Excruciating Prayers

ISAIAH 52:13-53:12
PSALM 22:1-21
PHILIPPIANS 2:5-11
LUKE 22:39-23:56

Crucifixion was an execution so agonizing, a word had to be made up to describe its pain. “Excruciating" is the word, and means, literally, “from the cross”.

And in Luke’s account, it’s from the cross that Jesus prayed two utterly excruciating prayers.

The Foolish Father or the Lost Son or the Angry Brother

JOSHUA 4:19-5:12
PSALM 34
2 CORINTHIANS 5:17-21
LUKE 15:11-32

This story Jesus told is about a foolish father, a wandering son, and an angry brother. This strange and dysfunctional family, is held up to us as a picture of the Kingdom of God. Let us again experience this story as Jesus told it, and let us find ourselves here.

Three Little Words

EXODUS 3:1-15, 4:1-13
PSALM 103:1-12
1 CORINTHIANS 10:1-13
LUKE 13:1-9

The 2007 memoir, Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter is the gripping story of her early life and ten-year journey from foster care to adoption. A life of doubt, fear, and bewilderment that came down to three little words tenuously spoken in a courtroom at the age of 12.

She’s gone on to become a powerhouse, championing fundamental reforms in our nation’s foster care system. Literally freeing thousands of children from the bondage of a broken system.

And though it’s radically different in detail, the overall narrative of the book bears a striking resemblance to the story of a man who would become an Old Testament powerhouse.

Years of doubt, fear, and bewilderment that came down to three little words tenuously spoken in the desert.

The Matter of Our Story

DEUTERONOMY 26:1-11
PSALM 91:9-16
ROMANS 10:4-13
LUKE 4:1-13

In a book published posthumously, C. S. Lewis wrote, “The matter of our story should be a part of the habitual furniture of our minds.”

Our story, especially the chapters that have shaped us most profoundly, should be recalled and retold until they are as familiar and comfortable to us as our favorite chair…the one we sit in habitually. You know the one.

Amazingly, this week’s Old Testament lesson says the same thing.

Why Jesus Showed His Glory

EXODUS 34:29-35
PSALM 99
1 CORINTHIANS 12:27-13:13
LUKE 9:28-36

The Lessons for the Last Sunday After Epiphany focus on the Transfiguration of Jesus before Peter, James, and John. These are the golden days of Jesus’ ministry. He has cured the sick, proclaimed liberty to captives, and taught God’s word.

Yet in this shining moment, is the shadow of the Cross.

Peter doesn’t want Jesus to leave.

My Father’s Son

GENESIS 45:3-11,21-28
PSALM 37:1-17
1 CORINTHIANS 15:35-49
LUKE 6:27-38

The older I get, the more I realize I’m turning into my Father. I cough like him, avoid conflict like him, and tell jokes only I think are funny…just like him. None of these things, however, make me his son. Rather, they show the world that I’m a chip off the old block.

In this week’s gospel reading we explore something similar. Characteristics we should possess—not that make us children of God—but rather that show the world that we’re chips off the Old Block.

Callsign

JUDGES 6:11-24
PSALM 85
1 CORINTHIANS 15:1-11
LUKE 5:1-11

In aviation—especially military—aviators are given a nickname that's used as a substitute for their given name. But it’s not just a random name, and it’s not chosen by the pilot. It’s conferred on them by others and says something unique about them or something (usually stupid) they’ve done.

I have a friend, last name Mouw, known as “Chairman”. Another friend’s is “Brick”. That’s a really good story.

This week’s readings contain stories involving two people with vivid nicknames that said something unique about them…or at least who they would become.

Why So Angry?

JEREMIAH 1:4-10
PS 71:12-21
1 CORINTHIANS 14:12-25
LUKE 4:21-32

In this week’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells two brief stories that make the people of his hometown fly into a rage.

In fact, they try to throw him off a cliff.

But to understand why they’re so angry, you have to go back to the beginning—in fact, way before it.

God Speaks In Grace Always

NEHEMIAH 8:1-12
PSALM 113
1 CORINTHIANS 12:12-27
LUKE 4:14-21

That God would speak to us is a witness to his love for us. He needs nothing we can give him, yet he freely gives himself to us.

Mother of All Faux Pas

ISAIAH 62:1-5
PSALM 96
1 CORINTHIANS 12:1-11
JOHN 2:1-11

Under the best of circumstances, weddings are accidents waiting to happen.

To varying degrees, something almost always goes wrong at a service of holy matrimony, but something is going seriously sideways at a wedding in Cana. The mother of all wedding faux pas.

In a culture where a couple celebrated their wedding not with a honeymoon but with a seven-day wedding feast, it was simply unthinkable to run out of wine before running out of party. But this one did.

And though initially seeming reluctant, it became an opportunity for Jesus to provide a sign—the first of seven in the Gospel of John—of God’s abundant transforming grace.

Epiphany

ISAIAH 60:1-9
PSALM 72
EPHESIANS 3:1-13
MATTHEW 2:1-12

The commemoration of the Magi’s visit to Bethlehem occurs every year on the 12th Day of Christmas. And just as Christmas, it’s observed on a specific date rather than day; always January 6th.

Epiphany’s Gospel lesson affords us an opportunity to rescue the Magi from their places in the annual Christmas pageant (having "traversed afar”, they arrived in Bethlehem much later than, say, the shepherds), and restore them to their biblical roles as key witnesses to both the promise and threat of Christ.

Matthew paints a vivid picture, not only of the welcome of God to the whole world, but also of some foundational truths and risks of true worship.

Prologue

ISAIAH 61:10-62:5
PS 147:13-20
GALATIANS 3:23-4:7
JOHN 1:1-18

Whatever else John is going to tell us in his Gospel,  his stunning prologue sets the scene for the story of God and the world, not just the story of one character in one place and time.

 It’s about the creator God acting in a new way within his much-loved creation.

 It's about the way in which the long story that began in Genesis is reaching the climax the creator has always intended.

 And it will all come about through the Word.

Magnificat

MICAH 5:2-5A
PSALM 80:1-7
HEBREWS 10:1-10
LUKE 1:39-56

What would it take to make you celebrate wildly, without inhibition? Whatever it is, you’d probably do things you normally wouldn’t.

 You might dance. You throw a party. You might sing a song. You might even make one up as you went along—probably out of bits of poems and songs you already knew, or maybe by adding your own new words to a great old tune.

Read Mary’s Song like that. (It’s most often called Magnificat, because that’s its first word in Latin.) It’s one of the most famous songs in Christianity. It’s been whispered in monasteries, chanted in cathedrals, recited in small churches by evening candlelight, and set to glorious music by Bach.

It’s the gospel before the gospel, a fierce shout of celebration thirty weeks before Bethlehem, and thirty-three years before Calvary and Easter.

Christmas Isn't Magic

ZEPHANIAH 3:14-20
PSALM 85
PHILIPPIANS 4:4-9
LUKE 3:7-20

I do so wish Christmas was magic, for with a prayer and a wave of my hand the world could be made new. Yet Christmas is a miracle, the miracle of a God who would love us and be amongst us. The miracle of a savior who will endure the rejection of those he came to save. The miracle of a new life which will outgrow all that is entrapping us.

Preparing the Way

MALACHI 3:1-5
PSALM 126
1 CORINTHIANS 4:1-21
LUKE 3:1-6

There were few paved roads in the ancient Near East. Regular people travelled on little more than worn paths in the baked earth. There were no significant bridges or tunnels. You walked around rocks, over hills, and around gullies.

But not the king. When he planned a visit, the first to show up were heralds and engineers to prepare the way. To make crooked places straight and rough places smooth, to fill “valleys” and level “hills”.

 Tearing down and building up to create a “King’s Highway”.

 This is the image John the Baptist uses when he tells those in his day—and us by extension—to “prepare the way of the Lord” as we do in Advent.

 It’s also a pattern embedded in the Scriptures and in the Gospel itself.

Christ the King

DANIEL 7:9-10, 13-14
PSALM 93
REVELATION 1:4b-8
JOHN 18:33-37

On the feast of Christ the King in 2015, I was confirmed by the Bishop of St Albans, Alan Gregory Clayton Smith. What I did not know, nor could I was how profoundly it would change my life to have the Holy Spirit poured out on me in this unique way.

Sitting Down

DANIEL 12:1-3
PSALM 16
HEBREWS 10:11-25
MARK 13:1-8

Most of us do most of our work sitting down. As I write this now, I’m sitting. Generally when I stand up, my work is finished…or I’ve seen something shiny (and just between you and me, it’s generally the latter). Except maybe for the something shiny, the same’s likely true for you.

It wasn’t necessarily this way in the ancient Near East. Mostly, people stood to work and sat down when their work was finished.

In this week’s Epistle, the writer of Hebrews juxtaposes standing and sitting to communicate something profound about work ongoing and work completed. And in light of that reality, our proper response.

The Why Question

1 KINGS 17:8-16
PSALM 146
HEBREWS 9:24-28
MARK 12:38-44

A friend from the 80s, now a successful executive mentor, had a refrain: "Until you answer the why question, the cost is always too high.”

Simply put, why makes what meaningful.

Nearly anyone who reads this week’s Gospel lesson (The Widow’s Mite) can pretty quickly come up with the what (spoiler alert: sacrificial giving). That’s simple.

But what’s the why? Well, that’s the vital question, isn’t it?