First Sunday in Lent, Year A: Matthew 4:1-11: Dwell on What Is True

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

After Jesus is baptized, he is led by the Spirit into the desert, or sometimes it’s called the wilderness. There he fasts and prays for 40 days and nights. (This is perhaps an unscientific idea, but the idea is he is living a pure and ascetic life and it mirrors the 40 years the ancient Israelites spent in the desert).

While there he is tempted by the devil. He is hungry and the devil tempts him saying, “If you are the Son of God, tell these rocks to become bread.”

Jesus tells him man doesn’t live on bread alone but by every word of God.

Then the devil takes Jesus to Jerusalem and puts him in a high place on the edge of the Temple area, telling Jesus to jump off and angels would help him. The devil even quotes scripture at him. (This is not the only time–there are plenty of times in history when scripture is turned to evil purposes, and don’t forget it). Jesus tells him that scripture said, “You must not test the Lord your God.”

Then the devil takes Jesus to the top of a mountain and shows him the kingdoms of the world in all their glory. He tells him that if Jesus bows down to worship him, he will give him the world.

Jesus tells him to get lost, “You must worship the Lord your God. Serve only him!’” 

Then the devil takes off and angels come help Jesus

So begins our season of Lent–our own 40 days of testing and quiet contemplation. I give things up for Lent, usually things that distract or make my life less quiet and beautiful. But I also try to add things in their place, which is I believe part of what makes Lent my favorite part of the church year. I love this opportunity for change, for growth, for reconciliation, for quiet meditation, prayer, and study. The things I give up leave room in my life for more spirituality and more movement toward Christ. Take time to dwell on the wonderful and the spiritual.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Philippians 4:8, NRSV

Sixth Sunday After the Epiphany, Year A: Matthew 5:21-37: Sin and Reconciliation

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

I am going to skip the paraphrasing this week because it’s quite a long passage, but you can find the Easy-to-Read version here.

Jesus here expands the Ten Commandments to almost an extreme level. Who could follow all these laws perfectly? How is it possible to never feel anger or lust or other negative thoughts? We don’t talk a lot about sin in my church week-by-week, except during confessions during Lent, but Jesus did talk about sin. And the fact is we know that we sin. We know we all make mistakes and hurt one another. Sometimes the sin is just against one’s own body. I know this personally from my difficult relationship with food that leads to me being overweight and less healthy. Honestly I don’t like how weight and food has gotten all tangled up with morality, especially in the U.S. It can lead to more trouble if we moralize and judge people based on their weight, when slender people can be unhealthy and sinful in their own ways. But that is a subject for another day. The point is none of us is perfect and we all have our struggles. I think rather than looking at this passage with hopelessness, we can see it as a chance to acknowledge where we go wrong and to acknowledge we can’t make it alone. We need reconciliation with God and one another. We need a community of sinners that can be stronger and purer together. We hold each other up and help one another to be better people and to reach out to a hurting world. Alone I can do so little, but with my church I can make a difference in my own community and in the world.

Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany, Year A: Matthew 5:13-20: Be Salty

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

Today’s reading is near the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus tells the people they are the salt of the earth and the light that shines for the world to see. They must continue to be salt and light and change the world.

These are two important metaphors for who followers of Christ can be–salt and light. Salt adds flavor and preserves food. Far too often Christianity can seem bland and uninspiring. That’s on us. Christ is never bland, but rather we may present him that way to the world. We must remain salty–bringing Christ’s love to the world. Salt plays a special role in a dish–not the kind of spice that just has its own flavor, but it enhances the other flavors in a dish. So we don’t withdraw from the world and just sit in our own saltiness, but we infuse the world and make it better.

Most of us know the song, “This Little Light of Mine.” It says, “I’m gonna let it shine.” We don’t hide it under a bushel, we let it shine out into the world. That’s the light we have to be. Again we don’t withdraw from the world and hide our light, but we go out into the world and shine that light. Sometimes we shine a light into dark places to reveal what needs to change. We can shine a light on injustice and demand change for the better. We can shine a light toward Jesus, to show the world his love and thereby change the world.

How are you being salt and light in your little corner of the world? How can you be saltier and bring more light?

Last Sunday After the Epiphany, Year A: Matthew 17:1-9: Transfiguration

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

The last Sunday of the Epiphany season is all about Jesus’s transfiguration—suddenly appearing amazing—glowing brightly and then being joined miraculously by Moses and Elijah—ancient forefathers of the Jewish people.  

Jesus climbs a mountain with three of his disciples: Peter, James, and John.  While they were watching, Jesus changed before their eyes. The Bible says, “His face became bright like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. Then two men were there, talking with him. They were Moses and Elijah.”

Peter (always quick to speech and action, not always thinking so hard about it first) said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you want, I will put three tents here—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Peter was ready to worship the three of them right there and then. But then they heard a voice from heaven saying, “This is my Son, the one I love. I am very pleased with him. Obey him!”

Peter, James, and John were freaked out at this experience (you’d think they already would have been pretty freaked out at the glowing and the ancient dudes suddenly appearing). They fell to the ground in fear, but Jesus came and touched them and told them not to be afraid. When they looked up they saw that Jesus was alone.

As they went down the mountain, Jesus told them not to tell anyone what they saw until “the Son of Man has been raised from death.”

This can be a bit of a confusing lesson; there’s a lot of weird, miraculous stuff happening here, but I won’t overexplain it.  A quote on the Worshiping With Children website says, “this story is meant to be savored as presented rather than to be explained.”  I like that and it seems like good advice. 

This event is appropriate to end the season of Epiphany with such a beautiful epiphany experienced by the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples. The trip up the mountain echoes Moses’ journey to the top of the mountain where he received the Ten Commandments. It also reminds me of Exodus 33 when God allows Moses to see His glory. In some versions, it says he was allowed to see the “back of God”. In this story, the disciples see the full glory of Jesus and his importance, though they seem to struggle to understand the full meaning.

Click here for the Easy-to-Read version of this passage so you can savor it again.

Presentation of Our Lord, Year A: Luke 2:22-40: The Spirit Moving and a Special Baby

You can see all the lectionary readings for the Presentation of Our Lord Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss the passage from the Gospel of Luke.

Today’s story is a rather sweet one during the babyhood of Jesus. Mary and Joseph bring him to Jerusalem to present him as a firstborn son according to Torah law.

A man called Simeon, who was devoted to God, was told by the Holy Spirit that he wouldn’t die before he saw the coming Messiah. He was led by the Spirit to the Temple where he saw Mary and Joseph with baby Jesus. Simeon took Jesus in his arms and thanked God.

Mary and Joseph were amazed at Simeon’s words. Then Simeon blessed them and told Mary, “Many Jews will fall and many will rise because of this boy. He will be a sign from God that some will not accept. So the secret thoughts of many will be made known. And the things that happen will be painful for you—like a sword cutting through your heart.” (Easy-to-Read Version)

Also, there was a very old prophetess named Anna. She stayed at the Temple all the time, worshiping God by fasting and praying. She praised God and talked about Jesus as well.

Joseph and Mary finished following the law and took Jesus back home to Nazareth. I really like this line, “The little boy Jesus was developing into a mature young man, full of wisdom. God was blessing him.” (Easy-to-Read Version)

This story shows that Jesus was special even from birth (also evident in the birth stories, of course). Two different people were moved by the Spirit to come see Jesus and marveled at seeing the Messiah in their own lifetimes.

This story actually reminded me of when my first son was “dedicated” in a Southern Baptist church. This was obviously before we became Episcopalians. My son was and is extremely special to me, but he did not particularly stand out at that event. Now he’s nearing 18 and high school graduation, but then he was just a beautiful baby boy. At the massive church we attended he was just one of several babies dedicated that day. One of the other babies was a child of famous gymnast Mary Lou Retton, so I was super excited to meet my childhood hero as we got our babies dedicated. Even her baby was just one of several babies dedicated. It was a lovely experience but we definitely didn’t have the experience Mary and Joseph had. I can only imagine what that would have been like.

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.