October 2021 Commentaries

 

 

All Saints’ Day (1 November)

 

First Lesson: Revelation 7: (2-8) 9-17

 

St. John is on the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea, southwest of Ephesus— now present-day Turkey, exiled there for his witnessing to the truth of Jesus the Christ. One Sunday morning, Jesus appears to him in all his glory, with the instruction to write down letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor that Jesus is now going to dictate.

But the dictation is followed by a vision of the end times, which in reality is the New Testament period. But today’s reading focuses on what is happening in heaven. St. John has just seen the events that take place on earth after Jesus opens six seals of a scroll, five of those six seals revealing major disasters occurring on the earth in order to get people to repent and believe in Jesus. Then he hears an angel calling out to four angels ready to harm the earth and seas to not proceed until the Children of God have been sealed, or identified, with God’s seal. That number is identified as 144,000, which probably represents in numerology the complete number of God’s Children (12 times 12 x 1000 = 144,000 being completeness times completeness times completeness). But then St. John’s attention is turned to events in heaven. He sees a crowd from every tribe, nation, people, language, or ethnic group, that no one can number, standing before the throne of God and Jesus, all clothed in white robes, giving praise to God by saying that only God was able to save mankind from their sin. Even the angels and all other creatures in heaven also give praise to God.

When one of the heavenly elders asks John if he knows who the people in white robes are, St. John admits that he has no idea. So the elder tells him: they are the believers, members of the true Church throughout history, who have paid the price for their faith of gaining salvation only through the gift of Jesus’ substitutionary death. And part of God’s reward to them includes the following:

—God will shelter them with his presence,
—they shall
neither hunger nor thirst anymore,
—they shall
never lack protection, even from nature,
—God will lead them to
living water, and
—God himself will wipe away every
tear, every remembrance, of their suffering.

 

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Epistle Lesson: 1 John 3: 1-3

 

As St. John writes to the Christians of the first century, he reassures them of the love that God the Father has already shown them: they are his children now! And so are we! The reason that we are now treated as foreigners by the rest of the world is because the rest of the world does not know the Father, therefore are not of his family.

But St. John also notes that while we are God’s children now, we do not know what kind of form we will have when Jesus appears. All we do know is that we will be like Jesus. Therefore, as God’s children, we keep ourselves pure as we look forward to that day when Jesus appears for us.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 5: 1-12

 

Jesus has just called his first disciples, and he has started his ministry by traveling and teaching throughout Galilee. Word about him spreads fast, particularly his healing of all those who were sick. Consequently, people from all over Galilee, Judea, the Decapolis (on the eastern side of the Jordan River), and even Syria come to him, bringing their sick with them. As another crowd gathers around him, Jesus decides to teach them some basics of moral and ethical living. So, going up the side of a mountain so that what he says can be heard by the crowd below him, he first of all notes who are blessed by God:

—those who recognize that they are spiritually needy,

—those who are sorry for their spiritual state,
—those who are
gentle in heart, looking out for others,

—those who seek God with all their heart,

—those who are kind and forgiving,
—those who pursue a life of righteousness,
—those who bring God’s peace to their neighbors,
—those who are
used and abused by those who take advantage of their gentleness, and

—those who are deprived of life, liberty, reputation, wealth, and pursuit of happiness because they are Children of God. In fact, Jesus tells his listeners that if this is the case, rejoice, be glad, even leap for joy, because they will reap a great reward in heaven, just as persecuted prophets of old did. 

 

 

Reformation Day (31 October)

 

First Lesson: Revelation 14: 6-7

 

St. John is on the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea, southwest of Ephesus, exiled there for his witnessing to the truth of Jesus the Christ. One Sunday morning, Jesus appears to him in all his glory, with the instruction to write down letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor that Jesus is now going to dictate. As we all appreciate today, one or more of those seven letters could very well have been addressed to any one of the Christian churches in existence today.

But the dictation is followed by a vision of the end times, which in reality is the New Testament period. But today’s reading focuses on what will be happening in the very last days. St. John sees and hears an angel flying over him, proclaiming to every people on earth that they should fear God and give Him glory because the creator of heaven and earth is now coming to judge the people.

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 3: 19-28

 

St. Paul is in the process of completing his third missionary journey and is now contemplating his next journey to Rome and then to Spain. Perhaps by way of introduction, he prepares this letter to the Christians in Rome, this letter being actually a brief treatise on the Christian faith. In today’s reading, St. Paul is explaining the difference between law and gospel, noting that the purpose of the law is to make us aware of our sin. He states emphatically that in no way can obedience to the law save us because none of us is without sin.

But then St. Paul explains the purpose of the gospel. It is to show us that by having faith or believing, in the work of Jesus Christ, we will be declared righteous in God’s eyes. That is to say, God declares in a judicial decision that we are righteous as a gift, made possible by the substitutionary death of Christ for the death that we deserved because of our sins. This thus demonstrates both God’s grace (undeserved favor) to us as well as the correct judgment that he rendered. That is to say, by accepting Jesus’ death in our place for our sins, God’s righteous judgment of punishment for sins is satisfied.

Because God did everything needed for us to have eternal life, there is no provision for good works to assist in that process. What we consider to be good works is viewed as filthy rags by God (Isaiah 64:6). Therefore no one can be declared righteous by God through good works, but only by faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ.

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Gospel Lesson: John 8: 31-36

 

Today’s reading finds Jesus in Jerusalem for the Festival of Booths, which celebrates the fall harvest. This was one of the festivals required by God which all Jewish men had to attend every year (Deuteronomy 16:16-17), because it was a means by which every family could express their thankfulness to God by sharing their bounty in a week-long celebration. But this also allowed people to get to know each other better. And wouldn’t you know that this also allowed the Pharisees and Jesus to get to know each other better. Today’s reading is one of many exchanges between the Pharisees and Jesus. The sad part about this discussion was that the Pharisees refused to listen to what Jesus was saying when he said that they needed to believe in him in order to be set free (from their sins). The Pharisees retort that, since they are descendants of Abraham, they have never been enslaved to anyone, obviously conveniently overlooking the truth that they not only were slaves in Egypt but were slaves to many other nations, including Babylon.

But Jesus helps them to focus on the spiritual nature of what he is talking about by noting that anyone who commits a sin is automatically a slave to sin. And there is no provision for the slave to bail himself out of slavery. In a household, only the descendant of the master, or the son, is part of the household. A slave never becomes a part of the household, or an heir, unless the son sets that slave free, referring to the fact that only Jesus’ substitutionary death would enable a person to become spiritually free.

 

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Reformation Day

 

Alternate Gospel Lesson: Matthew 11: 12-19

 

Recall that Herod the Tetrarch has imprisoned John the Baptist, apparently at the insistence of his wife Herodias. The Reason: Herod had divorced his wife to marry Herodias, who had been Herod’s brother Philip’s wife; while Herodias had divorced her husband to marry Herod, which was an adulterous relationship. John the Baptist had brought this adulterous relationship to the attention of Herod and Herodias on multiple occasions, to the gross irritation of Herodias, so she wanted the messenger of God silenced. John, probably aware that his death was imminent, sent two of his disciples to Jesus to ascertain whether Jesus really was the Messiah. There may have been two reasons for this: (1) John may have wondered whether he had made a mistake in identifying Jesus as the Messiah because he now felt abandoned by God. (2) John may still have been positive about Jesus being the Messiah, but he needed to direct his disciples to Jesus.

As John’s two disciples leave to carry Jesus’ reassurance to John, Jesus addresses the crowd around him about John, stating that John is more than just a prophet. He is the prophet identified by Malachi (Malachi 4: 5) as the forerunner of the Messiah, the “Elijah” who is to come. And John is now suffering the violence that marks the present period of time. Jesus then compares that present generation to children who always are finding something to criticize: In this case, John arrived neither eating rich foods or drinking excessively, and was accused of having a demon; but when Jesus arrived, sharing meals with tax collectors and sinners, he is accused of being a glutton and a drunkard. There just is no pleasing some people.

But Jesus’ bottom line: the wisdom of what people do will be justified by the kind of deeds they perform. 

 

 

St. James of Jerusalem, Brother of Jesus, and Martyr (23 October)

 

First Lesson: Acts 15: 12-22a

 

Paul and Barnabus just recently have returned from that first missionary journey to Asia minor. They are now in Antioch when some men from Judea arrive on the scene to straighten them out. No, they claim, faith is not enough. Every Christian (male) must also be circumcised—implying that the covenant that God made through Moses was still in effect. That is to say, the covenant that Jesus made with us through his blood sacrifice was not sufficient. One can almost imagine the fierce discussion that must have followed as Paul and Barnabas debated with them. Finally, the Antioch church decided to sent a contingent to Jerusalem, where the issue could be decided by the apostles. After their arrival in Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas must have been shocked to find that believers that still belonged to the Pharisees insisted that Christians not only must be circumcised but must keep all the laws of Moses. Then Peter got up and reminded them of what they had decided after Peter came back from that astounding episode in the household of Cornelius (Acts 10), where these uncircumcised Gentiles were baptized in the Holy Spirit just as the disciples were on the day of Pentecost.

As our reading for today begins, we find the assembly becoming silent as Paul and Barnabas recount all of the miracles and healings that Jesus had done through their hands during their missionary trip. Finally, James, the brother of Jesus and regarded as the head of the church in Jerusalem, gets up and recounts a number of the passages in the Old Testament where God made it very clear that he intended salvation for all peoples, not just Jews. With that, the decision is clear that the old covenant has been replaced by the new covenant, but that the new Christians still need to observe certain things, including

—staying away from anything polluted by idols,
—abstaining from sexual immorality,
—not eating meat from strangulated animals (where the blood is still present in the meat) or the blood itself.

It was a tremendous day where the freedom we have in Christ was confirmed.

 

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Epistle Lesson: James 1: 1-12

 

St. James often referred to as James the Just, the brother of Jesus (Matthew 13:55), and head of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15), is writing to the Jewish Christians living outside of Palestine itself. His first words are those of encouragement as they face various trials, noting that these are meant to test our faith, and such testing leads to steadfastness of faith. And for those who lack wisdom, he advises that they ask God for it, who will respond generously if they ask in faith and do not doubt. Why not doubt? Because that is the same as unbelief (remember when Jesus could do hardly any miracles in his hometown because of the people’s unbelief?—Matthew 13:58).

Then he addresses the poor and the rich, advising the poor to focus on the fact that they are now children of God; and telling the rich to become humble because riches can fade away quickly, like a blade of grass in the midst of a desert under a scorching sun. But then he turns again to the topic of faith, noting that those who remain steadfast in the faith thru trials and tribulations will receive the crown of life that God promises to those who love him

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 13: 54-58

 

Jesus has been by the Sea of Galilee, teaching the people in parables and then explaining the parables to his disciples. When he finished, he went to his hometown of Nazareth, where he went to the synagogue, again to teach. You would think that the listeners would be pleased to see that a local boy has made good. But no! The spirit of jealousy sneaks in, and instead of the people of the synagogue being pleased to hear the Scriptures explained, they become resentful, wondering how a carpenter’s son whose mother and brothers (including James) and sisters are still here, could have gotten such wisdom and performed such mighty works. So, of course, they are offended. To which Jesus observes, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.”

And what is the consequence of such jealousy and hate? Jesus could do a few miracles and healing in his hometown because of their unbelief. And that gives us something to think about. What are we missing out on because we refuse to believe and accept everything that God has made available for us? 

 

 

St. Luke, Evangelist (18 October)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 35: 5-8

 

Isaiah was God’s messenger for over 50 years to the people of the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, as they slowly began to spiral into deeper and deeper apostasy. Isaiah’s messages from God called for repentance from rebellious ways, and reminders of God’s grace and restoration to those who repented.

In the previous chapters, Isaiah delivered God’s promise to deliver them from their enemies when they repented. Today’s reading provides reassurances to those who truly seek God and continues with the signs of restoration that God will provide, all fulfilled with the coming of the Kingdom of God in Christ Jesus. These signs include the following:

—the blind will see,
—the
deaf will hear,
—the
lame will not only walk but leap (see Acts 3:1-8),

—the mute will sing for joy,
—streams of
water will appear in the desert,
—the burning
sand will become a pool,
—and the thirsty
ground will become springs of water.

These of course are all signs of the coming of the Messiah. But is it his first coming or his second coming, or both?

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Epistle Lesson: 2 Timothy 4: 5-18

 

Today’s lesson is a continuation of St. Paul’s second letter to Timothy. He, first of all, encourages Timothy

—to be sober-minded,
— to endure suffering,
—to do the work of an evangelist, and

—to fulfill his ministry.

Then he looks back on his life, noting that his departure is imminent, but knows that he will be with God in heaven because he has kept the faith. Hence he knows that a crown of righteousness awaits him.

He then laments the departure of some of his co-workers: Demas, who returned to his former way of life; and Crescens and Titus, who went to two provinces to continue their ministries there. It turned out that only Dr. Luke was still with him after he sent Tychicus to Ephesus.

He then pleads for Timothy to come to him, bringing his warm coat, some scrolls and parchments (presumably some of the Old Testament scriptures, or some of St. Paul’s writings), and Mark. Who is Mark? Mark, or John Mark, was a young Christian lad, a cousin of Barnabas, who Paul and Barnabas had brought to Antioch from Jerusalem, and who accompanied Paul and Barnabas for a short time on St. Paul’s first missionary journey. Later, when St. Paul started his second missionary journey, he took Silas along with him while Barnabas took Mark with him. Later on, when St. Paul was imprisoned, he wrote to the Colossians that Mark had provided him comfort, and he is sending him to them. (Incidentally, this is the Mark that wrote one of the four Gospels.)

Continuing his letter to Timothy, St. Paul warns him against Alexander the metalworker, who apparently opposed St. Paul and his message, possibly during his hearing in court. In addition, no one else was there to support him, so St. Paul felt abandoned at this point. Yet he expressed faith that the Lord would rescue him.

Our faith also should be as St. Paul’s when he concludes, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.”

 

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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 a place of ministry, or room and board. Their only concern is getting the job done. Fascinating thought! 

 

St. Simon and St. Jude, Apostles (28 October)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Jeremiah 26: 1-16

 

As you may recall, God called Jeremiah to be His prophet to the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, 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 father’s and grandfather’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 from which they never recovered. 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. Thus 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. Obviously, Jeremiah’s messages did not earn him any favors from a people intent on pursuing worldly pleasures, including the pleasures sanctioned by idol worship.

This is the situation described in our reading for today. God has told Jeremiah to go to the Temple and declare that, unless all the people repent of all their evil ways, God will make the temple and Jerusalem like Shiloh (see 1 Samuel 4:1-11 and Psalm 78:60-61). The people of Jerusalem understand fully what Jeremiah is saying, that God will remove their city as well as the temple, which they at this point regarded as a talisman. But now we see the response of the people, the priests, and the prophets alike: They insist that Jeremiah deserves to die because he has spoken against their city and temple. So they grab Jeremiah and haul him before the city officials to try him. Jeremiah defends himself by saying that he is just conveying God’s message to them, calling for repentance in order to avert disaster. But if they condemn him to death, they are to know that they will be guilty of murder, the taking of innocent blood, in addition to all of their other sins.

Initially, the officials and the people say that Jeremiah does not deserve to die. But if we continue reading, we find others arguing against Jeremiah so that ultimately he barely escapes with his life.

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Peter 1: 3-9

 

St. Peter is addressing the Christians—mostly Gentiles—in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), focussing on remaining faithful in the midst of trials and tribulations. First of all, he praises God for his mercy by which they were born again to a heavenly inheritance through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. But he also notes that they can still rejoice in this gift, even though they may be suffering under various trials These trials are God’s way of testing how genuine their faith is so that it will result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus returns in judgment. Thus, because they love Jesus despite not seeing him, they will obtain the outcome of their faithfulness—the salvation of their souls.

Assurances that we can cherish as we continue our walk in faith in the midst of trials and tribulations.

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Gospel Lesson: John 15: (12-16) 17-21

 

Jesus has stated that He is the vine and we are the branches and that we can bear fruit only if we abide in Him, Jesus also noted that we need to abide in His love. And we can do that only by keeping the Father’s commandments. When that happens, Jesus’ joy will be in us.

But then Jesus gives us a command: To love one another just as He loved us, with the kind of love that makes a significant sacrifice for someone else’s benefit Then Jesus notes that we are His friends if we obey his commandments; we are no longer just servants.

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

But then Jesus strikes a more somber note: because the world hates Jesus, it also is going to hate us. The world would love us only if we lived as they lived. Since we are servants of Christ, the world will persecute us just as they persecuted Jesus, simply because we love Jesus. 

 

Sunday on 2 - 8 October (Proper 22)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Genesis 2: 18-25

 

God has just finished the entire creation, including Adam. But as we begin today’s lesson, we see that God observes that Adam should not be alone; he should have a helper. But he wants Adam to appreciate that fact. So he has every living, moving creature on the earth pass in front of Adam, who is given the responsibility of naming each creature. In the process, Adam realizes that the livestock, the birds of the air, and the beasts of the field all come in pairs, but he didn’t have someone to pair with. So to accommodate Adam, God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep (i.e., administered anesthesia), removed a rib from Adam (i.e., did surgery), and formed the rib into a woman (i.e., performed plastic surgery). And so God presents a helper to Adam, whom Adam named “Woman.” And with that God establishes the institution of marriage, one man and one woman, who become one.

Note that, at this time, sin has not yet entered the picture. So both Adam and Eve (the “Woman”), are naked, but there is no shame in being so.

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Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 2: 1-13 (14-18)

 

The author of Hebrews admonishes his readers and hearers to pay much closer attention to what God’s word says because its message has been proven to be totally reliable, and we can easily observe that sin does receive just retribution. In such a case, it is important not to neglect the free salvation that God offers to us through the suffering and death of Jesus. In fact, Jesus’ ministry testified to that in both word and deed, as did the words and deeds of the early church. In addition, God the Father bears witness to that salvation through signs, wonders, miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, God the Father says of Jesus that he was made a little lower than the angels (i.e., became a human being) for a time in order to suffer death for all mankind.

But now the Father has crowned him with glory and honor, placing all creation under his rule. Again, obviously, not all of creation has yet acknowledged Christ’s rule in their lives. Nevertheless, Jesus by his perfect obedience to God the Father, even in his suffering and death, was able to earn salvation for anyone who believes in his redeeming work. And everyone who so believes immediately becomes a brother to Jesus (i.e., a child of God the Father).

Then we are reminded that earth is not our permanent home; we are to ensure that we get to our eternal home in heaven. Our mind should then be on heavenly things, for which we should offer praise to God. Notice that this is described as a sacrifice, perhaps suggesting that we may not feel like praising God at certain times, but we still need to because God has guaranteed for us eternity with him. Can you think of someone in the Bible who offered a sacrifice of praise to God? Check out Jonah 2:9! Where was he when he stated these words?

Next, the author of Hebrews suggests deeds on our part that would demonstrate that we are grateful to God:

—Do those things that are pleasing to God,
—Share what you have, even if it means sacrificially (see
Philippians 4:14-29),

—Obey your leaders, submitting to them, and

—Pray for the brothers and sisters in the faith.

Perhaps we could practice showing meaningful gratitude, certainly in words but especially in our behavior and actions, starting with those in our family!

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Gospel Lesson: Mark 10: 2-16

 

After the episode in last Sunday’s reading, where Jesus admonishes his disciples to make sure that they remain the salt of the earth, Jesus and his disciples leave Galilee and head south to Judah, but stay on the east side of the Jordan River. There crowds gather around him to hear his teachings. But also in the crowd are the Pharisees, always trying to figure out some way to trick him into saying the wrong thing. This time they ask whether it is OK for a husband to divorce his wife. Jesus responds with a question: what does Moses’ Law teach? The Pharisees answer with a quote from Deuteronomy 24:1-4, that all he has to do is write out a certificate of divorce if he is not pleased with his wife. But then Jesus points out to them that this was merely a concession to the Children of Israel at that time because of the hardness of their hearts, and he reminds them of what Moses wrote earlier, in Genesis 2, which was our Old Testament Lesson for today, that God never intended for there to be divorce, the breaking up of a marriage. Rather, when God joined together a man and a woman in marriage, there was no provision for a human to separate them by divorce. In fact, divorcing and remarrying is considered adultery (except for the circumstance mentioned by Jesus elsewhere of unfaithfulness—see Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9).

While this is going on, some of the crowd were bringing their children to Jesus so that he might touch them. The disciples, however, thought that this was an intrusion on Jesus’ true ministry. But Jesus sets them straight by pointing out that the Kingdom of God is made up of God’s children, and especially important to God are children who accept on faith anything that their parents tell them. When we accept what God tells us with that same kind of faith, that is the faith that allows one to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. 

 

Sunday on 9 - 15 October (Proper 23)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Amos 5: 6-7 and 10-15

 

Amos was one of God’s prophets, although his ministry lasted only a few years, during the reign of King Jeroboam II of Israel of the Northern Kingdom. Although King Jeroboam II’s reign lasted for 41 years, he nevertheless was regarded by God as an evil king, continuing the worship of his namesake, King Jeroboam I, who installed two golden calves, one in Bethel and one in Dan, for the people of Israel to worship, which they did continually. But because God had compassion on the people of Israel because of their suffering at the hands of the Syrians, the Moabites, and the Ammonites, God used King Jeroboam II to defeat their enemies.

In the first part of the book of Amos, God responds to the cries of the people of Israel for deliverance from their enemies by promising that he will punish the nations of Syria, Gaza, Tyre, Ammon, and Moab. But then God turns his attention to Israel itself. He promises judgment for Bethel, and castigates the leaders of Israel for the following sins:

perversion of justice and righteousness,

hatred of those who reprove their sins,

taking advantage of and taxing the poor,

—building mansions for themselves,

harassing the righteous,

—taking bribes, and

—ignoring the needy.

God advises the righteous to keep silent during such times because of the evilness of the people. But God also addresses the rest of Israel, admonishing them to

hate evil,
—love
good, and
—establish
justice in the judicial system.

If that happens, God will relent of the planned punishment of Israel and will be gracious to them instead. ( Is there a message here for us? Will history repeat itself?) But we know how that went: 30 years later, the people of Israel disappeared, integrated into the kingdom of Assyria as slaves.

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Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 3: 12-19

 

The author of Hebrews warns his readers/hearers not to fall away from the Living God by allowing their hearts to be hardened by the pleasures and benefits of sin, thus falling into unbelief in the true God. He notes that only those who remain in faith to the end will enter our promised rest, eternal life. As an example, he cites the Children of Israel who were age 20 or older who died in the desert because of their failure to believe in God as well as their rebellion against God. They never 

 

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Gospel Lesson: Mark 10: 17-22

 

Continuing our story from last Sunday, where we heard about God’s perspective on divorce and on the respect that Children of God deserve, we now find Jesus and his disciples heading out to their next stop. But just then a man walks up to Jesus and asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life. [That was obviously a misunderstanding right there because we all know that eternal life is a gift of God that was earned by Jesus’ death on our behalf.] Nevertheless, Jesus responds by referring the man to the Ten Commandments, or the Law. The man replies that he has kept all of the commandments from his youth, apparently thinking that human righteousness is the equivalent of God’s required righteousness.

[Again, we know that this is an impossibility since the summary of the Law is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself. And we remember, as this man should have, that all of our righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).]

Nevertheless, Jesus cannot help but love the man, if anything for his effort, and gently suggests that if this is the case, then he will have no problem in giving away everything that he has to the poor so that he can have that desired treasure in heaven. But now the deceitfulness of sin reveals itself. The man has many possessions, and his heart is affixed to them rather than to being a servant of God. 

 

 

Sunday on 16 - 22 October (Proper 24)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Ecclesiastes 5: 10-20

 

The author of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon, is using this medium to pass on some of his observations of and wisdom about life. In today’s reading, he notes the following truisms:

—No matter how much money you have, you will never have enough.

—The laborer sleeps well whether he has eaten a little or a lot, but the rich cannot sleep because their stomach is too full.

—The rich fritter their riches away with bad investments instead of giving their money more productively to the needy.

—People enter this world at birth with no money in their hand, and they leave this world at death with no money in their hand, so it would seem that there is no gain in toiling.

—Enjoyment in life comes with contentment with whatever God has

or has not given you, because the gift of God is enjoying the work that God has given someone to do.

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Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 4: 1-13 (14-16)

 

The author of Hebrews continues his discussion of the observations that we began reading last Sunday. Here also he warns his readers/hearers not to be disobedient to the commands of the Lord, as did the Children of Israel in the desert, for they entered neither the rest of the Promised Land nor the rest with God as God observes His Sabbath. They lacked the trust in God or the believing in God that constitutes faith, even though they were given the Promises of God. As he did in last Sunday’s reading, the author of Hebrews warns against hardening one’s heart, seeking the pleasures of this world by one’s own manipulations rather than the pleasures with God in Heaven obtained by faith in and obedience to God.

So how do we find out what is really in our hearts? By diligently reading and meditating on the Word of God, which is sharp enough to dissect out the thoughts and intentions that we have hidden in our hearts. In fact, even though we may fool a lot of people about who we really are like, it would be pure foolishness on our part to think that we can fool God with our lying and deceitful nature. We are totally exposed in the sight of our ultimate Judge.

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Gospel Lesson: Mark 10: 23-31

 

We will recall from last Sunday’s reading the encounter of Jesus with a wealthy man who wanted to know what he needed to do in order to gain eternal life. With the departure of that man, Jesus now comments to his disciples that it is exceedingly difficult for the wealthy to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The disciples are amazed because they had been led to believe, in their teachings of the religious leaders, that whoever gave the most to the Temple, or who had the mostindicating God’s blessings, would be entitled to eternal life; theirs was a works righteousness. So Jesus sets them straight. But now the disciples are confused. Who then can be saved? Jesus makes it very plain: it does not depend on man but on God. It is God who must save us. We cannot do it ourselves.

Peter then seems to suggest that by giving up what they do have will earn them eternal life. Jesus again clarifies what is important: To do whatever God requires for Jesus’ sake and for the sake of the gospel. But then he indicates that whatever we give up under such circumstances we will in some way gain back, and more, in this life and in the life to come, although it will be accompanied by persecutions. Then Jesus issues what could be considered a warning: those who are the first (i.e, the rich, the stars, the movers of this age) will not make it to the Kingdom of God, but those who are last (i.e, believers used and abused by the people of this world because they serve God humbly and obediently) will be the ones who enter the Kingdom of God. 

 

 

Sunday on 23 - 29 October (Proper 25)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Jeremiah 31: 7-9

 

As you may recall, Jeremiah conveyed God’s messages to the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, during the forty-plus years prior to its being carried off into Babylonian Captivity. These messages were calls to repentance, warnings of punishment for continued apostasy, and restoration to a repentant people. It is this last with which today’s message deals. It is a message calling people to be glad, to shout for joy, and to give praise to God because God is saving his people. But notice that “his people” includes not only the remnant of Israel (meaning both Northern and Southern Kingdoms) but also people from all nations. Notice also that no matter what their physical condition (blind, lame, pregnant, in labor), God will bring them all to him.

What is curious is that here God refers to Israel as his son, and Ephraim as his firstborn. In Exodus 4:22, God refers to Israel as his firstborn. And you will recall that Ephraim was the second son born to Joseph and his Egyptian wife Asenath, daughter of Potiphera the priest. This may be explained by the fact that the Northern Kingdom was also referred to as Israel, or Ephraim, or Samaria. Or perhaps what God is saying here is that whoever comes to him, no matter their racial or ethnic origin will be his children.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 7: 23-28

 

In today’s reading, the author of Hebrews addresses the differences between the priesthood serving the Children of Israel, and the priesthood of Jesus serving all who come near to God. Let’s compare:

TenureLevitical priesthood from age 20 to age 50, or death if sooner.

Jesus’ priesthood lasts forever. It is this difference that allows Jesus to save all who come to God since he is always there to make intercession for them.

Need to sacrifice for personal sins: A Levitical priest had to offer a sacrifice first for his own sins before offering a sacrifice for the sins of the people.

Jesus had no need to offer a sacrifice for sin for himself, since he was holy, innocent, unstained by sin, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens, because he had offered up himself once, for all, for the sins of all the people.

Appointment: Levitical priests served through the requirements of the Law despite their weakness as sinners.

Jesus served as a priest [through a promise (Psalm 110:4) made through King David, thus replacing the Law’s appointment process] in a different priesthood through a line that pre-dated the priesthood established by the Law.

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Gospel Lesson: Mark 10: 46-52

 

Having ended the discussion about whether money can get someone into heaven, Jesus now heads for Jerusalem from where he had been teaching on the east side of the Jordan River. To get to Jerusalem from there, one has to use a pass through a mountain range on the west side of the Jordan River. To get to that pass, one must go through Jericho. As Jesus, his disciples, and a large crowd following Jesus, pass by Jericho, a blind beggar, Bartimaeus by name, when he hears that Jesus is passing by, yells out to Jesus to have mercy on him. Note that he appends to Jesus’ name the phrase, “Son of David,” which carried a Messianic connotation, thus indicating that Bartimaeus believed that Jesus was the Messiah. In other words, Bartimaeus had faith in the Son of God. Although the crowd basically told Bartimaeus to shut up, Jesus nevertheless called for Bartimaeus and asked him what he wanted. When Bartimaeus asked that his sight be restored, Jesus simply said, “You got it.” And immediately his sight was restored and he followed Jesus. 

 

Sunday on 30 October - 5 November (Proper 26)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Deuteronomy 6: 1-9

 

As you probably remember, Moses is giving his farewell speech to the Children of Israel as they are about to enter the Promised Land. His speech is essentially a review of the last 40 years, starting from their deliverance from slavery in Egypt by God, through the 40 years in the desert where God provided for their needs. It was during that first year in the desert, at Mt. Sinai, that God gave the Ten Commandments to the Children of Israel. But here Moses hastens to point out that there is just one greatest commandment: To love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, and might.

But that love involves more than just knowing what the greatest commandment is. It also involves a dedication to God that results in your teaching that commandment to your family, to your children, and to your children’s children whenever you have an opportunity, whether you are going for a walk, or just sitting in your house (with your electronics turned off). And hanging up framed Bible verses inside the house, and posting Bible verses on the gates or doors of your house, would also be good ways of teaching your family as well as those who pass by whom you serve.

Why should we be keeping God’s commandments? So that we may enjoy a long life, and that it may go well with us and that we may prosper.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 9: 11-14 (15-22)

 

The author of Hebrews now reveals to us the mechanism by which our redemption was secured. We all remember that the prescribed sacrifices of the Children of Israel in the Old Testament were a picture of how our sins would be washed away by that perfect sacrifice. The problem has been that Jesus’ death on the cross just didn’t seem to fit the picture of the Old Testament sacrifice. But that is because we had the wrong picture. Here it is revealed that when Jesus shed his blood on the cross, he went into heaven with that blood and entered the original tabernacle, the one not made by human hands, sprinkling his blood on the altar as an indication that the blood of the perfect lamb of God, Jesus, made final and total satisfaction for not only the taking away of sins but also the purifying of our consciences.

That is why Jesus is the bringer of a new covenant, one that replaces the old covenant made with the Children of Israel. That first covenant also required the shedding of blood, but of calves and goats, which purified those who made the sacrifice. But those sacrifices of bulls and goats could not take away sins.
That could only be done by the blood of the perfect lamb of God, Jesus.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Mark 12: 28-37

 

Since the episode of last Sunday, where Jesus healed blind Bartimaeus, Jesus has now made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the day we now call Palm Sunday. After he made his way to the Temple, he endeared himself to the chief priests and scribes by throwing out all of the money changers and other merchants in the temple courtyard, telling them that instead of a house of prayer, they had made it into a den of thieves. Subsequently, the chief priests and Pharisees challenged Jesus as to by whose authority he did these things, and then tried to trick him into saying something wrong in the hearing of Roman officials as they asked about whether it was right to pay taxes. Next, the Sadducees, who did not believe in a resurrection, challenged him about having wives in heaven.

But now we find a scribe challenging Jesus as to which is the greatest commandment. Jesus responds by not only quoting Moses’ words that we heard earlier today in our Old Testament Lesson but by also adding the second greatest commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself. Then Jesus observes that all the commandments are based on these two commandments, which are to love. The scribe then agrees with Jesus, saying that to love is far more important than burnt offerings or sacrifices. Jesus then comments wryly, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”

So now it is Jesus’ turn to ask a question: If Christ is the son of David, how come King David calls his son, “Lord?” And the religious leaders have no answer, while the crowd takes pleasure in hearing Jesus

 

Sunday on 6 - 12 November (Proper 27)

 

Old Testament Lesson: 1 Kings 17: 8-16

 

It is around 865 B.C. King Ahab—yes, that one, whose wife was Jezebel—was now reigning over the Northern Kingdom, or Israel, and had not only continued the worship of the two golden calves made by King Jeroboam but had also introduced worship of the Baals and Asherahs, the male and female gods of fertility, whose worship involved the burning alive of infants and children, in addition to every kind of prostitution. God then calls Elijah to represent his interests to King Ahab. Elijah’s first message is that, because of King Ahab’s blatant apostasy, no rain would fall on Israel until Elijah said so. An immediate drought ensues. Since this affects Elijah as well, God sends him back to his native Gilead, east of the Jordan River, where God has ravens bring him bread and meat while he lives by a river, which provides water to him. Eventually, however, the river dries up, so God sends him west and north to a village near Sidon, on the Mediterranean coast. There, God tells Elijah, he has arranged for a widow (a Gentile, someone who did not worship the true God) to feed him.

When Elijah arrives in the village of Zarephath, there just happens to be a widow gathering sticks to bake one last meal for herself and her son, since she has only enough flour and oil to make that last small meal. But Elijah tells her to make a meal for him first, telling her that God would replenish the flour and oil for her and her son until the day that the drought ends.

Oh yeah. Who is going to believe this hairy, bearded stranger with a leather belt around his waist? Amazingly, the widow does as Elijah instructs, and sure enough, there not only is flour and oil for her that day, but there is flour and oil for Elijah, the widow, and her family until the drought ends. But this does not yet convince the widow to turn to the worship of the true God. To find out what happens next, you’ll have to finish this chapter at home.

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Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 9: 24-28

The author of Hebrews is trying to show his readers/hearers that the sacrifices prescribed by God for the Children of Israel are a picture of the coming sacrifice of the Messiah, but with some significant differences. Here again, he points out that the shedding of Jesus’ blood on the cross allowed Jesus to go to heaven with that blood, enter the original tabernacle (the one not made by human hands), and in the presence of God the Father, sprinkle his blood on the

“ark” (where God dwells) and on the altar, having to do this just once in order to take away the sin of all who believe in him from all ages. This is in contrast to the Old Testament priests, who had to enter the Holy Place and sprinkle blood on the ark, and then on the altar, every year on the Day of Atonement. Thus Jesus appeared once in human flesh to mankind to take away sin by the sacrifice of himself, but when he comes again, it will be in judgment of mankind and to take with him to heaven those who have believed in him. In a somewhat similar fashion, mankind will live and die once, and after that will be judged.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Mark 12: 38-44

 

Jesus has been in Jerusalem, having his usual encounters with the scribes and Pharisees, including the most recent one where he was asked which of the commandments was the greatest. Apparently, Jesus’ response to that question caused the scribes to retreat for a time because Jesus takes this opportunity to warn the crowd against emulating the scribes, who supposedly were the spiritual examples. He points out that the scribes like to make a big show of their religiosity by walking around in long robes, receiving greetings of honor and respect in the marketplace as well as in the synagogues and feasts, where they always ended up in the seats of honor. And then to distract the people from the fact that their rules are depriving widows of their inheritance, they make long prayers in public. Such hypocrisy, Jesus observes, will receive appropriate punishment.

Then Jesus sat down near the Treasury. There was a box near the entrance of the Temple, into which people dropped their required contributions as well as their gifts and offerings. While he was sitting there, Jesus observed many rich people ostentatiously drop large sums of money into the box (2 Kings 12:1-16, 22:3-7), undoubtedly to the admiration of those watching. But then a poor widow humbly creeps by the box to drop in her two small coins. Immediately Jesus calls his disciples’ attention to this situation, noting that the widow put in more than all the others because she had given all that she had while the others only gave a fraction of their wealth.

The bottom line: how totally committed are we to the furtherance of the Kingdom of God? 

 

 

 

 

 

September 2021 Commentaries

 

Holy Cross Day (14 September)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Numbers 21: 4-9


It has been over 39 years since God led the Children of Israel out of Egypt.
They are now located just west of Edom, which is just
southwest of the bottom of the Dead Sea. They need to move to the east-southeast side of the Dead Sea in order to enter the Promised Land at its most strategic site. Standing in the way is Edom, the land allotted by God to the descendants of Esau, who refuse to let them pass through their territory. The only option is to head south, down to the Red Sea (not too far from where they crossed the Red Sea 39 years ago), and then head north-northeast to scoot around Edom and get to the Plains of Moab across the Jordan River from Jericho.

But just as the horse starts picking up speed when it sees the barn, so too the Children of Israel start getting impatient. Their outlet, as usual, is to complain to Moses that he and God have led them out of Egypt to let them die in the desert. And despite God having provided food and water for them every day of their journey (that includes at least 2.5 million people, in addition to their flocks and herds), they state that they loathe this worthless food (i.e., the manna, the bread from heaven). From its description, the closest thing that we might have to manna is either Danish or maybe Hawaiian bread. Don’t you love both? But would you love either if you had it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day for the last 39 years? Do you understand where the Children of Israel were coming from? Would you have done better?

But the point was that they received this and water for free all during this time by God’s grace, and by complaining to Moses and God about it, they were showing their serious ingratitude for God’s provision. God punishes the Children of Israel for this sin by sending venomous snakes among them, as a result of which many die. The Children of Israel then appeal to Moses to pray to God for them, which he does. God, in His mercy and compassion, instructs Moses to make a bronze snake and put it on a pole (a cross), so that whoever is bitten may look at the snake, believing God’s promise, and live rather than die.

 

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 1: 18-25


In today’s lesson, St. Paul continues to develop the thought that the simplicity of the Gospel message can be taken as foolishness by some, but to others, it is the power and grace of God to save us from our own foolishness. He then provides examples of where God’s foolishness is wiser than the wisdom of man:
—we are saved through faith, not through man’s wisdom and understanding,

—God’s provides a crucified Christ for salvation, whereas Jews demand some kind of sign while Gentiles depend on their own knowledge,

—man looks to the professors of knowledge and wisdom to achieve utopia whereas God provides the preaching of a simple message,

—man lauds those who are strong, while God honors the weak
—man looks up to the elite, rich and famous for pearls of wisdom while God honors the politically incorrect for their faith.

Why? So that man’s salvation is not dependent on anything that man can do but depends solely on what God gives to us by grace through faith. That faith in God gives us his wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption so that the only boasting that man can do is to boast about what God has done for us.

 

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Gospel Lesson: John 12: 20-33

 

Jesus has had a very eventful series of weeks, marked by the raising of Lazarus from the dead with the subsequent decision by the Jewish religious leaders to kill Jesus because they feared for their jobs with the Romans; the anointing of Jesus’ feet by Mary, the sister of Lazarus; and the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. It is at this point that our reading for today begins. Some Greeks (in other words, Gentiles) who had come for the Passover wanted to see Jesus, causing Jesus to exclaim that, like a seed when planted dies to become something greater and more fruitful, so his dying would result in a fruitful life for many others. Similarly, Jesus notes, whoever wants to serve him must be willing to lose his life, because by losing his life he will receive greater life.

When Jesus asks the Father to glorify his name, the Father responds by speaking from heaven. Jesus explains that this indicates that the hour is at hand when the current ruler of the world will be deposed as Jesus is lifted up on the cross

 

 

St. Matthew, Apostle, and Evangelist (21 September)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Ezekiel 2: 8 - 3:11

 

As we know, Ezekiel was God’s prophet to the people of Judah, the Southern Kingdom, as they languished in Babylonian captivity. The reason they were in captivity was because they had rejected God. In the book of Ezekiel, we find God calling Ezekiel to the ministry as a prophet to the people in captivity, the people who God calls rebellious, impudent, and stubborn, to call this rebellious crowd of captives to repentance.

As our reading for today begins, we hear what God had planned for these rebellious people:
—destruction of the protective wall that he had placed around them,
—the reduction of its king, influential people, prophets, and leaders to common 
folk,

—women, children, and infants languishing in the streets.

Ezekiel then asks how he can comfort those who rejected God’s warnings and listened to the false prophets? They are now captives, not only despised by everyone, but also gloated over. Ezekiel then observes that what God warned would happen if they did not repent is what they are experiencing now, and he again advises them to repent and to cry out to God.

Then Ezekiel laments that he is suffering the same thing that the rebellious people of Judah are, even seemingly having his prayers unheard.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Ephesians 4: 7-16

 

In St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we find him urging his readers to live up to the calling given them in Christ Jesus. He then comments on what Jesus did when He ascended into Heaven:
— He led a host of
captives, apparently referring to the demonic hordes, and —He gave gifts to men.

What are these gifts? Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. And what is the purpose of these gifts? To equip every believer for the work of the ministry (i.e., to make disciples, someone just as capable as him or her), and to build up the body of Christ in faith and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ so that each believer matures, allowing the body of Christ as a whole to grow in love, no longer individually snookered by the devil with false doctrine or beliefs, or temptations into worldly ways and habits, as would immature and gullible children be.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 9: 9-13

 

Today’s reading finds Jesus in Capernaum, where he has just healed a man who was paralyzed. As he continues on his way, he sees a man called Matthew, who is a tax collector. Now, in those days, people really despised tax collectors, so much so that they were automatically considered one of the worst of sinners. So why would Jesus extend an invitation to Matthew to follow him? As it turns out, Matthew accepts Jesus’ invitation, and to show his delight in being called to be Jesus’ disciple, he arranges a banquet at his home, to which he also invites his tax collector co-workers as well as other people who were considered “sinners” by the Jewish elite.

Well, it didn’t take long for the Pharisees to see this and criticize Jesus, saying that he is consorting with tax collectors and sinners. But Jesus sets them straight. People go to a physician because they know they need medical care; but people who do not realize that they are sick do not go to a physician, with sometimes disastrous results down the road. Similarly, Jesus is there for those who realize that they are sinners and need a savior, but those who consider themselves righteous will not benefit from God’s forgiveness. Then Jesus recalls some words from the Old Testament (Hosea 6: 6): God is not interested in our “sacrifices,” but rather in demonstrating the love of God to our neighbor. 

 

 

St. Michael and All Angels (29 Sep)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Daniel 10: 10-14, 12:1-3

 

Daniel, apparently a teenager of noble descent, was taken to Babylon around 605 B.C. Because of his God-endowed wisdom, he was appointed to the King’s court of advisors, serving the kings of Babylon and subsequently the kings of the Medes and Persians until around 536 B.C., virtually the entire 70 years of Babylonian captivity. Daniel was not only an interpreter of dreams and visions for his captors but he was also granted special visions by God of future events.

In today’s reading, we find that Daniel has been praying and fasting for three weeks when he sees an angel in all its glory, who tells Daniel that he was sent by God three weeks ago in response to Daniel’s prayers to God. Why did the angel take so long to get to Daniel? Because he was way-laid by the “prince of the kingdom of Persia.” What? An angel of God can be stopped by a human? No, not at all. In this case, we are talking about spiritual forces in heavenly places. Remember what St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians?

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12.

So this angel of God required the help of Michael, an archangel, to escape his imprisonment by the devil’s forces before he could get to Daniel to deliver God’s vision of the future. That is why it is so important for us to be God’s prayer warriors, interceding not only for God’s people on earth but also his angels battling the forces of Satan in heavenliness. As the hymn reminds us, we are Christian soldiers!

The reading concludes with the angel telling Daniel that in the last days, Michael, the angel in charge of all of God’s believers, will appear to deliver all believers from an unusual time of trouble, followed by a resurrection of all peoples, some to everlasting life, others to everlasting punishment.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Revelation 12: 7-12

 

St. John, exiled to the island of Patmos, off the south-west coast of present-day Turkey, because of his witness to Christ, has been privileged to see the glorified Jesus, who first of all dictates letters to the seven principal churches of Asia minor, and then brings him up to heaven, where he sees vision after vision. Just before our reading for today begins, St. John sees a woman (probably representing the Old Testament church) giving birth to a boy (Jesus), whom a huge fiery red serpent (Satan) tries to destroy. But the child is snatched by God to heaven, indicating that the child’s redeeming work has been accomplished.

Then St. John sees a war breaking out in heaven: Michael and his angels are fighting the fiery red serpent and his angels. The devil and his angels are defeated and thrown down to earth, where they focus their fierce anger against God’s people still living on earth. Demons against humans? How can God’s people win? But wait! What do we read? God’s people have victory over them because of the sacrifice of Jesus and the word of their testimony (as demonstrated by their words and deeds).

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 18: 1-11

 

As is often the case with humans, Jesus’ disciples are concerned about who will be greatest in the kingdom of heaven. To illustrate the answer, Jesus shows them a little child and says that the greatest will be like a child, i.e., being believing, trusting and obedient. Then Jesus cautions his disciples and all people not to do anything that would cause a child, or any child of God, to lose faith in Him, because the eternal consequences would be severe. Then Jesus comments that it would be better to lose a body part than to lose faith. Recognizing that body parts do what the heart (or mind) want, Jesus is cautioning us to watch what we think and want, because it is better to lose something we think we need than lose something (our soul) for all eternity. Jesus then observes that every child of God has angels watching over him/her and reporting directly to God the Father.

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Alternate Gospel Lesson: Luke 10: 17-20

 

At the beginning of this chapter, we find that Jesus has sent out 70 disciples ahead of him to cities that he planned to visit, telling them to heal the sick and preach the imminent coming of the Kingdom of God. As our reading begins, we find those disciples returning from their mission, rejoicing that by using the name of Jesus, even demons had to obey them. Jesus responds by noting that he has watched Satan being thrown out of heaven, and now he has given his believers the authority over demons and to destroy their power. Important as this is, however, Jesus notes that it is even more important that believers’ names be written in the Book of Life

 

Sunday on 25 September - 1 October (Proper 21)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Numbers 11: 4-6, 10-16, and 24-29

 

It is just a little over a year since the Children of Israel celebrated the Passover in Egypt and now, at the foot of Mt. Sinai, have celebrated the second Passover. Much has happened in between, including the giving of the Ten Commandments and the construction of the Tabernacle. Just before our reading for today begins, the Cloud of God has lifted from the camp and has led the Children of Israel through the desert back to the Desert of Paran, to the area that eventually would become southern Judah. Understand that this is not an easy journey. So it should not be too surprising that there will be some people who will find something to complain about. And the complaints are directed against Moses because all they have to eat is manna, and they are craving the free fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic that was their daily fare in Egypt. In essence, they are complaining to God that he has deprived them of all the good food that they had in Egypt. And once the complaints start, they spread like wildfire, with now every family standing in the doorway of their tent, wailing about their food situation.

The complaints infuriate the Lord since they express gratitude for their deliverance and for the manna so far provided. Moses also feels the burden of these complaints and says to God that he can’t carry the burdens of these people by himself. So God orders Moses to select 70 leaders and elders from the community, to assemble at the tent of meeting (i.e., the tabernacle), where God anoints them with some of the Holy Spirit that had been in Moses. The result is that these 70 men begin to prophesy (sort of reminiscent of the Day of Pentecost, isn’t it?), even two of the leaders who were still in the camp. Joshua, perhaps trying to protect the leadership of Moses, asks Moses to keep those two leaders from prophesying. But Moses responds that he would like to see the Holy Spirit descend on all of the people, pre-dating the prophecy of Joel (2:28-29) which was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost.

 

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Epistle Lesson: James 5: (1-12) 13-20

 

As we continue reading from the letter of St. James, we find him now turning his attention to prayer. In particular, if someone is suffering or sick, they should pray to the Lord. And the sick person should, in addition, call for the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil, whereupon the prayer of faith will allow the Lord to heal the sick person. Then St. James suggests that there may be a cause-and-effect relationship between being sick and a sinful life, to the extent that sick people should examine themselves and confess recurring sins, so that when people pray for each other, they may be healed.

To reassure us that our prayers are mighty before God, St. James reminds us that Elijah was a man just like us, who during the reign of evil King Ahab, prayed that it should not rain, and it did not for three and a half years, after which Elijah prayed for it to rain again, and it did. So St. James is encouraging us to pray in the faith that God does indeed hear us.

Finally, St. James reminds us that we have a responsibility to look out for our brothers so that if there is someone who has departed from the true faith, the church community would seek to bring him back to that true faith.

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Gospel Lesson: Mark 9: 38-50

 

Following the discussion of who was the greatest, we now find the disciples being jealous for Jesus, for they happened to see someone who was not one of the discipleship band, casting out demons in the name of Jesus, much like Joshua was jealous for Moses. But Jesus quickly puts a stop to that kind of thinking, saying that they should not stop someone from doing mighty works in his name, because who is not against them is for them. In fact, Jesus implies, whoever does even the littlest thing for the Kingdom of God, even giving a drink of water to a brother in Christ, will be rewarded.

Then Jesus warns against leading believers into sin, saying that it would be better to be drowned in the sea than to do such a thing. Then he suggests that we should remove an offending member of our body if it is responsible for our sinning. Left unsaid is the real issue: not having a heart that is attuned to doing God’s will. Jesus had earlier remarked that believers are the salt of the earth, meaning that our lives should make unbelievers long for a similar relationship with God. And if our lives are no longer doing that, then we need to examine ourselves to see how to re-establish a correct relationship with Jesus. 

 

Sunday on 2 - 8 October (Proper 22)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Genesis 2: 18-25

 

God has just finished the entire creation, including Adam. But as we begin today’s lesson, we see that God observes that Adam should not be alone; he should have a helper. But he wants Adam to appreciate that fact. So he has every living, moving creature on the earth pass in front of Adam, who is given the responsibility of naming each creature. In the process, Adam realizes that the livestock, the birds of the air, and the beasts of the field all come in pairs, but he didn’t have someone to pair with. So to accommodate Adam, God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep (i.e., administered anesthesia), removed a rib from Adam (i.e., did the surgery), and formed the rib into a woman (i.e., performed plastic surgery). And so God presents a helper to Adam, whom Adam named “Woman.” And with that God establishes the institution of marriage, one man and one woman, who become one.

Note that, at this time, sin has not yet entered the picture. So both Adam and Eve (the “Woman”), are naked, but there is no shame in being so.

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Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 2: 1-13 (14-18)

 

The author of Hebrews admonishes his readers and hearers to pay much closer attention to what God’s word says because its message has been proven to be totally reliable, and we can easily observe that sin does receive just retribution. In such a case, it is important not to neglect the free salvation that God offers to us through the suffering and death of Jesus. In fact, Jesus’ ministry testified to that in both word and deed, as did the words and deeds of the early church. In addition, God the Father bears witness to that salvation through signs, wonders, miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, God the Father says of Jesus that he was made a little lower than the angels (i.e., became a human being) for a time in order to suffer death for all mankind.

But now the Father has crowned him with glory and honor, placing all creation under his rule. Again, obviously, not all of creation has yet acknowledged Christ’s rule in their lives. Nevertheless, Jesus by his perfect obedience to God the Father, even in his suffering and death, was able to earn salvation for anyone who believes in his redeeming work. And everyone who so believes immediately becomes a brother to Jesus (i.e., a child of God the Father).

Then we are reminded that earth is not our permanent home; we are to ensure that we get to our eternal home in heaven. Our mind should then be on heavenly things, for which we should offer praise to God. Notice that this is described as a sacrifice, perhaps suggesting that we may not feel like praising God at certain times, but we still need to because God has guaranteed for us eternity with him. Can you think of someone in the Bible who offered a sacrifice of praise to God? Check out Jonah 2:9! Where was he when he stated these words?

Next, the author of Hebrews suggests deeds on our part that would demonstrate that we are grateful to God:

—Do those things that are pleasing to God,
—Share what you have, even if it means sacrificially (see
Philippians 4:14-29),

—Obey your leaders, submitting to them, and

—Pray for the brothers and sisters in the faith.

Perhaps we could practice showing meaningful gratitude, certainly in words but especially in our behavior and actions, starting with those in our family!

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Gospel Lesson: Mark 10: 2-16

 

After the episode in last Sunday’s reading, where Jesus admonishes his disciples to make sure that they remain the salt of the earth, Jesus and his disciples leave Galilee and head south to Judah, but stay on the east side of the Jordan River. There crowds gather around him to hear his teachings. But also in the crowd are the Pharisees, always trying to figure out some way to trick him into saying the wrong thing. This time they ask whether it is OK for a husband to divorce his wife. Jesus responds with a question: what does Moses’ Law teach? The Pharisees answer with a quote from Deuteronomy 24:1-4, that all he has to do is write out a certificate of divorce if he is not pleased with his wife. But then Jesus points out to them that this was merely a concession to the Children of Israel at that time because of the hardness of their hearts, and he reminds them of what Moses wrote earlier, in Genesis 2, which was our Old Testament Lesson for today, that God never intended for there to be divorce, the breaking up of a marriage. Rather, when God joined together a man and a woman in marriage, there was no provision for a human to separate them by a divorce. In fact, divorcing and remarrying is considered adultery (except for the circumstance mentioned by Jesus elsewhere of unfaithfulness—see Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9).

While this is going on, some of the crowd were bringing their children to Jesus so that he might touch them. The disciples, however, thought that this was an intrusion on Jesus’ true ministry. But Jesus sets them straight by pointing out that the Kingdom of God is made up of God’s children, and especially important to God are children who accept on faith anything that their parents tell them. When we accept what God tells us with that same kind of faith, that is the faith that allows one to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. 

 

Sunday on 4 - 10 September (Proper 18)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 35: 4-7a

 

As we learned two weeks ago, Isaiah was God’s messenger for over 50 years to the people of the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, as they slowly began to spiral into deeper and deeper apostasy. Isaiah’s messages from God called for repentance from rebellious ways and reminders of God’s grace and restoration to those who repented.

In the previous chapters, Isaiah delivered God’s promise to deliver them from their enemies when they repented. Today’s reading provides reassurances to those who truly seek God and continues with the signs of restoration that God will provide, all fulfilled with the coming of the Kingdom of God in Christ Jesus. These signs include the following:

—the blind will see,
—the
deaf will hear,
—the
lame will not only walk but leap (see Acts 3:1-8),

—the mute will sing for joy,
—streams of
water will appear in the desert,
—the burning
sand will become a pool, and
—the thirsty
ground will become springs of water.

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Epistle Lesson: James 2: 1-10 and 14-18

 

St. James is believed to be the brother of Jesus (Matt. 13:55) who later apparently became the leader of the Church in Jerusalem (Galatians 1:19, Acts 15:13-21, Acts 21:17-18). This letter is addressed to Jewish Christians (See James 1:1), whose purpose is to help them understand how to live a Christian life. In today’s reading, St. James, first of all, addresses the issue of demonstrating partiality, that is showing more honor and respect to those who are wealthy, influential, or of star status. Of course, we today are beyond that. We never run after or suck up to the wealthy people or corporations, the politicians, the sports or movie stars, the bright lights of music, or the leaders in our church or community. If we did, St. James says, we would be sinning, because we are not loving every neighbor as ourselves. The Law, therefore, condemns that sin and convicts us.

St. James then launches into a brief discussion of the relationship between faith and works. The bottom line is that we can have works without faith, but we cannot have faith without works. That is to say, if our “faith” does not demonstrate the love of our neighbor in both what we say and how we say it, and what we do and how we interact with others, then we really do not have a living faith. Or, as St. James puts it bluntly, faith without works is dead. Faith, if it is real, would demonstrate—among other things—compassion for our fellow man which would be followed by appropriate acts.

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Gospel Lesson: Mark 7: (24-30) 31-37

 

Since our reading of last Sunday, where we heard of Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees in Capernaum about ceremonial washing of hands, St. Mark relates the episode of Jesus going to Tyre (on the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea), where he cast out a demon from a little Greek girl. As our story continues today, we find Jesus heading north from Tyre to the region of Sidon, also on the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea, before heading southeast to the east side of the Sea of Galilee and then down to the Decapolis, a large region including ten larger Greek cities east of the Jordan River. It is soon obvious that the people there have heard of Jesus, for they bring to Jesus for healing a man who is both deaf and with a speech disability. Jesus, in his compassion, does just that, so that the man can both hear and speak plainly—all to the amazement of the people gathered around. But when Jesus tells the people not to broadcast this miracle, the people all the more report the healing that Jesus had done. But why would Jesus not want the people to report this miracle? Because he wanted them to focus on their spiritual, not their physical, disabilities. Not that healing from sicknesses and disabilities is not important; it is. The issue is, what has the higher priority?

How about You? What is a higher priority for you: to know better and better the God who loved you so much that he died for you, or to pursue your perceived comforts and pleasures in this life? 

 

Sunday on 11 - 17 September (Proper 19)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 50: 4-10

 

Isaiah, God’s messenger to the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, continues in today’s reading God’s message of restoration to those who repent. But the approach today is a bit different. Instead of focusing on the restoration of homes and lands, it is a spiritual restoration, or salvation, wrought by someone who suffers and dies for mankind. As our reading begins, we find that the words are from the one who is bringing that salvation, namely Jesus. But it is a prophecy, recorded around 700 years before the Messiah came and thought those thoughts and uttered those words. As we hear these words, recall the physical brutality that Jesus endured under the hand of Pilate (Matthew 27:26-30), how Jesus endured disgrace and opposition and mocking (Matthew 27:39-44), how Jesus was accused and judged unjustly (Luke 23:22-25), how he set his face like a flint to Jerusalem—knowing the torture that he would have to endure (Luke 18:31-33). And as Jesus trusted in his Father, so we are told to trust in the God who brings us out of darkness into light, life, and salvation.

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Epistle Lesson: James 3: 1-12

 

As we continue to read from St. James' letter to Jewish Christians, we find him now turning his attention to the sins of the tongue. He, first of all, identifies teachers as one group of professionals who have to maintain strict control of what comes out of their mouth, because God will judge them more strictly. Obviously, however, the sins of the tongue are common to all, and St. James points out that our words are a fire that can set a forest, if not the world, ablaze. The words that we speak can be evil, poisonous, cursing, lying, deceitful, and reflecting every kind of unrighteousness. How, St. James asks, can we bless God in the church service but then, for the rest of the week, be a curse to those around us, especially in our own family, with the words that we speak? Or how can somehow who claims to bring the truth of God still make a practice of lying to those around us? St. James concludes: such contrary behavior in the same person ought not to be.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Mark 9: 14-29

 

A lot has happened since our reading last Sunday. Jesus has repeated the miracle of loaves and fishes, this time feeding 4,000 men in addition to women and children. Following that, Jesus warns his disciples of succumbing to the yeast of the Pharisees (i.e, having as our focus physical rather than spiritual things). He then gives sight to a blind man, and foretells of his coming torture and crucifixion at the hands of the religious leaders, followed by his resurrection after three days. And he takes Peter, James, and John to a mountain top, where he is transfigured while appearing with Moses and Elijah.

As today’s reading opens, we find Jesus and the three disciples descending the mountain, only to find a large crowd gathered around the remaining disciples, who are in a heated discussion with some scribes. The issue? A boy who has a spirit, who not only makes the boy mute but also throws him into seizures. The problem? The remaining disciples were not able to cast the demon out. Jesus immediately identifies the hindrance: a lack of faith. Jesus then points out that all things are possible for one who believes. The boy’s father then pleads to Jesus to help him because of his unbelief. Apparently, that was enough faith for Jesus to act, and he commands the spirit to come out of the boy and to not enter him again. And after a lot of fussing, the spirit obeys.

Of course, the disciples are questioning Jesus about why, when they commanded the spirit to leave, it did not. Jesus does not say that casting out demons is limited to him. Instead, he says that fruitful prayer life is needed. Thinking back to our Old Testament Lesson, perhaps what Jesus is saying is that our spiritual life needs restoration. 

 

 

Sunday on 18 - 24 September (Proper 20)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Jeremiah 11: 18-20

 

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. Obviously, Jeremiah’s messages did not earn him any favors from a people intent on pursuing worldly pleasures, including the pleasures sanctioned by idol worship.

Today’s reading reveals Jeremiah’s discovery that there was a plot against his life. It was God Himself who revealed the plot to him. Jeremiah comments that the plot caught him completely by surprise, that he was too naive to suspect that somebody would want to kill God’s servant. So Jeremiah entrusts himself to the Lord, asking God to deal appropriately with those who plot murder.

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Epistle Lesson: James 3: 13 - 4: 10

 

Five Sundays ago, our readings dealt with wisdom, discernment, and understanding, with selected readings from Proverbs, Ephesians, and the Gospel of John. As we continue to read from the letter of St. James, we now find him examining this topic, enhancing our understanding of human versus Godly wisdom. So, what are the characteristics of human wisdom? St. James lists the following:

—bitter jealousy,
—selfish ambition and covetousness,

boasting,
lying,
disorder and quarreling, and

—every possible vile practice.

In other words, a person exercising so-called human wisdom would have no compunctions about stooping to any action to get what he or she wants, whether it is slander or even murder. It is passion run amuck! And when people act this way, they reveal a commitment to the world that makes them an enemy of God. Can you think of any present-day examples of such human wisdom?
On the other hand, St. James lists the following characteristics of
Godly wisdom:

—good conduct,
meekness, or humbleness,

pureness of heart,

peaceable,
gentle,
—open to reason,
—full of mercy and good fruits,

impartial, and
sincere.

It is to such people that God lavishes his grace. And such people who have submitted themselves to God are those to whom God draws near, and from whom the devil will consequently flee when they resist him.

Bottom line: People whose lives are centered on so-called human wisdom need to repent post-haste, and humble themselves before God.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Mark 9: 30-37

 

Today’s reading finds Jesus and his disciples traveling from the Mount of Transfiguration back through Galilee to Capernaum. The path may have been somewhat circuitous because Jesus did not want anyone to know the path he was taking so that he could take this time to teach his disciples. One of the topics addressed by Jesus was that he was going to be delivered to men who will kill him. But that three days later he would rise from the dead. The idea that their leader was going to be killed soon was a concept as foreign to the disciples as flat earth would be to us. But the concept was so foreign that the disciples were afraid to ask Jesus for clarification. Instead, they pursued a different topic among themselves: which of them was the greatest? But when they arrived at the house where they were to stay, Jesus enquired of them what the topic of their argument was. Too embarrassed to say, the disciples kept silent. But Jesus knew! So he pointed out that the requirements for greatness among the people of the world are very different from those for greatness in the Kingdom of God. God’s requirements are that the greatest must be the one who is the servant of all. As an example, Jesus selects a little child and comments that the person who is humble enough to serve a child in the name of Jesus would be the person who would establish a relationship not only with Jesus but also with God the Father.

So we have another example of worldly wisdom versus Godly wisdom. But for those of us who want to advance themselves in their position in order to provide for their family but do not want to play the game of worldly wisdom, life does not become easy. In fact, you may feel as if you are another Jeremiah. But like Jeremiah, our only option is to entrust our life to our heavenly Father.