Friday, December 31, 2010

work and enjoyment

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Today's reading continues yesterday's passage from Ecclesiastes. The author has seen that everything has its season and has seen the busyness God has given everyone to be busy with. Furthermore, he has seen that for people there is nothing better to eat and drink and enjoy life. Ecclesiastes wrestles with life's impermanence and the fact that often it feels pointless. A lot of the time we don't feel like we're getting anywhere. The reality is that in life, nothing is perfect. Even in the parts of life where things should be most righteous, there is still wickedness. As hard as we try, we will never be perfect and neither will any one else.

That doesn't mean we should give up, but it means we should take life with a grain of salt. God will judge and set everything right in the end. In the meantime we are called to seek God's will, to work hard and enjoy our labor, and to enjoy the blessings of life God has given us.

Happy New Year, be safe, and God bless,

Ecclesiastes 3:12-17

12I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; 13moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil. 14I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him. 15That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by.

16Moreover I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, wickedness was there, and in the place of righteousness, wickedness was there as well. 17I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for he has appointed a time for every matter, and for every work.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

ending and beginning

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Our readings for the next couple of days invite us to reflect on the end of one year and the beginning of another. This passage from Ecclesiastes considers the changes and seasons of life. Sometimes we find comfort that there is a time for everything; other times we are frustrated that that the time for things we enjoy doesn't last forever. Human life is always filled with change; some good, some bad. Our lives are full of busyness, but it doesn't always take us anywhere. God gives us a sense of time, a sense of past and future, a sense that there is something beyond our busyness and the cycles of our lives. And our life doesn't last forever; one day we will each die. How is God calling you to use this New Year's time to reflect on the direction your life is moving? How is God calling you to change in the New Year so you can make the most of the time you've been given?

God bless,

Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 2a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 3a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 7a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 8a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

9What gain have the workers from their toil? 10I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. 11He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

a merciful example

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Today's reading makes the case that since Christ came to save humanity from sin Christ had to be human. By taking on every part of human life, Jesus serves as our faithful high priest. Like the priests of the old temple Jesus offered a sacrifice to take away our sin. They offered lambs and goats and cattle; Christ offered himself. Because the sacrifice is perfect and the priest offering it doesn't need to offer sin offerings for himself, the one sacrifice frees us from sin forever.

Since Christ is our brother he shared the struggles of being human and understands our weakness. That means we can always bring our fears and struggles to Jesus in prayer because he understands us and can sympathize with human weakness. He also sets an example for us by living a perfect human life. Jesus brings us home to God and makes God understandable to us. Thanks be to God.
Enjoy your freedom in Christ today,


Hebrews 2:10-18

10It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, 12saying, "I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you." 13And again, "I will put my trust in him." And again, "Here am I and the children whom God has given me."

14Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. 16For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. 17Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. 18Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

first prophets, then a son

Good morning friends,
Our reading this morning is from Hebrews. Hebrews is an interesting book because tradition has called it a letter, but it really doesn't have that shape. It was written to explain Christ's ministry to believers, it seems especially to believers who were Jewish (hence the title). One of my teachers had a theory that the author had been a priest in the temple before coming to know Christ, because the book makes lots of reference to Jewish sacrifice and other worship ceremonies. Throughout Hebrews one notices lots of scripture quoted. Whenever scripture is quoted in the New Testament, it is from the Old Testament. Our ancestors in the faith only had the Old Testament; the writings that became the New Testament weren't considered scripture yet.

The most quoted piece of scripture in Hebrews is Psalm 110, so much so that some writers think of Hebrews as an interpretation of Psalm 110. Our passage this morning also has quotes from other Psalms (Google is a great tool to find out where these quotes come from). Our passage today seeks to show how Christ is much greater than the angels. In a nutshell, angels (and prophets) are servants of God, Christ is God's firstborn son. Some of this seems obvious to us today, but remember our ancestors had to figure out how to think about Christ's ministry. It's interesting to look at how they used the scriptures to figure that out.

God bless,

Hebrews 1:1-12

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

5For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”? 6And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” 7Of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, and his servants flames of fire.” 8But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom. 9You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” 10And, “In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands; 11they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like clothing; 12like a cloak you will roll them up, and like clothing they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will never end.”

Monday, December 27, 2010

winter praises

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Our reading for today is a Psalm of praise. The psalmist calls on humanity and all of creation to praise God for God's might and creativity. This Psalm lifts up Israel as God's special people, but it also affirms that God is Lord of all people. The joy of this praise is a good fit for the joy of Christmas, as we remember God's salvation through Jesus Christ. It's also a good reminder that even the winter weather is part of God's creation. May your day be filled with joy and praise.
God bless,

Psalm 148:1-14

1Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights!
2Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!
3Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!
4Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
5Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created.
6He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds,
which cannot be passed.
7Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,
8fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!
9Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
10Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!
11Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
12Young men and women alike, old and young together!
13Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted;
his glory is above earth and heaven.
14He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful,
for the people of Israel who are close to him.
Praise the Lord!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

flight to Egypt

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Our reading from Isaiah this morning reminds us of how God has cared for Israel in the past. It hasn't just been prophets leading Israel; God has redeemed and led them throughout history. Our reading from Matthew picks up after the wise men leave the stable. Herod had asked them to tell him where the child was, but the wise men didn't do that. Herod is jealous of the prophesies about Jesus, so he seeks to kill him. This passage tells that story and also related the different events to prophetic promises about the Messiah. This pattern is a hallmark of Matthew's Gospel: "This happened to fulfill what was written..." God keeps Jesus safe until the right time, and God continues to guide and care for us today.

God bless,

Isaiah 63:7-9

7I will recount the gracious deeds of the LORD, the praiseworthy acts of the LORD, because of all that the LORD has done for us, and the great favor to the house of Israel that he has shown them according to his mercy, according to the abundance of his steadfast love. 8For he said, "Surely they are my people, children who will not deal falsely"; and he became their savior 9in all their distress. It was no messenger or angel but his presence that saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

* Sunday

Matthew 2:13-23

13Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, "Out of Egypt I have called my son."

16When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 18"A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more."

19When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20"Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child's life are dead." 21Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, "He will be called a Nazorean."

Saturday, December 25, 2010

light in the darkness

Good morning and Merry Christmas!
I had such a great time last night at our Christmas Eve service. Thanks to everyone for their hard work. The choir, bell choir and women's (+1) ensemble all sounded fantastic, the sanctuary looked great and greeters made people feel welcome. What a blessing to gather for worship like that. This morning's reading is the full version of our last reading from Christmas Eve. This passage is called John's prologue because it gives us an introduction to John's Gospel. In 18 verses John lets us know what the story will be about.

John begins his story of Jesus at the beginning of time, because Jesus is the eternal Word of God, through whom all things were made. In his human life he came to bring light, life, grace, truth and a new relationship with God. John sets the stage here with the prologue and then begins the story in earnest with John the Baptist preaching in the desert. This is a great passage to reflect on the meaning of Christmas this Christmas day.
Christmas blessings,

John 1:1-18

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14And 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. 15(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.'") 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.

Friday, December 24, 2010

a child is born

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Our Advent waiting and preparation comes to an end tonight as we finally see the baby born in Bethlehem. Luke is the only one of the Gospels that tells the story of Jesus' birth in this kind of detail. From Matthew we learn of Joseph's part in the story and of the wise men visiting later. But only Luke shows us the manger scene, the birth of our Lord. Many of us have grown up hearing this story every year and the temptation is to get so comfortable with it that the story looses its amazement and power. The challenge is to see it with new eyes, with hearts and ears open to hear the amazing love of God. I saw a video clip of many different families, each reading the story aloud. An African American daughter reads to her parents and brother, a Latino father reads to his wife and child, a German father reads to his family. It was great to see the power of that story to awaken amazement and bind families together. So read the story together if you can; listen for what new thing God may be telling you this year.

God bless,

Luke 2:1-20

1In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see-I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger." 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"

15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

a child is born

Good morning friends,
We're getting very close to Christmas. Our Christmas Eve service at Laurelton, featuring the story of Christ's birth in lessons and Christmas carols is tomorrow night at 7pm. Come on over and bring a friend; it will be a lovely worship service. Our passage for today is the full version of our first lesson for Christmas Eve, as well as one of my favorite pieces from Handel's Messiah.

In this passage God speaking through Isaiah promises peace and an end to oppression. I love the image of combat boots and bloody robes being burned because the tools of war are no longer needed. This peace and justice, this new world comes into being because a child is born to us. Not just any child, but the child known as Prince of Peace. To us a child is born; to us a son is given. O come, o come Emmanuel.

God bless,

Isaiah 9:2-7

2The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness-on them light has shined. 3You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. 4For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire.

6For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

living as ambassadors

Good morning brothers and sisters,
This letter is one of Paul's shortest letter, written to a leader in the church named Titus. Apparently, Titus was given the job of appointing elders in the various churches in Crete to strengthen the churches for their ministry. The point of the letter overall is that God's grace has saved us from the hostility, hatred and anxiety that is the situation of most of the world. Because of God's grace, we are called to live in a way that reflects God's love. In other words, we are called to treat others with love and to be self-disciplined to build up community. This new loving, disciplined, gentle life is a response to the way God has loved us.

It's also a result of wanting our lives to reflect our faith well for others. If people encounter Christians who are rude and judgmental or wild and irresponsible they will be less inclined to come to Christ. If they meet Christians who are loving, hospitable, kind and responsible, they will be drawn closer to find out more. Whenever people know that we are Christians our behavior testifies to our faith. Part of our calling is to be ambassadors for Christ by living in a way that reflects his amazing love for us so others want to meet him too. How will you show Christ's love today?

God bless,

Titus 2:11-14

11For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, 12training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, 13while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 14He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

sing a new song

Good morning friends,
This morning's reading is a Psalm of praise. It gives thanks for God's amazing power and redemption for Israel and for us. In particular this Psalm lifts up the fact that God is the creator and Lord of the universe. Other gods and powers might tempt us to worship them, in our society money might be the best example of that, but those other powers are only idols. The Psalm also looks forward to God's righteous judgment. Judgment can be a scary idea, but only God's power and justice can fix the mess we make. In the end we trust that God's justice, love and wisdom will make all things right. We see that judgment in Jesus Christ, and we long for his return to finish the salvation he began at a manger in Bethlehem.

God bless,

Psalm 96:1-13

1O sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.
2Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.
3Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples.
4For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised;
he is to be revered above all gods.
5For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the LORD made the heavens.
6Honor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
7Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
8Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
bring an offering, and come into his courts.
9Worship the LORD in holy splendor; tremble before him, all the earth.
10Say among the nations, "The LORD is king!
The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved.
He will judge the peoples with equity."
11Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; 12let the field exult, and everything in it.
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy 13before the LORD;
for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.

Monday, December 20, 2010

praising God with Mary

Good morning sisters and brothers,
This morning's reading is a traditionally known as Mary's song, though it's not clear whether Mary sung or spoke these beautiful words of praise. It's also called the Magnificat, which is the first word of the song in Latin. Luke tells the story of the angel announcing to Mary that she will have a son who will be called the Son of God. Right after this announcement, Mary goes to visit her older relative Elizabeth, who is also pregnant in a miraculous way. Elizabeth has never been able to have children and now is too old. Nevertheless, she is pregnant and will give birth to John the Baptist.

Mary goes to see Elizabeth, and Luke tells us that when Mary greets her, Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and feels the baby inside her jump for joy. She praises God for Mary's faithfulness and for the salvation Mary's child will bring Israel. Mary responds with this song of praise that proclaims how God is turning the world upside down and caring especially for the poor and oppressed. God's saving love breaks into the world in a new way in Jesus. Let Mary's praise guide your day as we prepare our hearts for Christ.

God bless,

Luke 1:47-55
47"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Emmanuel: God is with us

Good morning friends,
Today is an exciting day at Laurelton with morning worship at 10, evening worship at 7 and another evening of the Living Nativity. Last night we had a great time sharing the story of Christ's birth with our neighbors. Thanks for everyone's hard work with Christmas baskets and Living Nativity. If you missed the scene last night, come on over tonight between 6:30 and 8. Fittingly, our Gospel lesson today is the angel announcing to Joseph that his fiance is pregnant with God's son. Putting ourselves in Joseph's shoes we can imagine how news like that would turn our world upside down. God has a tendency to do that from time to time.

Our reading from Isaiah picks up where yesterday's reading left off. Jerusalem is under siege and Isaiah goes to see the king. He urged King Ahaz to stand firm in God because God will save Jerusalem. Ahaz is hesitant to hear this word, not because he doesn't want to be saved, but because he wants to make an alliance with the King of Assyria. Isaiah tells Ahaz that a new child will be a sign. Before the child is old enough to know right from wrong the land will be full of good food and the kings Ahaz worries about will be defeated. We too can always trust God's power to save and challenge us in unexpected ways.

God bless,

Isaiah 7:10-16

10Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying, 11Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. 12But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test. 13Then Isaiah said: "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 14Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. 15He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.

* Matthew 1:18-25

18Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.

20But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." 22All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23"Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us." 24When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

threats and trust

Good morning all,
First a reminder that tonight from 6:00 to 8:00 and tomorrow evening from 6:30 to 8:00 we'll be sharing our living nativity scene with the community at Laurelton. In addition to sharing the story of Christ's birth with our neighbors, we will also share refreshments and fellowship with folks in the narthex. Sunday we will also have evening worship at 7. This is a great weekend to get involved.

Today's passage is a bit confusing. There are four major political figures in the scene; the year is about 735 BCE. At this point the nation of Israel is divided into the northern kingdom, Israel and the southern kingdom, Judah. The capital of Israel is Samaria and Pekah, the son of Remaliah, is the king of Israel. Ephraim is a tribe of Israel and is sometimes used in the Bible as another title for the kingdom. The capital of Judah is Jerusalem with Ahaz, son of Jotham and descendant of David as its king. To Israel's north is Aram or Syria. Syria's king is Resin and its capital is Damascus. These are all pretty small kingdoms, but Israel and especially Judah are the center of the biblical story of this period. To the east of these kingdoms is the large empire of Assyria. Rezin and Pekah (Syria/Aram and Israel) allied with some of the other local kingdoms to defend themselves against Assyrian power. They tried to persuade Judah to be part of this alliance, but without success. This invasion seems to have been part of that persuasion. I tried without much success to find a decent map to attach to make this clearer. Your Bible may have one that helps you see this situation clearly.

Isaiah comes to King Ahaz in Jerusalem to encourage him to stand firm and trust in God. It seems that Ahaz wanted to ally with Assyria, but Isaiah advises him to simply trust in God and steer clear of political alliances. Isaiah tells Ahaz that both Syria/Aram and Israel will be conquered, and indeed, in 722 Israel is defeated by Assyria and the people are take captive. The threats we face always change, but holding on to God in the midst of trouble is always our calling.

God bless,

Isaiah 7:1-9

In the days of Ahaz son of Jotham son of Uzziah, king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and King Pekah son of Remaliah of Israel went up to attack Jerusalem, but could not mount an attack against it. 2When the house of David heard that Aram had allied itself with Ephraim, the heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.

3Then the Lord said to Isaiah, Go out to meet Ahaz, you and your son Shear-jashub, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Fuller’s Field, 4and say to him, Take heed, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands, because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and the son of Remaliah. 5Because Aram—with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah—has plotted evil against you, saying, 6Let us go up against Judah and cut off Jerusalem and conquer it for ourselves and make the son of Tabeel king in it; 7therefore thus says the Lord God: It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass. 8For the head of Aram is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin. (Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be shattered, no longer a people.) 9The head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah. If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Not ashamed of the gospel

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Here Paul turns the corner from greeting to substance. This first line, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of salvation for everyone who has faith..." is a core statement for anyone who's interested in evangelism. Paul's argument in this passage is that through creation everyone can see something about God's power. Through creation we see God's creativeness and we even see something about God's love because of the seeds of love planted in each of us. Because we can all see these things, we are all called to worship God. Instead of this, many people in history have turned to idols, worshiping created things instead of the creator.

The overall theme of the first two chapters of Romans is that we all should know God but we all fall short. In this section Paul shares a bit about how gentiles should know God from creation but turn to idols instead. In the next section he will discuss how the Jewish people, who come to know God through a special revelation and relationship also fall short. At the end of these two chapters, Paul has made a case that we all should know God, but we all turn away. By making our sin and error clear, Paul gets his audience ready to hear God's cure for this situation. That cure is the gospel, the good news of God's amazing grace in Jesus Christ. No wonder Paul is not ashamed of the gospel. I hope we grow stronger each day in our ability to say the same.

God bless,

Romans 1:16-23

16For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.” 18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth.

19For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; 21for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. 22Claiming to be wise, they became fools; 23and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

proclaiming to everyone

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Paul continues his greeting to the Roman church discussing how he has wanted to come to them for a long time but hasn't been able to. He wants to come to them not only to strengthen their faith, but to have his faith built up by their ministry as well. He also hopes for some "harvest" among them. Here he is probably referring to the collection he has taken in all the gentile churches to support the "poor in Jerusalem." As I mentioned earlier, this collection was both important ministry for struggling, Jewish Christians in Jerusalem and a way for Paul to symbolize his connection to the "mother" church in Jerusalem. The part of this passage that strikes me is the reminder that Paul has ministered to all kinds of different communities in his effort to spread the good news. The church in the US hasn't always been so good on this score, but hopefully the new century will feature new boldness for the church in breaking down barriers and building up hope.

God bless,

Romans 1:8-15
8First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world. 9For God, whom I serve with my spirit by announcing the gospel of his Son, is my witness that without ceasing I remember you always in my prayers, 10asking that by God’s will I may somehow at last succeed in coming to you. 11For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. 13I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as I have among the rest of the Gentiles. 14I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish 15—hence my eagerness to proclaim the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Good morning friends,
This morning lift up the family of Ambassador Holbrooke as they mourn his loss. We also lift up others who mourn in this Christmas season.

As I mentioned Sunday, the readings for Advent skip around a good deal. We've read the end of Romans recently, and now we are reading some of the beginning. This is a powerful and important letter, one I think we'll study in supper and scripture sometime in the early spring. Paul greets the church in Rome, a church he has not visited at this point, in the name of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. He sees himself as set apart as a messenger of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That gospel, that good news, in a nutshell is that in Christ all people have access to God and our called to belong to Christ. Belonging to Christ makes a claim on our lives and it frees us from other claims that seek to separate us from God. This call to all people, not just the people of Israel, is a radical change in understanding and one Paul takes pains to explain later in this letter. May you feel God's grace with you today.

God bless,

Romans 1:1-7

1Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 3the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, 6including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,

7To all God's beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Lord watches over strangers

Good morning friends,
Today's reading fits with Sunday's readings from Isaiah and John about God healing those in trouble. The psalmist praises God for the wonders of creation and for healing the sick and lifting up the oppressed. Scripture consistently teaches that God has a special heart for the poor and those oppressed by stronger people. Since God is that way, the church that follows God should also always keep a special watch out for those who are in trouble. Sometimes we do well, other times we reproduce the world's social hierarchy inside the church to our shame. How might God be calling you to strengthen the oppressed today?

God bless,

Psalm 146:5-10

5Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD their God,
6who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
7who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets the prisoners free;
8the LORD opens the eyes of the blind.
The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;
the LORD loves the righteous.
9The LORD watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
10The LORD will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the LORD!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

blooming in the desert

Good morning sisters and brothers,
First, I want to remind you that today after church there will be an opportunity to discuss the sermon and the scripture readings for the day. These readings are the same ones we'll hear in church, so if anything catches your attention or curiosity, feel free to ask about it in the sermon talk back session.

Our reading from Isaiah looks ahead to the redemption of the land of Israel. That redemption doesn't just mean political freedom, it also means new life in the dry places of the land. God's new life is for everyone. Our reading from Matthew skips ahead in Jesus' ministry. John the Baptist has heard about Jesus and wonders if he is really the Messiah. Jesus praises John to the crowd as even more than a prophet. He also says that there is more in store in God's kingdom, so John is less than those in that kingdom. God's promise is still blooming in our readings and in our ministry.

God bless,

Isaiah 35:1-10

1The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus 2it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God. 3Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. 4Say to those who are of a fearful heart, "Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you."

5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; 7the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

8A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God's people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. 9No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. 10And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

* Sunday

Matthew 11:2-11

2When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" 4Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the 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. 6And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."

7As 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? 8What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10This is the one about whom it is written, 'See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.' 11Truly 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.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


Good morning brothers and sisters,
Our reading today is from the Letter of James. James was known as the brother of the Lord, and is believed to have been Jesus' brother. He was one of the most important leaders in the church in Jerusalem. His letter is a great bridge from the Gospels to the letters in the Bible because it somehow seems more continuous with Jesus' teachings than Paul's letters. Here James reminds the church of its hope in God's kingdom, which is coming soon. He calls them to wait patiently even though times are tough and the wait seems long. This is a great word for us in Advent. Certainly the days to Christmas don't seem long; they fly by without any pause. But the wait for Christ's return seems to go on forever without any sign of coming closer. Let us trust that God will bring all things to their right conclusion at the right time. Our calling for now is to seek that kingdom and God's justice and to wait in patient hope.

Weekend blessings,

James 5:7-10

7Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. 8You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. 9Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! 10As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

Friday, December 10, 2010

warning and praise

Good morning friends,
Today's reading concludes Romans. Paul warns the church that there are people in the church who try to gain from twisting faith, by changing the message to suit their desires. Any idea can be misused by people to gain power and the Christian faith is no exception. We've seen big church pastors use the gospel to get rich; we've seen small church pastors twist the message to justify hatred. Corruption in the church is unfortunately as old as the church. True faith seeks God's will.

Paul also praises God for revealing God's love in Jesus Christ to the whole world. This revelation of the mystery of God is an exciting new phase in human history, a movement Paul is thrilled to be a part of. For all the places where we need to change as a church we ask God's guidance. For the chance to be a part of sharing the joy of God's love we give God glory.

God bless,

Romans 16:17-27

17I urge you, brothers and sisters, to keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offenses, in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them. 18For such people do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded. 19For while your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, I want you to be wise in what is good and guileless in what is evil. 20The God of peace will shortly crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

21Timothy, my co-worker, greets you; so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my relatives. 22I Tertius, the writer of this letter, greet you in the Lord. 23Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus, greet you.

25Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— 27to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


Good morning friends,
A passage like this one can feel like just a blur of names that don't mean anything to us. At the same time these "greeting" passages help us put together a picture of the early Christian church. One thing we notice is that even though Paul had never been to Rome, he knew a lot of Christians there. Some of them he knew because they had traveled for work or ministry, suggesting that many of the leaders in the church led very mobile lives. We also see a closely interconnected church with strong relationships even over large distances. Prisca and Aquilla, named here, worked with Paul in Corinth because they were tent makers like he was. Acts tells us that they had been living in Rome but were expelled by the emperor along with all the Jews. Apparently at this point they are back there.

Another thing that is important to notice in this passage is the presence of women in leadership. Many Christians have trouble with Paul, rightly, because of some of his teachings about women. While we can't erase those harmful words, we also read them knowing that Paul did support women in ministry. Many scholars believe that Phoebe was the person who delivered this letter to the Romans and would have read it publicly in the church. We also notice Junia whom Paul calls "prominent among the apostles" who was in prison with Paul. Over all, we see a strong role for women in the early church, a role that has continued to today, thanks to God's help and the faithfulness of generations of women. May we make the most of our ministry opportunities that God and the sacrifice of the Christians who came before us make possible.

God bless,

Romans 16:1-16

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, 2so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well. 3Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, 4and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 5Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert in Asia for Christ. 6Greet Mary, who has worked very hard among you. 7Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.

8Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. 9Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. 10Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. 11Greet my relative Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. 12Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. 13Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; and greet his mother—a mother to me also. 14Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers and sisters who are with them. 15Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. 16Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

gentile gratitude

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Paul shares his plans for the future with his readers in Rome. He about his upcoming trip to Jerusalem to deliver a contribution from many of the churches he has founded. He has talked about this collection in many of his letters. Here he explains it as a natural that the gentile churches who have come to share in the spiritual gifts of the Christians of Jerusalem would want to share their material blessings. What he means is that, in Christ, gentiles have become part of the people of God, which previously was only possible for Jews. Earlier in Romans Paul used the image of gentiles being grafted into the root of Abraham. In other words, we gentiles ought to be grateful to God for making us a part of his people, and we should be generous to the original people of God who have welcomed us in.

Welcoming gentiles wasn't always easy or favored among Jewish Christians. If we look back to Acts, the first church council was held to decide this very question. While Acts makes hospitality to gentile believers seem like a settled question, we can see in Paul's letters that the place of gentiles and the role of Jewish law and tradition in the Christian life were still very much in dispute. With this tension surrounding his ministry to the gentiles, the collection from gentile Christians for the poor, Jewish Christians in Jerusalem was an important ministry. That's why Paul asks for the Roman Christians prayer for his acceptance by the Christians in Jerusalem and for God's protection from the Jewish leaders who opposed Christianity. As it turns out, Jerusalem is where Paul is arrested for the last time.

God bless,

Romans 15:25-33

25At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem in a ministry to the saints; 26for Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to share their resources with the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. 27They were pleased to do this, and indeed they owe it to them; for if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material things. 28So, when I have completed this, and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will set out by way of you to Spain; 29and I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.

30I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in earnest prayer to God on my behalf, 31that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my ministry to Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, 32so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. 33The God of peace be with all of you. Amen.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

outside in

Good morning friends,
Today we remember the attack on Pearl Harbor and the war that followed. We're grateful for the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform throughout our history, and we grieve for all the lives lost in conflict. We pray for peace, both in our cities and around the world.

Paul's letter to the Romans is different from his other letters in that he hadn't founded or previously visited the church in Rome. As he explains here, his mission throughout his ministry had been bringing Christ to places that didn't know him yet. Now he feels he has completed the first phase of the evangelization of the area and he wants to visit new places including Spain. As part of this plan he wants to come to Rome. Since he is writing to a community that is already established he recognizes that he is not their teacher or leader. He still feels he has something to offer them in terms of spiritual advise, because of God's grace to him. He relates his whole intent with them to the growth of harmony between Jews and gentiles in the church of Christ.

This passage encourages me to remember the constant need to share the good news with those who don't know Jesus. In our setting there aren't many people who have never heard of Jesus, but there are many who don't really know who he was or the good news of love he represents. Let's always be on the lookout for chances to share that joyful word with others.

God bless,

Romans 15:14-24

14I myself feel confident about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another. 15Nevertheless on some points I have written to you rather boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God 16to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

17In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to boast of my work for God. 18For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed, 19by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and as far around as Illyricum I have fully proclaimed the good news of Christ. 20Thus I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news, not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on someone else’s foundation, 21but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him shall see, and those who have never heard of him shall understand.”

22This is the reason that I have so often been hindered from coming to you. 23But now, with no further place for me in these regions, I desire, as I have for many years, to come to you 24when I go to Spain. For I do hope to see you on my journey and to be sent on by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a little while.

Monday, December 6, 2010

song of praise

Good morning friends,
Our passage from Psalms this morning mirrors the passage from Isaiah we heard yesterday in our worship services. The psalmist prays for God's blessings on the King of Israel. The blessings and abilities he desires for the king include a heart for the poor, righteousness and justice. The psalmist expects that the king's reign will bring peace and prosperity to Israel. God is expected to work through the king. Anything the king achieves will have more to do with God's blessing than the king's individual gifts, and even those gifts are from God.

We're reading this passage to remind us of the kind of king Christ is. The passage also reminds us that our strength and success comes from God. We're called to be faithful, to trust and seek God's power and voice. Sometimes in our lives and even in our ministries we try to do it all, but we don't have to. God is with us, and we will be more successful in our endeavors if we seek God's will and strength.

God bless,

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

1Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king's son.
2May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.
3May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.
4May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.
5May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon,
throughout all generations.
6May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
like showers that water the earth.
7In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.
18Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things.
19Blessed be his glorious name forever;
may his glory fill the whole earth. Amen and Amen.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

preparing for Christ

Good morning friends,
This morning's readings are exactly what we'll hear at Laurelton a little later this morning, so if you really want to hear what I think about them, you know what to do. If that's not an option, or to just get you warmed up here's a teaser. Our Isaiah passage this morning is a beautiful vision of what God's kingdom will look like. Peace and justice will fill the earth, not only in human society, but for animals as well. This kingdom will come through God's chosen king. Isaiah talks about that king as a shoot from the stump of Jesse. Jesse was King David's father, so that's a poetic way of saying the chosen king will be David's decedent. For Christians, this expectation is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Our passage from Matthew is about God's kingdom and the justice it will bring, but John the Baptist takes it in a different direction. John invites us (to put it gently) to prepare ourselves for God's kingdom by repenting. There are so many things that separate us from God's kingdom: fear, greed, habit, etc. To get ready for God's kingdom (which is really the point of Advent) we need to turn away from those things and turn to God. John emphasizes that repentance isn't about feeling guilty; it's about changing our lives. Following John's invitation, I'd like to invite you to take one step each week in Advent to change your life in a practical way. My step for the week is volunteering at a local school; I'll keep you posted on that. What is your step going to be?

God bless,

Isaiah 11:1-10

1A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
3His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
4but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

6The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
7The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den.
9They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.

10On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.


Matthew 3:1-12

1In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."3This 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.'" 4Now John wore clothing of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

7But 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? 8Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9Do 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. 10Even 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.

11"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. 12His 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."

Saturday, December 4, 2010

community dealing with difference

Good morning sisters and brothers,
Paul has been talking about dietary and other laws and how, while they no longer apply to Christians, we still need to be respectful of people who observe those laws. The main thrust of this argument has been to bring together Jewish and Gentile Christians. The main reason food regulations are so important to Jews at the time is that it helped them preserve their faith and some sense of autonomy in a world where many parts of their lives were controlled by gentiles. Judaism is in many ways very tied to God's covenant with the ancestors and the people of Israel. That covenant centered in a land of their own with laws to establish a faithful, national community. Dietary laws helped keep some of this sense of unity, autonomy and dedication to God alive when the people of Israel no longer controlled their own land or political destiny.

Christianity began as a Jewish movement, but quickly attracted people outside Judaism. That presented a great deal of controversy for many religious leaders, but Paul is convinced that God has called all people to be one in Christ. That means the old distinctions between Jew and Gentile no longer apply. In today's reading Paul lifts up scripture that foreshadows that the promise to the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc) had always intended to bring in the gentiles. God hasn't abandoned his promises to Israel, but those promises overflow into love and community for all people.

Thanks be to God,

Romans 15:4-13

4For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. 5May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

7Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, "Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name"; 10and again he says, "Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people"; 11and again, "Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him"; 12and again Isaiah says, "The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope." 13May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Friday, December 3, 2010

freedom and responsibility

Good morning brothers and sisters,
Paul continues his discussion here of food and convictions. The Christian life really boils down to trusting in God's love in Christ and behaving with love at the center of our lives. The observances and guidelines the church develops flow from that. There is a huge amount of freedom in Christian life because the "rules" really don't apply anymore. At the same time, the one law of love for our neighbors and for God is quite demanding if we allow ourselves to really live it. When we really center our lives in love we won't behave in a way that hurts our neighbor because we love them.

In this case that means we can eat whatever we want as far as God is concerned, but if our food choices hurt others we would want to choose otherwise to protect and build them up. We are free, but often our love for others changes the way we use our freedom. Christian ethics is really simple and really hard at the same time. Paul's argument is that anything we do that fits with our faith is fine and anything that doesn't is sinful. The challenge is to truly let our faith, our principles guide all that we do. Fortunately, we are not alone as we seek to be faithful; that's why Paul puts joy in the Holy Spirit at the center of God's kingdom. May your day be full or righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

God bless,

Friday, 12/3

Romans 14:17-15:4

17For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.18The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and has human approval. 19Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. 20Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for you to make others fall by what you eat; 21it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble. 22The faith that you have, have as your own conviction before God. Blessed are those who have no reason to condemn themselves because of what they approve. 23But those who have doubts are condemned if they eat, because they do not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Food and community

Good morning friends,
Here Paul is discussing the importance of supporting our brothers and sisters in community. Paul felt that Jewish purity laws about food didn't bind Christians, but he also knew that this was a touchy subject for some people. If someone felt that eating impure food was against God's law, then for them eating that food would be harmful. Paul encourages his readers to consider how their actions might affect others. We are free, but we're also responsible to make sure our freedom doesn't hurt other people's faith.

God bless,

Romans 14:10-17
10Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” 12So then, each of us will be accountable to God. 13Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another. 14I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. 15If your brother or sister is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died. 16So do not let your good be spoken of as evil. 17For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

living together

Good morning friends,
December is here already; I pray it starts well for you. Tonight we're beginning an Advent series at the Boulevard about expecting Jesus. We'll talk about what people at the time expected in a savior, what we expect today, and what we hope for. I'm hoping for an open conversation with different voices at the table; those conversations offer us new perspectives on an exciting story. You'll notice during Advent that our readings jump around a bit. I hope these daily readings shed some light on the readings for Sunday and help you prepare for the birth of Jesus at Christmas.

Our reading for today comes from the last section of Paul's letter to the Romans. This is Paul's most theological letter with the first 11 chapters spelling out God's grace in Christ for all people. The later chapters beginning in chapter 12 tackle practical implications of the theology Paul has explained. In our reading for today Paul talks about life in community, especially dealing with differences of opinion. Christianity was a Jewish movement that became more open as time went on. One of the difficult tensions in many communities during the first century was how Jews and gentiles could get along when much of Jewish law and custom at the time intended to keep Jews apart from their gentile neighbors. Food was a major part of that division and sharing food was a major part of how the Christian communities grew closer together. Here Paul writes that we shouldn't be troubled or look down on our neighbors because they choose to eat differently or keep different holidays. God seeks all of us out and none of these differences can overshadow God's love.

Blessing on your day,

Romans 14:1-9

Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. 2Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. 3Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. 4Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

5Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. 6Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God. 7We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. 8If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.