Complete Eastertide Music List

Below is the complete list of music links for Eastertide. 

Eastertide Music 2020

 

April 13 “O Gladsome Light” from Vespers by Rachmaninoff  Robert Shaw Festival Singers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6PmHP-56Npc  

 

April 14 “Guide Me O, Thou Great Jehovah”     Tabernacle Baptist Welsh Church

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wT4n1hGjDDg

 

April 15 “Thine Is the Victory”   First Plymouth-Church arr. Horby

www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Q2OuTUvChw

 

April 16 “Be Still My Soul”     Libera

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwkPsKe-39Y

April 17 “The Trumpet Shall Sound” from Messiah   Philippe Sly

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13DpmWPV9IU

  

April 18 “In the Garden”    Alan Jackson   An old gospel song inspired by this account.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhIGIfsLxVk

 

April 19 “Worthy Is the Lamb” from Messiah   Robert Shaw (The conclusion of Messiah)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYqa4_3Lc48    Glorious AMEN!!

 

Bonus:

 “I Have Seen the Lord”        Vigil

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7G3IFp3Ckiw

April 20 ““I Can Only Imagine”   Mercy Me

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_lrrq_opng

 

April 21 ““Hallelujah Chorus from Mount of Olives by Beethoven      Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-mNxQ6Kslk

 

April 22 “The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ”    Simon Khorolskiy & Brothers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0T-M9iPZfMk

 

April 23 ““At the Name of Jesus”  Cardiff Festival Choir

https://join.skype.com/M8O4IU8Cbzdh

 

April 24 ““I Love the Lord”    Whitney Houston  Text based on this psalm

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPLP1ui4YNc      From the “Preacher’s Wife” movie

 

A live performance by Whitney Houston       

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lU9iJ0YU0PQ

 

 

April 25  “Let Us Break Bread Together”    Jessye Norman

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFQqOWh2aOY

 

April 26 “Hail Gladdening Light”  Rachmaninoff Vespers    Robert Shaw Festival Singers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6PmHP-56Npc   sung in Russian, English translation

 

April 27 “Behold All Flesh”  Movement II from Brahms Requiem   Herbert Von Karajan

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2jc13Q1wX4

 

April 28  “Jesus Is the Cornerstone”    Larnelle Harris  An oldie from the past!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fBoMpZySMM

 

April 29 ““There is Power in the Blood”     Fernando Ortega

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVKF7gt3Cak&list=PL9492611BFCFAB267&index=3 

 

April 30 “Sanctus” from Requiem by Duruflé  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hESnJ0HHlxI

 

Translation:

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts.

Heaven and earth are full of thy glory.

Hosanna in the highest.

 

May 1 “The Lord is My Shepherd”    by John Rutter      Atlanta Master Chorale

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WOtsuzM6h7M 

 

May 2 “Surely Goodness, Surely Mercy”      Shane & Shane

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mo3HgtT_OiE

 

May 3 “The Lord’s My Shepherd I’ll not Want”    Citrail

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-qLa_2GPcM

 

 

May 4  “Hear Am I Lord”  Nation Youth Choir of Scotland    Don’t miss this!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gcL9S5a3weU&list=RDgcL9S5a3weU&index=2

 

Mar 5 “The Lord Bless You and Keep You”   John Rutter Massed Choir

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lCpxgEHqjFA

 

May 6 “O Master Let Me Walk with Thee”    Hour of Power Choir

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4FhFozCX-w

 

May 7 “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnGMNvRBJ4w

 

May 8 “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me”   Moses Hogan Chorale Gorgeous!!!

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VwCBdLy8ork 

 

May 9 “Give Me Jesus”  Fernando Ortega at Ruth Graham Funeral

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vu2E2FUcIiE

 

May 10 “A City Called Heaven”    Salt Lake Vocal Artists

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-P-DwTDzRZs

 

May11  “Agnus Dei”    Voces8   There are only 8 people singing, no overdubs, one on a part!    (Samuel Barber)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SuBQZFOnk7s

 

May 12 “Once to Every Man and Nation”    Fountainview Academy

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cSMqesZz3tU

 

May 13  “Whom Shall I Fear” David Wesley

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=belPmfNDuko

 

May 14  “A Broken and Contrite Spirit”     Sons of Korah   Beautiful, unique

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RnDuwbz5UI   Make this your prayer today.

 

May 15 “Baptized in Water”     The Orchard Enterprises

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6arW9XKmRHk

 

May 16 “Credo” from Gospel Mass of Robert Ray     St. Olaf Choir

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glT-EiSsMOg

 

May 17 “Blessings” Laura Story       God does reveal himself, not always as we think.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQan9L3yXjc

 

May 18 “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past”  Grace Community Church

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yKP_XxCBDZY

 

May 19 “Sanctus and Agnus Dei”      Vinnie Zarleltti Institute for Worship Studies

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VObanClX-_Y

 

May 20 “Deep River”  Mormon Tabernacle Choir        (We like the music, the theology has some major problems.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LiIURFm63Yk 

 

May 21 “Alleluia, Sing to Jesus”  First Plymouth Church, Lincoln, NE  arr. Robert Hobby

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rI-nTy0iHmU&list=RDrI-nTy0iHmU&start_radio=1&t=0

 

May 22 “Then Did Elijah Break Forth” from “Elijah” Mendelssohn, New York Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus   (This is part of a glorious oratorio on the life of Elijah.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXkaxTfUY40

 

May 23 “We Come, O Christ, to You”     Grace Community Church

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ScQfSjzbsY&t=119s

  

May 24 “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” Fernando Ortega

https://ww.youtube.com/watch?v=MdcqhSAXMgE

 

May 25 “It is Well with My Soul”   Wartburg College Choir

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tyPEohF6qq8 

 

May 26  “Down to the River to Pray” 

  Bethel College Choir  from a grain

bin! Don’t miss it!      The point is to pray until Jesus

returns!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9rjix44QzFQ

 

May 27 “From Heaven to Earth I Come”   Bach

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zpy-GcICccE 

 

May 28 “May the Mind of Christ My Savior”     Jake Armerding

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXUOuzJo1bE

  

May 29 “In Christ Alone”   Virtual Choir   You CANNOT miss this!! WOW!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RY4CW5pte98

 

May 30 “The Beatitudes”    Arvo Pärt This is a little different, but beautiful!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=weo-mBK6U2o

 

May 31 “Cum Sancto Spiritu”    Vivaldi National Chamber Choir of Armenia

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdTQPpsP5W8 

Text:

With the Holy Spirit in the

glory of God the Father. Amen.

“Holy Spirit You are Welcome Here”     Amplified Praise

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2q7hMfmVL3I

“Veni Sancte Spiritus”    from Lux Aeterna  Lauridsen  Schönhausen-Chor Krefeld, Germany

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpBwkgd_380

Sunday, May 31 Pentecost

Reader: “On the day of Pentecost”

Response: “all the believers were meeting together in one place.”

Scripture: Acts 2:1-13

On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.

At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem. When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers.

They were completely amazed. “How can this be?” they exclaimed. “These people are all from Galilee, and yet we hear them speaking in our own native languages! Here we are—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the areas of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans, and Arabs. And we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!”

They stood there amazed and perplexed. “What can this mean?” they asked each other.

But others in the crowd ridiculed them, saying, “They’re just drunk, that’s all!”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

You’ll recall that the Feast of Pentecost was one of three pilgrimage festivals which required every Jewish male to journey to the Temple in Jerusalem to celebrate the feast. That explains why there were Jews present from all over the known world. (In the absence of today’s media, what better way to spread the gospel. In fact, people to people communication is still the most effective way on earth!) For the past ten days the disciples and a group of believers had remained in Jerusalem praying together daily in accordance with Jesus’ directive at his ascension. They were to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit that would come to dwell with them in Jesus’ absence. The believers were gathered when a violent supernatural wind from heaven came blowing through the room. Wind in Scripture often depicts the presence of the Spirit of God. The wind hovered over the waters at creation. Breath was breathed in man at creation and in the dry bones of Ezekiel’s day. The wind split the Red Sea. Elijah went to heaven in a whirlwind of fire. In talking with Nicodemus, Jesus referred to the Spirit as wind blowing where it will.  Fire and wind appear together again in this passage. This coming of the Holy Spirit is the fulfillment of John the Baptist’s words that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire, again, fire representing the presence of God. Whereas the presence of the Holy Spirit was given in measured degrees in the First Testament among various prophets, as we have mentioned previously, this was the first time it was given in full measure to all believers. With the gift of the Holy Spirit, came the power for the Galilean fishermen to speak in languages they had never learned. As has often been pointed out, this event is a kind of reversal of the events of the Tower of Babel, where the language was the unifying factor and the people’s great pride in themselves was the central focus. There God confused the languages so they could not understand each other and the people scattered over the face of the earth, destroying their prideful, man-centered unity. Now, people from those scattered countries thousands of years later hear the good news in their many languages that God has delivered people from their pride and sin, the very thing that caused them to be scattered in the first place! Though there were multiple very diverse languages being spoken, now the unifying factor of the people was the gospel! The unity of the whole of Scripture is undeniable. (This is one of the reasons it is so important to study the First Testament as well as the New Testament.) The areas mentioned would be the modern day regions of the Kurds, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Arab regions south and east of Israel, Egypt, Libya, islands in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, and Rome. One of the central themes of the feast of Pentecost historically has been repentance. So it is no surprise that Peter’s sermon which follows this passage is on repentance, with the result being thousands of people became believers! And that same Holy Spirit continues to convert thousands of people in our day.

What a fitting way to conclude these past fifty days of time in God’s word. The ability to lead a Christian life in our own strength, determination, and self-reliance is not possible. Perfection is God’s standard, hence, we are doomed. God provided his Son to take our place on the perfection side of things as he accepted Jesus’ death in our condemned place as evidenced by the torn curtain. At Jesus’ departure he gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit to indwell all believers to enable them to have the power to live the life to which we’ve been called. Our job? Obedience to his voice to become more and more like our Savior.

Music: “Cum Sancto Spiritu”    Vivaldi     National Chamber Choir of Armenia

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdTQPpsP5W8 

Text:

With the Holy Spirit in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

“Holy Spirit You are Welcome Here”     Amplified Praise

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2q7hMfmVL3I

“Veni Sancte Spiritus”    from Lux Aeterna  Lauridsen  Schönhausen-Chor Krefeld, Germany

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpBwkgd_380

Text:

Veni, Sancte Spiritus,

Et emitte coelitus

Lucis tuae radium.

Veni, pater pauperum,

Veni, dator munerum,

Veni, lumen cordium.

Come, Holy Spirit,

Send forth from heaven

The ray of Thy light.

Come, father of the poor,

Come, giver of gifts,

Come, light of hearts.

Consolator optime,

Dulcis hospes animae,

Dulce refrigerium.

In labore requies,

In aestu temperies,

In fletu solatium.

Thou best of Consolers,

Sweet guest of the soul,

Sweet refreshment.

In labor, Thou art rest,

In heat, the tempering,

In grief, the consolation.

O lux beatissima,

Reple cordis intima

Tuorum fidelium.

Sine tuo numine,

Nihil est in homine,

Nihil est innoxium.

O Light most blessed,

Fill the inmost heart

Of all Thy faithful.

Without Thy grace,

There is nothing in us,

Nothing that is not harmful.

Lava quod est sordidum,

Riga quod est aridum,

Sana quod est saucium.

Flecte quod est rigidum,

Fove quod est frigidum,

Rege quod est devium.

Cleanse what is sordid,

Moisten what is arid,

Heal what is hurt.

Flex what is rigid,

Fire what is frigid,

Correct what goes astray.

Da tuis fidelibus

In te confitentibus,

Sacrum septenarium.

Da virtutis meritum,

Da salutis exitum,

Da perenne gaudium.

Grant to Thy faithful,

Those trusting in Thee,

Thy sacred seven-fold gifts.

Grant the reward of virtue,

Grant the deliverance of salvation,

Grant everlasting joy.

Prayer:

Almighty and most merciful Father, we have not used to your glory the gifts you bestowed in sending down the Holy Spirit upon your Church. We have not remained in the grace of the gospel. We have despised your holy word spoken to us by your prophets; we have disobeyed your commandments delivered to us by your apostles. We have not fulfilled the trust you committed to us, that we should call the ends of the earth to serve you, and gather for Christ your children scattered abroad. Hide your face, O Lord, from our sins, and blot out all our iniquities. Make our hearts clean, O God and renew a right spirit within us. Do not cast us away from your presence; take not your Holy Spirit from us. Make thy servants, O God, to be set on fire with thy Spirit, strengthened by thy power, illuminated by thy splendor, filed with thy grace, and to go forward by thine aid, and manfully having finished our course, may we be enabled happily to enter into thy kingdom. In the name of Jesus. Amen.    ―Prayers for Sunday Services, p.104

Friends,

Thank you so much for subscribing and sharing these moments with the Lord these past days. It has truly been a joy in preparing these devotionals. My hope is that you have gained in your love for the Lord and have been drawn closer to him and at the same time grown in your knowledge of the Scriptures. I also hope you’ve been introduced to some new music or known music in new settings. In a few months I’ll most likely be working on next year’s Advent series. You may also receive some emails with some things to think about between now and then, but at any rate begin looking for Advent devotionals the first Sunday in Advent, November 29, 2020.   

The Lord be with you,

  Dan

One more pieceof music. This is as beautiful music as you will hear.!

“Benedictus”   Karl Jenkins   (7:33 choir comes in at about 4 minutes in)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibwxzxER_pY

Text:  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!

Saturday, May 30

Reader: “One day as he saw the crowds gathering,”

Response: “Jesus began to teach them.”

Scripture: Matthew 5:1-12

One day as he saw the crowds gathering, Jesus went up on the mountainside and sat down. His disciples gathered around him, and he began to teach them.

[The Beatitudes]

 

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,

    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

God blesses those who mourn,

    for they will be comforted.

God blesses those who are humble,

    for they will inherit the whole earth.

God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, 

    for they will be satisfied 

God blesses those who are merciful,

    for they will be shown mercy.

God blesses those whose hearts are pure,

    for they will see God.

God blesses those who work for peace,

    for they will be called the children of God.

God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,

    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

“God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

Throughout the Bible, the word “righteous” or “righteousness” often appears. Some people view the word in a pejorative sense; he is such a righteous Joe! A few years back in the 1990’s, it also had another connotation in the phrase, “You are a righteous dude!” which meant you were really cool, with it, groovey, hip . . . oh what beautiful and thoughtful expressions of our language. We have such a profound way with words! In the passage you just read, Jesus has described righteousness in terms of a way to live, an attitude to embrace in terms of moral behavior, a mindset to adopt in terms of how we live and think in relation to others. Jesus’ half brother, James, works with this same idea in the New Testament book bearing his name. Paul works with righteousness in terms of God’s saving acts that put us in a right relationship to God. The righteousness here described by Jesus is the living out of the righteousness described by Paul. In summary, as described by Jesus: 1) The poor refers to the physically poor. They have recognized their wealth comes not from anything material, but in their trust in God making them very blessed. 2) The mourning can come from any number of sources. The comfort that results from God is not commanded by the mourner, but is the result of God’s promise to comfort. Again, this is a person living in relationship with God. 3) This quote of Jesus comes from the Old Testament. Israel was called upon to humble themselves and trust God in their desert journey and they would inherit the Promised Land. In our case, we are not to fight for ourselves but are to trust God and we will inherit the fulfillment of his promises to us. 4) The one hungering and thirsting for righteousness is that person is striving in their own life to obey God at every point. It can also refer to that individual whose desire it is to see justice for everyone and works toward that end wanting God’s will to be done. 5) When I show mercy toward another who owes me, it demonstrates that God is working in me. Showing mercy is a mark of godliness. 6) A transparent heart before God is essential if we are to see God and have open communication. A pure heart is one that has been “purified” by the blood of Christ.  God doesn’t work well with insincere, natural hearts since they are in a state of sin. 7) Those working for peace are to work for peace with God for justice, reconciliation, and righteousness in the will of God, and not as they themselves determine what is peace, justice, and righteousness. Ultimately, the one in the dispute is the one who must come to peace. 8) The “doing right” in the case of persecution, is being identified with Christ in spite of any circumstance that might arise. Persecution happened to Jesus, to his disciples, to his followers through the centuries, and most certainly does happen to you and me. It’s part of living counter-culturally as believers in Jesus Christ.

Music: “The Beatitudes”    Arvo Pärt     This is a little different, but beautiful!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=weo-mBK6U2o

Prayer:

O Thou who dwellest in our poor and shabby human life, lifting it now and then above the dominance of animal passion and greed, allowing it to shine with the borrowed lights of love and joy and peace, and making it a mirror of the beauties of a world unseen, grant that my part in the world’s life today may not be to obscure the splendour of Thy presence but rather to make it more plainly visible to the eyes of my fellow men.  Let me stand today―for whatever is pure and true and just and good: for the advancement of science and education and true learning: for the redemption of daily business from the blight of self-seeking: for the rights of the weak and the oppressed: for industrial cooperation and mutual help: for the conservation of the rich traditions of the past: for the recognition of new workings of Thy Spirit in the minds of the men of my own time: for the hope of yet more glorious days to come. Today, O Lord―let me put right before interest: let me put others before self: let me put the things of the spirit before the things of the body: let me put the attainment of nobel ends above the enjoyment of present pleasures: let me put principle above reputation: let me put Thee before all else. O Thou the reflection of whose transcendent glory did once appear unbroken in the face of Jesus Christ, give me today a heart like His―a brave heart, a true heart, a tender heart, a heart with great room in it, a heart fixed on Thyself: for his name’s sake. Amen.                    

                       ―from a Diary of Private Prayer, John Baillie, p.61

Friday, May 29

Reader: “Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord,”  

Response: “for our hope is in you alone.”

Scripture: Psalm 33:12-22

What joy for the nation whose God is the Lord,

    whose people he has chosen as his inheritance.

The Lord looks down from heaven

    and sees the whole human race.

From his throne he observes

    all who live on the earth. 

He made their hearts,

    so he understands everything they do.

 

The best-equipped army cannot save a king,

    nor is great strength enough to save a warrior.

 Don’t count on your warhorse to give you victory—

    for all its strength, it cannot save you.

 

But the Lord watches over those who fear him,

    those who rely on his unfailing love.

 He rescues them from death

    and keeps them alive in times of famine.

 

We put our hope in the Lord.

    He is our help and our shield.

 In him our hearts rejoice,

    for we trust in his holy name.

 

Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord,

    for our hope is in you alone.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

Here is an example of the importance of understanding the context of a passage of Scripture. The above portion is the last half of Psalm 33. The whole psalm is one of creation and might actually be a continuation of Psalm 32. At any rate, when we pick up the text for today’s reading, it is based on previous verses. We are talking about those people and nations who fear the Lord and are in awe of him. Fearing the Lord puts one or a nation in a place of being chosen and blessed by God. Think about this great truth, God made your heart and so he understands you completely, even better than you do!

Your heart is not like anyone else’s. How often have you said, “Now, why did I do that? What was I thinking?” If you ask God, he could answer both those questions! The heart in the Hebrew understanding, can mean the organ, the soul, the seat of emotion, the mind of knowledge, the inner part of something, the inner being of man, the seat of desire, the seat of conscience, or the seat of rebellion. Because man controls his heart, a heart born in sin, and because he does not fully understand it, and God does, man is in need of a new heart. God’s promise is “A new heart also will I give you, . . . and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek.36:26). David prays “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Psalm 51:10). Rest in God’s care of your heart. Lest we forget, neither great strength nor great power is sufficient to save when compared to God’s care. For the person who fears God, the loving eye of the Lord is continually on them to guard and to guide, then and now in these troubled days. By the time you read this, I’m hoping things have calmed down a bit in regards to the virus and all the second-guessing. Please, only God is sovereign! The psalm concludes with the ABSOLUTE truth! “Our hope is in you alone.” Amen.

Music: “In Christ Alone”   Virtual Choir   You CANNOT miss this!! WOW!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RY4CW5pte98 

Prayer:

Thank goodness, Lord, you know my heart! Please continue to mold and fashion it after your own loving heart. Thank you for making me and loving me and drawing me to yourself. I take great comfort in knowing you are caring after all your children. May our hearts be always tuned to you and bring us back when we stray. Thank you for coming after us when we get off course. At times drawing us back again is not pleasant from our standpoint, but oh, so necessary. We have certainly shown the world and ourselves how impotent and deceptive our hearts are and that, in fact, man cannot solve or control all things. Thank you for the reminder! Lord have mercy. We love you and thank you. May we stay in your path on our journey to your home. In the glorious name of Jesus, Amen.             ―Daniel Sharp

Thursday, May 28

Reader: “You will be my kingdom of priests,” 

Response: “my holy nation.”

Scripture: Exodus 9:1-9

Exactly two months after the Israelites left Egypt, they arrived in the wilderness of Sinai. After breaking camp at Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and set up camp there at the base of Mount Sinai.

Then Moses climbed the mountain to appear before God. The Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “Give these instructions to the family of Jacob; announce it to the descendants of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.”

So Moses returned from the mountain and called together the elders of the people and told them everything the Lord had commanded him. And all the people responded together, “We will do everything the Lord has commanded.” So Moses brought the people’s answer back to the Lord.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will come to you in a thick cloud, Moses, so the people themselves can hear me when I speak with you. Then they will always trust you.”

 

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

When God met Moses at the burning bush, he told him the day would come when he, Moses, would lead the Children of Israel to this mountain to worship.  (Ex.3:12) This promise was fulfilled. At this point in our reading, the people had not yet received the Law, the Ten Commandments, nor entered into their covenant with God. In calling Moses to climb Sinai for their meeting, God affirmed the people’s history by referring to them as the family of Jacob and as the descendents of Israel, (Remember, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel when they wrestled Gen. 32:28). God was reminding Moses that you all are my people. I began with a man, Abraham, developed a family, Jacob (Israel), and have built that family into the nation of Israel which you are to lead. God laid out his plan for Israel to Moses. God has chosen these people to be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation to bring blessing to the entire earth. Moses followed through and shared with the elders regarding the covenant with God and told them everything God had said. The people’s response was, “We will do everything the Lord has commanded,” and Moses fainted! After he was revived, Moses returned to the Lord with the people’s answer . . .and God fainted! (It didn’t happen quite that way!) God did come though, to Moses in a thick cloud. This is another of the many times in Scripture where God appears in a cloud indicating his presence. There is always purpose in everything God does both then and now. In this case, God wanted the people to hear him speaking out of the cloud with Moses in order to help the people always trust Moses. God was affirming Moses’ leadership from the start of the building of the nation of Israel. There would be numerous times upcoming that the people would rebel against Moses’ authority. Have you noticed how often the word “obedience” enters into the text of the Scriptures when interaction with God is involved? Since the Fall, obedience and submission to the Lord have been a human problem, and a problem for you and for me. Time in the Scriptures is where we hear the voice of God, ironically to get us out of the fog of self.

Music: “May the Mind of Christ My Savior”     Jake Armerding

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXUOuzJo1bE 

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, how many times have I said to you, “I will do everything you have said” only to fail with the words barely off my lips. My will is fickle, my intentions too often mixed, my heart too changeable. I confess I find it too easy to rationalize in doing what I want. Sometimes, like the Israelites, I get it right and follow you. But grant Lord, that my time with you each day, as you speak from the Scriptures, would increasingly shine through the cloud and burn off the fog of self that is all too familiar in order that I might see your glory and learn to fear you in awe and wonder and obedience. This I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.  ―Daniel Sharp

Wednesday, May 27

Reader: “Anyone who believes in God’s Son” 

Response: “has eternal life.”

Scripture: John 3:31-36

“He has come from above and is greater than anyone else. We are of the earth, and we speak of earthly things, but he has come from heaven and is greater than anyone else. He testifies about what he has seen and heard, but how few believe what he tells them! Anyone who accepts his testimony can affirm that God is true. For he is sent by God. He speaks God’s words, for God gives him the Spirit without limit. The Father loves his Son and has put everything into his hands. And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

Imagine a man coming from another world, totally unlike earth. He looks completely human and acts totally normal except for some unusual powers that pop up every now and then. He talks about things and places he has been that are utterly fantastic, almost unbelievable. He tells us that God sent him and that he is on a mission to fulfill God’s plan. He even had an advance man!  We have institutions for people like that. Yet, such was the situation for the Jews and those living in the time of Christ. The people in our world, the ones we interact with at work and in our neighborhoods, face the same question as did the Jews when Jesus lived among them. We are asking the world to believe that a couple thousand years ago, a man, Jesus, who claimed to be God in the flesh, came from another world, heaven, as a superhuman being on a mission from God. We are definite earthlings! We talk about things on earth, work, family, money, concerts, sports, politics, health, etc. Jesus talked about those things too, but from a heavenly, eternal perspective. From his perspective: Who is it that we ultimately work for? How do we love our family? How should we value money? How do we use the time we’ve been given? What should be our attitude about those who govern us? What is good health? What is spiritual health? What is our purpose in life? The problem then and now is that most people reject his message. 

There is another uniqueness here for the Jews. In the First Testament, rabbis believed that the prophets received the Spirit in differing measures. (e.g.Elisha asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit.) Here, John writes that Jesus was given the Spirit without measure, no limits. John makes clear in chapter one in the first verse that Jesus is fully God, which means he has the Spirit in full as he dwells in the Godhead. At Pentecost Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to indwell all believers, who likewise receive the Spirit. The question is not how much of the Holy Spirit one has, but rather whether or not one is obedient to the prompting of the Spirit. Believing in Jesus brings eternal life. And with believing comes obedience to the Son. Failure to believe in Jesus means that person continues to live in a state of separation from God, and remains in a position of condemnation. The God-man from another world, Jesus, has brought life, hope, forgiveness, reconciliation to God, and everlasting life to all who will repent and believe. Who could reject such love? 

Music: “From Heaven to Earth I Come”   Bach

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zpy-GcICccE 

Prayer:

Bring us, O Lord God, at the last awakening into the house and gate of heaven, to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise or silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but an equal possession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity, in the habitations of thy majesty and thy glory, world without end. Amen.    

     ―John Donne, 1571-1631, from Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.512

Tuesday, May 26

Reader: “Continue to show deep love for each other,”

Response: “for love covers a multitude of sins.”

Scripture: I Peter 4:7-11

The end of the world is coming soon. Therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers. Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay.

God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

“The end of the world is coming soon.” Yikes! Those are ominous words. In reading the letters of Peter and Paul in particular, there was a strong feeling that Jesus would be returning shortly, certainly within their lifetimes. Through the centuries there have been numerous times when it seemed the end seemed imminent. There is no shortage of people in our day and age who likewise think the end of the world and the return of Christ is very near, perhaps within our lifetime. In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus warned people what to watch for in terms of signs, but made very clear only the Father knew when the Second Coming would be. There have been any number of books written about how we are to live in the last days. God gives us some very practical direction through Peter’s epistle. We are to be earnest, serious, clear-minded, watchful, and disciplined in our prayers. We are to be a praying people. Are you disciplined in your prayer life? A second instruction until the return of Christ, is the demonstration of loving each other.

Loving someone earnestly from the heart surely makes forgiving the offender much easier. The more mature we are in loving people, the less easily we are offended. Hospitality is the mark of the Holy Spirit and all of us are to live that way. God is reminding, as you read this (!), that he has given you a gift to be used in serving other people. Whether it is in speaking or helping others, do it with energy and joy! What happens when you use what God has given you is that God gets glory through Jesus.

Peter adds a final doxology: All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen. We have simple instructions: pray, be hospitable, love, use what God has given you. Did you notice, Peter did not say, dwell on the last days or the end times, but be busy doing God’s work? 

Music: “Down to the River to Pray”    Bethel College Choir  from a grain bin! Don’t miss it!      The point is to pray until Jesus returns!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9rjix44QzFQ

Prayer:

Almighty God, you have given us the sure promise that our Lord Jesus will return to judge the earth: make us ready, we pray for his royal coming, that we may consider daily the quality of our service and so be found faithful servants waiting and watching for our Master’s return. Make us bold in our witness and grant in our mercy that many may be turned to righteousness before he comes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.                                 

                                 ―from Prayers for Sunday Services, p.67

Monday, May 25

Reader: “Since Christ suffered physical pain,” 

Response: “you must arm yourselves with the same attitude he had.”

Scripture: I Peter 4:1-6

So then, since Christ suffered physical pain, you must arm yourselves with the same attitude he had, and be ready to suffer, too. For if you have suffered physically for Christ, you have finished with sin. You won’t spend the rest of your lives chasing your own desires, but you will be anxious to do the will of God. You have had enough in the past of the evil things that godless people enjoy—their immorality and lust, their feasting and drunkenness and wild parties, and their terrible worship of idols.

Of course, your former friends are surprised when you no longer plunge into the flood of wild and destructive things they do. So they slander you. But remember that they will have to face God, who stands ready to judge everyone, both the living and the dead. That is why the Good News was preached to those who are now dead—so although they were destined to die like all people, they now live forever with God in the Spirit.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

Peter wrote this letter around 60 AD, most likely from Rome. Hostile persecution against Christians was rising. Peter’s letter is also true about the world in which we live. Though in the United States the level is not yet to the intensity of Nero’s persecutions, there are very hostile attacks on Christians in other parts of the world to be sure. There are places where it is life-threatening to declare one’s Christian faith. Peter assured his readers that suffering was normal for the life of a believer and that we should expect such, since Christ also suffered physically. While suffering can embitter and harden the heart, it is one of the primary ways of purifying the soul. How so? The life of a Christian is counter-cultural; we are swimming against the current. That kind of life is irritating and convicting to those going with the flow. For one thing, it proves to them that one doesn’t have to embrace the popular trend or practice.  A Christian way of living removes a convenient excuse, “Well, everybody is doing it.” In a culture of people with darkened minds, the Christian life makes little sense to them. Another “benefit” to the suffering soul, is that when you suffer for or from something, my guess is that you talk with the Lord much more frequently than you do when things are going smoothly. I’m always amazed that in times of great stress, like this COVID-19 problem, people who normally are down on Christians, talk about keeping “those who are suffering in our thoughts and prayers,” especially when such words come from the media! When things get bad, we must talk to God! On the nobler side of things, suffering can bring us into closer fellowship with Christ, since he also suffered. Our response to our own suffering can be a powerful reflection of Christ living in us and bring glory to God. Observing a person of faith enduring suffering with grace, humility, and love is a powerful, disarming and inspiring witness to the grace of God. Peter writes that the day is coming when God will judge everyone with reward and punishment. Pain and suffering do not last forever. Jesus made sure of that. While we can do nothing in regard to our suffering to make it go away immediately, Christ chose to suffer on our behalf and he could have avoided his suffering yet did not out of love for his brothers and sisters and to identify with humanity to the uttermost. Hebrews reminds us that “Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.” Heb.2:18. One of the powerful truths of the Incarnation is that Jesus was fully human. Our Savior is not distant from anything you or I go through. Earlier in this letter Peter wrote, “Be ye holy, for I am holy.” (1:16) It would appear that suffering is one of the primary paths to holiness. The end of it all is glorious! 

Music: “It is Well with My Soul”   Wartburg College Choir

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tyPEohF6qq8 

Prayer:

You are love, and you see all the suffering, injustice, and misery, which reign in this world. Have pity, we implore you, on the work of your hands. Look mercifully on the poor, the oppressed, and all who are heavy laden with error, labour and sorrow. Fill our hearts with deep compassion for those who suffer, and hasten the coming of your kingdom of justice and truth.     ―Eugene Bersier, 1831-1889, from Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.80

Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 24

Reader: “And this is the way to have eternal life—”

Response: “to know you, the only true God.”

Scripture: John 17:1-11

After saying all these things, Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son so he can give glory back to you. For you have given him authority over everyone. He gives eternal life to each one you have given him. And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth. I brought glory to you here on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. Now, Father, bring me into the glory we shared before the world began.

“I have revealed you to the ones you gave me from this world. They were always yours. You gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything I have is a gift from you, for I have passed on to them the message you gave me. They accepted it and know that I came from you, and they believe you sent me.

“My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you. All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory. Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, you have given me your name; now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

We often read of Jesus going away alone to pray to his Father. Like me, I’m guessing you might wonder what he prayed for and how he prayed. John seventeen gives us some insight. This is the longest of Jesus’ recorded prayers, also known as his “high priestly prayer.” This chapter is the conclusion of his farewell address as chapter eighteen moves the Easter story ahead. There are several different things to note. As we look at the text, it begins with Jesus looking up to heaven, a traditional Jewish posture for prayer. It is likely his hands were lifted to heaven as well. In the majority of his prayer, Jesus is addressing his own concerns with the Father. A prayer like this was normally said aloud so his followers could hear what he was praying. While Jesus’ addressing God as Father was usual for him, such an address of God would be unusual in Judaism, so you see new insight created for the disciples in their request of Jesus to teach them how to pray when Jesus prayed “Our Father, . . .”  On a different note, when Jesus said, “The hour has come. . .”, it reflected his understanding that the betrayal, arrest, torture, death, and resurrection was underway. For Jesus, his realization of the imminent coming sacrifice must have been a powerful moment, never before done, something that had been unfolding in God’s plan since the Fall of man in the Garden, and now was coming to completion, never ever to be repeated in time. These next hours were monumental for all of creation. Jesus had come from heaven, sharing the glory of God with the Father from before the creation of the world, and was now returning to heaven with his earthly mission accomplished! I’ve often wondered how Jesus processed his mission over his thirty-three years, knowing the end was going to be awful. What immediately hits me as I typed that last sentence was his love for his people. He looked through the anguish to the other side of the cross, the joy of “bringing many sons and daughters to glory.” A few minutes later they all left for the Garden of Gethsemane. Now a word concerning the Trinity, “Jesus’ oneness with the Father means that if the Son is glorified, the Father will also be glorified.” (NLT notes, p.1806) The fact that the Father gave the Son authority further affirms the unity of the Godhead as only God can give eternal life. Jesus uses the phrase “to know you” in reference to God. Again, “to know” means not only experiencing one another, but intimacy of the relationship. Loving and obedience are unbreakably connected to each other. Jesus prayed specifically for his children, not for the world, which might surprise us. Do not doubt that his prayers for you are specific. Because he is God, he knows everything, remembers everything―except sins repented of, and knows the depths of your heart. He prays, “Make them holy by your truth, teach them your word, which is truth.” Friends, we have a Savior who is very much alive and intercedes for you every moment of your life. What a glorious God we have and thank you to John for recording this prayer of Jesus and for the insights gained in our own prayer life as a result.

Music: “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” Fernando Ortega 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MdcqhSAXMgE 

Prayer:

O Lord Jesus Christ, Thou Word and Revelation of the Eternal Father, come, we pray Thee, take possession of our hearts, and reign where Thou hast right to reign. So fill our minds with the thought and our imaginations with the picture of Thy love, that there may be in us no room for any desire that is discordant with Thy holy will. Cleanse us, we pray Thee from all that may make us deaf to Thy call or slow to obey it, Who, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, art one God, blessed for ever. Amen.      

                 ―WIlliam Temple, 1881-1944, from The Oxford Book of Prayer, p.55

Saturday, May 23

Reader: “Who are you?” they demanded.”

Response: “Jesus replied, “The one I have always claimed to be.”

Scripture: John 8:21-30

Later Jesus said to them again, “I am going away. You will search for me but will die in your sin. You cannot come where I am going.”

The people asked, “Is he planning to commit suicide? What does he mean, ‘You cannot come where I am going’?”

Jesus continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You belong to this world; I do not. That is why I said that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am who I claim to be, you will die in your sins.”

“Who are you?” they demanded.

Jesus replied, “The one I have always claimed to be. I have much to say about you and much to condemn, but I won’t. For I say only what I have heard from the one who sent me, and he is completely truthful.” But they still didn’t understand that he was talking about his Father.

So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man on the cross, then you will understand that I am he. I do nothing on my own but say only what the Father taught me. And the one who sent me is with me—he has not deserted me. For I always do what pleases him.” Then many who heard him say these things believed in him.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

The context of this passage has to do with one of the major Jewish pilgrimage feasts, Sukkot, of the Feast of Tabernacles. Because of the nature of the feast, Jerusalem was packed with Jews from near and far. As we mentioned several days ago, one of the questions each of the first chapters of John seeks to answer is “Who is Jesus?” Previously at this festival, he had told the gathered Jews that he was the light of the world. In this passage he is warning of the danger of unbelief and permanent separation from God. There are two levels of thinking unfolding before us. Jesus is talking about heaven. The people have not come close to realizing he is from heaven. They believe he is just another man, albeit one who is a little “off.” Jesus has said some pretty amazing things in their hearing so my guess some of them think he is a mental case, so their suicide question makes sense. His words that follow would be all the more troublesome if you believed he was just a man, especially when he says, “You are from below, I am from above. You belong to this world, I do not.” 

When I was in grad school, I auditioned singers for a choir I was directing. A young man came in to audition and on the form filled in his name as Jesus Christ.  We talked and he proceeded to tell me he would be in the choir because he was Jesus. We talked some more and I eventually assured him he was not Jesus Christ. With a quizzical look he asked me, “Then who am I?” We unsuccessfully tried to get him some help. The Jews listening to Jesus were viewing Jesus in the same way I viewed this young auditioner. But Jesus gives them some concrete hints. On another occasion, he had said, “I AM the light of the world.” Here he says,”I AM who I claim to be.”  Every Jew knew the I AM who spoke to Moses on Mt. Sinai was God. Here, the phrase sailed right over their heads. And we get the question again, “Who are you Jesus?” In this passage we see Jesus’ exercise of restraint. “I have much to say about you and much to condemn, but I won’t.”  I have to admire his determination to say only what the Father told him. Do you and I live that way or do we “unload” on people? We also have another instance of Jesus referring to himself as the Son of Man, a messianic phrase the people would have picked up, and tying it to the I AM. In another identification clarifier, Jesus  refers to his relationship to his Father. Some of the crowd were able to see the light and believed in who he was. In regard to Jesus, the question from the people, “Who are you?” is as relevant today as it was then. The challenge to any unbeliever is, “Can you change your mind as to who you think Jesus is?” In talking with people who have yet to believe, it seems to me that is the most important question. Keep praying for those who have yet to discover the Son of Man, the Son of God, the Savior of the world.

Music: “We Come, O Christ, to You”     Grace Community Church

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ScQfSjzbsY&t=119s 

Prayer:

Lord Jesus my Savior, in some ways I’m like the Jewish people I just read about and in other ways I’m not. Unlike them, I know you are the Son of God, God come to earth in human flesh. I believe in you completely. But in another way I can ask the same question “Who are you?” Lord, I am susceptible to presuming I know you to the depths. I can be too familiar and simply treat you as another human being, not as the Son of God, a member of the Trinity, the one through whom the universe was created. Lord forgive me for the time I trampled around on holy ground and did not hear your voice to take off my shoes. It is a wondrous thing to know you love and care for your children. May I learn more and more in the days that lie ahead what it is and means to know you and to have the mind of Christ. I bow before you in embarrassment and humility as my Lord and Redeemer. I love you Lord. Forgive my foolish ways and dullness of spirit. Help me to find more and more each day who you are, my glorious Savior of the world. In your wonderful name, the great I AM. Amen.          ―Daniel Sharp

Friday, May 22

Reader: “My father! My father! I see the chariots”

Response: “and charioteers of Israel!”

Scripture: II Kings 2:1-12

When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were traveling from Gilgal. And Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to Bethel.”

But Elisha replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you!” So they went down together to Bethel.

The group of prophets from Bethel came to Elisha and asked him, “Did you know that the Lord is going to take your master away from you today?”

“Of course I know,” Elisha answered. “But be quiet about it.”

Then Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to Jericho.”

But Elisha replied again, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you.” So they went on together to Jericho.

Then the group of prophets from Jericho came to Elisha and asked him, “Did you know that the Lord is going to take your master away from you today?”

“Of course I know,” Elisha answered. “But be quiet about it.”

Then Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to the Jordan River.”

But again Elisha replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you.” So they went on together.

Fifty men from the group of prophets also went and watched from a distance as Elijah and Elisha stopped beside the Jordan River. Then Elijah folded his cloak together and struck the water with it. The river divided, and the two of them went across on dry ground!

When they came to the other side, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I can do for you before I am taken away.”

And Elisha replied, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit and become your successor.”

“You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah replied. “If you see me when I am taken from you, then you will get your request. But if not, then you won’t.”

As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a chariot of fire appeared, drawn by horses of fire. It drove between the two men, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha saw it and cried out, “My father! My father! I see the chariots and charioteers of Israel!” And as they disappeared from sight, Elisha tore his clothes in distress.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

Yesterday we commented on the ascension of Jesus. As you recall, there were a couple of ascensions in the First Testament, that of Enoch, about whom we know very little (Gen. 5:24) other than it says he “walked in close fellowship with God. Then one day he disappeared, because God took him.” The second ascension you just read about, the departure of Elijah from this earth. His name comes from El “God”  and Yah “YHWH” meaning “my God is YHWH.” Think of all the names in the Bible that have “el” in the name: Eli, Gabriel, Daniel, Joel, Ezekiel, Samuel, Elisha, even Eliphelet (!) to name a few. Why these two men did not experience death, I do not know. What we do know is that both were very tuned to God’s voice and walked closely with him. Elijah apparently knew that he was about to depart this world. In preparation for his “ascension,” God told him to go from Gilgal to Bethel (meaning “house of God”). Gilgal speaks of faith and trust in God rather than in this fallen world. It was at Gilgal that Joshua and all his men were circumcised upon entering Canaan, cutting themselves off from this world as it were in renewing and obeying their covenant with God. Gilgal means “rolling.” God rolled away Israel’s reproach in Egypt. Elijah leaves the place of rolling to enter Bethel, the heavenly realm. From there they traveled to Jericho, the first city conquered when the Israelites entered the Promised Land, then on to the Jordan River, crossing it by the same means as the Israelites entered Canaan. Crossing the Jordan has always been symbolic of death, that of leaving this world for heaven. It is also symbolic of baptism. It is somewhat ironic that Elijah is going the opposite way. Like the Israelites crossing the river, he parts it and crosses on dry land, he’s just going the other way! He’s heading east which is symbolic of the resurrection. (This same Elijah appears some 800 years later at the Transfiguration of Jesus to talk with him and Moses about Jesus’ own “crossing the Jordan,” his departure from this world. That would have been a fascinating conversation to listen in on, Moses, who died with no one near to be buried by God in an unmarked grave, and Elijah, who skipped the death thing all together and went to heaven in a chariot of fire [God’s presence]). As the time drew near for Elijah’s departure, Elisha asked his mentor for a double portion of his spirit and to also become his successor. It was granted as the Bible records exactly twice as many miracles performed by Elisha as related to Elijah, including some of the same ones.  So, once again where does all of this fit into your life this 22nd day of May in the year 2020? What do we glean? First, there is most certainly a very conscious life that continues after we depart this world. Second, walking closely with the Lord is vital. Third, when we leave this earthly life, we have nothing to fear. Fourth, God alone has the keys to your life and death. Fifth, in walking closely with the Lord, you couldn’t be in a better place.

Music:  “Then Did Elijah Break Forth”   from “Elijah” Mendelssohn  New York Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus        

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXkaxTfUY40 

In the oratorio, this is the point where Elijah dramatically ascends to heaven in a fiery chariot! Note the “horse gallop” in the rhythm of the orchestra.

Text:

Then did Elijah the prophet break forth like a fire; his words appeared like burning torches. Mighty kings by him were overthrown. He stood on the mount of Sinai and heard the judgments of the future, and in Horeb its vengeance. And when the Lord would take him away to heaven, lo! There came a fiery chariot with fiery horses, and he went by a whirlwind to heaven.

Prayer:

Who can tell what a day may bring forth? Cause me therefore, gracious God, to live every day as if it were to be my last, for I know not but that it may be such. Cause me to live now as I shall wish I had done when I come to die. O grant that I may not die with any guilt on my conscience, or any known sin unrepented of, but that I may be found in Christ, who is my only Savior and Redeemer.  

      ―Thomas à Kempis, 1380-1471, from Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p. 37

Ascension Day, Thursday, May 21

Reader: “But you will receive power”

Response: “when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.”

Scripture: Acts 1:1-12

In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven after giving his chosen apostles further instructions through the Holy Spirit. During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God.

Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”

He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”

Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, a distance of half a mile.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

The significance of Ascension Day is largely lost in the practice of the Christian faith. Though recognized in most liturgical churches, is seldom acknowledged in most non-liturgical churches, yet it is an important part of the whole gospel story. Practically speaking, if there had been no ascension, Jesus would still be walking around on earth somewhere with his mission not yet complete. The Holy Spirit would not have come upon all believers,(no Pentecost), and Jesus would not be at the right hand of God interceding on our behalf. The enthronement of Christ would still be in the future. He would not be preparing a place for us as mentioned in the fourteenth chapter of John’s gospel. The Ascension of Christ, forty days after the resurrection, is a further step in God’s overall detailed plan to bring redemption to the whole created order. The number forty, occurring often in Scripture, is a number indicating fullment or completion. Note that Jesus’ public ministry began by being led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness for forty days to be tempted by the devil. Following the resurrection and the defeat of the devil, he remained on earth forty days appearing at various times to different groups of people. At the end of the forty days, his earthly mission completed, he returned to heaven with the promise of sending the Holy Spirit to take his place as a presence among his people. Rather than believers being limited by the physical presence of Jesus being in one place at one time, the Spirit would indwell all believers everywhere. John’s baptism began Jesus’ public ministry. Now, the baptism of the Holy Spirit began the disciples’ public ministry.You would think God had this all planned out! 

It is also interesting that, even after the resurrection, the disciples were still expecting Jesus to set up the earthly kingdom of God (Israel) in which he would rule as King. That was their perception of the Kingdom of God. Rather, God’s plan was that Israel and the whole world would be restored and engrafted into God’s Kingdom of heaven. The ascension and Christ’s return to earth at some point in the future was the last thing they were expecting! As far as we’re concerned, in the meantime we are to be telling people everywhere about Jesus and the great news of the gospel. Once again we see two angelic witnesses affirming the truth of what Jesus said and encouraging the disciples to get moving about the Father’s work. (Notice also the appearance of a cloud indicating the presence of God as Jesus is enveloped into the cloud. It may also be worth saying that Jesus did not go to someplace else in the universe as though heaven were a physical place in a far off galaxy. He entered into heaven, into another dimension from the world in which we live.) 

Music: “Alleluia, Sing to Jesus”  First Plymouth Church, Lincoln, NE  arr. Robert Hobby

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rI-nTy0iHmU&list=RDrI-nTy0iHmU&start_radio=1&t=0

Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, ascended and hidden from our sight, yet really present to our faith, we acknowledge you to be Savior of the world and King of the new creation. Above our weakness and despair, above our strife and disunity, above our sin and rebellion, above the impersonal forces which threaten to crush us, you rule. Your love reigns supreme and can bring hope and peace and pardon and freedom. In our need of these gifts, we look to you. Lord Jesus Christ, alive forever, lifted high over all, unlimited by time or space, universal king, we worship and adore you. We pray this prayer in your own glorious name, Jesus the King. Amen.     ―from Prayers for Sunday Services, p.100

Wednesday, May 20

Reader: “The Lord your God will personally go ahead of you.” 

Response: “He will neither fail you nor abandon you.”

Scripture: Deuteronomy 31:1-13

When Moses had finished giving these instructions to all the people of Israel, he said, “I am now 120 years old, and I am no longer able to lead you. The Lord has told me, ‘You will not cross the Jordan River.’But the Lord your God himself will cross over ahead of you. He will destroy the nations living there, and you will take possession of their land. Joshua will lead you across the river, just as the Lord promised. “The Lord will destroy the nations living in the land, just as he destroyed Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites. The Lord will hand over to you the people who live there, and you must deal with them as I have commanded you. So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.”

Then Moses called for Joshua, and as all Israel watched, he said to him, “Be strong and courageous! For you will lead these people into the land that the Lord swore to their ancestors he would give them. You are the one who will divide it among them as their grants of land. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.”

So Moses wrote this entire body of instruction in a book and gave it to the priests, who carried the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant, and to the elders of Israel. Then Moses gave them this command: “At the end of every seventh year, the Year of Release, during the Festival of Shelters, you must read this Book of Instruction to all the people of Israel when they assemble before the Lord your God at the place he chooses. Call them all together—men, women, children, and the foreigners living in your towns—so they may hear this Book of Instruction and learn to fear the Lord your God and carefully obey all the terms of these instructions. Do this so that your children who have not known these instructions will hear them and will learn to fear the Lord your God. Do this as long as you live in the land you are crossing the Jordan to occupy.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

Speeches by those who are about to die can be very interesting and significant. Such is the case in today’s reading. Moses is in that place. The phrase “When Moses had finished giving these instructions . . .” refers to the entire book of Deuteronomy. There is much symbolism and type in this section. Moses represents the Law. The Law will not bring salvation. It points out that we cannot keep it. Though known as the Lawgiver, he could not keep it, and symbolically and in reality was prevented from entering the Promised Land (heaven). The one who did lead the people across the Jordan River  (crossing over from this life to eternal life in heaven) was Joshua. (“Jesus” in Greek.) Moses’ words are meant to encourage and fortify the people when he is no longer present. Obedience to what God has commanded is central. A main point is that God will go before you and clear the way as Joshua leads you. There is an important principle here. Moses commanded them to read the law to every man, woman, and child every seven years, important because there were few copies available. We take the Scriptures for granted, there are copies everywhere. Such was not the case in the desert! There is a tremendous principle here that I fear we have largely lost and which also helps to explain the current world situation. In a covenant, both parties have a copy of the document. In the Ark of the Covenant were two copies of the Ten Commandments, one for the people and one for God to always remind the parties of the agreement. The covenant was to be read aloud publically. Moses states quite clearly why he is giving this commandment regarding the periodic reading of the law. “―so they may hear this Book of Instruction and learn to fear the Lord your God and carefully obey all the terms of these instructions.” Daniel Block points out in his book, For the Glory of God (p.180), “As Moses had emphasized repeatedly, the key to life is obedience, key to obedience is reverence and awe before YHWH, key to reverent awe is hearing the Torah.” All too often in worship these days, the only Scripture read, is the passage on which the minister is preaching. If you play Block’s sequence backwards, you can see why today there is little reverent awe of God, very selective obedience, and lives that are tangled, fashioned after their own “Torah,” their own law. It seems to be expressed in a very casual, light-hearted approach to worship, in language, in dress, in depth and quality of musical texts and tunes (or lack of!). In worship, seldom do we have a sense to take off our shoes, we are on holy ground. As he prepares to depart this world, Moses is giving his people and us strong instructions reminding them of God’s care and his going before them. If you have some more time, read Jesus’ farewell message to his disciples (John 13-16). There is a remarkable similarity to Moses’ farewell message! 

Music: “Deep River”  Mormon Tabernacle Choir        (We like the music, but the Mormon theology has some major problems―no belief in the Trinity to start with.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LiIURFm63Yk

Prayer:

O great and lofty God, Thou Father in the highest, who hast promised to dwell with them that are of a lowly spirit and fear Thy word; create now in us such lowly hearts, and give us a reverential awe of Thy commandments. O come, Thou Holy Spirit, and kindle our hearts with holy love; come, Thou Spirit of Strength, and arouse our souls to hunger and thirst after Thee, their true Guide, that they may be sustained by Thy all-powerful influence. Arise, O Spirit of Life, that through Thee we may begin to live; descend upon us and transform us into such human beings as the heart of God longs to see us, renewed into the image of Christ, and going on from glory to glory. O God, Thou Supreme Good, make Thyself known to us, and glorify Thyself in our inner being. Amen.    ―Gerhard Tersteegen, 1731, Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.148

Tuesday, May 19

Reader: “Oh, that they would always have hearts like this,” 

Response: “that they might fear me and obey all my commands!”

Scripture: Deuteronomy 5:22-33

“The Lord spoke these words to all of you assembled there at the foot of the mountain. He spoke with a loud voice from the heart of the fire, surrounded by clouds and deep darkness. This was all he said at that time, and he wrote his words on two stone tablets and gave them to me.

“But when you heard the voice from the heart of the darkness, while the mountain was blazing with fire, all your tribal leaders and elders came to me. They said, ‘Look, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice from the heart of the fire. Today we have seen that God can speak to us humans, and yet we live! But now, why should we risk death again? If the Lord our God speaks to us again, we will certainly die and be consumed by this awesome fire. Can any living thing hear the voice of the living God from the heart of the fire as we did and yet survive? Go yourself and listen to what the Lord our God says. Then come and tell us everything he tells you, and we will listen and obey.’

“The Lord heard the request you made to me. And he said, ‘I have heard what the people said to you, and they are right. Oh, that they would always have hearts like this, that they might fear me and obey all my commands! If they did, they and their descendants would prosper forever. Go and tell them, “Return to your tents.” But you stand here with me so I can give you all my commands, decrees, and regulations. You must teach them to the people so they can obey them in the land I am giving them as their possession.’”

So Moses told the people, “You must be careful to obey all the commands of the Lord your God, following his instructions in every detail. Stay on the path that the Lord your God has commanded you to follow. Then you will live long and prosperous lives in the land you are about to enter and occupy.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

As I write this Monday morning, yesterday was a different kind of Palm Sunday. We stuck some palm branches in the yard, worshiped with our church online, and watched “The Ten Commandments” from beginning to end last night. (They don’t make movies like that anymore!) What you just read was portrayed on the screen. Just before the Scripture for today, Moses had called the people together to tell them what he had experienced on the mountain and read for them the ten commandments given to him by God. Now, the passage for today. The “ten words,” as they are known in Hebrew, are the only words ever written directly by God’s own hand. If that doesn’t elevate their significance, I don’t know what would! God appeared in a cloud, the closest thing to a physical presence. It was something the people could see. (There are several other instances of God appearing in a cloud throughout the Scriptures―E.g.Wilderness Wanderings, Temple Dedication, Transfiguration, Ascension). We see here also a reference to God as fire―the burning bush, God viewed as a consuming fire, Heb.12:29. One of the most powerful truths in Scripture occurs here. . . “God can speak to humans, and yet they live!” Buddah is silent. Mohammed is silent. Allah is silent. The pantheon of all the Eastern gods are silent. It is only the God of the Bible who speaks to people at all times and in all places. God’s speaking on the mountain was terrifying to the Israelites. Having experienced the voice of God,  they were glad to be alive. What happened in hearing the voice of God that brought them to the conclusion that once was enough? They saw and heard God in a way that enabled them to get a glimpse of the God they were worshiping. The experience was so overwhelming that it brought an element of fear, awe, and reverence. They saw a trickle of God’s glory. Even the trickle was almost more than they could manage. God was showing himself that they might develop a holy fear and reverence leading to obedience and greater love. Then these beautiful words, “Oh, that they would always have hearts like this, that they might fear me and obey all my commands! If they did, they and their descendants would prosper forever.” Why can’t we do that? We are the Israelites! It would almost seem like God is getting the world’s attention. “People, think what you are doing. You are ignoring my ways, my Son, the life you have in me. Repent.” That is the story of the Scriptures and that is the story of our world. As happened with the Israelites so often, we too have lost our awe and fear of God as a people. Let us repent of all our ways that lead us away from our Lord and learn again to walk in his path, led by his Spirit.

Music: “Sanctus and Agnus Dei”      Vinnie Zarletti    Institute for Worship Studies

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VObanClX-_Y

Some of you know that I teach at the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies. This clip is from one of our worship services. The musicians are students. (iws.edu)

Prayer:

Our gracious Father in heaven, many of us have become so familiar with the faith, that we have lost our awe and fear of you. It never occurs to us to take off our shoes, frankly because we are not even aware we are on holy ground in our interaction with you. Thank you for your graciousness in not striking us down as you did Nadab and Abihu. Please forgive our arrogance and presumption in coming to you so casually and flippantly. Your words to us the “Ten Commandments” are life and health. Holy Spirit, help us, sharpen us, convict us, guide us, tenderize us, tune our ears to your voice, give to us the mind of Christ. We can’t function without you. Be the cloud that hovers over us in our walk through the desert of this world until we reach the Promised Land. This we pray through Jesus our Lord who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.                                     ―Daniel Sharp2020-

Monday, May 18

Reader: “The Lord is king!”

Response: “He is robed in majesty.”

Scripture: Psalm 93

The Lord is king! He is robed in majesty.

    Indeed, the Lord is robed in majesty 

       and armed with strength.

The world stands firm

    and cannot be shaken.

Your throne, O Lord, has stood from time immemorial.

    You yourself are from the everlasting past.

 

The floods have risen up, O Lord.

    The floods have roared like thunder;

    the floods have lifted their pounding waves.

But mightier than the violent raging of the seas,

    mightier than the breakers on the shore—

    the Lord above is mightier than these!

Your royal laws cannot be changed.

    Your reign, O Lord, is holy forever and ever.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

Where do you put a psalm like this in the present day world? How do we connect with it? You begin by looking at the psalms surrounding it. We discover psalms 93, 97, & 99 all begin with the same phrase. Psalm 96 & 98 begin identically and 95 is very similar. This tells me that this group of psalms function somewhat as a whole, each shedding a slightly different light on the establishing of God’s kingdom. In Psalm 93 the psalmist is describing a coming kingdom firmly under the guiding hand of the eternal God. As we listen to the daily news, the psalm can seem all the more remote from reality. Yet, what it is describing is eternal versus the 24/7 news cycle. Do you remember any news stories from last week? There is a strength and stability in God’s kingdom that is unlike anything we have ever experienced. There are no updates with changes in leadership, changes in laws, changes in “mission, vision, and values,” terms so popular in our world! The middle part of the psalm refers to disasters caused by water. Think of Noah’s flood, the parting of the Red Sea, Jonah’s excursion to sea, Jesus stilling the storm on the Sea of Galilee, and Paul’s shipwreck off the island of Malta. Then we have the raging of modern day “seas.” Various epidemics and natural disasters come to mind rather quickly. Perspective check: “The Lord is mightier than these!” The psalmist is helping us stay focused on what is true and brought our present day into the psalm. He closes with another great word of affirmation and calming certainty; God’s basics don’t change. The rule and reign of the Lord is holy, perfect, and eternal. In the midst of great uncertainty in our world, be it employment, the stock market, world unrest, relational stress, political unrest, or personal discouragement, the Lord’s rule is unflinching, eternal, perfect, and holy. Friends, we have nothing to worry about. God is in charge. He is surprised by nothing and has power over everything. 24/7 is irrelevant to God. He is not on a clock. He is not in time, he’s in eternity and master of all that is.

Music: “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past”  Grace Community Church

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yKP_XxCBDZY

Prayer:

Thou knowest, O Lord, the obstacles; Thou knowest I have not much strength in myself. Waves of strange waters roll over me, and the clouds hide the light. Take my hand, O Christ, but do Thou more than that. Give me power to triumph over these distresses and make them serve Thy high purpose. Let me face them honestly and fearlessly and change them, for Thine own sake. Amen.

                                                               ―Floyd Tomkins, The Quiet Corner, p.69

Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 17

Reader: “If you love me,”

Response: “obey my commandments.”

Scripture: John 14:15-21

“If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you. Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Since I live, you also will live. When I am raised to life again, you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

On the night before Jesus was crucified, he had the above conversation with his disciples. The pronoun “you” is plural in Greek, meaning this message of love and obedience is not addressed to individuals but to the whole community, to all of us. The act of obedience is the demonstration of love. Like the Jewish understanding of “hearing” which meant you followed with action (demonstrating that you “heard”), so in the same manner, our love for Jesus is measured by our obedience to what he said. Loving Christ and our obedience, personal and corporate, to what he has said, are inseparably intertwined. Obedience here is not simply keeping a set of rules, but rather a whole way of living, living as God has designed. Moving on. From the disciples’ perspective, they had travelled with Jesus for three years. He had taught them, loved them, taken care of them, and performed miracles in their presence. He had just told them he was about to leave this earth. While he had been Emmanuel, “God with us,” he would send another to be with them in his absence. Their new companion would be a replacement for Jesus, functioning in all the same ways Jesus did. This Paraclete is the Holy Spirit, who, like Jesus, always speaks the truth. Not surprisingly, the world rejects, both passively and with hostility, the word of truth. Some things never change. John’s description holds true to today. This same Holy Spirit indwells believers, as he is with us teaching, guiding, empowering, correcting, and convicting. Jesus’ use of the word “orphans” is touching to me. That word truly describes our situation as humans. Left to ourselves we have no spiritual father or mother and must fend for ourselves in a hostile world. I can sort of imagine how the disciples were feeling as it began to sink in that Jesus would be leaving this world shortly as he said this. John rounds out this brief discourse by looping back to the beginning thoughts about obedience as a reflection of loving God. And loving God results in God revealing himself to those who love. I’m wondering how strongly we feel a need for the Comforter? Have we developed such a self-reliance that we can fend for ourselves? Does God reveal himself very often to you? Look at the last sentence above again. Do we have a longing for the Comforter? Does the above discussion seem more like a theoretical discussion or reality where you are living? Some things to think about . . .

Music: “Blessings”   Laura Story       God does reveal himself, not always as we think.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQan9L3yXjc

Prayer:

Lord, I am blind and helpless, stupid and ignorant. 

Cause me to hear; 

cause me to know; 

teach me to do; 

lead me.                        

                 ―Henry Martin, 1781-1812, Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.65

Saturday, May 16

Reader: “I am leaving you with a gift—”

Response: “peace of mind and heart.”

Scripture: John 14:27-29

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. Remember what I told you: I am going away, but I will come back to you again. If you really loved me, you would be happy that I am going to the Father, who is greater than I am. I have told you these things before they happen so that when they do happen, you will believe.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

What beautiful words! Jesus’ leaving us with a gift, not something that can be worked for or purchased. We are reminded of Aaron’s benediction from the First Testament, “. . . the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” (Num.6:26) and Isaiah’s Messianic prophecy regarding the “Prince of Peace.” (Is.9:6) Paul refers to this same peace in his letter to the Philippians (4:7) with a peace that is beyond human’s ability to comprehend. In light of the stress, violence, and uncertainty which was about to come the disciples’ way, Jesus gives these words of assurance, and indeed, words of encouragement to anyone. This gift of “peace of mind and heart” has far greater ramifications than the immediate situation of the disciples, but one that extends to today’s troubled world. In moving to the middle part of this passage, there are a couple of observations I’d like to make. The first has to do with the disciples ability to grasp God’s bigger plan of redemption. Jesus’ whole purpose in coming to earth was to die for the sins of the world. That had to happen to make redemption possible. As awful as the immediate was, it was necessary for the greater plan of God to become a reality. The same can be said of us as of the disciples. It is often hard for us to get off our immediate concerns to look at or accept that God’s greater glory may lie ahead. The second observation has to do with the phrase “I am going to the Father who is greater than I am.” It is a phrase, taken out of context that has resulted in various heretical doctrines including Arians, Gnostics, and more recently, the Jehovah Witnesses. These doctrines have supposed that Jesus is less than the Father, minimizing and limiting his position in the Godhead. John makes abundantly clear multiple times Jesus was associated fully with God from before the beginning, “In the beginning the Word already existed.” (John 1:1). He was not a created god as the Witnesses would espouse. (They have their own “Greek” translators.) Moreover, Jesus was involved in creation itself. He has never not existed. There is something that is sometimes called the economy of God in which each member of the Trinity has a different function in the unity of the Godhead. Jesus was subservient to the Father in accomplishing his role while on earth. He did his Father’s will. There is no doubt about Jesus’ deity nor his understanding that he was God in the flesh. “Who else but God can forgive sins” was a charge from the Pharisees. The deity of Christ was the reason for killing Jesus. Finally, Jesus’ closing words in this passage are meant to reassure his disciples and us that God has things under control and that when the things God has said come to pass, we’ll not panic, but believe.

Music: “Credo” from Gospel Mass of Robert Ray     St. Olaf Choir

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glT-EiSsMOg

Prayer:

O God of peace, who hast taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength: by the might of Thy Spirit lift us, we pray Thee, to Thy presence, where we may be peaceful and still and know that Thou art God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.     ―from BCP

Friday, May 15

Reader: “Noah did everything . . .” 

Response: “as the Lord commanded him.”

Scripture: Genesis 7:1-24

When everything was ready, the Lord said to Noah, “Go into the boat with all your family, for among all the people of the earth, I can see that you alone are righteous. Take with you seven pairs—male and female—of each animal I have approved for eating and for sacrifice, and take one pair of each of the others. Also take seven pairs of every kind of bird. There must be a male and a female in each pair to ensure that all life will survive on the earth after the flood. Seven days from now I will make the rains pour down on the earth. And it will rain for forty days and forty nights, until I have wiped from the earth all the living things I have created.”

So Noah did everything as the Lord commanded him.

Noah was 600 years old when the flood covered the earth. He went on board the boat to escape the flood—he and his wife and his sons and their wives. With them were all the various kinds of animals—those approved for eating and for sacrifice and those that were not—along with all the birds and the small animals that scurry along the ground. They entered the boat in pairs, male and female, just as God had commanded Noah. After seven days, the waters of the flood came and covered the earth.

When Noah was 600 years old, on the seventeenth day of the second month, all the underground waters erupted from the earth, and the rain fell in mighty torrents from the sky. The rain continued to fall for forty days and forty nights.

That very day Noah had gone into the boat with his wife and his sons—Shem, Ham, and Japheth—and their wives. With them in the boat were pairs of every kind of animal—domestic and wild, large and small—along with birds of every kind. Two by two they came into the boat, representing every living thing that breathes. A male and female of each kind entered, just as God had commanded Noah. Then the Lord closed the door behind them.

For forty days the floodwaters grew deeper, covering the ground and lifting the boat high above the earth. As the waters rose higher and higher above the ground, the boat floated safely on the surface. Finally, the water covered even the highest mountains on the earth, rising more than twenty-two feet above the highest peaks. All the living things on earth died—birds, domestic animals, wild animals, small animals that scurry along the ground, and all the people. Everything that breathed and lived on dry land died. God wiped out every living thing on the earth—people, livestock, small animals that scurry along the ground, and the birds of the sky. All were destroyed. The only people who survived were Noah and those with him in the boat. And the floodwaters covered the earth for 150 days.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

As a child, we heard this exciting story in Sunday School. Once in a great while we might hear a sermon on it. But what is there to say of this account in regard to today’s world? Let’s look. The sentence before this passage says, “Noah did everything exactly as God had commanded him.” That’s a start. Obedience to God. Relevant to today? Yes. In the previous chapter, the Scriptures tell us that the Lord was sorry he ever made humans due to their determined wickedness. “It broke his heart.” (Gen.6:6) With the great Flood, God decided to wipe the earth clean of all living things he created. It would be sort of like painting your most perfect masterpiece then having mold set in and having to burn the canvas and start over. Every living thing above water in existence on the earth would be destroyed except for the living things on the inside of the ark. In effect, God undid his creation. All the coastlines were gone. The land/sea boundaries of the second and third day of creation were undone. In God’s words to Noah, he used the same language he used previously in creation regarding the animals. Noah, his family, and all the creatures were in the ark seven days and then the re-creation process started with wiping out the first creation. With the specific references to months and days, we authenticate the historical reality of the event for those who might doubt it really happened. The reason for the judgment of the Flood was the moral decadence of the human beings created in the image of God and their determined departure from that image. (Other “flood stories” have no moral component.) It is God who determined who was in and who was out. Noah, his family, and all the birds and animals were saved by God, due to Noah’s being viewed by God as righteous, a righteous based on Noah’s obedience. The living creations of God in the ark, are a picture of salvation. The Flood is their baptism. Peter brings this idea up regarding Noah and the Flood in his epistle (I Peter 3:19-21). While Peter is not specific in his meaning, water was instrumental in bringing salvation to those in the boat. The event is not unlike the Israelites passing through the waters of the Red Sea to safety while the unbelieving Egyptians found that same water bringing death. This small part of his creation was brought to safety as the boat floated on the water while those in rebellion against God were destroyed by the same water. Romans six uses somewhat of the same imagery in relation to water and baptism with the idea that we die and are buried with Christ in the waters of baptism and are raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father to a new life. With no rudder for Noah to steer the ark, it is clear that God is taking care of the inhabitants of the ark. The do over of creation had begun. When the Scriptures mention the creatures that died, they are interestingly listed in the same order as their sequence of creation: the birds, the animals, the creature that scurry along the ground, and all the people. There was even order as God undid his initial work. Now, how does all of this account fit into this morning, afternoon, evening, or whenever you read this? God cares greatly about his creation, all of it, even to the animals that scurry along the ground! Being made in his image, so should we. Second, I don’t want to be someone who breaks God’s heart and my obedience, or lack of it, has a lot to do with breaking God’s heart. Third, like Noah, can we hold fast to the truth in a world that mocks God? Can you imagine the ridicule heaped on Noah as he and his sons built the ark over the hundred years of construction? It was a different story as the mockers pounded on the door to get in. However, when God shuts the door, it’s shut. Fourth, While the door is open, let us be busy about his work. Ultimate death is a certainty for those who reject God’s offer in Jesus Christ. Can we point more people to the Ark that saves?

Music: “Baptized in Water”     The Orchard Enterprises

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6arW9XKmRHk

Prayer:

Make thyself manifest, O Lord, in this water and grant to the one who is baptized in it so to be transformed, that they may put off the old man, which is corrupted by deceitful lusts, and may put on the new man, which is formed fresh according to the image of the Creator. Grafted through baptism into the likeness of thy death, may they become a partaker also in thy resurrection. May they guard the gift of thy Holy Spirit, may they increase the measure of grace which has been entrusted to them, and so may they receive the prize which is God’s calling to life above, being numbered among the first born whose names are written in heaven. We pray this through Jesus Christ who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God world without end. Amen.   

             ―Baptismal prayer from Eastern Orthodox, Oxford Book of Prayer, p.215

Thursday, May 14

Reader: “If I had not confessed the sin in my heart,”   

Response: “the Lord would not have listened.”

Scripture: Psalm 66:8-20    (Genesis 6:5-22 additional reading)

Let the whole world bless our God                                                                            and loudly sing his praises.

Our lives are in his hands,

    and he keeps our feet from stumbling.

 

You have tested us, O God;

    you have purified us like silver. 

You captured us in your net

    and laid the burden of slavery on our backs.

 

Then you put a leader over us.

    We went through fire and flood,

    but you brought us to a place of great abundance.

 

Now I come to your Temple with burnt offerings

    to fulfill the vows I made to you—

yes, the sacred vows that I made

    when I was in deep trouble.

 

That is why I am sacrificing burnt offerings to you—

    the best of my rams as a pleasing aroma,

    and a sacrifice of bulls and male goats. Interlude

Come and listen, all you who fear God,

    and I will tell you what he did for me. 

For I cried out to him for help,

    praising him as I spoke.

If I had not confessed the sin in my heart,

    the Lord would not have listened. 

But God did listen!

    He paid attention to my prayer.

 

Praise God, who did not ignore my prayer

    or withdraw his unfailing love from me.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

You may or may not realize that in choosing the Scripture passages for each day, I am following, for the most part, the lectionary Year A. I have a choice of a Psalm, and Old Testament, or a New Testament passage. I pick one and write about it. The choices for today were pretty interesting in light of the news we hear every day. I’m writing this on April 2nd. COVID-19 is about the only news. As you have and are experiencing (most likely), this virus has affected everything, especially our reaction to it. In light of the way our society has been living in the United States and in the world in general, I have to wonder about God’s hand in all of this? As a society we are in love with: children’s sports schedules, watching sports of every kind―our weekend religion, music concerts, attending the theater, accumulating money, workaholics, divisive family schedules―how many families eat a meal together (?), worship taken for granted, isolation from neighbors―we don’t know the people we live next to, love travel and cruises, and we avoid, at all costs, thinking about our own death. In Daniel 12:4 he talks about people rushing here and there and rapidly gaining knowledge. It almost seems as if God said to the world, it’s time to repent of your ways. Time to stop and reflect. Unfortunately, I’m afraid at this point there has been little reflection or repentance. As the psalmist wrote concerning God, “Our lives are in his hands.” “You have tested us.” Is that what is occurring? “You caught us in your net.” It does seem like you, God, put the brakes on everything we hold dear. I wonder how many people have made promises to God regarding this trouble. The end of the psalm is addressed to those who fear God. There is the God element in all of this. If we miss that, we have missed the entire point! At the heart is repentance. “If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But God did listen!” Confessing our sin and the Lord listening to our prayers seem to be directly related, further evidence of what we said yesterday in regards to being honest in our relationship with God. I’m wondering if our society will ever get to this repentance part of the psalm. I’m afraid not, but we can pray. These are  some things to think about. Maybe sometimes it seems God doesn’t hear our prayers. It would appear confession might have something to do with it. Read the psalm again and pray as you read asking God to show you his thoughts. 

Music & Prayer combined today: “A Broken and Contrite Spirit”     Sons of Korah

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RnDuwbz5UI   Make this your prayer today.

Wednesday, May 13

Reader: “He will listen to the prayers of the destitute.”    

Response: “He will not reject their pleas.”

Scripture: Psalm 102:1-17

Lord, hear my prayer!

    Listen to my plea!

Don’t turn away from me

    in my time of distress.

Bend down to listen,

    and answer me quickly when I call to you.

For my days disappear like smoke,

    and my bones burn like red-hot coals.

My heart is sick, withered like grass,

    and I have lost my appetite.

Because of my groaning,

    I am reduced to skin and bones.

 

I am like an owl in the desert,

    like a little owl in a far-off wilderness.

I lie awake,

    lonely as a solitary bird on the roof.

 

My enemies taunt me day after day.

    They mock and curse me.

I eat ashes for food.

    My tears run down into my drink

 

Because of your anger and wrath.

    For you have picked me up and thrown me out.

 My life passes as swiftly as the evening shadows.

    I am withering away like grass.

 

But you, O Lord, will sit on your throne forever.

    Your fame will endure to every generation.

 You will arise and have mercy on Jerusalem—

    and now is the time to pity her,

    now is the time you promised to help.

 

For your people love every stone in her walls

    and cherish even the dust in her streets.

 Then the nations will tremble before the Lord.

    The kings of the earth will tremble before his glory.

 For the Lord will rebuild Jerusalem.

    He will appear in his glory.

 

He will listen to the prayers of the destitute.

    He will not reject their pleas.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

Throughout history there have been very difficult moments. The hymn in yesterday’s music was written at such a time. Though I’m writing this on April 1st, my guess is that the world may still be in a difficult time. I hope not. One of the beauties of the Scriptures is their full-throated embracing of reality, no sugar-coating faith. Today’s passage is known as one of the psalms of lament. Nothing is pretend in the psalmist’s confrontation with God. Unlike other religions, the God of the Bible welcomes genuine conversation with his children, even when they are angry at him or feel slighted. We never have to pretend all is well when praying to our Father. We need never fear being honest with God. Can you imagine? The psalmist tells God to “hurry up and answer when I call on you!” Any genuine, healthy relationship is always transparent. God expects such from  his children. Part of the fear in a time of distress is not knowing when it will end. In this lament, God’s anger and wrath is blamed for the present predicament. “God is mad at me and has abandoned me.” This time of uncertainty and sense of lostness is the very moment when faith receives a call. Then we have the powerful three letter word, “But.” The psalm turns the corner when faith answers the call. God will remember; he will act to restore. Where the psalm began with “Listen to my plea . . .”, this portion ends with “He will listen to the prayers of the destitute. He will not reject their pleas.” Let this psalm be an encouragement to transparency in your prayer life with God. Relationships at arms length don’t work in earthly life, nor do they work in your prayer life with God. Be honest with God. It’s a quality of godliness. God’s not big on pretending.

Music: “Whom Shall I Fear”  (The God of Angel Armies)    David Wesley

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=belPmfNDuko

Prayer:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.

I do not see the road ahead of me.

I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following

your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.

And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.

I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road 

though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.

I will not fear, for you are ever with me,

and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen

                             ―The Road Ahead – Thomas Merton

Tuesday, May 12

Reader: “You stubborn people!”

Response: “You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth.”

Scripture: Acts 7:44-56

“Our ancestors carried the Tabernacle with them through the wilderness. It was constructed according to the plan God had shown to Moses. Years later, when Joshua led our ancestors in battle against the nations that God drove out of this land, the Tabernacle was taken with them into their new territory. And it stayed there until the time of King David.

“David found favor with God and asked for the privilege of building a permanent Temple for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who actually built it. However, the Most High doesn’t live in temples made by human hands. As the prophet says,

‘Heaven is my throne,

    and the earth is my footstool.

Could you build me a temple as good as that?’

    asks the Lord.

‘Could you build me such a resting place?

    Didn’t my hands make both heaven and earth?’

“You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you! Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One—the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered. You deliberately disobeyed God’s law, even though you received it from the hands of angels.”

The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

Today we come to the climax of Stephen’s defense. He continued the history review from Moses and the Law on through the account of the Tabernacle in the wilderness to the building of the Temple under Solomon. (Remember the false charges against Stephen had to do with the Law of Moses and worship at the Temple.) At this point, Stephen delivered the truth that exploded the situation! He simply applied the truth of the case he had been building to the current situation.  He equated their repudiation of Christ with the Israelites rejection of Moses and the prophets. The Israelites’ killing of prophets and their killing of Jesus were equal acts of unbelief and rejection of the Holy Spirit. After all, Moses had prophesied of the coming of the Messiah. Like the Israelites 1400 years before them, they were not only rejecting Christ, they were also rejecting Moses’ prophecy! At this point, The Jewish leaders went catatonic. Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, gazed heavenward and saw the glory of God. In his expression, he used the phrase, “Son of Man,” standing at the right hand of God. Other than Jesus, this is the only time this apocalyptic title was used. The significance here lies in the truth that for the first time since the dawn of creation, the Messiah, the Son of God, was on the throne of the universe interceding on behalf of all people. The earthly mission of redemption was completed and functioning. Stephen saw that glorious sight as he was martyred. What do we see in this man? Graciousness, wisdom, unwavering conviction, courage, boldness, serenity, self-control, no, Holy Spirit control, knowledge, humility, compassion, and great faith. Let’s aim for those things today. 

Music: “Once to Every Man and Nation”    Fountainview Academy

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cSMqesZz3tU 

Once to ev’ry man and nation 

Comes the moment to decide, 

In the strife of truth and falsehood, 

For the good or evil side; 

Some great cause, some great decision, 

Off’ring each the bloom or blight, 

And the choice goes by forever 

‘Twixt that darkness and that light. 

By the light of burning martyrs, 

Christ, Thy bleeding feet we track, 

Toiling up new Calv’ries ever 

With the cross that turns not back; 

New occasions teach new duties, 

Ancient values test our youth; 

They must upward still and onward, 

Who would keep abreast of truth. 

Then to side with truth is noble, 

When we share her wretched crust, 

Ere her cause bring fame and profit, 

And ’tis prosperous to be just; 

Then it is the brave man chooses  

While the coward stands aside, 

Till the multitude make virtue 

Of the faith they had denied. 

Tho’ the cause of evil prosper, 

Yet the truth alone is strong; 

Tho’ her portion be the scaffold, 

And upon the throne be wrong; 

Yet that scaffold sways the future, 

And, behind the dim unknown, 

Standeth God within the shadow, 

Keeping watch above his own.        ―James Russell Lowell 1845, leading up to the Civil War

Prayer:

O Lord, Thy hands have formed us, and Thou hast sent us into this world, that we may walk in the way that leads to heaven and Thyself, and may find a lasting rest in Thee who art the Source and Center of our souls. Look in pity on us poor pilgrims in the narrow way; let us not go astray, but reach at last our true home where our Father dwells. Guide and govern us from day to day, and bestow on us food and strength for body and soul, that we may journey on in peace. Forgive us for having hitherto so often wavered or looked back and let us henceforward march straight on in the way of Thy laws, and may our last step be a safe and peaceful passage to the arms of Thy love, and the blessed fellowship of the saints in light. Hear us, O Lord, and glorify Thy name in us that we may glorify Thee for ever and ever. Amen.  

           ―Gerhard Tersteegen  1697-1769, from Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.100

Monday, May 11

Reader: “Moses said, ‘God will raise up for you a Prophet like me”

Response: “from among your own people.’ ”

Scripture: Acts 7:17-40

“As the time drew near when God would fulfill his promise to Abraham, the number of our people in Egypt greatly increased. But then a new king came to the throne of Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph. This king exploited our people and oppressed them, forcing parents to abandon their newborn babies so they would die.

“At that time Moses was born—a beautiful child in God’s eyes. His parents cared for him at home for three months. When they had to abandon him, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and raised him as her own son. Moses was taught all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was powerful in both speech and action.

“One day when Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his relatives, the people of Israel. He saw an Egyptian mistreating an Israelite. So Moses came to the man’s defense and avenged him, killing the Egyptian. Moses assumed his fellow Israelites would realize that God had sent him to rescue them, but they didn’t.

“The next day he visited them again and saw two men of Israel fighting. He tried to be a peacemaker. ‘Men,’ he said, ‘you are brothers. Why are you fighting each other?’

“But the man in the wrong pushed Moses aside. ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us?’ he asked. ‘Are you going to kill me as you killed that Egyptian yesterday?’ When Moses heard that, he fled the country and lived as a foreigner in the land of Midian. There his two sons were born.

“Forty years later, in the desert near Mount Sinai, an angel appeared to Moses in the flame of a burning bush. When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight. As he went to take a closer look, the voice of the Lord called out to him, ‘I am the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’ Moses shook with terror and did not dare to look.

“Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groans and have come down to rescue them. Now go, for I am sending you back to Egypt.’ 

“So God sent back the same man his people had previously rejected when they demanded, ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us?’ Through the angel who appeared to him in the burning bush, God sent Moses to be their ruler and savior. And by means of many wonders and miraculous signs, he led them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and through the wilderness for forty years.

“Moses himself told the people of Israel, ‘God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from among your own people.’ Moses was with our ancestors, the assembly of God’s people in the wilderness, when the angel spoke to him at Mount Sinai. And there Moses received life-giving words to pass on to us.

“But our ancestors refused to listen to Moses. They rejected him and wanted to return to Egypt. They told Aaron, ‘Make us some gods who can lead us, for we don’t know what has become of this Moses, who brought us out of Egypt.’”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

We pick up Stephen’s defense from last Friday’s passage (May 8th). His recitation of the history of the people of Israel continues. He began with Abraham and the God-given covenant of circumcision. He carried the story through the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and concluded this portion with the family of Jacob and his twelve sons in Egypt under the leadership of Joseph. Stephen then moved on to the next great pillar of Judaism, Moses. The giving of the Law to Moses was central to the nation of Israel. From the book of Deuteronomy, Stephen quoted Moses’ prophetic words regarding a coming Messiah. The Israelites had a history of rejecting the prophets, a history which did not end with the Old Testament, as Stephen pointed out. That Moses was a great prophet was accepted by all, yet the Pharisees knew full well how the congregation in the desert had rejected his leadership, wanting to return to Egypt. Stephen pointed out that God had disclosed himself outside of the Temple, revealing himself to a man, Abraham, to a family, to the patriarchs, to a nation, to the Israelites in the Exodus, in worship liturgy, and supremely in Jesus Christ. In using these examples, Stephen was also showing how God’s people were consistently slow to accept the words of the prophets and, in fact, often rejected their message, even killing some. The punchline in Stephen’s presentation before the Pharisees is coming tomorrow! Not only did the Israelites and their leadership, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, have a pattern of rejecting God, this is the same pattern of our world, our societies, and our cultures. We want to control. We want power. We want to be our own gods. It is possible God is humbling people and nations through the world-wide crisis we are facing. The question is, will people and nations humble themselves before God and seek forgiveness? That remains to be seen.

Music: “Agnus Dei”    Voces8   There are only 8 people singing, no overdubs, one on a part!    (Samuel Barber)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SuBQZFOnk7s 

Translation:

Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world

Have mercy on us.

Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world

Have mercy on us.

Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world

Grant us peace.

Prayer:

Lord God, we are an arrogant and a proud people. Though made in your image, we have sought to reshape our image after our own fashion. There is an unrepentant part of us that always seeks rebellion against you and your word. We have rejected you with pride and bear the consequences of our foolishness. We tell ourselves nothing bad will happen when we act selfishly. The difficult stories in the Bible are what happened to those disobedient people, not to us. The truth is, you love and care for your people and at times bring judgment upon those you love. Forgive us as a people, Lord. Forgive me, Lord, for the many times I have rejected you when I knew perfectly well what was right. Grant that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who indwell me may so shape me through discipline and love, that I may conform more and more to one who is being made in your image, and as a result bring glory and honor to you, my Creator and Redeemer. This I pray through Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.      ―Daniel Sharp

Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 10

Reader: “Don’t let your hearts be troubled.”

Response: “Trust in God, and trust also in me.”

Scripture: John 14:1-12    (In the words of Jesus . . .)

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.”

“No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is.  From now on, you do know him and have seen him!”

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”

Jesus replied, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and yet you still don’t know who I am? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking me to show him to you? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me. Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or at least believe because of the work you have seen me do.

“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

When we back up and put this into context, we find this conversation between Jesus and his disciples was in the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday before his crucifixion the next day. There is so much in this dialogue, books have been written on a single verse! We’ll make only a few observations. The tensions are high in the current environment the disciples find themselves. Judas has just left the room to betray Jesus. The religious leaders are plotting to arrest Jesus that night and the plan to kill him is underway. Jesus told the eleven that he was going to be murdered shortly. Yet, his words were, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.” How was he so calm? He was focused not on the immediate, but on entering into his glory bringing glory to God in the process. He was not overwhelmed with the present situation, but looked to the bigger picture. On a different note, this translation leaves out the word “mansions” for the phrase “prepare a place for you.” The former gives the idea of an abundance of living accomodations around a central courtyard of sorts. Jesus is preparing a place, not only for the disciples, but for you and me. It’s almost like, when your room is ready, I’ll come get you. On a personal note, I remember an older couple in their 80’s in one of my choirs over the years. For years and years they slept together in their bed. She had become ill and one morning when he woke up, he discovered she had passed away in the night in her sleep right beside him. As I was preaching her funeral, I referred to this passage. I reminded Harold that at some point during the night Jesus came and got Anna and took her to the place he had prepared for her to be with him. He found that truth comforting, literally played out beside him in the night. Finally, I want to make one theological observation. In response to Philip’s request, Jesus answered, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. . . I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” How am I to work through this? Jesus’ relationship with his Father is such that his words are the Father’s words. The works that emanate from Jesus are actually the Father’s works playing out via his Son. Human beings are made in God’s image but the Son is an exact image (icon) of the Father. Notice that Jesus never said, “I am the Father.” They are not the same. He does say that he and the Father are one in essence and undivided in nature while being distinct persons in the Godhead. They each have different functions as one Being. In the midst of great stress and turmoil, Jesus walked with his Father who indwelt him keeping his eyes on the final destination, being in the presence of God eternally. He is our only path to the Father. Rest in him today and bring glory to God! Keep your eyes on the final resting place being prepared by the Savior, a place in the very presence of God.

Music: “A City Called Heaven”    Salt Lake Vocal Artists

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-P-DwTDzRZs 

Prayer:

Our Father in heaven, sometimes we get so lost in the stressed immediacy of circumstances, we let the current moments bring fear, even panic. God, we forget about you, maybe because we haven’t actually spent time with you and view you more as a “come and go” helper to make our life better. Forgive us for such a shallow faith. You are more than a moral teacher or a “911” to life. You are my God. You, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Father were always intertwined as One so that you never lose perspective. Grant that we would live so enveloped by you that you would truly be our life. And in our life may we do works that bring glory to God. This we pray through you, Jesus our Lord, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.        ―Daniel Sharp

Saturday, May 9

Reader: “I tell you the truth,”

Response: “before Abraham was even born, I AM!”

 

Scripture: John 8:48-59

The people retorted, “You Samaritan devil! Didn’t we say all along that you were possessed by a demon?”

“No,” Jesus said, “I have no demon in me. For I honor my Father—and you dishonor me. And though I have no wish to glorify myself, God is going to glorify me. He is the true judge. I tell you the truth, anyone who obeys my teaching will never die!”

The people said, “Now we know you are possessed by a demon. Even Abraham and the prophets died, but you say, ‘Anyone who obeys my teaching will never die!’ Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?”

Jesus answered, “If I want glory for myself, it doesn’t count. But it is my Father who will glorify me. You say, ‘He is our God,’but you don’t even know him. I know him. If I said otherwise, I would be as great a liar as you! But I do know him and obey him. Your father Abraham rejoiced as he looked forward to my coming. He saw it and was glad.”

The people said, “You aren’t even fifty years old. How can you say you have seen Abraham?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I am!” At that point they picked up stones to throw at him. But Jesus was hidden from them and left the Temple.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.” 

 

Some thoughts:

In each of the previous seven chapters of John, the main point was the identity of Jesus as God’s own Son. Then we come to chapter eight and this interaction between Jesus and the Pharisees. As you read, did you notice how similar Jesus’ discussion with the Pharisees and Jewish leaders was to Stephen’s defense which we looked at yesterday? We’re back to talking about Abraham, the founding father of the nation of Israel. The crux of the matter is, the Jewish leadership believed that since they were in the lineage of Abraham and had been circumcised, they automatically knew God as their Father. What they were hearing from Jesus was that being born a Jew did not automatically mean you knew God. In his words, if they were truly children of Abraham, they would recognize Jesus for who he truly was, the Son of God. Since they were not willing to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, that meant they were children of Abraham in lineage only, not in faith. Those words were more than they could handle. Jesus does not let up.

It escalates! When Jesus says that he existed before Abraham was born, and that Abraham rejoiced as he looked forward to Jesus’ coming to earth, the people had great difficulty. Their next comment meant that they had really understood what Jesus said. “You’re not yet fifty years old Jesus, and you’ve seen Abraham who lived 2,000 years ago? That’s not possible!” Jesus’ response sent them all over the edge. Jesus began with the “I tell you the truth . . .” remember that from a couple of days ago? When Jesus says that phrase, something extremely significant and important is to follow. His words . . . “Before Abraham was born, I AM!” The Pharisees and all the people knew the story of Moses and the burning bush. “I AM” was the name God gave Moses when Moses asked, “Whom shall I say sent me?” It was none other than the name of God, i.e. Jesus was God in the flesh. Anyone claiming to be God was to be stoned according to the law. The Pharisees questioned Jesus in an effort to disprove his claims to be the Son of Man. In their questioning, the opposite happened. They were confronted with the truth that indeed he was the Son of Man and they really did not know the God of Abraham after all. That revelation proved to be too much for them, so they killed him thinking that would end it. It didn’t! HE IS RISEN!

Music: “Give Me Jesus”  Fernando Ortega at Ruth Graham Funeral

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vu2E2FUcIiE 

Prayer:

Almighty God, who hast shown us in the life and teaching of Thy Son the true way of blessedness. Thou hast also shown us in his suffering and death that the path of love may lead to a cross, and the reward of faithfulness may be a crown of thorns. Give us grace to learn these hard lessons. May we take up our cross and follow Christ in the strength of patience and the constancy of faith; and may we have such fellowship with him in his sorrow that we shall know the secret of his strength and peace, and see even in our darkest hour the shining of the eternal light; for his sake who died and rose again for us, the same Jesus Christ our Lord.          ―John Hunter, The Quiet Corner, p.20

Friday, May 8

Reader: “Then the high priest asked Stephen,”

Response: “Are these accusations true?”

 

Scripture: Acts 7:1-16

Then the high priest asked Stephen, “Are these accusations true?” This was Stephen’s reply: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me. Our glorious God appeared to our ancestor Abraham in Mesopotamia before he settled in Haran. God told him, ‘Leave your native land and your relatives, and come into the land that I will show you.’ So Abraham left the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran until his father died. Then God brought him here to the land where you now live. “But God gave him no inheritance here, not even one square foot of land. God did promise, however, that eventually the whole land would belong to Abraham and his descendants—even though he had no children yet. God also told him that his descendants would live in a foreign land, where they would be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. ‘But I will punish the nation that enslaves them,’ God said, ‘and in the end they will come out and worship me here in this place.’

“God also gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision at that time. So when Abraham became the father of Isaac, he circumcised him on the eighth day. And the practice was continued when Isaac became the father of Jacob, and when Jacob became the father of the twelve patriarchs of the Israelite nation. “These patriarchs were jealous of their brother Joseph, and they sold him to be a slave in Egypt. But God was with him and rescued him from all his troubles. And God gave him favor before Pharaoh, king of Egypt. God also gave Joseph unusual wisdom, so that Pharaoh appointed him governor over all of Egypt and put him in charge of the palace. “But a famine came upon Egypt and Canaan. There was great misery, and our ancestors ran out of food. Jacob heard that there was still grain in Egypt, so he sent his sons—our ancestors—to buy some. The second time they went, Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers, and they were introduced to Pharaoh. Then Joseph sent for his father, Jacob, and all his relatives to come to Egypt, seventy-five persons in all. So Jacob went to Egypt. He died there, as did our ancestors. Their bodies were taken to Shechem and buried in the tomb Abraham had bought for a certain price from Hamor’s sons in Shechem.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

 

Some thoughts:

I’m intrigued with Stephen’s response to the false charges against him, both by what he said and how he said it. He was the master of the situation, the one who was in charge. I’m struck by how similar his demeanor was to that of Jesus in his trial. First of all, Stephen never directly addressed the two charges against him anywhere in his whole defense. He started with a grand story from the Old Testament, one familiar to the religious leaders. Stephen’s quotes are from the Greek Septuagint, the Greek translation of the First Testament. That source would have appealed to the Jewish leaders. His first words are words of common identity and community, “fathers and brothers.” Next, we have “Our glorious God” and “our ancestor Abraham” in which Stephen further pointed to their joint identity in the roots of their faith. He moved through the covenant of circumcision, to the twelve patriarchs of Israel, and then to Joseph in Egypt. But back to the beginning of his defense. In bringing up Abraham, was Stephen getting at the idea that a living faith always has some flexibility and willingness to change, and to move forward at God’s leading? One of the accusations against Stephen had to do with worship at the Temple. Yet Abraham was encountering God in a personal way, though worship at the Temple was still centuries away. Stephen was subtly working with the idea that it is possible to worship God apart from the Temple. He didn’t say it openly, he just moved on. In Jewish tradition it was common to recite God’s deeds of old in inspiring optimism. Each part of Stephen’s unfolding of the story was a link in his chain of logic. Though it was his trial, it was they, the Jewish leaders, who were actually on trial, on trial for their blatant rejection of the Messiah. So Stephen builds his case slowly so as not to lose their interest and guide them to the truth of the Son of God. When we read earlier that Stephen was a man full of wisdom, we see his wisdom fully at work all through his defense strategy. There is much to learn from this first martyr in terms of witness. He started on common ground. He stayed with history. He stayed Holy Spirit calm. He showed continuity in his presentation. He didn’t argue. He spoke the truth. He let the truth convict. Were we so wise!

 

Music: “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me”   Moses Hogan Chorale    Gorgeous!!!

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VwCBdLy8ork                               

Prayer:

God be in my head and in my understanding;

God be in my eyes and in my looking;

God be in my mouth and in my speaking;

God be in my heart and in my thinking;

God be at my end and at my departing.

 

—Sarum Primer Prayer 1514

Thursday, May 7

Reader: “Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power,”

Response: “performed amazing miracles and signs among the people.”

Scripture: Acts 6:8-15

Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed amazing miracles and signs among the people. But one day some men from the Synagogue of Freed Slaves, as it was called, started to debate with him. They were Jews from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia, and the province of Asia. None of them could stand against the wisdom and the Spirit with which Stephen spoke.

So they persuaded some men to lie about Stephen, saying, “We heard him blaspheme Moses, and even God.” This roused the people, the elders, and the teachers of religious law. So they arrested Stephen and brought him before the high council.

The lying witnesses said, “This man is always speaking against the holy Temple and against the law of Moses. We have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy the Temple and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”

At this point everyone in the high council stared at Stephen, because his face became as bright as an angel’s.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

As we have mentioned in times past, the Bible is really a library of literature of different kinds. There is poetry, history, narratives, doctrine, instruction on living, prayers, prophetic writings, and books on wisdom. It is important to realize this as we study Scripture. Today’s reading is a narrative of a significant historical event, the background of the church’s first martyr, Stephen. There are several parallels between his death and the death of Jesus. Lying witnesses were brought forth in both cases repeating the same lies! In Jesus’ case, it concerned destroying the Temple and rebuilding it in three days. (Mt. 26:61) In addition, Jesus was often accused of abolishing the law of Moses. (Mt.5:17)  In Stephen’s case, it was “he always speaks against the Temple and against the law of Moses.” The method of Satan, the father of lies, is always the same. Find liars to accuse the innocent with untrue “evidence” to destroy the victim. (This method of the devil is not unknown in our society today!) The sequence was: tell lies accusing of blasphemy, incite a riot, arrest the innocent, post false charges, conduct a “trial” of sorts, and eliminate the victim. In both cases, both Jesus and Stephen were filled with God’s grace and power in the face of such hostile opposition. The response of the high council to Stephen was most interesting. The word used in our translation is “stared.” The face of Stephen took on a different appearance, an unusual brightness. Why do you suppose? It is reminiscent of the face of Moses upon coming down from the mountain after meeting with God. Both men encountered God in a unique way. Notice at the end of this pericope, everyone in the high council stared at Stephen. His countenance had changed and then he began to speak. You undoubtedly noticed that Luke described Stephen as a man of grace and power. The Greek root of the word grace is charis, from which we get charismatic. My guess is that Stephen, in addition to being filled with the Holy Spirit, also had personal charisma. That he performed signs and wondrous miracles certainly added to his notoriety. He recited the history of Israel from their authoritative Old Testament right up to the rejection and killing of Jesus, at which point, Stephen was stoned. The fact that the sacrificial system had ended with the resurrection and ascension of Jesus was more than the Pharisees were willing to accept. In both Jesus’ and Stephen’s trials, the death knell came when the leaders were confronted with the identity of Jesus being the long-awaited Messiah, the Son of God. Again, notice the similarity of the words that put the religious leaders over the top. In answer to the identity question given Jesus, his words were, “You have said it. And in the future, you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Mt. 26:64. Luke writes the religious leader’s explosion in rage came when Stephen told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!” At that point, they dragged Stephen out of the city and, as they were stoning him, he spoke words very similar to his Savior, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” This whole account took place in the Synagogue of the Freed Slaves. Present were Jews from several geographic areas including Cilicia, the home town of Saul of Tarsus. This would likely have been the synagogue Saul attended when in Jerusalem. It was a Hellenistic synagogue where religious debate was frequent. Since Stephen was Greek, it is logical this would also be his place of worship. There is little doubt Saul was encouraging the stoning of Stephen. So how does this account play out for you today? The outward impact of the Holy Spirit in Stephen’s life was noticeable. His countenance, his demeanor was different and ordinary people noticed it. As a deacon, he gave himself to the service of others. He had a very distinct and positive spiritual impact wherever he went. That’s our challenge for these tumultuous days in which we live. Is the outward impact of the Holy Spirit in your life noticeable to those around you? 

 

Music: “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus”    Powerful story behind the song.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnGMNvRBJ4w 

  

Prayer:

Lord, you know better than I know myself that I am growing older, and will some day be old. Keep me from getting talkative, and particularly from the fatal habit of thinking that I must say something on every subject and on every occasion. Release me from craving to straighten out everybody’s affairs. Make me thoughtful but not moody; helpful, but not bossy. With my vast store of wisdom it seems a pity not to use it all, but you know, Lord, that I want a few friends at the end. Keep my mind from the recital of endless details—give me wings to come to the point. I ask for grace enough to listen to the tales of others’ pains. But seal my lips on my own aches and pains—they are increasing, and my love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by. Help me to endure them with patience. I dare not ask for improved memory, but for a growing humility and a lessening cocksureness when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally it is possible that I may be mistaken. Keep me reasonably sweet. I do not want to be a saint—some of them are so hard to live with—but a sour old woman is one of the crowning works of the devil. Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places, and talents in unexpected people. And give me, O Lord, the grace to tell them so. Amen.      

           —attributed to a seventeenth-century nun, though actually of unknown origin,   

                                 Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.532020-05-072020-

Wednesday, May 6

Reader: “Whoever wants to be a leader among you” 

Response: “must be your servant.”

Scripture: Matthew 20:17-28

As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside privately and told them what was going to happen to him. “Listen,” he said, “we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die. Then they will hand him over to the Romans to be mocked, flogged with a whip, and crucified. But on the third day he will be raised from the dead.”

Then the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus with her sons. She knelt respectfully to ask a favor. “What is your request?” he asked.

She replied, “In your Kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.”

But Jesus answered by saying to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?”

“Oh yes,” they replied, “we are able!”

Jesus told them, “You will indeed drink from my bitter cup. But I have no right to say who will sit on my right or my left. My Father has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen.”

When the ten other disciples heard what James and John had asked, they were indignant. But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

As we mentioned the other day, always note what comes before and what comes after any passage you read. The Bible is a woven thread of God’s working through history. Nothing is in the wrong place. In the verses prior to this section, Jesus’ concluding comments to the parable he had just told were the “last will now be first and those who are first will be last.” Apparently James and John were not listening too closely! We are at the point in Jesus’ ministry where he is heading toward Jerusalem for the final time. Pulling the disciples aside, he gives them the unadorned details of exactly what will happen. Matthew, who was one of the twelve present and the author of this gospel, says nothing about any response from the disciples to this news of Jesus as to what is about to transpire. My conclusion is that the disciples were clueless as is shortly apparent. (A note in passing; until the very end, Jesus always referred to himself as the Son of Man rather than the Son of God. The Son of Man harkened back to the book of Daniel with messianic implications. The Son of God was a more overt expression immediately arousing angry opposition.) Next we read of the mother of James and John asking Jesus for a privileged position in the kingdom for her boys. Apparently they had all processed parts of what Jesus had just said rather quickly! What is interesting to me is that Mrs. Zebedee felt free enough to ask Jesus such a question. She was not, nor apparently were any of the disciples, afraid to make such a request. My impression is that Jesus was very humble and unassuming, a quiet Shepherd. I think, had I been Jesus, I would have said, “Lady, are you nuts? Do you have a clue?” He was more gracious, though he did say, “You don’t know what you are asking.” Apparently the boys were involved in this request, maybe even putting their mother up to ask it. The “you” in Jesus’ answer is plural, meaning Jesus was addressing the sons in his answer. Their naivé response was, “Oh yes, we are able!” The truth is James was martyred and John suffered greatly, ending his life exiled on the island of Patmos. The other ten disciples were no better. It is obvious that the brothers had beat them to the punch in asking for privilege and honor first. Jesus put them all in their place by drawing them back to servanthood leadership. Leadership is not about privilege and power over others. If you want to be first, you must be last; that is the way to be first. If the disciples were paying attention (they weren’t), over the next few days, they would see a servant leader laying down his life for many. The result would be that he “became the first fruits of them that slept.” Let us ask for grace to serve that we might be a thread in the tapestry that God is weaving.

Music: “O Master Let Me Walk with Thee”    Hour of Power Choir

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4FhFozCX-w 

Prayer:

Grant us, O Lord of the church, living congregations in which Thy Spirit shall speak and work, and make me also ready to serve Thee in Thy church with the gift Thou hast given me, not to please men and not for worldly honor, but for gratitude and love. Amen.   ―Otto Riethmuller

Tuesday, May 5

Reader:All glory to him forever and ever! Amen.

Response:All glory to him forever and ever! Amen and Amen.

Scripture: Hebrews 13:20-21

Now may the God of peace—

    who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus,

the great Shepherd of the sheep,

    and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood— 

may he equip you with all you need

    for doing his will.

May he produce in you,

    through the power of Jesus Christ,

every good thing that is pleasing to him.

    All glory to him forever and ever! Amen.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

You may have heard these verses pronounced as a benediction at the end of a worship service. I have used them many times myself in giving benedictions. It is interesting that this blessing is laid out in the form of a collect. That word may be unfamiliar to some who are not of a liturgical tradition. In the pronunciation of “collect”, the emphasis is on the first syllable. It is a set form of a prayer meaning “a gathered-together prayer.” It begins with an invocation (“Now may the God of peace”), followed by an adjective clause setting the basis for the next petition (“who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood”), the main petition (“may he equip you with all you need for doing his will”), a secondary petition (“May he produce in you . . . every good thing that is pleasing to him”), a pleading of the meritorial work of Christ (“through the power of Jesus Christ”), a doxology (“All glory to him forever and ever!”), then Amen. If you have worshiped in an Anglican, Episcopal, Lutheran, or Catholic church, you are familiar with this form of prayer. There are phrases in this passage that would harken to Jewish readers. The “God of peace” may indicate some trouble in the church as the epistle to the Hebrews is believed to have been a sermon text helping Jewish believers grasp the finality and supremacy of Jesus fulfilling the sacrificial system of worship. The last several days we’ve spent a fair amount of time with Paul and Peter both underscoring the whole idea of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Jews looked back on Moses as the Old Testament shepherd of the people of Israel. The image is that Moses “brought up from the sea” (Is.63:11) the Israelites, that is, brought them from death to life. Here we have the same image, but it is God who brings up Jesus, the superior Moses, from the dead. He also points to Jesus’ shed blood in establishing a new covenant, again, with a Covenant Keeping God being so central in Jewish history. The charge in this benediction is that those hearing these words would, through the power of Jesus Christ living in them, produce works that are pleasing to God, works he planned for us to do. The benediction concludes with an ascription to God, as the subject of this long sentence. We see here yet again how the whole of Scripture is knit together in one single story. A working knowledge of the First Testament is essential in grasping the scope of the New Testament. Put simply, as knowledge and understanding grow under the teaching of the Holy Spirit, the impact of the Scriptures magnifies the transformation of the believer.

                     (Some insights from F. F. Bruce, commentary on Hebrews)

Music: “The Lord Bless You and Keep You”  John Rutter

 “The Lord Bless You and Keep You”   John Rutter Massed Choir 900 Singers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lCpxgEHqjFA

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles, CA  February 17, 2008

The Mark Thallander Foundation Choir Festival

We had the opportunity to participate in this festival when I was ministering in San Diego.

 

Prayer:

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.         ―from BCP2020-05-05

Monday, May 4

Reader: “God opposes the proud”

Response: “but gives grace to the humble.”

Scripture: I Peter 5:1-5

And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you: Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor.

In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you, dress yourselves in humility as you relate to one another, for

“God opposes the proud

    but gives grace to the humble.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

In thinking of the people in the New Testament, along with Paul, Peter is one who had a most interesting, significant transformation. Think of the crash-bang Peter walking on the water, slashing off the ear of a Roman soldier, proclaiming Jesus as the Christ, being called Satan by Jesus, refusing to let Jesus wash jhis feet, being told by Jesus, “It’s none of your business what happens to John,” and being told by Jesus you’ll have an unpleasant death. Peter was all over the place! Then at Pentecost Peter stands up and in true Pentecost fashion, preaches a sermon on the risen Christ challenging the people to repent and 3,000 are converted. Peter becomes a leader in the early church. When you read today’s passage, Peter seems so calm and wise! What happened? If you ever needed evidence that the Holy Spirit transforms people, Peter is your example.

It appears that he is toward the end of his life. There is an element of reflecting on the past in his reference to witnessing the suffering of Christ. He urges the leadership, the elders, to be gracious and humble in leading the people, like shepherds in referring to the congregation as a “flock.” Already, it seems Peter has the end in mind. Twice he mentions sharing in the glory of Christ at the return of Christ. In reading both Peter and Paul’s letters, one cannot but help notice their expectation that the return of Christ would happen shortly, if not in their lifetimes. Their words, as happens here, were always to live life with the Second Coming in mind. Those are good words for all of us who are often so lost in concerns over the pressing events of the days in which we live. Bottom line. Live like an elder, humble, godly, serving God, caring for people, and watching for the return of Christ.. Work on that today and let the Holy Spirit continue to transform you.

Music: “Hear Am I Lord”  Nation Youth Choir of Scotland    Don’t miss this!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gcL9S5a3weU&list=RDgcL9S5a3weU&index=2 

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, many of the people around us never read you. If they have a Bible, it collects dust. So, Lord, make us to be living, in the flesh Bibles, so that those who do not read your Book, can read it in us and find you. In Jesus’ Name, Amen. ―adapted Chinese woman’s prayer after learning to read, from Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.93, Daniel Sharp 

Fourth Sunday in Easter, May 3

Reader: “I am the good shepherd;”

Response: “I know my own sheep.”

Scripture: John 10:1-18

“I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”

Those who heard Jesus use this illustration didn’t understand what he meant, so he explained it to them: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them. Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.

“The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

You recall yesterday’s passage where Ezekiel blasted Israel’s leadership for their wicked, sinful shepherding of Israel and Judah. Jesus picks up the same theme in today’s portion of John’s gospel. You will notice this chapter follows immediately the account of the man born blind whose sight was healed. In this chapter, Jesus alludes to the blindness of the Pharisees in recognizing who he is. The chapter begins with “I tell you the truth.” It’s a way of saying “Amen, amen,” in other words, “Listen up people, what I’m about to say is really important, so pay attention.” (Whenever this phrase is used, it always feeds off of what preceded it― i.e. the healing of the blind man.) He begins with not bad shepherds, but thieves and robbers. Sheep were kept in a pen at night and the shepherd slept in the single doorway, the only way to get into or out of the fold. The shepherd was the only door; the sheep were secure. The relationship between the shepherd and the sheep was personal. He knew every sheep and every sheep knew his voice. They followed by voice, not by sight. Often several shepherds would go together with several flocks in the same fold. When morning came, each shepherd would call his own sheep and the flocks would separate based on hearing their master’s voice. The challenge is not only to the shepherds of the flocks but also for the sheep to learn their master’s voice so they know whom to follow. (It is interesting to me that you cannot drive sheep. You can drive cattle, not so with sheep. If you are behind the flock and seek to drive them, they will simply part and now you are in front and they will follow!) The people listening still didn’t get it, so Jesus did another “Amen, amen!” We see in this portion a challenge to know his voice, to know Scripture, and to know the truth. We are not to be dumb sheep. Our Shepherd loves us to the point of his own death. Rather than leadership in the first part of reading, the focus shifts here to safety, care, commitment of the Shepherd. He is the entrance point to pleasant pastures. He is the doorway, the gate. Jesus’ discourse here deals with two ways of viewing him, both having to do with salvation. He is the Door, the only way to salvation. He is the Good Shepherd, the one who lays down his life for his sheep with the power to take it up again. I might make one additional comment about the sentence “I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold.” The Mormons have interpreted that as referring to North America and the tribes of native Americans living there. With no other references anywhere in Scripture even remotely suggesting such, such reasoning is far-fetched, unfounded speculation at best. Remember, throughout the early part of Christianity, the converted Jews struggled with the concept of accepting Gentile believers as equals before God. In this particular instance, Jesus is talking to Jewish leaders and Jewish people. A far more reasonable understanding is that Jesus’ comments refer to non-Jewish people who will come to faith as the gospel unfolds following Jesus’ death and resurrection. At this point in history and in this context, this is a much more likely interpretation from my perspective. Friends, all of this isn’t ancient history, this same Shepherd is very much alive and seeks to lead you into this day. You are known by him. Listen for his voice and follow.

Music: “The Lord’s My Shepherd I’ll not Want”    Citrail

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-qLa_2GPcM 

Prayer:

O Lover to the uttermost, may I read the meltings of thy heart to me: in the manger of thy birth, in the garden of thy agony, in the cross of thy suffering, in the tomb of thy resurrection, in the heaven of thy intercession. Bold in this thought, I defy my adversary, tread down his temptations, resist his schemings, renounce the world, am valiant for truth. Deepen in me a sense of my holy relationship to thee, as spiritual bridegroom, as Jehovah’s fellow, as sinners’ friend. I think of Thy glory and my vileness, Thy majesty and my meanness, Thy beauty and my deformity, Thy purity and my filth, Thy righteousness and my iniquity. Thou hast loved me everlastingly, unchangeably, may I love thee as I am loved; Thou hast given Thyself for me, may I give myself to Thee; Thou hast died for me, may I live to Thee, in every moment of my time, in every movement of my mind, in every pulse of my heart. May I never dally with the world and its allurements, but walk by thy side, listen to thy voice, be clothed with Thy graces and adorned with Thy righteousness. Amen.   ―from The Valley of Vision, p.18

Saturday, May 2

Reader: “You shepherds”

Response: “hear the word of the Lord.”

Scripture: Ezekiel 34:1-16

Then this message came to me from the Lord: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign Lord: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them.”

“Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, you abandoned my flock and left them to be attacked by every wild animal. And though you were my shepherds, you didn’t search for my sheep when they were lost. You took care of yourselves and left the sheep to starve. Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord. This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey.”

The Good Shepherd

“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. I will bring them back home to their own land of Israel from among the peoples and nations. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel and by the rivers and in all the places where people live. Yes, I will give them good pastureland on the high hills of Israel. There they will lie down in pleasant places and feed in the lush pastures of the hills. I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign Lord. I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak. But I will destroy those who are fat and powerful. I will feed them, yes—feed them justice!”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

It is quite familiar to most of us that Jesus often likened people to sheep. Not only did Jesus use that comparison, it appears throughout the First Testament as well. In this passage, Ezekiel is reprimanding Israel’s kings for leading the people astray. His words are that God will hold those in authority accountable for the way they lead the people, both then and now. The kings served themselves rather than the people they were to lead. (Sound familiar?) In the Lord’s words, I will take them out of power. That is the first judgment in this pericope. 

A word about why shepherds and sheep might be used as a metaphor in Scripture. As a farm boy who had sheep growing up, here are a few observations that may help explain the why. Sheep are dumb. (Ouch!) We had a sheep die with its head stuck in a fence because it didn’t have the sense to back up! Sheep are very fearful. Sheep are very stubborn. Sheep are very near-sighted so vision is a problem. Sheep are defenseless. Sheep are followers. (Illustration from the farm. The flock was coming out of a pasture. One of the first ones jumped over a puddle of water. Those that followed also jumped―over nothing, since they were jumping where there was no puddle!) Sheep’s hearing is EXCELLENT! The sheep know the shepherd’s voice. My dad could call the sheep, my brother-in-law couldn’t, they didn’t know his voice. 

Finally, the last portion of this reading centers on the Lord taking things into his own hands and providing a true shepherd who will care for his sheep. Note how much similarity there is in this description to Psalm 23 written roughly 400 years earlier. God’s shepherd will search out the lost sheep. He will feed them and they will dwell in peace. He will bandage the wounded  and strengthen the weak. He will destroy the fat and powerful, he will bring justice. He will separate the sheep from the goats. Ezekiel is writing of a future shepherd from the lineage of King David! (Ez.34:23) Who might that be? We’ll see tomorrow! In the meantime, sheep, listen for the Shepherd’s voice today.

Music: “Surely Goodness, Surely Mercy”      Shane & Shane

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mo3HgtT_OiE 

Prayer:

O Shepherd of the sheep, who didst promise to carry lambs in Thine arms, and to lead us by the still waters, help us to know the peace which passeth understanding. Give us to drink that heavenly draught which is life, the calm patience which is content to bear what God giveth. Have mercy upon us, and hear our prayers. Lead us gently when we pass through the valley of the shadow of death. Guide us, till at last, in the assembly of Thy saints, we may find rest forevermore. Amen.      

                                     ―George Dawson, Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.143

Friday, May 1

Reader: “The Lord is my shepherd”

Response: “I shall not want.”

Scripture: Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.      (KJV)

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

This psalm is surely among the best loved portions of Scripture. I thought I might depart a little bit from our usual approach with your permission and reflect more personally on this psalm. As I write this on March 27th, today would have been my younger brother, David’s, 69th birthday. He died during my freshman year at Wheaton College. My suitemate was the first person I encountered upon hearing the news. Cal recited this psalm. Prior to this moment, I had been wrestling for several weeks with the idea of “What if I reach out to God with complete abandon (I was a Christian) and nothing happens?” I had almost concluded that rather than risk that, I’d continue in a warm and positive relationship with God, close but guarded. The news of David’s death cut through everything in a split second. I instinctively reached out to the Lord in total desperation and was overwhelmed with God’s presence. Jesus might as well have been in room 466 in Fischer Hall standing right beside me in the flesh. From that moment on to this day, 54 years later, there has never been a shadow of a doubt of the reality of a God who relates so personally to me. The psalm begins “The Lord is my shepherd . . .” If the Lord is not your shepherd, you cannot experience the rest of the psalm. There is no other way to satisfy your wants. There is no other way to find stillness. There is no other way to restore your soul. There is no other way to find the paths of righteousness. There is no other way to escape the fear of death. There is no other way to have the Lord with you if he is not your Shepherd. There is no other way to experience true comfort apart from your Shepherd. There is no other way to receive goodness and mercy apart from the Lord. And finally, there is no other way to dwell in the house of the Lord forever apart from him being your Shepherd. You can trust your Shepherd with complete abandon, have no fear.

Music: “The Lord is My Shepherd”    by John Rutter          Atlanta Master Chorale

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WOtsuzM6h7M 

Prayer:

O God, let Thy Spirit now enter my heart. Now as I pray this prayer let not any room within me be furtively closed to keep Thee out . . . Now as I pray this prayer, let me not be still holding to some undertaking on which I dare not ask Thy blessing . . .Now as I pray this prayer let me not be still intending to devote my own best hours and years to the service of lesser ends. O Holy Spirit of God, as I rise from these acts of devotion, let me not return to evil thoughts and worldly ways, but let that mind be in me which was also in Christ Jesus. Amen.    ―John Baillie, from The Quiet Corner, p.8

Thursday, April 30

Reader: “Once you had no identity as a people;”   

Response: “now you are God’s people.”

Scripture: I Peter 2:9-12

But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

“Once you had no identity as a people;

    now you are God’s people.

Once you received no mercy;

    now you have received God’s mercy.”

Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
This is now the fourth passage we’ve taken from Peter’s epistles. The circumstances of his writing are not that different from the circumstances in which we live. Peter is helping the readers understand what it means to live a godly life in an unsympathic, even antagonistic worldly environment. In the opening words of this passage, he is referring to people who have wholely rejected God. In reminding them of being chosen people, he is underscoring their true identity. We live in a society where people are searching for their own identity through all kinds of means and acts. Our true identity is not that we are citizens of such and such a country, or such and such a race, or that we are male or female, or members of a political group, or self identify as whatever, or of a particular social or economic status. In truth, we are brothers and sisters of Christ, who himself  is not a citizen of this world, but of another kingdom. As we said a couple of days ago, God purchased us as his own possession. Since that is the case, Peter writes, refering to the First Testament prophet, Hosea, we got into God’s family via his mercy in adopting us. We are all adopted kids. Since we’re in Jesus’ family now, we need to live like Jesus lives. Don’t hang out with old habits and patterns. Talk like Jesus, drive like Jesus, eat like Jesus, pray like Jesus, read like Jesus, love like Jesus, think like Jesus, laugh like Jesus, care like Jesus, walk like Jesus (have you noticed in the Bible, Jesus never ran anwhere?), weep like Jesus, listen like Jesus, discern like Jesus, study like Jesus, and submit to the Father like Jesus. In Peter’s words again, you are holy priests, a holy nation, live like it. In God’s words, “be holy for I am holy.” It will affect where you live and transform your life. There is too little holy living in this world. Let’s change that.

Music: “Sanctus” from Durufle Requiem   University of Colorado Choirs and Symphonic Orchestra

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hESnJ0HHlxI 

Translation:

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts.

Heaven and earth are full of thy glory.

Hosanna in the highest.

Prayer:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 

Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory for ever. Amen.

Wednesday, April 29

Reader: “Moses carefully wrote down”

Response: “all the Lord’s instructions.”

Scripture: Exodus 24:1-11

Then the Lord instructed Moses: “Come up here to me, and bring along Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of Israel’s elders. All of you must worship from a distance. Only Moses is allowed to come near to the Lord. The others must not come near, and none of the other people are allowed to climb up the mountain with him.”

Then Moses went down to the people and repeated all the instructions and regulations the Lord had given him. All the people answered with one voice, “We will do everything the Lord has commanded.”

Then Moses carefully wrote down all the Lord’s instructions. Early the next morning Moses got up and built an altar at the foot of the mountain. He also set up twelve pillars, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. Then he sent some of the young Israelite men to present burnt offerings and to sacrifice bulls as peace offerings to the Lord. Moses drained half the blood from these animals into basins. The other half he splattered against the altar.

Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it aloud to the people. Again they all responded, “We will do everything the Lord has commanded. We will obey.”

Then Moses took the blood from the basins and splattered it over the people, declaring, “Look, this blood confirms the covenant the Lord has made with you in giving you these instructions.”

Then Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel climbed up the mountain. There they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there seemed to be a surface of brilliant blue lapis lazuli, as clear as the sky itself. And though these nobles of Israel gazed upon God, he did not destroy them. In fact, they ate a covenant meal, eating and drinking in his presence!

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
This is a most interesting passage as recorded by Moses. Mt. Sinai had a God declared boundary which guarded the sanctity of his presence and protected the people from the full force of God’s holiness which would have been lethal. Among other things, it demonstrated gradations of holiness in regard to Mt. Sinai. In terms of approaching God, those farthest away were the non-Jews, then the Israelites, then the seventy elders, then Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, then Moses alone. It is interesting to me that these two of Aaron’s four sons, would be the ones God called to come to worship him. Nadab and Abihu should have picked up on the exclusive nature of God’s holiness, yet it was these two sons who later offered unholy fire and were struck dead as a result. You can’t say they didn’t know! In the bigger picture, this whole section is about God making a covenant with his people, a covenant that is a shadow of what was to come later. At this point, God is ratifying his covenant with the people of Israel. You noticed twelve pillars were erected representing the twelve tribes. These pillars served as historical witnesses of this significant transaction, a common use of columns in the culture of those days. The Scripture says that Moses took the blood from the sacrificed bulls and divided it in half. The first half was sprinkled on the altar symbolizing God’s commitment to keeping this covenant. One of the aspects of making a covenant is that the terms and regulations are put in writing and are read aloud to the people. Following sprinkling the blood on the altar, Moses then read the covenant to the people who responded with one voice pledging loyalty to God. Moses then sprinkled the people with the other half of the blood of the bulls confirming the Israelites’ part of the agreement. Then Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy went farther up the mountain and saw some representation of God since no one can see God in his full glory and live. As part of the covenant process, a fellowship meal is shared between the parties. Moses records this group and ate a covenant meal, eating and drinking in God’s presence. Did you notice Moses’ words when he spattered blood over the people, “This blood confirms the covenant the Lord has made with you . . .” In Matthew 26:28 Jesus’ words at the Last Supper with the twelve disciples were, “this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice (on the altar) to forgive the sins of many.” Everytime we take communion, we are again partaking of the covenant meal and are again affirming the New Covenant in the blood of Christ, the seeds of which go back thousands of years. Remember Moses the next time you receive the eucharist.

Music: “There is Power in the Blood”     Fernando Ortega

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVKF7gt3Cak&list=PL9492611BFCFAB267&index=3 

Prayer:
Gracious Lord, you are perfectly faithful always in every place and in every time. You are as alive and vigorous now as you were when Moses and his contingent went up the mountain to eat a covenant meal with you. I don’t want to read it simply as biblical history. Help me to better grasp that account in light of the next time I take communion. Lord, I’m amazed over and over the myriad of connections throughout the Scriptures. Help me to better grasp the significance of every part of your Word, and in growing in faith, may I come to know you more deeply and significantly. This I pray in the name of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Amen.   ―Daniel Sharp

Tuesday, April 28

Reader: “Cry out for this nourishment,” 

Response: “now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.”

Scripture: I Peter 2:1-10

So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.

You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor.

And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. As the Scriptures say,

“I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem,

    chosen for great honor,

and anyone who trusts in him

    will never be disgraced.”

Yes, you who trust him recognize the honor God has given him. But for those who reject him,

“The stone that the builders rejected

    has now become the cornerstone.”

And,

“He is the stone that makes people stumble,

    the rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them.

But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

“Once you had no identity as a people;

    now you are God’s people.

Once you received no mercy;

    now you have received God’s mercy.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
Once again some context will help us better grasp Peter’s message in this passage. Peter is writing from Rome around 60 AD to Christians in what is modern day Turkey. Apparently there were both Gentile and Jewish believers as reflected in this letter. Persecution against Christians was rising. The reference to “newborn babies” was not a dig at his readers, but rather a simple truth that appropriate nourishment is essential for growth of any new living being. Since Christianity is relatively new at this point in history, Peter is urging them to keep moving forward in their faith since they are not that “old” in the faith―and at the same time urging us to do the same! I believe he is appealing to his Jewish Christians by his use of Old Testament references to God’s temple, holy priests, spiritual sacrifices, living stones, and people chosen by God. He is underscoring for them, God’s Chosen People in the First Testament now include believing Gentiles, a major adjustment for Jewish Christians. Jesus Christ is the Cornerstone of the new temple which includes both Jew and Gentile. The temple of God is not now housed in a building, but in the bodies of believers in Jesus Christ. This was never more apparent than when we have had to abandon meeting in congregations in our church buildings due to COVID―19. Our bodies are God’s temple, his church, and, as Peter writes in the first two sentences, our lives should reflect a holy church, not our old life. He concludes this pericope by reminding the people they are: a chosen people, royal priests, a holy nation, people owned by God―he paid the price for their purchase. And then Peter, perhaps under John’s influence, reminds the people they have been called out of darkness into the wonderful light of Christ, urging his readers to share the light. Peter is clearly writing to us holy priests as well!  

Music: “Jesus Is the Cornerstone”    Larnelle Harris An oldie from the past!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fBoMpZySMM

Prayer:
Our Father in heaven, I thank thee that thou hast led me into the light. I thank thee for sending the Savior to call me from death to life. I confess that I was dead in sin before I heard his call, but when I heard him, like Lazarus, I arose. But, O my Father, the grave clothes bind me still. Old habits that I cannot throw off, old customs that are so much a part of my life that I  am helpless to live the new life that Christ calls me to live. Give me strength, O Father, to break the bonds; give me courage to live a new life in thee; give me faith, to believe that with thy help I cannot fail. And this I ask in the Savior’s name who has taught me to come to thee.

                                            ―Prayer from Taiwan, Oxford Book of Prayer, p.117

Monday, April 27

Reader: “The word of the Lord”

Response: “remains forever.”

Scripture: I Peter 1:23-25

For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God. As the Scriptures say,

“People are like grass;

    their beauty is like a flower in the field.

The grass withers and the flower fades.

But the word of the Lord remains forever.”         (Is.40:6-8)

And that word is the Good News that was preached to you.     

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
Yesterday we spent some time reflecting on John’s use of light and darkness in proclaiming the gospel. Today I’d like to follow up on the light implications as written by, none other than Peter, the subject of Jesus’ restoration. The fact that Peter was set free by Jesus, having dealt with the guilt of his denial of the Savior, is very clear in his letters. Peter understood in a powerful way what it meant to be born anew, with sins forgiven. This is as plain a statement as you will read. The one born again by the Holy Spirit receives a new kind of life, a life that will last forever―a positive way of saying it will never end. Think about it Believer, as you read this, your life will keep going for all eternity, and that life is underway right now! This kind of living is possible because it has nothing to do with you. Its source is the eternal, living word of God. Death is simply a departure to the eternal world. Death is a defeated sting, a futile stab at short-circuiting God’s plan of redeeming his fallen creation. Christ utterly destroyed, obliterated, annihilated, terminated any power of death. There is no fear of death. It is a door to our eternal home and the doorkeeper is none other than the Savior. This is GOOD NEWS!

By this time, I’m not sure what will be happening with COVID-19 and some of the fears people may or may not have, but the words of Peter help us grasp the biggest picture without minimizing the present. My prayer is that more and more people these days will heed Peter’s words and embrace Christus victor!

Music: “Behold All Flesh”  Movement II from Brahms Requiem   Herbert Von Karajan

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2jc13Q1wX4 

Today’s music is a little different. I must give you some context for those not familiar with this piece. Normally, requiems are about death. Brahms wrote this “requiem” about eternal life from a Christian perspective using only biblical texts. While this is sung in German, there are English subtitles. The text of this movement is today’s Scripture reading along with a passage from James and one from Isaiah. The passages are a beautiful commentary on each other. Note the conductor and choir have memorized the entire piece so as to embrace the meaning. This is the best recording of this movement I’ve ever heard. Note how their music “sings the meaning of the text.” When you watch this, do so on your computer or television full screen so you can see faces. Find a place where you won’t be interrupted and lose yourself in this singing of God’s word. This movement is 15:18 minutes long. Watch it all at once in one sitting. Brahms captured in music what Peter was after when he wrote this letter. Don’t miss it! When so much of our music trivializes the gospel, this music aims at the wonder and grandeur of what God has done.

Prayer:
O Lord God, our Father, you are the light that can never be put out; and now you give us a light that shall drive away all darkness. You are the life that defies death, and you have opened for us the way that leads to eternal life. We bask in the glory of this life to come. Grant us grace in the life before us here on earth that we may be better prepared for the world that awaits our coming. We pray this to God Almighty, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.               ―Karl Barth, adapted Daniel Sharp

Third Sunday in Easter, April 26

Reader: “Jesus appeared again to the disciples” 

Response: “beside the Sea of Galilee.”

Scripture: John 21:1-19

Later, Jesus appeared again to the disciples beside the Sea of Galilee. This is how it happened. Several of the disciples were there—Simon Peter, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples.

Simon Peter said, “I’m going fishing.”

“We’ll come, too,” they all said. So they went out in the boat, but they caught nothing all night.

At dawn Jesus was standing on the beach, but the disciples couldn’t see who he was. He called out, “Fellows, have you caught any fish?”

“No,” they replied.

Then he said, “Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you’ll get some!” So they did, and they couldn’t haul in the net because there were so many fish in it.

Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his tunic (for he had stripped for work), jumped into the water, and headed to shore. The others stayed with the boat and pulled the loaded net to the shore, for they were only about a hundred yards from shore. When they got there, they found breakfast waiting for them—fish cooking over a charcoal fire, and some bread.

“Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught,” Jesus said. So Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net to the shore. There were 153 large fish, and yet the net hadn’t torn.

“Now come and have some breakfast!” Jesus said. None of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Then Jesus served them the bread and the fish. This was the third time Jesus had appeared to his disciples since he had been raised from the dead.

After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”

“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.

Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”

“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.

A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.

“I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
In the whole of John’s gospel he has a clear purpose in writing which he states just prior to this passage, namely “so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name.” (Jn.20:31) There are similarities throughout the book to that end, many of which appear in this pericope. Peter figures prominently in this third encounter with the risen Lord. Peter also denied the Lord thrice. Of the seven disciples present, it is interesting to know who they were. There was Peter and we’ll say more about him below. There was Thomas, the “show me” disciple, who was again encountering the living Jesus in the flesh. There was Nathaniel, known for his high character though not one of the twelve, but one who had interacted with Jesus at the very beginning of his ministry and proclaimed him the Son of God. There were also James and John the brother fishermen and two other unnamed disciples. These men had left Jerusalem after the resurrection and had gone back home to Galilee and resumed their previous occupation, fishing. We mentioned a few days ago about John’s use of the “light/dark” motive in his gospel. Here it comes again. (Nicodemas came to Jesus at night 3:2; Judas leaving to betray 13:30; resurrection morning “while it was still dark” 20:1; the disciples cowering in the dark that first Sunday evening of the resurrection 20:19―insights from G.Borchert, New American Commentary, John Vol.11, p.326) The idea is that people move from spiritual darkness to recognizing the truth of the Savior. At dawn Jesus was standing on the beach, but the disciples didn’t recognize him. They were still “in the dark.” But when they followed the Lord’s suggestion and pulled in all the fish, then John, the writer of this gospel, told Peter, it is the Lord! Again we see John helping Peter. It was John who spoke to the high priest allowing Peter into the courtyard at Jesus’ trial. It was John who got to the empty tomb first and here, and here it is John who recognized Jesus first. And now we have another fellowship meal with Jesus resulting in Peter being restored. We’re familiar with the three denials and here, the three affirmations of love for the Savior. It is interesting that both occurred around a charcoal fire, the only two times a charcoal fire is mentioned. Charcoal is ashes and ashes are a sign of repentance. It would almost seem this restoration of Peter as a kind of “Ash Wednesday” coming to full circle. In the words of Psalm 36:9 “With Thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light.” Walk in the light this glorious day. 

The music today is the earliest recorded Christian hymn (text) outside of the Bible coming from the 3rd century. The music was composed for the Russian Orthodox Church by Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) Orthodox music is only vocal. No instruments used in worship, only the human voice. You may want to let the video continue to run after this piece!

Music: “Hail Gladdening Light”  Rachmaninoff Vespers Robert Shaw Festival Singers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6PmHP-56Npc   sung in Russian, English translation

O Light gladsome of the holy glory of the Immortal Father,

the Heavenly, the Holy, the Blessed, O Jesus Christ,

having come upon the setting of the sun, having seen the light of the evening,

we praise the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: God.

Worthy it is at all times to praise Thee in joyful voices,

O Son of God, Giver of Life, for which the world glorifies Thee.

Prayer:
Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, you shine light into darkness. A Light which pierces gloom. A Light which fades shadows. A Light which penetrates ominous clouds. A Light which overcomes the black. A Light which melts phantoms. A Light which defeats  doubts, fears, hopelessness, confusion, stress, tension, anger. . . On this holy day, let the Light of my Savior shine forth in me that He may bring glory to the Father as he lives in and through me. May the dark places in my life be overcome by the Light of the World, even Jesus the Christ, in whose name I pray. Amen.     ―Daniel Sharp

Saturday, April 25

Reader: “Let us rejoice”

Response: “in the salvation he brings!”

Scripture: Isaiah 25:6-9; Luke 14:12-14

Isaiah

In Jerusalem, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies

    will spread a wonderful feast

    for all the people of the world.

It will be a delicious banquet

    with clear, well-aged wine and choice meat.

There he will remove the cloud of gloom,

    the shadow of death that hangs over the earth.

He will swallow up death forever!

    The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears.

He will remove forever all insults and mockery

    against his land and people.

    The Lord has spoken!

In that day the people will proclaim,

“This is our God!

    We trusted in him, and he saved us!

This is the Lord, in whom we trusted.

    Let us rejoice in the salvation he brings!”

Luke

Then [Jesus] turned to his host. “When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
I mentioned yesterday a little difficulty I have in grasping the reality of being part of God’s family. I understand the words, the concepts, the promises, the theology, the context and so forth, but it is still a wonder to me. Then today we run into these two passages that are tied quite closely together with an image and example that Jesus used very frequently in his ministry, eating meals with all kinds of people, including the wedding banquet. Have you ever wondered why he chose eating together as his teaching illustration? Think of all the kinds of people involved in meals in the Bible.

The very first meal involved sinners! But there was Abram and Sarai sharing a meal with the three visitors, one of whom was God in a theophany. We have the examples of: Joseph’s unique meal with his brothers, seated at the table in birth order prior to his revealing his identity to his brothers, Elijah being fed by ravens, Jesus eating at the home of Zaccheus, Jesus feeding the 5,000, Jesus gettting ready to eat with the two people from Emmaus, and Jesus eating fish with the disciples after his resurrection. In each of these examples and in the dozens more in Scripture, God’s hand is in the midst of the meal. What is of note is the nature of the people sharing meals. The guests at the table were there not because of who they were, but because of who they weren’t. The proud, the arrogant, the pompous, the famous were not to be found present. The humble, the meek, the lowly of heart, the devoted, the faithful, the poor in spirit were there. In these passages, Scripture is so clear that all peoples, regardless of who they are, are invited to come to the feast of God’s Kingdom, the Messianic banquet, the Wedding feast of the Lamb. In the eucharist, we commune with our Savior. Isaiah described, in what you read, this heavenly banquet yet to be, a banquet to which we’ve been invited.  

Music: “Let Us Break Bread Together”    Jessye Norman

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFQqOWh2aOY

Prayer:
O Lord Jesus Christ, in whom is truth and life, let Thy presence abide in us, that seeking Thy truth we may find Thee, and sharing Thy life, may dwell together in perfect fellowship, and may be found faithful servants of Thee, to whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit be glory and praise, now and forever. Amen.     ―Anonymous

Friday, April 24

Reader: “I love the Lord”

Response: “because he hears my voice.”

Scripture: Psalm 116:1-4; 12-19

I love the Lord because he hears my voice

    and my prayer for mercy. 

Because he bends down to listen,

    I will pray as long as I have breath! 

Death wrapped its ropes around me;

    the terrors of the grave overtook me.

    I saw only trouble and sorrow.

Then I called on the name of the Lord:

    “Please, Lord, save me!”

What can I offer the Lord

    for all he has done for me?

I will lift up the cup of salvation

    and praise the Lord’s name for saving me. 

I will keep my promises to the Lord

    in the presence of all his people.

The Lord cares deeply

    when his loved ones die.

O Lord, I am your servant;

    yes, I am your servant, born into your household;

    you have freed me from my chains.

I will offer you a sacrifice of thanksgiving

    and call on the name of the Lord.

I will fulfill my vows to the Lord

    in the presence of all his people

in the house of the Lord

    in the heart of Jerusalem.

Praise the Lord!

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
That these last two months dealing with the COVID-19 virus have been trying for everyone is probably an understatement. We have had to alter a great many plans and habits and expectations. There is no doubt people have been under a fair amount of stress, sometimes revealing things in our hearts that we didn’t realize were so present as we grab for that last package of TP! Into this context we read this wonderful psalm. I’m afraid our God is far more present than we realize. He hears your whispered prayer and he gives mercy. The phrase “as long as I have breath I will pray” says a great deal about the confidence and determination of the psalmist. Do we pray with that kind of fever or do we pray for a few minutes and if nothing happens go on to something else? How persistent are you in your life of prayer? Here the psalmist was overwhelmed with a desperate situation and he cried out to God. We are more likely to pray in a fearful situation, but what about praying when the situation isn’t so uncertain? The last portion of the psalm is one of gratitude to the Lord. It seems in the difficult situation the psalmist made some kind of promise to the Lord. How often have we done that? “Lord if you will . . . then I promise I will …” Again, underscored here is the wonderful truth that the Lord cares deeply when his loved ones die. Think about that. The words are “his loved ones.” We talk about our loved ones, our children, our parents, our family. Christianity uses familial language from beginning to end: Father, Son, brothers, sisters, children, sons, daughters, offspring, little ones, and family. Into this context we read that the Lord views us as his own “loved ones,” loving you and me as a perfect Father. This is overwhelming . . . and reason to calm down and trust. Your Father will meet all of your needs.

Music: “I Love the Lord”    Whitney Houston The text is based on this psalm.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPLP1ui4YNc      From the “Preacher’s Wife” movie

A live performance by Whitney Houston       

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lU9iJ0YU0PQ 

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, that we are part of the Trinity family is beyond anything we can begin to comprehend. That you love us so is, honestly, hard for me to grasp. The depth of your love as expressed in Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension is something we’re still trying to comprehend. We read it in the Scripture and don’t doubt that it happened and was motivated by your love and desire that we should know and love you, but it’s that we feel so ordinary, sinful and puny people. How could you love us? You are the masterful, glorious God of all creation. Help us to know you better and be more able to live as your children and reflect well on our family name. Thank you for hearing our cries and caring deeply when your family members struggle. We love you. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
―Daniel Sharp

Thursday, April 23

Reader: “Though you do not see him now,”

Response: “you trust him.”

Scripture:  I Peter 1:8-12

You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.

This salvation was something even the prophets wanted to know more about when they prophesied about this gracious salvation prepared for you. They wondered what time or situation the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when he told them in advance about Christ’s suffering and his great glory afterward.

They were told that their messages were not for themselves, but for you. And now this Good News has been announced to you by those who preached in the power of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. It is all so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching these things happen.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
This is a most interesting and insightful passage as recorded by Peter. He is writing to Christians who are being persecuted in Asia Minor, in what is today the nation of Turkey. He is writing to challenge his readers to holy living in the midst of a difficult, antagonistic culture. I wonder if Peter was perhaps thinking of Thomas, one of his fellow disciples, when he wrote “though you do not see him now, you trust him” in reference to Jesus. In these days of global unrest, do we trust our Savior in this biggest picture, or succumb to fear? The Greek word for “souls” often refers to the whole person, hence the phrase, “salvation of your souls.” Likewise, here it does not refer simply to one aspect of a person, but to the entirety of the person, not just some inner spiritual being. Your whole person is saved at the coming of the Lord, not just the spiritual part of you. The next portion referring to the Old Testament prophets is fascinating to me. Sometimes, as in the days of Noah, a prophet received a message from the Lord concerning something that was going to happen. The prophet Noah preached repentance to no avail and the Flood happened in his lifetime. But can you imagine being a prophet and having a clear message come to you like Noah, but without a specific time in which it would occur? You have the Spirit of Christ in you which is separate from you speaking through you. You learn of the suffering of a Messiah and the great glory that would follow . . . but it never happens in your lifetime. You die without ever seeing your word from the Holy Spirit fulfilled. Do you realize we are in a kind of “Old Testament time” in the sense that we also are awaiting and looking for the Second and final coming of the Lord?  The Good News of salvation and what is to come is being preached all over the world as the Holy Spirit speaks through various people as we await the unfolding of the glorious conclusion! Peter writes that even the angels are “eagerly watching” these things happening. The phrase, “eagerly watching,” is the same Greek word used of the disciples when they peered into the empty tomb. There is a curiosity element here. Angels have known Christ in the realm of heaven and then Christ in human form only to have him return to heaven in a glorified human body. No one in heaven or on earth has experienced what is to come, so “eagerly watching” is a most apropos expression. Though we have never seen him, we eagerly watch and wait with a trusting curiosity. The Lord is coming back.

Music: “At the Name of Jesus”  Cardiff Festival Choir

https://join.skype.com/M8O4IU8Cbzdh 

(This hymn traces the work and call of Christ from Creation to his Second Coming in seven verses.)

At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow,

Every tongue confess him King of glory now:

‘Tis the Father’s pleasure we should call him Lord,

Who from the beginning was the mighty Word.

At his voice creation sprang at once to sight,

All the angels faces, all the hosts of light,

Thrones and Dominations, stars upon their way,

All the heavenly orders in their great array.

Humbled for a season to receive a name

From the lips of sinners unto whom he came,

Faithfully he bore it, spotless to the last,

Brought it back victorious, when from death he passed:

Bore it up triumphant with its human light,

Through all ranks of creatures to the central height,

To the throne of Godhead, to the Father’s breast;

Filled it with the glory of that perfect rest.

Name him, brothers, name him, with love as strong as death,

But with awe and wonder and with bated breath:

He is God the Saviour, He is Christ the Lord,

Ever to be worshipped, trusted, and adored.

In your hearts enthrone him; there let him subdue

All that is not holy, all that is not true:

Crown him as your captain in temptation’s hour;

Let his will enfold you in its light and power.

Brothers, this Lord Jesus shall return again,

With his Father’s glory, with his angel train;

For all wreaths of empire meet upon his brow,

And our hearts confess him King of glory now.

Prayer:
All searching God, Thou readest the heart, viewest principles and motives of actions, seest more defilement in my duties than I ever saw in any of my sins. The heavens are not clean in thy sight, and thou chargest the angels with folly; I am ready to flee from myself because of my abominations; yet thou dost not abhor me but hast devised means for my return to thee, and that by thy Son who died to give me life. Thine honor is secured and displayed even in my escape from thy threats, and that, by means of Jesus in whom mercy and truth meet together and righteousness and peace kiss each other. In him the enslaved find redemption, the guilty pardon, and unholy renovation; in him are everlasting strength for the weak, unsearchable riches for the needy, treasures of wisdom and knowledge for the ignorant, fullness for the empty. At thy gracious call I hear, take, come, apply, receive his grace, not only submit to his mercy but acquiesce in it, not only glory in the cross but in him crucified and slain, not only joy in forgiveness but in the one through whom atonement comes. Thy blessings are as secure as they are glorious; thou hast provided for my safety and my prosperity and hast promised that I shall stand firm and grow stronger. O Lord God, without the pardon of my sin, I cannot rest satisfied without the renovation of my nature by grace, I can never rest easy, without the hopes of heaven I can never be at peace. All this I have in thy Son Jesus; blessed be his name for ever and ever. Amen.      ―The Valley of Vision p.21

Wednesday, April 22

Reader: “Now someone greater than Solomon is here—”

Response: “but you refuse to listen.”

Scripture: Matthew 12:38-42

One day some teachers of religious law and Pharisees came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we want you to show us a miraculous sign to prove your authority.”

But Jesus replied, “Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign; but the only sign I will give them is the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.

“The people of Nineveh will stand up against this generation on judgment day and condemn it, for they repented of their sins at the preaching of Jonah. Now someone greater than Jonah is here—but you refuse to repent. The queen of Sheba will also stand up against this generation on judgment day and condemn it, for she came from a distant land to hear the wisdom of Solomon. Now someone greater than Solomon is here—but you refuse to listen.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
There is an attitude expressed in this passage that is a universal curiosity. People like to see magic tricks. The Pharisees were pushing for such, but with insincere hearts. But we need to see the larger context. Previous to the portion you just read, in the presence of the Pharisees, Jesus had frustrated them by claiming to be Lord of the Sabbath (eating grain in a field on the Sabbath), healing a man with a deformed hand, and healing a demon-possessed man. They could deny neither of these miracles. Yet we come to today’s pericope with their words, “Show us a miracle as a sign to prove your authority.” There was a popular expectation that the Messiah would perform astounding miracles on command. Remember during Jesus’ trial, Herod questioned Jesus hoping to see him perform a miracle? Jesus saw through the bogus request of the Pharisees for they had already seen him perform miracles in their presence. Have you noticed Jesus never did a miracle for its own sake? His miracles were never as magic tricks nor for entertainment. They always pointed to bringing glory to God and to establishing his identity that people might repent and believe in the Son of God. So Jesus went to a story in the First Testament, the Pharisees’ own Bible, to make his point in response to their request. The prophet Jonah preached and the Ninevites repented. Jesus then drew a parallel between himself and Jonah’s three days in the belly of the fish in reference to his death and resurrection. (In passing, observe that Jesus treated the whole encounter of Jonah, the fish, and preaching repentance to the Ninevites as historical truth. He didn’t treat the story as allegory nor should we ever treat the resurrection as allegory.) Jesus then claimed to be greater than the prophet Jonah and greater than King Solomon. In truth, the Pharisees were not the least bit interested in repenting before Jesus and confessing him as the Messiah, though a few did (Nicodemus). All people on earth have been given the most miraculous sign ever, the resurrection of Jesus Christ and his victory over evil, sin, and death. The question is, do people repent and believe? In these days following Easter, perhaps you’ll have a chance today to talk with a “Pharisee” and help them become a Nicodemus.

Music: “The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ”    Simon Khorolskiy & Brothers
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0T-M9iPZfMk 

Prayer:
Use me then, my Savior, for whatever purpose and in whatever way Thou mayest require. Here is my poor heart, an empty vessel; fill it with Thy Grace. Here is my sinful and troubled soul; quicken it and refresh it with Thy love. Take my heart for Thine abode, my mouth to spread abroad the glory of Thy name, my love and all my powers for the advancement of Thy believing people; that at all times I may be enabled from the heart to say, “Jesus needs me, and I him.”        ―Dwight L. Moody

Tuesday, April 21

Reader: “Just as death came into the world through a man,” 

Response: “now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man.”

Scripture: I Corinthians 15:19-28

And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.

But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.

So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back.

After that the end will come, when he will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power. For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet. And the last enemy to be destroyed is death. For the Scriptures say, “God has put all things under his authority.” (Of course, when it says “all things are under his authority,” that does not include God himself, who gave Christ his authority.) Then, when all things are under his authority, the Son will put himself under God’s authority, so that God, who gave his Son authority over all things, will be utterly supreme over everything everywhere.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
In this pericope Paul continues with the implications of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. In our Christian culture we can tend to look at a verse here and there and draw conclusions based solely on what we just read. It is always important to remember that the Bible is one grand story with all the parts connected. Failing to realize that truth can lead to a very shallow understanding of the Scriptures. Adam and Eve’s failure was devastating to the entire human race, and that is not an understatement. The rest of the Bible is coming to grips with the sin they introduced. Their rebellion made death an absolute certainty for all humankind from that moment forward. God told them if they ate the forbidden fruit, they would die. And they chose death, believe it or not. As children of Adam, our choice was gone; our death became a certainty. In a sense, Eve became the mother of death and Adam the father. That disaster has played havoc with the human race for thousands of years. Humanity had no escape; it was doomed. But into this world came a Second Adam born of a Second Eve. Whereas Eve doubted God’s word effectively saying “My will be done, Mary trusted God with the words, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you said about me come true.” In a sense, she became the mother of life. And the Second Adam came taking death head on and crushing the head of the Garden’s serpent opening the way to life eternal. Christ was the first one raised from the dead leading the way for all believers who follow. But there is more. Christ will return and destroy all evil rulers and powers, rending them impotent. In the ancient Near East, when a foe was defeated, that person knelt before the victor with his head to the ground and the triumphant ruler placed his foot on the neck of the vanquished.  Sometimes the defeated foe is referred to in Scripture as a “footstool under the feet of the king.” (Heb.10:12-13, Ps.110:1) The ultimate end is that Jesus Christ will be totally supreme over everything everywhere. Notice how everything is described in physical terms. We are not describing mystical floating spirits, but bodies with different properties in a completely different dimension than the one in which we currently live. So what does all this have to do with today, Tuesday, April 21st? As believers, we have already been raised with Christ. We are in the early stages of resurrection life! We are freed from sin and death now. The Holy Spirit is our guide and source of power. We can live this day with a broader perspective then the next twenty-four hours.

Music: “Hallelujah Chorus from Mount of Olives by Beethoven      Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-mNxQ6Kslk 

Praise the Lord, ye bright angelic choirs in holy songs of joy.

Man, proclaim his grace and glory.

Praise the Lord in holy songs of joy.

Hallelujah unto God’s Almighty Son.

Praise the Lord in holy songs of joy.

Prayer:
O God, you have glorified our victorious Savior with a visible, triumphant Resurrection from the dead, and ascension into heaven, where he sits at your right hand; grant, we beg you, that his triumph and glories may ever shine in our eyes, to make us more clearly see through his sufferings, and more courageously endure our own; being assured by his example, that if we endeavor to live and die like him, for the advancement of your love in ourselves and others, you will raise our dead bodies again, and conforming them to his glorious body, call us above the clouds, and give us possession of your everlasting kingdom. Amen.       ―John Wesley

Monday, April 20

Reader: “Christ has been raised from the dead.” 

Response: “He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.”

Scripture: I Corinthians 15:12-20

But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
In Paul’s day, as in ours, there were those who had a tough time getting their heads around the fact that Jesus rose bodily from the grave. The Greeks believed in the immortality of the soul, but a physical body being raised from the dead was much harder for them to accept. So Paul presents his argument for a bodily, physical resurrection in this portion of his letter. He works backwards in his logic. He starts with a physical body; Greeks and doubters must accept that an earthly body is matter in the form of flesh. If we accept the premise that it is impossible for a body to rise from the dead, then the claim of Christ’s resurrection is clearly not true. Following along, presuming we are perpetuating a lie, then the atoning work on the cross on our behalf never happened and we are still in our sins. In addition, the torn curtain in the Temple was God’s mistake since he affirmed something that never happened. What is more pathetic, is that we are suffering as complete fools for believing something that never happened. When we die that’s it and we’ll receive a very rude awakening . . . so to speak! It reminds me of Pascal’s wager, namely humans betting their lives on the existence of God. In a nutshell: 1) If we believe in the existence of God and he exists, when we die, we enjoy the benefits of heaven. 2) If we believe in the existence of God and he doesn’t exist and we die, we’ve lost nothing. 3) If we don’t believe in the existence of God and he does exist and we die, we lose everything for all eternity. 4) If we don’t believe in the existence of God and he doesn’t exist and we die,  we’ve lost nothing. In light of eternity, number three is not worth our arrogance. Not the same, but a little bit of the same logic. The last sentence you read is about us! A little Jewish background here. One of the seven principal Jewish feasts was the Feast of Firstfruits which began two days after Passover and the day after the Sabbath, which is Sunday, the first day of the week. A stock of barley (it ripens before wheat) was pulled from the field pointing to the wheat harvest some seven weeks later at Pentecost. This stock was symbolic of the full harvest to come. God always owned the firstfruits, hence the beginning of every harvest went to him, similar to God owning all the first born men or animals. (Think of the Exodus.) Of the seven times firstfruits are mentioned in the New Testament, (worded here, “first of the great harvest”), these last two sentences are the most significant. Christ, as the Firstfruit, leads the way in resurrection, to be followed by his believers, and then all who have died. For these words speak of the certainty of a future bodily resurrection for all who believe as well as for those who don’t believe and at final Judgment, some to eternal life in the presence of God and others to eternal life apart from God. Bottom line, we are guaranteed now of our future resurrection body which will be fundamentally different from the body we live in now. (Yes!) Our bodies will be glorious, immortal, material, and spiritual similar to Christ’s own resurrection body. Can you imagine?

Music: “I Can Only Imagine”   Mercy Me

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_lrrq_opng 

In this song we have pictures of loved ones who have gone before, but what strikes me is the power of the text which centers on the overwhelming reality of being in the presence of Christ himself.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus Christ, my Creator and Savior of my soul and body, I bow before you in overwhelming gratitude and wonder. Your word says you knit me together in my mother’s womb and saw me before I was even born. You recorded every day and every moment of my life before there was even one. The mystery is that you have never recorded an end to my life. You know that I will dwell with you eternally because of what you have done on the behalf of me and all of your children. I look forward, though I cannot imagine how this would be, to thanking you face to face in my unimaginable resurrection body and bowing before you in perfect worship. . . . my words fail, but you know my speechless heart.          ―Daniel Sharp

Second Sunday in Easter, April 19

Reader: “Blessed are those who believe ”

Response: “without seeing me. ”

Scripture: John 20:19-31

That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with the others when Jesus came. They told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

“My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name.

Reader: “The powerful word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
I would like us to again, step back in time into that locked room and weigh some of the dynamics at play. We are sitting invisible in the corner of the room. The disciples were fearful of being discovered by the authorities and receiving the same fate as Jesus. While they were willing to walk with Jesus in the moments of glory, now it was different. It’s Sunday night. Peter and John had earlier that morning been to the empty tomb and left. Mary had told them that she saw a living resurrected Jesus. Women’s opinions were not given great credibility in the culture of the day, so they were not sure what to think. Fear of worldly forces can often consume Christians when they lose focus on God’s power and sovereignty. Such was the case of the cowering disciples. Into this situation, the dead Jesus they saw on the cross three days previous, suddenly appears in their midst very much alive coming through the locked door. Rather than speculate how this was possible, we would simply say, a resurrection body has very different properties. Neither Paul nor any of the gospel writers shy away from mystery. They simply state what is. Though there is much more to say, I want to skip ahead to “doubting” Thomas. Sometimes, I fear, he gets a bad rap. Thomas was very much a realist. It was he who said, when Jesus informed the disciples that he was going back to Jerusalem to wake Lazarus from his sleep, “let’s all go and die with you,” knowing the full danger of Jesus returning at that time (Jn.11:16). It was Thomas who wanted clarity on “the way” where Jesus was going (Jn. 14:5). We don’t know why Thomas was not with the other disciples that first Sunday, but he had heard from them regarding Jesus’ appearance that remarkable night and he wasn’t buying it. The following Sunday night was different! Can you imagine his reaction when Jesus appears again? I can almost hear the conversation . . . “So Thomas, good to see you. Missed you last Sunday. I heard you say something about touching my hands and my side? I’m here. Go ahead. What’s holding you back?” Can you imagine the turmoil going on in the psyche of that disciple? Thomas, overwhelmed, makes the great declaration, “My Lord and my God!” This was not only a personal testimony of belief, it was an echoing  proclamation of the beginning of John’s gospel. “The Word was with God and the Word was God.” Jesus concludes this encounter with the prophetic words that includes us, “Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” Thomas’ realism has done the skeptics and all of us a great favor. 

Music: “Worthy Is the Lamb” from Messiah   Robert Shaw (The conclusion of Messiah)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYqa4_3Lc48    Glorious AMEN!!

Bonus:

 “I Have Seen the Lord”        Vigil

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7G3IFp3Ckiw 

Prayer:
Show us, O God, most holy, according to the measure of our mortal sight, the glory of the risen Christ, for as the rising sun breaks upon the night shadows and day leaps into joy, so has Christ overcome the powers of darkness and of death, and has disclosed to us the wonders of your power and love. Truly, you have risen, O Lord! Let the gospel trumpets speak, and the news as of holy fire, burning and flaming and inextinguishable, run to the ends of the earth. You have risen, O Lord! Let all creation greet the good tidings, with jubilant shout; for its time of release has come, the long night is past, the Savior lives and rides and reigns in triumph now and throughout all ages. Amen.

      ―from Prayers for Sunday Services, p.97

Saturday, April 18

Reader: “Peace be with you, ”

Response: “and also with you. ”

Scripture: John 20:11-20

Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.

“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

“Mary!” Jesus said.

She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

“Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.

That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord!

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
As we saw yesterday, Paul omitted a reference to Mary Magdalene as a witness to Jesus’ resurrection. John’s gospel gives us Mary’s account in today’s pericope. The above passage describes her second trip to the tomb. She had been there shortly before and discovered it was empty. She ran back to Peter and John to tell them Jesus was gone. The  two men had come and seen the empty tomb and went back home! Mary stayed as described in the passage you just read. Put yourself at the tomb sitting invisibly on a rock on the side watching this encounter unfold.

Mary is standing by the entrance crying and she looks in the tomb for a second time. This time, there are two angels in the tomb, one sitting on the stone slab where Jesus’ head had been placed, and the other where his feet would have been. Imagine her shock when they ask her why she was crying. Notice her response was very natural. (My guess is that she was so self-focused on the missing body of Jesus, that she hardly grasped her unique encounter with angelic beings and she simply “went with it.”) In essence, “Somebody took the Lord’s body and I don’t know where they put him.” The angels didn’t respond and so she turns to leave, at the same time realizing another person has arrived, but she isn’t really focused on the man as her mind is preoccupied with finding the dead body of Jesus. He also asks her why she is crying but then asks her also who she is looking for. In somewhat of a fog, she presumes he’s the gardener and wants to know where he put the body. She is focused on finding the body! (For the Jews, proper burial of the deceased was of utmost importance and robbing graves was common, hence her concern.) Jesus calls her by name and she turns stunned to realize it is Jesus in his resurrected flesh. A living Jesus was the last thing she was expecting! (There are other accounts where the resurrected Lord is unrecognized―E.g.Emmaus, miraculous catch of fish.) Have you noticed how straight forward and “matter of fact” this whole account is? Nothing about this retelling is imaginary or magical. It is an historical record of the resurrection event written by an eyewitness who was present in the story. John makes the resurrection of Jesus very clear. Every person is confronted with the question, “Is this true and do I believe it? Do I receive what Christ has done for me?” Walk today with this same living Lord. Don’t be so consumed with the circumstances of the day that you miss the “Gardener” standing right beside you.

Music: “In the Garden”    Alan Jackson

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhIGIfsLxVk 

Prayer:
Almighty God, who through the death of your Son has destroyed sin and death, and by his Resurrection has restored innocence and everlasting life, that we may be delivered from the dominion of the devil, and our mortal bodies raised up from the dead: grant that we may confidently and whole-heartedly believe this, and, finally, with your saints, share in the joyful resurrection of the just; through the same Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord.   

           ―Martin Luther

Friday, April 17

Reader: “Christ died for our sins,”

Response: “just as the Scriptures said.”

Scripture:  I Corinthians 15:1-11

Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and you still stand firm in it. It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you—unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place.

I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church.

But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me—and not without results. For I have worked harder than any of the other apostles; yet it was not I but God who was working through me by his grace. So it makes no difference whether I preach or they preach, for we all preach the same message you have already believed.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
This part of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is one of classic passages on the resurrection. You probably heard a sermon last Sunday on some aspect of proof that Jesus rose from the dead and may have encountered this pericope. In reading Scripture, it behooves us always to ask ourselves, why did the writer include this phrase or mention this idea. Let’s apply that practice here. I want us to look particularly at Paul’s zeroing in on Christ dying for our sins, being buried, raised from the dead, and then being seen by various people. To a Greek philosopher, the idea of a bodily resurrection would be ridiculous, absurd. Some members of the church in Corinth struggled with this idea. Here, Paul is focusing on bodily resurrection, not the immortality of the soul, which was assumed in various understandings by the Greeks. Paul is also limiting this discussion to believers’ bodies at death. To make his point, Paul brings forth his evidence of the reality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. He omits Mary of Magdala as a first witness and goes to Jesus’ appearance to Peter. As Charles Erdman commented, “A sacred silence conceals the time and place and the words which were spoken.” They most likely were words of pardon to the denier. Paul then mentions the eleven disciples in the upper room, also men who had run away, abandoning their Lord. It would seem Paul was making a point that Jesus appeared first to the people who most likely would have avoided seeing him out of great guilt and embarrassment. Seeing a living Lord would have magnified their remorse and underscored the truth that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead. The next mention is of an appearance to more than 500 people at the same time establishing that the bodily resurrection was not a vision or phantom appearance. By mentioning that some of those people were still alive was another way of saying, “You can ask them if this is true.” So the movement was from a single person, to a small group, to a large crowd of people. The next appearance mentioned is touching, it is to Jesus’ half brother, James, another son of Mary and Joseph, one whom Jesus had grown up with. The Scriptures are clear that Jesus’ own brothers did not believe in him until after the resurrection, so this is particularly powerful. This is the same James who wrote the book by his name in the New Testament. Then Paul states Jesus appeared to all the apostles, this time including doubting Thomas, whose response in seeing Jesus was profound and powerful, “My Lord and my God!” The converted Saul then points to his own Damascus road experience where he saw the risen Christ and was dramatically, instantly converted to the Christian faith. You’ve noticed that none of this was a “tradition handed down” but rather, first hand eye-witness accounts of a God-man gaining victory over death. The grave could not hold him. The power of the devil over death was obliterated for all eternity! As a believer in Jesus Christ, never doubt that you will be resurrected to eternal life. The Scriptures are so clear. May you have an opportunity today to pass along this most glorious truth.

Music: “The Trumpet Shall Sound” from Messiah   Philippe Sly

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13DpmWPV9IU 

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, as you made yourself known first at Easter to the people who most loved you and missed you, make yourself known this day to any who have felt cut off from you―any who are burdened by guilt, and do not understand how much you love them―anywho feel that joy has gone out of their life forever. And as you dealt patiently with the problems of Thomas, deal patiently too with all people who are handicapped by closed minds―all who fear that the resurrection news is too good to be true―all who are held back from faith by intellectual barriers of doubt―all who are too proud to humble themselves before you. Make yourself known to them too; and set them free.

            ―adapted from Prayers for Sunday Services, Daniel Sharp

Thursday, April 16

Reader: “I will not be shaken,”

Response: “for he is right beside me.”

Scripture: Psalm 16

Keep me safe, O God, for I have come to you for refuge.

I said to the Lord, “You are my Master! Every good thing I have comes from you.”

The godly people in the land are my true heroes! I take pleasure in them!

Troubles multiply for those who chase after other gods.

I will not take part in their sacrifices of blood or even speak the names of their gods.

Lord, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing. You guard all that is mine.

The land you have given me is a pleasant land. What a wonderful inheritance!

I will bless the Lord who guides me; even at night my heart instructs me.

I know the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.

No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice. My body rests in safety.

For you will not leave my soul among the dead or allow your holy one to rot in the grave. 

You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
As I write this, the world is in the throes of panic over the coronavirus. Every single news story is about how many people are infected, how many have died so far, and how much worse it is going to get. People are cleaning out TP in stores! Really? By the time you read this, I wonder what the situation will be? Hopefully, TP will still be in existence! An “abundance of caution” is the phrase of the day. An event like this where death is part of the conversation, is most revealing. You’ve seen how fast attention turns to self. People are quick to hoard. In a matter of a few hours, grocery stores have bare shelves.

Without sports to watch, attend or speculate about, many people are lost. Those trusting in their portfolios are fearful and anxious. Where is the anchor in all of this turmoil? King David writes the stabilizer for us in Psalm 16. The virus is no match for God! It has not surprised him. It has no power over him. For good or ill, it has helped reveal the true hearts of the people. It has served to show those things in which people trust; those things about which people care; those different things which motivate people; and the virus has shown what people ultimately believe in for their safety. Hear again David’s words: “Keep me safe, O God. You are my Master. The godly people in the land are my true heros. Lord, you alone are my inheritance. You guard all that is mine. I will bless the Lord who guides me. I know the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me. My body rests in safety. You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence.” It doesn’t seem like there is any panic here, does it? Whether this virus business has calmed down by now, or is still stirring, the word of the Lord, as given to David, is the right place to live, always keeping God’s biggest picture in mind.

Music: “Be Still My Soul”     Libera

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwkPsKe-39Y 

Prayer:
O Thou full of compassion, I commit and commend myself unto Thee, in whom I am, and live, and know. Be Thou the Goal of my pilgrimage, and my Rest by the way. Let my soul take refuge from the crowding turmoil of worldly thoughts beneath the shadow of Thy wings; let my heart, this sea of restless waves, find peace in Thee, O God. Thou bounteous Giver of all good gifts, give to him who is weary refreshing food; gather our distracted thoughts and powers into harmony again; and set the prisoner free. See, he stands at Thy door and knocks; be it opened to him, that he may enter with a free step, and be quickened by Thee. For Thou art the Well-spring of Life, the Light of eternal Brightness, wherein the just live who love Thee. Be it unto me according to Thy word. Amen.    ―St. Augustine  (354-430)

Wednesday, April 15

Reader: “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.” 

Response: “He isn’t here!”

Scripture: Matthew 28:1-10

Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb.

Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint.

Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.”

The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. And as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
You have undoubtedly read this account of the resurrection many times and heard more than one sermon preached on it. As you read the passage again, did you notice how very straight-forward it reads? Nothing sensational in this narrative. I love the simple “He isn’t here.” The event is tied to real time “. . . early on Sunday morning as the new day was dawning . . .” That sounds like a description of this morning. There is no hint of fantasy here.  Note all the specific details. Two women we know from elsewhere in the Scriptures are named. We have a description of an earthquake and the appearance of an angel causing two guards to faint. The appearance of an angel signals a remarkable event is underway. Heavenly beings have come to earth. Two different worlds are connected in earthly chronology and history. Something like this does not happen every day! The news is that the crucified rabbi has been raised from the dead by the power of God. Up to this point, the devil held the power of death in his evil grip. The good news is that the head of the one holding sway over death was mortally crushed. Rather than serving as a fearful end to a meaningless life, death can now serve as a departure point in earthly life and the doorway to paradise and into the presence of our great God. As if to further confirm the words of the angels, the women ran into the risen Lord and talked with him. It is true, Jesus defeated death. But, as we mentioned the other day, this whole event is a strong and powerful voice of God telling one and all of his great love for his people and of his desire that they be with him where he is. We are so used to reading news stories that give a “spin” to the reporting, that when we read something as plain and simple as this, we may tend to look for angles. There are none. It’s simply and gloriously true! God loves his people to death!

Music: “Thine Is the Victory”   First Plymouth-Church arr. Horby

www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Q2OuTUvChw 

Prayer:
It is truly right and good, always and everywhere, with our whole heart and mind and voice, to praise you, the invisible, almighty, and eternal God, and your only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord; for he is the true Paschal Lamb, who at the feast of the Passover paid for us the debt of Adam’s sin, and by his blood delivered your faithful people. You brought our fathers, the children of Israel, out of bondage in Egypt, and led them through the Red Sea on dry land. All who believe in Christ are delivered from the gloom of sin, and are restored to grace and holiness of life. For he broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave. How wonderful and beyond our knowing, O God, is your mercy and loving-kindness to us, that to redeem a slave, you gave a Son. How wonderful when wickedness is put to flight, and sin is washed away. It restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to those who mourn. It casts out pride and hatred, and brings peace and concord. How blessed when earth and heaven are joined and man is reconciled to God. Let us live in simple transparency this day. In the name of Jesus Christ, who lives with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

―adapted Daniel Sharp from Easter Vigil prayer, BCP

Tuesday, April 14

Reader: “Your right hand, O Lord, ”

Response: is glorious in power. ”

Scripture: Exodus 15: 1-18 

Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord:

“I will sing to the Lord,  for he has triumphed gloriously;

he has hurled both horse and rider  into the sea.

The Lord is my strength and my song;  he has given me victory.

This is my God, and I will praise him—my father’s God, and I will exalt him!

The Lord is a warrior; Yahweh is his name!

Pharaoh’s chariots and army he has hurled into the sea.

The finest of Pharaoh’s officers are drowned in the Red Sea.

The deep waters gushed over them; they sank to the bottom like a stone.

“Your right hand, O Lord,  is glorious in power.

Your right hand, O Lord, smashes the enemy.

In the greatness of your majesty, you overthrow those who rise against you.

You unleash your blazing fury;  it consumes them like straw.

At the blast of your breath,  the waters piled up!

The surging waters stood straight like a wall;  in the heart of the sea the deep waters became hard.

“The enemy boasted, ‘I will chase them and catch up with them.

I will plunder them  and consume them. I will flash my sword;  my powerful hand will destroy them.’

But you blew with your breath, and the sea covered them.

They sank like lead  in the mighty waters.

“Who is like you among the gods, O Lord— glorious in holiness, awesome in splendor,

    performing great wonders?

You raised your right hand, and the earth swallowed our enemies.

“With your unfailing love you lead the people you have redeemed.

In your might, you guide them  to your sacred home.

The peoples hear and tremble; anguish grips those who live in Philistia.

The leaders of Edom are terrified;  the nobles of Moab tremble.

All who live in Canaan melt away;  terror and dread fall upon them.

The power of your arm makes them lifeless as stone until your people pass by, O Lord,  until the people you purchased pass by.

You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain—the place, O Lord, reserved for your own dwelling, the sanctuary, O Lord, that your hands have established.

The Lord will reign forever and ever!”

Reader: “The word of the Lord as composed by Moses.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
This particular passage is known as the Song of Moses, the first recorded song in Scripture. It is typical of latter biblical songs in that it recalls the actions of God on behalf of his people, underscoring in their minds God’s enduring care, protection and love for his Chosen Band. It is a kind of First Testament resurrection story. God led his people from certain death to life! As we mentioned during a Lenten devotional, in the words of Dennis Prager, “Memory permeates faith. No memory, no faith.” One of the purposes of songs is to permeate faith. We are a people with short historical memories. Notice the first eight lines are very personal with the recurrence of first-person pronouns. One of the great truths of our God is that he is very, very personal. Note also the unity expressed as both Moses and the people of Israel sing this song. The victory of God over the Egyptians was very descriptive, “they sank to the bottom like a stone.” 

In the fifteen lines of the middle section of the song, the text moves to addressing God in the second person. “Your right hand,” (usually the hand the warrior used with his sword,) is praised for vanquishing the enemy. Again, this is quite dramatic in its description of God’s power. For us, reading this song is reading an historical event. We forget the people singing this actually saw the sea split, walked through it, and then saw God collapse the walls of water wiping out the entire Egyptian army, the most powerful army in the world. The singers watched as the waves deposited the soldier’s lifeless bodies on the beach. God had given them an astounding victory.

The final stanza looks to the future, not only for the Children of Israel, but for us as well. While the words foretell the Israelites coming journey to the Promised Land, the last lines point to a day still in the future. We are yet to be planted on the holy mountain, the place reserved for the Lord’s dwelling and the place of God’s everlasting reign. In the crossing of the Red Sea, the Israelites were buried in the waters of baptism and resurrected to new life by the power of God, bringing their certain death to life. They were in the same place as we are. In the resurrection of Jesus, we’ve been brought from death to life as we await our own “crossing of the Jordan” to the Promised Land. Rejoice this day in the eternal life you’ve been given!

Music: “Guide Me O, Thou Great Jehovah”     Tabernacle Welsh Baptist Church

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wT4n1hGjDDg 

 

Prayer:
My risen Lord, I feel thy strong protection; I see thee stand among the graves today. I hear thee say, “I am the Way, the Life, the Resurrection.” And all the burdens I have sadly carried grow light as blossoms on this April day; my cross becomes a staff. I journey gladly these resurrection days, having come through the Sea, I continue on to my final home across the Jordan to the Promised Land.

 ―Author Unknown, adapted Daniel Sharp

Monday, April 13

These are unusual and difficult days in our world. I want to encourage you in the truth. In response to quite a few subscribers asking if I might consider writing more than just Lent or Advent devotionals, after some prayer, I decided to continue writing daily devotionals through Pentecost, which occurs fifty days after Easter and will take us this year to May 31st. So you can expect to continue to receive daily devotionals through the end of May. They will continue to appear in your emails each morning after Easter. You need do nothing. The Lord is sovereign.

In thinking and praying this through, I considered the purpose of these daily encounters with Scripture concluding: 1) They can provide an opportunity to encounter the Lord daily speaking through his written Word. 2) They can give us a better grasp of the whole unity of the Bible as one grand story and increase our knowledge of this Library of Books. 3) They can help get us into the daily pattern of reading Scripture. 4) They can give us a daily encounter with vocal music of substance to inspire our faith. 5) And the concluding prayers can introduce us to some of the saints of the past and “sinners” from the present! With these things in mind and since I am “retired” of sorts, I decided to continue with Eastertide. As always, I appreciate your helping to pass the word along. As always, subscribing is free at:  sharpdevotional.com

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Dan


Reader: “Don’t be afraid.”

Response: “Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today.”

Scripture: Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21

As Pharaoh approached, the people of Israel looked up and panicked when they saw the Egyptians overtaking them. They cried out to the Lord, and they said to Moses, “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt? Didn’t we tell you this would happen while we were still in Egypt? We said, ‘Leave us alone! Let us be slaves to the Egyptians. It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!’”

But Moses told the people, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the people to get moving! Pick up your staff and raise your hand over the sea. Divide the water so the Israelites can walk through the middle of the sea on dry ground. And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they will charge in after the Israelites. My great glory will be displayed through Pharaoh and his troops, his chariots, and his charioteers. When my glory is displayed through them, all Egypt will see my glory and know that I am the Lord!”

Then the angel of God, who had been leading the people of Israel, moved to the rear of the camp. The pillar of cloud also moved from the front and stood behind them. The cloud settled between the Egyptian and Israelite camps. As darkness fell, the cloud turned to fire, lighting up the night. But the Egyptians and Israelites did not approach each other all night.

Then Moses raised his hand over the sea, and the Lord opened up a path through the water with a strong east wind. The wind blew all that night, turning the seabed into dry land. So the people of Israel walked through the middle of the sea on dry ground, with walls of water on each side!

Then the Egyptians—all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and charioteers—chased them into the middle of the sea. But just before dawn the Lord looked down on the Egyptian army from the pillar of fire and cloud, and he threw their forces into total confusion. He twisted their chariot wheels, making their chariots difficult to drive. “Let’s get out of here—away from these Israelites!” the Egyptians shouted. “The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt!”

When all the Israelites had reached the other side, the Lord said to Moses, “Raise your hand over the sea again. Then the waters will rush back and cover the Egyptians and their chariots and charioteers.” So as the sun began to rise, Moses raised his hand over the sea, and the water rushed back into its usual place. The Egyptians tried to escape, but the Lord swept them into the sea. Then the waters returned and covered all the chariots and charioteers—the entire army of Pharaoh. Of all the Egyptians who had chased the Israelites into the sea, not a single one survived.

But the people of Israel had walked through the middle of the sea on dry ground, as the water stood up like a wall on both sides. That is how the Lord rescued Israel from the hand of the Egyptians that day. And the Israelites saw the bodies of the Egyptians washed up on the seashore. When the people of Israel saw the mighty power that the Lord had unleashed against the Egyptians, they were filled with awe before him. They put their faith in the Lord and in his servant Moses.

Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine and led all the women as they played their tambourines and danced. And Miriam sang this song:

“Sing to the Lord,

    for he has triumphed gloriously;

he has hurled both horse and rider

    into the sea.”

Reader: “The Word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
Yesterday was a glorious day celebrating Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and his victory over the power of the devil. If it is possible, I think something even greater may have been demonstrated in that event. Put simply, the resurrection is the glory of God being shone. I know there were many theological aspects being fulfilled at the cross, but I want to touch on the glory of the resurrection. We talk about God’s glory, but what does that mean? In our English usage of today, we may refer to the glory of a sunset. It’s beautiful, stunning while it lasts. The Old Testament meaning of glory is significantly different. The Hebrew word for glory is “kabod” and denotes weightiness, heaviness, solidarity, significance and reality. When God’s glory appears it is not a short term experience, but a visible expression of his absolute reality. His visible presence in Scripture was often in a cloud, a magnificent cloud, a cloud of such weight that entering it uninvited brought death. The resurrection was a manifestation of God’s glory, but it had been foreshadowed throughout the First Testament, for example, in the passage you just read. Remember, we are the Israelites. Don’t think of them as those rebellious people from Bible times. We are too much like them! Pharaoh, the arch enemy, had them trapped. They panicked. They wanted the old miserable past. “Let’s go back to the way it used to be. At least we knew where we stood” . . . in misery. Then came Moses’ words, “Stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today.” The Absolute One entered reality. He does that again and again. Stay calm, the Lord is at work! I love the Lord’s response, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the people to get moving!” You are in my plan! Then God says, “My great glory will be displayed . . .When my glory is displayed through them, all Egypt will see my glory and know that I am the Lord!” Miriam’s song, at the end of what you read, captured this glory of God idea; “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously . . .” God’s glory accomplished (-es) great things on earth as in the Israelites crossing of the Red Sea and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and victory over sin, death, and evil, but the underlying truth is we get first hand glimpses of the glorious Triune God we worship, the weighty grandeur of our God. But even at that, we see only a small part of our great God. The events of God acting in our lives are not the end, but serve rather as pointers to the wonder and weightiness of our great Creator. The glory is in God alone, not in the wonder of parting the water.

Music: “O Gladsome Light” from Vespers by Rachmaninoff  Robert Shaw Festival Singers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6PmHP-56Npc         English Translation:

Gladsome Light of the holy glory of the Immortal One—the Heavenly Father, holy and blessed—O Jesus Christ!

Now that we have come to the setting of the sun,and behold the light of evening, we praise the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—God. Thou art worthy at every moment to be praised in hymns by reverent voices. O Son of God, Thou art the Giver of Life; therefore all the world glorifies Thee.

Prayer:
O God of my Exodus, great was the joy of Israel’s sons when Egypt died upon the shore, far greater the joy when the redeemer’s foe lay crushed in the dust. Jesus strides forth as the victor, conqueror of death, hell, and all opposing might; he bursts the bands of death, tramples the powers of darkness down, and lives forever. He, my gracious surety, apprehended for payment of my debt, comes forth from the prison house of the grave free, and triumphant over sin, Satan, and death. Show me herein the proof that his vicarious offering is accepted, that the claims of justice are satisfied, that the devil’s sceptre is shivered, that his wrongful throne is levelled. Give me the assurance that in Christ I died, in him I rose, in his life I live, in his victory I triumph, and in his ascension I shall be glorified. This I pray Almighty God in the name of the one who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

                                       ―from The Valley of Vision, p.48

Easter Sunday, April 12

These are unusual and difficult days in our world. I want to encourage you in the truth. In response to quite a few subscribers asking if I might consider writing more than just Lent or Advent devotionals, after some prayer, I decided to continue writing daily devotionals through Pentecost, which occurs fifty days after Easter and will take us this year to May 31st. So you can expect to continue to receive daily devotionals through the end of May. They will continue to appear in your emails each morning after Easter. You need do nothing. The Lord is sovereign.


He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Scripture: I Corinthians 15:1-7; 12-28

Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and you still stand firm in it. It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you—unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place.

I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles.

But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.

    O death, where is your victory?

    O death, where is your sting?”

For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.

Music:

“Hallelujah Chorus”  Sir Colin Davis

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6_nJ11BgTE

“Hallelujah Chorus”    Robert Shaw

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6_nJ11BgTE

Note the difference in the conductors interpretation of this very familiar piece. In the first one, Sir Colin Davis is more leisurely enjoying the piece as we’ve heard it a thousand times. In contrast, Mr. Shaw has a fresh drive in the piece and has some slight stretches in phrasing at key times. Mr. Shaw is letting the music portray the text, “hallelujah!”. I’m sorry it’s a visually fuzzy recording, but this rendition is one of the best I’ve ever heard.

“I Know the My Redeemer Liveth” Sylvia McNair     Sung by a believer.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kg7aXEvCeXY

“Worthy is the Lamb”     Robert Shaw

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYqa4_3Lc48

“Messiah” part 3  Octopus Symphony Chorus

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGlAN_FE69o&t=95s

Prayer:
Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.
― Jude, the earthly brother of Jesus


Friends,

I want to thank you again for journeying together these past six and a half weeks leading to this glorious day! I trust your daily time in Scripture has continued or become a regular habit of yours. Our goal is to learn to walk each day with the Lord and to spend time with him each day, not just reading but interacting in prayer. I also hope you’ve come across some new musical groups you can follow. Nothing is more glorious in music than the human voice.To those of you who passed the link along, thank you! Word of mouth and the internet is our only advertisement. I’m always glad for your feedback! Also feel free to let me know if you have any questions. A huge thank you to Jonathan Sharp for hosting and setting all of this up and getting the emails to you each morning. (He does not get up at 5:02 every morning to send them to you!)

The Lord be with you,
Dan

dansharp9@gmail.com


Here in one place is the music list  and Prayer Books if you’re interested. 

Lenten Music 2020

Feb.26 “If with All Your Hearts” from Elijah   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1fyD4WIsXzw

Feb. 27 “Holy, Holy, Holy”  Audrey Assad  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgHrNNM23p8 

Feb.28 “Hear My Prayer O Lord” Purcell Voces8 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=74Q33UL7ugc

Feb.29 “Jesus Loves Me” Whitney Houston  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHm9Ggdanyo

Mar.1 “What Wondrous Love Is This” Chelsea Moon  with Franz Brothers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1g26dbNJYJI

Mar.2 “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” Fernando Ortega

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MdcqhSAXMgE

Mar.3 “I Need Thee Every Hour”      Sam Robson Beautiful and remarkable!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3wSbLa2uGg

Mar.4 “Go Down Moses”   Sam Robson Phenomenal! . . . again!  God in the business of redeeming his people, then and now.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=isLQ36PnTyo

Mar.5 “He Watching Over Israel” Robert Shaw

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37zaRHrNlj4

Mar.6 “Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy”  Fernando Ortega

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGvCm9I4H0A

Mar.7 “Sweet Hour of Prayer” Radiance    (back from last year! DO NOT MISS)        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ph43J3pnBDo

Mar.8 “Sanctus” from Requiem  Durufle Colorado Group?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hESnJ0HHlxI

Mar. 9 “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”  Massed Choirs Weston Noble, Conductor Glorious!! Lake Avenue Church, Pasadena, CA.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fEOLUnoQdmQ

Mar.10  “Miserere Mei”  Allegri Tenebrae Choir   Spectacular!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3v9unphfi0

      This is a setting of Psalm 51

Mar.11 “Salvation Is Created”   Tschenokoff, National Lutheran Choir

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=veDwCqhokOA

Mar.12 “Abide with Me”  St. Olaf Cantori and Congregation

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kkXI-8no9ZE&list=TLPQMjIwMTIwMjCZKDSORdFFFg&index=2 

Mar.13  “To God Be the Glory”   Sissel by Andrae Crouch

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NiB4SEgOkow

If you let it keep running after this video, there are additional videos of her singing this piece at different years in her life. A gorgeous voice. Not to be missed.

Mar.14  “Of the Father’s Love”   Outofdarknessmusic

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7jICEbS4acQ

Mar.15 “Jesus Messiah”    Gaither Vocal Band

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iN4wj2KAdhU

Mar.16 “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” Fernando Ortega

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5b0FTKMYGZ4

Mar.17 “O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus” Simon Khorolskiy   DO NOT miss this!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLTu1xv2-Us 

Mar.18 “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”  Alan Jackson The way it ought to be sung!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=znWu2HCJ92c

Mar.19 “The Lord’s Prayer”   Andrea Bocelli and Mormon Tabernacle Choir

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aEplqV0scyo

Mar.20 “As the Deer”   Masters Chorale

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYNNIUtQ160

Mar. 21 “Be Thou My Vision” Nathan Pacheco

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihJAJA4ibEs

Mar.22 “Breathe on Me Breath of God”  NAK Chor Kapstadt Glorious. Watch to the end.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlyo3neR6xg

Mar.23  “It’s All About Me”   Rob Still Rob is one of my IWS students and has captured today’s cultural mindset in a beautiful way!!! Right. (He’s doing a seminar in Hungry.) A little musical change of pace today!   (The song of the Prodigal!!)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1FqF0goGFo

Mar.24  “Goin’ Home”  Libera The voices of angels!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TvThHk-wMRk

Mar.25  “Goin Home”  Dvorak Sissel  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJFhTb1gi6Y

Mar.26  “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us”  Fernando Ortega

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLDGVl8D5UU

Mar.27  “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” Hymn sing in England!! Note the cross-section of singers!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTKIqmdfHSk

Mar.28 “Amazing Grace”   Il Divo GLORIOUS!!!!!   When you get to heaven, you can sing like this!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYMLMj-SibU

Mar.29  “De Profundus”   Kings College Choir Cambridge

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJvZ8qzW0e8

Mar. 30  “And Can It Be that I Should Gain”   Let’s hear it for the Brits! They SING!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQeIGbKqiw8

Mar.31 “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” Deo Cantamus WOW!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tu1tvqcyY44

Apr.1 “If Thou Wilt Suffer God to Guide Thee”   Calvin Alumni Choir

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vFfYKN6Jw1o

Apr.2   “In Christ Alone” All Souls Orchestra     Kristin Getty Glorious

This is a picture of the Body of Christ!           The Brits sing!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnXv2gAfPpE

Apr.3  “When Jesus Wept” William Billings, early American composer at the time of the Revolutionary war

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjA-uHaj8pA

Apr.4  “Steal Away”   Mahalia Jackson and Nat King Cole   None like her!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-O5hz5KnSdc        I can almost imagine Lazarus singing this song after being raised from the dead!

Apr.5  “Ride On King Jesus” Robert Shaw Festival Singers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wObByhyVdbg

Apr.6 “The Church’s One Foundation” Duke Chapel  arr. Dan Forest

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ECY2IIeRg8

Apr.7  “Ah Holy Jesus”  Fernando Ortega and  Quintessence Ensemble

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3Rq7DoDmyw 

Apr.8  “What Wondrous Love” Robert Shaw Chamber Choir

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WeIECnixpM0

Apr.9 “Ubi Caritas”  Paul Mealor Mealor appears during the applause.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PTrMIJKBwRU

“Ubi Caritas”   Ola Gjeilo Central Washington Chamber Choir with the composer on piano.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_7mcGqsKP8

Apr.10  “Agnus Dei”   Samuel Barber Robert Shaw Festival Singers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6ilqJW3fV8&list=TLPQMjkwMTIwMjCrAh08LRSyCA&index=1

“O Sacred Head Now Wounded” Fernando Ortega

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pO2d0AD5wBg 

Apr.11 “Requiem”   John Rutter

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=rutter+requiem

“Requiem”  W.A. Mozart    fantastic performance Arsys Bourgogne

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7LZ6gEh7yBM

“Messiah” Part 2 Rivertree Singers & Friends Choral Festival

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONCXnPbYUok

Apr.12

“Hallelujah Chorus”  Sir Colin Davis

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6_nJ11BgTE

“Hallelujah Chorus”    Robert Shaw

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6_nJ11BgTE

“I Know the My Redeemer Liveth” Sylvia McNair

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kg7aXEvCeXY

“Worthy is the Lamb”     Robert Shaw

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYqa4_3Lc48

“Messiah” part 3  Octopus Symphony Chorus

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGlAN_FE69o&t=95s

Prayer Books

The Oxford Book of Prayer, ed. Appleton, OUP

Valley of Vision, ed. Bennett, Banner of Truth Pub.

Prayers Ancient and Modern, Mary Wilder Tileston, 1897

A Diary of Private Prayer,  John Baillie

Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, compiled by Veronica Zindel

Celtic Daily Prayer, Andy Raine and John Skinner  Northumbria Community

The Quiet Corner, ed. Shirwood Wirt, Fleming H. Revell

Book of Common Prayer, Episcopal,1979

Guideposts Prayers for Easter, Julie Hogan,  Ideals

Holy Saturday, April 11

These are unusual and difficult days in our world. I want to encourage you in the truth. In response to quite a few subscribers asking if I might consider writing more than just Lent or Advent devotionals, after some prayer, I decided to continue writing daily devotionals through Pentecost, which occurs fifty days after Easter and will take us this year to May 31st. So you can expect to continue to receive daily devotionals through the end of May. They will continue to appear in your emails each morning after Easter. You need do nothing. The Lord is sovereign.


Some thoughts:

Had you or I been one of the believers in Jesus, this day would have been the worst of our lives. We had seen what Jesus had done with our own eyes. We followed him everywhere. We’d seen him raise Lazarus, heal blind people instantly, walk on water and so much more. We heard him say first hand that he was the Son of God. He actually forgave our sin, something only God can do. He said the kingdom of heaven was among us. He rode into Jerusalem as king! Then everything went south and he was killed. I guess we were wrong about him. Talk about being depressed!

But think about it. What were his last words? He said, “It is finished.” What was finished was the work he came to do. If I recall, there was another time when, after the sixth day of the week, God the Father had finished his work of creation and rested on the seventh day, the Sabbath and called it holy. But unlike the other six days of creation, God did not say “it was evening and it was morning” in regard to this seventh day. Why omit those words? Likewise, the Son of God finished his work on the sixth day of the week and rested in the tomb on the holy Sabbath. But Jesus rose on the eighth day ushering in a new era as he paved the way for resurrection for all believers. God did not say “it was evening and it was morning” in regards to his Sabbath rest, because we have yet to enter our final rest.  We are still in the sabbath rest awaiting our Eighth Day and future resurrection when Jesus returns to lead all people either to eternal life or to judgment (2 Cor. 5:1-10). As Paul writes in First Corinthians, “Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back.” We are currently in that Sabbath, awaiting his return. Then the Sabbath will have an “evening and morning” as we enter eternal life where there is no evening and morning, but one glorious day.

For the early church, this was a solemn day. Then at midnight, they gathered and held an Easter Vigil. There were four parts to this unique service: 1) a Service of Light in which Jesus was celebrated as the Light of the world overcoming darkness; 2) a Service of the Word in which the following passages were read outlining the entire biblical story from Genesis to the resurrection ; 3) a Service of the Water in which new converts were baptized; and 4) a Service of the Bread and Cup in which the Lord’s Supper was celebrated.  Read some passages from each of the nine sections. This is a good day for quiet reflection thinking of the Savior’s love for you as you read and for listening to some of the musical suggestions. Make this day a different kind of Saturday in preparation for tomorrow.

Scripture:

Genesis 1:1—2:4a

Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26

2

Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18; 8:6-18; 9:8-13

Psalm 46

3

Genesis 22:1-18

Psalm 16

4

Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21

Exodus 15:1b-13, 17-18

5

Isaiah 55:1-11

Isaiah 12:2-6

6

  Proverbs 8:1-8, 19-21; 9:4b-6

Psalm 19

7

Ezekiel 36:24-28

Psalms 42 and 43

8

Ezekiel 37:1-14

Psalm 143

9

Zephaniah 3:14-20

Psalm 98

Romans 6:3-11

Psalm 114

John 20:1-18

Music: “Requiem”  John Rutter

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=rutter+requiem

“Requiem”  W.A. Mozart    fantastic performance Arsys Bourgogne

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7LZ6gEh7yBM

“Messiah” Part II    Rivertree Singers & Friends Choral Festival

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONCXnPbYUok

Good Friday, April 10

These are unusual and difficult days in our world. I want to encourage you in the truth. In response to quite a few subscribers asking if I might consider writing more than just Lent or Advent devotionals, after some prayer, I decided to continue writing daily devotionals through Pentecost, which occurs fifty days after Easter and will take us this year to May 31st. So you can expect to continue to receive daily devotionals through the end of May. They will continue to appear in your emails each morning after Easter. You need do nothing. The Lord is sovereign.


Reader: “This is Jesus,” 

Response: “the King of the Jews.”

Scripture: Matthew 27:27-38

Some of the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into their headquarters and called out the entire regiment. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him. They wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head, and they placed a reed stick in his right hand as a scepter. Then they knelt before him in mockery and taunted, “Hail! King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and grabbed the stick and struck him on the head with it. When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified.

Along the way, they came across a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. And they went out to a place called Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”). The soldiers gave him wine mixed with bitter gall, but when he had tasted it, he refused to drink it.

After they had nailed him to the cross, the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice. Then they sat around and kept guard as he hung there. A sign was fastened above Jesus’ head, announcing the charge against him. It read: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Two revolutionaries were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.

Reader: “This is the loving word of the Lord.” 

Response: “Thank you, Jesus, for your sacrifice on my behalf.”

Some thoughts:
This is a familiar heart-rending passage. There is such irony. In mocking ignorance, the soldiers wrote the truth on the placard, “He is King of the Jews.” And you’ll notice, once again, the thieves are two witnesses to the truth, even though one does not believe. But one thief testifies to the truth and believes.  One of the things that stands out to me in this whole passage is Jesus’ restraint and acceptance of the abuse in all its forms. Can you imagine having the power to “fry” the mockers with a single word, and not only not using it, but saying nothing, not even “Do you have any idea who is in your presence, your Creator and the Creator of the entire universe?” What was Jesus’ basis for keeping quiet and not responding?  Obedience to the Father and an unmovable commitment to fulfilling his mission of redeeming the entire created order, not just people. In spite of the taunts, mockery, ridicule, and sick curiosity, Jesus remained on course. God the Father, however, did speak. The curtain in the Temple was torn from top to bottom, the earth shook and split rocks, tombs opened and many people were raised from the dead and left the cemetery in affirmation and acceptance of the Son’s sacrifice. (That must have been a sight!) The soldiers quickly gained perspective in their words, “This man truly was the Son of God.” In reading this passage again, I’m quite sure we have no idea of the depth of Christ’s love for the Father and the Father’s love for his Son. That they have made it possible for us to experience being loved by God is really more than mortals can grasp. What a gracious God we have.

Music: “Agnus  Dei” Samuel Barber Robert Shaw Festival Singers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6ilqJW3fV8&list=TLPQMjkwMTIwMjCrAh08LRSyCA&index=1   There are many recordings of this piece. It is extremely difficult to sing with very long phrases. Many conductors speed it up so it is easier to sing. This recording has terrific singers and Mr. Shaw lets the text determine the tempo. “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.” This recording is also beautifully balanced among the parts. The music aurally paints the meaning of the text.

“O Sacred Head Now Wounded” Fernando Ortega

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pO2d0AD5wBg

O Sacred Head Now Wounded

            -Bernard of Clairvaux, 12th century

O sacred head, now wounded,

with grief and shame weighed down,

now scornfully surrounded

with thorns, thine only crown,

O sacred head, what glory,

what bliss till now was thine,

yet, though despised and gory,

I joy to call thee mine.

 

What thou, my Lord, has suffered

was all for sinners’ gain,

mine, mine was the transgression,

but thine the deadly pain.

Lo, here I fall, my Savior!

‘tis I deserve thy place;

look on me with thy favor,

and grant to me thy grace.

 

What language shall I borrow

to thank thee, dearest friend,

for this thy dying sorrow,

Thy pity without end?

O make me thine forever,

and should I fainting be,

Lord, let me never, never

outlive my love to thee.

Prayer:
Today he who hung the earth upon the waters is hung upon the Cross. He who is King of the angels is arrayed in a crown of thorns. He who wraps the heaven in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery. He who in Jordan set Adam free receives blows upon his face. The Bridegroom of the Church is transfixed with nails. The Son of the Virgin is pierced with a spear. We venerate thy Passion, O Christ. Show us also thy glorious Resurrection.                            ―Hymns for Good Friday, Orthodox

Maundy Thursday, April 9

These are unusual and difficult days in our world. I want to encourage you in the truth. In response to quite a few subscribers asking if I might consider writing more than just Lent or Advent devotionals, after some prayer, I decided to continue writing daily devotionals through Pentecost, which occurs fifty days after Easter and will take us this year to May 31st. So you can expect to continue to receive daily devotionals through the end of May. They will continue to appear in your emails each morning after Easter. You need do nothing. The Lord is sovereign.


Reader: “A new commandment I give you”

Response: “love one another.”

Scripture: John 13:1-20, 33-35

Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end. It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.

 When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”  Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.” “No,” Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!”    Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.” Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!”

Jesus replied, “A person who has bathed all over does not need to wash, except for the feet, to be entirely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not all of you.” For Jesus knew who would betray him. That is what he meant when he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.

“I am not saying these things to all of you; I know the ones I have chosen. But this fulfills the Scripture that says, ‘The one who eats my food has turned against me.’ I tell you this beforehand, so that when it happens you will believe that I AM the Messiah. I tell you the truth, anyone who welcomes my messenger is welcoming me, and anyone who welcomes me is welcoming the Father who sent me.”

“My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Reader: “These words were recorded by John, who was present when this happened.” 

Response: “Thank you, Lord, that we have this account.” 

Some thoughts:
If you knew you were going to die in the next day or so, what would you say to your family and closest friends?  What topics would you cover? I doubt you’d be talking about soccer games, March Madness, The Master’s, the stock market, or work. My guess is you’d be telling them how much you loved them. That you wanted them to love and look after each other and that you’d miss them, but that you’d see them again. That’s essentially what Jesus did in John’s gospel in chapters thirteen through sixteen.

The material you just read is found only in the gospel of John. His gospel is twenty-one chapters in length and chapters thirteen through nineteen cover about twenty-four hours! John does not record the observance of the Passover meal as do the synoptic gospels. Foot washing is unique to this gospel. Here also we find the details of Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial being predicted. Chapters fourteen through sixteen give great details of Jesus’ conversation with his disciples during the meal. And Chapter seventeen is a marvelous opportunity to listen in on Jesus praying to his Father in heaven. Notice the content of Jesus’ prayer.

I want to make an observation on something the rabbi, Jesus, did.  Rabbis had disciples called talmudeen, a small group of people who followed them around wherever they went and did whatever the rabbi did. They copied his every move. They left their homes, left everything and followed him in order to become like him. In this setting, the disciples’ rabbi, humbled himself and took the role of a slave. He knelt before them and washed their feet! Unheard of! A rabbi would never ever do such a thing. His talmudeen would wash his feet. Jesus was demonstrating personal humility and servanthood. He was laying aside every personal right he had. Do you realize he also washed the feet of Judas, knowing that within minutes Judas would leave to betray him?  What do you think was going on in Jesus’ mind . . . in Judas’ mind?

As many of you know, foot washing was part of my experience in growing up in our little Mennonite church. Though not shared by all, it is my personal opinion and experience that the practice of foot washing has tremendous significance and impact even today for many of the same reasons that it touched the hearts of the disciples so deeply. It is very humbling to have another wash your feet, and it is a great honor to wash another’s feet. I would encourage you to participate in foot washing if you ever have an opportunity. Email me if you are curious for more information.

The apostle John did us a great favor in recording all of these final conversations of Jesus. Over the next couple of days, take your time and read chapters thirteen through seventeen in one sitting putting yourself in the midst of the disciples.

Music: “Ubi Caritas”  Paul Mealor Composer Mealor appears during the applause.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PTrMIJKBwRU

“Ubi Caritas”   Ola Gjeilo Central Washington Chamber Choir with the composer on piano.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_7mcGqsKP8     

Lest you think no young composers are writing beautiful music!

                 Ubi Caritas-author unknown

                    ancient text for Maundy Thursday

 

Where charity and love are,

God is there.

Christ’s love has gathered us

into one.

Let us rejoice and be glad in Him.

Let us fear, and love the living God.

And may we love each other

with a sincere heart.

Where charity and love are,

God is there.

As we are gathered into one body,

Beware, lest we be divided in mind.

Let evil impulses stop,

let controversy cease,

And may Christ our God

be in our midst.

Where charity and love are,

God is there.

And may we with the saints also,

See Thy face in glory,

O Christ our God:

The joy that is immense and good,

Unto the ages through infinite ages. Amen.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you, for the honor of your name. Amen.

― the Worship Sourcebook

Wednesday, April 8

Reader: “He went to the leading priests and captains of the Temple guard…”

Response: “to discuss the best way to betray Jesus to them.”

Scripture: Luke 22:1-6

The Festival of Unleavened Bread, which is also called Passover, was approaching. The leading priests and teachers of religious law were plotting how to kill Jesus, but they were afraid of the people’s reaction. Then Satan entered into Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve disciples, and he went to the leading priests and captains of the Temple guard to discuss the best way to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted, and they promised to give him money. So he agreed and began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus so they could arrest him when the crowds weren’t around.

Reader: “This is the troubling word of God.” 

Response: “Lord, have mercy.” 

Some thoughts:
Betrayal is one of the most despicable acts one person can do to another. It is all the more hideous because it is dependent upon the noble character of trust. Trust must be established for betrayal to “work.” With trust comes depth of relationship, love, confidence, affection, dependability, comfort, admiration, gratitude, and serenity in the relationship. One act of betrayal destroys all of these qualities instantaneously. The betrayer puts self and self-interest above the relationship in total disregard for the other person. If trust is ever regained, it is a difficult, painful process. In these most difficult hours of his life, Jesus experienced betrayal from one of his followers, a man who had traveled with him for three years, a man he had chosen to be one of the twelve. What makes it all the more difficult is that Jesus knew who the betrayer was. Even in this circumstance, Jesus did not override the freewill of Judas and call him out on what he was about to do.  In honoring those he created, God does not usurp a human’s free will, and, in this case, even if it brings about his own crucifixion and death. That is love. What was Jesus’ response to betrayal? He continued on in the course his Father had laid out for him. He did not get pushed off center by it, nor did he dwell on it, even though only hours later the other eleven disciples fled in another kind of betrayal. In Jesus’ case, there were more things of significance at hand, namely the redemption of the world. Perspective, friends, perspective. Jesus never lost it, even in betrayal. 

Music: “What Wondrous Love Is This”    Robert Shaw Chamber Choir

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WeIECnixpM0

-Appalachian folk hymn

What wondrous love is this,

O my soul, O my soul

What wondrous love is this, O my soul,

What wondrous love is this,

That caused the Lord of bliss

to bear the dreadful curse

for my soul, for my soul,

To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.

 

Prayer:
Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son so he can give glory back to you. For you have given him authority over everyone. He gives eternal life to each one you have given him. And this is the way to have eternal life-to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth…I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message…Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!

            ―Jesus praying for us, from John 17

Tuesday, April 7

Reader: “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs. . .”

Response: “They still would not believe in him.”

Scripture: John 12:37-38; 42-50

Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:

   “Lord, who has believed our message

      and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.

Then Jesus cried out, “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

“As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
“If I can just see it, I’ll believe it.” How many times have you heard that? It’s not true. We can see and still not believe, especially when it comes to faith. A few weeks prior to the passage you just read, Jesus told the story of Abraham, Lazarus and the rich man. The parable was a bit more realistic in the sense that this is the only parable Jesus told where he gave the characters names.  The rich man told them to go tell his brothers he was burning in Hades and that they should believe in God so they wouldn’t have to come to his place of torment. Abraham’s response was if they didn’t believe Moses and the prophets, they wouldn’t believe someone coming back from the dead. Jesus had just raised someone from the dead a short time ago and had done other miraculous signs in the Pharisees’ presence and still they would not believe, though some did believe. Did it also register as you read that some believed but would not confess their belief because of social or peer pressure? Believing and confessing go together. Action follows belief.  Notice Jesus was not influenced by anyone but his heavenly Father. He spoke the exact words his Father gave him and in the way his Father told him to speak them. Being rejected did not change his message. He was on a divine mission and it was coming to a close. With this in mind, pay special attention to all that Jesus will say in the next few days. 

Music: “Ah Holy Jesus”  Fernando Ortega and  Quintessence Ensemble

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3Rq7DoDmyw

Prayer:
O Lord Jesus Christ, you have said that you are the way, the truth, and the life. Suffer us not to stray from you, who are the way, nor to distrust you, who are the truth, nor to rest in anything other than you, who are the life.      ―Erasmus, 1469-1536                                

Please plan to attend Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services somewhere if your church does not have them. It will change your Easter Sunday morning!  

April 6 – Monday of Holy Week

The Scripture passages chosen for this week were all conversations Jesus had during these last few days prior to his crucifixion. These are roughly in chronological order. 

Reader: “For many are called,”

Response: “but few are chosen.” 

Scripture: Matthew 22:1-14

Jesus also told them other parables. He said, “The Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a king who prepared a great wedding feast for his son. When the banquet was ready, he sent his servants to notify those who were invited. But they all refused to come!

“So he sent other servants to tell them, ‘The feast has been prepared. The bulls and fattened cattle have been killed, and everything is ready. Come to the banquet!’ But the guests he had invited ignored them and went their own way, one to his farm, another to his business. Others seized his messengers and insulted them and killed them.

“The king was furious, and he sent out his army to destroy the murderers and burn their town. And he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, and the guests I invited aren’t worthy of the honor. Now go out to the street corners and invite everyone you see.’ So the servants brought in everyone they could find, good and bad alike, and the banquet hall was filled with guests.

“But when the king came in to meet the guests, he noticed a man who wasn’t wearing the proper clothes for a wedding. ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how is it that you are here without wedding clothes?’ But the man had no reply. Then the king said to his aides, ‘Bind his hands and feet and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

“For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Reader: These are the words of Jesus as he told a parable . . .” 

Response: “. . . as recorded by Matthew.” 

Some thoughts:
In this account Jesus is telling a parable on the Pharisees and leading Jewish leaders. The king is God the Father, his son is the Messiah. The religious leaders and the children of Israel are the invited guests. Their refusal to come to the wedding banquet is their rejection of God and his word through the years and their current rejection of the Messiah. The servants are the Old Testament prophets who proclaimed God’s message to Israel. When the guests refused to come, the king destroyed the town. Jesus was predicting the destruction of Jerusalem which in fact occurred in 70 AD. In the parable the king then sent the servants out to invite anyone. This part of the parable meant that God’s invitation was being extended to everyone, not just Israel. To the self-righteous Jewish leaders, this offer to anyone was damnable. Gentiles were despised. Taking Israel’s place in the parable was the Church, the Bride of Christ. The Church is now God’s people. When the king entered the feast, he noticed one of the guests was not wearing the proper wedding clothes. The wedding garment would have been provided by the king and this particular guest rejected these special wedding clothes (clothes of righteousness?) given him, a direct affront to the king. The king had him thrown out into outer darkness. The wedding clothes correspond to spiritual fruit that demonstrates true faith. This guest was a fraud. (See. Mt. 7:13-27 for Jesus’ further description of this guest.) The outer darkness is a metaphor for eternal punishment. The Pharisees and leading priests understood this parable to be against them and were all the more determined to kill Jesus. The last verse in this passage reminds us that the invitation from God is extended to everyone, but only a few respond in faith. Continue to pray for those people you know who have not yet found the narrow way to life in God’s kingdom. Pray that the message of Holy Week and Easter penetrates their hearts not only of those around you, but people from every tribe, nation and tongue throughout the world. 

 

Music: “The Church’s One Foundation” Duke Chapel  arr. Dan Forest

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ECY2IIeRg8

The Church’s One Foundation

            -Samuel Stone, 1886

The church’s one foundation

Is Jesus Christ her Lord,

She is his new creation,

By water and the word.

From heaven he came and sought her

To be his holy bride,

With his own love he bought her

And for her life he died.

 

Elect from every nation

Yet one o’er all the earth

The charter of salvation

One Lord, one faith, one birth

One holy name she blesses,

Partakes one holy food,

And to one hope she presses

With every grace endued.

 

Prayer:
Remember, O Lord, your Church, to deliver her from all evil, and to make her perfect in your love; and gather together from the four winds the sanctified Church into your kingdom, which you have prepared for her. For yours is the power and the glory forevermore. Amen.

                              -the Didache, c. 120 AD

Palm Sunday, April 5

Reader:Blessings on the King” 

Response: who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Scripture: Luke 19:28-40

After telling this story, Jesus went on toward Jerusalem, walking ahead of his disciples. As he came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives, he sent two disciples ahead. “Go into that village over there,” he told them. “As you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks, ‘Why are you untying that colt?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

So they went and found the colt, just as Jesus had said. And sure enough, as they were untying it, the owners asked them, “Why are you untying that colt?”

And the disciples simply replied, “The Lord needs it.” So they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it for him to ride on.

As he rode along, the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him. When he reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen.

“Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord!

    Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!”

But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!”

He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”

Reader: The word of the Lord.

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Just to give us a little context we retrace recent events. Jesus had raised Lazarus within the last week to ten days. Last night (Saturday) there was a party at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus to honor Jesus for the raising of Lazarus. Many people, both friends and the curious, came to see both Jesus and Lazarus. The day of the above passage is the next day, Sunday. Word has been circulating about Jesus’ raising a man from the dead and the Pharisees and Sadducees are plotting to do away with Jesus and with Lazarus as well. Jesus knows this will be his final week on earth. You’ll notice all this coming week, Jesus is completely in charge of everything. He sends two disciples to get a donkey, one on which no one had ridden . . . suitable for a king. He tells them what to say and it happens just as he said. You know the story quite well. I want to make a few observations. In his ride down the Mount of Olives, Jesus was announcing himself as Israel’s king. When kings rode donkeys, they were coming in humility, peace, and reconciliation. When they rode horses, they were coming in battle. A donkey was a royal, peaceful limousine as it were. King David, a thousand years earlier, had exited Jerusalem as king on a donkey, fleeing before his son, Absalom, who was attempting a coup, who was, incidentally riding a mule, an animal for war. What is also interesting, at some point in the future, the King of kings will again return to set up his eternal kingdom on a horse and the Mt. of Olives, the place of Christ’s Ascension, is a place of his return. As Jesus rode down the hill, great crowds gathered singing “hosanna!” (meaning ‘salvation now’) and waving palm branches as was typical in celebrating a hero, their king of Israel.  What they sang is interesting. You’ll recall at the birth of Jesus, the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” Here the crowd is singing, “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in highest heaven! In both cases there is glory to God. The birth of Jesus was to bring “peace on earth,” a situation that lies yet in the future. But Jesus did bring “peace in heaven” through the cross as he brought reconciliation between God and human beings. It is ironic the people shouting these texts from the First Testament did not realize what they were saying. Within a few days many of them were yelling “crucify him!” when he did not conform to the people’s expectations as to what he should do in regards to the Roman occupations.  Likewise, we need to be careful we don’t dictate how and when God should act.

Music:  “Ride On King Jesus”  Robert Shaw Festival Singers  beautiful!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wObByhyVdbg

Bonus!
“Hosanna to the Song of David”    Cambridge Singers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLKVFpk2f5E

Prayer:
O Christ, the King of glory who didst enter the holy city in meekness to be made perfect through the suffering of death: give us grace, we beseech thee, in all our life here to take up our cross daily and follow thee, that hereafter we may rejoice with thee in thy heavenly kingdom; who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit world without end Amen.

―Prayers for Easter, p.34

Saturday, April 4

Reader: “Did I not tell you that if you believed,”

Response: “you would see the glory of God?”

Scripture: John 11:36-45

Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him! But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” 

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, (literally, “he already stinks!”) for he has been there four days.”

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

      Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.  

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Mary, Martha, and the mourners get to see the rest of this story! Jesus enabled all of them to get to see the glory of God in raising Lazarus from the dead. In Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead, recall his empty grave clothes were left in the tomb, never to be needed or used again. In Lazarus’ case, he came out of the tomb wearing his grave clothes. Lazarus would need them again, not so with Jesus! Notice Jesus’ words as he prayed . . . “that they may believe that you sent me.” The point in the raising of Lazarus was that Mary, Martha, and their friends would discover who Jesus really was, the one sent from God on a mission to bring redemption, the one with victory over death. As a result of the raising of Lazarus, many more Jews put their trust in God. They had seen Jesus exercise power over death. Word spread. But this victory, while bringing joy to many, also was hugely significant in moving things ahead to the completion of God’s plan for redeeming the world, as some witnesses to the raising of Lazarus made a beeline to the Pharisees to tell them what had happened. Because of jealousy and hatred from the Jewish leaders, because the status quo and positions of power and influence of the Romans were all being challenged by this itinerant carpenter from Nazareth, they believed Jesus had to be killed. On still a grander scale yet with the crucifixion and death of Jesus, it appears that God missed it again, that things did not turn out as they should have. If anything, we are shown again and again and again in the life of Jesus, that we can trust the Father regardless of how it looks at any given moment in our life. If we continue to trust, we will see “the glory of God.”  The empty tombs of Lazarus and Jesus still speak!

Music:  “Steal Away”   Mahalia Jackson and Nat King Cole   None like her!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-O5hz5KnSdc        I can almost imagine Lazarus singing this song after being raised from the dead!

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, here I am again praying with words, words, and more words. I seem stuck with the same ones all the time. I have trouble finding the right ones to express my love and complete gratitude for what you have done and continue to do on my behalf. Words are so limiting! If you had not done what you did on the cross, there would be no hope at all. I cannot begin to imagine what that would be like without you. I would be depressed and have to pretend that somehow life made sense, but based on what I wouldn’t know. To keep sane, I wouldn’t think about it but live for the moment getting lost in basketball or music or technology or . . . something. Thank you Lord, that is not the case! I very much connect with Paul Gerhardt’s phrase, “What language shall I borrow to thank thee dearest friend, for this thy dying sorrow, thy pity without end?” I still don’t have words, but please listen to my heart, it’s trying to tell you what’s in there. This I pray as Jesus intercedes on my behalf, my loving Lord. Amen. ―Daniel Sharp 

Friday, April 3

Reader: “Jesus wept.”

Response: “But why?”

Scripture   John 11:28-35

And after she had said this, [Martha] went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

      “Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

 Jesus wept.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Martha joins Mary in failing to fully grasp the power of the Son of God, even though they used his appropriate title. From their identical comments, “Lord, if you had been here, our brother would not have died,” they reveal a belief that Jesus needed to be physically present in order to do the miraculous, even though he at times had healed from afar. From her standpoint, Jesus needed to ask God for permission, failing to understand Jesus’ fully divine authority as God in the flesh. Jesus interacted with Martha with words. Now he interacts differently with Mary who fell at his feet weeping. Jesus’ response is somewhat of a surprise. Deep anger welled up within his own spirit in reaction to the response of the people’s mourning.

This shortest verse in the Bible is a kind of bottom line from Jesus’ perspective in this whole passage. Why did Jesus weep? He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead. He knew what was coming. The mourners visiting Mary and Martha, assumed he was weeping because of the death of his friend. Or was he weeping out of pity for the sisters because of his empathy for their own sadness? His was a different kind of weeping. Normal Jewish expression of sorrow at death would be a loud wailing which was the case of the sisters and those comforting them. The word used for Jesus’ weeping is used only one time in the New Testament and it is here. The word is for a soft, subdued weeping. It seems most likely that his sorrow was for Mary, Martha, and their friends in not grasping who he was and what was his mission on earth. Three years in their midst, eating meals together, seeing all the miraculous works, hearing his teaching with such authority and still they missed it. This community was so immersed in their own world and in their perception of their world, and in their own limited view of their faith, that they were unable to see God’s own Son fulfilling the Law in their midst. They simply did not grasp who it was that was in their presence. Have you ever felt frustrated that someone you deeply loved, just couldn’t understand something of great significance and read it all wrong? My guess is you’ve shed some tears over your loved one. Our Savior understands.

Music:  “When Jesus Wept”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjA-uHaj8pA

William Billings, was an early American composer at the time of the Revolutionary war.

When Jesus wept, a falling tear

In mercy flowed beyond all bound.

When Jesus groaned, a trembling fear

Seized all the guilty world around,

Prayer:
O Jesus who wept over the death of Lazarus, be with all who grieve. O Jesus who wept alone in Gethsemane, be with all who feel alone, all who face difficult decisions. O Jesus who cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” be with all who are tortured, all who are victims. O Jesus who offered up prayers with loud cries and tears, hear our prayers. O living God who knows all our pain and joy, be with us in our lives. Amen.   ―The Worship Sourcebook,p.573

Thursday, April 2

Reader: “I am the resurrection . . .”

Response: “and the life.”

Scripture:  John 11:25-27

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

“Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
No more glorious words have been spoken since the beginning of language. Is there life after death? Without a doubt! Jesus’ words couldn’t be clearer. Believe in him and live on, even when your earthly physical body doesn’t! You’ll get one that won’t ever die.  You’ll recall when Jesus was a baby, Mary and Joseph took him to the old priest Simeon. Do you remember Simeon’s words about his own death? They were, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace.” He didn’t say “die in peace.” On the Mount of Transfiguration the same word was used in speaking of Jesus’ “departure” from this earth. Our bodies are simply transformed. When we die, we simply depart from this body. This is the same “I AM” who spoke to Moses in the burning bush, the Good Shepherd, the Light of the World, the Way, the Truth and the Life. The power of Christ is not only resurrection but also eternal life. Martha’s comment from yesterday’s passage that “everyone rises on the last day” told us she was thinking only of the final judgment day. As we have mentioned several times. Most of the time Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man. Here Martha refers to him as the Son of God, believing in his divinity. Even at that, she did not fully grasp his power over life and death. Jesus and Martha were thinking on two different levels. Martha was thinking the biggest, end picture. Jesus’ thinking comprehended both the end but also its impact on the present circumstance.  Martha did what so many of us do; we think of the grand story of God and fail to grasp its impact on the present situation. That Martha hadn’t understood what Jesus was getting at is evidenced by her comment about not wanting to open the tomb because “he will stink!” We need to roll the stone away from our theological tombs more often and see the power of our great Savior working in the world in which we live right now!

Music: “In Christ Alone” All Souls Orchestra     Kristin Getty Glorious

This is a picture of the Body of Christ!           The Brits sing again!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnXv2gAfPpE

In Christ alone my hope is found, He is my light, my strength, my song

This Cornerstone, this solid ground, firm through the fiercest drought and storm

What heights of love, what depths of peace, when fears are stilled, when strivings cease

My Comforter, my All in All, here in the love of Christ I stand

In Christ alone, who took on flesh, fullness of God in helpless babe

This gift of love and righteousness, scorned by the ones He came to save

‘Til on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied

For every sin on Him was laid, here in the death of Christ I live

There in the ground His body lay, light of the world by darkness slain

Then bursting forth in glorious Day, up from the grave He rose again

And as He stands in victory, sin’s curse has lost its grip on me

For I am His and He is mine, bought with the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me

From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny

No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from His hand

‘til He returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I’ll stand

Prayer:
You are God and we praise you; you are the Lord and we acclaim you; You are the eternal Father; all creation worships you. To you all angels, all the powers of heaven, cherubim and seraphim sing in endless praise, ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord, God of power and might; heaven and earth are full of your glory.’ Throughout the whole world the holy church acclaims you, Father of majesty unbounded; Your true and only Son worthy of all worship and the Holy Spirit advocate and guide. Come then Lord and help your people bought with the price of your own blood; and bring us with your saints to glory everlasting. Amen.   ― from Te Deum, 4th century

Wednesday, April 1

Reader: “If you had been here . . .”

Response: “my brother would not have died.”

Scripture: John 11:17-24

On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Does it ever seem like all hope is lost? Martha, the more impetuous of the two sisters, was the one who went to meet Jesus. Apparently, with Jesus’ two day delay, he wouldn’t have gotten there in time anyway since Lazarus has already been in the tomb four days. Jewish burial was normally held as soon as possible after death. The Jewish belief was that the soul of the deceased hung around for three days for some possible means of entering the body again. On the fourth day it left. John was perhaps making sure his readers knew that Lazarus was dead dead!  Many of their friends had come to the house to console the sisters . . .and became eye witnesses to the eventual raising of Lazarus. The funeral custom in those days would have been to come and sit in silence sharing the grief with the mourners. (I must add a personal comment here. When my father was killed in a farming accident in 1972, many people came to our house to express their sympathy with us. The most comforting, and helpful solace came from a farmer who stood quietly outside for a while and said nothing. As he left he just came up and said, “I’m so sorry.” with tears in his eyes. I remember it to this day forty-eight years later. That was the greatest comfort. It’s called the “ministry of presence.”) Martha’s response is kind of a mixed faith. She had been around Jesus and seen him heal people before and wished that he had been there earlier because he could have brought healing to her brother. She believed in an eventual final resurrection, but that was of little consolation now. She knew Lazarus was dead. That was final.  This kind of situation is one of those challenging times when we have solid faith in the biggest picture, but are still in great pain for the present time. Martha reached out to the Lord and expressed her broken heart. Jesus did not recoil nor rebuke her for her response of sorrow. We live in a culture which has its own kind of denial of sorrow. Funerals have become memorials which have become “celebrations of life” . . .except that the person is dead. We have a convoluted sense of the reality of death and an inability to know how to grieve. We too often seek to avoid it. We can have wonderful memories, but the person is gone from this earth and we will never see them again this side of glory. That is heart-breaking and happy talk doesn’t deal with the reality of loss. Embracing the truth of life and death and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is what brings my only comfort in the death of a loved one. Never be afraid to express your true heart to the Lord in a tough time. Talk with the Lord and listen carefully with ears of faith. Sometimes there are surprises. Just ask Martha!

Music: “If Thou Wilt Suffer God to Guide Thee”   Calvin Alumni Choir

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vFfYKN6Jw1o

                  If You Will Trust in God to Guide You         ―Georg Neumark, 1641

If you will trust in God to guide you and place your confidence in him,

You’ll find him always there beside you, to give you hope and strength within.

For those who trust God’s changeless love build on the rock that naught can move.

Sing, pray, and keep his ways unswerving, offer your service faithfully,

And trust his word; though undeserving, you’ll find his promise true to be.

God never will forsake in need the soul that trusts in him indeed.

Prayer:
And now unto him who is able to keep us from falling and lift us from the dark valley of despair to the bright mountain of hope, from the midnight of desperation to the daybreak of joy; to him be power and authority, for ever and ever. Amen.

                                ―Martin Luther King Jr., 1928-1968

Tuesday, March 31

Reader: Let us go back to Judea.”

Response: “but his disciples thought . . .”

Scripture:  John 11:7-16

 Then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?”

Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world’s light. It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light.”

After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”

His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.

So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
That little phrase is far too often descriptive of my response to the way of the Lord. “But Lord, I thought that . . .”  Here we see the single-mindedness of Jesus. A couple of months prior to this during the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah), Jesus had to flee Judea and Jerusalem because the people wanted to stone him. Tension was definitely building. To this point, Jesus generally stayed out of the limelight and spent much time in the region of Galilee though it had become increasingly difficult to avoid notariety. As a result, he stayed away from Jerusalem and the Jewish hierarchy of leadership because it was not yet the Father’s time. His response here of “there are twelve hours in the daylight” was a way of telling the disciples God, his Father, had given him a task to do. Jesus was the “Light of the world,” which he had declared at the Feast of Dedication previously in the disciples’ presence. Those who had rejected him and threatened to stone him were walking in darkness.  Jesus, the Light, was going back to Jerusalem to accomplish the Father’s will. The time was approaching for the completion of his earthly mission. The raising of Lazarus from the dead was part of his Father’s course of action so Jesus spells it out specifically for the disciples. In Thomas’ final comment, he still doesn’t get it completely, but speaks for the rest of the disciples. We’ll go and die with you! The next time you and I are tempted to respond, “Lord, but I thought . . .,” let’s listen to Moses’ words to the Israelites before crossing the Red Sea, “be still and watch the mighty hand of God.”

Music: “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” Deo Cantamus WOW!  Beautiful!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tu1tvqcyY44

Prayer:
Lord God in heaven, who knows all things, who understands all things, who has power over all things, who has created all things, who sustains all things, who loves all things, who is over all things, who is everywhere present, who has been revealed in Jesus Christ, who is present in the Holy Spirit, who has given his written word, who has made provision for the restoration of the whole created order, grant us one more thing: faith to trust you when we cannot understand your ways in this world. This we pray through Jesus Christ, who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen. 

― Daniel Sharp

Monday, March 30

(A side comment here. This week we will look at the account of Lazarus. This event happened shortly before Palm Sunday and was a major triggering event which stimulated the plot to kill Jesus. (John 11:51-53) As we move to the conclusion of Lent, our focus moves from more introspection and repentance in our own  lives, to the events that led Jesus to Calvary. In the ancient church, yesterday, the fifth Sunday in Lent, was called the First Sunday of the Passion.)

Reader: “When he heard that Lazarus was sick, 

Response: “he stayed where he was…”

Scripture John 11:1-6

Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.  

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Does it ever seem like God doesn’t do the right thing, or at least his timing is noticeably off? He clearly could do something and just doesn’t?  In fact, sometimes it seems as if he deliberately tries to annoy us. The Lord’s words in Isaiah 55 read, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts neither are your ways my ways.” Then when that truth plays out in real life, we’re surprised! Such was the case with Lazarus. He was at his home and very sick. Jesus was in another part of the country. His sisters sent word for Jesus to come, after all, Jesus had healed many people, why not their brother? Jesus was not mad at Mary, Martha, or Lazarus. They were all good friends and had honored him on various occasions. Yet, he enigmatically ignored their request and stayed two more days because, though they did not know it nor could imagine it, something better was in store. (Since when Jesus finally did arrive and Lazarus had been in the tomb four days, it is likely that Lazarus was already dead when Jesus received the first message given the travel time of both the messenger and Jesus’ travel time to Bethany.) That something better was not the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead, it was the glorification of Jesus as the Son of God, as the One who had the power over death. In the biggest picture of what God was doing, God’s timing was everything. Lazarus eventually died again! But in between Lazarus’ two deaths, Jesus died once for all making Lazarus’ ultimate resurrection eternal! Jesus’ glory continues for all eternity as the one who gained victory over death . . . for everyone who believes, not just Lazarus.  You may be going through the “Jesus stayed two more days” phase of your life and wishing he’d hurry up and bring relief. Pray that God might be glorified in what is coming your way. As my father-in-law so often reminded us, “The Lord may tarry, but he is never too late.” Just ask Lazarus!

Music: “And Can It Be that I Should Gain”   Let’s hear it for the Brits! They SING!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQeIGbKqiw8

Prayer:
O Lord, let me not henceforth desire health or life except to spend them for you, with you and in you. You alone know what is good for me; do therefore what seems best to you. Give to me or take from me; conform my will to yours; and grant that with humble and perfect submission and in holy confidence I may receive the orders of your eternal providence, and may equally adore all that comes to me from you.

– Blaise Pascal, 1623-1662

Sunday, March 29 – Fifth Sunday in Lent

Reader: “Hear my cry, O Lord.”

Response: “Pay attention to my prayer.”

Scripture: Psalm 130

From the depths of despair, O Lord,

    I call for your help.

Hear my cry, O Lord.

    Pay attention to my prayer.

Lord, if you kept a record of our sins,

    who, O Lord, could ever survive?

But you offer forgiveness,

    that we might learn to fear you.

I am counting on the Lord;

    yes, I am counting on him.

    I have put my hope in his word.

I long for the Lord

    more than sentries long for the dawn,

    yes, more than sentries long for the dawn.

O Israel, hope in the Lord;

    for with the Lord there is unfailing love.

    His redemption overflows.

He himself will redeem Israel

    from every kind of sin.

Reader: The word of the Lord.

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Psalm 130 is one of the classic psalms of lament. In these days of the Lenten season, repentance is a central theme. This psalm gives us a beautiful pattern of the process. In the opening plea, we hear from a person in deep despair. They have given up fighting the problem on their own and simply call to the Lord for help. The next sentence reveals something of the relationship between the one praying and the Lord with the words “Hear my cry, Lord. Pay attention to my prayer.” To pray those words says something about the transparency of the relationship and about God himself. The one praying is addressing the Lord in the same manner as if he were talking face to face with a friend. “Pay attention to what I’m saying. I’m hurting.” He then goes on to admit if the Lord kept track of all our sins in a book, we’d all be dead! He is not trying to hide anything before the Lord. Transparency is essential in repentance and confession. What follows is interesting. God offers forgiveness so we can learn to fear him. How does that work? 

“Fear” in this sense I believe follows along the lines of Luther’s explanation. There is a kind of fear that is truly afraid of heavy punishment. This is not that kind of fear. It is more like that of a child having great love and respect for her parents and wanting to please them. She has a fear, not because she is afraid of punishment from her mother, but rather of not wanting to disappoint her. This fear grows out of great affection and sense of security. The next sentence affirms this love with the words “I’m counting on the Lord . . . I put my hope in his word.” We see this love and longing continuing in the next line mirroring the sentries’ longing for the end of night and the light of another day, a beautiful image for lamenting heart. (Remember Jesus’ frequent use of the light motive?) Then the psalmist becomes a preacher! To this point, he has been expressing his own heart. Now he speaks to the whole community. And sure enough, he speaks of God’s great love and redeeming power. The very last sentence speaks a word of prophecy. God himself will redeem Israel and the whole world from every kind of sin―on the cross of calvary. This psalm is also known by its Latin name―De profundus, “out of the depths.”

Music: “De Profundus”   Kings College Choir Cambridge

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJvZ8qzW0e8

Prayer:
O thou great Chief, light a candle in my heart, that I may see what is therein, and sweep the rubbish from thy dwelling place.     An African schoolgirl’s prayer

Saturday, March 28

Reader: “He was lost,” 

Response: “but now he is found!”

Scripture: Luke 15:25-32

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, and he asked one of the servants what was going on. ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’

“The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’

“His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Here we see the jealous heart of the other self-centered brother. While the younger son grabbed what was his and took off, the older brother blamed the father for not being generous toward himself. This was a giant narcissistic party. Serving his father he called “slavery.” Was he glad to see his prodigal brother? Was he concerned about the time his brother had been away? He even distanced himself from his sibling with the comment “this son of yours,” a further dig at his father. Did he feel his father owed him something for his self-righteous “faithfulness”? In a nutshell, he was bitter his father had forgiven his brother. His proud heart is embarrassingly laid bare before us. The older brother is completely unaware of his own need for repentance.  When the younger son demanded his inheritance and left, the father let him go. He gave him that freedom. But here in contrast, the father pleads with the elder son to rejoice with them in the joy of a repentant son. The elder son would not move on from his brother’s past. He was stuck in his own pride and therefore missed the joy of the present moment. The father even reminded him that he was also an heir.  The father treats both sons with the same love. The elder son had likewise strayed from the father even though he never left home. And he has not yet returned. The sadness in this parable is that this older son has not yet realized his own sinful heart and need for repentance. This parable is left open-ended. We don’t know if the elder brother repented and joined the celebration or continued wallowing “with the pigs” his self-righteousness. Since Jesus told this parable about the Pharisees, it is open ended as to whether the elder son ever repented. Some Pharisees repented and believed (Nicodemus) and others did not.

Music: “Amazing Grace”   Il Divo GLORIOUS!!!!!   When you get to heaven, you can sing like this!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYMLMj-SibU

Prayer:
Gracious Lord of joy and delight, grant that I may rejoice with those who rejoice, cheer for those who are cheerful, laugh with those who laugh, be happy with those who are happy, be enthusiastic with those who are enthusiastic, discover with those who discover new things. Forbid that I should ever withhold my heart’s embracing of another’s joy for some silly, selfish, or jealous reason. Your kingdom does not need more “joy monitors.” From sour-faced saints, good Lord deliver us!      ―Daniel Sharp

Friday, March 27

Reader: “This son of mine . . .”

Response: “was lost and is found.”

Scripture: Luke 15:22-24

 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:

This part of the parable is about restoration and forgiveness. Notice the father (God) barely responds to the son’s words of confession. He clearly receives them and moves on. No lectures on past failures, poor decisions, personal greed, and so forth. The father calls for the “best” robe, the robe of royalty. (The best robe was the father’s.)

He puts a signet ring on his son’s finger to remind him that he is still an heir, implying he still has an inheritance in spite of what he forfeited. The ring was an affirmation giving him authority. The son remained an heir, even through foolishness, distance from home, and wonton self will.  He is given shoes for his worn, dirty and cracked feet. Perhaps a reminder to stay on the right path? The father completely restored the son’s position and identity. This called for celebration! Do you ever think of God “rejoicing” over you when you turn from self-will to his will? Are there some “prodigals” you have been praying for for a long, long time? Keep praying. They may not have made it to the pig pen yet. Keep watching the horizon and get ready to run! Skip your speech and hug!

Music: “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”   A hymn sing in England!! Note the broad cross-section of singers! Looks like the church universal.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTKIqmdfHSk

Prayer:
Dearest Lord, may I see you today and every day in the person of your sick, and, whilst nursing them, minister unto you. Though you hide yourself behind the unattractive disguise of the irritable, the exacting, the unreasonable, may I still recognize you, and say: ‘Jesus, my patient, how sweet it is to serve you.’ Sweetest Lord, make me appreciative of the dignity of my high vocation, and its many responsibilities. Never permit me to disgrace it by giving way to coldness, unkindness, or impatience. Lord, increase my faith, bless my efforts and work, now and for evermore, Amen.         

                               ―Sister Teresa of Calcutta, 1910-1997

Thursday, March 26

Reader: “While he was still a long way off . . .”

Response: “the father ran to his son.”

Scripture: Luke 15:20b-21

 “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
We may think of this story as a parable about the two sons, but this phrase tells us it may be more about the boys’ father and his love for them. There is something here that is unique in all of Scripture. Something occurs in this parable that does not happen anywhere else in the Bible. Look again at the verses above and see if you can figure out what it is. What is it? Except for this parable, nowhere else does God ever “run” after his children. Jesus walked everywhere. The good shepherd went to find the lost sheep. He never ran to a situation. Sometimes he deliberately stayed where he was and made a point of not going after someone (when Lazarus died). God never runs after people. In Jewish culture, it was considered unseemly for an old man to run. Patriarchs did not run! In this picture painted by Jesus, the father, in self-humiliation, for the sake of his lost son, runs to meet him. Jesus is painting a picture of our heavenly Father and his love for his children. God does not force his way into people’s lives, but he is always near at hand ready to receive his own. He gives people freedom to receive or reject him. Those who seek, always find him. He makes sure of that. Did you also notice that apparently the father was watching for his son’s return. He saw him “from a long way off.” The father was watching and waiting, hoping to see his son return. (2 Peter 3:9 “God is not willing that any should perish.”) Here is a beautiful picture of God’s love for the repentant person. The son had turned toward home and the father, filled with love, saw him and ran to him, put his arms around him and kissed him. God is patiently waiting for us to turn around when we launch down the road where the street sign says “Self”. There is not a bony fingered condemnation for our self-centered will, but a warm embrace and “glad to have you back home.” Can you offer this kind of love to someone today? Can you receive it?

Music: “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us”  Fernando Ortega

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLDGVl8D5UU  

Prayer:
Bring us, O Lord God, at the last awakening into the house and gate of heaven, to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but an equal possession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity, in the habitations of thy majesty and thy glory, world without end.    ―John Donne, 1571-1631

Wednesday, March 25

Reader: “When he came to his senses . . .”

Response: “he got up and went to his father.”

Scripture: Luke 15:17-20a 

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:

What was I thinking!  Have you ever said that? When we first wander off the path, it’s hardly recognizable. We used to live in Seattle. We drove to the farm in Illinois every summer. There was a point in eastern Washington where the interstate highway I-90  splits. We could go straight and go through Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota or choose to make a slight veer to the south and a day later be somewhere in Nebraska, hundreds of miles to the south of where we might have been. At the time of making the split, it didn’t seem like that big of a deal, but it did set the course for the next several days. When the prodigal son left home, all he could see was wealth and good times ahead! It was a much more exciting road than sitting around home!  The chosen path, however, became bumpier with more rocks and ruts. Finally, the ruts became more like a grave with open ends. A person immersed in sin is living outside of their true self (Romans 7:17-20). If you are in fantasy land or on the wrong road, turn around! (Just to clarify, it is not a sin to drive through North Dakota, though it apparently is if you are doing 90 mph…there is nothing out there… another story!) The seed of humility in the son we mentioned yesterday began to grow. As he moved toward his true self, he recognized his sin against not only his earthly father, but against heaven itself. This is key. Like King David, he realized his sin was first against God, his heavenly Father, and then against his earthly father. All sin is first and foremost against our Creator. The prodigal repented, and went back to the place where he got off track. Home. Notice how much more there is here than a simple “I’m sorry, dad.” There is a complete attitude and heart change. A complete change in direction. That is what happens in true repentance. Where is the path you are on taking you? You are on a path to somewhere.

Music: “Goin Home”  Dvorak Sissel   The song of every prodigal. Don’t skip this!!  Sissel does a beautiful and sensitive recording of this classic. Terrific singer. I know you heard this song yesterday, it’s worth hearing again in this rendition. Trust me!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJFhTb1gi6Y

Prayer:
Fix thou our steps, O Lord, that we stagger not at the uneven motions of the world, but steadily go on to our glorious home; neither censuring our journey by the weather we meet with, nor turning out of the way for anything that befalls us. The winds are often rough, and our own weight presses us downwards. Reach forth, O Lord, thy hand, thy saving hand, and speedily deliver us. Teach us, O Lord, to use this transitory life as pilgrims returning to their beloved home; that we may take what our journey requires, and not think of settling in a foreign country.    ―John Wesley, 1703-1791

Tuesday, March 24

Reader: “Not long after that. . .”

Response: “…no one gave him anything.”

Scripture: Luke 15:13-16

 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:

When the “Trinity Of Self” is worshiped, it rewards the worshiper handsomely, always. Welcome to the world of “self” son! Should we be surprised that no one gave him anything? That is one of the benefits of this kind of worship, you are on your own. Look with whom he was spending his time and money. This was not a community that was known for giving or forgiving. This was the crowd of “the Trinity Of Self.” You see, in this world, it is only a pretend community.  That truth became particularly evident when everything headed south. Feeding the pigs was a kind of Jewish Skid Row. He was truly in exile from his father. Look at all the people and corporations today with their hands out, people and companies who have “squandered their wealth on wild living.” Look at the people with their hands out wanting “their share of the stash.” Observe all the people “living beyond their means” expecting someone else to bail them out after all, you don’t need to make a payment now . . .or ever. Politicians make a living promising more “pods” appealing to the envious and greedy. (We speak here not of those who have genuinely fallen on hard times not of their own making.) We see the seeds of humility being planted in the son’s soil of desperation. His loneliness becomes overwhelming and spurs him to change his course. He is beginning to doubt the value of this “Trinity Of Self.” Look for people in your life today who may be in the son’s situation, and extend a hand in whatever form to bring them encouragement and hope. There is a little TOS in all of us! Perchance you may even be that person who “left home.” Go back home. Ask forgiveness. You won’t be disappointed at your Father’s response.

Music: “ “Goin’ Home”  Libera The voices of angels!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TvThHk-wMRk

Prayer:
Lord, I am blind and helpless, stupid and ignorant. Cause me to hear, cause me to know, teach me to do, lead me.                 ―Henry Martyn, 1781-1812

Monday, March 23

Reader: “Give me my share…”

Response: “OK, you got it!”

Scripture: Luke 15: 11-12

“Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:

We live in an era of a new trinity. Unlike the real Trinity, this one is not mysterious in the least! You can figure it out naturally and it is easily understood by even the smallest child. It is the trinity of “me, myself, and I.” Those four little, simple, short words speak volumes. The season of Lent is about helping us to recognize how often that idea slips into and shapes our lives and how we are very unlike Jesus. We live in a society, and, indeed in our own lives, where we are very aware of our “rights.” Look at all the lawsuits and all the testimonial commercials on television telling you how much money a certain  lawyer got for them in their lawsuit. Be sure you get what’s coming to you and the so and so law firm will get you what you deserve! It’s about you! Where did we get this idea of my rights?  In this parable, the son was a rightful heir, albeit an impatient, self-centered, short-sighted one! He used another version of the personal trinity with four words. Give me my share!  I’m embarrassed for him. It revealed so much about his heart. Like Adam, he used what his father had given him to rebel against his father. Notice the Father did not reprimand him, humiliate, or dishonor him in his foolish demand. He granted the demand, knowing full well the consequences of this immature, greedy, self-serving request. There are certainly many times when our heavenly Father does the same for us. He does not impose his will or force us in any direction. He lets the truthfulness of our heart’s motives reveal themselves to us and to him.  The father here likewise does not override the son’s stupidity and immaturity. Can you imagine a love like this so honoring and strong, knowing the foolishness that lies ahead? There is no “thy will be done” in this son’s demand! As you pray today, be careful of what you ask for. In God’s gracious way, he may give it to you!

Music:  “It’s All About Me”   Rob Still Rob is one of my IWS students and has captured today’s cultural mindset in a beautiful way!!! Right! (He’s doing a seminar in Hungry.) A little musical change of pace today!   (A song for the Prodigal!!)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1FqF0goGFo

Prayer:
O God our Father, help us to nail to the cross of thy dear Son the whole body of our death, the wrong desires of the heart, the sinful devising of the mind, the corrupt apprehensions of the eyes, the cruel words of the tongue, the ill employment of hands and feet; that the old man being crucified and done away, that the new man may live and grow into the glorious likeness thy Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.  Amen.  ―Eric Milner-White, 1884-1964                           

Sunday, March 22 – Fourth Sunday in Lent

Reader:The man went and washed”

Response: and came back seeing!”

Scripture: John 9:1, 6-9, 13-17, 34-38

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth.

Then he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes. He told him, “Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “sent”). So the man went and washed and came back seeing!

His neighbors and others who knew him as a blind beggar asked each other, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?” Some said he was, and others said, “No, he just looks like him!”

But the beggar kept saying, “Yes, I am the same one!”

Then they took the man who had been blind to the Pharisees, because it was on the Sabbath that Jesus had made the mud and healed him. The Pharisees asked the man all about it. So he told them, “He put the mud over my eyes, and when I washed it away, I could see!”

Some of the Pharisees said, “This man Jesus is not from God, for he is working on the Sabbath.” Others said, “But how could an ordinary sinner do such miraculous signs?” So there was a deep division of opinion among them.

Then the Pharisees again questioned the man who had been blind and demanded, “What’s your opinion about this man who healed you?”

The man replied, “I think he must be a prophet.”

“You were born a total sinner!” they answered. “Are you trying to teach us?” And they threw him out of the synagogue.

When Jesus heard what had happened, he found the man and asked, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

The man answered, “Who is he, sir? I want to believe in him.”

“You have seen him,” Jesus said, “and he is speaking to you!”

“Yes, Lord, I believe!” the man said. And he worshiped Jesus.

Reader: The word of the Lord.

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
We mentioned yesterday Jesus’ many references to images of light in various ways in his interaction with people. Here is a classic example. Again, a little context is helpful. In previous chapters (7-8), Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Festival of Tabernacles. One of the central themes of that festival is the lighting of the menorah and many more lamps creating great light in the Temple reminding the people of God’s presence, the Shekinah glory present in the wilderness Tabernacle and at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple. This particular festival also had messianic implications in its anticipation of the coming of the Messiah. Jesus had very recently told the people that he was, in fact, the Light of the world which created a great stir among the Jewish leaders. Then we have this account which again claims to be the Light of the world. In this context, he encounters the blind man and heals him. (darkness to light) The leaders refused to believe what they saw, particularly since they knew this person had been blind all his life. (They remained in the dark.) The facts didn’t fit their mindset so they sought in various ways to explain away reality. The Pharisees questioned the formerly blind man to no avail. Some of the Jewish leaders were rational and wondered how an ordinary sinner (which Jesus wasn’t) could do such a miracle. There was clear division and confusion among the Jewish leaders. Their solution was to throw the blind man out of the synagogue. Jesus found the man and asked him if he believed in the Son of Man. For Jews that was a loaded question because “Son of Man” had clear and direct implications to the Messiah (book of Daniel). This interaction is very similar to Jesus’ concluding conversation with the woman at the well in John 4. The formerly blind man believed and worshiped Jesus on the spot. The great irony in this account is that a man who was born blind both physically and spiritually gained physical sight (light) and spiritual sight (light). In a way, he is symbolic of all humanity. Everyone needs the illumination of Christ, the Light of the world. Note also that in giving the blind man sight, Jesus uses a mixture of clay and saliva in restoring sight to this man much as he used the dust of the earth to create a human being in the Garden of Eden (Irenaeus’ observation). This man is the only blind person Jesus healed who was born blind from birth. The Pharisees, on the other hand, were so convinced and set in their ways, that they were willing to deny the reality in front of them in order to maintain their beliefs. What they saw didn’t fit with what they believed, so they rejected what they saw and remained in the dark spiritually though they claimed to be in the light! Their faith in Moses was not a living faith, for Moses had affirmed Jesus’ mission at the Mount of Transfiguration, though the Pharisees were unaware of that encounter. Yaraslav Pelican commented, “Traditionalism is the dead faith of living people and tradition is the living faith of dead people.” How true! The legalistic faith of the Pharisees died with Moses on Mt. Pisgah. But the grace of Moses’ faith clearly crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land and from there encouraged the Savior on his “exodus.” May we not be so locked in what we “know,” that we miss the work of the Savior among us. He often works outside of what we “know.”

Music: “Breathe on Me Breath of God”  NAK Chor Kapstadt Glorious. Watch to the end.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlyo3neR6xg

Prayer:
Give me grace, O my Father, to be utterly ashamed of my own reluctance. Rouse me from sloth and coldness, and make me desire you with my whole heart. May my faith not be set in legalized stones but in living stones next to the Cornerstone. Teach me to love meditation, sacred reading, particularly Thy word, and a living life of prayer. Teach me to love that which must engage my mind for all eternity.  Amen. 

― John Henry Newman, Prayers for Easter, p.22, adapted D.S.

Saturday, March 21

Reader: “For where your treasure is,”

Response: “there your heart will be also.”

Scripture: Matthew 6: 19-24

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
As we narrow in on Jesus’ life as the ominous weight of the cross draws nearer, we see more and more clearly how single-minded and centrally focused he was. His earlier words, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…” was lived out in his words “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”  He had no home. When he was killed, he had nothing other than the clothes he was stripped of. When he died naked on the cross, he had nothing. He came to this earth with nothing and he left with nothing. Jesus did not store up treasure on earth. What treasure he stored in heaven, however, is glorious beyond our imagination. His heart was not in earthly things, but in people. Have you noticed in every mention of Jesus in the New Testament, he is engaged with people, his greatest treasure? Even when it describes him as alone, he is talking with this Father. Secondly, have you observed the number of times Jesus refers to the subject of light? Healing blind men, calling the Pharisees blind guides, blind fools, I am the Light of the world, Nicodemas’s coming to Jesus at night when it was dark, you are the light of the world, are just some of the instances where Jesus seeks to open the eyes of the blind and to bring Light to “people who walk in darkness.” The reference is to the “eyes of the soul.” Finally, Jesus makes very clear that to follow him, people must die to themselves. Having it both ways is not possible because both masters want everything. They will not share. People serve God or something else.  A legitimate question we might ask is, “How much of my life (my time, energy, thought, money) is going into things or pursuits that are of little eternal consequence?” In C.S. Lewis’ words of wisdom, “Do not live these days for things in your life that will end when you do.” If we measure “treasure” only in terms of money, pleasure, leisure, identity, or the material, we see how quickly it can all fade. When we are in the grave, none of those treasures matter in the least. Do you see in Jesus’ words, the point is not earthly treasures, but the affections of the heart?  The quality of the treasure is indicative of the quality of the heart. The character of the heart is central, not the treasure. It is for that heart’s affection that Jesus went to the cross. Where is your heart’s affection today?  That is the treasure you are accumulating. Hopefully, it doesn’t end when you do!

Music: ““Be Thou My Vision”    Nathan Pacheco

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihJAJA4ibEs  

Prayer:
May God support us all the day long, till the shades lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done! Then in His mercy may He give us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last.                                         ―John Henry Newman 1801-1890

Friday, March 20

Reader: “When you fast,” 

Response: “do not look somber.”

Scripture:  Matthew 6:16-18

 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:

Fasting has long been a religious discipline in many faiths.  In the Jewish and Christian tradition it is associated with repentance. A Jewish fast would typically be from morning until evening, eating only after sundown. We read in the Scriptures frequently of “fasting in sackcloth and ashes.”  The longing that comes within us because of a lack of food during a fast, reminds us of our complete and utter dependence upon the Lord. Fasting is symbolic of the discipline it takes to turn away from sin. There is a longing that must be resisted.  Fasting is not simply a physical act. Fasting sharpens the mind, the spirit, and quickens spiritual perception. Fasting of some sort is a normal part of Lent. Again, Jesus said when you fast not if you fast. Sometimes there are short total fasts for a day or two or more. On other occasions there are longer fasts, maybe from specific foods, or perhaps choosing to eat only one meal a day for the specific purpose of being liberated from a fleshly habit or desire.  Fasting was a normal and regular part of the life of every major character in the Bible.  Maybe they knew something we don’t know.  If this is a new area to you, it will be worth doing your own Bible study on “fasting,” and then doing it. As Jesus pointed out, the whole purpose is to deepen one’s relationship with our heavenly Father. The practice often enables one to gain a clearer focus on what is significant, what is unimportant, and clarifies the clutter of the mind and soul. Try setting aside a regular period of fasting these days, perhaps fasting for one meal or one day a week for starters. (Of course be sure that you don’t have a medical condition that would make fasting unhealthy or dangerous.) Giving alms for the poor, prayer, and fasting, three of the central themes of this season, are three of the disciplines practiced regularly by our Savior.

Music: “As the Deer”   Masters Chorale

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYNNIUtQ160

Prayer:
Come now, little man turn aside for a while from your daily employment, escape for a moment from the tumult of your thoughts. Put aside your weighty cares, let your burdensome distractions wait, free yourself awhile for God and rest awhile in him. Enter the inner chamber of your soul, shut out everything except God and that which can help you in seeking him, and when you have shut the door, seek him. Now, my whole heart, say to God, ‘I seek your face, Lord, it is your face I seek.’ ―Anselm 1033-1109

Thursday, March 19

Reader: “The disciples said,”

Response: “Lord, teach us how to pray,”

Scripture: Matthew 6: 9-15

“This, then, is how you should pray:

   ” ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ 

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:

Right after Jesus talked about the importance of praying, he gave us an example of how to do it. Notice the careful choice of words. He begins, “Our Father in heaven…” He makes a point of reminding us of the great reality of the moment. We are not simply saying words, we are talking to the Creator of the universe in real time! At the same time we are being reminded of whose we are and at the same time reminding us of the existence of another world we cannot see. (The Bible is the one book that presumes the reality of other dimensions and worlds outside the four dimensions in which we live. The writers never presume an allegorical or mythical mindset of heaven. Heaven is always treated as reality.) Perhaps it would be wise to think a little more carefully than we sometimes do in how we begin prayers. It might be that “God, we ask you to…” may not be the most thoughtful, respectful way to address our Creator. Our words belie our shallow understanding of the One we address. “God” is not meant as a punctuation mark. Notice the way Jesus addresses his Father in John 17. It is a prayer well worth studying. It is kind of eavesdropping on Jesus’ conversation with his Father. He is always mindful of who he is and who his Father is. Certainly there are times when a prayer is as short and urgent as “Help, Lord!”  Though Jesus is our friend, he is also our coming King, our constant Intercessor, our victorious Warrior, our compassionate Redeemer, our holy Savior, all of which do not make us equals! In his prayers, Jesus was ever aware of his own Father/Son relationship. Remember, we are praying to a Father in heaven who has adopted us as his children. That kind of awareness is perhaps something we can tune our hearts to in our prayers. As you pray this week, be very aware of with whom you are talking. Jesus always was.

Music:  “The Lord’s Prayer” Andrea Bocelli and Mormon Tabernacle Choir 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aEplqV0scyo

Prayer: Our Father in heaven, forgive us for those times we pray without thinking of the One to whom we are talking; for those times when we babble, lost in our words and our little world, oblivious to your grand design; for those times we drift off and forget we were praying; for those times when we tell you how to solve our problems and how to be God; and for those times when we are disrespectful and arrogant in our prayers as we seek to be clever or earthy. Teach us to pray as your dear Son prayed, for it is in his name that we offer this prayer. Amen.  ―Daniel Sharp                                                                                                     

Book Recommendation: A Diary of Private Prayer,  John Baillie, Scribners

Wednesday, March 18

Reader: “Your Father knows what you need” 

Response: “before you ask him.”

Scripture: Matthew 6:5-8

 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Again in a plain, beautiful way Jesus simply comments “when you pray.”  Prayer, our conversation with God, is a normal, daily part of the Christian life. “When” is a word of action. It occurs in time. It signals the beginning of an event. So in Jesus saying “when,” his full expectation is that prayer is a part of our daily lives. The “hypocrites” miss the heart of prayer which is personal, intimate communion with God. Notice Jesus does not condemn many words, just words that are babble. The words we use are actually meant to be communion with God. Nor does he condemn repetition, only vain repetition. You’ll recall Jesus actually gave us a model prayer to pray (the Lord’s Prayer) . . . which is actually based on a Jewish prayer from the synagogue liturgy (Kaddosh). True prayer is not telling God what he already knows and our telling him what to do about it! True prayer is humbling ourselves before God in privacy and praying to our Father. We may pray every day for a specific thing. We need to be careful not to simply pray repetitive words with a detached heart in order to get through our “prayer list.” Having said that, maybe you want to keep a prayer list or a prayer journal. It is very encouraging to be praying for some situation over a period of time and then see it come to fruition in God’s timing. While interceding for others is an important part of prayer, don’t neglect adoration, confession, and thanksgiving. In prayer we are turning to God in dependency as we turn from sin. “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” One of the other important, though often neglected and difficult, parts of prayer, is that of taking the time to  listen to the Lord. My tendency is to be quiet a little bit and then “get going.” I’m still working on the listening part. There are a great many examples of prayer in Scripture to guide us along. (Col. 1:9-14; Phil. 1:3-11; Dan. 9:1-19) Maybe during the Lenten season you’ll want to build a collection of all the “prayers” you can find in Scripture.

Music: “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”   Alan Jackson The way it ought to be sung!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=znWu2HCJ92c

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, our Intercessor, may our hearts be open to you, to see as you see.  May we be obedient to your voice. May we learn to be quiet and listen to you. May your voice become more and more familiar to our ears. May our prayer life with you multiply many times throughout the day. We ask that you’d bring things to our minds during the day that need prayer. May we be free to pray with those in need as we go through the mornings, afternoons, and evenings of our lives. In all of this, may you receive glory. Thank you for praying for us continually. We pray this in your tender name. Amen. ―Daniel Sharp             

Tuesday, March 17

Reader: “When you give to the needy . . .”

Response: “do not announce it.” 

Scripture: Matthew 6:1-4

“Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.  So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Reader: This is the word of the Lord.   

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:

We don’t need big words to say powerful things. These words of Jesus have four or fewer letters and most have a single syllable.  He couldn’t be clearer. Ours is a faith that expresses itself in actions. Giving to the needy is one of those actions that is done not to buy God’s favor, make him love us more, or earn salvation. We are not graded by God based solely on what we do. God doesn’t give grades on how we live. If he did, we all fail. Jesus passed every test, and as we trust in him, so do we. We “give to the needy” to live out a love relationship with our heavenly Father. Giving to those in need is what we do as Christians in expressing our love. Jesus was clear. He didn’t say “if you give to the needy”, but rather “when you give to the needy.”  Giving is one of the three primary themes of Lent along with fasting and praying. Have you noticed that is exactly what Jesus did his whole life? He fasted regularly; he prayed often; he gave continually to all, especially to those in need. And we are the “needy” who benefit. So our question is how and when do we give to the needy? Are you giving to those in need now?  Maybe adopt a World Vision child. Give above a tithe. Put together a “Grace Bag” for your car. In the bag you might have a toothbrush and toothpaste, a little bottle of shampoo, a roll of toilet paper, a bottle of water, a bar of soap, some baby wipes, a can of beans with a pop top and plastic spoon. Then when you see a homeless person, you’ll have something practical you can give to one in need. There is so much more we can do. Another thought, do you know someone who is having a tough time making financial ends meet right now?  Send them a gift card to a store, or send them some cash anonymously. Does someone just need to be listened to? Expand your “alms” thinking. Ask the Lord to bring to mind someone you can encourage and give to in a practical way. It’s living the life of Jesus.

Music: “O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus”   Simon Khorolskiy DO NOT miss this!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLTu1xv2-Us

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, our Sustainer and Provider, help us to be your hands and feet to those in need. You have given to us so lavishly in so many varied ways. Tune our hearts to your own generous heart that we may more and more see as you see and do something about it. May the gradual transformation of our being into your likeness lead to the transformation of our doing. Thank you for coming to us in our great need. You are our only hope and salvation. May we bring hope, the hope found in you, to those around us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.       ―Daniel Sharp

Monday, March 16

Reader: “Anyone who remains in the teaching of Christ . . .”

Response: “has a relationship with both the Father and the Son.”

Scripture: 2 John 1:1-13

“This letter is from John, the elder.

I am writing to the chosen lady and to her children, whom I love in the truth—as does everyone else who knows the truth— because the truth lives in us and will be with us forever.

Grace, mercy, and peace, which come from God the Father and from Jesus Christ—the Son of the Father—will continue to be with us who live in truth and love.

How happy I was to meet some of your children and find them living according to the truth, just as the Father commanded.

I am writing to remind you, dear friends, that we should love one another. This is not a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning. Love means doing what God has commanded us, and he has commanded us to love one another, just as you heard from the beginning.

I say this because many deceivers have gone out into the world. They deny that Jesus Christ came in a real body. Such a person is a deceiver and an antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked so hard to achieve. Be diligent so that you receive your full reward. Anyone who wanders away from this teaching has no relationship with God. But anyone who remains in the teaching of Christ has a relationship with both the Father and the Son.

If anyone comes to your meeting and does not teach the truth about Christ, don’t invite that person into your home or give any kind of encouragement. Anyone who encourages such people becomes a partner in their evil work. I have much more to say to you, but I don’t want to do it with paper and ink. For I hope to visit you soon and talk with you face to face. Then our joy will be complete.

Greetings from the children of your sister, chosen by God.”

Reader: The word of the Lord as given through the Apostle John.

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Have you ever noticed that many of the New Testament letters had to do with combating the heresies circulating in those days? (Galatians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, I Timothy, 2 Peter, Jude, John, and I,II, & III John!) Peter, Paul, Jude, and John all addressed the issue of false teaching about Jesus and what Jesus taught. Notice also in this shortest book in the New Testament that John also stresses loving one another in the midst of confusing times. This is a striking letter in light of the 21st century church. But this is not the first time people have grappled and rejected the truth. Thomas Jefferson went through the Bible with a razor and cut out everything that had to do with the divinity of Christ and made his own bible. It is a sad book. No hope, only moral teachings, no resurrection, no Pentecost, no Second Coming, no heaven, no sin, no relationship with God. In our day, not only is there hostility toward Christianity in general, there is great conflict within the church itself. Denominations split over doctrine and interpretation of Scripture. Heresies have entered the churches in some quarters. The Bible is viewed as non-authoritative and needs to be reevaluated. Humans will decide what it says and means in light of today’s culture. For example for some viewpoints, the definition of marriage is no longer between one man and one woman; there are other options. Gender is no longer simply male and female, there are additional choices. Killing children waiting to be born is re-interpreted to as a woman’s right to choose (notice a pregnant woman is not referred to as a mother). In some places, Christianity is classified as “hate speech.” The words of the Scriptures span all of time. The challenge for us is to know what the Scriptures do in fact say, and most particularly, what did Jesus say in regard to the Scripture of his day, the Old Testament. He freely quoted it as God’s inspired word. He believed and taught every word of it as true. He fulfilled it! John points out here that we are to “remain in the teaching of Christ” that we might remain in relationship with both the Father and the Son. In our journey to the cross with Christ during this season, we can rest assured in the truth of his word and in his view of the Scriptures. That is also the purpose of these daily devotionals, that we would spend time and encounter the Lord each day. Oh yes, and remember to love one another!

Music: “ “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” Fernando Ortega

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5b0FTKMYGZ4

Make no mistake: if He rose at all it was as His body; if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules reknit, the amino acids rekindle, the Church will fall . . .  Let us not mock God with metaphor, analogy, sidestepping, transcendence; making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded credulity of earlier ages: let us walk through the door.    ―John Updike

Prayer:

Lord God, your claims are absolute; we must accept them without bargaining. You are always right. Your demands are so full of blessings! I thank you for your severity as Redeemer, I thank You for never having allowed us to mingle the odor of death with Your perfume of eternity. I shall go towards You as towards my state of rest and my eternal life. In Your two hands You hold my being; and You are my reward, because the perfection of my being lies in You. Grant that I may love more and more of this life of faith, wholly irradiated by hope; grant that I may love this desert-place where You have put my soul, this immense plain with You in the center, where I stand always before You and someday soon, by Your Grace, by Your side. Amen.                                                                         

                        ―Florence Allshorn, from The Quiet Corner, p.93

Sunday, March 15 – Third Sunday in Lent

Reader: “Now we believe, not just because of what you told us,” 

Response:but because we have heard him ourselves.”

Scripture: John 4:5-15; 19-26; 39-42

Eventually [Jesus] came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.

The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”

Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”

“But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?”

Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”

“Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.”

 “Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her.

 “I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied.

Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband—for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!”

“Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet. So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?”

Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Then Jesus told her, “I am the Messiah!”

The woman left her water jar beside the well and ran back to the village, telling everyone, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could he possibly be the Messiah?”

Many Samaritans from the village believed in Jesus because the woman had said, “He told me everything I ever did!” When they came out to see him, they begged him to stay in their village. So he stayed for two days, long enough for many more to hear his message and believe. Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not just because of what you told us, but because we have heard him ourselves. Now we know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.”

Reader: The Word of the Lord.

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
My guess is that you have read this particular passage many, many times and have listened to more than one sermon addressing this account of “Jesus and the Woman at the Well.” What more is there to say? I have found so often in Scripture that God has more things to tell me about himself that further alters the way I am to live and be, even from passages I’ve heard many times before. This pericope is another one of those conversations with God. The familiar part is that Jesus had walked a long way. It was noontime. He was tired. A “questionable” Samaritan woman came to the well for water. They were alone in a culturally improper situation. That is the general situation, now some context. Jesus had been in Judea and was traveling north back to Galilee. The main road from Jerusalem to the Galilee region ran straight through Samaria. Normally Jews avoided Samaria altogether and traveled on the east side of the Jordan River, the eastern boundary of Samaria, which was both a region and the name of the capital. Sychar was a little village just outside the city. The Samaritans were half-breed Jews, coming from the ten northern tribes, who had intermarried with various nations who had invaded their land in the past. Some scholars believe it was the Samaritan Sanballat, who had given Ezra and Nehemiah such grief in rebuilding the wall in Jerusalem, who built the Samaritan temple on Mt. Gerizim. In terms of religion, the Samaritans accepted the Pentateuch as their scripture and, like the Jews, were looking for a messiah. The Jews wanted nothing to do with Samaritans. They resented any blood relationship, which makes Jesus’ story of the “good Samaritan” all the more pointed. Into this setting Jesus asks the woman for a drink. She was surprised and asked why he would ask her. He commented about living water. (Cisterns and wells had “dead” water. “Living water” was fresh flowing water. Samaria had no rivers, no “living water,” hence her comment.) She gave a little dig at him in her comment if he thought he was greater than our (ouch) ancestor Jacob. Then came Jesus’ comment about the husbands. What strikes me is her immediate comment suggesting he must be a prophet for only a prophet could know hidden truth. There was no way a normal person could know about her past. I think she realized she was talking to a real prophet and so asked him a question about the ongoing controversy of the day between the Jews and Samaritans, worship at Gerizim or Jerusalem? Who’s right? (A true prophet would know.) Jesus’ response was salvation comes from the Jews, not the Samaritans. The doubting woman’s response was when the Messiah comes, he will explain everything to us. And then Jesus’ most powerful response, “I AM the Messiah.” She ran to town to tell everyone what had happened. Jesus went to the town for two days and many people became believers as a result.

Volumes have been written on Jesus’ words of worshiping the Father “in spirit and in truth.”  I’d like to make one minor observation. Biblical worship involves all five senses and is not just a head/heart/theological mental activity. Taste, touch, sight, sound and smell have always been a part of worship as the Holy Spirit empowers the people of God with Jesus as our High Priest before the Father.

Music: ““Jesus Messiah”    Gaither Vocal Band

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iN4wj2KAdhU

Prayer:
O God, who wouldest not [will] the death of a sinner, but that he should be converted and live: forgive the sins of us who turn to thee with all our heart, and grant us the grace of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  ―Early Scottish Prayer

Saturday, March 14

Reader: “No one has ever gone to heaven and returned.” 

Response: “But the Son of Man has come down from heaven.”

Scripture: John 3:1-13

There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the kingdom of God.”

“What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”

Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”

“How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked.

Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things? I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony. But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven.

Reader: “This is God’s word as recorded by John.” 

Response: “Thanks be to God for these powerful words.”

Some thoughts:
This is one of the better known accounts in the gospels, the interaction between Nicodemus, a leader of the Pharisees and one of the esteemed seventy rulers (like a Jewish Supreme Court) and Jesus. One of the things that is evident in this pericope is Nicodemus’ inability to think beyond a physical birth. Jesus’ description of the spiritual birth escapes him as it does for many people today. Birth from above is the result of the action of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The wind blows where it will. The Spirit of God is free and moves where it will. God’s Spirit comes from heaven and cannot be contained or controlled. Jesus’ challenge to Nicodemus and to us is if you won’t believe what I tell you about earthly things (Do you believe what Jesus said while on earth?), how can you possibly believe what I tell you about heavenly things? Jesus’ explanation is a magnificent account showing us how earth-bound humans can be connected to heaven, how our earthly and heavenly existence to God are connected! In giving added authority to his comment, Jesus then makes a “once in eternity” statement, “No one has ever gone to heaven and returned, but the Son of Man has come down from heaven!” History and theology are melded into one. The Son of Man has taken on human flesh. There is no religion in the world where the god became human and dwelt on earth. Christianity is unique. Thank God today for your spiritual birth and continue to pray for those who have not yet been born of the Spirit. Nancy and I got news today that a person for whom we have been praying for years has come to faith in Christ! Be encouraged. Keep praying for the Nicodemuses in your world.

While this music is often thought of as Christmas music, it is music of the Incarnation and after all, Advent, Christmastide, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost are all part of the same story!

Music: “Of the Father’s Love Begotten”      Outofdarknessmusic a unique setting

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7jICEbS4acQ

Prayer:
Gracious God, you brought Christ into the world to bear our afflictions, and by his stripes we are healed; we come with thanksgiving for his cleansing redemption. Purge the stain of sin within us and give us clean hearts, that we may serve you more faithfully. Renew right minds that we may enjoy the fruits of your Spirit and abound in the love, joy, peace, goodness, and faithfulness we find in the reconciling love of Christ Jesus, our Savior and Lord.  ―Prayers for Easter, James G. Kirk, p.15

Friday, March 13

Reader:It is the food . . .”

Response: the Lord has given you to eat.”

Scripture: Exodus 16:9-21

Then Moses said to Aaron, “Announce this to the entire community of Israel: ‘Present yourselves before the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’” And as Aaron spoke to the whole community of Israel, they looked out toward the wilderness. There they could see the awesome glory of the Lord in the cloud.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I have heard the Israelites’ complaints. Now tell them, ‘In the evening you will have meat to eat, and in the morning you will have all the bread you want. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”

That evening vast numbers of quail flew in and covered the camp. And the next morning the area around the camp was wet with dew. When the dew evaporated, a flaky substance as fine as frost blanketed the ground. The Israelites were puzzled when they saw it. “What is it?” they asked each other. They had no idea what it was.

And Moses told them, “It is the food the Lord has given you to eat. These are the Lord’s instructions: Each household should gather as much as it needs. Pick up two quarts for each person in your tent.”

So the people of Israel did as they were told. Some gathered a lot, some only a little. But when they measured it out, everyone had just enough. Those who gathered a lot had nothing left over, and those who gathered only a little had enough. Each family had just what it needed.

Then Moses told them, “Do not keep any of it until morning.” But some of them didn’t listen and kept some of it until morning. But by then it was full of maggots and had a terrible smell. Moses was very angry with them.

After this the people gathered the food morning by morning, each family according to its need. And as the sun became hot, the flakes they had not picked up melted and disappeared.

Reader: The Word of the Lord.

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
This passage from Exodus is the iconic picture of humanity! I’m going to back up a bit to bring this portion into context. The Israelites were freed from 430 years of slavery to the Egyptians a month ago. They had just left an oasis and were continuing on towards the Promised Land, the land God had given them. These people, a million plus strong, were complaining about Moses’ and Aaron’s leadership. In the people’s words “we sat around in Egypt with pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted!” They were slaves! They didn’t sit around at a barbecue! Complaining often blinds us to reality and tends to feed more complaining, which was true for these people. Moses was quick to remind them their gripe was against God, not against him and his brother. Moses wanted no part of the crabbing! The Lord then told Moses his plan which was to give the Israelites food one day at a time, just the amount they needed for that day. Then the day before the Sabbath, they should take a double portion because God would provide no manna on the Sabbath. God was resting that day and they should too. So far so good. Then we come to the passage you just read. Aaron passed God’s words and plan along to the people. They had been complaining about meat and bread and God provided both, even with the same words of their complaint! (All the bread you want . . .) And the point? “Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.” And that phrase is the point. The awesome glory of God in the cloud was a visual, physical reminder to the people of God’s continued presence with them. Notice God provided exactly what they needed and the amount they needed. They had to trust him for each day’s need. If they got greedy, the food spoiled. If they got lazy, they went hungry. And of course some tried both ways as the passage continues on after the portion you read. This account of the desert wanderings has a very clear point. We are to learn to turn to the Lord each day for sustenance. The purpose is to learn to rely on him for the immediate present. Don’t worry about next week. Go to him daily for relationship and for nourishment. He will always provide. And quit complaining imagining things are better in another situation. Have you ever noticed that complaining is always self-focused? P.S. That entire generation to a person, 500-600,000 people died in the desert, never arriving in what God had promised them. In our pastor’s words from last Sunday’s sermon, “the Israelites turned what should have been an eleven day journey into the Promised Land into a thirty-eight year death march.” And all because they could not trust the Lord one day at a time.

Music: “To God Be the Glory”   Sissel by Andrae Crouch

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NiB4SEgOkow

If you let it keep running after this video, there are additional videos of her singing this piece at different years in her life. A gorgeous voice. Not to be missed.

Prayer:
Almighty God, forgive my doubt, my anger, my complaining, my pride, my greed, my selfishness, my sinful thoughts, my impatience, my laziness . . . Lord, you get the idea. I am a sinner through and through. Lord Jesus, help me learn to live with a grateful heart, a patient heart, a trusting heart, a clean heart, a tender heart, a truthful heart, a heart more like yours as you live in and through me. By your grace and nourishment I will endeavor to continue the journey through the desert of this world until I cross the Jordan into the Promised Land, the Land you have prepared for all your children. In the name of the one who is the Bread of Life, even Jesus my Savior. Amen.   ―Daniel Sharp

Thursday, March 12

Reader: “At the right time he will bring everything together”

Response: “. . . under the authority of Christ.”

Scripture: Ephesians 1:7-14

He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding. God has now revealed to us his mysterious plan regarding Christ, a plan to fulfill his own good pleasure. And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth. Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan. God’s purpose was that we Jews who were the first to trust in Christ would bring praise and glory to God. And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good news that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him.

Reader: “These are God’s words to us.” 

Response: “Thank you Lord.”

Some thoughts:
You may have often heard that “God has a wonderful plan for your life.” If you are like me, I find it easy to think of God’s plan in terms of specific things or events in my life. I’m not so sure this concept is always what God has in mind. Sometimes, yes, it appears to be the case. Maybe there was some event or action that you recognized had God’s hand all over it. But there are plenty of other times when it seems “God’s plan” is a complete mystery. As you read in the passage above, God’s plan is to fulfill his own good pleasure. If our desire is to bring glory to God in our life, then we do want to be in accord with his plan. The bold print clarifies the timing of such. My problem is I don’t know the timing and God isn’t telling me! Matthew Henry has two very pertinent quotes: “God has wisely kept us in the dark concerning future events and reserved for himself the knowledge of them, [why?] that he may train us up in a dependence upon himself and a continued readiness for every event.” And “Cast not away your confidence because God defers his performances. That which does not come in your time, will be hastened in his time, which is always the more convenient season. God will work when he pleases, how he pleases, and by what means he pleases. He is not bound to keep our time, but he will perform his work, honor our faith, and reward them that diligently seek him.” Well said, Matthew! Hang in there . . .

Music: “Abide with Me”  St. Olaf Cantori and Congregation

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kkXI-8no9ZE&list=TLPQMjIwMTIwMjCZKDSORdFFFg&index=2 

This is worth your 7 minutes and 12 seconds! THIS IS CONGREGATIONAL SINGING! Note the number of millennials in the congregation singing! Let’s hear it for the Lutherans!

  • Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
    The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
    When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
    Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.
  • Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
    Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
    Change and decay in all around I see—
    O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
  • I need Thy presence every passing hour;
    What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
    Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
    Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.
  • I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
    Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
    Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
    I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.
  • Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
    Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
    Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
    In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Prayer:
Almighty and ever-blessed God, I thank Thee for the love wherewith Thou dost follow me all the days of my life. I thank Thee that Thou dost inform my mind with Thy divine truth and undergird my will with Thy Spirit’s leading, and for all those little happenings which, though seeming at the time no more than chance, yet afterwards appears to me as part of Thy gracious plan for the education of my soul. O let me not refuse Thy leading or quench this light which Thou hast kindled within me, but rather let me daily grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord and Master. Amen.

― John Baillie, 1886-1960 

Wednesday, March 11

Reader: “My Temple will be called a house of prayer”

Response: “for all nations.” 

Scripture: Mark 11:15-19

When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace. He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”

When the leading priests and teachers of religious law heard what Jesus had done, they began planning how to kill him. But they were afraid of him because the people were so amazed at his teaching.

That evening Jesus and the disciples left the city.

Reader: “This is Mark’s record of what happened . . .”

Response: “in the days leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion.” 

Some thoughts:
If you knew you were to die for certain in three weeks, what would you do? My guess is you could care less about “March Madness” or finishing up the quarterly report or who will win the next election, after all, no one comes into power unless God has allowed it. My guess is we’d call together the people we are close to and love dearly and tell them what is really important to us. It most likely wouldn’t have to do with mundane things. I’ve always been curious as to those things that were significant to Jesus as he neared the end of his earthly life. Unlike us, he knew he was going to die and knew when he would die. This pericope gives us one of the early insights into Jesus’ perspective as to what was important to God. His house, the Temple, was to be a place of prayer for everyone, not just the Jews. (That was a surprise to everyone!) It was to be a place of communing with God the Father, of intimate conversation with the Creator. It had become something else, a place of crass religious business. As you might guess, the merchants were not pleased that he called them out and destroyed their racket. So the religious leaders and teachers, encouraged by the merchants no doubt, began to hatch a plot to kill Jesus, even though he was very popular. Jesus’ bottom line was communion with his Father. I wonder if that is what happens when the body of Christ gathers for worship these days? Is worship in your church a place of communing with the Father as a congregation or do we have a “high five, yeah Jesus time”? When was the last time the body of Christ was on its knees in repentance in awe of our life-giving Savior? Just asking. So, what would you say to your children, grandchildren, or nieces or nephews, or some other close friends as you came to the end of your life on earth? My father finished lunch, went out in the barnyard to move a grain elevator, and a split second later was in heaven when a cable snapped. What are the most important things you want to communicate to your loved ones? What’s keeping you? You know, you are not guaranteed next week or even tomorrow.

Music: “Salvation Is Created”   Tschesnokoff, National Lutheran Choir

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=veDwCqhokOA

Prayer:
Almighty God, the giver of all life and breath and hope, I worship and glorify your holy name. The whole creation has come into being through your power; and I rejoice that your purpose for creation is a loving purpose. You revealed your love for me in Jesus Christ; and I am privileged indeed to have been brought to a living faith in you. Forgive me, Lord, for the times I have made myself and my feelings the center of my worship. With people in every corner of the world I join our offering of worship with the offering that rises to you constantly from earth and heaven. Blessing and honour and glory and power be to our God―Father, Son and Spirit―on this day and always; through the priesthood of our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

          ―Prayers for Sunday Services, p.40, adapted Daniel Sharp 

Tuesday, March 10

Reader: “Anyone who trusts in him” 

Response: “. . . will never be disgraced.”

Scripture: 1 Peter 2:4-10

You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor.

And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. As the Scriptures say,

“I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem, chosen for great honor,

and anyone who trusts in him

will never be disgraced.”

Yes, you who trust him recognize the honor God has given him. But for those who reject him, “The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.”

And, “He is the stone that makes people stumble, the rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them. But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

“Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people.

Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy.”

Reader: “This is God’s word as given to Peter.” 

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:
In today’s passage, Peter reminds us that we are “living stones”, an actual part of the Temple in which Jesus is the cornerstone. This is not pretend faith. You are part of the real thing, a world that is bigger and extends beyond what you can see.  It doesn’t feel like it, does it? You are just sitting somewhere reading this. It surely doesn’t feel very spiritual. You as a “living stone” seems more like a “theological theory” than reality is my guess.The truth is, you are part of another world. We’re so often caught up in this world, that we forget about the biggest picture. Do you notice how obedience enters in here again? (v.8) How often have you heard, “But I don’t feel like it.” Obedience doesn’t rely on feelings at its core. In the Hebrew mind, “doing” is the evidence that one has heard. If there is no action, one has not heard. Look at all the examples in the Scriptures.  Action is the evidence that you have heard. (In their growing up years, we sought to impress this concept upon our children―”Time to go to bed. . . I heard you . . . Are you in bed . . . I’m going . . .” with varied results!) The mercy here is that we are God’s chosen children. He called us out of our bondage to sin and now we are marked with his identity. The season of Lent is concerned with God’s recovering and restoring a people for himself. We are a part of a great exodus, an exodus from slavery to sin to freedom from sin, from darkness to light. We are a royal priesthood, a holy nation. The Tabernacle in the wilderness is us. Can you doubt we are in a wilderness? You and I are parts of God’s physical kingdom on earth. We didn’t used to be, but, having come to faith in Jesus, now we are “living stones” in his earthly Temple. So, do the work of a priest today. Bind the broken-hearted, support the weak, honor all people. Love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the HolySpirit. It doesn’t really matter how you feel! Do it.

Music: “Miserere Mei”  Allegri Tenebrae Choir   Spectacular!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3v9unphfi0

This is a setting of the confessional Psalm 51

Prayer:
Go forth into the world in peace, be of good courage, hold fast to that which is good, render to no one evil for evil, strengthen the faint hearted, support the weak, help the afflicted, honor all people, love and serve the Lord rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit, and may God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be with you and remain with you now and always. Amen.       ―1928 Book of Common Prayer

Monday, March 9

Reader: “Take your son, your only son.”

Response: “. . . your only son.”

Scripture:  Genesis 22:1-19

Some time later, God tested Abraham’s faith. “Abraham!” God called.

“Yes,” he replied. “Here I am.”

“Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.”

The next morning Abraham got up early. He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son, Isaac. Then he chopped wood for a fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day of their journey, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. “Stay here with the donkey,” Abraham told the servants. “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.”

So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them walked on together, Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”

“God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together.

When they arrived at the place where God had told him to go, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. Then he tied his son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice. At that moment the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Yes,” Abraham replied. “Here I am!”

“Don’t lay a hand on the boy!” the angel said. “Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.”

Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son. Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the LORD will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.”

Then the angel of the LORD called again to Abraham from heaven. “This is what the LORD says: Because you have obeyed me and have not withheld even your son, your only son, I swear by my own name that I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies. And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed—all because you have obeyed me.”

Then they returned to the servants and traveled back to Beersheba, where Abraham continued to live.

Reader: “This is God’s foretelling story.”

Response: “Our God is beyond words.”

Some thoughts:
As the Lenten season begins to point toward the cross, we come across this familiar story of Abraham and Isaac. There are so many familiarities and Christological types in the First Testament. Another way to look at these accounts is what the Scriptures call shadows. Abraham was a type of the Father in that he did not withhold his son, his only son whom he loved. We are reminded of Jesus on the mount of Transfiguration when the Father spoke from heaven “this is my beloved son, my Chosen one, listen to him.” Isaac was a type of Christ figure. He was the chosen one rather than Ishmael. As Jesus carried the wooden cross on his back for his sacrifice, so also Isaac carried the wood on his back for his sacrifice. A lamb was eventually sacrificed in place of Isaac, but Jesus, as the Lamb of God, laid down his life as our sacrifice. There were two servant witnesses who accompanied Abraham and Isaac. There were two thieves who bore witness to the crucifixion of Jesus. (Jewish law required the testimony of at least two witnesses to verify the truth in any situation. Deut.17:6) The sacrifice of the ram took place on Mt. Moriah, the eventual site of Solomon’s Temple as well as Golgotha. A donkey went with them reminding us of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (located on Mt. Moriah) on Palm Sunday. The sacrifice was offered on the third day. As it turned out, Isaac, was “raised from the dead” on the third day. As God the Father raised Jesus on the third day, so Abraham believed God would raise his slain son. (Heb.11:19)―I’m not making this up! The one performing the burnt offering was also the one who slayed the sacrifice. The burnt sacrifice was consumed completely by the fire, unlike other types which often had some portion go to the priest. This sacrifice was to atone for a sinful state, rather than for forgiveness of a specific sin. The sacrificial offering was to be in perfect health at the beginning of the prime of its life. Finally, the sacrifice of the ram was “in place” of Isaac. Jesus sacrifice on the cross was in our place. Indeed, as the Scripture says, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”  Abraham returned home with his son. And we await the return of our Father in heaven with his Son. The sacrifice has been completed! We are called by our Father to lay down our life every day and die to ourselves in the same way that our Savior humbled himself before his Father.

 

Music: “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”  Massed Choirs Weston Noble, Conductor     Glorious!! Lake Avenue Church, Pasadena, CA.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fEOLUnoQdmQ

                                 -Isaac Watts

When I survey the wondrous cross

On with the Prince of glory died,

My richest gain I count but loss

And pour contempt on all my pride.

 

See from his head, his hands, his feet

Sorrow and love flow mingled down,

Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,

Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

 

Were the whole realm of nature mine

That were a present far too small

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all.

 

(This may well be the grandest hymn in the English language.)

 

Prayer:
You are God and we praise you; you are the Lord and we acclaim you; you are the eternal Father; all creation worships you. To you all angels, all the powers of heaven, cherubim and seraphim sing in endless praise, Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might; Heaven and earth are full of your glory. The glorious company of apostles praise you; the noble fellowship of prophets praise you; the white-robed army of martyrs praise you. Throughout the whole world the holy church acclaims you, Father of majesty unbounded, your true and only Son worthy of all worship, and the Holy Spirit advocate and guide. To you eternal God, three in one we give you praise. Amen.

                                 -Te Deum, 4th century

Sunday, March 8 – Second Sunday in Lent

Reader: “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”

Response: “Listen to him.”

Scripture: Matthew 17:1-9

Six days later Jesus took Peter and the two brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone. As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed so that his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared and began talking with Jesus.

Peter exclaimed, “Lord, it’s wonderful for us to be here! If you want, I’ll make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

But even as he spoke, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.” The disciples were terrified and fell face down on the ground.

Then Jesus came over and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” And when they looked up, Moses and Elijah were gone, and they saw only Jesus.

As they went back down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Reader: The word of the Lord

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
What would have it been like for you to travel with the famous Jesus? He was a rock star. Great crowds of people showed up wherever you all went. You were a part of his inner circle. You saw the miracles with your own eyes. You got to spend lots of time with him. You even got to do a few miracles yourself! A pretty heady time for the disciples.

Jesus often referred to himself in the third person as the Son of Man. In fact, just before the passage of Scripture you just read, he had asked his disciples this pointed question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Peter (of course) answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” He then told the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah! Strange. A short time later comes what is called the Transfiguration. Jesus took his inner circle, Peter, James, and John with him to a mountain top. While there, the three got a brief glimpse of the divine nature and brilliant glory of Jesus.  They got a faint peek through the veil. Elsewhere, we read that the conversation among Moses (the Law Giver) and Elijah (the Prophet of the Messiah’s coming) and Jesus was concerning his soon departure (the actual word is “his exodus”) from this world. In essence, Jesus was about to fulfill the Law and the Prophets once for all. Do you see how this event tied the Old Testament and the New Testament together? We read in Deuteronomy that there must be two witnesses to verify the truth of a matter. Here we have perhaps the two greatest men of the First Testament bearing witness to the identity of Jesus as the Son of God and affirming his mission. Moses led the first Exodus from slavery to freedom in a shadow of what was to come. Moses died looking into the Promised Land and was buried in an unknown grave by God himself. You’ll recall Elijah did not die, but was taken by a chariot of fire straight to heaven. Here the disciples saw Moses and Elijah coming from that Promised Land, heaven itself, to comfort and give solace to Jesus as he prepares to give his life as the ultimate Lamb of God in freeing all peoples from the bondage of sin. Then we read again that Jesus told these three to say nothing of what they had seen and heard. Why? It was not yet God the Father’s timing. Why did these three get to see this event and not the other disciples? After the resurrection and ascension, Peter, James, and John assumed significant leadership in the early days of the church. They referred to seeing Jesus’ glory (2 Peter 1:16-21) and cited the experience as giving them greater confidence in the truth of Jesus as the Son of God as they led the early church. What does this have to do with Lent? We see here again the great and detailed care God gave in bringing redemption to all tribes, tongues and nations. A plan begun before the dawn of creation was coming to the pivotal point. God is in the details, then and now. The End will surely come. Glory!  

Music: “Sanctus” from Requiem Durufle   

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hESnJ0HHlxI 

“Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts. Heaven and earth are full of thy glory. Hosanna in the highest.”

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, until the day when we see Thee face to face in all Thy glory, when we don’t have to come down the mountain but dwell in Thy presence forever, when we see what we’ve never even conceived, when we hear music that our ears have never even imagined, when the whole world sees the glory of the glorious Son of God, until then may we be faithful. May we not keep quiet, but go into all our world preaching the great Good News of redemption in Christ in deeds, in words and in demeanor. Amen.     

                                                                                             ―Daniel Sharp

Saturday, March 7

Reader: “The moment you began praying,”

Response: “a command was given.”

 

Scripture: Daniel 9:15-25a

“O Lord our God, you brought lasting honor to your name by rescuing your people from Egypt in a great display of power. But we have sinned and are full of wickedness. In view of all your faithful mercies, Lord, please turn your furious anger away from your city Jerusalem, your holy mountain. All the neighboring nations mock Jerusalem and your people because of our sins and the sins of our ancestors.

“O our God, hear your servant’s prayer! Listen as I plead. For your own sake, Lord, smile again on your desolate sanctuary.

“O my God, lean down and listen to me. Open your eyes and see our despair. See how your city—the city that bears your name—lies in ruins. We make this plea, not because we deserve help, but because of your mercy.

“O Lord, hear. O Lord, forgive. O Lord, listen and act! For your own sake, do not delay, O my God, for your people and your city bear your name.” 

I went on praying and confessing my sin and the sin of my people, pleading with the LORD my God for Jerusalem, his holy mountain. As I was praying, Gabriel, whom I had seen in the earlier vision, came swiftly to me at the time of the evening sacrifice. He explained to me, “Daniel, I have come here to give you insight and understanding. The moment you began praying, a command was given. And now I am here to tell you what it was, for you are very precious to God. Listen carefully so that you can understand the meaning of your vision.

“A period of seventy sets of seven has been decreed for your people and your holy city to finish their rebellion, to put an end to their sin, to atone for their guilt, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to confirm the prophetic vision, and to anoint the Most Holy Place. Now listen and understand! Seven sets of seven plus sixty-two sets of seven will pass from the time the command is given to rebuild Jerusalem until a ruler—the Anointed One—comes. Jerusalem will be rebuilt with streets and strong defenses, despite the perilous times.”

Reader: “This is the conclusion of Daniel’s prayer.”

Response: “This is the word of the Lord.”

Some thoughts:

The reading today is the concluding portion of Daniel’s prayer to the Lord. Daniel had been given a vision concerning the time of the ending of the world. Interestingly, the message was given by the angel, Gabriel, the same angel who would hundreds of years later speak to Zachariah, Mary, and Joseph! Here again is news concerning the Messiah, this time about his Return. This task seems to be Gabriel’s job. This prayer gives us much insight into prayer itself, one of the key themes of the Lenten season along with fasting, and giving to the poor. Notice several things in Daniel’s words: 1) We are reminded of God’s covenant promise to his people. In prayer it is always good to begin with reiterating the great truths about God. It puts our heart and mind into the right context for the rest of our prayer. 2) Daniel confesses his own sin as well as the sin of his people. He does not say “we’ve made mistakes; we’ve used bad judgment; we should have been wiser, we misread the situation, etc.” His words were, “we were wicked; we rebelled; we turned away; we did not listen.” There is complete admission that we have been in the wrong. In looking at today’s pericope we read the expression of a truly repentant heart and one of the most touching passages in Scripture. “We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.” Note the thrice appeal. There are few “three’s” in the Bible, this is one of them. It is worth reflecting on these appeals in light of the Trinity. We also see that “the fervent prayer of a righteous person avails much.” (James 5:16) Daniel’s prayer moved heaven itself. What does all this tell us? Prayer is effective in the courts of heaven and on earth. There are times when God is moved to action by our prayers.  “The moment you began praying, a command was given.” Keep praying God’s time table. In his prayer, Daniel was given God’s perspective on the situation. As you pray today for those things on your heart, listen for God’s perspective, what has he put on your heart. Pray for that.

 

Hymn: “Sweet Hour of Prayer”     Radiance (back from last year! DO NOT MISS)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ph43J3pnBDo

Prayer:
God of compassion, you are slow to anger and full of mercy, welcoming sinners who return to you with penitent hearts. Receive in your loving embrace all who come home to you. We confess that we have been wayward children. We have disobeyed your commands; our ears have been deaf to your call; our hearts have been cold to your love. In thought, in word, and in deed, in attitude we have hurt others and dishonored your name. Our sin is against you. Receive us yet again as your beloved children, not because we are worthy but for the sake of him who loved us and gave himself for us. Amen.                                    -Anonymous

Friday, March 6

Reader: “This is my fate:”

Response: “the Most High has turned his hand against me.”

Scripture: Psalm 77:10-15

And I said, “This is my fate;

    the Most High has turned his hand against me.”

But then I recall all you have done, O Lord;

    I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.

They are constantly in my thoughts.

    I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works.

O God, your ways are holy.

    Is there any god as mighty as you?

You are the God of great wonders!

    You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations.

By your strong arm, you redeemed your people,

    the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. 

Reader: The word of the Lord

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Asaph, the guy who wrote this psalm, had nearly given up on God. His words? “This is my fate; the Most High has turned his hand against me.” There is no worse feeling than coming to the conclusion that someone has given up on you…especially when it’s you! It’s even worse when that someone is God. What’s the use? It’s over. We’ve made too big a mess. It can’t be fixed. Even in that state, if we’re honest, we’re hoping for a deep down miracle of someone changing their mind about us or that the situation will miraculously turn around or melt away. “The Most High has turned his hand against me . . .”  Is there a way to be convinced that God hasn’t slammed the door on us? There is the famous little three letter word “but” followed by “recall”. Yes, in those moments of greatest doubt and discouragement, let history come to the rescue. Why do you think that throughout the entire Old Testament God continually reminded the people to recite their history? I’m indebted to Dennis Prager for this thought. “Memory permeates faith. No memory, no faith. Memory permeates gratitude. No memory, no gratitude.” God commanded that they remember certain feasts for that very purpose (Passover, Pentecost, Tabernacles). On top of that, God has selective memory and so should we. He cannot remember sin, but he does remember his covenant. In moments of greatest doubt go to what you know is true from the past. The psalmist writes “I recall all you have done O Lord.” Truth adjusts and corrects perspective. The psalmist lets God’s past action permeate his mind. “I cannot stop thinking about…they are constantly in my thoughts…” The next time you are low and are convinced God has forgotten you, stick a big “but” in the middle of your thoughts and then rehearse God’s actions of the past. Let his historical work in your life permeate your mind. He’s talking to you!

Music: “Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy”  Fernando Ortega

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGvCm9I4H0A 

Prayer:
Give us, O Lord, steadfast hearts, which no unworthy thought can drag downwards; unconquered hearts, which no tribulation can wear out; upright hearts, which no unworthy purpose may tempt aside. Bestow upon us also, O Lord God, understanding to know you, diligence to seek you, wisdom to find you, and a faithfulness that may finally embrace you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

                   ―Thomas à Kempis, 1380-1471

Thursday, March 5

Reader: “The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go,”  

Response: “. . . both now and forever.”

Scripture: Psalm 121 

I look up to the mountains—

    does my help come from there?

My help comes from the Lord,

    who made heaven and earth!

He will not let you stumble;

    the one who watches over you will not slumber.

Indeed, he who watches over Israel

    never slumbers or sleeps.

The Lord himself watches over you!

    The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.

The sun will not harm you by day,

    nor the moon at night.

The Lord keeps you from all harm

    and watches over your life.

The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go,

    both now and forever.

Reader: The word of the Lord

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
You have read at different times in the First Testament how the pagans worshiped in “high places” and on hilltops under spreading trees in order to be closer to the gods. This idolatrous cultic practice on mountains had an attraction for God’s people. The opening of this psalm could be read as a rhetorical question expecting a negative answer. Your help does not come from worship on mountain tops. Your help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth and the mountains! This psalm is an underscoring of Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Though this great Creator God created all that exists, he is still concerned and cares about you. He is always tuned to his creation for he never “slumbers or sleeps!” Think about it! Our God is always awake dialed into everything going on in his creation in all parts of everywhere since before time began. It’s exhausting even thinking about it! And God does this without expending himself in any way. He watches over nations and over you and me right now. The sun and the moon were also objects of cultic worship in those days and so the psalmist makes clear the Lord is master of both sun and moon. They have no power over you in any way. You need not fear them. The Lord’s eye is on you at all times and in all places. On a little different note, this psalm is similar to many Hebrew psalms in that it is antiphonally conceived. The poetry of the psalms is not of words rhyming, but of parallel thoughts. The speaker in verse one asks a question. Another speaker (verse two) answers the question. Sometimes the response adds to or restates the first idea in different words (v.3 & 4) or adds information or explanation (v.5 & 6 and 7 & 8). If someone is with you as you read this, you may want to go back and reread the psalm antiphonally. For several thousand years these particular verses have been heard as people ascended to Jerusalem to worship on Mt. Moriah. Whatever it is going on in your life today notice God and the verbs in this psalm. “Help comes from the Lord; He will not let you; he watches over you; he watches over Israel; Lord himself watches over you; Lord stands beside you; Lord keeps you from all harm; watches over your life; Lord keeps watch over you. Do you get the idea that God is looking out for you? Rest well.

Music: “He Watching Over Israel”  Robert Shaw Ps.121:4; 138:7

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37zaRHrNlj4

Prayer:
Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord, my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen.  

―My bedtime prayer in my childhood. (I always slept well!)    Daniel Sharp

Wednesday, March 4

Reader: Yahweh! The Lord!”    

Response:  “The God of compassion and mercy!”

Scripture: Exodus 34:1-9; 27-28
Then the Lord told Moses, “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones. I will write on them the same words that were on the tablets you smashed. Be ready in the morning to climb up Mount Sinai and present yourself to me on the top of the mountain. No one else may come with you. In fact, no one is to appear anywhere on the mountain. Do not even let the flocks or herds graze near the mountain.”

So Moses chiseled out two tablets of stone like the first ones. Early in the morning, he climbed Mount Sinai as the Lord had commanded him, and he carried the two stone tablets in his hands.

Then the Lord came down in a cloud and stood there with him; and he called out his own name, Yahweh. The Lord passed in front of Moses, calling out,

“Yahweh! The Lord!

    The God of compassion and mercy!

I am slow to anger

    and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.

I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations.

    I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin.

But I do not excuse the guilty.

    I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren;

the entire family is affected—

    even children in the third and fourth generations.”

Moses immediately threw himself to the ground and worshiped. And he said, “O Lord, if it is true that I have found favor with you, then please travel with us. Yes, this is a stubborn and rebellious people, but please forgive our iniquity and our sins. Claim us as your own special possession.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write down all these instructions, for they represent the terms of the covenant I am making with you and with Israel.”

Moses remained there on the mountain with the Lord forty days and forty nights. In all that time he ate no bread and drank no water. And the Lord wrote the terms of the covenant—the Ten Commandments—on the stone tablets.

Reader: The word of the Lord

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
In Hebrew, these are simply called “The Ten Words.” I find myself wondering if these tablets exist buried somewhere underground in the world? My guess is they were destroyed in the sacking of the Temple in 70 AD. These are the only things we’ve ever had in God’s own handwriting. They were designed to be memorized―ten words, ten fingers! There are some significant things to note here. There are two sets of tablets that went into the Ark of the Covenant, one to remind the people of what God said and one to remind God of his covenant with his people. These words were given specifically to God’s Covenant people as indicated in the preface. I am YHWH, your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt. Like Moses’ previous trip up Mt. Sinai to meet God, we are reminded of God’s holiness with the prohibition of anyone or any animal entering the holy ground. God descended in a cloud, the cloud being a biblical indication of God’s presence (E.g. a pillar of fire and cloud to lead Israel, a cloud at the Transfiguration, a cloud at the Ascension, etc.). In the Scripture preceding this pericope, Moses had a rather pointed conversation with God regarding God’s presence among his people. Moses actually asked God to show him his presence (Ex.33:18). This is the place where God hid Moses in a crack in the rock and he saw the backside of God as God passed by. Moses desperately sought God’s presence with his people. To better understand “The Ten Words,” it would be better to view them as God’s description of what a community in covenant with himself would look like. This covenant relationship with God dealt in reality. Daniel Block writes, “We should interpret this document not as a law code but as a foundational covenant document, intended to create a picture of life within the community of faith governed by covenant principles.” (For the Glory of God, p.85) Our response to the Ten Commandments should grow out of our relationship with God rather than attempting to look at them as simply a set of legalistic rules to follow. This perspective does not lessen their force or impact, but it does put them into a context of relationship with God, their original context. What does all this have to do with Lent? In this season, “The Ten Words” admonish us to treat others with great care. Contrary to our world with its great concern with marches for “my rights,” have you observed the concern of “The Ten Words” here is for others to be treated fairly, treated well, and with selfless compassion. Again, as we journey to the cross with Jesus, our Savior out of his great love, put aside his rights and privilege in laying down his life that we all might have life. Where can you lay down your life for others today?

Music: “Go Down Moses”   Sam Robson Extraordinary! . . . again!  God is in the business of redeeming his people, then and now.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=isLQ36PnTyo

Prayer:
Why is it, Lord, that we think trying to keep rules is enough? It’s so easy to be a Pharisee and feel good about ourselves that we haven’t done anything terrible, at least terrible in our eyes. We look at other people and we aren’t as rude as that driver, or as foul mouthed as that co-worker, or as self-centered as our neighbor. We don’t talk about ourselves all the time when we are with others. We’re doing OK. But Lord, our hearts are dull toward you. We read the Bible more from obligation rather than to converse with you. We pray once in a while or when we think of it, but we seldom encounter you in our prayers. God of mercy, forgive our foolish ways. May our hearts burn for you. Don’t let us stay the same, please. Help me to live our covenant as you summarized in the two greatest commandments. May the doing of our relationship express our being of one mind, your mind living in and through me. In my Savior’s glorious name. Amen.  

                                                                                                           ―Daniel Sharp

Tuesday, March 3

Reader: “Let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God.” 

Response:  “There we will receive his mercy.”

Scripture: Hebrews 4:14-5:10

So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.

Every high priest is a man chosen to represent other people in their dealings with God. He presents their gifts to God and offers sacrifices for their sins. And he is able to deal gently with ignorant and wayward people because he himself is subject to the same weaknesses. That is why he must offer sacrifices for his own sins as well as theirs.

And no one can become a high priest simply because he wants such an honor. He must be called by God for this work, just as Aaron was. That is why Christ did not honor himself by assuming he could become High Priest. No, he was chosen by God, who said to him,

“You are my Son.

    Today I have become your Father.”

And in another passage God said to him,

“You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.”

While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God. Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him. And God designated him to be a High Priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Reader: The word of the Lord

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Yesterday we spent some time underscoring why Jesus had to take on human flesh in order to accomplish his ultimate purpose. Today we read further of his unique position as a human being to bridge sinful humans and a holy God. As you read this, Jesus is our flesh and blood in heaven right now. The perfect, sinless human Son of God is in heaven interceding on our behalf. What is more is that he is our High Priest. There are some things we need to be reminded of in regard to this position. The High Priest must be appointed by God. There was no election and no lobbying for the position. He had to be one of the people . . . another reason for the humanity of Jesus. It was for life. The high priest must be a Levite and from the family of Aaron. As you know, the high priest entered the Holy of Holies one day a year after having offered sacrifices for his own sin, the sins of his family and then for the sins of the people. On the Day of Atonement, only the high priest could offer sacrifices on behalf of the people. They could not make sacrifices on behalf of themselves. In Jesus we have a High Priest who was named to this position by God even though he was not of the lineage of Aaron, but in the order of Melchizedek. In Jesus’ case, the position is for all eternity. Because of his humanity, Jesus is the perfect High Priest because he understands the challenges we humans face regarding the temptation to sin since he himself faced everything we face. We are invited to come to him again and again with our struggles and intercessions knowing he understands perfectly. Have you noticed how Jesus never presumes anything in relation to his Father? Because he is the Son of God, he never says, “Because I’m who I AM, I get a pass on that. God’s rules don’t apply to me.” As the Son of God, he always submits to his Father. Our big brother doesn’t pull executive privilege. Ask the living Christ in you this day to shape your heart and mind even as he prays for you.

Music: “I Need Thee Every Hour”      Sam Robson Beautiful and remarkable!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3wSbLa2uGg

I know I’ve used this one in other years. Sam communicates our need for our High Priest interceding on our behalf beautifully. 

Prayer:
O God of my delight, Thy throne of grace is the pleasure ground of my soul. Here I obtain mercy in time of need, here see the smile of thy reconciled face, here joy pleads the name of Jesus, here I sharpen the sword of the Spirit, anoint the shield of faith, put on the helmet of salvation, gather manna from thy Word, am strengthened for each conflict, nerved for the upward race, empowered to conquer every foe. Help me to come to Christ my High Priest, my Intercessor, as the fountain head of descending blessings, as a wide open flood-gate of mercy. I marvel at my insensate folly, that with such enriching favors within my reach I am so slow to extend the hand to take them. Have mercy upon my deadness for thy name’s sake. Quicken me, stir me, fill me with holy zeal. Strengthen me that I may cling to thee and not let thee go. May thy Spirit within me draw all blessings from thy hand. When I advance not, I backslide. Let me walk humbly because of good omitted and evil done. Impress on my mind the shortness of time, the work to be engaged in, the account to be rendered, the nearness of eternity, the fearful sin of despising thy Spirit. May I never forget that thy eye always sees, thy ear always hears, thy recording hand always writes. May I never give thee rest until Christ is the pulse of my heart; the spokesman of my lips, the lamp of my feet. 

                        ―The Valley of Vision, p.150, adapted Daniel Sharp

Monday, March 2

Reader: “For only as a human being could he die,”

Response:  “and only by dying could he break the power of the devil.”

Scripture: Hebrews 2:10-18

God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation.

So now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters.  For he said to God,

“I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters.

    I will praise you among your assembled people.”

He also said,

“I will put my trust in him,”

    that is, “I and the children God has given me.”

Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.

We also know that the Son did not come to help angels; he came to help the descendants of Abraham. Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.

Reader: The word of the Lord

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
We’ve seen pleas on commercials for people to adopt homeless pets. Adoption is a unique process and an old wonderful concept. One may adopt a dog, but by adopting you don’t become part of the dog’s family lineage. You can love a dog, but you can’t become a dog. When you get sick, you don’t go to the vet!  And the dog, in spite of what some people think, can’t become human! I don’t know if you’ve ever given it thought as to why Jesus became a human being? In all other religions, the god remained a distant god separated from this world. There was no relational or human element to any of these gods. They were beyond face to face encounters.One of the greatest challenges to the Jewish faith is the difficulty of reconciling God who is Spirit and Jesus who claims to be God, but God with human flesh, and not just human flesh, but completely human in every way. The above Scripture is profound. If God were not completely human in every way, then the sacrificial death would be a faux sacrifice. A spiritual god dying a spiritual death would not solve the human problem. If humans were to become “brothers and sisters” of our Lord, then our Lord would truly have to become one of us in order that we might be able to be adopted. Dogs and people are not of the same family. Heaven and earth are not of the same family unless . . .heaven condescends to earth . . . unless the Spiritual takes on flesh and blood, born of a virgin woman. The impregnation had to come from God the Spirit in order to unite the two worlds. The glorious truth is that now, death is forever defeated as, by the power of God, the God-Man, Jesus was raised from the grave destroying the devil’s power over death. Notice also in this passage has no bearing on angels, which are not human beings. This comment reflects a clarifying factor to the Jewish readers who held angels in highest esteem. The portion you read is part of a larger discussion the author is writing in regard to the superiority of Jesus over angelic beings. In this season we are reminded anew of the humanity of Jesus and his dealing with all the temptations and struggles of this life of ours. He knows. He’s experienced it. He is able to help us, even this day. He’s adopted us into his family.

Music: “Jesus, Lover of My Soul”   Fernando Ortega

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MdcqhSAXMgE

Prayer:
Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior, who has taken our humanity in human flesh to be seated at the right hand of God the Father, we bow before you again this day with hearts filled with gratitude. What you have willingly laid aside to become one of us that the whole world might be restored, is truly more than we can ever comprehend. It is beyond our imagination or conception as to what the heavenly realm is like as we have only veiled and shadowy thoughts at this point. In your presence we may have greater understanding of your great love, demonstrated in your humbling to become one of us as our Brother who adopted us into his immortal family. All praise and glory to you, one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.          ―Daniel Sharp

Sunday, March 1 – First Sunday in Lent

Reader: “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness” 

Response: “to be tempted there by the devil.”

Scripture: Matthew 4:1-11

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry.

During that time the devil came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.”

But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say,

‘People do not live by bread alone,

    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city, Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say,

‘He will order his angels to protect you.

And they will hold you up with their hands

    so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’”

Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’”

Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. “I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.”

“Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him. “For the Scriptures say,

‘You must worship the Lord your God

    and serve only him.’”

Then the devil went away, and angels came and took care of Jesus.

Reader: The word of the Lord

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Yesterday we heard Jesus’ words regarding one who would cause another to sin and how it would be better for that person to be drowned in the depths of the sea. In the passage you just read, we see the devil occupying that position as one tempting Jesus to sin. This was not Satan’s first attempt to thwart God’s plan of redemption, though his goal and his tactics are always the same . . . bring death. In the Garden of Eden the test concerned food (the fruit of the tree); testing God’s word (Did God really say?); and worshiped (“you will be like God”). His desire to be God and to be worshiped, “I will be like the Most High,” got him kicked out of heaven (Is.14:13-14; Ezek. 28:14-17).  The Second Adam’s food was nourishment from the word of God. Secondly, rather than test God, Jesus trusted God’s word of protection. And finally, rather than worship the devil, Jesus humbled himself and worshiped and served his Father in obedience. The First Adam in the Garden fell and did something to us. The Second Adam triumphed over the devil and did something for us. But the devil is relentless both then and now. He tried to kill Jesus at his birth. He tempted Jesus in this passage. Through Peter’s words, he sought to convince Jesus not to give his life as a ransom for sin eliciting Jesus’ strongest rebuke to Peter, “Get behind me Satan!” Perhaps the final time was in the Garden of Gethsemane as Jesus sweat great drops of blood coming to his conclusion, “Not my will, but thine be done.”  Make no mistake, the devil continues to create as much havoc as possible in our world and seems to be doing a good job. In our world of competing values and viewpoints, remember Jesus’ own words, “It is written . . .” Stay in the Scriptures each day as you converse with the Lord. It behooves us to know “what is written.”

Music: “What Wondrous Love Is This”  Chelsea Moon with Franz Brothers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1g26dbNJYJI

Prayer:
Give me, O Lord, a steadfast heart which no unworthy affection may drag downwards;

Give me an unconquered heart which no tribulation can wear out;

Give me an upright heart which no unworthy purpose may tempt aside.

Bestow on me also, O Lord my God, understanding to know you, diligence to seek you, wisdom to find you, and a faithfulness that may finally embrace you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.   ―Thomas Aquinas 1225-1274

Saturday, February 29 

Reader: “So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child, 

Response: “is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Scripture: Matthew 18:1-7

About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”

Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.

“And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me. But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.

“What sorrow awaits the world, because it tempts people to sin. Temptations are inevitable, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting.”

Reader: The word of the Lord

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
It’s important to know something of the context of this passage from Matthew. Just prior to this time Peter, James, and John had been with Jesus on the mountain when he was transfigured in their presence and the four of them were joined by Moses and Elijah in a most remarkable encounter. On the way down the mountain, Jesus told them to say nothing about what they had experienced. I have to wonder if they kept their mouths shut. Peter, as well as the brothers James and John, apparently spent more time with Jesus than the other nine disciples. When you recall that James’ and John’s mother asked Jesus if her boys could sit on his right and left sides in the kingdom and the negative reaction that followed from the rest of the disciples, we may get the idea that there was some jealousy and rivalry among the men from time to time! We then come to the passage you just read and their question to Jesus as to who was the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Notice how Jesus defines greatness. The disciples are ambitious thinking position and power, responsibility and authority. Dismissing those attributes, Jesus defines greatness along the character side of things: transparency, humility, repentance, dependance, and trust as to keys of greatness. And these mind sets simply mark entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus points out that the disciples clearly need to repent of their heart attitudes. He is teaching that it is childlike faith which establishes greatness. Have you noticed how Jesus is always more interested in character and actions of the heart than he is in position or power? This is a season for us to examine our own hearts. What do we give the greatest value in our own lives? Is it our position, our knowledge, our resources, our prestige, our goals, or our family? Jesus is most interested in your heart attitude toward him. He confronts the disciples more than once on this issue. He also makes it very clear that to cause this childlike, humble, trusting heart to fall in someone else is very grave to the point of your being better off dead than to be the cause of sin in someone else’s life. Temptation comes to all, but it better not be via you! This day give yourself to transparency, humility, repentance, and trust to the Lord as you interact with all those with whom you come in contact.

Music: “Jesus Loves Me”  Whitney Houston  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHm9Ggdanyo

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, we have to admit that sometimes, like the disciples, we chase work, ambition, success, pleasure and a host of other things and neglect a childlike faith. But we do love you and just get off track from time to time. We know you love us in our unfaithfulness because your word tells us you are faithful even when we are faithless toward you. We confess our tendency to drift from a dependant, tender trust in you. Forgive our foolish ways as we seek once again to draw near to you this day. In the name of Jesus who is strong when we are weak.  Amen. ―Daniel Sharp

Friday, February 28

Reader: “God saw what they had done.”

Response: “He changed his mind.”

Scripture: Jonah 3:10-4:11

When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.

This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. So he complained to the Lord about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.”

The Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?”

Then Jonah went out to the east side of the city and made a shelter to sit under as he waited to see what would happen to the city. And the Lord God arranged for a leafy plant to grow there, and soon it spread its broad leaves over Jonah’s head, shading him from the sun. This eased his discomfort, and Jonah was very grateful for the plant.

But God also arranged for a worm! The next morning at dawn the worm ate through the stem of the plant so that it withered away. And as the sun grew hot, God arranged for a scorching east wind to blow on Jonah. The sun beat down on his head until he grew faint and wished to die. “Death is certainly better than living like this!” he exclaimed.

Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?”

“Yes,” Jonah retorted, “even angry enough to die!”

Then the Lord said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”

Reader: The word of the Lord

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
One of the central themes of the Lenten season is that of repentance; actually it should be a central theme of the Christian life! You have just read a familiar passage, with three characters: the narrator, God, and the beleaguered prophet Jonah. God called Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach repentance. To Jonah’s great disappointment, the people listened to his message and repented en masse . . . including animals! There are several interesting questions here: Shouldn’t Jonah have been pleased that the people repented? Do animals “live in spiritual darkness”? What’s the point of the withering plant? Why did Jonah so resist his mission from God? The question I want to reflect on is in the very first verse we read, “When God saw what they had done . . . he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.” Does an omnipotent God change his mind? And what are the ramifications? What does that say about God?

The answer to this first question is clearly “yes.” You just read it. One of the principles of Scripture in dealing with a question like this is, are there any other similar situations in other parts of the Bible. Think of Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments and the Israelites worshiping the golden calf. God told Moses he would wipe out Israel and start over with Moses himself and rebuild the nation. Moses prayed on behalf of the people and God changed his mind. The Hebrew expression, nihem ‘al, is “to regret, to change one’s mind.” In these passages in both Exodus and Jonah, it is a case of changing the mind from negative to positive. Though more complex than we have space for here, we need to avoid extremes. The expression does not mean God is out of control nor that he is surprised by what happens. We must likewise not assume the two instances we cited are merely hypothetical. While God is sovereign above all and immutable in his character, omniscient, and unchanging, he is likewise dynamic and relational and loves his people with great passion. According to Scripture as evidenced in these situations, when people repent and turn from their wicked ways, God changes his response. What does that say to us? Earnest, fervent prayer moves the heart of God when people pray for those threatened with judgment. Pray for repentance throughout the land.

(Indebted to Daniel Block’s book “For the Glory of God” p.200-203 for some of the observations for today.)

Music: ““Hear My Prayer O Lord” Purcell Voces8 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=74Q33UL7ugc

Prayer:
O our God, hear your servant’s prayer! Listen as I plead. For your own sake, Lord, smile again on your desolate world. O my God, lean down and listen to me. Open your eyes and see our despair. See how your world—the creation that you made—lies in ruins. We make this plea, not because we deserve help, but because of your mercy. O Lord, hear. O Lord, forgive. O Lord, listen and act! For your own sake, do not delay, O my God, for your people and your whole created order, forgive our determined rebellion and repeated rejection of you. We have greatly sinned and repent of our evil ways. We have not loved as we ought; we have not valued babies waiting to be born; we have failed to care for the poor as we should; we have twisted the clear truth of your word to satisfy our own bent desires. We have become arrogant. O Lord, hear, O Lord forgive. This we pray through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.    ―adapted from Daniel 9. Daniel Sharp

Thursday, February 27

Reader:  “I am writing to all of you in Rome who are loved by God,” 

Response:  “and are called to be his own holy people.”

Scripture: Romans 1:1-7

This letter is from Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach his Good News.  God promised this Good News long ago through his prophets in the holy Scriptures. The Good News is about his Son. 

In his earthly life he was born into King David’s family line, 

and he was shown to be the Son of God 

when he was raised from the dead 

by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

He is Jesus Christ our Lord.  

Through Christ, God has given us the privilege and authority as apostles to tell Gentiles everywhere what God has done for them, so that they will believe and obey him, bringing glory to his name.

And you are included among those Gentiles who have been called to belong to Jesus Christ. I am writing to all of you in Rome who are loved by God and are called to be his own holy people.

May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.

Reader: The word of the Lord

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
What is your purpose in life? Why are you on earth? To enjoy life? Live comfortably? Stay healthy? Make enough money to retire? Advance in your occupation? Find someone to love? Get married? Have children? Have a great career? It’s Lent, a time to reflect on how life is going in relation to our journey with Jesus on his way to the cross, namely living and dying to self day by day. In the words of Irenaeus (130-202 AD) “The Son of God became what we are, that we might become what He is.”  In his opening statement, Paul makes clear to the Romans his calling by God and purpose in life, namely that of preaching the gospel as a servant of Christ. He then quotes what some scholars believe may have been a hymn or creed of the early church. The parallel structure of the Greek writing is decidedly different from the rest of this letter as noted above. Paul had not started a church in Rome at this point and actually did not know the people he was writing to so he laid out the gospel in his salutation. I want to focus a bit on the very last part of this passage: “you who are loved by God and are called to be his own holy people.” As followers of Christ, we are called to be a holy people. P.T. Forsyth commented, “The miracle of the Incarnation is not [merely] the Word made flesh, but the Holy made sin for us.” Part of the journey of Lent is that we might grow in holiness, not only individually but corporately as the body of Christ. Christianity is not “Jesus and me.” We are his Body, the Church universal through the ages. Just as we do not become more humble by our human efforts to become humble, we cannot become more holy by trying to be holy. On a scale of 1-10, where would you rank yourself on humility? Made my point! It is only when we are filled with the mind of Christ living in us that true humility and holiness flourish. We are all called to be his holy people. Absorb him in his word each day and we will increasingly “become what he is.”

Music: “Holy, Holy, Holy”  Audrey Assad  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgHrNNM23p8

Prayer:
God, my God, I am all weakness, but Thou art my Strength; I am ever anew bowed down by any trial, but Thou canst and willest to lift me up. Let me not fail, O God my Strength; let me not be discouraged, O God, my Hope. Draw me each day, if it be but a little nearer unto Thee; make me, each day, if it be but a little less unlike Thee; let me do or bear each day something, for love of Thee, whereby I may be fitter for Thee. Let no day pass without my having done something pleasing unto Thee. Thus alone would I live, that I may live more unto Thee, becoming more like unto Thee; thus would I die, longing to love thee more. Amen.

Edward Pusey, 1800-1882, Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.88.

Ash Wednesday, February 26th

The Preface

How excited can you get about a season that starts by focusing on the certainty of death . . . yours specifically? Cheer up, you’re going to die sooner or later! As C.S. Lewis commented, “100 percent of us die, and the percentage cannot be increased!” Well, yes and no. You will die physically at some point, but that’s not the end. God has the last word and it is not death for those who die in Christ Jesus. A better word for Christians is “departure.” You depart this life for life beyond death.

For many people being reminded about death and having to “give something up” are the primary thoughts regarding Lent. . .and are two good reasons to think about something else! The root of the word “lent” simply means “spring” new life, buds, blossoms, the end of the long winter. Sounds more like life than death to me. Though observing a season of fasting and prayer were practiced regularly during the first centuries of the church, the days prior to Easter were initially devoted to the final preparations for those being baptized into a new life in Christ.The primary time for baptisms was Easter Sunday. By the fourth century we began to see more widespread evidence of a six week period of preparation for Easter by the whole Christian community, with fasting, almsgiving, and prayer being key elements. You see, Lent is not a Catholic thing as many people believe. Though it was at times subject to abuse in the Roman Catholic church, the use of sackcloth and ashes is much, much older in expressing repentance. 

The heart of the Christian faith is our participation in the life, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus as Lord. While Advent is concerned with the final Judgment, the Incarnation, and the birth of Jesus in history, this season points us to the price paid for redemption. During these coming days may we grow spiritually through repentance, prayer, fasting, and reflecting on our walk with Christ and his incomparable demonstration of his love for all he created. 

A short word about the Scripture passages themselves. The Bible was written originally without chapters and verse numbers. With that in mind, I left out the verse numbers so that it reads a little differently. I find it easier to grasp the whole thought this way. I trust you will find the same. The translation I used is the New Living Translation. The music we have chosen comes from a wide variety of sources and ensembles simply reflecting the wonder and creativity of God’s handiwork. Nothing you hear or see is original, the composers have simply rearranged the notes God made!

One final word, feel free to pass the link along to family, friends, and co-workers around the country and the world who may benefit from these devotionals. The link to subscribe is: sharpdevotional.com. It’s that simple and thank you for subscribing and passing the link along! 

Then they will receive the emails in their boxes each morning at 5:02 EST.  Of course subscribing is free.

February 26, Ash Wednesday  

*Be sure to read the Preface if you haven’t.

Reader: “Turn now . . .”

Response:  “While there is still time.”

Scripture: Joel 1:1-2, 12-17

Blow the trumpet in Zion; 

sound the alarm on my holy hill.

Let all who live in the land tremble,

    for the day of the Lord is coming.

It is close at hand—

a day of darkness and gloom,

    a day of clouds and blackness.

Like dawn spreading across the mountains

    a large and mighty army comes,

such as never was in ancient times

    nor ever will be in ages to come.

“Even now,” declares the Lord,

    “return to me with all your heart,

    with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

Rend your heart

    and not your garments.

Return to the Lord your God,

    for he is gracious and compassionate,

slow to anger and abounding in love,

    and he relents from sending calamity.

Who knows? He may turn and relent

    and leave behind a blessing—

grain offerings and drink offerings

    for the Lord your God.

Blow the trumpet in Zion,

    declare a holy fast,

    call a sacred assembly.

Gather the people,

    consecrate the assembly;

bring together the elders,

    gather the children,

    those nursing at the breast.

Let the bridegroom leave his room

    and the bride her chamber.

Let the priests, who minister before the Lord,

    weep between the portico and the altar.

Let them say, “Spare your people, Lord.

    Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn,

    a byword among the nations.

Why should they say among the peoples,

    ‘Where is their God?’”

Reader: The word of the Lord from the prophet Joel.

Response: Thanks be to God.

Some thoughts:
Have you noticed how many things are bad for your health?  We’re told that sugar is not good for you. You need to drink a gallon of water a day. Certain kinds of calories are good for you, other kinds are bad. Some kinds of fat are good and other kinds of fat are bad. Red wine used to be good for your heart until a while ago. It was discovered that the man who reported such in his studies on red wine and its positive effect on health, fudged his numbers! Those of you drinking red wine for heart health no longer have that excuse! You’ll have to come up with another one. How many times have you heard or read, “If you want to live longer, then….”?  According to yearly studies, the five leading causes of death in 2019 were: heart disease, cancer, accidents, respiratory diseases and strokes. In 2019 there were 8.84 deaths per 1,000 people in the United States of people that have been born. While I’m all for health and living as long as possible, I have my own unofficial study as to the leading causes of death. Disease is number three; old age is number two, and the leading cause of death, (tada!!) . . . is life! On Ash Wednesday we are reminded at least once a year of the ultimate statistics and truth. You will die. The actual number of deaths per 1,000 is 1,000.  The passage we read in Joel gives warning that the final day on earth does come, but also that life continues after death. Life in this world is not all there is. Joel urges his people to repent and turn to the Lord while there is still time. “Tear your hearts, not your garments.” One of the demonstrable signs of mourning was the tearing of garments. (E.g. Esther 4:1) The prophet gives an impassioned plea for his people to turn their hearts to the Lord. That is also our plea as we begin this season of Lent. Let us come to our Savior with pliable, humble hearts, tuned to the fragile nature of life and to the reality of our own mortality. Let go of anything that would hold us back. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “Do not live these days for things in our life that will end when you do.” Praise be to Christ who assures us of life everlasting when we do in fact return to dust on this earth. Unlike the Garden of Eden,this time our dust will be formed into a person who lives forever having been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.

Music: “Ye People Rend Your Hearts and If with All Your Hearts” Andrew Haji

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1fyD4WIsXzw  A beautiful setting of this passage from Joel in Mendelssohn’s magnificent oratorio “Elijah.”

Prayer:
Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life through your Son Jesus Christ. Lord God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jeus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.  ―BCP Ash Wednesday Collect

Monday, January 6

Reader: “For those who live in a land of deep darkness,” 

Response: “. . . a light will shine.”

Scripture:  Isaiah 9:1-2

Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali will be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea, will be filled with glory.

The people who walk in darkness

    will see a great light.

For those who live in a land of deep darkness,

    a light will shine.

John 1:1-14

In the beginning the Word already existed.

    The Word was with God,

    and the Word was God.

He existed in the beginning with God.

God created everything through him,

    and nothing was created except through him.

The Word gave life to everything that was created,

    and his life brought light to everyone.

The light shines in the darkness,

    and the darkness can never extinguish it.

God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

We conclude these past forty days of devotionals and the twelve days of Christmastide with Epiphany, actually a day celebrated long before Christmas Day. The central themes of this day are the visit of the Magi, the baptism of Jesus, and the celebration of Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding in Cana. In the early church Epiphany was a primary time for baptisms. An epiphany is a revealing, a discovery, a new realization. The epiphany concerning the birth of Jesus was that he came to bring salvation not just to his chosen people, the Jews, but to all peoples of every tribe and nation on earth. The visit of the Magi was significant because non-Jews came to worship the King of kings. The mission of the Baby of Bethlehem was to the entire world. The Light of the world had come to shine on people who were in despair and darkness. There was hope of a new creation. Genesis begins with these words, “In the beginning God . . .” John’s gospel begins with these words, “In the beginning the Word . . .” In Genesis there was darkness hovering over the face of the earth . . .and God said let there be light!” In John’s gospel he picks up the same theme. The Eternal Word brings light and the darkness cannot overcome it. Both Genesis and John describe our world. The people walk in darkness, can there be any doubt? May the Light of Christ shine in our lives to all those around that their “epiphany” this year may be the discovery of the risen and returning Lord! The Lord be with you. 

Music:  “We Three Kings of Orient Are”   Robert Shaw Chorale wonderful setting

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1ZOGTPsxng

Bonus: “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”     Casting Crowns The message to our world.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7670CXvPX0

Prayer:

Almighty and everlasting God, the Brightness of faithful souls, fill the world with Thy glory we pray Thee and show Thyself, by the radiance of Thy light, to all the nations of the world. We beseech Thee, O Lord, let our hearts be graciously enlightened by Thy holy radiance, that we may serve Thee and share Thy Light and so help to advance Thy Kingdom without fear in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life; that so we may escape the darkness of this world, and by Thy guidance attain the land of eternal brightness; through Thy mercy, O blessed Lord, Who dost live and reign over all things, world without end. Amen.   ―Gregorian Sacramentary, 390 AD and Sarum Breviary, 1085 AD, adapted Daniel Sharp


Friends,

I want to thank you all for sharing these past thirty-seven days and for sharing these devotionals with friends. Our prayer as always is that we are drawn closer and deeper in our relationship with the Lord and that we have established a daily pattern of meeting the Lord in his Scriptures. I trust the music and prayers have likewise encouraged and edified you. We plan to do a new Lenten Devotional again this year beginning on Ash Wednesday, February 26th, which means I better get writing tomorrow! Blessings on you all and thank you for your kind words of encouragement. As many of you know, I no longer work at the church and am in the midst of following the Lord’s leading for the next place of ministry. I’ll appreciate your prayers on our behalf.  Dan

The source books for the prayers:

The Oxford Book of Prayer, ed. Appleton, OUP

Valley of Vision, ed. Bennett, Banner of Truth Pub.

Prayers Ancient and Modern, Mary Wilder Tileston, 1897

A Diary of Private Prayer,  John Baillie

Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, compiled by Veronica Zindel

Celtic Daily Prayer, Andy Raine and John Skinner  Northumbria Community

The Quiet Corner, ed. Shirwood Wirt, Fleming H. Revell

Book of Common Prayer, Episcopal,1979

Sunday, January 5

Reader: “He has been sent as a sign from God,” 

Response:but many will oppose him.”

Scripture: Luke 2:33-35

Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.”

John 19:25-27

Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.” And he said to this disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from then on, this disciple took her into his home.

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

 We are approaching the end of this years’ Advent & Christmastide devotionals. We’ve talked about the importance of seeing the birth of Christ as part of a much larger picture of God’s plan to bring redemption to the entire created order. As far as people are concerned, the core is recognizing and responding to Jesus Christ, the Son of God come in human flesh. Today we go back to the encounter with Mary, Joseph, six-week old baby Jesus, and the old priest Simeon. Though it doesn’t say Simeon was a priest, a priest would have been the one to conduct the purification rite with the baby. The other option would be Simeon was present as a bystander and recognized baby Jesus as the Messiah and asked Mary to hold him. The former seems far more likely to me. At any rate, his words were prophetically true. Jesus was the cause of many rejecting him as the Son of Man, while others received him as Savior and Lord. At the point of his crucifixion most people had rejected him and those who had hoped he was the Messiah had, indeed, lost all hope. What Jesus did do was expose people’s hearts at their very core enabling them and others to see themselves in true light. Then Simeon concluded his words to Jesus’ parents with a reference to a sword, a strange comment in such a beautiful moment. But the reference to the sword is to Mary’s anguish of seeing her son crucified on the cross and the soldier’s piercing of the side of her Son. Mary’s involvement all through Jesus’ life emphasizes the clear humanity of the Savior. She was a very normal mother, in spite of being the mother of God, known as the theotokos in Orthodox faith. Mary was present when Jesus took his very first breath on this planet earth and present at the cross when he took his very last breath. She was present at the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts and was undoubtedly present when she saw her Son ascend into the heavens at the Ascension. She is undoubtedly the most unique woman who has ever lived on this earth. She is one I’d like to talk with in heaven!

Music:    He Is Born     USC Chamber Singers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzfCljfU180  

3 Bonuses!:  “The Little Drummer Boy”       The King’s Singers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wW_wi013ik

“The Little Drummer Boy”        BBC Orchestra and Choir Unique with drums!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KOEUVxXEYP8

“The Little Drummer Boy”  (African Tribal Version) – Alex Boye’ ft. Genesis Choir

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0mT-zNxRMw       TREMENDOUS!!!!

Prayer:

Lord Jeus, there is so much we don’t get, so much we never think about, so much we don’t even wonder about. Our minds are dull, unobservant, self-focused, self-absorbed, self-consumed and self-centered. Lord, Mary was a most remarkable woman and we’ve never thought to reflect on her life and the joys and great sorrows she endured. Lord, give us a better grasp of the relationships you had with people when you lived in Israel. The thought of you loving and hugging Mary and Joseph when you were a little boy and playing with your brothers and sisters doesn’t seem to fit in my mind with you when I think of the Son of God. But you were completely human. Lord Jesus, in this coming year may I better absorb you as I relish time in the Scriptures. Meet me every day as I open your holy Word that with Mary, your earthly mother I can say, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” Amen.                 ―Daniel Sharp

Saturday, January 4

Reader: “Take off your sandals,”

Response:  “for you are standing on holy ground.”

Scripture: Exodus 3:1-5

One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock far into the wilderness and came to Sinai, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the middle of a bush. Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up. “This is amazing,” Moses said to himself. “Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go see it.”

When the Lord saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

“Here I am!” Moses replied.

“Do not come any closer,” the Lord warned. “Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground.”

Reader: “The word of the Lord.”

Response: “Thanks be to God.”

Some thoughts:

In today’s Scripture we come to the familiar passage of Moses and the burning bush. A few days ago we mentioned that God does not seem to be in a hurry in accomplishing his purposes. His people have been in slavery to the Egyptians for 400 plus years. He has “remembered” his people (Remember what we said about this word in this context a few days ago? God “remembering” means he has decided to act, to move forward.) Now God has chosen an eighty year old man to lead the exodus of a million plus people! Moses was minding his own business with the sheep. He had never in his life encountered God directly before this time. Curiosity leads him to this bush that was on fire but not burning up. As he approached, an angel of the Lord in the middle of the bush spoke his name! This angel of the Lord, is none other than the God the Word (John 1:1). The bush was not consumed because God came to save people, not to consume them. God is often represented by fire throughout Scripture: Cherubim in the Garden of Eden, fire on the top of Mt. Sinai, pillar of fire leading the Israelites in the desert, “our God is a consuming fire.” Heb.12:29. At this point, Moses was a novice in dealing with God. God’s words were, “Do not come closer.” after which he immediately told Moses the reason. Take off your sandals, you are standing on holy ground. Why take off the sandals? Nothing dead is to stand between God and man. Sandals were made of leather, the skin of a dead animal. Plus there was to be nothing common coming into contact with the holy. The entire book of Leviticus makes the point that God is wholly other. When we speak of holy in relation to God, not only does it mean “completely other than human,” even pagan religions in this time spoke of their gods as holy. The Bible is unique in that when speaking of God, holy also describes God’s moral character, moral perfection. Moses, like Jacob hundreds of years before, failed to realize he was standing in God’s presence. It was then that Moses became fearful. I am wondering how often we come to worship like Moses? We might come out of curiosity or habit, pretty much oblivious that we are in the presence of God and standing on holy ground. Something to think about. Familiar is a dangerous word when it comes to God. 

Music: “Infant Lowly, Infant Holy”   Chris Rupp and The Hound and the Fox

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHGQcc4HHTU   Where do all these talented people come from?

Bonus: “White Christmas”    Andy Williams A beautiful voice from the past for all you “old people” listening to this! And for you younger ones, when popular music was beautiful. Am I sounding old??

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4ExXVVqycI 

Prayer:

Praise and glory be to the omnipotence of the eternal Holy Father, who in his providence created the world out of nothing. Praise and glory be to the wisdom of this only-begotten Holy Son, who redeemed the world with his blood. Praise and glory be to the living kindness of the Holy Spirit, who enlightened the world in faith. Praise and glory be to the holy and undivided Trinity, who formed us without our deserving it in their image. We give praise and glory to you, most blessed Trinity, for the blessing of our creation, by which you granted us bodies and souls, you adorned us with your image and likeness, and added us to your Christian flock, making us sound and whole in our senses and in our members, above all the creatures who are beneath the heavens, and gave us your holy angels as our guides and ministers. For all this be pleased that we may praise you, Holy God, world without end. Amen.    

                               ―Latin, 11th century, from The Oxford Book of Prayer, p.60