June Commentaries

 

St. Barnabas, Apostle (11 June)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 42: 5-12

 

Isaiah was the prophet that God chose to speak to the peoples of the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, over the time period preceding and following the collapse and disappearance of the Northern Kingdom, from around 740 to 695 B.C. His ministry was to call the people to repentance and to assure them of God’s faithfulness in keeping His promise to give to them—and all mankind—a
savior. Here is today’s lesson, God through Isaiah provides a
description of that coming Messiah. Interestingly, in these first two verses, God delivers a prophecy about Jesus’ baptism: that the Holy Spirit will descend upon him. Thereafter follows a description of the nature of that Messiah: gentle, compassionate, righteous, bringer of justice, persevering.

But midway through the reading, God stops to give a description about himself: creator of the heavens and the earth, the giver of life to people. Then he lists what his purpose is in sending the Messiah: to call Jesus—to be the righteousness needed to redeem mankind, to give him as a new covenant for the people, to be a light for all nations, to heal the sick and disabled, to have compassion on prisoners. Then God concludes that he is now bringing new things, a new covenant, to life through that Messiah.

This prophecy, as we know, was indeed fulfilled with the arrival of Jesus. In fact, Jesus said just that when he returned to Nazareth on the Sabbath Day and, when he was given the scroll of Isaiah to read from, he turned to this passage, read it, and said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. Luke 4:21.

Our reading for today ends with Isaiah calling for everyone and everything to praise the Lord and to give glory to God. Indeed!

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Second Reading: Acts 11: 19-30 and Acts 13:1-3

 

The church in Jerusalem has had a number of momentous years since Jesus’ ascension: Stephen was martyred, Saul was converted by the Lord on the road to Damascus, and Peter was sent to the household of Cornelius to preach to the Gentiles. And St. Paul (the former Saul) returned to his home town of Tarsus.

As was the case with Philip, who went to Samaria and brought that city to Christ, other believers scattered throughout the Middle East, sharing Christ as they went. As a result, the Lord brought many to faith, particularly in Antioch. So when the apostles in Jerusalem heard about Antioch, they sent Barnabas to them to encourage and teach the new saints. Who is Barnabas? Here he is described as a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. But we hear of him earlier, in Acts 4, where the church was banding together to help one another. Here we find that Barnabas, a Levite and a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money to the apostles in order to help the needy saints.

However, getting back to our story, Barnabas is so effective in his teaching and exhortation that many are added to the church. So much so that he realizes that he needs help. Remembering that St. Paul is nearby in Tarsus, he goes there to bring him to Antioch to help with the teaching, which they do for a year. It was here that believers were called Christians for the first time. During this time, a prophet from Jerusalem, Agabus, came to Antioch and prophesied correctly of a coming worldwide famine. Consequently, the disciples in Antioch decided to send relief to the persecuted saints in Jerusalem, and Barnabas and Paul were selected to take it to Jerusalem to deliver it to the elders there.

Some time has now passed, and the church in Antioch has grown larger. In the middle of one of their worship services, the Holy Spirit calls Paul and Barnabas to go on a missionary journey. After fasting and praying, the church in Antioch sends them off with their blessing.

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Gospel Lesson: Mark 6: 7-13

 

Just prior to our reading for today, we find Jesus his home town. As was His custom, Jesus went into the synagogue on the Sabbath to teach. But remember, Jesus is now in his home town, where he grew up. People knew him as the carpenter’s son, Mary as his mother, and brothers James, Joses, Judas, and Simon, as well as sisters. So if Jesus grew up among them, how come He has such wisdom, and the power to do such miracles? In other words, why is He so special? They are certainly not going to be taught by this young whippersnapper! So what do you do when you don’t understand something or don’t want to understand something? You take offense at it. Prompting Jesus to note that a prophet is welcomed everywhere but in his hometown, among his relatives, and especially by his own household. As a consequence, only a few people had enough faith in Him to be healed of their illness, prompting Jesus to marvel at the extent of the unbelief present.

As our reading begins for today, we find Jesus using a different tactic: sending the inner twelve disciples, two by two, ahead of Him to more villages to prepare them for His arrival. Note that He gives them authority over demons, resulting in their casting out demons but also healing many diseases as they preached the coming of the Kingdom of God, calling people to repentance. Note also that Jesus’ instructions to His disciples included making their entire mission an act of faith—depending on God to provide through the generosity of others for their food and board. 

 

Nativity of St. John the Baptist (24 June)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 40: 1-5

 

Isaiah, one of God’s prophets to the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, during the time of the Northern Kingdom’s spiral into obscurity, generally was responsible for carrying a message of required repentance. In today’s reading, however, it appears that Isaiah has been given a vision some 200 or more years into the future where the people of Judah are lamenting their captivity in Babylon. The words of Isaiah are words of comfort to the people from God because God is having compassion on his repentant people; their sin has been forgiven, they have been punished for their wickedness. Furthermore, God encourages his people to prepare a pathway for the glory of the Lord to again be seen, this time by all peoples. In order to facilitate the appearance of God on this pathway, highways should be made straight, valleys should be lifted up, mountains and hills should be leveled, and rough and uneven ground should be smoothed.

But how is this done? By the people repenting!

 

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Second Lesson: Acts 13: 13-26

 

St. Paul and his companions, Barnabas and John Mark, have just started out on St. Paul’s first missionary journey. For some reason, John Mark left the group and returned to Jerusalem after they arrived in Asia Minor. Paul and Barnabas subsequently arrive in Antioch of Pisidia, where on the Sabbath Day in the synagogue, they are invited to bring a message of encouragement to the attendees. St. Paul could not have asked for a better invitation, so he arises and recounts the history of the Children of Israel from their time of slavery in Egypt to the conquering of the Promised Land, to the period of the judges until the time of Samuel when they asked for a human king in place of God as their king. St Paul then notes that their first king, Saul, was followed by David, from whose offspring a Savior was promised by God. That Savior St. Paul identifies as Jesus, the one for whom John the Baptist prepared the way by preaching a message of repentance. St. Paul concludes: our salvation has arrived!

 

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 1: 57-80

 

Let’s recount St. Luke’s history up to this point. The birth of John the Baptist was foretold to his father, Zechariah the priest, as he was performing his duty of burning incense in the Temple at the hour of prayer. Suddenly an angel appears to Zechariah and announces that his barren wife, Elizabeth, will give birth to a son whose name is to be John and who will turn many of the Children of Israel back to God. Amazingly, Zechariah questions the message of the angel, to which the angel states that Zechariah will be mute until the time of the fulfillment of his message.

Six months later, the same angel, Gabriel, appears to Mary to announce that she will be the mother of the Promised Messiah. Mary accepts her assignment humbly but then hurries to her relative, Elizabeth, who immediately recognizes Mary as the mother of the Messiah, and whose baby leaps for joy in Elizabeth’s womb at the appearance of Mary, now pregnant with Jesus. The joy in the house is verbalized with Mary’s song of praise to God, which we know as the Magnificat.

Mary’s visit with Elizabeth lasts for three months, just as Elizabeth is ready to give birth. When she does, the relatives arrive to share in the joy and to be a part of the naming of this boy at his circumcision. But when the relatives want to name the boy Zechariah after his father, Elizabeth insists that his name is to be John, despite there being no relative with that name. Unwilling to accept Elizabeth’s choice, the relatives turn to Zechariah, who writes that the boy’s name will be John. And as the angel predicted, Zechariah immediately regains his voice. But then the Holy Spirit intervenes, filling Zechariah and prophesying through him that through John’ ministry, God’s promises of deliverance from their enemies will be initiated as he prepares the way for the coming Messiah, who will bring salvation, the forgiveness of sins, and light, the deliverance that they need the most. 

 

 

St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles (29 June)

 

First Lesson: Acts 15: 1-12 (13-21)

 

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 send a contingent to Jerusalem, where the issue could be decided by the apostles. And as they went through Phoenicia and Samaria, they shared the good news of salvation for the Gentiles as they went, bringing great joy to their hearers.

After their arrival in Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas must have been shocked to discover 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 Gentiles were baptized in the Holy Spirit just as the disciples were on the day of Pentecost. The assembly then became silent as Paul and Barnabas recounted 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, got up and recounted a number of the passages in the Old Testament where God made it very clear that he, God, intended salvation for all peoples, not just Jews, right from the beginning. With that, the decision was clear that the old covenant had been replaced by the new covenant, but that the new Christians still needed to observe certain things, including

—staying away from anything polluted by idols,
—abstaining from sexual immorality, and
—not eating meat from strangulated animals (where the
blood was 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: Galatians 2: 1-10

 

Galatia was a large province in what is now central Turkey, through which Paul and Barnabas had preached during their first missionary journey. St. Paul now finds it necessary to write to them regarding what they now believe: that new Christians (males) have to be circumcised and must adhere to all the rules and customs laid out in Moses’ writings. Note that this letter was written before the meeting in Jerusalem that was described in our first lesson for this day. In the first chapter of Galatians, St. Paul establishes that he is an apostle called and instructed by Jesus himself, and it was only 14 years after his conversion that he went to Jerusalem to meet the other apostles. He took with him Titus, a Greek, who was not circumcised, and no objection was made to that until some false Christians came in to insist on circumcision. After further discussion, the apostles acknowledged that God had called St. Paul as a missionary to the Gentiles. Then Peter, James, and John offered St. Paul the right hand of fellowship, confirming his call to the uncircumcised, the Gentiles. They only asked St. Paul, to remember the poor, something that St. Paul had already been eager to do.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 16: 13-19

 

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).

The Bible text then adds, beyond our current reading, that, 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. 

 

Holy Trinity Sunday

 

Old Testament Lesson: Genesis 1: 1 - 2: 4a

 

Today’s reading recounts the creation. By day, these events happened:

Day 1: The heavens and the earth are created. Notice the plural “heavens.” Also, notice that the “heavens” seems to be a vast void at this point (see Day 4). The earth is without form and enveloped in darkness. The Spirit of God hovers over the waters as if waiting for the next step. Then God creates day and night by creating light.

Day 2: Heaven itself is created as an expanse between (apparently) masses of water.

Day 3: Earth and seas are formed out of the waters under the heavens, and dry land is called forth. Then God causes various kinds of plants, vegetation, and fruit trees to grow from the earth.

Day 4: The sun and moon are created to establish time and seasons. In addition, the stars of the heavens are created. Thus day and night are established.

Day 5: Creatures of the seas and birds of the air are created, and commanded to be fruitful and multiple. Note that this day’s creations required a lot of artistic expressions. Why so? Just consider the huge variety of incredibly beautiful fish of the oceans and birds of the tropics.

Day 6: God then calls forth from the earth creatures of all kinds: livestock, crawling things, and beasts. Then God says, “Let us (notice the plural) make man in our image” (presumably a trinity: body, soul, and spirit), to exercise dominion over the earth and everything in and on it. And he creates mankind as male and female so that they could be fruitful and multiply. God then established diets for his creatures: every plant yielding seed and every fruit with seed in it is given to man, while every other living creature is given green plants for food. Notice that at this point, man is not given any other creature (meat) for food.

Day 7: God rests from the previous 6 days of work. 

 

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

 

Today’s reading is another excerpt from the events that occurred on the Day of Pentecost. In particular, it is another portion of Peter’s sermon on that date, in which he, first of all, establishes Jesus as a man through whom God (the Father) did many mighty works, wonders, and signs. Peter then points to his listeners as the ones who crucified and killed Jesus—thereby fulfilling a plan by the foreknowledge of God. Peter then establishes that Jesus’ resurrection was foretold by King David, to whom God had promised that one of his descendants would occupy an eternal throne (2 Samuel 7). Next, Peter notes that subsequent to Jesus’ resurrection, he was exalted to the right hand of the Father, and has received the Holy Spirit whom He is now pouring out on the believers. Thus God has made Jesus both Lord (deity) and Christ. In other words, within a few minutes, Peter establishes the truth of the Godhead trinity and establishes Jesus as both true man and true God.

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 28: 16-20

 

Jesus and his eleven disciples are in Galilee, on a mountain top, where Jesus gives them some last instructions. Namely, God the Father has given Jesus, the Son, all authority in heaven and earth (i.e., the entire creation). Jesus then commands his disciples to continue the work that He had begun by

—making disciples of all nations,
—baptizing all new disciples in the name of the
Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (i.e., the Trinity), and

—teaching all new disciples to observe all that Jesus had commanded them (the disciples) to do [so we have the responsibility to read the four gospels in order to find out what all it was that Jesus commanded his disciples to do!].

Jesus then assures his disciples that He will be with them always, even to the end of the New Testament period. This then is a promise that we need to hold on to as we live in this present age. 

 

Sunday on June 12 - 18 (Proper 6)

 

Old Testament Reading: Exodus 19: 2-8

 

A lot has happened in the three months since the crossing of the Red Sea into Arabia. Pharaoh’s army has been destroyed, the bitter water at Marah has been made sweet, God has rained manna from heaven, God has provided an abundance of water from the rock at Horeb, the attacking Amalekites were defeated, and Moses’ father-in-law, a priest of Midian, has provided sound advice to Moses on how to govern this large body of people.

Today’s reading finds the Children of Israel being led by God (the pillar of smoke) to the base of Mt. Sinai, where they encamp. God calls Moses to the top of the mountain, where He, first of all, reminds Moses (and the Children of Israel) how God has delivered, protected, and sustained them all during the last several months, so that He could bring them to Himself. Then God makes a proposal to the Children of Israel;

If they will obey Him and keep His special covenant agreement with Him, then God will make them His treasured possession, His kingdom of priests, and His holy nation.

Note two things about this proposal. First, it is a conditional proposal, with an “if . . . , then . . . “ clause. Secondly— as a continued reading of Exodus will reveal, and with an understanding of Jewish custom— it satisfies the requirements of a marriage proposal. (See Amos 2, where God refers to Himself as Israel’s husband.)

When Moses returns to the camp and relays God’s proposal to them, they all respond with a resounding, “We will!”

 

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 5: 6-15

 

St. Paul is in the midst of a treatise on faith. Earlier in this chapter, St. Paul explained that the grace of God that saves us is accessed through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Then he notes that we should rejoice in our current suffering, because suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame before God. Today’s lesson then picks up with the observation that God demonstrated his unfathomable love for us by dying for us when we were an abomination in His sight. Consequently, St. Paul assures us, God will continue to love us even more now that we are reconciled to Him.

Finally, St. Paul notes that through the sin of one man, Adam, sin, and consequent death infected all of mankind. On the other hand, by the death of one sinless person, Jesus, the second Adam, any person accessing God’s grace through faith is born again into the second Adam’s race.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 9: 35 - 10: 8 (9-20)

 

Similarly to the Old Testament reading, a lot has happened since Jesus started his ministry. He preached the Sermon on the Mount, cleansed a leper, healed a Centurion’s servant, healed Peter’s mother-in-law, cast out demons, calmed a storm, healed a paralytic, raised a young girl from the dead, healed a blind man, and healed a man unable to speak.

Our lesson for today starts with a concise summary of Jesus’ ministry:

—He taught and proclaimed the Gospel of the Kingdom; and

—he healed every disease and affliction.

And what motivated Jesus? He had compassion on the people, for they were like sheep without a shepherd, looking for a deliverer. That is why Jesus could say to his disciples that the harvest was ripe for harvesting, but there were not enough laborers to get the job done.

Consequently, Jesus calls twelve of his disciples and makes them his apostles. He then sends them out with the following commands:

—Go to the lost sheep of Israel.
—Proclaim that the
Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

—Heal the sick.
—Raise the dead.
—Cast out demons

 

Sunday on June 26 - July 2 (Proper 8)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Jeremiah 28: 5-9

 

Continuing from last week the saga of the prophet Jeremiah, we find that the King of Babylon had already raided Jerusalem and taken booty as well as officials captive. In the preceding chapter, Jeremiah had prophesied the fall of the kingdoms of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, Sidon, and Judah to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. He further warned these nations that if they opposed the King of Babylon, God would punish that nation with war, famine, and pestilence. Consequently, Jeremiah warned, do not listen to the false prophets, diviners, dreamers, fortune-tellers, or sorcerers who are saying, “Peace, peace.”

But Hananiah, a false prophet, rose up against Jeremiah, saying that God had told him that Babylon would fall within 2 years, with the return of the captives. It is at this point that our reading for today begins. Jeremiah says that he hopes that what Hananiah said would come true. But the history of God’s prophets was that they preached war, famine, and pestilence if the people did not obey God. If however, a prophet prophesied peace, then only when that peace came to pass would people know that that prophet actually spoke for God?

 

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 7: 1-13

In today’s lesson, St. Paul continues his discussion of the significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus. He starts the discussion with the example of marriage: under the Law, a woman is bound to her husband until his death, and then only is she free to marry someone else. Similarly, when Jesus died and was resurrected, believers died and were resurrected with him, so that the Law no longer applies to them. In other words, we died while a slave to sin; once dead, we are no longer a slave to sin. But since we were resurrected with Christ, we are now able to live our lives dedicated to Christ through a Spirit-led life. And that explains the process of being born again!

St. Paul then asks: what was the benefit of the Law in the first place? Well, it did promise life to those who could keep it. But since that was not the case, what it did do is show us how sinful we really were. So it was not the Law that was bad; it, in fact, was good! But when our sinful nature heard the commands to not do this or that, that is exactly what we did. Just like when we are told not to think of a pink elephant,* that is exactly what we think of immediately. So when we disobeyed the commandment, we sinned, and it was that sin that produced death.

*Many thanks to Pastor Nicholas Ittzes for providing this example.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 10: 34-42

St. Matthew continues from last week his recording of Jesus’ words regarding the persecution of Christians because of their witness. Jes notes that one’s faith will bring discord and hostility even between family members. And one’s worst enemy might well be someone of your own household! But then Jesus reminds us that we must make choices. In order to have peace, will you give up your faith in order to appease someone else? Or will you give up your faith because of threatened persecution—which could be physical, psychological, mental, financial, emotional, or professional? Or will you give up your faith in order to keep your lifestyle? Jesus warns that whoever thinks that giving up one’s faith will continue to give you the life you desire will actually result in your losing eternal life.

Then Jesus lists how believers can receive rewards:
—By receiving
Jesus, you receive the Father.
—By receiving
you

—the messenger of Jesus, that another person receives

Jesus.
—By receiving a
true prophet, you receive a true prophet’s reward. —By receiving a righteous person, you receive a righteous person’s reward.

—And, if you give even just a cup of cold water to a child because he is a Christian, you will certainly not lose your reward. 

 

Sunday on July 3 - 9 (Proper 9)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Zechariah 9: 9-12

 

Zechariah was one of God’s prophets to the people of the Southern Kingdom, beginning his ministry approximately 20 years after he returned from Babylonian captivity in 538 B.C. From our reading of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, these were times of great tumult, as the returnees set to the tasks of rebuilding Jerusalem and the Temple in the face of fierce opposition from the peoples around them. Thus the rebuilding process was delayed, and the initial enthusiasm of the returnees was replaced by fatigue and discouragement. It was difficult for them to see how God had really restored them, and consequently, their focus shifted from God to themselves.

In this context, God sends words of encouragement to his people with the words of Zechariah who, in the first part of this chapter, conveys God’s promise to judge their enemies. Then, in today’s reading, God promises his people a new and different king, one who is humble and righteous, whose message is one of peace and salvation and freedom, and who would rule the nations. The coming Messiah!

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 7: 14-25a

In today’s reading, St. Paul addresses what has become a perennial problem: if I am a Christian, why do I find it so easy to sin? Consequently, we find ourselves doing the very things we know are sinful. And we are forced to agree that the Law is spiritual and good, and nothing but evil continues to reside in our flesh. The power of sin!

Then Paul notes the split personality that we live with: our spiritual nature delights in pleasing the Lord, but our human flesh delights in pleasing itself.

Solution: By letting the voice of the Holy Spirit in our minds take greater control of the desires of our human nature, made possible by the death and

the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 11: 25-30

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

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

 

Sunday on June 19 - 25 (Proper 7)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Jeremiah 20: 7-13

 

You may recall that Jeremiah was one of God’s prophets to the Southern Kingdom during the last 35 years or so of its existence before its people went into Babylonian captivity. His calls to repentance met with hostility from the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judah, including its secular and religious leaders. Thus he was most familiar with persecution throughout his ministry. In fact, as we start our reading for today, we find Jeremiah just being released from prison after a severe beating because he had prophesied the coming disaster on Jerusalem and Judah. His words are words of distress because he apparently had thought that, since he was speaking the words that God gave him, God would protect him. Yet he cannot squelch the words that God has put within him to speak, so his listeners still seek to do evil to him. But then Jeremiah remembers that when people persecute him, they are actually persecuting God, and God will take vengeance. This thought then results in praise to God from Jeremiah.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 6: 12-23

St. Paul points out to the Romans (and us!) that since we have been raised from the dead by the death and resurrection of Christ, we have been freed from our slavery to sin. Therefore we are to resist every temptation to sin, thereby presenting ourselves to God as an instrument for righteousness. And we certainly are not to use the argument that, since grace covers our sins, we can sin away because grace will continue to cover those sins. He then reminds us that the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God through Jesus Christ is eternal life. We still have a choice as to whom we will obey!

 

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 10: 5a, 21-33

Jesus here gives some wise advice regarding persecution for His sake. His warns first of all that when persecution comes, we will be hated by everybody, and that even members of our own household may turn against us or even betray us. After all, if Jesus was persecuted, we certainly will be persecuted. But when persecution comes, we should be prepared to flee. Our job still is to share the good news of the kingdom.

But then He notes that we should not fear our persecutors, because, all they can do is kill the body. If we deny Jesus, then we will face God who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Rather, we should trust that God is fully aware of our circumstances and that He has our reward waiting for us in Heaven. 

 

 

 

May Commentaries

 

The Ascension of Our Lord (10 days before Pentecost)

 

First Lesson: Acts 1: 1-11

 

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

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

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

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Epistle Lesson: Ephesians 1: 15-23

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

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

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

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

Then St. Paul expands on the greatness of this power; it is the power that —worked in Jesus to raise him from the dead,
seated Jesus at God’s right hand in the heavenly, and
is far above all rule, authority, power, and dominion, not only in this age but also in the next.

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

 

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 24: 44-53

 

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

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

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

 

Fourth Sunday of Easter

 

First Lesson: Acts 2: 42-47

 

Today’s reading gives us a peek into the life of the Christian community during the early New Testament period. We discover the following characteristics:

—they devoted themselves to God’s Word, receiving the Lord’s supper, and prayers,

—they treasured fellowship with each other,
—they took care of the
needy in their fellowship by selling possessions and belongings in order to make the funds available to the needy among them,

—they ate their meals at home with gladness and generosity, and —they continually praised God.

As a consequence, the following needs to be noted:
awe came upon outside observers,
signs and wonders were being done by the apostles,

—they were viewed with favor by outside observers, and

—the Lord added to the number of saved daily.

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Peter 2: 19-25

 

St. Peter here addresses the various kinds of trials and tribulations which we may experience. The first kind is a result of our sinning. In this case, the trials and tribulations that are a consequence of that sinning cannot be considered to be unjust or unfair.

On the other hand, when we experience trials and tribulations because of our Christian faith, be it because of our words or deeds or even our chosen lifestyle, then God makes a special note of that. In fact, we should expect such suffering, since Christ suffered for us, even though he did nothing that was worthy of punishment. And we should take special note of his attitude and approach to this suffering: he entrusted himself to God. As a result, his suffering and death was accepted by God as payment for our sin, allowing us to become Children of God!

 

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Gospel Lesson: John 10: 1-10

 

In this passage, Jesus identifies God’s children not only as sheep but also as a very valuable asset, so much so that certain entities want to steal them away, either by deceit or violence. Then Jesus identifies himself as the shepherd of his sheep, and not only does he know his sheep individually but also the sheep know Jesus as their shepherd as well as his voice. And Jesus leads the sheep in and out of the sheep pen in order to find good pasture for the sheep. Jesus then notes that his sheep do not know the voice of a stranger and will not follow a stranger. Strangers come only to steal or kill or destroy. Finally, Jesus identifies himself as the door of the sheep pen also, and his sheep enter by that door, where they not only will have a life but have it abundantly in this life and the next!

Do you wonder whether you really have an abundant life here? We could not possibly know what all Jesus has spared us from already in this life. To get a hint, if you could, visit a hospital ward, or even better, a cancer ward. And no matter what physical illnesses and disabilities you have now, they will pale in comparison to what others are experiencing. We can indeed thank Jesus for an abundant life now! 

 

Fifth Sunday of Easter

 

First Lesson: Acts 6: 1-9, and 7: 2a, 51-60

 

Today’s reading gives us another glimpse of the early New Testament church, this time with conflicts developing. Up to this point, the disciples had still been concentrating their evangelistic efforts on their own ethnic group, the Jews, of which there were two groups: The Hellenists—Greek-speaking Jews living outside of Palestine; and the Hebrews—Aramaic- and Hebrew-speaking Jews living within Palestine. Now it may be hard for us to imagine how anyone could discriminate against someone who does not speak our language, or even not speak our language well, but here you have it. Recall that widows depended on the charity of others to survive if they had no family to support them. In this case, those who were Hellenists widows were being discriminated against during the daily distribution of food. When they cried out to the apostles, the apostles called a meeting of all the disciples and suggested that they look for seven men who were notable for their Christian words and deeds and who were diligent students of the Word, and appoint them to carry out the distribution of food. These folks might be considered Deacons today.

In any case, the seven men are found and appointed, and God continued to prosper their evangelistic efforts, even bringing many priests to the faith. Meanwhile, Stephen, one of the seven, allowed God’s Word to work through him with power, doing many signs and wonders among the people, so much so that certain groups of Jews tried to confound Stephen in debates, but were soundly defeated as the Holy Spirit gave him special wisdom. These Jews were the “Freedmen,” believed to be those Jews who had been slaves but subsequently given their freedom, who came from various regions, and who resorted to the same technique used on Jesus: accuse Stephen falsely of blasphemy. When Stephen is given a chance to defend himself, he lays it on the line plainly, saying that his accusers are just like their fathers, who killed practically every prophet that God ever sent their way, and they killed Jesus too out of jealousy. Stephen’s audience, faced with their own unrighteousness, instead of repenting, drag Stephen outside the city and stone him to death—thus getting rid of God’s voice calling them to repentance.

Think that it doesn’t happen today? Think again! The world is making war on Christians, and although the war takes on a more subtle approach in some places, Christians are suffering today and being martyred like never before: physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, professionally.

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Peter 2: 2-10

 

St. Peter commands all believers to long for greater spiritual understanding so that we may grow up, become spiritually mature, and become the priesthood that God planned for us to be. Priesthood? Yes, all Christians are to be mediators to God for the unsaved. By doing so, we become a living stone in the construction of God’s spiritual house.

On the other hand, to the unbelievers, a stone that could be used in the construction of a house becomes a stone over which they stumble. And unbelievers stumble over Jesus, the chief cornerstone because they refuse to accept or obey God’s word.

Peter then addresses Christians again, pointing out that—just like the Children of Israel in the Old Testament period (see Exodus 19:5-6), we are now God’s chosen race, his royal priesthood, his holy nation, and the people for his own possession. But it is not for the privilege; it is for responsibility, the responsibility to proclaim God’s salvation to the rest of the world.

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Gospel Lesson: John 14: 1-14

 

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

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

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

 

Sixth Sunday of Easter

 

First Lesson: Acts 17: 16-31

 

St. Paul is in the midst of his second missionary journey to Asia Minor and Greece. He has just been forced out of Thessalonica and Berea because the Jews are jealous of the following he gathers when he preaches and teaches. The Berean brethren hurriedly send St. Paul by ship to Athens to preclude any physical danger to St. Paul, while Silas and Timothy follow him by land. Since St. Paul has time on his hands while he is waiting for Silas and Timothy to arrive, he wanders around Athens and is amazed by all the different kinds of idols he sees, all to every kind of god imaginable. So he starts to address this in the synagogues and marketplaces, thereby catching the interest of two groups of philosophers: the Epicureans—those who believe in the indulgence of sensual pleasures, and the Stoics—those who believe in the repression of emotion and indifference to pleasure. St. Paul’s preaching of Jesus and the resurrection is something new to these philosophers, so he is brought to the Areopagus—a religious council having jurisdiction over the civil and religious doings of Athens. There St. Paul gives an incredibly astute introduction to his observations in Athens, followed by a concise history of the world, from the God who created it to the God who redeemed it, ending with St. Paul issuing God’s command that all people should repent.

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Peter 3: 13-22

 

Recall from last week’s reading that St. Peter had described how the New Testament Christians have the identical calling that God had issued to the Children of Israel at the time that Moses was leading them out of Egypt toward the Promised Land. Their—and our responsibility—was and is to proclaim the mercy and grace of the God who called us out of rebellion to be his children. But now he notes that this witness may not be without consequence. However, despite the suffering brought about by our witness, we are to be prepared to testify to anyone who asks us about the hope we have. But then St. Peter advises that we do so with gentleness and respect, in the same way, that St. Paul addressed the Athenians so that those who slander us for our righteous behavior in Christ will be put to shame. After all, it is better to suffer for doing God’s will rather than for doing evil, just as Christ did when on earth. His suffering, death, and resurrection secured our status as Children of God. St. Peter then explains that after his resurrection, Jesus descended to hell to proclaim to the unbelievers there that their rejection of God during the Old Testament period justified their current and continuing punishment, particularly since Noah preached repentance to many of them while he was building the ark —to no avail. St. Peter then compares the passage of Noah and his family through the waters of the flood to our baptism, since both brought the individual to salvation—all through believing God.

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Gospel Lesson: John 14: 15-21

 

Jesus is carrying on a discourse on the relationship between Him and the Godhead and between the Godhead and the believing disciples. The following points are notable:

If a disciple loves Jesus, then he/she will keep His commandments.

—Jesus promises to send to the believing disciples a Helper, the Holy Spirit.

—The Holy Spirit cannot be received by unbelievers.
—The Holy Spirit currently is
with the disciples and will be in them. —Because Jesus lives, His disciples will also live.
—On that day (apparently referring to the
Day of Pentecost), His disciples will know that Jesus is in the Father, His disciples are in Jesus, and Jesus is in His disciples.

—Whoever loves Jesus will be loved by both Jesus and His Father, and Jesus will reveal Himself to him/her. 

 

Seventh Sunday of Easter

 

First Lesson: Acts 1: 12-26

 

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

In any case, Peter lays out the criteria for selecting a replacement for Judas. And of the two possible candidates presented, the one was chosen by lot—the method used throughout the Old Testament period.

The New Testament period now uses a different method, with criteria listed in 1 Timothy 3 as well as Titus 1.

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Peter 4: 12-19 and 5: 6-11

 

St. Peter continues his discussion of the sufferings, trials, and tribulations of the witnessing Christian, noting that such sufferings should not catch one by surprise. Recall the words of Jesus when he said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.” John 13:16. Since Christ suffered, it is to be expected that we will suffer when we obey him. In fact, Jesus also said, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” Luke 6:22-23.

St. Peter echoes those sentiments here but also cautions that we should not expect God’s commendation if we suffer from unrighteous behavior. He then notes that judgment will begin with those in the household of God, and if that is so, what kind of judgment will fall on those who are ungodly? Consequently,

St. Peter advises us to humble ourselves under God’s authority, to be sober-minded, and to be watchful, because Satan is prowling around like a lion, looking to snatch somebody from the faith. Therefore, despite the sufferings that Satan may lay upon us, we should resist him, stand firm in the faith, and recognize that practicing Christians throughout the world are experiencing the same kind of suffering. In the meantime, we must keep our trust in God, who will at the proper time deliver us out of all our troubles and eventually restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish us.

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Gospel Lesson: John 17: 1-11

Our reading for today is the first part of what is referred to as Jesus’
“high priestly prayer.” That is to say, Jesus is interceding to God the Father for his disciples. Some notable parts of this part of his prayer include the following:

—Jesus was given authority over all flesh by His Father in order to give eternal life to those whom the Father had given to Jesus (i.e., all of His disciples).

—Eternal life consists of knowing the true God and Jesus Christ, whom the true God has sent.

—Jesus states that He has glorified the Father by completing all the tasks that the Father gave Him to do; consequently, He asks the Father to give Him the glory that He had from time eternal.

—Jesus has revealed the Father to His disciples, who now know that everything that Jesus was given came from the Father.

—Jesus’ disciples now know the truth that what Jesus gave them came from the Father, and they believe that the Father sent Jesus.

—Jesus notes that He is now coming back to the Father; therefore He asks the Father not only to keep His disciples in the faith but also to keep them as one, even as Jesus and the Father are one. 

 

Holy Trinity Sunday

 

Old Testament Lesson: Genesis 1: 1 - 2: 4a

 

Today’s reading recounts the creation. By day, these events happened:

Day 1: The heavens and the earth are created. Notice the plural “heavens.” Also, notice that the “heavens” seems to be a vast void at this point (see Day 4). The earth is without form and enveloped in darkness. The Spirit of God hovers over the waters as if waiting for the next step. Then God creates day and night by creating light.

Day 2: Heaven itself is created as an expanse between (apparently) masses of water.

Day 3: Earth and seas are formed out of the waters under the heavens, and dry land is called forth. Then God causes various kinds of plants, vegetation, and fruit trees to grow from the earth.

Day 4: The sun and moon are created to establish time and seasons. In addition, the stars of the heavens are created. Thus day and night are established.

Day 5: Creatures of the seas and birds of the air are created, and commanded to be fruitful and multiple. Note that this day’s creations required a lot of artistic expressions. Why so? Just consider the huge variety of incredibly beautiful fish of the oceans and birds of the tropics.

Day 6: God then calls forth from the earth creatures of all kinds: livestock, crawling things, and beasts. Then God says, “Let us (notice the plural) make man in our image” (presumably a trinity: body, soul, and spirit), to exercise dominion over the earth and everything in and on it. And he creates mankind as male and female so that they could be fruitful and multiply. God then established diets for his creatures: every plant yielding seed and every fruit with seed in it is given to man, while every other living creature is given green plants for food. Notice that at this point, man is not given any other creature (meat) for food.

Day 7: God rests from the previous 6 days of work. 

 

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

 

Today’s reading is another excerpt from the events that occurred on the Day of Pentecost. In particular, it is another portion of Peter’s sermon on that date, in which he, first of all, establishes Jesus as a man through whom God (the Father) did many mighty works, wonders, and signs. Peter then points to his listeners as the ones who crucified and killed Jesus—thereby fulfilling a plan by the foreknowledge of God. Peter then establishes that Jesus’ resurrection was foretold by King David, to whom God had promised that one of his descendants would occupy an eternal throne (2 Samuel 7). Next, Peter notes that subsequent to Jesus’ resurrection, he was exalted to the right hand of the Father, and has received the Holy Spirit whom He is now pouring out on the believers. Thus God has made Jesus both Lord (deity) and Christ. In other words, within a few minutes, Peter establishes the truth of the Godhead trinity and establishes Jesus as both true man and true God.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 28: 16-20

 

Jesus and his eleven disciples are in Galilee, on a mountain top, where Jesus gives them some last instructions. Namely, God the Father has given Jesus, the Son, all authority in heaven and earth (i.e., the entire creation). Jesus then commands his disciples to continue the work that He had begun by

—making disciples of all nations,
—baptizing all new disciples in the name of the
Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (i.e., the Trinity), and

—teaching all new disciples to observe all that Jesus had commanded them (the disciples) to do [so we have the responsibility to read the four gospels in order to find out what all it was that Jesus commanded his disciples to do!].

Jesus then assures his disciples that He will be with them always, even to the end of the New Testament period. This then is a promise that we need to hold on to as we live in this present age. 

 

Day of Pentecost

 

Old Testament Lesson: Numbers 11: 24-30

 

The Children of Israel have entered their second year since the exodus from Egypt. During that year, much has happened: God has taken the Children of Israel as his bride, and they have taken God as a husband at Mt. Sinai, with the marriage agreement represented by the Ten Commandments. The tabernacle has been built, along with all the furnishings and the altar. The Ark of the Covenant has also been built, and robes for the priests have been made. All during this time, God has sustained the entire camp—consisting of 600,000 military-age men (not counting the priests and Levites) along with their wives, children, flocks, and herds—with water and manna. But now the complaints start. As if God’s liberation and provenance weren’t good enough, the people complained in general, and they complained that they didn’t have the meat and vegetables that they had in Egypt because now all they had was manna.

Moses, as God’s messenger, bore the brunt of these complaints. So Moses pleaded with God to take his life since he was unable to provide the Children of Israel with what they wanted. God’s response was as follows:

—He would provide meat in the form of quail.
—He required Moses to come up with
70 leaders of Israel, upon whom God would place some of Moses’ Spirit (meaning the Holy Spirit).

It is at this point that our reading for today begins. Moses gathers the 70 elders around the tabernacle (although 2 remained in the camp proper). And then God anoints these 70 men with the Holy Spirit so that they begin to prophesy. But Joshua, upon learning that two men in the camp are also prophesying, wants Moses to stop them, thinking that only Moses and those immediately with him should be the ones to prophesy. But Moses, prophesying the events of the Day of Pentecost, responds by saying that he would want to have all of God’s people to be prophets.

 

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Second Lesson: Acts 2: 1-21

 

The Old Testament Day of Pentecost, or Festival of Weeks, has arrived. This festival day, occurring exactly 50 days after the Passover was prescribed by God to celebrate the spring harvest. This was one of the three annual festivals which God required all adult males to attend (Deuteronomy 16: 16-17). This day finds the disciples all gathered together in one place when suddenly the sound of a powerful wind fills the place and tongues of fire appear on each of the disciple’s heads. This is followed by the disciples starting to praise God in a multitude of languages such that visitors to Jerusalem from throughout the world, also there to celebrate the Festival of Weeks, hear the disciples praising God in their native languages. Of course, this results in a lot of speculation, including that all of the disciples are drunk. But Peter rises to the occasion, pointing out that it is only 9 o’clock in the morning, far too early for anyone to have become drunk. Instead, he directs the visitors’ attention to the prophecy of Joel, who prophesied that in the last days (i.e., the New Testament period), God would pour out His Spirit on all of His believers, fulfilling the prophecy of Moses. Joel’s prophecy ends with that magnificent statement: Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

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Gospel Lesson: John 7: 37-39

 

The Festival of Booths, also known as the Festival of Tabernacles or the Festival of Ingathering, was a week-long celebration of the fall harvest. It was a glorious celebration of God’s goodness, marked by fellowship offerings—in which the animal sacrificed was eaten by the person who offered the sacrifice, in addition to whomever he invited to celebrate with him. God particularly suggested, in addition to family and friends, that the poor, the widows, the orphans, the priests and Levites, and the strangers and foreigners be invited as well. This was a meal where there was a virtual sharing of food with God Himself. And this was a meal by which the Jew would have the opportunity to tell a Gentile about the wonderful things that God had done for him and invite him into the fellowship with God.

It is during this celebration in Jerusalem that Jesus proclaims that whoever comes to Him to drink and believes in Him, out of that person will flow rivers of living water (the same term Jesus used with the Samaritan woman at the well). What was this living water? It was the Holy Spirit that believers were to receive, but only after Jesus was glorified after His resurrection. 

 

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