Category Archives: Lectionary

Let Us Walk In The Light Of The Lord

First Sunday of Advent 

Isaiah 2:1-5
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44
Psalm 122

James tingles with excitement.  Jesus blasted the Temple leaders, showered them with fire and brimstone.  Now is the time.  Now Jesus must claim His proper place as King and throw out all these hypocrites.  Tell us, Jesus, when will it happen and how will we know?

I cannot tell you when it will happen.  I do not know.  The angels do not know.  Only my Father knows.  Many things will happen before I come.  Do not be fooled by them.  They are only signs that I will come.  They are not signs of when I will come.  It is not now.

But Master, Isaiah promised that all nations will come to the Temple seeking to know God, yet you say the Temple will soon be destroyed.  How can this be?  If there is no Temple, how will the people come to you?

God will provide the Temple at the proper time.  When Daniel asked when that time would be, the answer was “It will be for a time, times and half a time.”  Then God told Daniel, “Go your way, Daniel, because the words are closed up and sealed until the time of the end.”

Master, what do we do until then?

Do all that has been given to you.  Care for all you meet.  Offer hatred to no one.  Do not worry about the time.  Trust the time to the hands of God the Father and walk in His Light.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B0A_1LovZJc

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOIkm_Lq2Jw

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

A Righteous Branch

Jeremiah 23:1-6
Luke 1:68-79
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43

I stand on the edge of time.  It lies before me as a scroll.  I see Creation and the end of Creation.  Through it all I see the hand of God the Creator.  Nothing happens that He does not attend.

The lives of humans seem to attract the most attention from God.  Their rebellion and petty struggles to become little gods occupies much of His interests.  Another god, if there were such a being, would have done away with the defective ones, but God Yahweh tolerates their machinations.

Here, look at the Chosen People near their captivity into slavery for disobedience.  God has His servant Jeremiah deliver a double message: you will become slaves, but return trusting in God.  Still later, you will receive a King greater than David.

I ask you, what self-respecting man or woman would think of such a thing?  Had humans been in God’s place, they would never have put up with such disrespect and they certainly would not have put in place a perfect plan for all those rebels to sit with them at the Great Banquet.

And here, the messenger of God telling an average priest that his son will be the one to announce to the world that the King, the Righteous Branch, the Rising Son, is coming.  Humans would have written it in the sky, on the sides of mountains, had millions of angels shouting it to all corners of the earth.  God tells one priest and then strikes him silent until the birth.

Look at one more.  The Righteous Branch hanging between two thieves, unjustly accused, in his dying breaths—forgives a man’s sins.  I see it and even I have trouble believing it.

But I have seen the last page and know how the story ends.  As Paul said, For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Mary

The Roman torches burned angrily to keep the darkness from completely overcome them.  Mary continued stared at her son as his life’s blood drip-dripped to the ground.  A slight smile filled her eyes when she heard him forgive the Romans.

The words of Jeremiah about raising a righteous Branch of David who would reign with justice and righteousness echoed in her thoughts.  Her son, her Yeshua never failed to be righteous,  a friend and helper to all.  For that, back stripped of flesh, the cross, nails pounded through him, desperate gasps of breath, agony his companion.

God’s Son promised the thief he would be in heaven today.  Mary remembered the prophecy of her cousin Zechariah that Yeshua would give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.  That he would shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide their feet into the path of peace.  Little did she know then that he would do it as the Great Sin Offering.

She knew without understanding that Yeshua was fulfilling the prophecy in this death.  Her own heart ached from his pain, her own tears poured out for his grief; yet, her son would bring light into the darkness, even now, even with his last drop of blood and his last breath.

God promised to give him the throne of David.  God promised his kingdom would never end.  God’s broken heart was greater than hers and his pride in their son had to be mountains larger.  No understanding, no knowing, only believing.  Someway, God would turn this ugliness into Holiness.

When he spoke his last, when he died, when the earth shook, when the darkness nearly snuffed out the torches, when the others urged her to leave, she refused to look away.  She lived through the pain of his birth; she would not abandon him in his, and her, pain of death.

The Wolf and the Lamb will feed together

Isaiah 65:17-25
Psalm 98
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Luke 21:5-19

Exposition

This reading from Isaiah is an echo of the great Messianic chapter 11 and sets the tone for today’s lesson.  New life comes from the Messiah, both now and in the new world to come.

Anyone who reads all 66 chapters of Isaiah straight through has done some heavy lifting, not just because of the size of the book, but because of its poetic style, repetition, and its inability to stay on one topic.  If a modern American wrote the book, it would be thee chapters long.

Yet, Handel would have had a hard time writing the Messiah without it.  Every Old Testament book points in some way to the coming Messiah, but none do so as powerfully as Isaiah.  It is in that sense that we must consider today’s readings.

It is easy to hang up on the apocalyptic nature of both the Isaiah and Luke readings, but Jesus makes it clear that the point is more immediate.  They will build houses… plant vineyards, does not sound like my idea of heaven.  Isaiah was telling the people of the captivity that they would be able to do that after their return.  But he was also using that image to let them know what it would be like in the new life after death in this life.  The Bible is always speaking to us on both levels, now and in the future. Continue reading The Wolf and the Lamb will feed together

Shake the Earth

Haggai 1:15b-2:9
Psalm 145:1-5, 18-21
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Luke 20:27-38

 

The Gospel reading today deals with marriage.  True, it was a trick question designed to show the people that Jesus was not the Messiah and, true, Jesus turned the trick back on them, as usual.

 

I picture Jesus sitting politely listening to the Sadducees present their conundrum, perhaps with a little smile when they said at the resurrection.  But he didn’t jump on that, even though Sadducees rejected any notion of life after death.  Nor did he quote the several passages from Job, Psalms, Isaiah, and others that refer to life eternal.  He chose instead to use the example from Exodus, probably because the Sadducees rejected all the writings except the Torah, the first five books.

 

He was able to use the encounter of God with Moses to show that life exists after death on this earth and he did it within the strict rules of the Sadducees’ belief system.  It is sad to consider the fact that nearly all the leading priests at the Temple were Sadducees and that many of the ordinary priests were as well.  I wonder at how they could attend to the worship without believing in the Living God.

 

Back to marriage.  Jesus spoke of the church as the Bride of Christ.  When I became a disciple of Jesus, I joined in a marriage contract with him.  As is common in wedding vows today, the two become one.  It is no accident that John placed the miracle of turning water into wine at the top of the list, the first public event in his Gospel account.  It is no accident that marriage plays a dominant role in his Book of Revelation of Jesus.

 

Do you remember?  God created all.  He came to us in the form of an ordinary man to show us how we can live and then offered to be our groom and stand with us in the eternal Kingdom, vouching for our purity even as we are impure.  Do you remember? Continue reading Shake the Earth

Faith is Work

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Psalm 119:137-144
2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
Luke 19:1-10

I want to share a passage from a book written in 1966 by Langdon Gilkey.  As a young man just before the war, he journeyed to Peking (Beijing) China to teach English and was caught there when the Japanese army took over the city.  In February, 1943 he and some 1,600 other foreign civilians were taken to camp to live out the war.  There, they were expected to organize themselves and run the camp within the walls.  The Japanese gave them small food allotments, but generally left them on their own.  The section I will quote comes from the chapter Saints, Priests, and Preachers and begins on page 163 of my first edition.

A community needs ethical people, but does the secular world need religious people?  Are the saints really good, is religious piety a requisite for communal virtue, do we need God in order to love our fellow man?  ….

I had to admit to myself that no easy answer to these questions could be found merely by noting the way in which different types of people, religious and irreligious, behaved….

The most important lesson I learned is that there are no cut-and-dried categories in human life, no easily recognizable brand names by which we can estimate our fellows.  Over and over “respectable people,” one of the commonest labels applied in social intercourse, turned out to be uncooperative, irritable, and worse, dishonest.  Conversely, many who were neither respectable nor pious were in fact, valiant.  At the same time, many obvious bums were just plain bums.  It was the mystery, the richness, and the surprise of human beings that struck me the most when I looked round at my fellows.

Perhaps the most surprising of all was Clair Richards.  She was a handsome, strong, self-sufficient, and possibly to some tastes hard-looking British woman in her thirties.  As she swirled around the camp in her tight skirts and low-cut blouses, you knew the moment you saw her that she enjoyed boing to bed with men.  But I must say, the frank and competent stare that met you when you spoke to her, plus her booming voice and rollicking laugh, tended to make a man, at least a young man, wonder more about his own capacities than about her obvious attractions.  Inevitably, stories of a lurid past in Peking and Tientsin [Tiajin], of her having been the intimate of leading industrialists and diplomats, followed in her wake.  How true or untrue these were, I shall never know.

[In 1944 a new director of Kitchen II, Row, was elected to stop theft and sloppy work.]

I was even more surprised when I found that it was Clair to whom he had given charge of women’s labor in the kitchen….  Despite her well-advertised labels, Clair had these virtues and to spare.  Clair, with Row, completely changed both the morale and efficiency of that kitchen force.  Looked upon by most of the pious as so wicked they were embarrassed to be seen talking with her she had in fact a higher moral character than they did.

Shantung Compound  Harper & Row  1966  New additions are still being sold.

 

Exposition

Habakkuk’s short prophetic work could almost be called the Reader’s Digest version of Jeremiah.  While that would be a disservice to Jeremiah, they did deliver the same basic message to the same people in the same general time period, along with Nahum and Zephaniah.  Put simply, you have sinned, you will be taken into captivity by Babylon, God still loves you and he will return you.

The big message for us is in the last words of today’s reading: the righteous will live by his faith.  The thing about faith that has always been so difficult for we humans to get is, we live it, we don’t just have it.  We always talk about having faith in the same way we talk about having a car.  We don’t have faith, we act in faith.

Habakkuk was not complaining about improper sacrifices at the Temple or about drinking milk with a roast beef sandwich.  He was after what was truly faith living.  Avigayil down the street lost her husband and has three kids to support.  What have you done to help her?  Natan‘el broke his leg and can’t work.  Have you taken care of the work for him?

In some ways, it was easier 3,000 years ago because they literally knew almost everyone they came into contact with and could easily know their needs.  Today, we have to work at getting to know the people next door.  How can I know what they need if I don’t even know who they are?

The answer from Habakkuk is: find a way.  Faith goes into the unknown, the dark places we are afraid of and seeks out those who are hiding there.  Faith does not concern itself with the surface trappings of our lives.  We cannot hide behind our own ignorance.  With the Psalmist we must say, give me understanding that I may live.

I wrote in an earlier exposition that faith either exist or it does not exist.  The disciples had just asked Jesus to increase their faith and he gave the example of the mustard seed.  Here in 2 Thessalonians, Paul says, your faith is growing more and more.  Both statements are true, like so many theological concepts.  What Jesus wanted his disciples to understand was that they and we cannot measure how much faith we have, we can only act on the faith we have.  Paul adds that by acting on faith we receive more understanding so that we can live faith even more fully.

Zacchaeus is very much like Claire in the account from Gilkey above.  He was a social outcast because he, a Jew, worked for the hated Romans and collected taxes two, three, ten times what the Romans required, keeping the extra for himself.  He was wealthy beyond the dreams of working people, then or now.

We are not told much else about him.  He met Jesus and gave away half of his fortune.  (Don’t get distracted by asking why not all.)  Jesus said, today salvation has come to this house.  Zacchaeus acted.  He could not allow himself to simply say, I love you Jesus.  Not only did he give away more money than most people would make in a lifetime, he reformed.  From then on he would only collect the taxes plus enough for him to live on.  Greed no longer ruled his live.  What happened to him after that is lost to us.

But what is not lost is the next verses just after today’s Gospel reading.  While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.  When the Kingdom of God comes, salvation will come with it.  Look back a paragraph to the statement Jesus made about salvation.

If Zacchaeus received salvation, a dirty, disgusting, money-grubbing, scumbag, surely salvation has also come to the rest of us.  To read ahead even more, the answer is, it depends on what we do with our faith, love, devotion to God.  God has entrusted me with a precious gift.  Will I use it, wear it out, and bring it back dinged up and dusty from meeting the needs of others?

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence