Day 2: Thursday, February 11

ask-for-help

 

 

Lent begins when we recognize that we can’t do everything ourselves and we depend on God’s grace for our lives. Experience God’s grace by asking for and receiving help for something you cannot do on your own.

 

 

 

 

 

This post is part of the Days of Lent Spiritual Practices activity.  You can join in any time.  See more about the practices and each days activity here.

Day 1: Ash Wednesday, February 10

ash wednesday clipart

 

Begin your journey through Lent with Ash Wednesday Service. Feel the cross of ashes on your forehead. Partake of the bread and drink at Christ’s table.

Our Ash Wednesday service begins at 6:30. We hope to see you there.

 

 

This post is part of the Days of Lent Spiritual Practices activity.  You can join in any time.  See more about the practices and each days activity here.

Through The New Testament, Week 5: February 1, 2016 Matthew 21-25

READ THE SCRIPTURE FOR THIS LESSON  Matthew 21-25

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MATTHEW CHAPTERS 21-25

Jerusalem: The Final Confrontation chapters 21:1-22:46

Jesus enters Jerusalem in chapter 21:1-11. Entry processions were important occasions. Whether for a general, governor, official, or emperor, the procession displayed Roman political and military power. Jesus’ entry parodies this mind-set. Riding on a donkey, not a warhorse, his goal is not domination, intimidation, and greatness, but humble service. The throngs say all the right words, but they miss the point. They will still end up rejecting Jesus and calling for his death. Matthew is making a familiar point: knowing the truth is not the same thing as doing the truth.

The Temple scene in verses 12-17 indicates God’s judgment and has several interpretations. Jesus casts out both buyers and sellers so the concept of Jesus punishing the moneychangers has problems. Whatever the scholars think, one thing is clear. He rejects the regular business of the Temple, but he cures the blind and lame—individuals who are outcasts of the religious system.

After spending the night in Bethany, Jesus re-enters Jerusalem the next morning. As he travels toward the city, he wants some figs off of a fig tree by the road. When he found there were no figs on the tree he cursed it and it withered. Fruit in the Bible refers to good works of righteousness and justice. The Temple leaders do not display good works and will be judged. A fruitful life is the natural outcome of a Christ-filled life.

As Jesus enters the Temple in verse 23, the leaders challenge Jesus’ authority. They do not recognize that God has commissioned him. Jesus’ response focuses on John, for in evaluating John they evaluate Jesus. Verses 25 and 26 show their calculating attempts to answer, not their concern for truth. Jesus then attacks the leaders with three parables that expose their greed and injustice.

Starting in 22:15, the religious leaders attempt to trap Jesus through a series of questions.   They have already decided to kill him and are looking for justification. But Jesus understands their motive and answers in such a way that they cannot move against him. Then Jesus asks a question of the leaders that challenges them to recognize him as the Messiah.

 

The Judgment Discourse chapters 23:1-25:46

Chapters 23-25 constitute Jesus’ last discourse. The length rivals the first discourse; the Sermon on the Mount. In chapter 23, Jesus condemns the religious leaders, allies of Rome in administering the imperial society. It is important to recognize that Jesus does not condemn all Jews, only the religious leaders. We tend to read through 23:1-12 quickly—it seems to have little to do with us. Perhaps, however, something near the center of our own life is being addressed, something that seems so right and human. We all like to be acknowledged at social gatherings; we all like to be greeted in the marketplace. It is not a matter of being hypocritical, but of being human: we are social creatures and we like to be known and liked. Is our attitude wrong? Should we even attempt to correct it? Our can we see the world from the perspective of the kingdom of God, an alternative family where the approval of God removes the heavy yoke of self-justification.

Chapters 24 and 25 concern the coming judgment.   Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple. He then announces signs of his return and the future establishment of God’s kingdom victorious over all, including Rome. In the meantime, the present is a time of tribulation for disciples. It requires faithfulness, non-violent resistance, and hopeful anticipation. We are always to be ready; doing deeds of mercy, forgiveness and peace that characterize kingdom people. This section presents two pictures of Christ with us. In the first, the risen Christ is with his church throughout its historical pilgrimage and mission. Christ is living and his words are living and relevant—not the remembrances of a dead rabbi. Secondly, the living Christ will return bodily at a point in time that we are not able to discern.

 

Find the 2016 Scripture Schedule and our reading guides here

Through The New Testament, Week 4: January 25, 2016 Matthew 16-20

READ THE SCRIPTURE FOR THIS LESSON  MATTHEW 16-20

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MATTHEW CHAPTERS 16-20

 

Religious Leaders Seek a Sign chapter 15:1-12

The first 12 verses of chapter 16 are a condemnation of the religious leaders. First Jesus rejects the request of the leaders for a sign, pointing out that the only sign God will give is the sign of Jonah—the death and resurrection of Christ. Jesus then walks away from the Jewish leaders and will not confront them again until chapter 19.

Then even his own disciples don’t understand his teaching about yeast. Finally they get it—yeast represents the leaders’ corrupt teaching. The leaders misinterpret God’s will and shape an excluding, hierarchical, unjust society.

 

The Disciple’s Confession and the New Community chapter 16:13-28

Verses 13-20 are the focal point of this section. In the midst of a blind and unrepentant Israel, Jesus forms a new community of those who perceive and confess his true identity. Caesarea Philippi was the site of a Roman temple. It is no accident that Matthew brings the scene of Jesus’ confession as the Jewish Messiah into the shadow of a Caesar temple, emphasizing the difference between God’s Kingdom and that of the Romans. Here we have the promise of Christ to build his church despite the forces of death arrayed against it; a promise that abides with us today.

In verses 21-28 Jesus teaches his disciples for the first time that God’s purposes involve his death and resurrection. The purpose of this scene is to make the claim that Jesus’ death occurred as part of God’s plan of salvation. Jesus’ violent death is not a meaningless accident of history but is part of God’s plan. Jesus is not a hapless victim but a knowing and willing partner in the divine plan. Jesus follows his revelation about his future with a challenge to his disciples. This call to discipleship is a matter of confession, which means declaring one’s faith in Jesus as the Christ. The word used to mean “confession” also means “martyrdom” in the sense that we are to give all of ourselves to the act of witness. The result may be literal martyrdom, but it may also mean the daily giving of oneself away in commitment to Christ. This call to discipleship is a matter of community. This is not an individualistic ethic but the ethic of a community of disciples that confesses Jesus to be the Christ and lives toward the full coming of the kingdom of God for which it prays. We must ask ourselves continuously, are we being martyrs for Christ?

 

The Transformation and the New Community chapter 17

The transfiguration of Jesus follows Jesus’ revelation of his coming death and resurrection by 6 days according to the first verses of Chapter 17. It confirms Peter’s confession in chapter 16 that Jesus is the Messiah. But then Jesus, Peter, James and John descend back down into the world dominated by the evil of this world. Jesus finds his disciples baffled and frustrated. In the absence of Jesus they find themselves without the faith to perform their task. We are reminded that as disciples we are agents of the church in which Christ himself is always with us. With God nothing is impossible and we must guard against fitting God into our idea of what is possible and coming to terms too quickly with things the way they are. Verses 22-23 give Jesus’ second passion prediction, followed by his payment of the Temple tax. Taxes and tributes are the means by which the empire’s elite gained wealth, power, and status as the expense of the rest. Just as earthly kings tax others, not their own children, so God’s children are free from paying tax. However, Jesus teaches us here not to exercise our freedom in a way that places stumbling blocks in the way of others.

 

Life Together chapter 18

Chapter 18 is Jesus’ fourth teaching discourse, with an emphasis on our life together as Christians. Children in Jesus’ time were excluded from adult male society.   They were powerless, without economic resources, vulnerable and submissive. Matthew shows them to be endangered (chap. 2) hungry (14:21), sick (8:6; 9:2), and dead (9:18). Being a disciple means renouncing values of greatness and taking up the humble ways of children. Disciples do not cause one another to stumble. We diligently care for one another. We actively seek reconciliation with one another. Gentiles and tax collectors are                                                                                                                                            looked upon in the Gospel as objects of mission. The disciples follow the shepherd’s example of guidance and inclusion.

 

Instructing the Disciples En Route to the Cross chapters 19-20

Chapter 19 concerns Jesus’ teachings about household structures. He resists the conventional patriarchal and hierarchical household patters of male rule by teaching more egalitarian relationships appropriate to God’s empire. The parable of the rich young man emphasizes that those who gain wealth and status by exploitation cannot be part of God’s kingdom. In contrast to the rich man’s world view, the disciples have left family and work to follow Jesus. They will be rewarded with a new community and a shared life with God that reverses present hierarchical structures.

In chapter 20 Jesus continues to instruct his disciples on the life of a disciple. The first 16 verses speak against envy and greed. The landowner did not owe the first laborers more than he had promised them. He was being generous to the others, but not unfair to the first. Jesus then reminds the disciples why they are traveling to Jerusalem. The request by the mother of James and John is here to underline the fact that God’s kingdom is marked by life-giving service and rejects ambition, power, prominence and domination.

Finally, the healing of the blind men is a call to discipleship, showing persistence in the face of opposition, powerful transforming mercy, new sight, and following on the way to the cross. The most difficult part of this for us to understand about this section dealing with marriage, divorce, children, money, success, and ambition is not the individual teachings, but that such matters are more than individual concerns to be decided by each person. Matthew calls for Christians to understand themselves as belonging to a community, so that no decision is purely personal and individual. Together we are manifesting the kingdom of heaven—or kingdom of God—to others.

 

Find the 2016 Scripture Schedule and our reading guides here

 

 

Through The New Testament January 18, 2016: Matthew 11-15

Read the scripture for this lesson:  Matthew 11-15

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MATTHEW CHAPTERS 11-15

Jesus’ Ministry in Relation to John the Baptist chapter 11:1-19

Imprisoned, John begins to doubt Jesus’ identity as Messiah. He wavers in his faith which Matthew considers the nature of discipleship and faith. John becomes an object lesson to Christian believers, who must not regard salvation as a static possession, but must continually strive to refresh their faith. Jesus uses Isaiah’s vision of God’s liberating empire (Isa. 26:19, 29:18-19, 35:5-6, 42:7; 61:1) to sum up his merciful mission among the marginalized. Jesus then goes on to reaffirm John‘s role ending by pointing out that both Jesus and John experience rejection and serious misunderstanding.

 

Conflict with the Kingdom of this Age chapter 11:20-12:21

The extent of God’s displeasure for unbelief is revealed in 11:20-24. The little towns in Galilee mentioned here were not known for their bright lights and notorious sins. They had never consciously placed themselves in the category of mighty Babylon. Yet Jesus lumps them together with the great evil cities of history. What the small towns had done was to continue business as usual when the signs of God’s redeeming presence occurred in their midst.

In verses 25-30, we are shocked to hear that all those who should recognize the revelation of God taking place in their midst instead fail to get it. John the Baptist, who had baptized Jesus and heard the heavenly voice did not get it. Those who had their own games to play and found that neither John nor Jesus met the predetermined criteria of their own values did not get it. The three cities in whose presence Jesus had lived out the mighty acts of the dawning kingdom of God did not get it. The scholars and the wise, who could explain much but missed the revelation in their midst did not get it. So who did get it? The “babies,” the unpretentious “little ones” who made no claims but could be given the gift of revelation, which comes from God alone. The passage closes with an invitation to all who know themselves to be burdened and in need of salvation, an invitation to learn and become Jesus’ disciple.

Conflict dominates chapter 12. Jesus sets himself as the true interpreter of Sabbath law in opposition to the religious leaders’ ritualistic rules. Mercy determines legitimate Sabbath actions, including relieving hunger and providing access to resources. The section ends with a quote from Isaiah 42:1-4. Mercy, not ritual, is what God wants of us. As the servant king, Jesus’ whole life is represented by acts of loving response to human need.

 

Conflict, Decision, and Gathering the True Community chapter 12:22-50

This section has three units. In the first two, Jesus disputes with the Pharisees, completing with them for the loyalty of the crowds. In the third unit the new community of Jesus’ disciple’s emerges.

As Jesus traveled around healing, the religious leaders spoke out against him claiming he did his healing through Satan. When asked for a sign from the religious leaders, Jesus’ response is that the only sign that generation will receive is the resurrection. It is the Jonah sign of the resurrection that defines our faith and our obligation to spread the good news as Jonah did to the Ninevites. Chapter 12 ends with the difficult passage about Jesus’ family. Those who do the will of God are Jesus’ brothers and sisters. To be a disciple is not an individualistic matter. To be a disciple is to belong to the wider family of the community of faith.

 

Speaking in Parables chapter 13

The parables of chapter 13 are the third major discourse of Jesus. These short narratives show something about God’s empire by engaging the imagination and challenging conventional perspectives. The parable of the weeds reminds us that we do not have the ability to get rid of all the weeds and often we can do more harm than good. But evil is temporary and we are to live faithfully, confident that the harvest is sure. An analogy to the parables of the mustard seed and of the yeast would be a preacher who preached every Sunday to a congregation of twenty-five in a city of two million residents. The preacher kept on preaching until the whole city believed the gospel. The remaining three parables focus on the future establishment of God’s reign.   Those responsible for the cruelty and repression in the world will be judged for their evil. The disciples understand and live the way of life of alternative practices that knowledge of God’s way creates, and they anticipate the triumphant future. A final glimpse of the inability of many to understand Jesus ends chapter 13.

As chapter 14 opens, God’s kingdom of mercy is set against the Roman establishment as John the Baptist is killed by Herod Antipas. In contrast Jesus takes pity on the crowd and feeds the five thousand. The story of Jesus walking on the water has had many interpretations. Here is one I especially like: Faith is not being able to walk on water—only God can do that—but daring to believe in the face of all evidence, that God is with us in the boat.

Chapter 15 emphasizes the difference between tradition and rules and God’s real commands and desires. Each incident highlights conventional practices as opposed by Jesus’ actions and commandments. Jesus’ rule of compassion continues with the feeding of the multitude. God’s rule of mercy and healing overrules the unfeeling and harsh rule of the Romans and priests.

 

Find the 2016 Scripture Schedule and our reading guides here