Third Sunday After the Epiphany, Year A: Matthew 4:12-23: Fishing for People

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Third Sunday After Epiphany, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

The gospel lesson this week is about the start of Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus has learned that John was put in prison and he himself goes back home to Galilee. But he doesn’t stay in Nazareth, his hometown. He goes to live in Capernaum, which is in the area near Zebulun and Naphtali. It says he did this to give meaning to what the prophet Isaiah said: 

“Listen, land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, lands by the road that goes to the sea, the area past the Jordan River—Galilee, where those from other nations live.

The people who live in spiritual darkness have seen a great light. The light has shined for those who live in the land that is as dark as a grave.”

Matthew 4: 15-16

Jesus begins to teach. He tells people “Change your hearts and lives, because God’s kingdom is now very near.”

One day he is walking by Lake Galilee and he sees two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew. They are fishermen and they’re out on the lake fishing with a net. Jesus tells them, “Come, follow me, and I will make you a different kind of fishermen. You will bring in people, not fish.” They immediately stop fishing and follow him. I love the idea of this. Here are these two regular guys out fishing for a living. Jesus walks up and is like, “OK, quit that and I’ll teach you how to fish for people.” And they’re like, “OK, let’s go.” In the version of this story found in Luke’s gospel, more happens (you can read it here) but it’s crazy to imagine these two guys just dropping their nets and taking off with Jesus. How amazing Jesus was and is to affect people that way.

Jesus then goes all over Galilee teaching in the synagogues and talking about God’s kingdom, as well as healing people. Think about this a bit: his main gigs were teaching and healing. How far can Christianity get from this sometimes? And his teaching is not a judgmental, condemning kind of teaching. Yes, he tells people to change their lives and do good, but he doesn’t turn away those whom society would consider bad. He welcomes all. But perhaps that is a lesson for another day—or I think every day.

So this is how Jesus starts his ministry. He doesn’t go straight to the temple in Jerusalem, the religious hot spot. He will eventually get to that, but he starts out in the countryside in smaller towns. He goes straight to the people, not to the bigshots–so very typical of our beloved Jesus.  

Second Sunday After the Epiphany, Year A: John 1:29-42: Lamb of God

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Second Sunday After Epiphany, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of John.

John the Baptist sees Jesus approaching and says, “Look, the Lamb of God. He takes away the sins of the world! This is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘There is a man coming after me who is greater than I am, because he was living even before I was born.’ I did not know who he was. But I came baptizing people with water so that Israel could know that he is the Messiah.”

He says he didn’t know who the Messiah was but God told him he would see the Spirit come down and rest on a man, who is the one will baptize with the Holy Spirit. He says he has seen this happen and declares he saw the Spirit come down like a dove and rest on Jesus. He declares that he is the Son of God.

Again another day he sees Jesus and calls him the Lamb of God.

Two followers hear him and start following Jesus. Jesus asks them what they want.

They ask, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” The text notes that Rabbi means Teacher.

He says, “Come with me and you will see.” So they go with him and see where he was staying. Then they stay there with him that day.

One of them is Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. So Andrew finds his brother Simon and tells him, “We have found the Messiah.” The text notes that Messiah means Christ.

When Andrew brings Simon to Jesus, Jesus tells him, “You are Simon, the son of John. You will be called Cephas.” The text notes that Cephas means Peter.

This story seems to emphasize how Jesus is greater than John the Baptist, including words to that effect from John and how John calls him the Lamb of God. He also tells the story of seeing the dove descend on Jesus during his baptism. Then John calls Jesus the Lamb of God again and two of his followers go on to follow Jesus.

I think this passage is also a little primer for newbies to Christianity and explaining some Hebrew terms for his readers (like the words rabbi, messiah, and Cephas).

This is an essential text for Epiphany because of its emphasis on understanding the importance and divinity of Jesus. The Lamb of God title refers back to the Passover Lamb of Exodus, sacrificed to save the Children of the Israelites. It also refers forward to Jesus’ death and resurrection, a sacrifice for all our sins.

First Sunday After the Epiphany, Year A: Matthew 3:13-17: Baptism

You can see all the lectionary readings for the First Sunday After Epiphany, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

Jesus comes from Galilee to the Jordan River, where he asks John to baptize him. John balks at this, saying he should be baptized by Jesus instead.

Jesus says they should do whatever God says is right and John agrees to it.

Jesus is baptized and as he comes out of the water, the skies open and he sees God’s spirit coming down to him like a dove. He hears a voice from heaven say, “This is my Son, the one I love. I am very pleased with him.”

Jesus’ baptism is the beginning of his ministry. This is part of why it is such an important sacrament. He made baptism an essential part of beginning to go out into the world to heal and teach and love people, and it marks our membership in the church that resulted from his life and ministry and death and resurrection. It’s a sign that we will continue his work of love and healing.

Though it is only the beginning of his work, John the Baptist already declares he should be the one baptizing and God’s spirit marks him as his own. Matthew is telling us how important this moment is and how important this ministry will be.

Second Sunday After Christmas, Year A: Matthew 2:1-12: Wise Men

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Second Sunday after Christmas, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

The story this week is one most of us know very well, and at my church, we showed part of it in our recent Christmas Pageant.  This is the part of the Nativity story told in Matthew’s gospel.  

It starts out by mentioning that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea while Herod was king. After Jesus was born, wise men came from the east to Jerusalem and asked people there where they could find a child born to be the king of the Jews. Interesting to note that Matthew never calls them kings or says there were three of them—those ideas all came later in the form of carols and pageants. Anyway, when Herod finds out these guys are in town looking for a new king of the Jews, he’s angry. He’s the king and not happy to hear about a potential usurper. So, he calls together priests and teachers and asks them where the Messiah would be born. They tell him in Bethlehem, based on an old prophecy.

Then Herod calls in the wise men and first finds out when they first saw the star and then sends them on to Bethlehem. He tells them to find the child and then come and tell him where he can find him so he can go worship him, too.

So the wise men go on and eventually find Jesus. They find him with his mother and bow down and give him the famous gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod so they go home a different way and avoid him.  

This story shows how special the baby Jesus was. These men came from far away to find him. Christmas is not about giving presents and Santa Claus and trees and all that, but it’s about this gift from God to all of us. And we give gifts to symbolize that gift and to remember the gifts the Magi gave.  (Click this link to see an interesting bit about the meanings of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, as well as info on Epiphany traditions).  

Another interesting angle is mentioned on this page (near the bottom, after the bit about chalking the door):

The world is full of stories about people who were invited to go with the three kings, but declined for a variety of reasons all related to being too busy. In most this person later then decides to follow the kings, but is always too late and spends the rest of his/her life looking for the child.  The message in all the stories is to stay alert for signs of God at work in the world (like a star in the sky or an invitation) and to be ready to drop everything to respond. 

Worshiping With Children blog

The wise men could have chosen to stay at home and just make a note that a king was born–instead, they went to seek him out.  Do we stay at home in our comfy pajamas (like I have for much of Christmas break, actually), or do we go out into the world to seek Jesus and do what he would want for us?

First Sunday After Christmas, Year A: John 1:1-18: Hope

You can see all the lectionary readings for the First Sunday after Christmas, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of John.

John’s gospel and Christmas story is very different from the other Gospels. It takes a more theological approach.

It’s beautiful and hard to paraphrase, so I’m going to quote it here:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

John 1: 1-18, NRSV

John’s callbacks to Genesis tie Jesus to God from the beginning of time, influencing our creeds and notions of the Trinity.

It’s comforting to think of the Word becoming flesh and living among us. It is also comforting to think of the light shining in the darkness. The darkness does not overcome it. Again, the darkness does not overcome it.

Life can be hard in this world. It can be hard in so many ways, with disease, war, injustice, famine, poverty, inequality. We follow Jesus, perfect example of God’s love among us, and we strive to bring the light and love to the rest of a hurting world. Sometimes it seems there is no hope for this dark world, but God is there. Even when we struggle to find meaning and hope, God is there and love will win. We must continue to strive and live with love and hope.

Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A: Matthew 1:18-25: Joseph, the Good Man

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

Today’s Advent reading is often thought of as part of the Christmas story, but it’s all about Joseph’s perspective. Mary is engaged to Joseph, but before they marry, he learns she’s pregnant. He is a good man and thinks he’ll divorce her quietly.

I think this shows that Joseph is a righteous sort of man, but also a kind one. He isn’t going to make a fuss about it, though other men of his time might have made a big deal about finding their fiancée was in a family way.

However, he gets a visit from an angel in a dream. The angel tells him not to be afraid to marry Mary and assures him the baby is from the Holy Spirit. He is told to name him Jesus, “because he will save his people from their sins.”

The passage goes on to say this was all prophesied–that a virgin would give birth a son and name him Immanuel, meaning “God with us.”

When Joseph awakes, he does just as he was told. He marries Mary and doesn’t sleep with her until the child is born. Then he names him Jesus.

When Joseph woke up, he did what the Lord’s angel told him to do. He married Mary. But Joseph did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And he names him Jesus.

So not only is Joseph righteous and kind, but he has great faith and a willingness to listen to God. He is strong and faithful to go ahead and marry someone whom he might have shamed and put aside. I think such a man must have been a great husband and father.

Third Sunday of Advent, Year A: Matthew 11:2-11: John the Messenger

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Third Sunday of Advent, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

John the Baptist is in prison, where he is hearing a lot about Jesus, so he sends some followers to ask Jesus if he is the Messiah he has been expecting.

Jesus responds to tell John what they know: that the blind can see, the crippled walk, people are healed, and the deaf hear. The dead are brought back to life and the good news is brought to the poor. The answer is apparently obvious.

Then after John’s followers left, Jesus talks to the people about John, asking why they went out in the desert to see John. Obviously, they didn’t go out to see a fancy man in fine clothes or someone weak and inept. They went to see a prophet in John, but someone more than a prophet–a messenger who was preparing the way.

Then he says, “The truth is that John the Baptizer is greater than anyone who has ever come into this world. But even the least important person in God’s kingdom is greater than John.” (Matthew 2:11, Easy-to-Read Version).

So Jesus is responding to a question from John, his messenger. He is a messenger, but one who is still questioning his own message and seeking reassurance. We also come into Advent with questions about the coming of Christ. We are preparing for Christmas, we are awaiting his coming, but still, we need reassurance. The reassurance comes in the form of love and healing–good news for the poor, healing and restoration. The response from us is to carry that love forward and bring it to the world. And again Jesus reminds us that the last shall be first and the first shall be last. What the world values should not be what we value. Love comes first and we must serve and love those who would never be first.

Second Sunday of Advent, Year A: Matthew 3:1-12: Preparing the Way

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

The gospel lesson this week is all about John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus—preparing for the coming of Christ, just as we prepare for the coming of Christ during Advent.

John is a cousin to Jesus whose birth is mentioned in an earlier story in the Bible—his mother was pregnant at the same time Mary was and he jumped in the womb when his mother came near pregnant Mary—fun story. Anyway, in this story he is out in the desert preaching to people, telling them to change their ways because God’s kingdom was near. John the Baptist was quite a character, dressing in clothes made from camel’s hair and eating locusts and wild honey. Camel’s hair is still used for coats today, even fancy designer ones, but John was not wearing the designer variety. He seemed to be living pretty rough and made his own clothes (and presumably caught his own bugs and scored his own honey for meals. He was a far cry from the preachers who draw huge crowds today. He did draw major crowds in his time, though. People came from all over and confessed their sins and then John baptized them in the Jordan River.

The Pharisees and Sadducees (we’ve talked about them for other lessons—religious and sometimes political leaders of the day) came out to see what the fuss was about and John didn’t respond happily. He called them snakes and told them to repent. I’ll quote this part from the Easy-to-Read version for this week. He says, “I know what you are thinking. You want to say, ‘but Abraham is our father!’ That means nothing. I tell you, God could make children for Abraham from these rocks. The ax is now ready to cut down the trees. Every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” Yowza, dude did not mince words.

Then he predicts the coming (the Advent!) of Jesus. He says he baptizes with water to show repentance from sins, but that someone is coming who will do more—the one who is coming will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Again, I just have to quote this part, no way to paraphrase: “He will come ready to clean the grain. He will separate the good grain from the straw, and he will put the good part into his barn. Then he will burn the useless part with a fire that cannot be stopped.” Yikes, more fire!

So much of this time of year is how we prepare for Christmas, which is a fun time of buying or making presents and wrapping them, decorating, baking, making travel plans. But we often prepare in life for much harder things–like hurricanes, snowstorms, or even rainy days. But how do we prepare for Jesus coming? How do we prepare for Christmas and the coming King? Sure, we prepare for Christmas in all sorts of practical ways, but we can also prepare our hearts. We can take any quiet moments we can get and pray and confess to God any wrong things we’ve done, ask forgiveness, and seek to make things better if we did something to hurt someone else. We can use our time to help others and be kind to others. It is better to have our hearts prepared than just our houses prepared.

First Sunday of Advent, Year A: Matthew 24:36-44: Be Ready

You can see all the lectionary readings for the First Sunday of Advent, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Matthew.

The scripture readings in advent can be frightening, but they are all reminders that even when terrible things are happening, God is in charge. We need to follow him and be faithful, sharing the love and light of God to a broken and hurting world.

In today’s passage, Jesus is speaking about the signs of distress that are going on his time in Israel and it all sounds dark and painful. He talks about how it looks as though things are falling apart but promises that soon the Son of Man (i.e. Jesus) will arrive and then God’s power will win. He reminds his followers that when they see the signs of disruption they can know that God is very near (as God always is, but perhaps even more so when we are in distress). He reminds us to be alert so we can be ready on that day. 

When things are dark, we are to be light, as Jesus is a light to the world.

Last Sunday after Pentecost – Christ the King Sunday, Year C: Luke 23:33-43: Unconditional Love

You can see all the lectionary readings for Christ the King Sunday, Year C by clicking here.  I have chosen to discuss the passage from the book of Luke.

Today’s story is the familiar story of Jesus’ crucifixion. The soldiers nail Jesus to the cross, he prays they will be forgiven. The soldiers gamble for his clothes as the people watch. Leaders mock him and the soldiers mock him and offer him sour wine. One of the criminals to his side also insults and mocks him, but the other criminal stops him, saying they deserve to die but Jesus does not. He asks Jesus to remember him and Jesus promises he will be with him today in paradise.

This is Christ the King Sunday, and this passage reveals a wonderful and unusual king. This king is tortured and mocked. This king welcomes a criminal into his kingdom and promises to be with him. This king is like no other. This is the king of unconditional love. So much of the love shown by churches and churched people seems to be conditional. Yes, we accept you, but you can’t act in certain ways or do things we don’t like. Yes, we support helping the poor, but only if they behave in ways we support. There can be a real lack of true unconditional love from the humans found in churches, but at least the king of them all is an unconditional lover of his church and the world. If only we could truly follow that king. To me, worship is meaningless if we don’t really know his love and share it.