May 2021 Commentaries

 

 

The Ascension of Our Lord (10 days before Pentecost)

 

First Lesson: Acts 1: 1-11

 

Dr. Luke had been commissioned by a man named Theophilus to write a history of Jesus’ walk on earth, which constitutes the Gospel of Luke. Now Theophilus would like Dr. Luke to write the history of the acts of the early church. St. Luke begins by noting that Jesus spent an additional 40 days on earth after his resurrection, appearing to his apostles and speaking further about the Kingdom of Heaven. Then he gave them an interesting command. Although they now knew that he had risen from the dead and had a glorified body, and even though Jesus had given them further insight as to their mission after three years of on-the-job training, Jesus tells them not to attempt any missionary work, but rather to stay in Jerusalem, praying, until after they have been baptized by the Holy Spirit, in accordance with Jesus’ characterization by John the Baptist (Luke 3:16).

And it is with good reason, because once when they were gathered around Jesus, the disciples wanted to know whether Jesus was going to restore the Jewish earthly kingdom now. They still hadn’t grasped what Jesus was all about! Jesus responded by telling them it was none of their business what God the Father was going to do. But he does tell them that the Holy Spirit will fall upon them, by which they will receive power to become effective witnesses for Jesus. Consequently, they will start going throughout Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria (the Northern Kingdom), and then to the whole world, bringing the good news of forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation by believing in Jesus’ sacrifice. And with that, a cloud picks Jesus up and carries him into heaven.

And while the disciples are standing there, gawking up into the sky, suddenly two men in white robes appear and ask them why they are just standing there looking up. Then they note that, in the same way, that Jesus ascended into heaven, so he will descend to the earth on Judgment Day.

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Epistle Lesson: Ephesians 1: 15-23

 

It was at the beginning of St. Paul’s third missionary journey that he preached Christ to the people of Ephesus, a prominent seaport on the west coast of what is now Turkey. In fact, he eventually spent three years there, teaching them the way of Christ. But now St. Paul is in prison in Rome, and despite his imprisonment, he still wants to write a letter of encouragement to the Ephesian Christians whom he loves dearly. In today’s reading, he praises them for their faith and for their love for all people.

But then he tells them that he never stops thanking God for them, and always remembers them in his prayers, especially that God would

—give them all a spirit of wisdom and knowledge of Christ Jesus, —enlighten their eyes to know well their hope in God,

the riches of their glorious inheritance in Christ, and
the immeasurable
greatness of God’s power working for believers.

Then St. Paul expands on the greatness of this power; it is the power that

—worked in Jesus to raise him from the dead,
seated Jesus at God’s right hand in the heavenlies, and
is far above all rule, authority, power, and dominion, not only in this age but also in the next.

Finally, St. Paul notes that God the Father has placed all things under his (Jesus’) authority, and made him head over all things in the church, which is his body.

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 24: 44-53

 

St. Luke records for us the event that took place behind locked doors on the evening of that first Easter. We find Jesus suddenly standing in their midst, bidding them peace, and showing them the marks in His hands and feet in order to convince them that it really is He, not a spirit. Then He asks for food, and eats it in their presence, as additional evidence that He really is the risen Messiah now with a glorified body.

Next, He gives them a lecture on how He has fulfilled all of the prophecies about Him that were recorded in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. He notes in particular that the Messiah would have to suffer, die, and rise again on the third day. Under these circumstances, then, He notes that repentance and forgiveness of sins need to be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem, because they, the disciples, were witnesses of all of this. But then Jesus says something unexpected: don’t be a witness of these things yet. Instead, wait until you have been endowed with the power of the Holy Spirit, the promise of the Father (which occurred for these disciples on the day of Pentecost).

Approximately 40 days later, Jesus leads them out to Bethany, blesses them, and is carried up into heaven. The disciples pause to worship the ascended Christ, then return to Jerusalem and spend time continually in the temple, blessing God. 

 

St. Philip and St. James, Apostles (1 May)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 30: 18-21

 

Isaiah was God’s messenger for over 50 years to the people of the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, surrounding the time in 720 B.C. that the Northern Kingdom was conquered and dispersed throughout Assyria. This should have been a strong message to the Southern Kingdom, but sadly it fell on deaf ears. The messages of the need for repentance from their rebellious ways, and the need to depend on God instead of depending on neighboring nations, followed by God’s grace toward them and the restoration of their glory, marks the major themes of Isaiah.

In the passage immediately preceding today’s reading, God warns the people of Judah about doing things their way instead of God’s way. For example, they put their trust in nations that cannot help them, and demand from God’s prophets to tell them what they want to hear. Such an attitude, God warns, will only lead to sudden destruction. Then, just before our reading begins, God tries a different approach: he tells them that they can be saved if they return to him. There is still time to repent! If they do, the Lord will be kind to them, have compassion for them, and pity them. And through whatever troubles and hardships they may have, the Lord will be there to guide and teach them.

Sounds like something that we can take to heart today!

 

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Epistle Lesson: Ephesian 2: 19-22

 

As St. Paul continues his letter of encouragement to the Christians in Ephesus, he notes that Gentiles, who had been driven away from God by the Jews who practiced a religion of exclusion instead of inclusion, have now been brought to God by the blood sacrifice of that great shepherd of the sheep, Jesus. Furthermore, since Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, Gentiles who believe in Jesus have the exact same status as Jews who believed in a coming Messiah in Old Testament days and now believe in Jesus in this New Testament period. So Jesus brought peace with God to the Jews (those who were “near”), and also to the Gentiles (those who are “far off”), making the two groups fellow citizens and legitimate children of the same household of God. In addition, with Jesus being the cornerstone, the Old Testament saints based on the foundation of the prophets, and the New Testament saints based on the foundation of the apostles, are being built into a temple, a dwelling place for God Himself. Through the Holy Spirit, we are being built into a place where God lives.

 

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Gospel Lesson: John 14: 1-14

 

Approaching the idea from a different perspective that we are the sheep of Jesus’ fold, Jesus now assures his believers that they should not be concerned with present circumstances, but rather to steadfastly believe in Him. Jesus then states that he is going back to Heaven so that he can build a room for each one of us, so that he can come back to take us to the house that he has built for us (recall that this sounds just like a Jewish wedding: the bridegroom was not allowed to fetch his bride until his father was satisfied with the room/house that the bridegroom had prepared for his bride).

Thomas appears confused by Jesus’ words and asks what the way is to get to where Jesus will be. Jesus explains that he is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one gets to the Father except through him. In response to a question from Philip, Jesus emphasizes that whoever has seen Him has seen the Father and that Jesus is in the Father, and the Father is in Jesus. Furthermore, the words that Jesus speaks and the works that Jesus does are the words and works of the Father done through Jesus.

Then Jesus challenges every believer: He states that whoever believes in Him will also do the works that Jesus is doing, and not only those works but even greater works. And then he challenges us even further by saying that whatever we ask in His name, He will do so that the Father may be glorified. Again, Jesus challenges us: Ask Him anything in His name! 

 

 

The Visitation (31 May)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 11: 1-5

 

Although Isaiah’s message generally was one of a cry for repentance so that God could restore the Southern Kingdom, today we find him introducing the Messiah as the “root of Jesse,” that is to say, King David’s father. He then describes what it will be like when Jesus reigns in men’s hearts.

He will be characterized by
—the Spirit of
wisdom and understanding,

—the Spirit of counsel and might, and
—the Spirit of
knowledge and fear of the Lord.

In addition,
—his delight will be in the fear of the Lord,
—he will not judge with what his eyes see or his ears hear, but

with righteousness and equity; and

—he will render justice to the wicked.

Righteousness and faithfulness will be the key characteristics of this Messiah. Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus!

 

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 12: 9-16

 

St. Paul here gives multiple recommendations for the behavior of true Christians, including

—abhorring any kind of evil,
—genuinely loving one another with
brotherly affection,
—serving the Lord
fervently,
—being
patient during tribulation, being constantly in prayer,
—giving your charity to the
needy saints,
—showing
hospitality,
—blessing those who persecute you (how contrary is this to your nature?)

empathizing with others, whether they are rejoicing or weeping,
—living in
harmony with others (especially within your own family!), and

—not being haughty or thinking you are superior.

Even though our reading ends here, St. Paul adds a few additional thoughts, including

—living in peace with others (as far as it depends on you),
—not taking
revenge on others, but leaving that to God, and finally, —not surrendering to evil intent, but instead overcoming evil

by doing good.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 1: 39-45 (46-56)

 

In the first part of Luke, chapter one, we have the recounting of the story of the angel Gabriel appearing to the priest Zechariah to announce the coming pregnancy of Zechariah’s previously barren wife, Elizabeth, who would bear the forerunner of the Christ, John the Baptist. Then we have the recounting of the angel Gabriel, six months later, appearing to Mary to announce that she will be the bearer of the Messiah, which assignment she humbly and obediently accepts. As our reading begins today, we find Mary setting out into the mountains to share this good news with her relative Elizabeth. What is truly amazing is that, as soon as Mary enters the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth, John the Baptist, as a six-month-old fetus, recognizes the presence of Jesus in the now pregnant Mary, and leaps for joy in the womb of Elizabeth. Immediately Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit, enabling her to recognize that Mary is pregnant with the Messiah, the Son of God. Elizabeth then praises Mary for believing what the angel told her and notes that Mary will be blessed for participating in the fulfillment of a prophecy made at the time of Adam and Eve.

Mary responds to these words with a song of praise which we know as the Magnificat, in which she praises and rejoices in God who chose her, a humble girl. She then continues to praise God by recognizing his holiness, his mercy, his strength, his justice in humbling the proud but exalting the humble, his providing for the poor and hungry but denying the rich, and his faithfulness in remembering the promise of a messiah that he had made to the fathers, including Abraham and his offspring.

What a glorious God we have! 

 

Fifth Sunday of Easter

 

First Lesson: Acts 8: 26-40

 

Chapter 7 of the book of Acts is devoted to the circumstances surrounding the martyrdom of Stephen, one of the deacons of the early church. Chapter 8 then begins the consequences of that death: the persecution of the church, led by Saul. The persecution was so intense that many of the believers had to flee Jerusalem in order to escape certain death. Philip, another of the early deacons, was one of these. He fled to the city of Samaria, where he shared the Gospel, accompanied by great signs and wonders, to the extent that many men and women believed.

With his mission accomplished in Samaria, God now tells Philip to turn around and head south toward Jerusalem and then southwest toward Gaza, which lies along the southeastern Mediterranean Sea. Understand that this would have to be a several-day journey on foot. But as Philip is on that road to Gaza, he encounters the treasurer of Ethiopia who apparently had been in Jerusalem to worship but now was on his way home. (It is believed that Ethiopia turned to Judaism after the visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon; Sheba is believed to have constituted the present-day countries of Ethiopia and Yemen.) The Treasurer is reading—apparently out loud—that section of Isaiah chapter 53 that prophesies the sacrifice of the Messiah, and when Philip appears and asks him whether he understands what he is reading, the Treasurer opens wide a door for Philip to share the story of Jesus, which he does. The Treasurer receives the message of the gospel with joy and asks to be baptized. And when they suddenly happen to come upon some freshwater, Philip baptizes the Treasurer, who happily goes on his way to Egypt and then to Ethiopia, while Philip is transported by the Spirit to Azotus (also known as Ashdod, one of the cities of the Philistines), where he continues to share the gospel as he proceeds north to the port of Caesarea.

 

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Epistle Lesson: 1 John 4: 1-11 (12-21)

 

Continuing to read from St. John’s treatise on Godly love, his first letter, we learn today some extremely useful information as to how to live our Christian lives. First of all, he addresses the question of how to evaluate people who claim to be prophets of God with a new message for present-day Christians. The question we are to pose is whether that so-called prophet confesses that Jesus Christ is God who has come in human flesh. If he does, that is a good sign (but we still need to apply what Jesus said in Matthew chapter 7–does he or she lead a godly life?). If that so-called prophet does not confess that Jesus is God incarnate, then that person represents the anti-Christ, which St. John points out is already in the world. So by this test, we can determine which is the Spirit of truth and which is the spirit of error, because He (the Holy Spirit) who is in us is greater/more powerful than the spirit who is in the world. We can overcome that earthly spirit!

Then St. John returns to his discourse on Godly love, noting that we are to love one another, as that is the defining behavior of those who are born of God. That is to say, if we do not exhibit Godly love (sacrificial love for someone else’s benefit), then we really do not know God, because God loved us so much that He was willing to sacrifice His own Son, who is the propitiation for our sins (that is to say, the one who reconciles us to God by dying in our place). St. Paul then observes that if we love each other, then God lives in us. But if we don’t love other believers, that is clear evidence that we do not love God.

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Gospel Lesson: John 15: 1-8

 

As we have seen previously in the Gospel according to St. John, today’s readings feature more of Jesus’ claims of “I am,” the name by which God revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 3: 14). In this case, Jesus states that he is the vine upon which every branch (i.e., every Christian) must stay attached if that branch is to be fruitful. A branch that is detached from the vine is a dead branch in real life, and a dead branch spiritually as well. And, as everyone knows, a dead branch does not produce fruit. Instead, it is picked up and either thrown into a fire or fed into a chipper. Similarly, if a Christian is going to be fruitful in God’s Kingdom, he/she must stay attached to Jesus. In other words, one needs to receive sustenance every day in order to stay alive and be fruitful.

Jesus concludes this discussion by noting that if one stays attached to Him (i.e., abides in Him), and His words abide in that person, then that person can ask Jesus for whatever one wishes, and it will be granted. Upon first glance, this would appear to be a blank check. Upon closer scrutiny, however, one sees that this promise of Jesus is followed by another comment, that the purpose of whatever you wish should glorify the Father, not yourself. 

 

 

Sixth Sunday of Easter

 

First Lesson: Acts 10: 34-48

 

Today’s reading finds us in the major seaport of Caesarea, a port built by Herod the Great and named after Caesar. There lived a Roman army officer, Cornelius, a Centurion, who was devout, who respected God, prayed, and was known for his gifts to poor Jewish people. As a consequence, God sent an angel to him one afternoon, instructing him to send for Peter, in nearby Joppa (about 30 miles away, a good day’s journey). The next day, in Joppa,, as Cornelius’ delegation approached, we find Peter on the rooftop (remember, roofs were flat) waiting for lunch and praying, when suddenly he sees a large tablecloth lowered from heaven on which were all sorts of unclean animals, and God telling Peter to kill and eat. When Peter objects, God tells him not to call unclean what He has made clean. This vision is repeated twice more. So that when the delegation from Cornelius arrives, Peter is getting the drift of God’s vision to him, that Gentiles were no longer to be considered unclean. Consequently, the delegation is invited into the house, and the next day, at the home of Cornelius, Peter enters his house, neither of which any devout Jew would ever consider doing.

When Peter is told why he has been invited to the home of Cornelius, he realizes that God’s hand was involved in every step. So he gives a brief history of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and why it had to take place. Then, to the astonishment of Peter and his contingent, God makes sure that they understand that Gentiles are entitled to the same place with God as the Jews by baptizing the household of Cornelius in the Holy Spirit, just as the disciples were baptized on the day of Pentecost. The Jewish Christians are left stammering that if God had done that, there probably was no reason not to baptize the household of Cornelius with water, which they do. Cornelius then invites Peter and his party to stay for several days, no doubt to teach them all about how to live the Christian life.

 

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Epistle Lesson: 1 John 5: 1-8

 

As St. John winds down his treatise on God’s love, he notes that if someone has truly been born of God, that person will

believe in Jesus as the Messiah,
love the Father, and
—truly love everyone
else who has been born of God.

In fact, St. John observes, this is how one determines that this is the case, by seeing that

—we love the other Children of God, and

—we love God and obey His commandments.

What are God’s commandments? To love God and to love each other. And those who have faith in and believe that Jesus is the Son of God overcome the temptations of the world.

Finally, St. John notes that Jesus came by water (i.e., water baptism) and by blood (i.e., his death on the cross), and the work of the Holy Spirit is to testify that this is the truth, thus reassuring us that we are Children of God.

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Gospel Lesson: John 15: 9-17

 

As we continue reading Jesus’ statements that He is the vine and we are the branches and that we can bear fruit only if we abide in Him, Jesus now notes that we need to abide in His love. And we can do that only by keeping the Father’s commandments. When that happens, Jesus’ joy will be in us. Again, what is Jesus’ commandment to us? To love one another just as He loved us, with the kind of love that makes a significant sacrifice for someone else’s benefit Then Jesus notes that we are His friends if we obey his commandments; we are no longer just servants.

When Jesus states that we did not choose Him but that He chose us in order to bear much fruit, He reminds us of that promise that whatever we ask the Father in Jesus’ name, He will give it to you in order to show that we truly do love each other and that the Father may be glorified. 

 

Seventh Sunday of Easter

 

First Lesson: Acts 1: 12-26

 

Today’s reading finds us back to immediately after the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The apostles, along with the women (which included Mary, the Mother of Jesus) and even Jesus’ brothers, now gathered in an upper room to pray, obeying Jesus’ command to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father (Luke 24:49). A total of 120 apparently were there. And you know Peter, always having to say or do something. This time it is to replace Judas Iscariot with another who would be designated as an apostle.

As far as Judas was concerned, we know from Matthew chapter 27 that Judas had remorse for betraying Jesus and threw the 30 pieces of silver into the temple before hanging himself. Note that in the Old Testament, hanging often meant impaling on a sword or a post, thus explaining the nature of Judas’ death. In the meantime, the chief priests acknowledged that the money could not be put into the temple treasury since it had been used to murder someone, so they used it to buy a field for the burial of strangers.

But back in the upper room, Peter uses Psalm 69 and Psalm 109 to justify replacing Judas with another. And after coming up with the criteria for a replacement, two men qualify, and the one being chosen by the casting of lots. This appears to be the last time that the casting of lots was used to select candidates for the ministry. Hereafter, people were chosen on the basis of select criteria (for example, see Acts 6 for the selection of deacons, and 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 for the selection of spiritual leaders).

 

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Epistle Lesson: 1 John 5: 9-15

 

We conclude St. John’s treatise on God’s love by his noting that there are several witnesses to the finished work of Jesus:

—the Father Himself, and

whoever believes in the Son of God.
And what is the
testimony of these witnesses? That God gave us eternal life through His Son. And whoever believes in that Son, Jesus, has eternal life.

However, whoever does not believe in Jesus as the Promised Messiah does not have life. In fact, such people are calling God the Father a liar because they disagree with His testimony!

But St. John is writing to believers to assure them that they have not only eternal life but the promise of God that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. Consequently, if God hears us, we know that we have the requests that we made. How so important, then, that we daily study God’s Word so that we know His will and can pray effectively as His soldiers on earth.

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Gospel Lesson: John 17: 11b-19

 

It is the time of the last supper of Jesus with His disciples in the upper room. Judas has left to begin the betrayal process, leaving Jesus to prepare His remaining disciples for the anguish that they are going to experience within a short period of time. Then Jesus offers a prayer for His disciples to His Father, after which they all leave for the Garden of Gethsemane, where He will be betrayed and arrested.

But in that prayer for His disciples, Jesus asks His Father to take care of them after His betrayal, just as He took care of them while He was with them, except for one who was lost in fulfillment of Scripture. But now, Jesus notes, He is coming back to the Father, and He wants His joy kept in His disciples.

Then Jesus notes that because His Word is in His disciples, the world will hate them because they refuse to be a part of the world’s scene. Isn’t that really true today? If you want to see what hate really is, look at the people who are constantly attacking Christian beliefs and faith. And that hate is in stark contrast to the love of Jesus that should characterize every person who calls him/herself a Christian.

Jesus concludes that, just as He was not of the world, so His disciples are not of this world. And just as He consecrated Himself to the truth, so He asks the Father to sanctify (or consecrate) all of His disciples in the truth. And what is truth? God’s Word! 

 

The Day of Pentecost

 

Old Testament Lesson: Ezekiel 37: 1-14

 

The day of reckoning for the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, had come. In 597 B.C., King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon defeated Judah and hauled its people to Babylon, which began their 70 years of Babylonian Captivity. Ezekiel was included in the captives, and God turned to him to be a messenger to the captive people during the early part of their captivity. Of course, being captive in a foreign country can be draining, especially if you are the children of the ones who caused the captivity to take place, and all you know of Judah are the stories told to you by your parents. As a consequence, you might feel forsaken by God, left out in the middle of a dry field with no water, with no foreseeable life to live.

It is this picture that God presents to Ezekiel: a large valley filled with dry, bleached bones. And God’s question to Ezekiel: can these bones live?

God then instructs Ezekiel to speak to these bones, and as he does, the bones start to rattle and come together, then sinews, then muscle, then flesh, until there is a vast army of people lying there but with no breath in them. When God tells Ezekiel to command the breath (i.e, the Spirit) to come into them, He does, and the bodies become a vast army of living people. And that was the message that God wanted Ezekiel to convey to the people of Judah in captivity: God would indeed restore them to life, and bring them to the land of Israel. But then God adds that He will open the graves and resurrect the people from the dead, an obvious prophecy of the work completed by Jesus: all believers would be raised from the dead to eternal life.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Acts 2: 1-21

 

As you will recall from last Sunday’s First Lesson, the disciples were gathered— and stayed—in Jerusalem per the command of Jesus, who had told them to wait for the Promise of the Father (Luke 24:49) there. This was now that day. And that morning, the Holy Spirit came with the sound of a mighty rushing wind, and with flames of fire resting on each of them, causing them to pour out to God praises in many languages, obviously not those they had learned since almost all of them were Galileans, considered uneducated. But God was causing these praises to be heard by all the peoples from other countries who were living in Jerusalem, all astonished that the Galileans could not only speak something other than the vernacular but that they were speaking their language. But it is Peter again who rises to the occasion, telling the gathering crowd that what they are seeing and hearing is a fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel (Joel 2:28-32) in which God tells us that in the last days (i.e., the New Testament period), He will pour out His Spirit on all flesh, including sons and daughters, young and old men, and male and female servants, causing them to prophesy, all with the accompaniment of signs and wonders. Peter then indicates, echoing Joel, that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

 

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Gospel Lesson: John 15: 26-27 and 16: 4b-15

 

You may recall from two and three Sundays ago that Jesus was expanding to His disciples on the topic of He being the vine and we Christians the branches who are to bear fruit. All of this was to reassure them (and us), and help them to deal with the anxiety that was to come as Jesus would soon be arrested and killed. Part of that reassurance was that Jesus would later send the Helper (in other words, the Holy Spirit), who would help them to bear witness to the truth. In addition, it would be the Holy Spirit who would convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment. And when the Holy Spirit comes to believers, He will guide each individual into truth, declaring the things that are to come, and glorifying Jesus. 

 

Holy Trinity Sunday

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 6: 1-8

 

Isaiah, as you will recall, was God’s voice of repentance to the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, around the time of the Northern Kingdom’s demise around 720 B.C. In the earlier part of his ministry, in the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah receives a vision from God. What do we know about King Uzziah? He was a righteous king, that is, for a time. But because God blessed his reign with increasing fame and power, King Uzziah became so prideful that God had to step in. And He did so by afflicting King Uzziah with leprosy, effectively ending his reign. Although the successor to the throne, King Uzziah’s son Jotham, was a relatively righteous king, he was soon replaced by his son, King Ahaz, who led the nation into the idolatry more characteristic of the reign of King Ahab of the Northern Kingdom.

It is during the reign of King Jotham, then, that the Lord gives Isaiah this vision of the power and majesty of God. Isaiah actually sees the Lord sitting on His throne, His train filling the temple, with angels above the Lord proclaiming the holiness and glory of God. Then the voice that calls out to Isaiah is so powerful that it causes the temple to shake. Remembering God’s much earlier statement (Exod. 33:20) that whoever sees the face of God will die, Isaiah, fears for the worst because he realizes his sinfulness and in addition, he is seeing the Lord. But an angel comes to Isaiah with a burning piece of coal with which he touches Isaiah’s lips, and tells him that his sin and guilt is taken away. Immediately Isaiah hears the voice of God again, asking, “Who will go for us?” Us? Who is “us?” The same God whose Spirit hovered over the waters at the time of creation, who proposed, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Without hesitation, this is the only God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to whom Isaiah answers, “I will go; send me!”

 

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Epistle Lesson: Acts 2: 14a and 22-36

 

The scene is the Day of Pentecost, as we read about last Sunday, with the 120 disciples praising God in languages that they had not learned but whose words were understood by the gathering crowd of peoples from other countries who

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3-Year Lectionary-Series B Holy Trinity Sunday

were living in Jerusalem, because the words they heard were in their native tongue. Peter has risen to the occasion by preaching a sermon about the life and ministry of Jesus, making it very clear that his listeners were responsible for demanding the death of Jesus. But listen carefully to Peter’s words: he is describing the Trinity. Consider first Peter’s characterization of Jesus, the Son of God:

—attested to by God (the Father)
God (the Father) did mighty works, wonders, and signs through Him,

—He is the Holy One who does not see corruption,
God the Father raised Him from the dead,
God the Father exalted Him to His right hand in Heaven, and
—God has made Jesus both
Lord and Christ (Messiah).

Then Peter states that what the crowd is seeing and hearing right at that moment is the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on his disciples.

So who is Peter describing? The only true God, Father, Son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

 

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Gospel Lesson: John 3: 1-17

 

You may remember that we heard a portion of today’s reading as the Gospel Lesson for the recent fourth Sunday in Lent. Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a member of the prestigious Jewish ruling council, has come to Jesus at night (after all, no politically correct Pharisee would come to Jesus for anything). But Nicodemus is not opinionated. Rather, he wants to be educated. As an excellent teacher, Jesus, first of all, ascertains what Nicodemus really knows about God, faith, and becoming reconciled with God. Apparently, it was not much, because Jesus has to start from scratch, explaining the concept of being “born again” of the Spirit. Then Jesus notes that He, the Son of Man who descended from Heaven, is the person in whom people must believe if they are to be saved and have eternal life. Jesus finishes by saying that God (the Father) loved the world so much that He offered His Only Son, Jesus, as the only way to take away sins, be saved, and gain eternal life—simply by believing in Him. Thus, in a brief discussion with Nicodemus, Jesus testifies to the existence of One God existing as a Holy Trinity. 

 

Sunday of June 5 - 11 (Proper 5)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Genesis 3: 8-15

 

Adam and Eve have just had their encounter with the serpent, the Devil, in the Garden of Eden. God had given both Adam and Eve the ability to choose to obey Him or to obey someone else. Both of them failed the test when decision time came: Eve because she wanted to be like God, and Adam because he chose to listen to his wife rather than God. Well, Eve got a special wisdom she was wishing for: she discovered that she was naked. As was Adam. And they grab some fig leaves to make clothes for themselves.

But now God comes as He usually does at evening time, to have that special communion with His special creation. Except that they are not there to greet Him as usual. So He has to call out for Adam and Eve, who admit that they have been hiding in the trees because they were too ashamed to appear before God in their present condition. And now we see our first case of narcissism: when God asks Adam whether he has eaten of the forbidden tree’s fruit, Adam points at Eve and says that the wife that God gave to him was the one who gave the fruit to him to eat, essentially blaming both God and Eve for his bad decision. In other words, it wasn’t his fault, it was God’s and Eve’s.

Then we see the second case of narcissism: when God asks Eve what she has done, she points at the serpent and says that it wasn’t her fault, it was the serpent for deceiving her.

God now turns His attention to the serpent, which had allowed Satan to use its body for the deception. God pronounces judgment on it, saying that it would no longer be like other animals, walking, but rather the exception: crawling on its belly. Furthermore, there would be hostility between serpents and humankind from now on. And then God pronounces judgment on Satan and gives a promise to Adam and Eve at the same time: an Offspring from Eve will bruise Satan’s head while suffering a bruise to His heel (indicating that Jesus would break the curse of sin, but at the cost of His life).

 

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Epistle Lesson: 2 Corinthians 4: 13 to 5: 1

 

Continuing to read from St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian Christians that we began last week, we find St. Paul declaring joyously that since he now has that saving faith offered through Jesus, he can’t help but share it with others, because then God’s grace will be extended to others and the curse of sin that had brought death would be replaced by God raising believers with Jesus to eternal life with Him. And even though our body of clay is deteriorating, our soul is being energized day by day as we look forward to that day in eternity. St. Paul then notes that the things that we see around us are not really where things are at; rather, eternity with God—that we cannot see now—is where reality really is. So we should not be concerned about our temporary earthly tent (or, body), since we have waiting for us an eternal home in Heaven.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Mark 3: 20-35

 

As you will recall from last Sunday, where Jesus gave a lesson on the real meaning of Godly compassion to the Pharisees, we now find Him returning from the Sea of Galilee to His home in Capernaum. But as soon as He sits down to eat, the crowds gather in and around the house, wanting (no doubt) healing and miracles, and maybe some free food tossed in. But Jesus is the epitome of compassion, and so he leaves his meal to minister to those in need, causing His family (who apparently live nearby) to declare that Jesus must be out of His mind. The scribes and the Pharisees, who of course are right there to examine every word that Jesus says, are more than happy to agree with Jesus’ family, but in addition, declare that Jesus is possessed by the Devil himself. Basically, they were saying that the Holy Spirit, by whom Jesus was doing these miracles, was Satan.

Jesus immediately addresses this charge, noting the foolishness of thinking that Satan is going to further his kingdom by having his minions expelled from the people that they have been tormenting. Rather, Jesus notes, a strong man (Satan, in this case) has to be incapacitated first before he can be plundered of the people that he has been holding hostage. Then Jesus warns the accusers that ascribing to Satan the work of the Holy Spirit is an eternal sin that can never be forgiven because those who ascribe the work of God to the work of Satan have in essence painted God as the enemy but Satan as the righteous god.

In the meantime, Jesus’ mother and brothers are standing outside Jesus’ house, wanting Him to come out so that they can take care of their “demented” son and brother. Instead, Jesus declares that His mother and brothers are those who do the will of God. Something to remember. 

 

 

 

 

 

April 2021 Commentaries

 

Holy (Maundy) Thursday (Thursday before Easter)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Exodus 24: 3-11

 

This evening’s fascinating lesson begins with the conclusion of what constitutes a marriage ceremony, a marriage between God and the Children of Israel. Although the agreement includes the Ten Commandments and the Book of the Covenant, recorded in Exodus 20:1-23:33, it can be summarized in the words of Ex. 19:5-6: Now, therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, (then) you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

When Moses conveyed this proposal of God’s to the Children of Israel by the reading of the Book of the Covenant, their response was, “We’re in!” And so the sprinkling of blood of a sacrifice mentioned here sealed the marriage agreement between God and the Children of Israel. And thereafter, God referred to himself as their husband, and to the Children of Israel as his wife (Isaiah 54: 5; Jeremiah 3: 8, 14; Ezekiel 16: 8; Hosea 2: 2, 16). But now, God invites Moses, Aaron, Aaron’s two sons Nadab and Abihu, and 70 of the elders of the Children of Israel to come part-way up Mt. Sinai to enjoy presumably a wedding dinner with God himself. And they not only see God but also the pavement under his feet! This is an amazing event since God had made it clear that if anyone saw his face, they were dead (Ex. 33:20).

Can you imagine sitting down with God for a meal? If not, why are you here tonight?

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 10: 16-17

 

Earlier in this first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul had a discussion about the eating of meat that had previously been part of a sacrifice to an idol and warned that if a new Christian saw a more mature Christian eating meat in an idol’s temple, that might be the cause for the new Christian to lose his faith. But then he lays it on the line for those who do go to an idol temple to get meat: you are walking into a temptation that you would do better to avoid.

In our reading for this evening, St. Paul clarifies the difference between eating in an idol temple (dedicated to a demon) and sharing the Lord’s supper with the saints: the wine (the cup of blessing) is a participation in the blood of Christ. And the bread is a participation in the body of Christ. The many who believe are one body in Christ, who is the bread of life.

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Gospel Lesson: Mark 14: 12-26

 

As Passover day begins, Jesus has two of his disciples go into Jerusalem, to the home of a certain but undesignated man, to prepare the Passover meal. The directions that Jesus gives are specific, allowing the disciples to find the place and prepare the Passover meal. While eating, Jesus remarks that one of the twelve apostles is going to betray him. He then identifies the betrayer as one who is dipping bread into the dish with him. Then Jesus warns the betrayer out loud that this deed will lead to the satisfying of Bible prophecy about the Messiah, but that it would have been better for that man never to have been born.

Subsequently, Judas leaves. Then Jesus institutes what is now known as the Last Supper, or the Lord’s Supper, where he identifies the bread as his body, and the wine as his blood, establishing a new covenant with his believers. 

 

Alternate readings for

Holy (Maundy) Thursday (Thursday before Easter)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Exodus 12: 1-14

 

The ninth plague, of thick darkness, has ended, and God has warned Egypt of the last plague to come. But first, he must arrange to save His people from that plague, the death of the first-born of both humans or animals. He then proceeds to give Moses instructions on how this is to be done. First of all, a one-year-old lamb or goat without blemish must be chosen. The families that eat the animal must be of such size that all the roasted meat must be consumed that evening. The blood from the killing of the animal must be splashed on the doorposts and mantle of the doorway of the house. The meal must be accompanied by bitter herbs and unleavened (made without yeast—hence flat) bread. And the entire family must be dressed for travel, ready to move out at a moment’s notice. Thus as God and the destroying angel passed through the houses, any home with the blood on the doorposts will be passed over, thus sparing any first-born there.

 

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 11: 23-32

 

St. Paul is giving the Corinthian Christians instruction on how to conduct their worship services in a way pleasing to God. In our reading for this evening, he gives instruction regarding the celebration of the Lord’s supper, noting that Jesus identified the bread as his body given for them, and the wine as his blood shed for them for the forgiveness of sins. And this meal is meant to help Christians remember Jesus’ sacrifice.

But then St. Paul points out that this is not just an ordinary meal. It requires the participant to examine him/herself, recognizing and acknowledging his/her sins and truly repenting of his/her behavior. In other words, we are to judge ourselves so that God does not have to judge us. Then St. Paul points out that a number of the Corinthian Christians are weak, sick, or dead because they had not discerned the significance of this covenant meal.

Something for us to think about.

 

Gospel Lesson: John 13: 1-17, 31b-35

 

It is Maundy Thursday evening (as we know it). To Jesus and the disciples, it is their last Passover celebration together, because Jesus knows that his suffering begins that night. Just prior to the meal, Jesus gets a basin of water, wraps a towel around his waist, and washes the disciples' feet. What’s this all about? Well, back in those days, there were no paved pathways, and people wore sandals. So whenever people entered a home, it was traditional for the very lowest servant to wash the peoples’ feet. Since this was a borrowed facility, and there were no servants to wash the disciples' feet, Jesus took up the chore. Peter apparently was the only one to grasp some of the significance of what was happening. If anything, one of the disciples should have washed the feet, and Peter recognized that he was one of those disciples. Hence he objected when Jesus was about to wash his feet. After an exchange of words, Peter submits. But then Jesus explains the significance of what he did. He held the highest rank, so to speak, of those in the room, yet he assumed the duties of the person lowest in rank. Thus this was an example of how God credits things: Those who are willing to be the lowest servant will be among the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. In other words, on this earth, pride has no place in the life of a Christian, only love and service.

Later that evening, Jesus announces that now he will be glorified by his Father, just as the Father will be glorified by the work of the Christ soon to be completed. Then he reminds them that, what he told the Jews earlier—that they would not go where he was going, so also now the disciples could not go where he was going—indicating that the unbelieving Jews would not go to heaven but the believing disciples could not follow Jesus to heaven now as he completes the ultimate sacrifice (see Hebrews 9 for what happened in heaven). But then Jesus gives his disciples an old but new commandment: they are to love each other with godly love, so much so that all people would immediately know that they were his disciples by the obvious love that they had for one another. 

 

Good Friday (Friday before Easter)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 52: 13—53: 12


Isaiah, as we will recall, was God’s messenger to Judah, the Southern Kingdom for about 40 years, starting around 740 B.C. His messages called for repentance, punishment for the lack of repentance, and restoration for those who repented. In today’s reading, however, we have a prophecy of the crucified Jesus. In particular, we see that Jesus will

—be lifted up,
—have a marred appearance, beyond human semblance, and

—sprinkle many nations

—presumably with his shed blood which makes them holy.

Then Isaiah compares the young Jesus to the bloody figure hanging on the cross, with no beauty or majesty, or even form. Furthermore, he is grieved and sorrowful over the crowd below him who have despised and rejected him. Why? Isaiah then tells us:

—he was pierced for our transgressions
—he was crushed for our iniquities
—he was chastised in order to bring us real peace, and

—his wounds bring us healing.

Although it was we who as sheep lost our way, it was Jesus who suffered the punishment for our straying. And even though he was totally innocent of all the charges against him, he did not rigorously defend himself; instead, he remained silent. He then was killed for the sins of the people and buried in a borrowed tomb. But then Isaiah notes what Jesus accomplished: by Jesus bearing the sins of the many, the many will be declared righteous. Therefore his reward will be great.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 4: 14 -16; 5: 7-9


The author of Hebrews is undertaking to show just what Jesus is now doing for us. For example, he is our great high priest, interceding on our behalf before God the Father. But this is not just any ol’ high priest, who does not understand our weaknesses. No, this is one who has been tempted in every way that we are being tempted but without sinning. So when we come to Jesus, we can receive mercy for our failures, and grace in our times of need. After all, when Jesus walked this earth, he too offered prayers to God the Father during his trials and tribulations, and as a true human son, learned obedience through his suffering. Thus he became the source of eternal salvation to all who serve and believe in him.

 

Gospel Lesson: John 18: 1 - 19: 42

 

St. John records for us the events in the life of Jesus over the last 24-hour period of his human life on earth:

—He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane,
—Jesus is
betrayed as Judas leads a mob into the garden to arrest him, —Jesus ensures that the remaining disciples are not also arrested,

—Jesus heals the servant’s ear that had been cut off by Peter,
—Jesus is brought before Annas, the father-in-law to Caiaphas, the high

priest,
—Peter follows Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, and there

denies three times that he knows Jesus,
—Jesus is questioned, and is
assaulted when they don’t like his answers, —Jesus is brought to Pilate in the hope that he will kill Jesus on the behalf of the Jews,

—Pilate sees through the Jews’ scheme but is forced to condemn Jesus

in order to prevent a riot, an event that would be disastrous for his

career,
—Jesus is
mocked and then whipped to within an inch of his life by the

Roman soldiers,
—Pilate has Jesus
crucified outside of the city, between two robbers,

—Pilate gets back at the Jews by posting the reason for Jesus’

crucifixion: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,
—The soldiers
cast lots for Jesus’ clothes,
—Jesus sees his
mother as well as St. John standing beneath the cross;

and in order to ensure that she is taken care of (since her first-born

son is being killed), he appoints John to take care of her,
—Having completed all tasks given him by God the Father, Jesus
gives up his spirit, and

—Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus retrieve Jesus’ body from Pilate,

and bury it in a new, nearby tomb, since the Jewish day of rest

was fast approaching, when no work was allowed.

 

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Alternate Gospel Lesson: John 19: 17-30


Pilate has just ordered Jesus to be crucified. However, he is still smarting from the fact that the Jews forced him to condemn Jesus by organizing a riotous crowd. So when he posts the reason for Jesus’ crucifixion, he writes, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” We then see the soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ clothes, followed by Jesus seeing his mother as well as St. John standing beneath the cross. Jesus recognizes that, as her first-born son, he will no longer be able to take care of his widowed mother, so he assigns St. John to do that for him. As the hours' pass, Jesus recognizes that he has completed all the tasks given him by his Father for the salvation of all mankind, so he gives up his spirit. 

 

 

The Resurrection of Our Lord (Easter Day)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 25: 6-9

 

Isaiah was God’s messenger to the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, during the period that the Northern Kingdom reached its demise. Judah was not doing much better, since its king at the beginning of Isaiah’s ministry was King Ahaz, as evil as King Ahab of the Northern Kingdom some 130 years earlier. In today’s reading, God is reaching out to a rebellious nation, promising that if they will return to Him, then He will prepare for all people on “this mountain,” believed to be a referral to heaven, a feast of the finest of foods and wines. In addition, he will remove the veil over all nations that has kept them from appreciating the true God. Furthermore, God will remove sorrow and death as well as the reproach from others of God’s children. When that happens, people will rejoice and be glad in the God and Lord for whom they have waited to save them.

 

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 15: 1-11

 

As St. Paul finishes his first letter to the church in Corinth, he emphasizes the basics of the gospel that they are to retain if they wish to be saved:

—Jesus died for our sins in accordance with Old Testament prophecies.

—He was buried and raised from the dead, again in accordance with Old Testament prophecies.

—Witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection include Peter, then the remaining apostles, then more than 500 believers, then James (Jesus’ brother), and then St. Paul himself.

St. Paul acknowledges that he does not deserve to be called an apostle, since it was he who was such a dedicated persecutor of the early church. But it was by God’s grace that he became an apostle, and by God’s grace that he was able to preach the gospel to so many Gentiles despite his many trials.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Mark 16: 1-8

As we continue St. Mark’s recording of Jesus’ ministry on earth, we find several women assembling early at the tomb on the first day of the week (i.e., the day after the Sabbath) to anoint Jesus’ body. Their first question, as they traveled to the tomb, was who would roll away the large stone for them that blocked the entrance to the tomb. But when they arrived, they discovered that the stone had already been rolled away. Entering the tomb, they were alarmed by a young man in a white robe, sitting there. He told them that Jesus, whom they were seeking, was risen and would meet them in Galilee. Then he told them to tell Peter and the other disciples this good news.

If you had been one of the women, would you have been able to wrap your mind around this turn of events? 

 

Second Sunday of Easter

 

First Lesson: Acts 4: 32-35

 

The times since the Day of Pentecost have been tumultuous for the disciples. Peter and John have healed a lame man in the temple, as a consequence of which they were put on trial before the Jewish Council. Although the Jewish Council decided to let Peter and John go, it was with the warning that they were never to speak or teach in the name of Jesus again. To which Peter and John replied that it was better to obey God rather than man. This episode had the effect of closely uniting the Christians, to such an extent that they all bonded together as one family, sharing freely with those in need among them, even selling property and giving the money to the apostles in order that it could be distributed to those in the Christian family who needed it.

 

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Epistle Lesson: 1 John 1: 1 - 2: 2

 

St. John is writing a letter to the early Christians, dealing with some basics of the Christian life. First of all, he describes the person about whom the apostles preach: someone who existed from the very beginning, who walked among them, who explained God’s words to them, the person who represents life eternal, the person because of whom Christians can have fellowship with God the Father: that person is Jesus Christ.

But then St. John addresses the responsibilities of a Christian: if we say that we are in fellowship with God the Father and with His Son, Jesus, in whom we have light and life, we can no longer walk in the darkness of sin but must walk in the light of righteousness. In such a fellowship with God, we receive the forgiveness of our sins. But if we refuse to acknowledge our sins, or deny that we have done anything wrong, we make God a liar, and His truth is not in us.

Finally, St. John reassures Christians who do sin and acknowledge their sin that Jesus Christ is the advocate (or attorney) for them to the Father since He is the propitiation (i.e., the One who enables conciliation with God the Father) for their sins as well as the sins of the whole world (including ours!).

 

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Gospel Lesson: John 20: 19-31

 

It is now the evening of that first Easter Day, and we find all of the disciples gathered together in one place, behind locked doors. Why locked doors?
They
feared that they were going to suffer the same fate as Jesus. But suddenly Jesus is standing in the midst of them and bids them peace. After showing them His pierced hands and feet, the disciples are finally convinced and are delighted to see their Lord again. Then Jesus tells them that since He has now completed the mission that His Father had given Him, He now is sending all of his disciples out on the same mission, with authority to forgive sins.

Then St. John notes that Thomas was not there when this all happened. So when he finally appears, apparently long after Jesus had left, they tell him that they have seen Jesus. Perhaps there was a history of the disciples kidding one another. Whatever the case was, Thomas declares that he is not going to believe them until he has the hard evidence in front of him. Thus, when Jesus appears to them a week later, when Thomas is present, Jesus instructs Thomas not to doubt but to believe. Jesus then pronounces a blessing on all Christians since Blessed is those who believe in Him without the need for evidence or understanding.

Interestingly, St. John concludes today’s reading with the observation that Jesus did many other signs and miracles in the presence of witnesses, but St. John has included just a few of those in this gospel in order that we may believe that Jesus really is the Promised Messiah, the Son of God; and that by believing we will have eternal life with Him. 

 

Third Sunday of Easter

 

First Lesson: Acts 3: 11-21

 

As our reading begins, we learn that Peter and John, while going into the temple to pray, see a man who has been a congenital cripple begging for money. Instead of money, they give the man a restored body in the name of Jesus. The man, first of all, rejoices by walking and leaping and praising God, then clinging to Peter and John in gratitude. Since the lame man had been well known to all temple visitors, the event draws a crowd. Peter seized this opportunity to explain to them that this man was healed in the name of Jesus, the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, the author of life, whom they killed by asking the Roman authorities to release the murderer Barabbas but instead to crucify Jesus in his place.

Peter then says that their behavior might be excused because they didn’t really know what they were doing. But now that they know what they have done, they need to repent so that God can forgive their sins. And they need to believe in the crucified Jesus, about whom the prophets had spoken long ago.

 

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Epistle Lesson: 1 John 3: 1-7

 

As St. John continues his first letter, he expresses amazement at the love which God the Father has given to those who believe, making them His Children right now! And as God’s Children, we will be like Jesus in Heaven, although we do not yet appreciate what that will be. But since Jesus is sinless, we should no longer practice sinning, which is lawlessness. After all, someone who keeps on sinning has neither seen nor known God. Instead, we should practice righteousness.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 24: 36-49

 

St. Luke records for us the event that took place behind locked doors on the evening of that first Easter. You will recall that last Sunday we read this same story from St. John’s perspective. Again we find Jesus suddenly standing in their midst, bidding them peace, and showing them the marks in His hands and feet in order to convince them that it is really He, not a spirit. Then He asks for food, and eats it in their presence, as additional evidence that He really is the risen Messiah, not some spirit.

Next, He gives them a lecture on how He has fulfilled all of the prophecies about Him that were recorded in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. He notes in particular that the Messiah would have to suffer, die, and rise again on the third day. Under these circumstances, then, He notes that repentance and forgiveness of sins need to be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem, because they, the disciples, were witnesses of all of this. But then Jesus says something unexpected: don’t be a witness of these things yet. Instead, wait until you have been endowed with the power of the Holy Spirit, the promise of the Father (which occurred for these disciples on the day of Pentecost). 

 

Fourth Sunday of Easter

 

First Lesson: Acts 4: 1-12

 

As we have heard during the last two Sunday readings, Peter and John—while going into the temple courtyard to pray, healed a lame man in the name of Jesus. This allowed Peter to preach a sermon to the gathering crowd. In the middle of his sermon, Peter is confronted by the priests, the captain of the temple (i.e., the Levite in charge of the temple guards), and the Sadducees. What is important about the Sadducees is that they do not believe in the resurrection of the dead. Now, about what do you suppose Peter is preaching? Yep, you guessed it. Jesus, who was crucified, who died, and who is now resurrected from the dead. So the Jewish officials put a stop to this by arresting Peter and John and keeping them in prison overnight. But the hearts of Peter’s hearers had already been spoken to by the Holy Spirit, to the extent that another 2,000 men were added to the 3,000 men who believed on the Day of Pentecost.

The next day, Peter and John are hauled before the rulers, elders, and scribes, along with the high-priestly line, who are demanding to know by what power and by whose name Peter and John had healed the lame man. Peter, of course, jumped at this lead-in, pointing out that the man was healed by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the same fellow that they were responsible for crucifying just a few months earlier. Then he declares that God had made them builders for His Church, but they instead rejected the very stone that God had intended, which now is the chief cornerstone of this building. Finally, Peter lays it on the line: there is no other name given on earth whereby people may be saved from their sins and thereby be able to enjoy eternal life with God Himself, except Jesus the Christ!

 

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Epistle Lesson: 1 John 3: 16-24

 

During the last two Sunday’s epistle readings, we heard parts of St. John’s treatise on Godly love. Today’s reading continues that thought, starting out with the observation that if Jesus was willing to lay down His life for us, we should at least be willing to share some of the wealth that God has entrusted to us with those of our brothers who are in need. And if we have such a willing and generous heart, then we have the confidence that God will hear our prayers. That is to say, what pleases God about us is that we please Him by keeping His commandments. Furthermore, whoever keeps God’s commandments abides in Him. And what are those crucial commandments? That we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and that we love each other.

 

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Gospel Lesson: John 10: 11-18

 

Jesus has just healed a man who had been born blind. In today’s reading, St. John records an episode in which Jesus is describing to the Jewish crowd who He really is. In contrast to a person hired to tend the sheep, who flees to let the sheep fend for themselves when there is danger, Jesus is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life so that the sheep may be saved. Not only that, but Jesus knows each of His sheep by name and they know Him, just as the Father knows Jesus and Jesus knows the Father.

But then Jesus comments that He has other sheep that are not currently of this fold, but He is seeking them out to add to His flock so that there will be one flock led by one Shepherd, Jesus. Obviously, Jesus is referring to the Gentiles, who in the years to come will constitute the bulk of His flock.

Finally, Jesus observes that God the Father loves Him because He is laying down His life for all of the sheep and that He is doing it willingly and of His own accord, because Jesus had been given the authority, or option, by the Father to lay His life down and to take it up again. Jesus demonstrated His love for us by laying down His life for us. 

 

Fifth Sunday of Easter

 

First Lesson: Acts 8: 26-40

 

Chapter 7 of the book of Acts is devoted to the circumstances surrounding the martyrdom of Stephen, one of the deacons of the early church. Chapter 8 then begins the consequences of that death: the persecution of the church, led by Saul. The persecution was so intense that many of the believers had to flee Jerusalem in order to escape certain death. Philip, another of the early deacons, was one of these. He fled to the city of Samaria, where he shared the Gospel, accompanied by great signs and wonders, to the extent that many men and women believed.

With his mission accomplished in Samaria, God now tells Philip to turn around and head south toward Jerusalem and then southwest toward Gaza, which lies along the southeastern Mediterranean Sea. Understand that this would have to be a several-day journey on foot. But as Philip is on that road to Gaza, he encounters the treasurer of Ethiopia who apparently had been in Jerusalem to worship but now was on his way home. (It is believed that Ethiopia turned to Judaism after the visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon; Sheba is believed to have constituted the present-day countries of Ethiopia and Yemen.) The Treasurer is reading—apparently out loud—that section of Isaiah chapter 53 that prophesies the sacrifice of the Messiah, and when Philip appears and asks him whether he understands what he is reading, the Treasurer opens wide a door for Philip to share the story of Jesus, which he does. The Treasurer receives the message of the gospel with joy and asks to be baptized. And when they suddenly happen to come upon some freshwater, Philip baptizes the Treasurer, who happily goes on his way to Egypt and then to Ethiopia, while Philip is transported by the Spirit to Azotus (also known as Ashdod, one of the cities of the Philistines), where he continues to share the gospel as he proceeds north to the port of Caesarea.

 

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Epistle Lesson: 1 John 4: 1-11 (12-21)

 

Continuing to read from St. John’s treatise on Godly love, his first letter, we learn today some extremely useful information as to how to live our Christian lives. First of all, he addresses the question of how to evaluate people who claim to be prophets of God with a new message for present-day Christians. The question we are to pose is whether that so-called prophet confesses that Jesus Christ is God who has come in human flesh. If he does, that is a good sign (but we still need to apply what Jesus said in Matthew chapter 7–does he or she lead a godly life?). If that so-called prophet does not confess that Jesus is God incarnate, then that person represents the anti-Christ, which St. John points out is already in the world. So by this test, we can determine which is the Spirit of truth and which is the spirit of error, because He (the Holy Spirit) who is in us is greater/more powerful than the spirit who is in the world. We can overcome that earthly spirit!

Then St. John returns to his discourse on Godly love, noting that we are to love one another, as that is the defining behavior of those who are born of God. That is to say, if we do not exhibit Godly love (sacrificial love for someone else’s benefit), then we really do not know God, because God loved us so much that He was willing to sacrifice His own Son, who is the propitiation for our sins (that is to say, the one who reconciles us to God by dying in our place). St. Paul then observes that if we love each other, then God lives in us. But if we don’t love other believers, that is clear evidence that we do not love God.

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Gospel Lesson: John 15: 1-8

 

As we have seen previously in the Gospel according to St. John, today’s readings feature more of Jesus’ claims of “I am,” the name by which God revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 3: 14). In this case, Jesus states that he is the vine upon which every branch (i.e., every Christian) must stay attached if that branch is to be fruitful. A branch that is detached from the vine is a dead branch in real life, and a dead branch spiritually as well. And, as everyone knows, a dead branch does not produce fruit. Instead, it is picked up and either thrown into a fire or fed into a chipper. Similarly, if a Christian is going to be fruitful in God’s Kingdom, he/she must stay attached to Jesus. In other words, one needs to receive sustenance every day in order to stay alive and be fruitful.

Jesus concludes this discussion by noting that if one stays attached to Him (i.e., abides in Him), and His words abide in that person, then that person can ask Jesus for whatever one wishes, and it will be granted. Upon first glance, this would appear to be a blank check. Upon closer scrutiny, however, one sees that this promise of Jesus is followed by another comment, that the purpose of whatever you wish should glorify the Father, not yourself.