Category Archives: Lectionary

The Spirit of God is Upon Me

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Third Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

John 1:6-8,19-28

Psalm 126

 

Luke, in chapter 4, records the story of Jesus’ visit to Nazareth not long after he began his ministry. He was invited to read the day’s scripture, a common practice when visitors of note were in town. After the reading, Jesus said, Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearingNIV

He read the following from Isaiah:

 

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,

Because the Lord has anointed me;

He has sent me as a herald of joy to the humble,

To bind up the wounded of heart,

To proclaim release to the captives,

Liberation to the imprisoned;

To proclaim a year of the Lord’s favorJSB

 

By the First Century, all synagogues followed a standard daily reading throughout the year. There would have been a reading from the Torah not recorded by Luke. It is also possible that Jesus read more of Isaiah, but the verses above are the important ones for Christians.

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me. The me was understood in Jesus’ day to be the Messiah. Therefore, Jesus claimed the title for himself. Notice in the Luke passage that the other people had no problem with, Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. Only when Jesus pointed out that both Elijah and Elisha performed miracles on non-Hebrews did they get cranky.

The story in Luke is worth keeping in mind as we consider the passage in Isaiah.

The first phrase, The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, or similar expressions is used throughout the Bible to prove that the individuals were chosen by God for specific tasks. People live without the control of the Spirit most of the time, but God will step in when needed. To say it another way, I may choose to do what God wants, but if there is a special challenge that I’m not aware of, God will fill me until I can’t refuse. (Don’t take that too literally. We always have the right to refuse God.)

Jesus had a job, to be a herald of joy to the humble, or the more familiar, to proclaim good news to the poorNIV We Christians are too eager to talk about the sacrifice Jesus made to save us. We cannot forget that he spent three years delivering the Good News, the Kerygma.

Who are the poor? The hard answer is anyone with less than I have. Easy to see if I’m listed by Forbes, or in the highest tax bracket, but it is also true if my family of four brings in $20,000 per year.

Does that mean that Bill Gates at $89 billion net worth should give $88.9 billion to the poor? No. Nearly all that money is in shares of Microsoft and other companies. The super-rich don’t have vaults filled with cash. That means if Bill wants to buy a couple of Koenigsegg CCXR Trevitas for he and Melinda to drive around Seattle, he might have to sell a few shares to come up with the $9.6 million price tag—not counting tags and taxes.

Bill and Melinda did put $28 billion into their foundation, mostly in shares of stock. Warren Buffet added another $8 billion, and others have joined in. The foundation operates on the money that is paid to the foundation as shareholders. That alone would give them half a billion dollars for 2017 on just the original startup amount.

Are the Gates’ doing enough? I don’t know. What I do know is that I have a responsibility as a follower of Christ to offer as much help as I possibly can. When I say, responsibility, I do not mean that I have no choice; it is not a tax. Jesus did what he could, so should I.

By the way, the tithe is a requirement for all Jewish men to pay every year to the Temple. Since there is no Temple, there is no tithe.

We Christians have latched onto the word and attached the 10% amount to it and pushed the idea of the tithe as an obligation. If a congregation wants to use that idea to support the church, then they should realize that giving to the poor, etc. is extra and totally voluntary, given with a glad heart.

When we look at Jesus as our example to follow, we see him speaking to the poor, offering them comfort, often just looking at them. How often do we walk past the poor and those who are suffering without even looking? While it is not polite to stare at someone in a wheelchair, it is worse to avoid all eye contact. A smile can go a long way.

Read my earlier comments on this theme here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Grass Withers

Second Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 40:1-11

2 Peter 3:8-15a

Mark 1:1-8

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

 

Isaiah gives us some good news—grass withers. When we couple that with the earlier statement that humans are grass, that does not give us much comfort. But read closely.

God says to Judah that their 70 years of punishment is over. The power of Babylon may be great on earth, but it is of humans, and humans are grass—grass withers.

We also live in a world where terrible and powerful people rule over others in brutal ways. Even in the United States, we have had such rulers. Witness Al (Scarface) Capone in Chicago. Nearly every President has had people who considered them to be brutal rulers; Lincoln perhaps the worst in the minds of the most people.

In every case, the grass withers. Comfort, oh comfort My peopleJSB

God wants us to remember His Mercy. We will suffer the results of evil, but God is always in our midst. We will be carried away, but God will never leave us. Clear in the desert a road for the Lord!… The Presence of the Lord shall appear. JSB

God, through Isaiah, promised that He would walk on earth and that a messenger would prepare the way for Him. At that time, He did not specify that He would come in the form of a human, that He would take the form of the Son of God. Nor did He say that the messenger would be an earthly relative, one John bar Zechariah (Yochanan bar Z’kharyah), cousin to Jesus bar Joseph (Yeshua bar Yosef). Nor did God hint at the absence of any DNA from Joseph in the body of Jesus. We cannot say as certain that any of Mary’s DNA was or was not in his body. It seems likely that God provided the complete egg and that Mary was a surrogate mother. Either way, Jesus was born in the same way that most of us are born—through intense pain and blood.

There is a beauty in that—that Jesus entered our world in much the same way he left it. He experienced all the pain we experience, and he willingly paid the bill for all that suffering, giving us a future life of joy and comfort.

 

Read my earlier comments on this theme here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

First, God

First Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 64:1-9

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Mark 13:24-37

Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18

 

There is an important passage in chapter 63 leading up to today’s Isaiah reading. Beginning with verse 17, we read,

Why, Lord, do You make us stray from Your ways,

And turn our hearts away from revering You?

Relent for the sake of Your servants,

The tribes that are Your very own!

Our foes have trampled Your Sanctuary,

Which Your holy people possessed but a little while.

We have become as a people You never ruled,

To which Your name was never attachedJSB

God is given credit for forcing the Chosen People to sin. This is not the only Biblical passage to blame it on God.

We still to that today. I wouldn’t need to sin if God gave me the things I need. God makes life too complicated. The list of sins is too long for anyone to remember.

But, as we read on into chapter 64, we see, No eye has seen [them], O God, but You, Who act for those who trust in YouJSB This is a common pattern in the laments of the scripture. We complain, but we complain to God. We place God first, even as we question, “Where is God?”

Notice the difference between that question, “Where is God?” and “Is there a God?” In the first, I know that God exists, I have simply misplaced Him. But in the second question, there is room for the possibility that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob does not exist. And further, that no other god exists either.

I can understand why people take that position. I have never seen God, nor can I prove that the things I’ve seen that I believe come from God, do come from God. I cannot prove God, but I can believe in God. Once I believe, I can see all the proof I need.

Jesus invited us to accept everything he said as coming from God. He told us several times that he was both the Son of Man and the Son of God. His Word, his Gospel, his Good News, will never die. Jesus told his followers about his coming death, but reminded them, Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass awayNIV

He also told us that to see God is easy, look at Jesus. Accept his words. Do the things he did.

 

Read my earlier comments on this theme here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

On the Right or On the Left?

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 95:1-7a
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

 

This passage in Matthew haunts me more than any other. It leaves no room to hide. Either I feed the hungry or I don’t. If I send a $100 check to Famine Relief, Inc., am I covered, or do I need to give $1,000—more? Do I need to fly to Juba, South Sudan, and help distribute food? How can I be sure I will stand on the right side when the Son of Man sits on his throne?

Christians through the ages have struggled with variations of this dilemma. What does God expect me to do to get into Heaven?

Of course, that last question is a bit misleading. We generally talk about going to live with God and His Son in Heaven, but the Bible tells us we can expect to live in the New Jerusalem on the New Earth. Still, what does it take?

The answer is—I must accept with all my heart and soul that God is my Master; that I must love God and I must love every other human on the planet.

God is not a bookkeeper. There is no double entry listing of the money I made and the money I spent to feed people. There is no naughty/nice list.

Luke 10:27—Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourselfNIV That is what God keeps tabs on.

If I sit down in December and figure up what I need to do to lower my 2017 taxes and see that writing that $1,000 check will lower my tax bill, I’m not sure that qualifies as love.

If I write a check for $100 because I want to give $1,000, but simply don’t have it, well and good.

 

Read my earlier comments on this theme here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Children of the Light

Zephaniah 1:7,12-18
Psalm 90:1-8, (9-11), 12
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

 

Allow me to put in a plug for the NIV Bible. As you may have noticed, I use numerous English translations on this blog site because I look for the one passage that not only gets the sense of the Greek and Hebrew but puts it into English phrasing that paints the best picture of the meaning. The only problem is, it is best for me. You may need one of the others.

In 2016 the NIV put out another version, the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. The footnotes and extra materials concentrate on the influence of the culture on the text. It is not the best or the only study Bible, it is one more that gives us another look at the Word of God.

In reading the two New Testament passages in this version, I found a very useful chart in chapter 5 of 1 Thessalonians. It contains a parallel listing of Matthew 24 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11. A quick look at the chart shows that Paul knew the message of Jesus, and he stayed true to the message.

Today’s reading of Matthew comes at the end of that important chapter 24. The whole of the chapter deals with the end times; with the Second Coming. Even so, it is an extension of what Jesus was saying in chapter 23. Our lesson of two weeks ago came from there. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preachNIV The rest of the chapter continues along that theme.

Jesus moved into the End Times in chapter 24, ending it in chapter 25 with three parables: the Ten Virgins of last week’s reading, the Ten Talents of today’s reading, the Separating of the Sheep and Goats of next week’s reading.

Last week’s message was, be ready. This week’s message is, do God’s work while you can.

Each of the three servants in Jesus’ parable had a chance to work for their master, but only two of them did so. The one who did nothing faced judgement.

But also notice that the other two did not succeed on the same level. To change the metaphor, imagine they were in a race where one finishes first and the other finishes second, but both are declared winners.

About thirty years ago we took two of our kids to a summer track meet. It was 100 degrees as other parents’ kids began the age 10 and under 10,000 meter walk. Yes, walk. I have no idea how long it took for the first-place finisher to cross the line, but we still sat in the heat watching the young kids walking around the track. Every one of them finished—everyone a winner.

God expects us to take risks. He wants us to share the Good News that He loves every person on earth. He does not want us to hide that News. Each of us should be doing what we can as we live our lives in a world that does not respect the Goodness of God. Don’t be surprised if we stand before God in judgement and all of us receive first place metals.

 

Read my earlier comments on this theme here.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence