Third Sunday After Epiphany: The Gospel Passage – Family Counts!

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:12 – 16)

The writer of Matthew assumes, in line with biblical commentators throughout commentating history, that this was done EXPRESSLY to fulfill prophecy. And I would be hesitant to say they are completely wrong – either in Jesus’ purpose or the prophecy being fulfilled. I just want to put forth a different idea.

“From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Verse 17)

If that sounds a lot like John the Baptist, I do not think it is a coincidence. John while being a prophet and a baptizer unsettling and upsetting the status quo, was also a relative to Jesus. It is assumed that at John’s arrest Jesus’ ministry moved into its second stage. That Jesus moved from where he was to other places, for maybe several reasons. And if that is the case, then why did the writer of Matthew not make that more apparent? Yes, Jesus started “recruiting disciples” . . .

“As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.” (Verses 18 – 23)

There was something charismatic about his presence and his words. Other leaders, prophets, and movers-and-shakers have tried to emulate that. Evangelists and preachers hope, pray, and practice to be as moving and convincing as Jesus was. Everyone who follows Jesus tries to be as he was, in all actions, words, and attitudes. Jesus was, however, a hard act to follow1

“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” (Verse 23)

But what went through mind as I read verse 17, “From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” was that from the time was imprisoned, Jesus carried forth his beloved relative’s cause. Yes, it was also Jesus’ message too. And the message of God. But when a beloved relative can no longer function, it is not unusual for someone in the family to carry forth in their name. I just thought it was a good thing to remember in this fractured world we live in, that family should stick together! May you, beloved reader, as a beloved member of the family of God do so! Selah!

Second Sunday After Epiphany: The Gospel Passage – Hearing about Jesus with fresh wonder

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.”And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”(John 1:29 – 34)

John – either the author of the gospel of John or John the Baptist is testifying and witnessing to the Jesus whose story we will be following again this year. This time with the focus of new converts coming to faith. That does not mean us oldsters can turn away and sit out the year. No, no, I am not going to let you do that beloved reader!

It is good to hear the enthusiasm of those who are newly coming to faith. Have you ever considered John the Baptist as newly coming to faith? Neither have I. It is an interesting idea and concept. But if you listen to the enthusiasm of John the Baptist (or the author of the gospel of John) you will hear an awe and coming to knowledge. Imagine for a moment meeting the person who have been extolling and preaching about. It must have been amazing and overwhelming to John to come face to face with the Son of Man and the Son of God who had been impelled to preach about. So, stop, and appreciate John’s vigor and enthusiasm.

“The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).” (Verses 35 – 42)

This is also the passing of the focus from John the Baptist to Jesus. From this point on Jesus takes center stage in the gospel of John. But that is not the thought I want to leave you with. In our modern day parlance, these two disciples are just “hanging out” with Jesus. And these two invite a third, Simon, who will become a major figure in the ministry of Jesus. First, as an example of “not quite getting” what Jesus is about; and then as “a rock” that the future church will be modeled after.

We are setting out on a marvelous journey – again, for most of us. But let us journey as if we have all the freshness and enthusiasm of the young in faith. For each day has the potential to be a new day in following God and Jesus Christ. Selah!

Third Week of Advent: The Gospel Passage Year A – John asks, and Jesus answers; and a little “music”

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” (Matthew 11:2 – 6)

I am reminded again that John the Baptist was a cousin of sorts to Jesus. Perhaps John wanted to be sure that the relative he knew was also the Messiah that he proclaimed. I can understand and appreciate that. John was sitting in prison because he had not demurred to Herod, but had told Herod exactly what he thought of him, and why. He told the truth, proclaiming what was are real and actual. So he was looking for confirmation of what he hoped was real concerning Jesus. And Jesus affirmed John’s belief, not just with assurances but with scripture.

That, in a way, is what I try to do beloved reader; affirm and guide with scripture. Not on the strength of my own words, but bring to the forefront God’s words and Jesus’ teachings.

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,

See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’

Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Verses 7 – 11)

But I am no “John the Baptist.” I don’t wear “soft robes” but neither am I a prophet. Truth to tell, I am not sure what I am. Sometimes I feel like someone yelling and shouting in the desert with no one to hear me. I see things that I do not think others see; I perceive things in ways that others sometimes don’t. And if I am called “great” by some, I am far surpassed by others. But that is okay. I strive to do what I am called to do.

I remember in years past when I wrote other meditation guides for Christmas, I thought I was setting down profoundness in a way I had never done before, and would never do again. And later on, I thought I was “hammering away” at things I had said before and was saying again. Now I realize that I am merely adding to what has been said before, and has been said by others. It is like Christmas music that fills the air with melody after melody; when one note ends another begins, so that in the air all around is the constant sound of the melody of faith, belief, and spirituality. A good image I think for Christmastide.

May you, beloved reader, make your own “music” this year, however the Spirit calls it forth. Selah!

Second Week of Advent: The Gospel Passage Year A – What is coming? Who is coming?

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming,
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'”
Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.” (Matthew 3:1-4)

John the Baptist was unusual. From the moment of his birth (and even before) he was set apart. Just as his cousin Jesus was. John and Jesus were contemporary, although the bible does not seem to make mention or note as to whether they knew each other before John baptized Jesus in the Jordan.

“Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Verses 5 to 10)

Unconventional and uncontrollable, that was John the Baptist. But as I said, he was much like his cousin Jesus the Christ.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Verses 11 – 12)

Jesus the Christ is coming! Will you be ready?

Season After Pentecost: The Pseudo-Psalms Passage – Ready, Set, Go! Advent’s coming!

Zechariah’s Testimony

Praise to the Lord God of Israel. He has come to help his people and has given them freedom.
He has given us a powerful Savior from the family of his servant David.
This is what he promised through his holy prophets long ago.
He will save us from our enemies and from the power of all those who hate us.
God said he would show mercy to our fathers, and he remembered his holy agreement.
This was the promise he made to our father Abraham, a promise to free us from the power of our enemies,
so that we could serve him without fear in a way that is holy and right for as long as we live.

Now you, little boy, will be called a prophet of the Most High God. You will go first before the Lord to prepare the way for him.
You will make his people understand that they will be saved by having their sins forgiven.

With the loving mercy of our God, a new day from heaven will shine on us.
It will bring light to those who live in darkness, in the fear of death. It will guide us into the way that brings peace.” (Luke 1:68-79 Easy-To-Read Version )

While this week commemorates the Reign of Christ, it also prepares us for the coming of Advent. We has spent a good part of the year looking at the theme of confession, penance, and forgiveness. In the coming weeks we will prepare for the arrival of the One who made the forgiveness of our sins possible, who oversees our penance, and hears of confession. And that would, at first thought, feel like a daunting preparation for Someone who may not hear with ears of love. But then we realize, it is Jesus Christ! The Author of perfect love! And our minds are at rest, our fears relieved, and our joy starts to overflow!

The pseudo-psalms passage today it the introduction to the herald the news of Christ – not the baby we will welcome in four to five weeks time, but the man Jesus who will live as an example for us and die for an atonement of our sins – if that is your faith philosophy. Jesus’ death was inevitable from the time of his birth. He was born in turbulent times when politics and the social environment were oppressive and destructive for the Jews. I think, beloved reader, that this Advent season will be filled with poignancy, and the hope which our times need.

Third Week of Advent – Being worthy and ready for the Messiah that will come

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Luke 3:7)

John the Baptist was very plain spoken, and did not coach his message in soft and pleasing terms. This appealed to his audience, and while brisk and abrupt he was sincere in his message and the desire for people to be saved.

Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Verses 8 – 9)

And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” (Verses 10-14)

If this sounds like the message that Jesus spoke, do not be surprised. John knew from whence the message came and who would be the ultimate carrier and symbol of this message.

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Verses 15-17)

But still, John is a fiery speaker and foretells a Messiah that will separate the good from the bad, and the wrong doer from the righteous. And it makes me wonder, beloved reader, what type of Messiah do you expect and are drawn to? And what kind of Messiah do you tell about to other people?

So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.” (Verses 18)

During this third week of Advent, may you think about the Messiah who is to come, and speak about this Messiah to others. Selah!

Second Week of Advent – Zechariah’s Prophecy, and Preparing for Its Fulfillment (The Pseudo-Psalms Passage)

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.”
(Luke 1:68)

I am writing this post-Thanksgiving (in the United States) and after having spent two days just relaxing with my family. I have also been feeling keenly some of the symptoms of my health diagnoses but am grateful that they have not interfered too much with family time. I feel both favored and redeemed.

“He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.” (Verses 69-71)

But this speech from Zechariah given at the naming of his son John does not apply to just one person but on the entire Jewish nation. And if the Jewish people have felt favored, they have also felt pressed upon and oppressed from many sides. They have gone from being a mighty nation to a nation owned and ruled over by others.

“Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.” (Verses 72-76)

The time is soon coming – it is an ongoing hope for the Jewish – that they will be rescued from their afflictions and oppression, and will be free, and obligated, to worship as they have been called to. Zechariah is prophesying that an important sign of that time is now here, amongst them.

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Verses 77-79)

As I said, this prophecy was given at the time of John the Baptist’s naming. And John does grow up to do all those things. I do not know if the people who there would remember this when John is out in the desert dressed in just skins, and crying out “Prepare the way!” Will we?

We are in the time of Advent, looking forward and preparing ourselves for the birth of Christ. John’s birth heralded Jesus birth, as John’s ministry heralded Jesus’ ministry. How far will we take our preparations? Only until Christ’s birth? Or beyond, to the changes that must be made in our lives if we are going to follow Jesus Christ faithfully? Will we follow God and Jesus “without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days”?

May the Lord be with you, beloved reader, in your preparations. Selah!

Second Week of Advent – This is John the Baptist (The Gospel Passage)

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”  (Luke 3:1-6)

The second week of Advent is usually when verses about John the Baptist appear. John the Baptist is our reminder that Advent is a season of preparing – preparing ourselves and our household. To get ready for a change and a fulfillment of those things that are expected.

Last year the lectionary cycle used the actual verses from Isaiah; this year we hear them in the gospel of Luke. But they are no less imperative. The changes they call for are tremendous; what happened needs to change radically. The lows and the highs are to be made even and the crooked to be straight; the rough is to be smooth, and we will see the salvation of God made manifest. And Jesus, in his ministry, did call for radical change – gentleness rather than severity. This contrasts to yesterday’s verses where the messenger was to be a refiner and purifier. As I said, that was John, the John we have here. But as I also indicated, it could have been Jesus also. It depends so much, I think, if we are coming from a place of being prepared and ready, or a place of not knowing and being forewarned.

May you, beloved reader, this Advent season be ready for what is to come in the days and weeks that follow. Selah!

Second Week of Advent – Waiting to be prepared (The Old Testament Passage)

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?
For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.” (Malachi 3:1-4)

The writer of Malachi paints a picture of a messenger and savior who is stern, firm and unyielding. Some would say that is not the image they have of Jesus. And considering that, I would agree. I had thought that the writer of Malachi might have meant Jesus; but in conjunction with the other verses that we will look at this week, I think who is meant here is John the Baptist. He was stern, firm and unyielding pointing out sin without giving consideration to human weakness and failing. I have my opinion too on if/how these verses would indicate Jesus, and thought to present those instead. No, I decided, this is about John the Baptist.

We often need an “opening act”, someone to set the stage and prepare us for what is to come. That is part of the task of Advent, to prepare us for what is to come. May you prepare yourselves and your household for the Advent season. Selah!

Season After Pentecost – Our past deeds can back to haunt us (The Gospel Passage)

King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”(Mark 6:14-16)

John the Baptist had taken Herod to task for marrying his brother’s wife. I do not know exactly why that was a sinful thing, but I assume it had something to do with how his brother’s wife came to be his wife – a sordid tale most likely.

For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.” (Verses 17-20)

We try to tell ourselves that our past actions are just that, in the past. And cannot influence our presence, unless we allow them to. But actions tend to snowball; started in the past they “roll” into our presents and smash our good intentions.

But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” (Verses 21-25)

Herod seems like the type of man who indulged himself in the pleasures he wanted, and did not consider the costs or consequences. We can assume that from the fact that he married his brothers wife, and that he took “pleasure” in the dancing of his wife’s daughter, who I am suspecting was the daughter of his “missing” brother.

The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.”

(Verses 26-29)

One may think that Herod acted with integrity by granting his niece’s(?) request. But who would give into such a blood thirsty request? Especially when realizing from whom the request actually came? I heard or read somewhere the idea that Heriodias herself came up with the idea of her daughter dancing for Herod and then asking a favor of him. No, I don’t think Herod thought through his actions very well.

I do hope and assume, beloved reader, that you think carefully about your actions, their cost and consequences. I am reminded again of this year’s lectionary theme of renewal and recommitment.

Living responsible lives is part of that. It is sometimes a painful process – first seeing where we have gone astray and made poor or unwise choices. Then we must face the cost and live with consequences. We could even continue this cycle of poor/unwise choices and the cost & consequences. Or we could change, which can be just as painful or more so than continuing our previous pattern.

Do not think, beloved, that renewal and recommitment is just for those who only strayed a little. We may often think of renewal and recommitment as just deciding to be more diligent in the life we are leading. It is possible to pull yourself back from the brink and go a completely different direction.

May you, beloved reader, not allow whatever mistakes you have made in the past derail or destroy your future! Selah!