to experience Jesus as the Messiah?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How has my faith transformed my thinking about God, about myself and about faith?
  2. If my mind could be completely transformed by faith, how would this change my living?
  3. What will I do to open myself up to the transformation God wants for me?

The First Sunday in Advent; Year A (11/27/2016)

Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122 (1)
Romans 13:11-14
St. Matthew 24:36-44

Prayer of the Day:
Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. By your merciful protection save us from the threatening dangers of our sins, and enlighten our walk in the way of your salvation, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

24.36 [Jesus said,] “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

St. Matthew 24:36-44. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Be, Be, Be Prepared

“Be, be, be prepared; the model of the Boy Scouts. Be, be, be prepared; the model of the Scouts.” I don’t know how many of you are old enough to remember this little jingle, but it certainly was part of my childhood. I was a Scout, like my father before me. I still remember the Boy Scout Oath (“On my honor, I will do my best, to do my duty, to God and my country, and to obey the Scout Law. To help other people at all times. To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”) and the Scout Law (“A Scout is is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.”) Scouting was a way that my community helped boys to prepare themselves for a life of honor and service in the world. I’m grateful for that training, and to the extent that I have been apply to apply some of these values to my life, I have benefitted from it.

The bottom line is: we don’t know where life’s journey will take us. We don’t know if we’ll have more than our share of trouble or ease; failure or success; bad health or good, grief or joy… If we hope to thrive, no matter what situation we find ourselves in, we’ll need to prepare ourselves, hold to our principles, and take comfort from being (or becoming) the people we are called to be.

The early church thought in these terms. They believed that Jesus, who had ascended to be with God, would return to be with them then. I’m sure some of them must have wanted to know when and how this would happen. It seems that even those listening to Jesus in Matthew 24 want to know. The disciples come to Jesus privately and ask him, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the signs of your coming and of the end of the age.” [Mtt 24:3]

What is his answer? He teaches them that there will be no lack of turmoil during the final years, but there is no way to know when it will arrive. Jesus himself doesn’t even know. It will be like the days before the flood, when people’s minds were focused on eating, drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. They had no idea what was coming.

What is the best a believer can do? Be, be, be prepared. We draw near to God in worship and devotion. We work to see that our witness is as true and faithful as it can be. We care deeply for others in this world. We treat those around us with honor and dignity. How does Jesus put it? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind… [and] you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” [Mtt 22:37-38]

This, of course, is a message which lies at the heart of the Advent season. During these days of preparation we seek to be, be, be prepared for the coming of Christ into our hearts and homes. We’ll worship, study, pray, reflect and serve, seeking to carve out at the center of our lives a place for the Newborn King to be born anew.

Join us in the journey, will you? Whether at Saint Peter, or in your own congregation, let us make these days of preparation a time of waiting and watching and preparing for the arrival of the Christ. Be, be, be prepared. Christ is coming, indeed.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What are the disciples asking of Jesus in St. Matthew 24:3?
  2. Why did the early church find it important to prepare for the return of Christ?
  3. How did they prepare themselves?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What questions do I have about the Bible’s teaching regarding the end of all time?
  2. How might I prepare myself, in case my life should end?
  3. What could I do during Advent, to enhance my preparations?


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