Advent 3B (12/17/2017)

Lessons:
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126
or St. Luke 1:46b-55
1st Thessalonians 5:16-24
St. John 1:6-8, 19-28

Prayer of the Day:
Stir up the wills of your faithful people, Lord God, and open our ears to the words of your prophets, that, anointed by your Spirit, we may testify to your light; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

1.6 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.

19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ ” as the prophet Isaiah said.

24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

St. John 1:6-8, 19-28, 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.

John: Witness to the Light

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.

[The Gospel according to St. John 1:1-5]

These opening words of St. John’s Gospel make up one of the most beautiful and powerful passages in our Bible. While the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) introduce us to Jesus in simple, concrete, human terms, St. John speaks in lofty terms about God: who exists before all else; who speaks creation into being; who is the source of life; whose gift of life becomes the light for all people.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Now, in verse six, the narrative shifts from creation to John, the one sent to prepare the people for the arrival of God’s Messiah, and the contrast continues. (more…)

Advent 2B (12/10/2017)

Lessons:
Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
2nd Peter 3:8-15a
St. Mark 1:1-8

Prayer of the Day:
Stir up our hearts, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son. By his coming strengthen us to serve you with purified lives; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

8.1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’ ” 4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

St. Mark 1:1-8, 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.

Baptism of Repentance for the Forgiveness of Sin

Anyone who has paid even modest attention to the season of Advent knows that it is a season of preparation. As John the Baptizer “prepared the way” for the coming of Jesus, Advent prepares the way for the Risen Christ to enter into our lives today. This week’s Gospel lesson helps us to see how this preparation takes place.

St. Mark (the Evangelist) depicts St. John (the Baptist) as a first-century Isaiah. He is dressed like Isaiah. He eats like Isaiah. He speaks truth to power like Isaiah. And perhaps most importantly, like Isaiah, the hope of his ministry is to transform the lives of God’s people.

The transformation sought by St. John has two significant aspects. First, a person comes to understand the extent of his or her sin and brokenness. Second, through the grace, love and forgiveness of God, this sin is forgiven, and a new heart — a new mind — begins to emerge. (more…)

Advent 1B (12/3/2017)

Lessons:
Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
1st Corinthians 1:3-9
St. Mark 13:24-37

Prayer of the Day:
Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. By your merciful protection waken us to the threatening dangers of our sins, and keep us blameless until the coming of your new day, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

13:24 “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.

34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake-for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

St. Mark 13:24-37, 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.

A Season of Waiting and Watching

The season of Advent is upon us: four weeks of preparation, designed to make us ready for the celebration of Christ’s birth towards the end of this month. Traditionally, the church has considered this as a time to slow down and to nurture spiritual growth. Advent is often marked by additional weekly opportunities for worship, personal times of devotion and prayer, and attempts to reach out to the community in acts of service. (more…)

Advent 4B (12/21/2014)

Lessons:
2nd Samuel 7:1-11, 16
St. Luke 1:46b-55
or Psalm 89: 1-4, 19-26
Romans 16:25-27
St. Luke 1:26-38

Prayer of the Day:
Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. With your abundant grace and might, free us from the sin that would obstruct your mercy, that willingly we may bear your redeeming love to all the world, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

1.26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

St. Luke 1:26-38, 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.

 

Let It Be with Me According to Your Word

Picture Mary, Mother of our Lord, in your mind. What does she look like to you? Is she a frightened young girl, perplexed by the greeting of an angel, and struggling to understand what this strange message means? Is she a serene servant of God, undisturbed by the troubles that surround her in the world, and focused only on accomplishing God’s will as Mater Domini? Is she distant and aloof, beyond the comprehension of mere humans (a light blue colored sculpture, high up on a cathedral wall)? Is she loving and attentive, swaddling her newborn son, and pondering all that has taken place in his young life?

For all the attention paid to Mary, Mother of our Lord, we really don’t know much about her. (more…)

Advent 3B (12/14/2014)

Lessons:
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126
or St. Luke 1:46b-55
1st Thessalonians 5:16-24
St. John 1:6-8, 19-28

Prayer of the Day:
Stir up the wills of your faithful people, Lord God, and open our ears to the words of your prophets, that, anointed by your Spirit, we may testify to your light; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

1.6 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.

19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ ” as the prophet Isaiah said.

24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

St. John 1:6-8, 19-28, 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.

John: Not the Greatest…

Charles Kirkpatrick tells a story about a little boy who walked out into the backyard wearing his baseball cap and carrying a ball and bat. “I’m the greatest hitter in the world,” he said. Then he tossed the ball into the air, swung at it, and missed. “Strike One!” he yelled. He picked up the ball and said again, “I’m the greatest hitter in the world!” Again, he tossed the ball into the air, swung at it and missed. “Strike Two!” he cried. The boy looked at his bat and ball, straightened his cap and said again, “I’m the greatest hitter in the world!” A third time he tossed the ball up and swung at it. He missed again. “Strike Three!” The little boy picked up the ball, looked at it, and cried out in a loud voice, “I’m the greatest pitcher in the world!” (more…)

Advent 2B (12/7/2014)

Lessons:
Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
2nd Peter 3:8-15a
St. Mark 1:1-8

Prayer of the Day:
Stir up our hearts, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son. By his coming strengthen us to serve you with purified lives; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

8.1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’ ” 4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

St. Mark 1:1-8, 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.

Beginning the Good News

“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” This is the first verse of the first chapter of the first Gospel account in our Bible. Sure, St. Matthew comes first in the order of the New Testament; but St. Mark was written as many as twenty years before St. Matthew was (perhaps shortly after a.d. 70 as opposed to shortly after a.d. 90). Sure, some scholars argue that these first thirteen words (seven words in the original Greek language) were intended, by St. Mark, to be the title of the work, not its first verse; but the way they drive us into the story makes them seem more like the story’s beginning than its cover page. Only thirteen words in St Mark before John the Baptist is on the scene, while St. Matthew and St. Luke wind their way through two full chapters before they get to this point in the story.

St. Mark doesn’t have time for genealogies, Mary & Joseph, Zechariah & Elizabeth, angels & dreams, the birth story, shepherds & barnyard animals, wise men, a cruel king, an escape to Egypt, and trips to Jerusalem for worship… He needs to get this story started, and so he does, abruptly and purposefully: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (more…)

Advent 1B (11/30/2014)

Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
1st Corinthians 1:3-9
St. Mark 13:24-37

Prayer of the Day:
Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. By your merciful protection waken us to the threatening dangers of our sins, and keep us blameless until the coming of your new day, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

13:24 “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.

34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake-for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

St. Mark 13:24-37, 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.

And We Begin Again

There is a rhythm to the liturgical church calendar. It begins with the season of Advent; four weeks of preparing ourselves for the announcement of the Messiah’s birth. It continues with the seasons that follow: Christmas (the celebration of Christ’s nativity), Epiphany (a focus on how God is revealed to the world, especially through Christ), Lent (repentance, and forgiveness and Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem), Holy Week (the passion of Christ and the mystery of salvation), Easter (a week of Sundays, celebrating the good news of the resurrection), and then the long time in between, sometimes called “The Sundays after Pentecost” — thought of as a time when we explore what it means to be claimed by the Gospel and called to faithful living — but technically not a season in and of itself.

We have just reached the end of this particular in between time. With parables drawing our attention to the end of the ages (The Foolish Maidens, The Talents, The Great Judgment), Jesus reminds us that just as every church year comes to an end, so will the history of this world, and in that ending there will be hope for God’s people. With this message comes the realization that we live in another kind of “in between time.” In between the time when Israel looked for (and experienced) the arrival of the Messiah, and the time when we look for (and hope to experience) Christ as he returns to bring history to a close, is the “in between” time when we look for the ways Christ comes into our hearts today, deepening our trust in the promises of God, and strengthening our resolve to live in ways that bear witness to our faith. (more…)

Advent 4B (12/18/2011)

Lessons:
2nd Samuel 7:1-11, 16
St. Luke 1:46b-55
or Psalm 89: 1-4, 19-26
Romans 16:25-27
St. Luke 1:26-38

Prayer of the Day:
Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. With your abundant grace and might, free us from the sin that would obstruct your mercy, that willingly we may bear your redeeming love to all the world, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

1.26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.


St. Luke 1:26-38, 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 Angel went from God, to a Town called Nazareth
to a Woman Whose Name Was Mary

With these moving words, we’ll respond to the hearing of the Gospel tomorrow night at Saint Peter. We’ll be praying Holden Evening Prayer, and as is often the case, our hearts will be stirred as this story of the Angel’s announcement to Mary follows the reading of the Gospel and the sermon.

I suppose we all have our own images of what this face-to-face meeting between Gabriel and Mary looked like, but I find myself wondering what took place just beforehand. (more…)

Advent 3B (12/11/2011)

Lessons:
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126
or St. Luke 1:46b-55
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
St. John 1:6-8, 19-28

Prayer of the Day:
Stir up the wills of your faithful people, Lord God, and open our ears to the words of your prophets, that, anointed by your Spirit, we may testify to your light; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

1.6 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.

19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ ” as the prophet Isaiah said.

24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.


St. John 1:6-8, 19-28, 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.

He Came as a Witness, to Testify to the Light

Light is one of my favorite images. I can stare forever at a fireplace or a campfire. I love the sight of a lonely light, set high on a hill, late at night. And the glow of a candle, shining in a darkened sanctuary, reminds me of the presence of God, even in the midst of our darkest times.

Jonah's Baptism
Jonah’s Baptism at Saint Peter Lutheran Church

In the Lutheran church, when someone is baptized, fire is taken from the Paschal Candle, and the baptized is given a lit candle as these words from the Sermon on the Mount are spoken: “Let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works, and glorify your father in heaven.”

Two Sundays ago, following his baptism, Jonah was mesmerized by the light of the Paschal Candle. We prayed that his sight might always be set on the presence of God in his life.

(more…)

Advent 2B (12/4/2011)

the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,”

Lessons:
Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Saint Mark 1:1-8

Prayer of the Day:
Stir up our hearts, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son. By his coming strengthen us to serve you with purified lives; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

8.1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’ ” 4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”


St. Mark 1:1-8, 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.

There has been a lot of “getting ready” in my life lately. Thirteen weeks ago I was getting ready to begin a three-month Sabbatical leave. Five weeks ago I was getting ready to vacation with my family on Maui. Four weeks ago I was getting ready to begin a (for me) major construction project in my basement. Three weeks ago I was getting ready to spend a weekend in my hometown (Stillwater, Minnesota). One week ago I was getting ready to bring my Sabbatical to a close and return to my regular duties as Saint Peter’s Pastor. (more…)