This week’s memory verse: By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

John 15:8
  • 1/24 – Acts 1:8
  • 1/25 – Acts 17:30
  • 1/26 – Hebrews 2:1
  • 1/27 – Revelation 2:5
  • 1/28 – Matthew 10:28
  • 1/29 – Daniel 12:2
  • 1/30 – John 12:24-26

Pray the week: Lord Jesus, You have called me into action, to proclaim Your Kingdom and repentance for eternal life. Grant that I may never fail to grasp the urgency of the moment.

Good, but for time.

I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out.

Last week we encountered the first disciples and Jesus’ call to come follow Him. We heard Nathaniel wonder, like we may from time to time, if anything good could come from him and Jesus’ answer to all of us.

Jesus saw something in the disciples that surprised them. Instead of seeing rotten, no good sinners, people out of whom nothing good could come, Jesus saw people He loved and with a great future. Jesus knows the good that can come from people who follow Him and invites us.

Reassured that we are loved, and with expectations of greatness set for us by Jesus, what stops us from following Jesus more closely, from being that disciple who proclaims the closeness of the kingdom, of giving others the opportunity to repent and know that they are loved and also have a great future?

The common response, Good can come from me, but for time. Good can come from me, Jesus says so, but for time…

The answer is not to ‘make time.’ It is not that easy. We are pulled in many directions with varied responsibilities, so trite statements about making time are unhelpful. We could call in a time management consultant, but who has time to do that?

The answer to the time problem is exactly the lack of time. It is the urgency of the current moment. When something becomes pressing, urgent, we automatically reprioritize what we are doing. In life threatening moments we stop worrying about the laundry, making dinner, browsing Twitter or Snap Chat, or Facebook.

What we may be failing to recognize is that this is a life-threatening moment. Each moment is life threatening for those who fail to repent, to turn back to God and for those who fail to call them to repentance. 

We saw it with Jonah. Jonah didn’t have the time to go and do God’s work, he ran away, he was unpersuaded by God’s urgency and if God had not persuaded him otherwise, the people of Nineveh might have been destroyed in their sin. Yet they were saved due to Jonah’s call, their repentance, and God’s mercy.

As Paul tells the Corinthians, time is running out. We need to take that seriously and understand how dependent others access to eternal life in heaven is on us. Yes, Jesus loves us and confirms us in goodness, the good that can come from us, but we have to get up and proclaim that powerful message: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Yes, we have a time problem. There is a lack of time and the moment is urgent. Now is the time for goodness to flow from our following Jesus.

Scripture: Acts 10:34-43; 1 Peter 5:1-4; John 21:15-18

Do you love me more than these?

Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Peter’s Chair at Antioch. Odd thing at face value to most of us. Why celebrate someone’s chair? A little history will help us understand.

This Feast actually celebrates the establishment of the Church at Antioch, and St. Peter’s office as bishop of that city. Bishops have a special chair they sit in which signifies their office as bishop or overseer. This day celebrates his taking leadership in that city.

St. Peter’s role in Antioch is known from historical references found in the writings of the Church Fathers such as Saint Ignatius of Antioch and Saint Clement. Saint John Chrysostom says that Saint Peter was there for a long period. It was in the City of Antioch that Jesus’ faithful were first called Christians, followers of the Christ, the Messiah.

More than history, celebrating this Feast on this day gives us a unique opportunity to reflect on Jesus’ question to Peter, Do you love me more than these?

Jesus asks this question with the Apostles gathered along the Sea of Galilee (AKA the Sea of Tiberias) after Jesus’ resurrection. The question had real significance for Peter as does the fact that Jesus had to ask Peter the same question three times. This was the opportunity for Peter to repent of His denying Jesus three times. 

But, more than history, and Jesus’ specific reconciliation with Peter, celebrating this Feast on this day gives us a unique opportunity to ask ourselves, Do you love me more than these?

Do I love Jesus more than anyone else? You see, we are called to outdo each other in love (Romans 12:10). We are each called to excel at love. Peter’s lesson beside the sea was that love in and of Christ Jesus was necessary for those who wished to follow Him. Service was required for those who love Jesus. Feed and care for my sheep and lambs. Giving up our self-interest is necessary as well. Not where you wish to go but be bound to Me and go where I want you to go.

It starts in forgiveness. Certainly, we have all fallen short. We have all, like Peter, denied Christ. We have all sent Him to the cross. Every time we speak with anger and judgment, every time to enter into conflict, every time we listen to voices of greed and self-interest, every prejudice in us, every thought of us against them, every time we sin, we deny Christ. We say with Peter, “I do not know him…” But thanks be to God that Jesus will not let us end up in our sin. He is generous in forgiving us for our denials of Him, in allowing us to start anew.

Next comes the welcome. As with Peter in the house of Cornelius we must also say, I see that God shows no partiality. Our hearts and our everyday reality must be one of welcome. We must open the doors of our homes to welcome. We must open our wallets to provide welcome to those in need and to level the inequality in our community, our land, and the world. We must open our parishes to everyone who seeks the Face of God.

Then, the witness of the Christian people in their ministers, their lay leaders, and their churches as a whole. Tend to the flock, oversee willingly, do not lord it over, be examples. Words are not enough, for in the rush to outdo each other in love let our actions and example speak volumes about the power of God’s love given us in Jesus Christ.

In 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at the commencement exercises at Antioch College. He said this:

Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word in psychology. It is the word maladjusted. And we all want to live the well-adjusted life so that we can avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities. But I must be honest enough to say to you that there are some things in our world and in our nation to which I’m proud to be maladjusted. To which I call all men of good will to be maladjusted until the good society is realized. I must honestly say to you that I never intend to adjust myself to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, and the self-defeating effects of physical violence. For you see it may well be that our world is in need of a new organization – The International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment. Men and women who will be as maladjusted as the Prophet Amos, who in the midst of the injustices of his day, cried out in words that echo across the centuries.: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” As maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln, who had the vision to see that this nation could not survive half slave and half free. As maladjusted as Thomas Jefferson, who in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery, could scratch across the pages of history words lifted to cosmic proportions: “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Yes, as maladjusted as Jesus of Nazareth, who could say to the men and women of his day “Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that despitefully use you.”

Through such maladjustment, we will be able to emerge from this bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man, into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.

At Antioch, the followers of Jesus were first called Christians. Let that be our true name. Let us not be Christ deniers wallowing in sin; let us never become adjusted to anything that denies Christ. Let us not be short in welcoming people into the family of God, and let us be examples by our leadership. On this day, let us reflect anew on Jesus’ question: Do you love me more than these? And be ready to answer Him, Yes, Lord, you know that I do.

This week’s memory verse: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:21
  • 1/17 – Isaiah 5:20
  • 1/18 – Psalm 1:1-6
  • 1/19 – Psalm 37:3
  • 1/20 – Psalm 100:5
  • 1/21 – 1 Thessalonians 5:21
  • 1/22 – Romans 8:28
  • 1/23 – Micah 6:8

Pray the week: Lord Jesus, thank You for calling me and for helping me see good. Grant that my eyes and actions ever be focused on seeing and doing good among my brothers and sisters.

Any good?

He first found his own brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah” — which is translated Christ —. Then he brought him to Jesus.

This scripture, taken from the first chapter of John’s gospel, concerns the gathering of the first disciples. The next verses following today’s gospel concern the calling of Phillip and his friend Nathanael. We all recall their exchange: Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” But Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

Nathanael isn’t buying it. After all, can anything worthwhile come out of that place? Nathanial saw Nazareth as a downer, no good. We encounter people like that. We say something, and they naysay it. It may seem to us that they are glass half-empty people, yet there is something more there. Perhaps they are projecting their own sense of personal worthlessness in their reaction.

In our sinful and broken world, we ask the same question about ourselves. Can anything good come from my life, my family situation, my personality, from someone who looks like me, is as old or young as me, or who has made mistakes like I have?

How about you? How are you feeling this morning? What motivated you to come here this morning or to join us virtually? Are we all feeling good and inspired, or has the past week taken its toll on us and put us at the end of our ropes?

Perhaps this is how Nathanael was feeling as he listened to Phillip’s words. Perhaps, rather than Nazareth, he was thinking, “Nathanael! Can anything good come from me?”

There are times when we look at ourselves like that, perhaps because of a secret, an illness, trial, hurt, grief, or loneliness. Perhaps it is the state of our country, and we say it will never get any better. Nazareth, everything else, and me – Nothing is good!

When Jesus met the disciples, He met men who all felt small and were caught up in their own pasts. As with Nathanial, Jesus saw through that and said, “I see you and I know what you are like. I’ve got you all figured out. I know you better than you know yourself. Come follow Me.”

When someone sees you, welcomes you and believes in you, it is powerful, freeing, life-giving, and transformative.

Jesus knows us completely and all that troubles us. He understands our faults, failures and insecurities. He knows the things we’ve kept secret. Jesus isn’t shocked by anything about us and loves us no matter what. He died to set us free from all that and He has great plans for us. He says, Come, follow Me.

When we get up and go like those disciples we come to not only understanding and acceptance, but to love God and to a whole new way of seeing ourselves, everybody, and everything. We set aside the traps of anger, fear, prejudice, and self-centeredness.

Jesus saw something in the disciples that surprised them.  Instead of seeing rotten, no good sinners, people out of whom nothing good can come, Jesus saw people He loved and with a great future. Can anything good come from me? Yes! God has seen it and has said so. He has asked us in. Come, follow Me.

This week’s memory verse: For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Galatians 5:1
  • 1/10 – 2 Corinthians 3:17
  • 1/11 – John 8:36
  • 1/12 – Galatians 5:13
  • 1/13 – Romans 8:1-2
  • 1/14 – 1 Peter 2:16
  • 1/15 – 1 Corinthians 6:12
  • 1/16 – James 1:25

Pray the week: Lord Jesus, grant me a full appreciation of the freedom You have won for me and by Your grace assist me in walking in Your way, proclaiming Your message, and inviting others to know You.

True freedom.

The sea beheld and fled; the Jordan turned back. The mountains skipped like rams, the hills like lambs of the flock. 

This scripture, taken from today’s Alleluia verse, comes from Psalm 114. It speaks of God’s awesome power in leading the people of Israel out of Egypt to freedom. He freed His people from the bondage of slavery, and from being trapped back into it, through the parted waters of the sea.

Thus today, Jesus comes from Nazareth in Galilee with this purpose in mind. He steps into and parts the water, for a baptism He didn’t need, to save people who didn’t deserve it, so we could be truly free. 

Jesus was implementing His Father’s plan to save and free us, for each and every one of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Having no ability to save or free ourselves, Jesus steps into the waters to tie Himself, the sinless one, to the suffering state of humanity and to identify Himself with sinful mankind, “Because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors.

The scene was dramatic. Large crowds. John preaching. People confessing their sins and being baptized. Then Jesus steps into the water. He rises up, with water dripping from His body, the Spirit descends in the form of a dove and the Father’s voice is heard: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Today is the next step in the love story that ends our bondage to sin, frees us from ever having to go back, destroys the fear of death, and offers hope for all who chose friendship with God.

This event which we celebrate today publicly proclaims to the world that the Son of God entered the battle to save us from sin and to truly free us. We are freed from eternal death and the power of the worldly who serve the evil one.

The Bible is clear, people break God’s commandments, they serve the world, but have the option to restore their lost and broken intimacy and peace with God. We all have the chance to be free.

True freedom takes true faith. It takes a faith that says no to the world, no to those that would exploit us for their own gain, and no to those who would use the Holy Name of Jesus to further their selfish ends. The world, governments, politicians, and systems cannot give freedom. Rather, freedom comes from an act of faith, our kneeling and saying, Lord, I place my life in Your hands. I repent and desire only to return to You and Your true freedom.

The good news of the gospel is that true freedom is ours for the asking. Once we have asked, we are invited onto the gospel road where we walk in the footsteps of Jesus, proclaim His message, invite those who do not know Him, and celebrate the true freedom that has removed from us any sense of unworthiness, guilt, shame, or condemnation. True freedom!

Herod!

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance.

Interesting that there is a ton, a ton, of information in this gospel and in the readings for this day, yet I was struggling throughout the week to figure out what I wanted to say to you. Where was the Holy Spirit leading me, for He is always the Author?

Sometimes the Holy Spirit stays silent for a reason. He was waiting for today, for January 6, 2021, and what we have seen as a nation today. He told me, He said, Herod! King Herod, what a guy he was. Herod still lives in the world today.

If you study scripture you will soon notice that there are threads that run through scripture. Nothing is disconnected. You can talk about the swaddling clothes that Jesus was wrapped in when He was placed in in the manger and soon see that His body was similarly wrapped in linen cloths after His death, when He was buried. There’s a line that runs throughout scripture. Everything is interconnected.

Herod!

Herod meets the three wise men. We call them Magi, Wise Men, Kings. We do not know what they were specifically, but we do know one thing in particular, they were scientists. They studied the skies and they tried to figure out the based on their study of the stars. They were people of facts and observation, so they knew there was a new King in Israel.

So, they said to each other, let’s hop on our camels, take some gifts, and go to find this King. They said to each other, Who better to talk to than the current king. They go to see Herod and Herod is troubled.

Herod!

Herod was more than troubled, he was angry. Herod – a troubled and angry man. A man who cheated on his wife. A man who stole his brother’s wife. A man who was constantly looking over his shoulder for the person that was going to chop him down from the throne.

Herod calls the truthful people around him and he says, ‘Hey, where is this Messiah going to be born.’ Once he finds out he calls the Magi secretly, secretly because when we do evil those deeds must be in secret, kept under wraps. We cannot let people know what we are about when we are doing wrong, when we are doing evil.

Herod ascertains from the Magi the timing of the star’s rising and sends them on their merry way telling them, ‘Hey, come back and fill me in when you figure it all out.’

We know the Magi did not go back, they were warned in a dream, but Herod had this little snippet of information – when and where this King was born. Herod was going to do something about that. He was not going to sit on his hands.

Herod!

Herod sent his soldiers to Bethlehem of Judea and had every firstborn son under two years old killed. He wiped out an entire city of infants because of his anger, because of his jealousy, because he had to hang on to what he thought was his.

Jump forward thirty years and Harold is still there. Along comes John the Baptist. John is standing down in the river and looking up he sees Herod passing by. He points to Herod and tells him exactly what he is. Well that not only ticked off Herod but also ticked off his stolen bride. Herod was going to get even and lo and behold, John is jailed and off goes his head. Off with his head and we will shut him up.

The line in scripture continues on. Jesus is arrested. He is taken before the chief priests and the Sanhedrin. They judge Him and send him off to Pilate. Pilate in his questioning finally figures out that Jesus is a Galilean. Hey, this guy is a Galilean. I can wash my hands of this Guy and send him to Herod. Herod was in Jerusalem at the time.

Jesus was taken to Herod. What did Herod do? This scene as portrayed in Jesus Christ Superstar captures it very well. Herod made a mockery of Jesus. He tried to turn Jesus into a clown for his entertainment. After the mockery was over Herod wrote Jesus off. He probably thought, ‘Maybe this was the kid that was supposed to be the king. Here he is before me in ropes and with the crown of thorns on his head. He is going to the cross.’ Send Him back.

Herod!

Herod’s line goes on and does not stop there. Herod’s children and his children’s children, and all those in the world who are like Herod remain among us. They remain gnawing for power, make a mockery of Jesus as they burn and destroy, continue to look over their shoulders – jealous of anyone who might knock them off their self-established pedestal, and do anything they can to keep what they have.

Where must we be as Christians?

Our call is to be open to the Holy Spirit’s promptings, to be open and willing to do God’s work in the world as the wise men, the scientists, the Magi did. The Magi were open to God and kept their eyes open, looking up to the star, and followed it until they found that place where Jesus was. We must go the same way.

Being men of God, keen observers, they knew what they saw in that poor infant, in that poor home, as they got down on their faces, flat on the floor, prostrated before the Child King. Then they open their treasures. Their treasures were not just the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, but the real treasure was in the offering of their hearts to Jesus. They offered their hearts to the child Jesus and then they departed for their own country. They departed, not just by a different map, but by another way. Let us offer our hearts to the only King and go forward by another way.

This week’s memory verse: But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

1 Timothy 5:8
  • 1/3 – Acts 18:8
  • 1/4 – Acts 16:31-34
  • 1/5 – Acts 16:15
  • 1/6 – Acts 10:1-2
  • 1/7 – Deuteronomy 6:6-7
  • 1/8 – Genesis 50:17-21
  • 1/9 – Psalm 128:3

Pray the week: Lord Jesus, grant that each of our families may increase in knowledge of You and Your ways. Help us in subordinating ourselves to each other in mutual love and respect.

By what standard?

Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness toward them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord.

Straight to the point. I ought to start this by saying that today’s Epistle, as outlined in the Lectionary gives us two choices. We can read all of Paul’s admonitions in Colossians 3:12-21 or we can skip over the hard parts, things that make us uncomfortable.

We all know what God wants, right – to skip over the hard parts? 

We can certainly agree that God never wants us to skip over the hard parts of His instruction. Jesus told us: “In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” (John 16:33).

What disturbs us about Paul’s words is that we read them from a perspective that the godless world pushes on us. That perspective is one in which there is no analysis, there is no search for deeper understanding. We somehow believe that English is the anointed language by which all must be understood, and heaven forbid that anyone use the word subordinate. Obviously, I, me, comes first.

I, me first, is not of Christ.

In Genesis, God creates a model of family and as we heard in today’s gospel, His very Son, Jesus, lived within that model. But let’s not just stop at the outward appearance of that model, because the inward nature of the family model is brought to the fore by St. Paul in his writing to the Colossians.

Paul is discussing an inter-relationship among the faithful. We are first and foremost a community that practices mutual love and respect. We offer each other heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. We bear with each other and forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven us (catch that – live as the Lord lived). Above all we put on love as our mutual bond of perfection. Is that hard?

Jesus was born into a family that lived all that, and one in which each person lived a sacrificial existence, where the good of the other came before their own good. That is what being subordinate is. That is what love and obedience are. That is what total giving is.  In family we must be willing to decrease so that our wives, husbands, and children may increase. That is love in mutuality. Is that hard?

Never mistake this direction as having to do with being a slave. A slave does not have a choice in the giving of self. We do. 

The bottom line – How are we to live together? What do we consider hard? For us the standard within family and community is God’s standard. A life of total self-giving should not be hard for Christians.