September 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
south-west 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 on 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 the 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 September 4 - 10 (Proper 18)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Ezekiel 33: 7-9

Ezekiel, a member of the priestly class, was one of God’s prophets to the citizens of Judah, beginning during the reign of King Zedekiah—the last king of the Southern Kingdom—and ending during the early part of the Babylonian Captivity, Ezekiel himself being one of the captives. His general message was one of God’s judgment on an apostate nation as well as God’s promise of restoration to a repentant people.

In today’s reading, we see God giving, as it were, Ezekiel’s marching orders. Thus, when God gave Ezekiel a warning to be delivered to God’s people, the unrepentant people would die in their sins but their deaths would be the responsibility of Ezekiel if he failed to deliver that warning. On the other hand, if Ezekiel did deliver the warning, the deaths of the unrepentant would not be required of Ezekiel’s hand.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 13: 1-10

Continuing from last week St. Paul’s instructions for how Christians should behave, we find him making some statements that some people today would find incredible, yet if we think about it, they are statements that Jesus had made earlier. What are these statements? They are

—we should be subject to governing authorities (i.e., the government),

—we should pay our taxes (see Jesus’ words in Matt. 22:15-22), and

—we should give respect and honor to whom respect and honor are due (which of course includes governmental authorities, employers, and certain family members).

But then St. Paul adds some unexpected requirements: he states that we are required to love each other. Not just like them, but actually to love them as we love ourselves. Why? Because when we love our neighbor as ourselves, we are actually keeping the Ten Commandments, we are satisfying the requirements of the Law! Is this surprising? It shouldn’t be, because Jesus himself declared that the two greatest commandments were to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. (Matt. 22:34-40). In other words, we could say that the only thing God wants of us is to love, i.e. to genuinely care about someone else to the extent that we show it in our actions and behavior).

 

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 18: 1-20

Today’s lesson deals with the greatest issue that has ever faced a nation, a people, an organization, a football team, or even an individual: who is the greatest? Who is number one? When Jesus was asked to address this issue, his response caught everyone by surprise: the real issue is not who is greatest, but who is the most humble! And he uses a child as his example.

But then Jesus warns that children are to be greatly respected, especially when it comes to tempting them or leading them into sin. In fact, it would be better for someone to be dead than to cause a child to sin. Stern words indeed for this generation!

Then Jesus says that there is a remedy: if your foot or your eye is causing you to sin, get rid of it rather than spend eternity in hell. But what is Jesus implying? Your foot or your eye sins only because your heart tells it to. So the problem is really in one’s heart, one’s attitude toward God and man. God wants us to have love and compassion, especially for children so that none of them perish eternally.

Finally, Jesus deals with the problem of what to do when someone sins against us. Rather than get even, Jesus tells us instead to talk to the person who has sinned against you. If that doesn’t bring about a positive response, then try again with a few others to help mediate. And finally, if that doesn’t work, then the issue needs to be brought to the church as a whole to adjudicate the issue with the same authority as God. The need for repentance is that serious! 

 

Sunday on September 11 - 17 (Proper 19)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Genesis 50: 15-21

The impact on a relationship of the guilt resulting from unrepentant sin can be devastating. It can cause the offending person to hate the offended person, perhaps because the offended person has not reacted in kind.

Or it may induce paranoia in the offending person, who not only will live in fear of a possible act of vengeance but may also cause the offending person to suspect or to even accuse the offended person of planning some act of revenge. It is this latter that we see in today’s lesson.

Jacob, after spending his final years in Egypt courtesy of Joseph’s charity, has died. But Joseph’s brothers, who had sold him into slavery some decades ago and who had assumed that Joseph had not exacted any revenge for this deed because of their father still being there, now have to face their fear of revenge. So, rather than acknowledge their sin to Joseph and repent of their misdeeds, they instead concoct the story of Jacob commanding Joseph to forgive his brothers.

Joseph, of course, is stunned by the message. Then he is moved to tears as he realizes the guilt that has been saddling his brothers all these years, because not only has he had compassion on them and forgiven them all along, but he has recognized that the whole situation, from start to finish, was something orchestrated by God to accomplish good for perhaps millions of people who benefited from the wisdom that God gave Joseph to deal with the situation after situation in Egypt (Genesis 45: 3-8).

Under the same circumstances, would you have been as loving and forgiving as Joseph? Or are you constantly suspicious of someone you offended because you have never repented? Something to think about!

 

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 14: 1-12

Continuing his discussion of desired Christian behavior, St. Paul now addresses judgmentalism. What is that? That is the attitude that we are somehow superior to others and are always right, entitling us to criticize or despise others for anything that they may say, or do, or stand for. In effect, St. Paul has just two words for this problem: stop it!  God expects us to have love and compassion for our brothers and sisters in the faith, not a critical and despising eye. St. Paul then goes on to say that Christians have the right to choose how they will honor the Lord, whether it is in what they eat or drink or do. As long as what we do honors the Lord, it is nobody else’s business. After all, it is the Lord who will judge us on what we have said and on what we have done and will judge us in the same way that we have judged others (Matt. 7:1-5).

 

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 18: 21-35

On the surface, today’s lesson would appear to be about being willing to forgive others. The story begins with Peter asking Jesus how often he has to forgive someone. Playing with the numbers, it should be clear that we should always be willing to forgive others when they come to us to say that they are sorry. In fact, we should have forgiven them already, just as Joseph had already forgiven his brothers without their asking—as we learned in the Old Testament lesson read just a few minutes ago.

But then Jesus takes a different tack. He brings up the circumstance where we have been forgiven for something, in this case, a big deal. Now how will we respond when someone asks us to forgive them, in this case for a trivial deal? Again, the emphasis is on having love and compassion for others, so much so that we are ready and willing to forgive others.

But is there something more here? Maybe there is! Could Jesus really be talking about gratitude? If somebody does something nice for you, genuine gratitude would result in your doing something nice for them. And if you really felt gratitude, you would be ready and willing to do something nice (i.e., loving and compassionate) for someone else. This is the example that Jesus gives here: God has done something incredibly nice for us (forgiven our sins and granted us eternal life with him); this should certainly prompt us to forgive those who offend or sin against us. If not, we have not demonstrated any gratitude for what God has done for us

 

Sunday on September 18 - 24 (Proper 20)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 55: 6-9

Continuing the theme of last Sunday’s lessons, that of repenting of our sins and then having a loving, compassionate, and forgiving heart toward others, Isaiah continues the thought that he began seven weeks ago when he described for us the compassion of our God who offers to give us food and drink without price. Having established how compassionate God is, Isaiah encourages the people of the Southern Kingdom (and us!) to forsake our wicked thoughts, words, and deeds, and instead to turn to God in repentance. After all, God knows what is best for us far better than our self-centered minds do.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Philippians 1: 12-14 and 19-30

As St. Paul writes to the Philippians in today’s lesson, we see a marked similarity of his circumstance to that of Joseph’s, the subject of last week’s Old Testament Lesson. Here too, St. Paul confesses that all of the sufferings that he has experienced have been for the advancement of the Kingdom of God, just as all of Joseph’s tribulations were experienced so that God could show his compassion to millions of people. As in the case of Joseph, St. Paul also wishes to honor God in both his body and his life. St. Paul admits that he would rather die and be with Jesus than continue with the present life, but he also knows that his sufferings will bring eternal benefits to millions of people, many of whom are yet to be born. So St. Paul encourages all saints to honor the Lord in both their bodies and their lives, no matter their circumstances.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 20: 1-16

What is the Kingdom of heaven like? Jesus addresses that question in today’s reading, where he likens it to a viticulturist who hires people to work in his vineyard. The nature of the work is unspecified, but it is clear that there are never enough workers. So the owner keeps going out to find more workers, even hiring more workers just an hour before quitting time. But then to a lot of workers’ surprise, the owner pays everybody the same, no matter whether they worked 12 hours or 1 hour. Seems unfair, doesn’t it?

But Jesus is not talking about an earthly kingdom. He is talking about a heavenly kingdom. And the workers are the believers whose job it is to do whatever God wants them to do to advance the Kingdom. Thus some workers may have been believers all of their lives, enduring plenty of hardship and tribulation; while others may have been deathbed converts. Whatever. God still gives each believer the blessing of eternal life with him. But perhaps what the life-long believers do not know is that, throughout their lifetime, they were enjoying the blessings of being children of God, all of which occurred behind the scenes, as it were, without their realizing it. In which case, they have a lot to be thankful for but are totally unaware of all of their special gifts, blessings, and protection. 

 

 

Sunday on September 25 - October 1 (Proper 21)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Ezekiel 18: 1-4 and 25-32

You may recall from early last month that we were introduced to Ezekiel, a member of the priestly class chosen by God to minister to the people of the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, just before and after they entered into Babylonian Captivity. One of his general messages was one of God’s judgment on an apostate nation. This is the tenor of the message for today. In this message, God is speaking to the people of the Southern Kingdom, both collectively and individually, demanding to know why the people are repeating a proverb that indicates that they are grumping about having to suffer for the sins of others. Or, in other words, God is not just!

God makes it clear that this is not the case. Instead, God indicates that he will judge each person on what he has or has not done. Then he gives two examples:

—If a righteous person turns away from righteous living, he will be judged on the basis of his sin.

—On the other hand, if an unrighteous person turns away from his unjust and unrighteous ways, in other words, repents, then God will judge

him on the goodness and righteousness that he has done.

Bottom line: God judges each one of us on the basis of what we are doing. He, therefore, encourages us to repent and accept a new heart from God. After all, God does not take pleasure in the (eternal) death of anyone. He wants all to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:3-4).

 

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Epistle Lesson: Philippians 2: 1-4 (5-13) and 14-18

As St. Paul writes to the people he brought to Christ in Philippi, he observes that nothing could bring him greater joy than to know that their behavior corresponds to their Christian confession. What kinds of behavior is he talking about? Check this out:

—Our behavior should not be driven by rivalry or conceit.
Our behavior should be marked by humility in which we look up to, not down on others.

—Response to requests from others should not be characterized by

grumbling, or by questioning the wisdom or motives of someone. With such behavior, the world will see us as lights from God himself rather than the darkness surrounding the people of this world.

St. Paul concludes that if his converts acted in this way, he could still cheerfully face martyrdom.

So what is your behavior like?

 

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 21: 23-27 (28-32)

In today’s lesson, we see a clash between two legitimate authorities: between the chief priests and the elders, who are responsible for the temple and what happens there; versus Jesus, God incarnate, whose authority to do anything is unquestioned. What the chief priests and elders are forgetting is that their authority comes from God (see Romans 13:1-7). And since Jesus is God Himself, they answer to him, something they are loathed to do.

Jesus counters the challenge of the chief priests and elders with a challenge to their qualifications, and they refuse to answer the simple question of whether John the Baptist’s ministry was of God or of man. Consequently, Jesus warns them that the people they judge to be the greatest sinners (tax collectors and prostitutes) will enter the Kingdom of God before they do because these responded to John the Baptist’s call to repentance. And even after the chief priests and elders saw these people answering that call to repentance, they refused to do so themselves.

Even so today, God is still issuing that call to repentance. Are there still those who are so self-righteous that they refuse to examine themselves accurately and repent? 

 

 

Sunday on October 2 - 8 (Proper 22)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 5: 1-7

Recall that Isaiah was a prophet to the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, around the time of the dispersion of the Northern Kingdom into the Assyrian empire around 720 B.C. In today’s lesson, Isaiah records God’s love song to his bride, the tribe of Judah, likening her to a vineyard upon which God has lavished his love and care. Then God asks the people of Judah what else he could have done to make the vineyard as productive as possible. The answer to this rhetorical question is, “Nothing.”

Then God follows up that answer with another question: why hasn’t the vineyard produced any useful grapes? As a consequence, God indicates that the vineyard will be undone, left to grow weeds, and be eaten and trampled upon by wild animals. It will be left unprotected: A warning of the Babylonian Captivity to come over a century later—still allowing plenty of time to repent.

So what is God saying to his chosen people? God chose them for responsibility—to be a light to the nations, to be an example of love and justice. But instead, his chosen people chose wickedness, injustice, and bloodshed. Man’s injustice had to be met with God’s justice!

 

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Epistle Lesson: Philippians 3: 4b-14

Continuing to read from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, St. Paul here compares justification under the Law to justification under the Gospel. Under the Law, St. Paul makes a list of those things that most people would consider as qualities that would justify St. Paul being granted entrance to heaven: from infant to adulthood, St. Paul’s life has been a paragon of righteousness under the Law. But St. Paul states that all of this human effort is rubbish, garbage, trash, compared to the righteousness that one gains by faith in the redeeming work of Christ Jesus. Does that mean that all one needs is faith? In so many words, St. Paul states that his faith now has to be demonstrated by what he does.

Recognizing that he still is sinful and makes mistakes, he then says that he forgets all that, leaving it behind in the cleansing blood of Christ, and continues to forge on toward heaven by obeying his calling in Christ.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 21: 33-46

Continuing the episode which we read about last week, Jesus challenging the temple authorities about their qualifications to challenge Him (Jesus) for teaching in the temple, Jesus throws another challenge at these authorities. It is in the form of a parable, which sounds somewhat similar to our Old Testament Lesson. In this case, it is about an owner who established a vineyard, then leased it to those who would take care of it and provide the owner with its fruit at harvest time. But when the owner sent servants to collect the fruit, the servants were beaten and killed by the tenants. This was followed by a similar tragedy.
Finally, the owner sent his
only son, assuming that the tenants would respect him. However, the tenants seized this as an opportunity to steal the vineyard from the owner by killing the son. When Jesus asked the Jewish leaders what the owner should do next, they responded appropriately, not realizing that they had pronounced sentence upon themselves.

What was the meaning of the parable? The owner was God, who developed a vineyard, the people of the world. The tenants were God’s chosen people, the Jews, given the responsibility to be a light to lead the rest of the world to God. The owner’s servants were God’s prophets. And the owner’s son was Jesus. The Jews had assumed that God had chosen them to enjoy privileges and blessings at the expense of God and the rest of the people of the world. Jesus made it clear that their assignment would be rescinded and given to another group of people (the Gentiles) who would be a light to the world that leads the people of the world to God.

And how did the Jewish leaders respond to Jesus’ judgment? They were furious at him and hated him, and wanted to kill him. And so it is with God’s servants today who call out to the people of the world to come out of darkness into God’s light. 

 

 

 

 

August Commentaries

 

The Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist (29 August)

 

First Lesson: Revelation 6: 9-11

St. John has been exiled to the island of Patmos, just off the southwest coast of present-day Turkey, when he has a vision of the resurrected Christ. Jesus first dictates letters for John to send to the seven churches of Asia minor. Then he gives John a vision of the New Testament period, from that moment to the last days of time. This first vision centers around a scroll sealed with seven seals, and after it is determined that only Jesus is entitled to break the seals and open the scroll, he does so, one by one. The first four seals reveal four horsemen, each representing a unique calamity, apparently each a foretaste of the end of days.

Then, as our reading begins, the opening of the fifth seal reveals the many souls of those who had been slaughtered because of their testimony to God’s Word. They were crying out to God, how long will it be before you return in judgment and take revenge on those who have slaughtered us? God’s response was to give each of them a white robe and to tell them that they need to wait a little while longer until the other Christians would be killed as they had been.

Thus the expectation of a Christian who lives for Jesus should be as the Psalmist (Psalm 44:22) and St. Paul (Romans 8:36) describe:

Indeed, we are being killed all day long because of you.

We are thought of as sheep to be slaughtered.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 6: 1-5

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 also raised 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: Mark 6: 14-29

Jesus has sent the twelve disciples ahead of him to preach repentance, to heal the sick, and to cast out demons. Apparently the stories of what Jesus and his disciples are doing have gotten back to King Herod. This is King Herod Antipas, one of the sons of King Herod the Great (the baby killer). King Herod Antipas married his step-niece, Herodias, who had previously been married to his still-living step-brother Herod Philip. It was this marriage that John the Baptist railed against since it was a violation of the marriage laws of God given through Moses (Lev. 18:16 and Lev. 20:21).

In fact, many people were speculating about who Jesus might be. Some thought that he was John the Baptist raised from the dead, others that he was the promised Elijah (Malachi 4:5), or possibly the promised prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15). But King Herod, racked with guilt over his beheading of John the Baptist, is fearful that it is John the Baptist returning from the dead. The whole episode can be traced back to vindictive Herodias, who wanted to kill John the Baptist because of his condemnation of her marriage (if you love somebody and want to be happy, isn’t it OK to marry him/her?). So Herodias first conned King Herod into imprisoning John the Baptist, which at least silenced his voice. But she was not satisfied. When her daughter performed an extremely sensual dance for King Herod at one of his parties, and King Herod promised Salome up to half of his kingdom, Salome consulted her mother and ended up asking for the head of John the Baptist. So King Herod was faced with the choice of murdering John the Baptist or going back on his word. So he chose to save face by beheading John.

King Herod had been warned by God to repent. Instead, he killed the messenger. And isn’t that the way the world goes today? 

 

St. Bartholomew, Apostle (24 August)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Proverbs 3: 1-8

King Solomon, the author of the book of Proverbs, when asked by God at the beginning of his reign, what he wanted God to do for him, requested discernment so that he could judge God’s people correctly. God was so pleased with King Solomon’s answer that He gave him not only discernment (i.e, a wise, insightful, and understanding heart), but also riches and honor. The book of Proverbs represents key elements of King Solomon’s accumulated wisdom, which center around one simple fact: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

In today’s reading, King Solomon advises the reader/listener always to keep God’s commandments, never forgetting them; and never forsaking love and faithfulness to God. When we do that, God will reward us with favor, success, and peace. Then he advises us to trust God, never relying on our own understanding because then God can make our path in life continue toward his goal for us. Finally, avoiding pride and evil but instead fearing the Lord will result in God’s peace and welfare permeating our mind and body.

 

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Epistle Lesson: 2 Corinthians 4: 7-10

St. Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthian Christians, again emphasizes the compassion that God had for the Gentiles by letting the light of the glory of God in the form of Christ Jesus be made known to them as well. As messengers of God to the Gentiles, the apostles carried this treasure of knowing Jesus in their human bodies, or clay vessels, which were subject to the trials and tribulations of those who commit their life to God. In particular, he notes that they are

—afflicted but not crushed,

—perplexed but not driven to despair,

—persecuted but not forsaken, and

—struck down but not destroyed,

because the message they carried was that, by the death of Jesus, life was given to those who believe.

 

Gospel Lesson: Luke 22: 24-30

 

It is Maundy Thursday (as we know it today), or, Passover at the time of Jesus. Judas has already made an agreement with the chief priests to betray Jesus, so he is looking for the opportunity. Jesus has sent Peter and John into the city to engage a room and prepare the Passover feast. At the celebration itself, Jesus announces that he will not be celebrating this feast again until the kingdom of God has come. He then institutes what we know as the Lord’s Supper, and indicates that one of his disciples will betray him. Oddly enough, this prompts the disciples to start arguing among themselves as to which one is the greatest. Jesus ends the argument by noting that in God’s Kingdom, the greatest will be the one who is the most humble servant. Jesus observes that, in the world, people who are in authority claim to be benefactors. But in God’s kingdom, the one who serves is considered the greatest. Then Jesus points out that he is their teacher and master, but it is he who is serving them.

But then Jesus observes that they have stuck with him through his trials; consequently, when they all get to his kingdom, he will assign them a kingdom and give them thrones upon which to sit as they judge the twelve tribes of Israel.

 

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Alternate Gospel Lesson: John 1: 43-51

As our reading begins today, we find Jesus continuing to call disciples. Having just called Peter and his brother Andrew, Jesus now heads to Galilee, where he calls Philip. Philip, who apparently then listened to Jesus’ teaching, quickly finds his brother Nathanael and brings him to Jesus also. During this process, it becomes quite evident that Jesus, the sinless Son of Man, knows more about people that He has never met than they expect. The reading concludes with Jesus testifying to His deity by telling His disciples that they eventually will see heaven open with angels ascending and descending on Himself.

Take Away: As soon as Jesus chose someone to be his disciple, that new disciple demonstrated his belief in Jesus as the Messiah by calling someone else. 

 

St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord (15 August)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 61: 7-11

Isaiah was one of God’s messengers to the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, at the time (around 720 B.C.) that the Northern Kingdom was spiraling into obscurity. This was a time when Judah also had fallen into apostasy, especially during the reign of King Ahaz, who had brought every form of idolatry and evil into the Southern Kingdom as King Ahab had done for the Northern Kingdom some 130 years earlier. The messages of God at this time included those of a call to repentance, warnings of justice to follow if they continued in sin, and promises of grace when they repented. This was especially significant at this time since God’s bestowing of so much privilege upon the Children of Israel from their release from slavery in Egypt till the present time, some 800 years later, had been rewarded with arrogance, pride, and ingratitude.

Today’s reading, however, focuses on God’s grace as He promises everlasting joy, justice, and recompense for wrongs experienced, and recognition that they are God’s children. Consequently, God’s children will rejoice in the Lord for the salvation and righteousness given them, making them like a bride with jewels in God’s eyes. Thus God will cause righteousness, and praise to God, arise out of all nations. That this was God speaking through Isaiah to all peoples was confirmed when, over 700 years later, Jesus the Messiah identified himself as the speaker of this passage in Isaiah as he stood up in a synagogue in Nazareth, read this passage, and declared that today this Scripture was fulfilled in their hearing (Luke 4:16-21).

 

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Epistle Lesson: Galatians 4: 4-7

One of the main themes of St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians is that God did everything to accomplish our salvation. We only need to believe God (that is to say, have faith in God and what he has done for us). There is no righteous deed that will enable or enhance our own salvation. Here, in today’s lesson, St. Paul explains how this salvation was realized. At just the right time in history, God’s Son became a human being by being born of a woman, to redeem us who were unable to keep God’s laws ourselves. When we understand that, to redeem means to “buy back,” we can appreciate why St. Paul uses the term “adoption.” When we were born, we were not God’s children initially, because of sin, but by buying us back by the shedding of Christ’s blood, God has adopted us as his children, making us brothers and sisters of Jesus, and enabling us to not only call God our Father but also to share in the inheritance with Jesus of all of God’s goodness.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 1: (39-45) 46-55

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

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

 

Sunday on July 31 - August 6 (Proper 13)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 55: 1-5

In today’s reading, Isaiah, speaking for God, brings up another theme from his book: the value of the material things and lifestyle of this present age versus the value of eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven. First of all, God extends an invitation to everyone who is hungry or thirsty to come to Him, who offers water and food for free, no money or bartering needed. Then, God asks, if His gifts are free, why do you spend money on that which will not satisfy either your hunger or your thirst?

Again, God issues the invitation: Come! If you want your soul to live, come to God. And if you do, He will make an everlasting covenant with you because of His great love for David’s descendant, the Messiah, whom God has made a witness to all peoples and nations.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 9: 1-5 (6-13)

St. Paul here indicates what he is willing to give up in order that his kinsmen in the flesh, the Jews, might also be saved: he is willing to suffer in hell.
Obviously, only the sinless Christ could make that exchange, which He had already done. But St. Paul’s words reveal his deep anguish over his own people who had rejected their Messiah, despite

—having been named God’s chosen people at the time of Moses; —who saw God’s glory in the form of pillars of cloud or fire;

—with whom God had made covenants, including the Ten

Commandments and instructions for proper worship;
—who had received the promise of God to be
their God;
—and
from whose Patriarchs (e.g. Abraham, Issac, Jacob, and David) the promised Messiah came.

An enigma indeed! But before we point fingers at the Jews, if we had been there at the time, would we have acted differently? Recall the Gospel lessons from the last two weeks as well as today’s Old Testament Lesson: Either we can value higher our present material things and lifestyle, and be thrown into hell, or we can be willing to sacrifice all in order to enjoy the glory of Heaven. The Jews made their choice. What choice will we make?

 

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 14: 13-21

Jesus’ life was not that easy. True, he relished teaching the people about the Kingdom of God—thinking about our Gospel Lessons for the last 3 Sundays. But when Jesus went to His hometown of Nazareth and taught in the Synagogue, he was rejected! And then Jesus heard that his relative—who was also His forerunner—John the Baptist, had been beheaded in prison by Herod the Tetrarch. Perhaps overcome by grief, Jesus retreated by boat to a desolate place. But the people whom He had been teaching saw the direction that He was going, and hurried by foot to get there. Consequently, when Jesus arrived, the crowd was waiting for Him with their sick—wanting to be healed. Characteristically, Jesus is filled with compassion for these people and heals their sick. But now it is evening, past dinnertime. Jesus again has compassion for the people, and rather than send them into nearby villages for food, he asks his disciples to feed them. When they object because they have only 5 biscuits and 2 fish, Jesus blesses the food and orders them to distribute it to the 5,000 men (plus women and children). The result? All are well fed, and there are twelve baskets full of leftovers!

Note what has happened here: Jesus gave away all of the food He and His disciples had. The result? Plenty of food leftover.

Similarly, Jesus gave away His own life. The result was that many lives were and are being saved. 

 

Sunday on August 7 - 13 (Proper 14)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Job 38: 4-18

The story of Job is a familiar one: Job has been blessed by God, but Satan challenges God by saying that Job loves God only because God has prospered him. So God allows Satan to attack Job, taking away everything that he has except his wife and his life. Then Satan attacks his health with painful sores that cover his entire body. Job has three “friends” who come to comfort him by accusing him of gross sin, saying that to suffer such as he has must be because God is angry at him for some sins. Job, of course, protests his innocence. But he protests to the extent that his words are ones of self-righteousness and not a defense of God’s inscrutable ways. It is then that God addresses Job, saying that if he knows so much, then please answer the questions that God is now going to give to him.

Listen carefully to these questions. In truth, no human being today knows the real answers to them, with the possible exception of one question.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 10: 5-17

St. Paul now turns his attention to a new topic: How does one get to be saved? He offers three options:

—Per 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.

—Somehow ascend into Heaven to bring Christ the Messiah down to earth. Again obviously, that is not the correct answer, since Jesus has already come down to earth.
—Somehow
descend into hell and raise Jesus from the dead. And again, quite obviously, that is not the correct answer, since God has already raised Jesus from the dead.

So then, what is the correct answer? 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 where 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.

But then St. Paul makes his pitch for missionary work: how can anyone believe in someone they have never heard of; and how can they hear that message if no one is preaching it? And how can anyone preach it unless they are sent? Bottom line? Faith comes from hearing the Word of Christ.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 14: 22-33

Continuing our story from last week, where Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 men (plus women and children), he immediately orders his disciples to get into the boat and head for the opposite shore. That would not create a problem, since Jesus is still there, dismissing the crowds. But once the people are gone, rather than resting or sleeping, Jesus heads up a mountain to pray. And he prays for hours! But during this time, the boat is struggling to make progress because of a strong opposing wind. Finally, after 3 am, Jesus finally finishes praying and heads toward the disciples, walking on the water. In his white robe, Jesus apparently looked like a ghost to the disciples, but Jesus reassures then. Impetuous Peter then asks whether he might come to Jesus on the water. Of course, Jesus says, “Of course.” And Peter starts walking on the water toward Jesus. But when his faith is distracted by his circumstances (the wind and waves), he starts to doubt. And immediately he begins to sink. Jesus saves him by stretching out his arm (that still must have been a long stretch!) and asks, “Why did you doubt?” Amazingly, as soon as Jesus gets into the boat, the storm ceases, prompting the disciples to worship him as the Son of God. 

 

Sunday on August 14 - 20 (Proper 15)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 56: 1 and 6-8

In today’s reading, Isaiah addresses another theme in his book, that of who will be acceptable to God, and what God will do for those He accepts. First of all, Isaiah quotes God as saying that the following will be characteristic of those whom God will save:

—those who do justice and righteousness,
—those (even foreigners) who minister to and love and serve the Lord, —those who keep the Sabbath and do not profane it, and
—those who keep the
covenant relationship with God.

In turn, God says that He will do the following for these folks:
—He will bring them to His
holy mountain (that is, Jesus, the Messiah),

—He will give them joy in their worship, and
—He will
accept their offerings and sacrifices.

Then God notes that His house of prayer is for all peoples, including those considered outcasts and rejects by the Jews.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 11: 1-2a, 13-15, and 28-32

St. Paul continues his discussion from two weeks ago about who will be saved. You will recall that he was in anguish over his own relatives in the flesh who were rejecting Him, the promised Messiah. So then he asks rhetorically, has God, therefore, rejected the Jews? The answer is “no,” as long as they turn back to him. Then St. Paul remarks that he tries to get the Jews to become jealous of the Gentiles who are being saved, in the hope of the Jews turning back to God and thus being saved.

Then St. Paul helps us understand the relationship of Jews to God today. If they have rejected Jesus, they are enemies of God. But, as with all people, the Jews are still elected by God to be saved, that is to say, the offer of salvation through the work of Christ Jesus is still available to them. Just as Gentiles are saved by hearing and accepting through faith the message of Jesus the promised Messiah, so too Jews are saved by the identical process. After all, both Jews and Gentiles are sinners, therefore God shows the same mercy to all who believe in the finished work of Jesus.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 15: 21-28

Jesus has moved from the eastern coast of the Sea of Galilee back to Galilee itself, where He had another encounter with the scribes and Pharisees who are still pushing their traditions and commandments. After dealing with them, He pushes westward, ending up in the region of Tyre and Sidon. This is the region from which Queen Jezebel came some 900 years earlier, known for its worship at that time of the Baals and Asherahs, the male and female gods of fertility. Obviously, a true Jew would have no dealings with anyone from there. And this appears to be Jesus’ approach as a Canaanite woman from that region comes to him, pleading that He heal her daughter of a demon. Even though Jesus ignores her, she keeps following Him and pleading for mercy. Finally, even the disciples cannot stand it any longer, resulting in Jesus telling the woman that He was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. The woman still continues to plead for her daughter, prompting Jesus to tell her that it is not right to give the children’s food to the dogs (the Jews’ insulting name for Gentiles). The woman ignores the insult and says that that may be true, but the dogs still get the crumbs, indicating that she still can justify receiving a miracle from Jesus. Jesus is amazed at both her humility and her faith and grants her request. 

 

Sunday on August 21 - 27 (Proper 16)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 51: 1-6

Although Isaiah was a prophet to the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, surrounding the time of the dispersion of the Northern Kingdom in about 720 B.C., in today’s lesson we find him speaking to the citizens of the Southern Kingdom while they are in Babylonian Captivity starting in 585 B.C., some 140 years later. He encourages the readers of this message to trust the God of their fathers, not only for deliverance from captivity in the near future but for deliverance from the slavery to sin by God’s Messiah, who is coming. Therefore God encourages the readers/listeners to be comforted both now, in the future, and in eternity.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 11: 33 - 12:8

In the verses immediately preceding today’s reading, St. Paul explains to the Roman Christians that God has called both Jews and Gentiles to repentance and faith. That is because both Jews and Gentiles have rebelled and been disobedient to God, and therefore God can be merciful to both Jews and Gentiles. These are the thoughts that lead St. Paul to exclaim how incredibly wise and knowledgeable God is. And in the light of God’s great mercies to us, St. Paul commands the readers/listeners to express their gratitude to God by setting themselves apart (i.e., to be holy) by not being of the same mind as the world but rather by letting God transform their mind to be pleasing to Him in their thoughts, words, and deeds. For us, that would show itself

—by our stopping being proud or feeling superior to others in any way, or looking down on others;

—by not criticizing others;
—or by not treating others
disdainfully.

This is because each believer has been gifted by God with certain abilities and capabilities that are different from other believers. It is when we recognize and respect others’ talents (and overlook others’ lack of talents in other areas) that God is able to use us effectively as one body in Christ.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 16: 13-20

Jesus’ ministry has been plagued by two continuing obstacles:
—The religious leaders
fanatically oppose him because he doesn’t

accept their man-made rules and regulations.
—The people are looking for a Messiah who will be a
political and

military leader, overcoming the Romans and making the Jews the world’s superior people, which they are convinced they are.

In today’s reading, Jesus pauses with his disciples in order to find out directly from them what their perspective is on his ministry. This prompts Peter to blurt out his famous confession that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Jesus responds with the following statements:

—It is on this bedrock of faith and confession that He will be able to build His Church.

—The gates of hell will not be able to withstand the Church’s march to victory over the devil, the world, and even our own flesh.

—His disciples will be given the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, keeping the doors locked for those who refuse to repent and believe (thus not having their sins forgiven), but opening the doors to those who repent and believe (thus having their sins forgiven).

Then, to the disciples’ amazement, he tells them not to tell others that he is the real Messiah, because the peoples’ expectation of the Messiah was for worldly gain, not for heavenly treasure. 

 

Sunday on August 28 - September 3 (Proper 17)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Jeremiah 15: 15-21

As you may recall, 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 father’s introduction of every kind of idolatry and 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.

In today’s lesson, we find Jeremiah complaining to God: despite his delivering God’s call for repentance and keeping himself pure from the nation’s rebellious ways, Jeremiah finds himself being persecuted and abused. Jeremiah, therefore, calls on God to take vengeance on his persecutors, but he also wonders whether God has abandoned him to his enemies since he is getting no relief from his pain and suffering.

God takes exception to Jeremiah’s accusation and calls for Jeremiah to repent. And God promises that if Jeremiah does repent and continues to speak God’s messages, He will make Jeremiah like a bronze wall over which his enemies will not be able to prevail, and He will deliver Jeremiah out of the hands of his enemies.

For the Christians of today who are experiencing severe persecution and oppression, these are indeed words of encouragement as well as a call from God for us to continue to trust Him and believe that He still is in control.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 12: 9-21

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

—abhor any kind of evil,
—genuinely love one another with
brotherly affection,

—serve the Lord fervently,
—be
patient during tribulation, being constantly in prayer.
—give your charity to the
needy saints,
—show
hospitality,
—bless those who persecute you (how contrary is this to your nature?),

empathize with others, whether they are rejoicing or weeping,
—live in
harmony with others (especially within your own family!),
—do not be
haughty or think you are superior,
—live in peace with others (as far as it depends on you),
—do not take
revenge on others, but leave that to God,
—and finally, do not surrender to evil intent, but instead overcome evil by doing good.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 16: 21-28

Our Gospel Lesson finds Jesus trying to prepare his disciples for his coming torture and death, this at the hands of the religious leaders! The disciples are incredulous, and Peter, the spokesman, insists that this must never happen. Jesus, in turn, rebukes Peter, since Peter’s hope flies in the face of God’s plan for mankind’s redemption.

Then Jesus tries to prepare his disciples for the life of a practicing Christian. It isn’t going to be easy! Because it will require setting aside your wants in order that God’s will is carried out within your family as well as with your neighbors. Then Jesus explains that if we focus on getting our wants and perceived needs, we may eventually get that, but it may be at a cost that we ignored: our salvation. Jesus then makes it very clear that He will reward each person according to what they have done, whether it is according to God’s will or whether it is according to your will.

So the big question is, who is number one in your life? In the church, it is so easy to say that God is number one; but the issue is, how do you behave at home

 

Sunday on September 4 - 10 (Proper 18)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Ezekiel 33: 7-9

Ezekiel, a member of the priestly class, was one of God’s prophets to the citizens of Judah, beginning during the reign of King Zedekiah

—the last king of the Southern Kingdom

—and ending during the early part of the Babylonian Captivity, Ezekiel himself being one of the captives. His general message was one of God’s judgment on an apostate nation as well as God’s promise of restoration to a repentant people.

In today’s reading, we see God giving, as it were, Ezekiel’s marching orders. Thus, when God gave Ezekiel a warning to be delivered to God’s people, the unrepentant people would die in their sins but their deaths would be the responsibility of Ezekiel if he failed to deliver that warning. On the other hand, if Ezekiel did deliver the warning, the deaths of the unrepentant would not be required of Ezekiel’s hand.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 13: 1-10

Continuing from last week St. Paul’s instructions for how Christians should behave, we find him making some statements that some people today would find incredible, yet if we think about it, they are statements that Jesus had made earlier. What are these statements? They are

—we should be subject to governing authorities (i.e., the government),

—we should pay our taxes (see Jesus’ words in Matt. 22:15-22), and

—we should give respect and honor to whom respect and honor are due (which of course includes governmental authorities, employers, and certain family members).

But then St. Paul adds some unexpected requirements: he states that we are required to love each other. Not just like them, but actually to love them as we love ourselves. Why? Because when we love our neighbor as ourselves, we are actually keeping the Ten Commandments, we are satisfying the requirements of the Law! Is this surprising? It shouldn’t be, because Jesus himself declared that the two greatest commandments were to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. (Matt. 22:34-40). In other words, we could say that the only thing God wants of us is to love, i.e. to genuinely care about someone else to the extent that we show it in our actions and behavior).

 

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 18: 1-20

Today’s lesson deals with the greatest issue that has ever faced a nation, a people, an organization, a football team, or even an individual: who is the greatest? Who is number one? When Jesus was asked to address this issue, his response caught everyone by surprise: the real issue is not who is greatest, but who is the most humble! And he uses a child as his example.

But then Jesus warns that children are to be greatly respected, especially when it comes to tempting them or leading them into sin. In fact, it would be better for someone to be dead than to cause a child to sin. Stern words indeed for this generation!

Then Jesus says that there is a remedy: if your foot or your eye is causing you to sin, get rid of it rather than spend eternity in hell. But what is Jesus implying? Your foot or your eye sins only because your heart tells it to. So the problem is really in one’s heart, one’s attitude toward God and man. God wants us to have love and compassion, especially for children so that none of them perish eternally.

Finally, Jesus deals with the problem of what to do when someone sins against us. Rather than get even, Jesus tells us instead to talk to the person who has sinned against you. If that doesn’t bring about a positive response, then try again with a few others to help mediate. And finally, if that doesn’t work, then the issue needs to be brought to the church as a whole to adjudicate the issue with the same authority as God. The need for repentance is that serious!