February 2022 Commentaries

 

Ash Wednesday (Wednesday after Transfiguration Sunday)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Joel 2: 12-19

 

Joel was one of God’s prophets to the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, during the reign of King Joash. (You may recall that he was rescued from the murderous Queen Athaliah, an Israelite who planned to eliminate King David’s line. Joash was made king when he was age seven and remained righteous as long as the priest Jehoiada lived.) Joel is writing to the people of Judah who are suffering under a plague of locusts that is devastating the land. And after the locusts, Joel warns, will come the Day of the Lord with even greater judgment.

As this evening’s reading begins, God is advising the people of Judah to return to Him, not just going through the motions of repentance, but returning to God with fasting, weeping, and mourning, figuratively tearing their hearts rather than their clothes. God reminds the people that he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and relenting over the punishment he had planned when the people do repent. So Joel tells the people of Judah to consecrate a fast, and assemble the entire congregation—from elders to nursing infants—to repent and cry out to God for mercy. 

 

Epistle Lesson: 2 Corinthians 5: 20b - 6:10

 

Toward the end of his second missionary trip to Asia Minor, Paul found himself in Corinth, where he initially discussed the Scriptures with the Jews in their synagogue. But because the Jews opposed him, he left the synagogue to share the Good News with the Gentiles, staying with a man named Titius Justus. His next-door neighbor was Crispus, the synagogue leader, who believed in the Lord, with his entire family. After the Lord gave St. Paul encouragement one night in a vision, St. Paul stayed in Corinth for over a year and a half before he left to make an initial visit to Ephesus before returning to Antioch.

The church in Corinth had many growing pains, requiring St. Paul to write two letters to the Corinthians. In today’s reading, St. Paul urges his readers to be reconciled to God because God had caused to be placed on Jesus their sins so that Jesus’ righteousness might be placed on them. Then St. Paul pleads with his readers/listeners not to ignore the message being delivered to them, because right now, God was reaching out to them in order to save them now. St. Paul is so serious about their salvation that he lists all the things that he endures in order for that message of salvation to come to them.

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-21

 

Jesus is in the midst of his Sermon on the Mount. As we begin the reading for this evening, Jesus is addressing Christian hypocrisy, that is to say, doing “righteous” things in a way that everybody can see that you are doing them, thus earning others’ praises, honor, and recognition. Instead, Jesus says, if you want God to give you credit for doing “righteous” things, then all of these things must be done without others seeing or knowing that you are doing them.

Then Jesus addresses who or what your god really is. If you are trying to get lots of money so that you can enjoy material wealth and financial security, or if you are looking to get power and control, then those are your gods. Instead, Jesus recommends that you lay up your treasures in heaven. How does one do that? By devoting your life to loving and serving one another.

 

St. Matthias, Apostle (24 February )

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 66: 1-2

 

In Old Testament times, Jerusalem was known as “The City of Our God.” Well, that was true for a while, but slowly, with ups and downs, the kings of Judah led the people of Judah into apostasy. God sent Isaiah to the Southern Kingdom, hoping that they would repent of their rebellion against God. But the people of Jerusalem and Judah refused to hear Isaiah, pointing to the temple and saying that God is in their midst; they have him boxed in. And besides, he wouldn't let anything bad happen to his temple, the place where he dwelled.

But in today’s reading, God makes very clear that he is not boxed in by a temple. He points out that heaven is his throne, and all of the earth is merely his footstool. Then he asks the people of Judah a question: who can build a place for him that would contain him, implying that they have no materials to use that God himself hasn’t already made. Then God lays out the bottom line: if someone wants God’s attention, they can demonstrate certain attitudes toward God: humility, contriteness, and trembling upon hearing God’s word.

 

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Second Lesson: Acts 1: 15-26

 

Just before our reading begins today, we find the apostles returning to Jerusalem from Mt. Olivet, from which they had just witnessed the ascension of Jesus into Heaven. They return to an upper room where they continually engage in prayer with a number of the women disciples as well as Jesus’ mother and brothers. As the reading for today begins, it is a few days later that they gather with all of the disciples, 120 in total, during which Peter is inspired to replace Judas—the apostle who betrayed Jesus and then when feeling guilty about it, went out and hanged himself, which probably means impaling himself on a sword.

In any case, Peter lays out the criteria for selecting a replacement for Judas. And of the two possible candidates presented, one was chosen by lot—the method used throughout the Old Testament period. That one was Matthias. The New Testament period now uses a very different method, with criteria listed in 1 Timothy 3 as well as Titus 1.

 

Gospel Lesson: Matthew 11: 25-30

 

Jesus has just finished dealing with the discouraged, imprisoned John the Baptist when he turns and faces the cities in which his ministry had been concentrated so far, the cities of Galilee. Feeling frustration himself, Jesus warns that at the Judgment, they would fare worse than the cities of Tyre and Sidon (centers of Baal and Asherah worship) or even Sodom, because, had these cities seen the miracles, wonders, and signs that God had wrought through Jesus, they would have repented. In contrast, the inhabitants of Galilee saw but still refused to repent.

But then, in today’s reading, Jesus praises God for his hiding the significance of Jesus and his ministry from the wise and understanding (i.e., the Jews who considered themselves to be God’s exclusive and superior people) and instead of revealing his salvation to children (i.e., those of humble heart and simple faith). Jesus then extends that wonderful invitation to all who are heavily burdened in their souls by their sin, because He will relieve them of their burden by forgiving their sins and giving them rest. 

 

St. Simeon’s Day, or, The Purification of Mary and The Presentation of Our Lord (2 February )

 

Old Testament Lesson: 1 Samuel 1: 21-28

 

The background for our reading for today begins with the story of Elkanah [ el -ka-nah], of the tribe of Ephraim (a son of Joseph), at about 140 years before Solomon becomes king. Elkanah was married to two wives. The one, Peninnah [pa-nee-nah] was very fertile and provided Elkanah with many sons and daughters. But God had caused the other wife, Hannah [Ha-nah] to be infertile. As a consequence, Hannah suffered endlessly from the ridicule and shame showered upon her by Peninnah. This happened particularly when Elkanah took his family to the tabernacle at Shiloh to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving—where the sacrifice was allowed to be eaten by Elkanah and his family—because Peninnah and her children were given the bulk of the sacrifice to eat, whereas Hannah received only a small portion.

At one of these instances, Hannah went to the tabernacle to pray and promised God that if He gave her a son, she would give him back to God to serve God for as long as he lived. Eli the priest saw her praying, and after an exchange of words, Eli asked God to grant her request. Sure enough, after they returned home, Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son, whom she named Samuel (God hears). 

As our reading begins today, Hannah tells Elkanah that she will not be going along on the trips to Shiloh until she has weaned Samuel (which was anywhere from 3-5 years in those days). Finally, when Samuel is weaned, Hannah goes to Shiloh to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving and to turn Samuel over to Eli to serve God for the rest of his life. Eli must have been quite surprised to learn that Samuel was a result of the prayers of Hannah and himself!

 

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Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 2: 14-18


In this section of Hebrews, the author is describing why Jesus had to take on flesh and blood like other human beings: by his death as a sinless human, he would destroy the power over death held by Satan up to that time. This would result in humans being freed from the slavery to sin that resulted in the fear of dying (i.e., by Jesus dying in our place, Jesus’ death satisfied God’s requirement for the punishment of sin). Upon his death, Jesus, as a faithful high priest, offered his blood in the heavenly tabernacle (Hebrews 9:11-15), thus securing 

forgiveness of sins to those who accept Jesus’ sacrifice on their behalf. Two interesting consequences arise out of this: (1) Because Jesus was a human just like us, he can understand our problems and be merciful to us; and (2) since Jesus also experienced temptations during his sufferings—but without sin, he can help us when we are tempted.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 2: 22-32 (33-40)

 

From the time of the first Passover, God had announced to the Jews that every firstborn son (Exodus 13:13-16; Numbers 3:11-13; Numbers 8:17-18) would be his and that they would have to buy back their firstborn son from Him by the offering of the appropriate sacrifice. This coincided with the sacrifice to cleanse the woman after giving birth to a son, which happened 40 days after giving birth. The requirements for the sacrifice were a one-year-old lamb and a pigeon or mourning dove. An exception was made for the poor, who were allowed to offer two mourning doves or two pigeons (Leviticus 12:1-8).

In a fascinating series of events, just as Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus are entering the temple courtyard to satisfy God’s requirements, at the exact same time, the Holy Spirit moves a devout man by the name of Simeon, whom God had told that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah, into the temple courtyard. When Simeon realizes by the Holy Spirit that he is looking at the promised Messiah, he breaks into praise to God, noting in particular that the Messiah is to be the salvation of all peoples and of all nations. This song of praise is now known to us as the Nunc Dimittis, the Song of Simeon, which we often sing after each communion service

Simeon then remarks that Jesus’ presence will cause a separation to occur in the Children of Israel: those that reject him will be condemned by God, and those who believe in him will be saved. Then Simeon turns to Mary and notes that a (figurative) sword will pierce her heart, undoubtedly referring to the crucifixion of her firstborn that she will witness.

But Simeon has barely left when an elderly woman, Anna, a prophetess, approaches them and declares that Jesus is the one who will redeem Israel. Thus both Simeon and Anna confirm to Mary the words of the angel Gabriel, that Jesus will save his people from their sins (“Jesus” means “he saves”). 

 

First Sunday in Lent

 

Old Testament Lesson: Deuteronomy 26: 1-11

 

Moses is nearing the end of his farewell sermon, reviewing the events of the last forty years and reminding the Children of Israel of all the goodness that the Lord has showered upon them during this time. But God does not want the Children of Israel to forget these forty years and God’s provision from the time of Abraham until the present, whenever the present may be. So he inspires Moses to instruct the Children of Israel in a procedure that will help to remind them of God’s continuing goodness and mercy. The procedure went like this.

Once the Children of Israel had taken possession of the Promised Land and each family occupied its assigned territory, every harvest time they are to gather some of the first of all their harvest put it in a basket, and bring it to the Lord wherever his tabernacle or temple is at that point in time. There he is to give it to the priest, after which he is to declare that he is in possession of the land that God had promised, and that from the time of Abraham (here referred to as a wandering Aramean) through the time spent in Egypt and through their wandering in the desert, God has done mighty wonders and deeds for him and his family, including bringing them to this wonderful land and their own inheritance, in gratitude for which he now presents the first of his harvest to the Lord. He is then to worship the Lord, and then leave to celebrate with his family, the Levite, and the sojourner that may be among him. Sojourner? Yes, from the very beginning God intended that the Children of Israel should use the bounty that he provided to draw others (i.e., the Gentiles) to God by the sharing of that bounty in whichever way that might be appropriate. They were God’s chosen people, yes, but they were chosen for the responsibility of drawing the world to God.

Curiously, God has given us the identical responsibility (see 1 Peter 2:9). How do you express your gratitude to God?

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 10: 8b-13

 

In his treatise on the Christian faith that represents the book of Romans, St. Paul now turns his attention to the topic: How does one get to be saved? He notes that in previous times, God had required adherence to the Law given through Moses: whoever keeps the entire Law will be saved. Obviously, that doesn’t work, since everyone not only has inherited Adam’s original sin but also sins him/herself. (Read Romans chapter 1 for a review.) So then, what does one do? St. Paul answers, it is in your mouth: simply confess that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead. After all, saving faith is that which one believes in his heart and confesses with his mouth that Jesus is Lord, who suffered the punishment for our sins. And it makes no difference whether one is Jew or Gentile: the identical faith is required of everyone in order to be saved.

Thus St. Paul confirms God’s intent to have everyone saved that was the responsibility of the Children of Israel, as mentioned in our Old Testament Lesson for today.


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Gospel Lesson: Luke 4: 1-13

 

Jesus has just begun his ministry, which started with him being baptized by John the Baptist in the waters of the Jordan River, during which the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove. So why doesn’t Jesus hit the road, proclaiming the Kingdom? Because to be a teacher and to be able to empathize with others, one must have experience. And the Holy Spirit is determined that Jesus will get that experience starting with 40 days and nights of temptations in the wilderness, all presented by Satan himself. So far, no problems for Jesus. But after 40 days of fasting, Jesus might be a bit hungry, so Satan attacks Jesus at that point, telling him to perform a miracle for his personal benefit. Jesus’ response is that his hunger for righteousness takes precedence over his hunger for food. Then Satan tries to offer Jesus an easy way to regain all the kingdoms of the world, lost with Adam’s sin, simply by Jesus worshipping him. Jesus responds that one worships only God. But perhaps he also had in mind the fact that Satan has always been a liar, and his keeping any promise or agreement was not worth the paper it was written on in the midst of the fires of hell. Finally, Satan tries to convince Jesus that, by doing something spectacular like jumping off the peak of the temple in the sight of the people, and living, he could get people to follow him. Again, Jesus resorts to the Word of God, saying that one should not test God himself by doing something so foolish.

Defeated at every turn, the Devil leaves Jesus, licking his wounds and planning out a different strategy to cause Jesus to sin. 

 

Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 6: 1-8 (9-13)

 

Isaiah, as you will recall, was God’s voice of warning of judgment 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 idolatry more characteristic of the reign of King Ahab of the Northern Kingdom. 

 

It is during the reign of King Ahaz, 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 are 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, one can say that this is the only God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to whom Isaiah answers, “I will go; send me!”

And what does God give Isaiah to say? He is to deliver God’s judgment upon the people. When the Word of God is spoken, spiritually they will no longer understand, they will not perceive, their ears will become deaf, their eyes will become blind, and their hearts will no longer be able to be healed. Well, is that fair of God? Didn’t God harden Pharaoh’s heart as well (Exod. 9:12)? So how can God blame the people of Judah? How could he blame Pharaoh? Because, after many overtures to the people of Judah, and to Pharaoh, they persistently made their decision to rebel against God. So finally God concludes that they have irrevocably made their choice, so he is letting them continue in that choice from now on. Undoubtedly feeling anguish over what is to happen to his people, Isaiah asks how long this judgment will last. And God responds with a prophecy of the Babylonian Captivity, at which time their cities and land will be laid waste, and only a remnant (the seed of believers) would remain to form a stump. And as a stump sends out new shoots, so this stump would send out new shoots, disciples of the Messiah. 

 

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 14: 12b - 20

 

St. Paul is continuing his instructions to the church in Corinth on how to maintain order during their church services. Apparently, the spiritual gift of speaking praises to God in a foreign language was a gift that too many wanted to use during the service. In this case, there appeared to be two problems with that: first of all, there was no order to what was happening; too many people were trying to speak at the same time instead of humbly waiting for that right moment. Secondly, St. Paul makes it clear that if one is to manifest the spiritual gift of speaking in a foreign language during the service, there must be someone there through whom the Holy Spirit manifests the spiritual gift of interpreting those words spoken in different foreign languages. After all, St. Paul points out, the church service is there for the building up of the rest of the church; and if nobody understands what is being said, obviously nobody is being built up in Christ. So instead, St. Paul advises, people, should aspire to manifest the gift of prophecy, of speaking for God in one’s native tongue, so that everybody can hear what the Holy Spirit is saying to the church.

Does this mean that God does not want believers to manifest such spiritual gifts during a church service? Absolutely not! That would be a quenching of the Spirit forbidden by God (1 Thessalonians 5:19). What he does want is an orderly conducting of the service that allows believers to minister to each other through the gifts of the Spirit. And that requires at least two things: first of all,

that people in the congregation are spiritually mature enough properly to use the gifts of the Spirit. And secondly, there must be sufficient faith within the congregation to recognize, appreciate, and utilize these gifts of the Spirit. As St. Paul points out later in this same chapter (1 Corinthians 14:26-33), God provides these spiritual gifts for a purpose: to build up the church, with everyone being an intimate part of that building-up process. 

 

Gospel Lesson: Luke 5: 1-11

 

Continuing from last Sunday St. Luke’s recalling of the early ministry of Jesus, we find Jesus today by the Sea of Galilee (here referred to as the “lake of Gennesaret”). Because of the crowd, Jesus looks around and happens to find two fishing boats nearby, empty. After ascertaining whose one of them was, which turned out to be Simon Peter’s, Jesus has him put out from the shore a bit so that when he speaks, his voice will carry better to the crowd.

After he finishes his teaching, Jesus asks Peter to go out into the deep part of the lake and drop down the nets to catch some fish. Peter notes that they have been fishing all night and have not caught a thing. But then he takes Jesus’ advice, and sure enough, his crew catches so many fish that their nets start to break. So they signal their fishing partners to come out in their boat to help them, which they do. But now both boats are so full of fish that both of them start to sink. Peter, obviously concerned that he could lose his life and boat, must have thought that God was punishing him. So he turns to Jesus to admit his sinfulness. Jesus’ response? Don’t be afraid; I am going to make you fishers of men. And so the three men, Peter, James, and John, the three partners, give up their careers as fishermen and leave their boats to follow Jesus. 

 

Sixth Sunday After the Epiphany

 

Old Testament Lesson: Jeremiah 17: 5-8

 

As you may recall, Jeremiah was God’s messenger to the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, during the forty-plus years prior to its being carried off into Babylonian Captivity. God’s messages through Jeremiah were calls to repentance from apostasy, warnings of punishment if not repentant, and promises of restoration to a repentant people.

 

In today’s reading, Jeremiah is instructed by God to explain to the people of Judah the consequences of their choice, either to not serve God or to serve God. As you will recall, God explained the consequences of such a choice through Moses to the Children of Israel as they wandered in the desert (see Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, both of which list the blessings for obedience and the curses for disobedience—both chapters of which are worthwhile readings), and later through Joshua shortly before he died (Joshua 23-24).

 

In this case, God sums things up this way:
—If you choose to
trust in yourself—your strength or your wiles, then you can be compared to a shrub in the desert that has parched ground and the uninhabited salt land for a dwelling place.

—If, on the other hand, you choose to trust in the Lord, then you can be compared to a tree planted by a never-ending stream of water, whose roots will extend under the stream bed, thus never having any fear of heat or drought, and whose leaves will remain green and which will not fail to produce good fruit.

 

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 15: (1-11) 12-20

 

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.

 

Then St. Paul addresses an apparent problem of faith within the Corinthian church: some were proclaiming the belief of the Sadducees, that there is no resurrection of the dead. If that is the case, St. Paul points out, then Jesus could not have been raised from the dead. And if he has not been raised from the dead, then not only is the Christian faith futile, but then the apostles are misrepresenting God because they would be proclaiming a resurrection that did not happen. Furthermore, if Christ has not been raised from the dead, then that would indicate that God had not accepted Jesus’ death as complete punishment for our sins, so all we would have to look forward to after our death is eternal punishment.

 

But, affirms St. Paul, Christ has been raised from the dead, as the first to receive a glorious body designated for all believers.

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 6: 17-26

 

Since our reading of last week, Jesus has healed a man of (apparent) leprosy, forgiven a paralyzed man of his sins—thus healing him, chosen Matthew as a disciple, asserting his authority to the Pharisees about what is or is not sinful on a day of worship, and healing a man with a paralyzed right hand in a synagogue on a day of worship (i.e., as far as God is concerned, compassion trumps rules). Then he went to a mountain, where he prayed all night before calling his disciples together and choosing from them twelve that he named as apostles.

 

As our reading for today begins, we find Jesus and his contingent coming down from the mountain and being greeted by a large crowd of people from as far away as Jerusalem and Judah, and also from the Gentile region of Tyre and Sidon, not only wanting to hear him but also wanting to be cured of their sicknesses and freed from their demons. In fact, there was so much power of the Holy Spirit emanating from Jesus that all people had to do to be healed was touch Jesus.

 

But Jesus also wanted to proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven, and he does so by identifying those who would be blessed by God:

—those poor (in spirit), meaning those who recognize their need for God’s spiritual intervention,

—those who hunger, meaning those seeking God, because God will fill them with good things,

—those who weep over their sins, for they will joy in God’s forgiveness,

—and those who are persecuted because of their faith in Jesus,

because they will receive such a great reward—like that of the prophets—in heaven that they will not only rejoice but will leap for joy.

 

On the other hand, Jesus identifies those who have only woes to look forward to in eternity:

—those who are rich (and focus on their riches), because that will be their only reward,

—those who are full (of every blessing on earth without compassionate sharing), because that will all be taken away in eternity, 

—those who are having a great time now but ignoring the needy and their own faith, because in eternity they will mourn and weep over their short-sightedness, and

—those who are applauded and recognized by the world, because that puts them in the same class as false prophets. 

 

Seventh Sunday After the Epiphany

 

Old Testament Lesson: Genesis 45: 3-15

 

We are all familiar with the story of Joseph and his coat of many colors that his father had given him because Joseph was the firstborn of Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel. And we remember how Joseph had dreams that irritated his brothers to no end because they suggested that they would be bowing down to him. So his ten half-brothers sold him into slavery, whereupon he ended up in Egypt, subsequently ending up in prison, and then becoming second in command in Egypt because God gave him the ability to interpret dreams. The last recorded dreams that he interpreted were those of Pharaoh, which revealed the coming of seven years of abundance followed by seven years of severe famine. Consequently, Pharaoh appoints Joseph as ruler over Egypt in order to obtain and store grain in the years of abundance in anticipation of the years of famine. This famine apparently affected most of the known world, because Jacob had to send the remaining brothers (with the exception of Benjamin) to Egypt to buy grain for themselves and for their flocks and herds. But Joseph’s interrogation of his ten half-brothers, without their recognizing him, results in a plan that forces the ten to bring Benjamin on the next trip—that is if they expected to buy any more food.

 

As our reading begins, we find that Joseph has finally revealed himself to the ten and Benjamin that he is Joseph. The ten brothers are petrified because they realize that Joseph now has their lives in his hand. But Joseph reassures them, noting that he does not blame them for selling him into slavery. It was the plan of God so that Joseph would be in Egypt in order to interpret dreams for some of Pharaoh’s officials as well as Pharaoh himself, thus allowing God to make it possible to save a remnant of the world from starving despite the famine. Then he orders his brothers to bring his father Jacob and all that they have to Egypt so that they can dwell in the richest part of Egypt, where Joseph will take care of them because now he is the second-in-command in Egypt.

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 15: 21-26 and 30-42

 

St. Paul is continuing his discussion with the Corinthian church about the resurrection of the dead. He first notes that death came by a man, Adam, but by the same token, the resurrection of the dead came by another man, Jesus, referred to later (1 Corinthians 15:47) as the Second, or Last, Adam. The order, then, in which believers are raised to life again is Jesus, the first-fruits; then, when he comes again, all who belong to Christ (believers from both the Old and New Testament periods). After that the end will happen, during which Jesus will destroy every other rule, authority, and power as well as death, and then he will deliver the kingdom to God the Father.

 

But since this kind of end is coming, St. Paul chastises the Corinthians for continuing to sin, especially by assuming that if they are going to die without any hope of a resurrection, they might as well eat, drink, and be merry now! St. Paul is saying in so many words that they should not get drunk with the pleasures of life when others need the gospel preached to them.

 

Then St. Paul addresses another issue of contention within the Corinthian church: what kind of resurrection body will they have? St. Paul says that such speculation is foolish since that kind of thinking does not recognize the fact that a seed has to die in the ground before it grows into a fruitful plant. Likewise, when we die, God will give us a far more glorious body. Furthermore, because human “seed” is different from animal, bird, fish, sun, moon, or star “seed,” so likewise each kind of body will be given a different one with its own special glory.

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 6: 27-38

 

The reading for today continues the story of Jesus teaching a large crowd from all over the region. We remember from last week his recounting of the blessings accruing to those trusting in Jesus, and the woes accruing to those who are infatuated with themselves.

Today Jesus provides more specifics on how God expects us to interact with our fellow man. He starts out by saying that we must love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, pray for those who abuse us, and bless those who curse us. Now, in this day and age, that just doesn’t seem right. Nevertheless, that is what God expects, because we are to be an example of godly behavior at all times, doing to or for others what we would want them to do to or for us.

But then Jesus defines the love about which he is talking. It is sacrificial love for the benefit of someone else. That is not the type of thinking that goes on in the world. But God is kind to the ungrateful and evil, so we as his children are to be merciful to others, expecting nothing in return.

Finally, Jesus tells us not to judge or condemn others (after all, we don’t know the whole story), because God will judge or condemn us using that same approach. On the other hand, we should forgive others, and give to those truly in need, because God will forgive us and give back to us using that same approach, but he will do it for us with abundance. 

 

The Transfiguration of Our Lord

 

Old Testament Lesson: Deuteronomy 34: 1-12

 

Moses, now realizing that his death is imminent, takes this opportunity to give one last sermon to the Children of Israel as they are encamped on the Plains of Moab, on the east side of the Jordan River, just across from Jericho. He reviews the events of the last 40 years, emphasizing God’s love and mercy and how he sustained them in every way possible; and also admonishing them to follow only the Lord. He ends his talk by advising them to choose life rather than death by being obedient to and worshipping only The Lord. As his last official act, Moses appoints Joshua as the new leader of Israel and then blesses the Children of Israel.

According to God’s instructions, then, Moses climbs to the top of Mt. Nebo (at the age of 120), where God enables him to see for distances of over 100 miles so that he can see the entire Promised Land, the land promised to Abraham over 500 years earlier. There Moses dies, and God himself buries Moses near there. There then ensues a 30-day period of mourning for Moses by the Children of Israel. And what does God say about Moses? There has no prophet arisen in Israel since who

— knew God face to face,
—did the
signs and wonders in Egypt, to Pharaoh, his servants, and the land of Egypt,

—performed miracles, wonders, and punishment (“terror” to those who sinned) with power during those 40 years in the desert.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 3: 1-6

 

The author of Hebrews has been establishing that Jesus is both God and a human being in the previous chapters. He now makes a comparison of Moses with Jesus, noting the following:

—Both Moses and Jesus were faithful to God,
—Jesus is counted as worthy of
more glory than Moses, just as a builder of a house is considered more worthy than the house itself. 

—Moses was faithful in God’s house as a servant, but Jesus is

faithful in God’s house as a Son.


Then the author of Hebrews observes that we are God’s house if we hold fast to

our faith.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 9: 28-36

 

A lot has happened since the teaching by Jesus that served as our gospel lesson last week:

—The deathly sick slave of a Roman army officer has been             

    made well,

—Jesus brings a widow’s son back to life,
—Jesus reassures John the Baptist through the disciples that John      sent,

—Jesus identifies John the Baptist as the Elijah that is to come,

—A woman living a sinful life receives forgiveness from Jesus as        she repents,

—Jesus tells a parable about a sower of seed,
—Jesus identifies as his family those who
hear and obey his Word, —Jesus cures a man with many demons,
—Jesus heals a woman with
chronic bleeding,
—Jesus raises from the
dead Jairus’ daughter,
—Jesus miraculously
feeds 5000 men (plus women and children),
—and Jesus tells what is
required to follow him (pick up our

    cross  daily).

 

Approximately a week later, Jesus invites His inner circle (Peter, James, and John) to accompany Him on a hike up a mountain to pray. Jesus suddenly becomes brilliantly white, with Moses and Elijah discussing with Jesus his imminent departure from earth. Peter, of course, can always find something to say, no matter how meaningless it is, so he offers to build three tents, one each for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah as if they are going to be on that mountain top for an extended period of time. That thought is erased when suddenly a cloud envelopes them, causing the disciples to become afraid, and a voice comes out of the cloud, saying that Jesus is His beloved Son and that they should listen to Him. When the disciples come to their senses, only Jesus is left with them. The event undoubtedly had a profound impact on the three disciples, because they kept quiet about what they had just seen. 

 

 

 

January 2022 Commentaries

 

The Confession of St. Peter (18 January)

 

First Lesson: Acts 4: 8-13

 

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.

As our reading for today begins, we find Peter jumping 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-and now he was 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!

The rulers and elders are astonished at the boldness and speaking ability of Peter and John, since they were obviously common, uneducated men. But then they recognized that they had been with Jesus. Would that we would recognize that all we need to be a witness for Jesus is to let the Holy Spirit speak through us. We just have to be willing to be a witness!

 

Epistle Lesson: 2 Peter 1: 1-15

 

Peter begins his second letter addressed to all Christians of all time, reminding us that the faith that every Christian has is based on the righteousness given to us by Jesus. And it is God’s power in us that allows us to attain the life and godliness that is expected of us. Peter then draws our attention to the characteristics of behavior, or qualities, that will supplement our faith: virtue, knowledge of God’s Word, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and godly love. When we focus on developing these characteristics, we will become effective and fruitful in our knowledge of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Peter then notes that if we are not working on developing these characteristics, we are spiritually blind and have forgotten what Christ has done for us. So we need to practice these qualities continually. And, Peter remarks, as long as he is in this body, he is going to remind the readers/listeners continually to practice these qualities. And what is the purpose of developing these qualities? To be an effective witness!

 

Gospel Lesson: Mark 8: 27-35 (36 - 9:1)

 

Today’s reading finds Jesus having a chit-chat with his disciples, in particular wondering who people thought Jesus was. For example, King Herod Antipas thought that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead (Mark 6:14).
Other folks thought Jesus was Elijah returned to earth (Malachi 4:5), or some other prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15). But when Jesus asked His disciples whom they thought Jesus was, Peter was quick to identify Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. Again, Jesus forbids them to reveal that, knowing that the people, in general, anticipated that the Messiah would lead the Jews into primacy over all other nations, rather than be the redeemer from sin. But when Jesus explained to them that this involved his suffering and death, but after three days be raised from the dead, Peter objected—since he too had not fully appreciated that Jesus was a spiritual, not an earthly, savior. Jesus’ rebuke of Peter slows him down for the time being.

As a consequence, Jesus called the crowd to Him to explain that to receive the blessings of God, they would have to give up their expectations of self - aggrandizement and success in order to serve God. The choice was clear: either choose earthly reward and pleasure and lose one’s life eternally or give up the rewards of this world and serve God in humility in order to get the reward of God in eternal life. Jesus concludes by noting that the coming of God’s Kingdom in power would be within the lifetime of some standing there!

God still offers us the same choice. How willing are you to give up your personal desires in order to serve the living God? 

 

Conversion of St. Paul (25 January)

 

First Lesson: Acts 9: 1-22


Following the martyrdom of Stephen and the beginning of the persecution of Christians by the Jews, Saul, the young man with whom the coats of those stoning Stephen to death were left, enthusiastically becomes involved in the movement to arrest and imprison Christians. Today’s reading finds Saul preparing to go to Damascus to find, arrest, and bring to Jerusalem for punishment all those who belong to “the Way,” the name ascribed to those who believed that Jesus was indeed the Messiah and now practiced a religion that moved beyond obedience to the Law. Recognize that Saul thoroughly believes that he is being strictly obedient to the Laws of Moses——wiping out those who turn from following the strict Jewish laws.

However, on the way, Saul encounters Jesus in a miraculous manner, and Saul immediately recognizes that the person speaking to him is The Lord; and the Lord, in turn, informs Saul that the name of the Lord is Jesus. This conversion of Saul is so complete and real that, a few days later, Saul is on the streets of Damascus, proving to the Jews from Scripture that Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Galatians 1: 11-24


St. Paul founded the church in Galatia during the early part of his second missionary journey. Not much is said about this in Acts 16 since the Holy Spirit appeared to be directing him to Macedonia. As a consequence, the church became infiltrated with false teachers, mainly the Judaizing Christians, those who insisted that these Christians still had to follow all of the Old Testament rules and regulations. Apparently, they also questioned St. Paul’s credentials, so St. Paul takes this opportunity to recount the history by which he became an apostle of Jesus to the Gentiles. This includes being called into this ministry by Jesus himself when Paul (then named Saul) was on the road to Damascus to persecute Christians there. St.Paul subsequently traveled to the Arabian desert, possibly to Mt. Sinai itself, to be personally educated in the faith, again apparently by Jesus himself. It was only three years later, after St. Paul had ministered in Damascus, that he went to Jerusalem to meet Peter and James (Jesus’ brother). Thus St. Paul becomes an apostle to the non-Jews (or Gentiles) in a miraculous way, and God demonstrates in a miraculous way that salvation is for the Gentiles as well as the Jews.

 

Gospel Lesson: Matthew 19: 27-30

 

Jesus had just addressed a question from a man regarding what good deeds one must do to inherit eternal life. In response to Jesus’ questioning, the man insists that he has obeyed all of the commandments, from his youth up. Jesus chooses not to address this obvious falsehood but instead tells him that, if he wants to be perfect, he needs to sell everything that he has, give the money to the poor, and then come and follow him. Unfortunately, the man had great riches, and left Jesus, saddened. Jesus’ remark to his disciples then was that it is easier for a camel to go thru the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, obviously referring to what god many of the rich worship. The disciples are astounded since they had assumed that the more one had, and the more one gave to the church, the more God was pleased with you, and the more brownie points one earned with God, respectively. Jesus sets them straight by noting that people cannot save themselves; only God can save people.

As our reading for today begins, we find Peter responding to Jesus’ remark, wanting to know what they (the disciples) will get out of their having given up everything to follow him. Jesus reassures them that when he comes again in judgment, his followers will sit on twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel. And whatever a follower gave up in this life in order to follow Jesus will receive a hundred times more in addition to eternal life. Then Jesus makes an important observation: many of those who are first (in terms of riches, power, control) in this life will be last (when it comes to eternal life and rewards in heaven), and many who are last in this life will be first in eternal life.

Bottom Line: In this life, it is not what you have (in terms of wealth and power) that is important to God, it is what you did with what you were given. It’s all about faithful stewardship.

It is also important for us not to wonder about what we forfeited for being a Christian, and calculate what we, therefore, are going to get in heaven. That is not discipleship, that is greed, and a poor attempt to bargain with God. Besides, that is not our concern as a disciple; our only concern is to fulfill God’s plan for us in this life and letting God handle the rewards. 

 

Epiphany of Our Lord (6 January)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 60: 1-6

 

Although many of Isaiah’s messages from God to the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, were admonitions to repent, today’s message is one foretelling the lavishing of God’s love and grace not only on the people of Judah but also upon all nations. To a world enshrouded in darkness, God will appear before it in His glory. As God is being revealed, kings and nations—even from afar, will come to Him in faith, bringing the praises of God in addition to their offerings of gold and frankincense.

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Epistle Lesson: Ephesians 3: 1-12

 

In the beginning of his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul mentioned the mystery that God had revealed to us through Jesus Christ. In today’s lesson, St. Paul expands on the nature of that mystery. Recall that the common-held belief of the Jews of that time was that they were God’s chosen people and the only people that God had ever planned to save. Now St. Paul states that God had to give him a revelation in order for him to appreciate the mystery of Jesus the Messiah: that God intended right from the beginning to save all peoples, the Gentiles being fellow heirs and members of the same body and partakers of the same promise in Jesus the Messiah that had been held by the Jews to be theirs exclusively. Even though God had made clear in his promise to Abraham that he would be the (faith) father of all nations, this message being repeated by prophet after prophet, the reality of this statement was never appreciated until the gospel (good news) of Christ Jesus was revealed. It was to the proclamation of this mystery that St. Paul was called in order to reveal it to the Gentiles. And through this combined (Jew and Gentile) body of believers, the wisdom of God to save all of humankind would be made known to the entire universe.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 2: 1-12

 

St. Matthew records for our benefit the revealing of the Messiah to the Gentiles. It starts with a reminder that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judah during the reign of Herod the Great. You remember him: the king who was so paranoid that someone would replace him that he murdered anyone about whom he had any suspicion, including his own wife, some of his sons, and a number of other relatives. So when “wise men”—which could mean astrologers, but could also mean (in our language) professors or researchers—from the east (which could mean Babylon or Persia, or any country east of there) came, claiming they saw the star of the new king of the Jews rise (were they remembering the prophecy that God put in Balaam’s mouth: A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.—Num. 24:17), King Herod’s paranoia went into hyperdrive. First of all, he ascertains where the Messiah is to be born. Amazingly, the Jewish leaders know exactly where, quoting Micah 5:2. Then Herod schemes to have the wise men find that new king and reveal that to him so that he can worship him individually (wink, wink).

Lo and behold, the star that had led them west now leads the wise men south to Bethlehem and to the exact home where Jesus is (remember, approximately two years have elapsed since Jesus was born, and apparently Joseph set up shop in Bethlehem after Jesus’ birth).

Notice too that these wise men regarded Jesus as more than an ordinary king since they bowed down to worship him, offering costly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, something that is done only to a deity. Thus, by employing a new star, God revealed His Messiah to the Gentiles. And God continued His intervention by directing the wise men not to return to Herod but to return home by a different route. 

 

 

Circumcision and Name of Jesus (1 January)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Numbers 6: 22-27

 

The book of Numbers is a potpourri of instructions to the Children of Israel from God through Moses as they traveled from Egypt through the wilderness. In today’s lesson, God instructs the priests Aaron and his sons on how to bless the people. The blessing is known as the Benediction and is the one that our pastor says at the close of most liturgical services. Let’s look at each phrase.

“bless you and keep you:”
This means that God will
guard and protect you, your family, your crops, and your reputation, and will surround you with his presence.

“make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you:”
This means that God’s
love and favor will be upon you as His gift.

“lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace:”
This means that, again, God’s love and favor toward you will be to give you a

sense of well-being, contentedness, and rightness.

Notice that the person who blesses us is named “The Lord.” Notice also that the blessing is three-fold, suggestive of the three-fold person of the Trinity. Finally, notice then that the name of the second person of the Trinity is also “The Lord,” as Jesus was often called in the New Testament books.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Galatians 3: 23-29

 

St. Paul apparently established the church in Galatia during his first missionary journey. The church had many growing pains which forced St. Paul to write this letter to address the various issues. In today’s reading, St. Paul addresses some fundamental questions about Christian beliefs. The first question is, what is the purpose of the Law? The answer is that it serves as a guardian, to help us regulate and control our own behavior so that we might be prepared to be justified by faith.

The second question is, how do we get our faith? The answer is that we get it when we are baptized into Christ. And it does not make any difference what our status in life might be, baptism makes us one in Christ with all other Christians. The last question here is, how does that faith change our status with God? The answer is that we are now sons of God and descendants of Abraham, thus sharing through inheritance the promises made to Abraham by God. This echoes the statement that St Paul made earlier in Gal. 3:7—Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.

But that raises an interesting question: By what name are the descendants of Abraham known? That’s right, Jews! Does that mean that Christians are actually Jews? Consider St. Paul’s answer in Romans 2:28-29—For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. Did you catch that? A Jew is not determined by one’s genetics (from a human standpoint), but rather by whether you have faith in Jesus. That is to say, who is a Jew is determined by spiritual, not physical, criteria.

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 2: 21

 

According to the directions given to the Children of Israel by God, male children were to be given their name upon circumcision on the 8th day of life. Circumcision was an outward sign that the person was included in the covenant made by God with Abraham.

The name, “Jesus,” was the name designated for the child to be born of Mary, as recorded in Luke 1:31-33—“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 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 father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom, there will be no end.”

And what does the name “Jesus” mean? Savior!

 

St. Simeon’s Day, or, The Purification of Mary and The Presentation of Our Lord (2 February )

 

Old Testament Lesson: 1 Samuel 1: 21-28

 

The background for our reading for today begins with the story of Elkanah
[ el -ka-nah], of the tribe of Ephraim (a son of Joseph), at about 140 years
before Solomon becomes king. Elkanah was married to two wives. The one, Peninnah [pa-nee-nah] was very fertile and provided Elkanah with many sons and daughters. But God had caused the other wife, Hannah [Ha-nah] to be infertile. As a consequence, Hannah suffered endlessly from the ridicule and shame showered upon her by Peninnah. This happened particularly when Elkanah took his family to the tabernacle at Shiloh to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving—where the sacrifice was allowed to be eaten by Elkanah and his family—because Peninnah and her children were given the bulk of the sacrifice to eat, whereas Hannah received only a small portion.

At one of these instances, Hannah went to the tabernacle to pray and promised God that if He gave her a son, she would give him back to God to serve God for as long as he lived. Eli the priest saw her praying, and after an exchange of words, Eli asked God to grant her request. Sure enough, after they returned home, Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son, whom she named Samuel (God hears).

As our reading begins today, Hannah tells Elkanah that she will not be going along on the trips to Shiloh until she has weaned Samuel (which was anywhere from 3-5 years in those days). Finally, when Samuel is weaned, Hannah goes to Shiloh to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving and to turn Samuel over to Eli to serve God for the rest of his life. Eli must have been quite surprised to learn that Samuel was a result of the prayers of Hannah and himself!

 

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Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 2: 14-18


In this section of Hebrews, the author is describing why Jesus had to take on flesh and blood like other human beings: by his death as a sinless human, he would destroy the power over death held by Satan up to that time. This would result in humans being freed from the slavery to sin that resulted in the fear of dying (i.e., by Jesus dying in our place, Jesus’ death satisfied God’s requirement for the punishment of sin). Upon his death, Jesus, as a faithful high priest, offered his blood in the heavenly tabernacle (Hebrews 9:11-15), thus securing forgiveness of sins to those who accept Jesus’ sacrifice on their behalf. Two interesting consequences arise out of this: (1) Because Jesus was a human just like us, he can understand our problems and be merciful to us; and (2) since Jesus also experienced temptations during his sufferings—but without sinning, he can help us when we are tempted.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 2: 22-32 (33-40)

 

From the time of the first Passover, God had announced to the Jews that every firstborn son (Exodus 13:13-16; Numbers 3:11-13; Numbers 8:17-18) would be hi and that they would have to buy back their firstborn son from Him by the offering of the appropriate sacrifice. This coincided with the sacrifice to cleanse the woman after giving birth to a son, which happened 40 days after giving birth. The requirements for the sacrifice were a one-year-old lamb and a pigeon or mourning dove. An exception was made for the poor, who were allowed to offer two mourning doves or two pigeons (Leviticus 12:1-8).

In a fascinating series of events, just as Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus are entering the temple courtyard to satisfy God’s requirements, at the exact same time, the Holy Spirit moves a devout man by the name of Simeon, whom God had told that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah, into the temple courtyard. When Simeon realizes by the Holy Spirit that he is looking at the promised Messiah, he breaks into praise to God, noting in particular that the Messiah is to be the salvation of all peoples and of all nations. This song of praise is now known to us as the Nunc Dimittis, the Song of Simeon, which we often sing after each communion service

Simeon then remarks that Jesus’ presence will cause a separation to occur in the Children of Israel: those that reject him will be condemned by God, and those who believe in him will be saved. Then Simeon turns to Mary and notes that a (figurative) sword will pierce her heart, undoubtedly referring to the crucifixion of her firstborn that she will witness.

But Simeon has barely left when an elderly woman, Anna, a prophetess, approaches them and declares that Jesus is the one who will redeem Israel. Thus both Simeon and Anna confirm to Mary the words of the angel Gabriel, that Jesus will save his people from their sins (“Jesus” means “he saves”).

 

St. Timothy, Pastor, and Confessor (24 January)

 

First Lesson: Acts 16: 1-5

 

St. Paul has just started his second missionary journey to Asia minor and has arrived in Lystra, in the province of Galatia, where he and Barnabas had established a church during their first missionary journey. Apparently, Timothy became a disciple at that time. Heritage-wise, Timothy’s mother was a Jew while his father was a Greek. The other believers in Lystra as well as the neighboring town of Derbe spoke well of Timothy as a believer, so St. Paul decided to take Timothy with him on this missionary journey. But there was a potential problem: St. Paul habitually began in any town with his witnessing in the local synagogue. But he would not be able to take Timothy with him into the synagogue because Timothy was still uncircumcised. Prudence dictated that Timothy be circumcised to circumvent this problem.

As a follow-up, this training under St. Paul provided Timothy with the skills, knowledge, and wisdom to become a pastor of a city church later.

 

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Timothy 6: 11-16

 

It is now that sometime later, after the time of our first lesson. St. Paul had visited Ephesus briefly during the end of his second missionary journey, and then for approximately three years during his third missionary journey. He apparently left Timothy behind to help shepherd this rather large church body that was beset with teachers teaching false doctrine and believers, in general, occupying their time with myths and genealogies. St. Paul pens this first letter to Timothy to encourage him to hold fast to the faith, emphasizing proper behavior during a worship service, and setting up guidelines for the selection of pastors and deacons.

Then St. Paul turns his attention to the young Timothy, warning him to avoid all of these distractions. Instead, he is to focus on a godly life full of faith, love, endurance, and gentleness, and to continue his strong history of effective witnessing and defending the faith, keeping as his example Jesus before Pilate. And he is to keep the commandment (which commandment? Probably the one that tells us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind; and our neighbor as ourselves) until the appearing of our Lord Jesus himself—whether at his death or at the time of Jesus’ return.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 24: 42-47

 

Jesus’ disciples had asked him to talk to them about the end times. As he does so, he issues a warning to them that they are to stay alert. What does that mean? It means that our behavior should be like the kind that St. Paul had described for Timothy in our epistle lesson; leading a godly life full of faith, love, endurance, and gentleness, and continuing to witness and defend the faith.

Why? Because we do not know when Jesus is going to return. How embarrassing it would be if, when Jesus returns, he finds us enjoying our favorite sin, manipulating or mistreating our brothers or sisters in Christ, or focussing on our wants and pleasures. Instead, Jesus tells his disciples to be found in the midst of their respective Christian duties, whatever those may be. Then he will reward them appropriately. 

 

 

 

St. Titus, Pastor, and Confessor (26 January

 

First Lesson: Acts 20: 28-35

In today’s reading, we find St. Paul on his way to Jerusalem with charitable donations from the saints in Asia Minor for the persecuted saints in Jerusalem, thus ending his third missionary journey. Since he wants to get to Jerusalem in time for Pentecost, he decides to avoid spending time in Ephesus by calling just the elders to meet with him outside of Ephesus. There he reminds them that he preached repentance toward God and faith in Jesus to both Jews and Greeks for 3 years, and warns the elders to be responsible for their flocks because trials and tribulations await them, including some of the elders themselves splitting off from the church, taking some sheep with them, with inviting but twisted doctrines. He, therefore, warns them to be alert and to defend their flocks.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Titus 1: 1-9

 

It is not clear when St. Paul visited the island of Crete; some believe that it was after his imprisonment in Rome. Whatever the case, St. Paul begins his letter to Titus, a Greek disciple who had accompanied St. Paul on some of his journeys (Galatians 2:3), by first of all noting that God’s commission to him was to lead people to faith in Jesus and to a knowledge of the truth that leads to a godly life. And this was the case in Crete because he advises Titus (Titus 3:9-11) to avoid false teachings that involve genealogies and Moses’ Teachings (i.e., the Law)—probably referring to the Judaizing Christians. Instead, Titus is to correct the false teachings and to provide guidelines to the believers for godly living. To accomplish this, St. Paul left Titus in Crete to appoint spiritual leaders in each of the cities of Crete. How does one select a spiritual leader?

St. Paul first lays out criteria for elders, or pastors: above reproach, husband of one wife, and have believing children who are not known for wild lifestyles or

rebelliousness. 

 

Then he lays out criteria for an overseer or bishop: above reproach. 

not arrogant, or quick-tempered, or a drunkard, or violent, or a lover of money. 

hospitable.

- lover of what is good,
- self-controlled, upright, holy, disciplined,

- faithful to the Word of God,
- able to
teach,
- able to encourage people to be
faithful, and able to correct those who oppose true teaching.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 10: 1-9

 

In chapter 9 of St. Luke’s Gospel, we read that Jesus sent out his 12 apostles to cast out demons, heal diseases, and proclaim the kingdom of God. In our lesson for today, Jesus sends out 72 others with the same instructions—in preparation for Jesus who is to follow. He notes that there is a huge number of those needing to be saved, but few people are involved in that ministry. Therefore they need to pray to God that he provide laborers for this harvest of souls.

He then provides instructions on how to they are to conduct themselves: they are

—to carry no money bag, backpack, or spare sandals,
—to be
focussed

greeting/ chatting with no one on the road,

—to announce peace to any house they enter, but if the

occupant does not genuinely return the peace, to leave,
—to stay in just one house rather than moving from place to place in any one town that welcomes them,

—to eat and drink whatever is provided, and
—to
announce that “the Kingdom of God has come near to you” to

every town that they enter.

In other words, they are to be dependent entirely on God on their journey and mission, whether it is the place of ministry, or room and board. Their only concern is getting the job done. Fascinating thought! 

 

 

Second Sunday After the Epiphany

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 62: 1-5

 

Isaiah was one of the prophets that God chose to speak to the peoples of the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, over the time period preceding and following the collapse and disappearance of the Northern Kingdom, from around 740 to 695 B.C. His ministry was to call the people to repentance and to assure them of God’s faithfulness in keeping His promise to give to them

—and all mankind

—a savior. But in today’s reading, Isaiah is describing how Israel will change with the appearance of the Messiah.

—The Messiah will cause righteousness and salvation to appear to all nations because of the presence of his redeemed.

—God will give Jerusalem a new name (see Revelation 21:1-3), and it will be a crown of glory for the Lord.

—God’s people will no longer be despised and rejected, but they will be God’s delight whom he will take as his bride.

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 12: 1-11

 

St. Paul was instrumental in establishing the church in Corinth as he neared the end of his second missionary journey. In this first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul must deal with a lot of little (well, maybe not so little) problems that were fracturing the unity of the church there. Early on in this letter, St. Paul emphasized that he brought the Gospel to them with great humility, letting the signs and wonders worked by the Holy Spirit among them to convince them that God was in the message. In today’s reading, he addresses the nature of their church services. In particular, he focuses on the various manifestations of the Holy Spirit in power among them as they worship God together. First of all, though, he points out that, no matter which spiritual gift one is manifesting, it is still prompted by the same spirit. Besides these gifts, one can show one’s dedication to the Lord by serving others in various ways, or by engaging in various activities—all of which, of course, are gifted to each individual by God.

Then he explains what each spiritual gift is:

—Providing wisdom at a crucial point that is so unique that it could only have been provided by the whispering of the Holy Spirit.

—Providing knowledge of something that obviously was not learned.

—Manifesting faith for something that enables mountains to be moved, figuratively and literally.

Healing the sick as Jesus had commanded his disciples to do (Luke 10:9).

—Working a miracle under the direction of the Holy Spirit.
—Bringing a
message from God to the people (one really doesn’t have to be an ordained pastor or teacher to do this! Remember the

disciples?)
—Being able to
speak another language you haven’t learned to someone who needs to hear the Gospel in his language (recall the day of Pentecost).

—Being able to interpret languages that one hasn’t learned when the need is there.

These are the gifts provided by the Holy Spirit at crucial times in the life of the Church in order to advance the Gospel, and these are the gifts manifested by the disciples as they went from place to place, delivering the message of the Gospel with the power of the Holy Spirit. And these are the gifts that may be seen manifested in the mission fields today, as new Christians simply believe in God. So why don’t we see these gifts being manifested today? We have to remind ourselves that even Jesus could not do healings and miracles at times because the people didn’t believe (see Matthew 13:58)! Or, putting it in plain words, if you don’t believe that God manifests these gifts of the Spirit, God is going to honor your unbelief.

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Gospel Lesson: John 2: 1-11

 

Jesus has just begun his ministry. He has been baptized by John in the waters of the Jordan River and, as he made his way from there to Galilee, he has been calling disciples to follow him. Today’s reading finds Jesus in Cana of Galilee, where Jesus’ mother has been invited to a wedding. Jesus and his disciples were invited as well. It seems as if there were more guests there than the bridegroom had expected because all of a sudden they were out of wine, a major faux pas in a Jewish wedding. Mary, Jesus’ mother, must have learned along the way that Jesus had the Spirit of God, and faith, in him, so she quickly apprises him of the situation. Jesus politely reminds her that she does not control his ministry, the Father does. But Mary has faith in Jesus and tells the servants to be prepared to do whatever he (a guest) tells them to do. And sure enough, Jesus soon instructs the servants to fill six 20-30 gallon (that’s somewhere between 120 and 180 gallons!) jars with water, and take some to the master of the feast for testing. And when this happens, the feast master calls the bridegroom to remark that in marriage feasts, the best wine is served first, and then, after the taste buds are dulled somewhat, the poorer wine is served. But in this case, the best wine was served after the lower quality wine had been consumed. The poor bridegroom must have been bewildered by the circumstance, but can you imagine the quality of wine God is going to have for his people in heaven for the marriage of Jesus with his Church?

In any case, this was the first miracle that Jesus publicly performed as he began his ministry, a miracle that brought glory to God. 

 

Second Sunday After Christmas

 

Old Testament Lesson: 1 Kings 3: 4-15

 

Solomon has just been made king upon the orders of King David, who is on his death bed, because Solomon’s stepbrother, Adonijah, had organized a campaign to steal the kingship from him. After dealing with matters left over from King David’s reign, King Solomon heads to Gibeon (where the tabernacle was located—(1 Chron. 21:29)— to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving to the Lord. While there, the Lord appears to King Solomon in a dream, offering to give King Solomon whatever he asked. In other words, it was a blank check. Under the circumstances, for what would you have asked? Perhaps surprisingly, before King Solomon answers, he explains to God that from a child he has observed closely the faith and uprightness of his father as he went about his duties. Because King Solomon notes, he is still young and inexperienced, he would like understanding and discernment so that he can judge God’s people according to God’s will.

God is so pleased by King Solomon’s answer that he not only grants King Solomon’s request but in addition gives him what he could have but didn’t ask for: riches and honor beyond that of any contemporary. Then God announces a conditional blessing: If King Solomon serves God all the days of his life, then God will also grant him a longer life.

When King Solomon returns to Jerusalem, he stands before the Ark of the Covenant, which David had placed in a tent there some years earlier, again offering sacrifices of peace to the Lord, a kind of sacrifice which allowed him to invite all his servants to a feast featuring the meat of the sacrifice.

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Epistle Lesson: Ephesians 1: 3-14

 

As St. Paul begins this letter to his Christian converts in Ephesus, he is overwhelmed with joy as he details the love that God has shown them (and us). What are some of these details?

—God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing.
—He
chose us and planned to redeem us before the creation of the world. (Think about that! God knew that if he created humankind, humankind would sin and need a redeemer. That redemption would require His only Son to die. At this point, God had a choice: He could proceed with the creation of man, at the expense of the life of His Son; or He could abandon that initial plan and create something else. Can you now appreciate how much God loves His creation of humankind?)

—Through Jesus’ sacrifice, our sins are forgiven and our adoption as God’s Children is assured.

—God has revealed to us the mystery that through Christ we and all things in heaven and on earth are united in Him.

—As Children of God, we share in Christ’s inheritance, per God’s original plan.

—The Holy Spirit is the guarantee of our inheritance. Do we have a great God, or what?!

 

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 2: 40-52

 

It is Passover time, a time when every adult male Jew is required by God to appear before Him at the appointed place. At 12 years of age, Jesus might also be considered an adult, to accompany his parents to Jerusalem. The Feast of Unleavened Bread, which immediately followed Passover, lasted a week. Since there was much celebration at that time, and large crowds from every city and village were there, it would not be surprising that Joseph and Mary would assume Jesus would stay within the village group and join the group for home at the appointed time. Now, Nazareth is at least 100 miles from Jerusalem, and mountains intervene. So this is going to be a several-day hike. Furthermore, people traveled in groups for safety reasons. So after the group had traveled for one day and Joseph and Mary discovered that Jesus was missing, they were now on their own while trying to find Jesus. And four days later they find Him, in the temple with the teachers, demonstrating to them a more thorough understanding of His Word than the teachers could ever have imagined.

We as parents can understand the distress of Joseph and Mary. Still, we might wonder whether they really understood that they were dealing with a sinless human being who already was about the mission on which His Father had sent Him. His actions certainly met with the Father’s favor. And as a human being with untainted genetics, He must have stood out above his brethren in wisdom and stature.

 

Third Sunday After the Epiphany

 

Old Testament Lesson: Nehemiah 8: 1-3, 5-6, and 8-10

 

The Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah recount the history of the Jews trying to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and its temple after their return from the Babylonian Captivity. Ezra the scribe has already led a group of Jews to Jerusalem to start the rebuild, but now, some years later, word reaches Nehemiah, the cupbearer to the Persian king Artaxerxes I, that the walls and the gates are still in complete disarray. When Nehemiah expresses his sadness about the situation to the King, the King appoints him governor of Judah and allows him to go to Jerusalem. There he leads the Jews in rebuilding the walls and installing the gates in just 52 days, despite furious opposition from some sources. He is also required to deal with the problem of the rich Jews taking advantage of the poor Jews.

Now, as our reading begins, the people gather in front of one of the gates as Ezra the scribe reads to the people from the Book of the Law of Moses. And he does not just read it but explains it so that the people understand what is being read. The people lift up their hands and bow their heads in the worship of the Lord, at the same time weeping because they are made aware of their sins and the need to repent. Nehemiah and Ezra reassure the people of God’s forgiveness as they tell the people that they should not mourn or weep because this day has become holy to the Lord. Instead, they are to celebrate with feasting, because they now understand God’s Word and realize that the Lord is their strength!

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 12: 12-31a

 

As we learned last week, St. Paul is trying to restore order to the worship services of the Corinthians. As we heard last week, he noted that the Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts to individuals as the Holy Spirit decides. And although there is a multitude of such gifts, each of these gifts is manifested for the common good.

In today’s reading, St. Paul proceeds to define more completely how a worship service involves the various members of the congregation working together, much in the way that the various parts of a human body work together to complete whatever task the body is given to do. Thus, just because one is not a doer of miracles does not mean that he is not a part of the congregation, much as an ear cannot be considered not to be a part of the body just because it cannot speak. In other words, just as a human body is made up of many parts that work together to form a unified body, so each member of a congregation contributes to the working of the congregation so that it makes one body in Christ. Contrariwise, some part of the body cannot claim that another part is not needed just because that part does not have some glorious or prominent role.

Finally, St. Paul provides a list of some of the roles that people might play within the body of Christ: apostles, prophets, teachers, workers of miracles, those who heal the sick, those who help in the administration of whatever kind, and those who speak in other languages, for example. The point is, not everyone is blessed with all of the gifts or roles; in fact, someone may be blessed with only one gift or one role, but that does not make him or her any less a part of the body of Christ.

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 4: 16-30

 

Jesus has been baptized by John in the river Jordan, immediately following which he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights, there to be tempted by the devil with every kind of temptation, three of which are recorded for us. Having rejected the devil’s every temptation, Jesus has returned to Galilee to teach in the synagogues in power (e.g., healing people). As our reading begins today, we find Jesus in the synagogue in Nazareth, the city where he grew up. And when given a scroll of the book of Isaiah from which to read, he turns to the part that describes the ministry of the Messiah. Having read that section, Jesus then proclaims to the congregation that that prophecy has now been fulfilled! And although the congregation remarked on his nice words, they still rejected Jesus. Why? A couple of reasons. One, how could a hometown boy, raised up with them, turn out better and smarter than any of them? Second, why isn’t Jesus doing the miracles upon them that he has been doing elsewhere? Jesus responds by telling them that because they reject him —in other words, have no faith in him—he can do no miracles in their midst. Then Jesus observes that it always has been this way, citing the examples of the widow of Zarephath whom God provided for during the famine pronounced by Elijah (1 Kings 17: 8-16), and the healing of the Syrian army commander, Naaman, of leprosy (2 Kings 5: 1-14), although the lepers in Israel were not healed. Why? Because they believed in God and acted in faith, while the Children of Israel at the same time refused to believe in God.

Jesus’ observation is met with rage and hate by his unbelieving townsfolk, who drive him to the edge of the town to throw him off the cliff. But God ensures that Jesus will not be killed before his time, allowing Jesus to pass through the midst of the crowd unscathed.

 

Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany

 

Old Testament Lesson: Jeremiah 1: 4-10 and 17-19

 

God called Jeremiah to be His prophet when Jeremiah was still a youth, and he served in this capacity for over 40 years. His ministry began during the reign of King Josiah, the Southern Kingdom’s most righteous king, who attempted to undo his grandfather’s and father’s introduction of every kind of idolatry and to stimulate a revival. Unfortunately, the succeeding four kings were all evil, and they led the nation back into idolatry. This culminated in the Babylonian captivity. Jeremiah’s ministry was to support King Josiah but to rebuke and warn the nation during the reigns of the last four kings.

Today’s reading is a recounting of God calling Jeremiah to his ministry. As he does so, God tells Jeremiah that he had consecrated Jeremiah to this ministry of a prophet even before he was in the womb. But Jeremiah objects, saying that he is only a youth, with little or no speaking experience. God, however, states that he will be with him wherever he sends him and will give him the words to speak at that time. Therefore Jeremiah should not be afraid, because he (God) will be there to deliver him.

Then God touches Jeremiah’s mouth and tells him that God’s words are now in his mouth and that he (God) has set Jeremiah over nations and kingdoms to determine their destiny. God then tells Jeremiah to dress and get to work, because he has made Jeremiah as strong as a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall against the entire land of Judah and all its officials and peoples. And even though they will fight against him, they will not prevail because God is with Jeremiah.

Thinking back to the Epistle Lesson of last week, do you now appreciate that God has a role and has equipped every person in the congregation for a specific job?

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 12: 31b - 13: 1-13

 

Recalling St. Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians from last week’s Epistle Lesson on the role that each individual plays in a congregation, especially when it comes to the manifestation of spiritual gifts, or to the role that one plays in the congregation, we now find St. Paul saying that, as important as all of these are, there is something that is more important, in fact, is basic, to the vibrant life of a congregation: love! And it is not the kind of popular relationship that passes for love today. Rather, it is godly love, that is, sacrificial love for the benefit of someone else. It is love for love’s sake.

Then St. Paul states that manifestation of the spiritual gifts, or even martyrdom, is nothing if it is not done with that godly love. And although the manifestation of spiritual gifts and martyrdom will eventually pass away, love will continue into eternity where there will be no need for the manifestation of spiritual gifts or for martyrdom. Instead, love will be characterized in this life by being patient, kind, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping for all things, and enduring all things; and rejoicing with the truth. On the other hand, love will not be characterized by being envious, boastful, arrogant, or rude; insisting on one’s own way; being irritable or resentful; or rejoicing at wrongdoing.

So St. Paul notes that faith, hope, and love will abide forever. But the most important of the three is love.

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 4: 31-44

 

Having just escaped from the intents of his murderous townsfolk, as we learned from last week’s gospel reading, Jesus makes his way to Capernaum, where he again teaches in the synagogue. This time, however, the people receive his words favorably, because it was clear that Jesus knew what he was talking about. But as he is teaching, a man in the congregation with the spirit of a demon raises his voice, the demon speaking through the man and identifying Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. This demon also knows that Jesus will eventually judge the demons. Jesus does not need a demon to be the source of that truth, so he casts the demon out of the man with a word, the demon throwing the man to the ground and wretching before leaving the man. The congregation immediately recognizes that not only is the man healed, but that Jesus speaks not only knowledgeably but with power and authority.

Afterward, Jesus retires to the home of Peter, whose mother-in-law was there with a high fever. So Jesus rebukes the fever, and the fever leaves the woman, enabling her to be a hostess to Jesus and his disciples. But word has spread about what Jesus has done so far this day so that by evening, all those in the area who were sick or who were troubled by demons were brought to Jesus, and he healed all the sick and silenced the demons before casting them out.

The next day Jesus went to a desolate place for communion with his Father, but people followed him with their needs. So Jesus, having compassion on the people, taught the good news of the kingdom of God to them, and then went doing the same in other towns in Galilee as well as Judah. 

 

Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 6: 1-8 (9-13)

 

Isaiah, as you will recall, was God’s voice of warning of judgment 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 idolatry more characteristic of the reign of King Ahab of the Northern Kingdom.

It is during the reign of King Ahaz, 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 are 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, one can say that this is the only God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to whom Isaiah answers, “I will go; send me!”

And what does God give Isaiah to say? He is to deliver God’s judgment upon the people. When the Word of God is spoken, spiritually they will no longer understand, they will not perceive, their ears will become deaf, their eyes will become blind, and their hearts will no longer be able to be healed. Well, is that fair of God? Didn’t God harden Pharaoh’s heart as well (Exod. 9:12)? So how can God blame the people of Judah? How could he blame Pharaoh? Because, after many overtures to the people of Judah, and to Pharaoh, they persistently made their decision to rebel against God. So finally God concludes that they have irrevocably made their choice, so he is letting them continue in that choice from now on. Undoubtedly feeling anguish over what is to happen to his people, Isaiah asks how long this judgment will last. And God responds with a prophecy of the Babylonian Captivity, at which time their cities and land will be laid waste, and only a remnant (the seed of believers) would remain to form a stump. And as a stump sends out new shoots, so this stump would send out new shoots, disciples of the Messiah. 

 

Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 14: 12b - 20

 

St. Paul is continuing his instructions to the church in Corinth on how to maintain order during their church services. Apparently, the spiritual gift of speaking praises to God in a foreign language was a gift that too many wanted to use during the service. In this case, there appeared to be two problems with that: first of all, there was no order to what was happening; too many people were trying to speak at the same time instead of humbly waiting for that right moment. Secondly, St. Paul makes it clear that if one is to manifest the spiritual gift of speaking in a foreign language during the service, there must be someone there through whom the Holy Spirit manifests the spiritual gift of interpreting those words spoken in different foreign languages. After all, St. Paul points out, the church service is there for the building up of the rest of the church; and if nobody understands what is being said, obviously nobody is being built up in Christ. So instead, St. Paul advises, people, should aspire to manifest the gift of prophecy, of speaking for God in one’s native tongue, so that everybody can hear what the Holy Spirit is saying to the church.

Does this mean that God does not want believers to manifest such spiritual gifts during a church service? Absolutely not! That would be a quenching of the Spirit forbidden by God (1 Thessalonians 5:19). What he does want is an orderly conducting of the service that allows believers to minister to each other through the gifts of the Spirit. And that requires at least two things: first of all,

that people in the congregation are spiritually mature enough properly to use the gifts of the Spirit. And secondly, there must be sufficient faith within the congregation to recognize, appreciate, and utilize these gifts of the Spirit. As St. Paul points out later in this same chapter (1 Corinthians 14:26-33), God provides these spiritual gifts for a purpose: to build up the church, with everyone being an intimate part of that building-up process. 

 

Gospel Lesson: Luke 5: 1-11

 

Continuing from last Sunday St. Luke’s recalling of the early ministry of Jesus, we find Jesus today by the Sea of Galilee (here referred to as the “lake of Gennesaret”). Because of the crowd, Jesus looks around and happens to find two fishing boats nearby, empty. After ascertaining whose one of them was, which turned out to be Simon Peter’s, Jesus has him put out from the shore a bit so that when he speaks, his voice will carry better to the crowd.

After he finishes his teaching, Jesus asks Peter to go out into the deep part of the lake and drop down the nets to catch some fish. Peter notes that they have been fishing all night and have not caught a thing. But then he takes Jesus’ advice, and sure enough, his crew catches so many fish that their nets start to break. So they signal their fishing partners to come out in their boat to help them, which they do. But now both boats are so full of fish that both of them start to sink. Peter, obviously concerned that he could lose life and boat, must have thought that God was punishing him. So he turns to Jesus to admit his sinfulness. Jesus’ response? Don’t be afraid; I am going to make you fishers of men. And so the three men, Peter, James, and John, the three partners, give up their careers as fishermen and leave their boats to follow Jesus.

 

 

The Baptism of Our Lord

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 43: 1-7

 

Isaiah was one of the prophets that God chose to speak to the peoples of the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, over the time period preceding and following the collapse and disappearance of the Northern Kingdom, from around 740 to 695 B.C. His ministry was to call the people to repentance and to assure them of God’s faithfulness in keeping His promise to give to them—and all mankind—a savior.

Here, in today’s reading, God addresses Jacob, and he addresses Israel, pointing out that he has redeemed them, called them by name, is being with them wherever they go and is giving nations as a ransom for them because they are precious, honored, and loved in his sight. Then God says that he will bring their offspring from afar: from east, west, north, and south, even from the ends of the earth. He will bring to himself everyone who is called by his name whom he had created for his glory.

But who are the offspring of Jacob, or Israel? Obviously, they would also be the descendants of Abraham as well. And in Galatians 3:29, St. Paul makes it very clear that whoever belongs to Christ through faith is a descendant of Abraham. We must conclude, then, that in this reading, Isaiah is prophesying of God calling all people to him through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ. And, as St. Peter stated in his Pentecostal Day sermon, everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord Jesus shall be saved! (Acts 2:21).

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 6: 1-11

 

St. Paul apparently noticed something in the Roman Christians’ behavior that prompted him to pose the question: if our sin is covered by God’s grace, then can we increase God’s grace by sinning more? Some people might call that concept a convenient falsehood. To help the Roman Christians understand this, St. Paul embarks on an explanation of what really happens when a person experiences water baptism into Christ Jesus.

First, that person is buried with Christ into His death (remember that Jesus’ death was the payment for all sin). Then, when Christ was raised from the dead, the baptized person is raised also into a new life. Picture this, then: if we have died with Christ, then as far as sin is concerned, we are dead to further sin. Instead, since we have been raised with Christ who lives for God, so we too have been raised with Christ to live for God. Instead of choosing to sin again, we have the power to choose righteousness. And this should not be a burden, as St. John tells us (1 John 5:3-5), because our faith overcomes the world. So we need to adjust our mindset: I choose to forego sin in order to walk in the way of godliness.

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 3: 15-22

 

It was the expectation of every devout Jew that the Messiah would appear in his lifetime. Imagine, then, what these people were thinking when John the Baptist appeared on the scene, announcing that he was preparing the way for the kingdom of heaven and that people needed to repent of their sins and be baptized in water to indicate that they had repented. Surely, they thought, John the Baptist must be the Messiah. But when they addressed this question to John, he responded with the following observations:

—I only baptize with water.

—The One who is coming, who is so superior to me that I am not worthy even to untie his sandals to wash his feet (the job of the lowest servant), will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire (probably meaning trials and tribulations to test one’s faith).

—In addition, He is the one who will separate the wheat from the chaff (meaning identifying those who believe in him from those who do not) and burn the chaff in eternal flames.

But John had been politically incorrect. He had reproved King Herod Antipas because Herod had divorced his wife in order to marry his brother’s wife, Herodias (Matthew 14: 1-12), in addition to a lot of other evil. So, to silence God’s messenger calling Herod to repent, Herod had John imprisoned. But before John was imprisoned, Jesus had come to him to be baptized in water. And when John baptized Jesus, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove, and a voice from heaven declared that Jesus was his beloved Son, with whom he was well pleased.

 

 

The Epiphany of Our Lord

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 60: 1-6

 

Although many of Isaiah’s messages from God to the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, were admonitions to repent, today’s message is one foretelling the lavishing of God’s love and grace not only on the people of Judah but also upon all nations. To a world enshrouded in darkness, God will appear before it in His glory. As God is being revealed, kings and nations—even from afar, will come to Him in faith, bringing the praises of God in addition to their offerings of gold and frankincense. 

 

Epistle Lesson: Ephesians 3: 1-12

 

In the beginning of his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul mentions the mystery that God had revealed to us through Jesus Christ. In today’s lesson, St. Paul expands on the nature of that mystery. Recall that the common-held belief of the Jews of that time was that they were God’s chosen people and the only people that God had ever planned to save. Now St. Paul states that God had to give him a revelation in order for him to appreciate the mystery of Jesus the Messiah: that God intended right from the beginning to save all peoples, the Gentiles being fellow heirs and members of the same body and partakers of the same promise in Jesus the Messiah that had been held by the Jews to be theirs exclusively. Even though God had made clear in his promise to Abraham that he would be the (faith) father of all nations, this message being repeated by prophet after prophet, the reality of this statement was never appreciated until the gospel (good news) of Christ Jesus was revealed. It was to the proclamation of this mystery that St. Paul was called in order to reveal it to the Gentiles. And through this combined (Jew and Gentile) body of believers, the wisdom of God to save all of humankind would be made known to the entire universe. 

 

Gospel Lesson: Matthew 2: 1-12

 

St. Matthew records for our benefit the revealing of the Messiah to the Gentiles. It starts with a reminder that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judah during the reign of Herod the Great. You remember him: the king who was so paranoid that someone would replace him that he murdered anyone about whom he had any suspicion, including his own wife, some of his sons, and a number of other relatives. So when “wise men”

—which could mean astrologers, but could also mean (in our language) professors or researchers

—from the east (which could mean Babylon or Persia, or any country east of there) came, claiming they saw the star of the new king of the Jews rise (were they remembering the prophecy that God put in Balaam’s mouth: A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.—Num. 24:17), King Herod’s paranoia went into hyperdrive. First of all, he ascertains where the Messiah is to be born. Amazingly, the Jewish leaders know exactly where, quoting Micah 5:2. Then Herod schemes to have the wise men find that new king and reveal that to him so that he can worship him individually (wink, wink).

Lo and behold, the star that had led them west now leads the wise men south to Bethlehem and to the exact home where Jesus was (remember, approximately two years have elapsed since Jesus was born, and apparently Joseph set up shop in Bethlehem after Jesus’ birth).

Notice too that these wise men regarded Jesus as more than an ordinary king since they bowed down to worship him, offering costly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, something that is done only to a deity. Thus, by employing a new star, God revealed His Messiah to the Gentiles. And God continued His intervention by directing the wise men not to return to Herod but to return home by a different route.