The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany; Year B (1/28/2018)

Lessons:
Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Psalm 111
1st Corinthians 8:1-13
St. Mark 1:21-28

Prayer of the Day:
Compassionate God, you gather the whole universe into your radiant presence and continually reveal your Son as our Savior. Bring wholeness to all that is broken and speak truth to us in our confusion, that all creation will see you and know your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

1:21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching-with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

St. Mark 1:21-28 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.

A devotional message based on this text will be posted by Tuesday evening.

The Third Sunday after the Epiphany; Year B (1/21/2018)

Lessons:
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Psalm 62:5-12
1st Corinthians 7:29-31
St. Mark 1:14-20

Prayer of the Day:
Almighty God, by grace alone you call us and accept us into your service. Strengthen us by your Spirit, and make us worthy of your call, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea-for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

St. Mark 1:14-20 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 Good News of God

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” With these words, in St. Mark’s Gospel, the story of Jesus’ public ministry begins.

The time is fulfilled.
Here St. Mark uses the Greek word καιρὸς (kairos) for time. As opposed to χρόνος (chronos), a word that refers to time that can be measured, καιρὸς refers to a special time — significant time. Sometimes Biblical writers use the phrase “the fullness of time” to refer to καιρὸς time. It is, indeed, a full time. The Messiah has arrived. God is about to accomplish what faithful people have been waiting generations to experience. Jesus announces, and St. Mark reports, that God is about to act. The entire course of history is about to change.

The kingdom of God has come near.
Immanuel. God with us. In Jesus, no longer is God a remote, unreachable being. God has become human, intimately experiencing life as humans know it, and willing to be available to believers; in a living and growing relationship. First century people met Jesus face-to-face. People in our time “approach [God] boldly and confidently in prayer, even as beloved children approach their dear father.” (Luther: Small Catechism)

Repent.
As John the Baptizer makes so clear, this new relationship with God begins by repenting. Believers acknowledge that sinfulness distresses God — even arouses God’s anger. But through open and honest confession about the brokenness of humanity, trusting God’s promise to forgive, renew and restore, a new beginning is made. Repentance is a distasteful, painful experience, but the hope of new life makes it possible to take it seriously, and look for the ways in which it helps to make new beginnings possible.

Believe in the good news.
The good news is that sin does not have the final say. Human sinfulness is not the end of the story. Instead, through the death and resurrection of Christ, God’s love and grace is proclaimed. As the Apostle insists: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (The Apostle Paul: Romans 6:3-4)

As St. Mark’s Gospel begins, so does our life with God. We too live in a time that is filled with the presence of God. We too experience God not as a remote, theoretical possibility, but as an immanent presence in our lives. We too begin our life with God in sorrow and regret for what we have done (and for what we have left undone…). We too, by the promise of our baptism, are welcomed into love and grace of God.

Epiphany creates a time for us to explore how the Scriptures shed light on who God is, and how God is active in our lives. St. Mark’s opening verses invite us into this journey.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What expectations did the first century faithful have about the Messiah?
  2. Why do these fishermen so quickly (and so eagerly?) leave it all to follow Jesus?
  3. What might the phrase “good news of God” mean to them?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How might I increase my expectations of what God wants to do in my life?
  2. What sins of mine put distance between me and God?
  3. When has the gift of forgiveness changed my feelings about God, or myself?

Come, and See

Date: January 14, 2018
Liturgical Day: The First Sunday after the Epiphany; Year B

true evangelism
Philip says to Nathanael
Come and see


Summary:

These days evangelism seems to have a bad name. But Philip shows us that it actually is quite simple and quite gracious. It has to do with inviting others to come and see how faith has blessed us, and the difference it makes in our lives.

Some discussion Questions:
1. Why do so many cringe, today, at the notion of evangelism?
2. What simle invitation does Philip make to his good friend Nathanael?
3. What do I appreciate most about my faith, and how might I share this, with grace and humility?

Download Sermon: 2018-01-14 Sermon

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany; Year B (1/14/2018)

Lessons:
1st Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20]
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
1st Corinthians 6:12-20
St. John 1:43-51

Prayer of the Day:
Thanks be to you Lord Jesus Christ, most merciful redeemer, for the countless blessings and benefits you give. May we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day praising you, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

1.43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

St. John 1:43-51. 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.

Pastor Dave is out of town this week.
Please enjoy this reprise of his January 13, 2015
devotional message.

Come and See

“Come and See,” says Philip to his good friend Nathanael. Philip has just told Nathanael about a man he met. The man’s name is Jesus, and this man asked Philip to follow him. Philip is sure he is the Messiah: the one the prophets and Moses predicted would come. Philip wants to follow him, but there is something he has to do first. He has to go and find his good friend Nathanael, and tell him about it. If he is right – if this traveling Rabbi from Nazareth actually is the Messiah – Philip wants to share that with Nathanael.

So he runs, and finds him, and says to him: “We have found the Messiah. His name is Jesus. He comes from Nazareth.” Now Nathanael knows a little bit about Nazareth. It is a backwater town. Nothing of importance has ever happened there. If God really has decided to send a Messiah, surely Nazareth wouldn’t have been chosen for his home. Nathaniel’s first response is a bit skeptical. He says, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” But Philip, who loves his friend dearly, and who is excited about this man he has just met, offers a response to Nathanael that is brief, to the point, and brilliantly faithful. He says, simply: “Come and see.”

“Come and see.” Philip doesn’t pull out his Bible, and attempt to offer a clever textual proof that Jesus is the Messiah. He doesn’t develop a number of theological arguments designed to convince Nathanael. He doesn’t name a dozen others with good reputations who also believe that Jesus is the Messiah. He simply says: “Come and see.” He trusts that if he is able to help Nathanael to have the same experience that he has had, Nathanael will believe. He trusts that if Nathanael should meet Jesus, he could reach the same conclusion that Philip has. He simply says: “Come and see.” And he trusts that God’s Spirit will do the rest.

Brief. To the point. Brilliantly faithful. And simple! How much we could learn from Philip! Most of us live surrounded by people who have never come to know Jesus Christ. Some of them were members of a community of faith when they were young, but drifted away over time. Others have never darkened the door of a church’s building. And others yet carry some negative experience of the church with them; sure that nothing good could ever come out of it. It is hard to imagine how we might convince them that there is something in the faith for them. What argument might win them over? What Bible passage might break through their reluctance? What could we do to convince them to become Christians?

Maybe Philip has the key. Our job is not to convince. Our job is to simply extend the invitation. Come and see what faith has done for me. Come and see how participating in a Christian congregation has changed my life. Come and see what happens when God dwells at the center of who we are. Come and see. And let me trust that the Spirit will work on you, as it has worked on me. Let me trust that if I plant the seed, God will give the growth.

Let us learn from Philip this week. And let us allow his example to help us learn how best to invite others to “Come and see.”

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What kind of a relationship do you suspect Philip and Nathanael have?
  2. Why is it so important for Philip to tell Nathanael about Jesus? (After all, Jesus commands Philip to follow him – and he doesn’t! He first goes to find Nathanael.)
  3. What do you suppose Philip wants Nathanael to see?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What is it that my faith, or my participation at church, adds to my life?
  2. Do I know anyone who doesn’t know Jesus? Anyone who isn’t a person of faith?
  3. How might I invite that person to “come and see” what a difference God has made in my life?

He Must Increase, but I Must Decrease.

Date: January 7, 2018
Liturgical Day: The Baptism of Our Lord; Year B

the witness of John
a humble, faithful model
Christ is the main thing

Summary:
John understood that his primary purpose was to help people reconnect with God, and prepare them to receive the message and ministry of Jesus. He knew it wasn’t about him — it was about Jesus. We best honor him by organizing our lives around the same principle.

Some discussion Questions:
1. Why does it seem that John is so insistent on drawing attention away from himself and towards Jesus?
2. Was it Jesus’ intent to develop a new religious tradition around himself, or to draw people back to God in a meaningful way?
3. How might I focus less on myself, and more on serving others, so that I might help people reconnect with God?

Download Sermon: 2018-01-07 Sermon

The Baptism of Our Lord; Year B (1/7/2018)

Lessons:
Genesis 1:1-5
Psalm 29
Acts 19:1-7
St. Mark 1:4-11

Prayer of the Day:
Holy God, creator of light and giver of goodness, your voice moves over the waters. Immerse us in your grace, and transform us by your Spirit, that we may follow after your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

1.4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And 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.” 9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

St. Mark 1:4-11 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

It’s All About Jesus

In our liturgical calendar, “The Baptism of Our Lord” is celebrated every year on the first Sunday after the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6th). It is a day when we remember how Jesus, at the very start of his public ministry, joins the crowds of people who are making their way out into the wilderness to hear John preach.

John is a fiery preacher; and powerfully effective. He helps many people see how their living isn’t what it ought to be, and he challenges them to make things different. Lives are changed because of John’s preaching. People understand what he is saying, and they make the commitment to follow where he is leading them. They walk with him into the waters of the River Jordan. They allow him to dunk them under the surface, symbolically putting to death the life they are leaving behind. And then he raises them up out of the water, symbolically bringing them to a new and more faithful experience of life. In this way, he accomplishes two goals. He convinces them of their sinfulness, and their need for things to be different, and he commits them to repentance and renewal — a life of growing in God’s direction. It is a powerful ministry. It changes many lives. John is immensely popular in his day, and a deeply influential leader in the faith. He is about the most exciting thing going in first century Palestine. (more…)