Category Archives: Lectionary

Come, Follow Me

 

Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Psalm 62: 6-14
1 Corinthians 7: 29-31
Mark 1:14-20

 

In Mark, Jesus begins his ministry with these words: The time has come at last—the kingdom of God has arrived. You must change your hearts and minds and believe the good newsPhillips Then Mark had Jesus calling his Twelve. Notice also that Jesus’ first words came after the imprisonment of his cousin John.

Jesus made sure that John completed his mission before he began his own. Some people, then and now, point out that Jesus was somewhat callous regarding John’s fate. He is not on record as speaking to Herod on John’s behalf, or of speaking about John at all. For Jesus, John was finished, and he had his own work to do. We have no way of knowing the sorrow Jesus felt, but we do know the joy he felt about the Gospel.

The kingdom of God has arrived.

You may notice that many translations read like this: repent and believe in the gospelESV I chose to use Phillips translation because the Greek word metanoeo means to change your whole way of thinking.

The Kingdom. What is it? God’s Kingdom. Rule by God. It is the Kingdom that the whole history of Israel points toward. God intended for Israel to be a Theocracy, but it did not work out so well. Looking back, we can now see that God was preparing the way for His son to institute Theocracy.

Between Moses and King Saul, God’s Chosen Ones learned the basics of rule by God. But it was not until the Messiah walked on earth as a human that we could see how it was supposed to work.

The kingdom of God has come nearNIV Phillips had the kingdom arriving, but nearness is the better meaning of the message. The Kingdom of God has not taken over the earth, but it is sprinkled around. Like yeast, it is infecting the earth. Like salt, it is seasoning the earth.

We get a sense of what the complete Kingdom will be as we watch followers of the Messiah spread his love throughout a hate-filled world.

Come, follow me.

 

Read my earlier comments on this theme here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

The Price of Wisdom

 

1 Samuel 3:1-20
Psalm 139:1-17
1 Corinthians 6:12-20 
John 1:43-51 

 

O Lord, You have examined me and know meJSB

You are so familiar with all my ways
that before I speak even a word, Adonai,
you know all about it already
CJB

The wisdom of God is beyond anything we can comprehend. Before I was born, God knew every word I would say, every thought I would think, every dream I would dream. He also knew every emotion I would experience, every love and every hate.

I took a college class in English history in which I had to wade through the actions of a dozen or so kings, finding out which made wise decisions, and which failed to do so. At least I did not have to keep track of the six wives of Henry VIII (divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived).

When we humans study history, we know next to nothing about what those long-dead people were thinking, and we can only guess what would have been the best choice in every case.

But God knows every thought, as well as every option open to the king, prince, minister, or peasant. God knows what our lives would be like today if King Charles I had not chosen to force the English people to return to the Roman Church. That decision led to a four-year war in which both sides executed uncounted churchmen on both sides. Charles was executed, and Oliver Cromwell set himself up as the all-powerful Lord Protector.

Or consider a smaller decision. During the American Rebellion, a British sharpshooter (sniper) had an American officer in his sights, but when he saw that it was George Washington, he chose not to kill him. That may effectively have ended the war. It certainly would have changed the development of the office of President if we had still won our independence. Only God knows.

One year at church camp—I was about eleven—we all went on a picnic in a wooded spot below a cliff. Several of us ran to the cliff and, having climbed it several times before, we had no fear. What a difference my one decision made. Instead of climbing face in, I chose to face outward and fell thirty or so feet, landing poorly on my feet. I was lucky to sustain a bad ankle sprain as the price for my certainty that I had wisdom.

What is the Price of Wisdom for God? He knew that 146 people would die in the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. It would have been so easy for him to smother the flames that started in one rag bin.

God set us loose in this universe where our decisions often have disastrous results. He created us with the ability to make choices. He gave us the knowledge of right and wrong. He agreed to let us have our way.

The price is that God must suffer all the horrors we suffer. He must stand by as we knowingly or unknowingly harm ourselves and others. He also knew that 79 years to the day, another 87 people would die in a New York fire, the second most deadly in the city.

God cries for us. He does not want these bad things to happen, but He must allow us our freedom. Without freedom, we cannot choose God, and He wants more than all else for us to choose Him. That is the only choice we can be sure will end in the best way.

 

Read my earlier comments on this theme here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Baptism of Jesus

 

Genesis 1:1-5
Psalm 29
Acts 19:1-7
Mark 1:4-11

 

Baptism is not a Christian invention. Long before John the Baptizer came along, people used water to purify themselves so as not to offend their gods. Jews took up the practice of immersion to prepare themselves to approach God.

However, the worshiper did all those early practices alone. In Jesus time the mikvah was the place of cleansing for Jews. Jerusalem alone had dozens of them. A person would strip, walk into the flowing water (it had to move in and out), duck completely under the water, then walk up a second set of steps to leave the mikvah.

John practiced a form of this baptism, using the river instead of a mikvah. A person who was baptized by John first repented of his sins and pledged to renew his faith in God. One major difference seems to be that John’s baptism was a one-time cleansing, unlike the mikvah which some did as often as twice a day at Qumran.

Note: For Jews, baptism was something only Gentiles had to do to become Jewish. Mikvah cleansing was not considered to be baptism. John had to transform both concepts of his ministry.

Then Jesus changed the whole water-cleansing image. Jesus was familiar with John’s ministry and understood it as announcing the coming of the Messiah. Jesus fulfilled God’s promise by accepting the mantle of Messiah in the baptism. Picture the scene. John standing in the river preaching to a crowd on the banks. Jesus walking into the water, asking for baptism. John saying, no, this is for sinners. Jesus responding that he will accept all our sins. God the Father, in His joy, sent a visual image of the Holy Spirit and announced to Jesus that He was pleased.

Then, Jesus took up the water baptism of John, adding the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is not clear that Jesus personally baptized people. It may have been done by his disciples only. See John 3:22-4:3. Even so, what an experience it must have been.

As a result, Christians have continued the practice much as John and Jesus did it. Some immerse, some sprinkle, some even go to the nearest river. For us, baptism takes two forms. The water represents the ancient idea of cleansing. We confess to we are sinners in the eyes of God and we represent becoming clean with the water. More importantly, we have the presence of the Spirit by the Grace of God.

Most of us do not see the Holy Spirit like a dove, but that does not mean the Spirit is not present. God cares about us and, while He cannot be here in person, His Spirit can be, and is with us.

It would be nice to have the Spirit be a human standing beside each of us whom we could ask for advice. The Spirit could say, “Don’t eat that, and other helpful advice.”

The Spirit is present, but we must work to hear and understand that still, small voice. Constant prayer, study, and conversations with fellow Christians keep us tuned into the Spirit. Remember that Jesus called us to baptize and teach new believers.

He cannot allow the teaching to slide into the background. How else can we know the presence of the Spirit?

 

Read my earlier comments on this theme here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

The Lord Delights in Those Who Fear Him

Agnus Day appears with the permission of www.agnusday.org

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7

John 1:1-18

Psalm 147

 

Fear.

Is that really what the psalmist wanted to say? He opened the psalm with, HalleluyahCJB which is the same as, Praise the LordESV The whole psalm praises the good things he does for us. And then verse 11, the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love. NIV

The key to understanding this verse is in knowing the meaning of the Hebrew word translated as fear. The word has two main meanings, really combined meanings—fear and reverence. He takes pleasure in those who honor himGNT That is closer. This nails it. His joy is in those who reverence himTLB

And yet, that leaves out the fear factor. My personal opinion (I do not read Hebrew) is that the verse should read something like this: the Lord delights in those who fear and reverence him. The old Wycliffe Bible reads, the Lord is well pleased with those who fear him/with those who revere him. (The Wycliffe Bible first appeared in 1382, nearly a century before the birth of Martin Luther. This quote came from Biblegateway.com.)

To get an idea of how we should think of God, consider King David. Whenever he gave an order, it was carried out. Even when he ordered Uriah to certain death, the faithful servant obeyed. The king is always feared and often revered.

Or look at Henry VIII of England. When Catherine of Aragon failed to give him a son—having provided Mary who became queen upon his death—Henry divorced her and in the process, broke away from the Roman church. They were married for 24 years.

Over the next ten years, Henry married five more women, beheaded two, divorced one, had one die after giving him his son (who died a few years later), and left the last one a widow. He also executed two of his First Ministers for failing to do what he wanted.

People revered Henry early on but only feared in his last decade.

God is more powerful than any earthly king. He deserves to be feared. He allows us to live even though we do not deserve it. He lavishes his grace upon us, often when we are at our worst. God deserves our devotion, reverence, adoration, allegiance, and veneration. But also, our respect. He made the universe. He made us from the dust of the universe. Respect is one side of fear.

Imagine being a parakeet flying freely in the house of your master. You receive food, water, and affection. Life is good as long as you don’t think about the fact that you are 4 inches tall and the master is 72 inches tall; that he can hold your entire body in his hand; that he can kill you in an instant; that he can allow the cat to eat you. But, you trust your master.

We show less reverence for God than we should, and probably less love and respect as well.

 

Read my earlier comments on this theme here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

My Servant David

Photo credit: archer10 (Dennis) 104M Views via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Fourth Sunday of Advent

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

Romans 16:25-27

Luke 1:26-38

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26

 

If we go all the way back to 1 Samuel 1, we will read a familiar story. It is very much like the story of Sari in Genesis. Hannah was one of two wives. The other wife had many children, but Hannah had none. She prayed in the Tabernacle that God would give her a child. The child was named Samuel.

Samuel was dedicated to the Lord and served the prophet, Eli, until God called Samuel to replace Eli. Samuel became a great leader of his people until God agreed to select a king to be their ruler. God told Samuel to anoint Saul.

For centuries, the Chosen Ones of God had followed the lead of prophets and judges, always chosen by God as the need arose. For Saul to be the first king was a big deal.

That is the background for today’s readings regarding David. Saul had gone off the rails, so God chose David to replace him. They struggled for some time until Saul committed suicide. David then spent time defending the nation from their neighbors.

At the start of chapter 7, David could relax in his new palace, secure in the knowledge that he had taken care of all the threats to the kingdom.

David decided to build a Temple for God to replace the tents of the Tabernacle. But God said no. It seems a strange response to the king who would be the forerunner of the Messiah.

Yet, that is the very reason for saying no. David was to represent the Messiah, not the Temple. Look at the words of God starting in verse 12 of the chapter.

When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established foreverNIV

A thousand years later, another baby born in Bethlehem would lay claim to the throne.

 

Read my earlier comments on this theme here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence