King's Cross Anglican Church Tucson
3 Year Lectionary
by Jennifer Callaway
King's Cross Anglican Church Tucson
3 Year Lectionary
by Jennifer Callaway
Do you believe that God has gifted you? Hopefully, your answer to that question is a resounding ‘yes’! Sadly though, far too many believers fail to recognize the gift or gifts God has given them. But our reading this week leaves no room for doubt. 1 Cor 12 states “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” The Holy Spirit Who indwells every believer also gifts every believer. And the gifts have a common purpose-to build up the church, both inside the Body and outside. For example, some are gifted to lead people to Christ, the gift of evangelism. But once that new believer is brought into the church, the gifts of teaching and healing and other such means of establishing the new believer in his or her faith come into play. Whatever those gifts happen to be, the common denominator is stated clearly in Jesus’ words. In John 4 He says “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” The glory of God is always the goal, whether through teaching, evangelizing, physical or spiritual healing, or whatever He has gifted you to do. Do you know your gifting? If not, ask someone else. It’s usually pretty obvious to others. And when you find out what it is, use it! God will be glorified and the church will be edified. This is a promise from the Savior.
Acts 1:15-26; Ps 68:1-20; 1 Jn 5:6-15; Jn 17:11b-19 A popular philosophy today is that there is no objective truth. What is true for you may not be true for me, and we each have to come to our own truth. Though this sounds reasonable at first glance, we must question it. We can immediately see at least one major problem. If there is no truth, then how can even this statement itself be declared true? On what grounds can it be true? There must be something that we can rely on, that we can know to be true. And once we know truth, we must choose to live that truth. The life we live, in fact, gives a clear testimony to what we know to be true, regardless of what we say with our words. As Christians, we have the truth. God’s word, tried and tested and taught and lived over thousands of years, is the clearest and most objective truth for all people, everywhere, in every time. This is a wonderful and comforting promise, that when we are sanctified, or set apart, in the truth of His word, we can know that we are protected and empowered by Him even in the midst of controversy and persecution. Though it does not guarantee an easy life, it does guarantee a fruitful, abundant life here on earth as well as an eternity with Him when this temporary life gives way true life. What truth do you struggle to believe? Is it that you have God’s peace, even when your circumstances are not peaceful? Or perhaps that God knows your needs better than you do? Pay attention to your life, and you will quickly learn what you really believe by the way you respond to trials and circumstances. And when you spot areas of unbelief, take the small step of faith to pray that God will help you trust Him more. He will meet you there.
Isa 45:20-25; Ps 33 or 33:1-8; 1 Jn 4:7-21; Jn 15:9-17
What is your definition of good? Is God good because things turn out the way we want, or because His goodness is self-sustaining? We often forget that only God knows what is truly good, as defined by what most fits His plan and what brings Him glory. We don’t have the capacity to know or understand Him apart from the incredible gift of His Son. When we follow Christ, everything changes. Love becomes what is best for the other person, not what is best for myself. Sacrifice becomes second nature, because our thoughts are about the other, not ourselves. Imagination is enabled to think beyond the obvious and see things we never would have dreamed. And good becomes whatever God says it is. Because only He truly knows what good is. And He chose you to know Him, and to serve Him. Serving Him means seeing life from a different perspective, one that recognizes what seems terrible may actually be what is good, and right, and that what seems good may lead to things that are anything but. Only by walking closely with Him and paying attention to His work, can we discern the difference. His ways are truly not our ways! What are you struggling to understand in your life right now? An illness, a broken relationship, financial hardships or just the weariness of daily drudgery? Whatever it is, God is present in the midst of it, and His vision is far better than yours. Can you trust Him to bring something amazing out of it? Pay attention, and you may just be astonished. ~Where in your life do you need to see God’s perspective? Pray and ask Him to show you His face in the midst of it.
Psalm 23; 1 John 3:1-10; John 10:11-16
Do you know the Good Shepherd? If you belong to Him, He promises that you will. He promises also to give you rest when you need it, and to be always close to you. He will protect you from fear in the direst situations, and He will make sure you never go without. He gives you peace, and abundance, and security. He gives you all that, and eternity in His house along with it. He calls you His child, and the greatness of His love is hard to imagine. Nothing and no one can take what He has given you, and because of that you are secure from your most evil enemies.
Are you grieved, though, by the sin still clinging to you? Do you despair that you will ever walk in righteousness? As a child of God, you need not worry. He will do the work to grow you evermore like Him in your time on earth, and what He sets out to do, He does.
On the other hand, if there is no sin in your life that grieves you, this is the time to despair, or more important to bend your knee and submit to the Chief Shepherd. A lack of conviction is a sure sign of an unconverted or hardened heart. None of us will ever walk sin-free. And if we think that we do, we are walking in pride. But renewal is always, always available for the heart that turns to Him in repentance.
All of us are somewhere in this picture. Where do you find yourself? Whether grieved by your rebellion or uncertain where you stand, bowing the knee is the answer. The Good Shepherd will meet you there.
Acts 4:5-14; Psalm 98; 1 John 1; 2:1-2; Luke 24:36-49
Who is your role model? Most of us have someone to whom we look for advice and teaching, someone we would like to shape our lives after. It isn’t always someone we know personally; sports figures and movie stars are high on the list for many Americans. The ones we choose to emulate tell us a lot about our ambitions, our deepest desires, and ourselves.
As Christians though, there is only one role model for us. In the gospels we learn about and come to know our ultimate Role Model. In every situation and every circumstance we learn how to thrive by studying and absorbing the life of Christ. Between His teaching and His interactions with people of all kinds, we can know all we need to know about Him.
But He goes even further with us. I remember once knowing an evangelist who asked everyone he met, “do you know Jesus?” The most honest answer I ever heard him receive was “I know of Him.” What did the speaker mean by that? She was talking about the difference between hearing and experiencing.
This difference for believers is crucial. When we, by faith, repent and turn to Christ as Savior, we receive the indwelling Holy Spirit, Whom Jesus promises will teach us everything we need, and be with us always. What this looks like in everyday life is the little ‘nudge’ we get when either He is leading us to do something we ought, or avoid something we ought not do. It is through His guidance and constant presence that we come to know Christ experientially as we know Him in Scripture. Do you want to know Christ? Listen to His Spirit living in you, and follow where He leads. You will be amazed at the power of His presence and work through you. More than that, you will know Him rather than just knowing of Him. What a difference that makes!
~In what arenas of your life do you ignore the counsel of the Holy Spirit? What would it look like to give that over to Him?
It’s no great secret that the number one objection people raise against the idea of a loving God is suffering in the world. Famine, disease, war, and natural disasters (aka acts of God), are just a few of the things we face in life. We ask the question, “if God is so good, why do we have to go through these things?” Here are some things to think about as we head into the week leading up to Good Friday, the day that Jesus suffered for us. If we don’t sit in the truth of why Jesus suffered, we won’t grasp the true magnitude of His resurrection and the hope that it gives us.
Why did Jesus have to suffer? Because of me. And because of you. Because the truth is, we are the cause of the suffering in the world. This seems to be the one thing no one likes to talk about. Suffering comes, either indirectly or directly, from the sin in this world. Even the most innocent who suffer, do so because the world is broken because of sin. It doesn’t mean that person did something to deserve their suffering. It means that the world is suffering, and they got caught in that.
But was the physical pain of His torture and crucifixion His true suffering? Was this the thing that had Him begging God the Father to remove in the Garden of Gethsemane? I don’t think so. As bad as it was, it paled in comparison to the suffering He faced when the Father forsook him. The intimate fellowship of the Trinity is so unbreakable that we can’t even imagine the pain it caused Him to think about such a separation. We experience the faintest shadow of this when our own sin comes between God and us, and the only remedy for that is repentance, and reconciliation. Yet even in our most sinless moments, their perfect unity is beyond our wildest imagination.
In the midst of all He endured, His trust in God never wavered. Not when they tried Him in a kangaroo court. Not when they laughed and scorned Him, took His clothes and beat Him half to death. Not when they hung Him on the cross. And not when He experienced the pain of separation, a pain that we can’t even imagine because we have never experienced just how sweet perfect fellowship with the Father can be. But Jesus suffered as one step in the plan to put an end to sin and brokenness forever. He was rejected so we would be accepted. He was condemned so that we could be forgiven. Yes, Sunday was coming! But it wasn’t here yet. First He had to drink the cup of suffering prepared for Him before the foundation of the world.
What about you? Are you suffering today? If so, are you waiting for God to land the next blow? Or are you more like Jesus, who trusted His Father completely, even as He walked the road of suffering? Either way, we have life yet to live, and trusting Him with it is part of being a disciple.
If you are suffering today, can you
dedicate and entrust it to the Father? Pray for Him to help you trust Him, and
to use it to make you more like Christ.
Why is the
act of repentance so much like dying? Why does giving up my own will hurt so
much? Because it is a death. And
dying hurts, until it is accomplished and resurrection life emerges from the
Like Jesus, we must learn obedience in the midst of trials and suffering. Unlike Jesus, we will repeatedly fail in our endeavor. He learned obedience by being obedient in temptations and trials, the sinless Son of God emerging still sinless from the tests. We, on the other hand, learn obedience most often by suffering the consequences of our disobedience as His saved-but-sinful children.
Our disobedience cost Christ His life. The smallest transgression to the most heinous act of evil comes out of the rebellious fallen nature of sinful people. Our refusal to live within our limitations and accept the protective boundaries of our loving Father leads to pain and sorrow every single time. And the only way back is to admit our guilt and fall on the mercy of the One Who died for us.
The beauty in this death, though, is the incredible, disproportionate life that springs forth when it is finished. A life of freedom, of joy and of a special kind of mercy for those who are one step behind us on the path. A life of faith, which recognizes a little bit more every day that obedience is the only way, even when it costs. After all, it will never cost as much as disobedience does. Our disobedience cost Christ His life, given on our behalf. We will never pay that price. In light of such a gift, what is a little death?
Do you know
the answer to that question? Does your existence in this vast universe make any
difference at all? The answer, whether you believe it or not, is a resounding
‘yes.’ God has saved you! And if He has saved you, which He has, and if you
hear Him, which you do, or you wouldn’t be listening right now, He has a plan
and purpose for you.
But what is that plan? I can’t tell you exactly, but I can tell you a few things that will guide you as you figure it out.
First, it will glorify God and show off His grace, to you and through you. His whole purpose is to show His kindness and mercy, and He has chosen you through whom to do it.
Next, it likely won’t be where and what you expect. It will connect your life experiences, your talents and your opportunities, and those often come to us in ways we do not choose or necessarily even want. But when we begin to walk in it, we will know it. Others will know it, too. There will be a power not of this world, and a sense of freedom that only God can give.
Finally, you only need to start walking to live it out. He created the good works He has for you before the beginning of the world. He doesn’t need you. But He wants you to experience the joy of walking with Him and seeing Him accomplish what you could not do apart from Him.
You are His workmanship, created in Christ for good works. Rejoice, go forth, and walk!
"O God, you know that we are set in the midst of so many and grave dangers that in the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright: Grant us your strength and protection to support us in all dangers and carry us through every temptation; through Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen."
Collect for Week Four in Epiphany
Deut 18:15-22; Ps 111; 1 Cor 8:1-13; Mk 1:21-28
The role of the prophet in the Bible is not so much about telling the future as it is about telling the truth (Deut 18). Prophets are God’s gift of grace, given to us for the purpose of encouraging and challenging us to follow the often-difficult path of discipleship. Though these people were the source of much pain to the Israelites, they acted out of love for God, love for His people, and a desire to protect and deliver them from their own foolishness.
But the people most often reacted with anger and rebellion. They repeatedly shook their fist at God by going their own way, only coming back to Him in humiliation after they had suffered for their folly. And when the ultimate Prophet came, the rebels robed in religion rejected Him.
However, their rejection didn’t nullify His Truth. Thankfully, those of us who believe the Truth are free to walk in it.
And part of that freedom includes setting others free (1 Cor 8). Free of our preferences and convictions, and free to walk their own path of freedom in Christ. We are free to love in truth, and free to set aside our right to our freedom for the better interests of another. As we all submit to God in those places of personal conviction, we grow as a community in love and truth.
When we live out this kind of community by personally submitting to God and to one another, we grow in authority (Mark 1) to speak truth in the wider world. As those who have received the full Truth and revelation of God found in Jesus Christ, our prophetic voice in public will be as strong as our love and submission in community makes us. So by all means, let’s enjoy our freedom. But let’s also never forget our responsibility to one another. Through this kind of community, the Voice of freedom rings.
~What area in your life do you need to let go of for the benefit of another believer?
Jer 3:19-4:4; Ps 130; 1 Cor 7:17-24;
When we repent and believe the gospel we become temples of the Holy Spirit, so wherever we are, there is the kingdom of God. That means we don’t do anything without taking the Holy Spirit with us. “They will know we are Christians by our Love.” Not by our ability to apply a Bible verse to any situation, or our condemnation of their behavior. Jesus saved His harshest warnings of judgment for the religious leaders, and expressed His greatest compassion for the sinners and the lowest of society, those who knew they weren’t worthy of salvation. When we look around today we see unbelievers living like unbelievers. We shouldn’t expect anything different from them. But we who have the Spirit of Christ in us should be different.
In our day-to-day lives, it’s so easy to fall into patterns of behavior. How do we treat the person that is rude to us in line at the supermarket? Do we treat the people that serve us in restaurants as human beings or as robots designed to meet our needs? Do we walk into the places we go always on the lookout for hurting people who need to see God’s love? This is a very different picture than standing on the street corner with a sign that says Repent or Burn! It is tempting with the anger and hostility we see in the world to just withdraw. This is a common reaction of Christians. But the gospel would call us to press in even more, and learn to respond rather than react. Let me explain what I mean by that.
Reactions are often based on fear and insecurities, and are not the most rational or appropriate way to act. It’s the automatic lashing out at someone who offends us. The gesture at the car who cuts us off, the sarcastic remark to the rude person, no tip for the server who forgets to check on us or messes up our order. This is easy; it’s what everyone does.
Responses take the situation in, and decide the best course of action based on our values of grace and love, the greatest values of the gospel. This would pray for the person who cuts us off, kindness in return to the rude person, a generous tip and maybe an offer to pray for the server who is obviously having a bad day. Nobody does that; that’s the gospel.
One of the top criticisms we hear about churchgoers today is hypocrisy. What if we stopped reacting by making excuses and started responding by living the gospel? Living in a continual attitude of humility and grace proclaims the gospel more loudly than words.
Isa.42:1-9; Ps 89:20-29; Acts
10:34-38; Mark 1:7-11
As part of my first time celebrating the Feast of Epiphany, I decided to do a small study of the word “epiphany.” The common dictionary meaning is ‘a sudden realization; any moment of great or sudden revelation.’ But the most interesting note I gathered was the meaning of its root in Greek; “to reveal.”
It’s so easy to take for granted the epiphany of God, His manifestation to us, for us. We forget that He owed us nothing. It is hard to fathom the possibility of life without His choice to come, to lower Himself and dwell among us. In this context, it helps us to see many of the purposes of His baptism. He did it to fulfill all righteousness (Matt 3:13-15). He did it in preparation for ministry. And He did it to give us an example to follow.
Likewise, it is easy to take our own baptism for granted. Whether we were infant-baptized, or baptized as adults, it can seem a strange-but-necessary ritual that we just have to endure as part of our initiation into the church. But Jesus’ example and teachings show us that it is so much more.
As a symbol, it marks our old life as dead and our resurrection as a new creation
(2 Cor 5:17). As an act of obedience, it humbles us (whether we are parents having our child baptized, or being baptized ourselves) and makes a public proclamation of our faith. As a supernatural empowerment, it marks us as full of the Holy Spirit and prepared to do every good work God has called us to. And it identifies us to the rest of the world as set apart, consecrated for the work of God on earth.
But all this starts back at that moment of epiphany, when Christ was “coming up out of the water, (and) he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” This was a word of encouragement for Him, and a word of revelation for us. It is our privilege and responsibility to reveal Him to the world as He has revealed Himself to us.
were created in Christ Jesus to do good
works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”(Eph 2:10) What were
you baptized into Christ to do? How can we in the body here at King’s Cross
encourage you in doing it?
Isa. 61:10-62:5; Ps 147:13-21; Gal. 3:23-4:7; John 1:1-18
I once experienced darkness so profound it was terrifying. In the depths of a cave, far below the surface the light was extinguished for just a moment. The effect was instantaneous and intense—disorientation, panic and paralysis all at once. Such darkness needs no bogeyman. It holds a terror all its own.
The amazing thing about even such deep darkness is that the tiniest pinpoint of light will dispel it, and the deeper the darkness, the more powerful the contrast to the light.
We live every day in such darkness. The spiritual forces of darkness are constantly at work in the world, seeking to gain territory and smother light. But they are working in vain; they will never overcome the light of Christ. And His light will only grow brighter until the day when there will be no need for an alternate supply of light. The only light will radiate from Him, and it will be undimmed, without a hint of darkness (Rev. 21:23). It will be so bright, in fact, that in our current human form we couldn’t bear it.
In the meantime, we have a job to do. As those given the right to become children of God through belief in His Son, the Light, we bear the light that will not be overcome by darkness. While the song “This Little Light of Mine” is cute, it makes a serious error in its rhyme. The light is not mine, or yours. It is His, and we have the staggering privilege and responsibility of carrying it in the world. When we cooperate with Him in His work, it shines ever brighter. And the darker our surroundings get, the brighter our guidance will be.
Don’t be afraid of the dark. Embrace it with the light and love of Christ, and know that He will overcome.
~Think of the darkest place you inhabit regularly. How can you more fully embrace it with the light of Christ?
Isa.9:1-7; Ps 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14
How can one describe the human beginning of an infinite God? The incarnation had a very definite starting point in space and time, so familiar to us that we almost glaze over the words, “baby..., “born in a manger...” Such an ordinary event in the experience of human life; we all were babies once, many of us have had babies, and the idea of the God we worship being a baby seems almost anti-climactic. How can we even begin to understand it?
Truly ponder it. In the words of the genie in the Disney classic Aladdin, “Great Cosmic Power! Itty bitty living space!” This can take our breath away. In Christ, God focused in on a specific time and place, said “here, now” and stepped down into our lowly realm.
Theologians argue endlessly over all the meanings and specific details of exactly how and why this happened. Perhaps the best answer to all these theories is “both, and.” Though the limitless God chose to limit Himself in His Son, His true nature and purpose and plans never changed or failed. He came as example, and sacrifice. As perfect man, and weak human. As payment and Payee. As judge and condemned.
All this, and so much more. All for us. All for you. All for me. All for humanity, and the time and space we inhabit. Does that mean we’re special? Oh, no. It means He is.
Like Christ, we inhabit a specific time and space.
How can we better communicate Jesus in us, through us, in the day-to-day life He’s given us?
Isaiah 65:17-25; Ps 126; 1 Thess 5:12-28; Jhn 3:22-30
When we truly repent, or ‘change our mind,’ we stop thinking about what we want, and start thinking what God wants. We might want to call that humility, but I like the word self-forgetfulness. It means, learning to fill your mind with the thoughts of God and the needs of other people, so that thinking about yourself starves to death. This is critical to becoming a holy person. It’s also what makes for a holy community. Following are some examples from our Thessalonians passage.
Encourage the disheartened - When we set aside our own agenda for just a few minutes and listen to one another, we will know when we need encouragement, and it’s our obligation to lift one another up. Pray right at that moment instead of saying “I’ll pray for you.”
Help the weak - This is one of our foundational values in Christ, and sets us apart from the rest of the world. Here, we help those who are weak, we don’t judge them. Paul elaborated on that in 1 Cor 12, the passage where he describes the church as a physical body. He says,”... those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.”
Be patient with one another. The patience God extends to us, we extend to each other. We are all “difficult people” to somebody.
Help one another deal with conflict in a godly way. That means doing what is best for each other as the Holy Spirit guides us, even when we risk angering our brother or sister in the process. Real love, Christ’s love, speaks truth even when it’s hard. When we forget ourselves we don’t try to protect ourselves, and we’re free to take risks in our love for each other. This is the kind of love that God has for us.
Rejoice, pray, and give thanks. How often? Always! Paul’s just given us a tall order. To fill it, we must call on the power of God’s Spirit at work in us, both individually and collectively. Don’t get bogged down in wondering how you’re supposed to do these things always. It’s a mindset, not just an activity. It means, keep in touch with God’s Spirit in you. Look for silver linings in circumstances by thanking Him for whatever you can think of. When you think of someone, pray for them. Pay attention to the good things He has given you, including this community. Focus on God’s will no matter what’s going on around you. Don’t look at things through a filter of whether they’re God’s will or not. Instead, ask Him how He wants you to live with joy in the midst of it?
~In what circumstance or relationship do you need to practice self-forgetfulness?
Isaiah 40:1-11; Ps 85; 2 Peter 3:8-18; Mark 1:1-8
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”(John 1:1)
John the Baptist knew the word of God. As the son of a priest, he grew up learning the Scriptures, which included the law, the prophets, the Psalms, and the historical books. He would have been raised to meditate on them, digest the words, and come to know the God to whom they testified. Through his study and growth, he came to fulfill the unique calling that God had placed on his life.
We hear it in his cries (Mark 1), cries that echoed the prophet Isaiah’s announcement and call to repentance. It also shows in his refusal to point to himself as the one the people should place their hope in. He understands that though his role in the unfolding story of God’s redemption is critical, it is not the most important element. The only value his ministry holds lies in the One to Whom he points, the One to come, whose sandals he is not fit to tie.
John’s story is truly unique. But each believer has a calling, a role to play in God’s redemption story that only we can fill. We discover this calling as we discover the One who calls us. As we come to know Father, Son and Spirit through the words of Scripture, we come to know what we were created to do. It will be unique for each of us, as individual as a fingerprint. But it will share one critical common denominator. It will point others not to us, but to Jesus, the Christ.
There is one pre-condition, though. When we approach the Scriptures, we must be prepared to allow the word to “change our minds,” or lead us to repentance. We must take the words not just to mind, but to heart. We must commit that what He says, we will do. This is true repentance, true transformation. This kind of change only happens through the power of the Holy Spirit, given us when we admit our helplessness and turn to God through Christ for salvation. As you approach his word, ask Him for ears to hear. And be prepared for anything.
~What keeps you from regularly reading God’s word? What can you do to overcome that obstacle?
The readings this week carry a common theme. Though written from vastly different times and perspectives, all are making the same request: “Show Yourself to us, Lord!”
In our gospel reading, Jesus responds to the request. We want to know how long we have to wait. But He essentially says, stop asking when. That knowledge is not for you. Instead, ask how can I serve the Master while I wait? Watch. Expect that it could come any moment. And keep doing what you know to do in the meantime.
The first and absolutely essential thing we know to do is implicit in all of Scripture. Repent. Turn to Him. Turn away from sin. When we read the cries of Israel, this is often a missing ingredient. In Psalm 80, their cries seemed to blame God for their situation; there was no sign of repentance, only a hint of accusation. They failed to see how they were complicit in their situation. They only wanted God to show up and fix things, make them special again in the eyes of the world.
We can do the same thing. Our patterns of behavior, our coping mechanisms, and our underlying sin nature conspire along with our circumstances against the righteous ways God teaches us. We lie without intending to, lash out in anger when we need to forgive, and offer only judgment when others need compassion. Our salvation is not an automatic protection from such transgressions. The only difference between believers and non-believers is that we have the choice to turn to God and humbly seek His empowerment to refrain from sin, and His forgiveness when we fail. And we will fail. If we delude ourselves on this level, then pride has a foothold, and that calls for its own repentance. Only when we seek Him with no barrier of pride, self-will or sin between us is there a hope of seeing Him.
As we enter the season of Advent this year, turn to Him. Pray for Him to open your eyes to your own need of Him. When He answers your prayer—and He will—repent. And you will see Him.
Ezekiel 34:11-20; Ps 95; 1 Cor 15:20-28; Matt 25:31-46
The moment Adam fell, he caused a great division that has remained until today. Men divided from God and from one another are just some of the consequences. In the end, God’s redemptive work will set it all right again, but not before one more great divide takes place—that of the wicked from the righteous.
Pretenders have lived in every age since the garden. Ezekiel calls out the false shepherds of Israel, who have used their power to take from the weak and sick to make themselves sleek and fat. Psalm 95 reflects on the Israelites who refused to believe God in the wilderness and suffered the consequences. In the end, Jesus will stand in judgment, and all pretense will be gone. Those who know Him will be fully known, and those who do not will no longer be able to pretend.
But what are the criteria? They are remarkably simple, and alarmingly easy to overlook. How did you care for the “least of these”? Not a word about church attendance or baptism. While these things are important markers of the spiritual life, unbelievers do them all the time. Instead, Jesus points to a much more basic idea; serving the needy of every kind. Care like this is what James calls in his epistle “true religion.”
This isn’t the only test. There is more to it than that, as we know. But there is certainly not less. In serving needy people of every kind, we serve Jesus as surely as if He were standing there in place of the person whose needs we meet. And in doing so, we help to build a bridge across the divide.
This is what we’re here for. Our purpose lives in the streets and neighborhoods of Tucson. The needs might be physical, relational, mental, or spiritual, but they are real. And the way we respond to those needs, not just in our actions but in our hearts and minds, can help us to know Him better, and therefore know ourselves. Don’t be afraid of the answer. Just give someone a hand across the divide.
~Who do you see as “the least of these” in Tucson? How can you help bring them to Jesus?
There’s a law of exercise called the law of diminishing returns. This means that if you do the same form of exercise consistently, long enough, your body adapts to it, and it gets easier. Your body naturally finds the path of least resistance, and before long you actually begin to lose condition.
I think our spiritual life can be like that too. We are living in the ‘end times,’ but the time seems endless. In the Thessalonian letters, Paul was dealing with people who had stopped working because they expected the Lord’s return any second. And Paul himself made it clear that he expected it at any time as well. So, here we are 2,000 years later, still waiting...and because we’ve waited so long, it’s easy to just think less and less about it, until life is just the everyday existence of the people that Paul says live in darkness. They don’t expect God at all, so they do what they want, live how they want. When the day finally comes, they’ll be completely undone. And it’s easy to let the path of least resistance gradually ease us into living life the same way. Being a faithful Christian is hard! It requires a lot of time spent in our discomfort zone.
We only discover and reflect God’s power when we’re uncomfortable in some way. Stretched just beyond, or way beyond, our own resources. Given a job that we know is impossible without His intervention. Or suffering in some way that forces us to depend on Him. But that’s also how we do the things that make us rejoice when we see God work in the midst of our frailty. This is how we come to know His power, and it is the only way.
Jesus said “let your light shine before men, so they will see your good works and glorify your Father who is in Heaven.” When people see us accomplish things they know we aren’t capable of, things that bring a little bit of light to a dark world, we reflect God’s power and glory.
However, discomfort zones take all kinds of forms. They can include some personal, private spiritual practice that you decide to try when there’s nothing else you can do for the Kingdom. They can mean learning to be still and know that He is God. Whatever it may look like, whatever you do in the kingdom will matter more than you think it does. And whether the Lord comes back, or we go to meet Him in death first, we each will stand before Him. For His faithful, that will be the ultimate comfort zone. No more tears, no more disease, no more sorrow, no more night.
As children of the light, He calls
us to work while it is day, and that whatever our hand finds to do, do it with
all our strength. Stay uncomfortable in His name, and you will ultimately find
a comfort you can’t imagine.
Amos 5:18-24; Ps 70; 1 Thess 4:13-18; Matt 25:1-13
The when and how of Christ’s return is a matter of great debate among people who like to study such things. But on one facet there is no debate. The “Day of the Lord” will be unprecedented. It will be spectacular, and terrible. The process of turning the fallen world right-side up again will be so unlike anything we have experienced, it defies our greatest imaginings. However, there are some details we can know.
The oppressors will be oppressed. The selfish rich will mourn, and the generous poor will feast. The slave will walk free, and the slaver bound in chains of judgment. It will be a great day, but it will be a horrific day. Even those who rejoice will tremble at the fierceness of God. His justice is perfect. He makes no mistakes and He leaves no deed ignored.
Not even churchgoers are safe. Like the foolish virgins in Jesus’ parable, we can live religiously with no real expectation of His coming. We can separate the temporal things like home, money, and social status, from what we think of as the eternal things; serving the needy, healing the sick, and acting as ambassadors for the Kingdom.
But reality provides a different view. Everything in our lives has eternal significance. What we do Monday through Saturday—how we live, what we prioritize, and the heart attitudes we cultivate— matters to God. Are we like the foolish virgins, looking forward to a good party but not seriously preparing for it? Preparation requires investment. No one of us can make the investment on another’s behalf, and we cannot depend on the investments of another. We each will stand alone before the Judge on that Day. On that great and terrible Day, our true heart will become irrevocably, blindingly clear. Now is the time to commit ourselves fully. Then it will be too late.
~What things in your life would you not want to be doing when Jesus returns? Consider replacing those things in your life with the things that remind you of eternity.
Our readings are full of faithless people. They use His gifts for personal gain. They speak lies and attack God’s chosen ones. They try to prevent the spread of the gospel. These people do evil out of faith in themselves and their power, rather than faith in God. Because their lives and ways are faithless, He will bring them down. Their self-exaltation will be the best they receive, because they will ultimately face His judgment.
We can see it in the history behind these passages. Just as God promised through the prophet Micah, Jerusalem was destroyed and His people went into captivity. Though Paul was thwarted constantly, the gospel continued to go forth, and we hold his words in our hands today. And Jesus, the cornerstone of our faith, went to the cross faithfully, using the very faithlessness of God’s chosen people as an instrument to bring about the salvation of the world.
Men and women fail God at every turn. Even when we love Him and serve Him, we are prone to try to control outcomes, seek our own resources, and demand rewards. These tendencies come sometimes from subtle pride, sometimes from fear, and sometimes from our limited understanding—but sometimes out of a rebellious heart. Yes, even those who love Him.
Thankfully, God is not like us. He is 100% faithful. If He says He will discipline us, it will happen. He promises completion of His mission, and that will come to pass. He promises justice, and His judgment is perfect.
God’s faithfulness does not depend on our faithfulness. When we are faithful, we have the blessing of participation in His work in us and through us. But His faithfulness isn’t for our sake. He is faithful because He is faithful to Himself. It is a part of His perfect character that will not change.
Where do you need to trust God’s faithfulness today? What can you stop doing or start doing that comes from faith?
Jesus reminds us this week that everything about our salvation and life on earth hangs on two things. Loving God, and loving our neighbor
Loving God is explained in the first four of the Ten Commandments. How we follow these is a sign of our love for God. Worship only Him. Keep the Sabbath to remember His provision. Don’t use His name in making false oaths. Don’t worship idols.
The Jews had stopped practicing idolatry after the Babylonian exile, so as far as they were concerned, they were doing well. But Jesus clearly saw otherwise. The truth is that the Jews turned the command itself into an idol. The Law was their god, so they didn’t know or love God. Their cold hearts were proof of that.
The second phrase, “Love your neighbor as yourself” is only possible when the first phrase is in order. Jesus is referring to Lev 19:18. The other readings for this week detail what such love looks like. The care we give to the poor and oppressed among us comes from God, not from us. It is our purpose as believers, not a nice option to choose if we want it.
God saved us because of His completely undeserved, radical love for us. The Greek word for God’s “love” is agape, which is the selfless, other-centered love that we humans are incapable of. Human love is sweet and indulgent at best and dangerous at worst. Only God loves perfectly, so only in a deep abiding relationship with Him, by listening and following the guidance of His Holy Spirit in us, can we truly love others.
If the Pharisees had recognized God’s love expressed in His son, their hearts would have recognized their Messiah. But that’s not what happened. Instead, they just stopped asking questions. And we all know what happened after that. They killed their King.
This is a danger for us too. When we go through the motions of religion, we lose touch with our purpose of bringing God’s kingdom into this world by loving Him and loving those who cross our path. We’ll start seeing His mission for us as an inconvenience that we can’t be bothered with in our busyness.
So think about this when you interact with those around you. Ask God to show you how to love like He has loved you. Then do what He says. Go where He sends you. Be His body in the everyday world around you. This is love. God sent His Son. And He sends us too. So go.
~Where is God calling you to express His love in your life? Are you doing it?
Isa. 25:1-9; Ps 23; Phil 4:4-13; Matt 22:1-14
The feast is a Biblical symbol of the intimate presence and perfect provision of God. His people throughout history understood this and placed a high priority on the table of fellowship and celebration. It’s given by Him as a way to remember His mighty acts of deliverance, from the Red Sea in Exodus all the way to the New Jerusalem in Revelation.
The readings this week highlight that intimacy. Isaiah’s promise echoes in the final verses of Revelation, the story of God’s final plan to make the world new again. The Psalm comforts us with promises of His care in every circumstance, which leads us right into Paul’s exhortation (Phil) that we can be content—feast—in any and every situation.
Our gracious God only asks that we accept His invitation and come clothed in the garment He has provided; the righteousness of Christ (Matt; see also Rom.13:14; Col. 3:12-14).
Though our gospel reading of the parable of the Wedding Feast has many interpretations, it is unmistakable that coming to the party requires more than just responding to the invitation. Without the proper credentials, no one will escape the eye of the Host. And once the party has started, there will be no second chance.
Do you know what it means to be clothed in the righteousness of Christ? If not, find out. Then come join the party.
~Do you know of someone who wants to follow God but doesn’t believe that Jesus is the Way? How can you encourage them with these readings to understand what they’re missing?
Isa 5:1-7; Ps 80(1-6) 7-19; Phil 3:14-21; Matt 21:33-44
The depth of the Israelites’ rebellion is stunning. In our passages this week, we see a pattern of revolt against God so profound that His prophets, His discipline, and even the coming of Messiah cannot pierce. The blindness formed of self-righteousness and pride leaves them unable to see God when He is standing right in front of them.
The results are clear. Instead of bearing the fruit of righteousness, they bore the blood of injustice (Isa). When God disciplined them, they blamed Him and demanded He save them so they could be happy and look good to other nations (Ps). Finally, though they claimed to wait in hopeful anticipation of Messiah, they rejected Him because He didn’t meet their criteria (Matt). They had become so accustomed to thinking God existed to serve them that they ultimately killed their King.
Their arrogance is breathtaking, and it’s easy to take offense on God’s behalf when we read of it. But we must stop and ask the question “is there an area of my life in which my rebellion runs so deep that I can no longer recognize God at work?” It is possible to ask Him to help you, and then reject His help if it requires too much change from you.
We all have the potential for that kind of rebellion. And though we may fool other people with our piety, the Vineyard Owner is no fool. We must humble ourselves and ask for His help, by His means. When it comes, we must accept it regardless of the cost to our pride, selfishness, and rebellious independence. In reality, He has already paid the price. The perfect fruit of repentance is grateful obedience.
~Where do you need to humble yourself and receive God’s help in His way? Commit to share this need with someone who can help you recognize and respond when it comes.
You can hear Fr. Pete's homily, "A Tireless Love" on the sermons page.
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32; Psalm 25:1-14; Phil 2:1-13; Matt 21:28-32
by Jennifer Callaway
One of the subtlest dangers Christians face is replacing obedience to God with religious activity and claims of piety. God has a particular disdain for it, and He confronts it repeatedly in both the Old and New Testaments. It results from a drift that leads us so far from God we no longer acknowledge our sinfulness and need for Him.
Ezekiel challenged the Israelites about it during the years of their exile. The proverb suggested that they were suffering for the sins of their ancestors, not their own.
Ezekiel’s response crushed that assumption. His corrective? “Repent and live!”
Meaningless religion amongst a sinful, selfish people has led to their captivity. Humble obedience will lead them out.
In the gospel reading, Jesus confronts the same issue with the Pharisees, who have fallen into the same trap. He challenges the legalists’ ideas of their own superiority and perfection, with a simple parable. The story asks the question, “Is obedience found in our words or in our actions?” The answer to the question came easily to the Pharisees. How it applied to them, they failed to see. They were blinded by their religious busyness.
Finally, Paul tells the Philippians if they want to know what obedience looks like, look at Jesus. The downward path Jesus took guides the steps of His disciples. Do what you are called to do, dying to yourself daily and pouring your life into it until you die, for the purpose of glorifying God in Christ. Church on Sunday is designed to nourish and grow that obedience, not replace it.
~When you go to church, how does this prepare you to serve?
~What is your personal calling, and how are you serving Christ there?
Who do you avoid because you think they don’t deserve to hear God’s message of compassion?
The workers’ grumbling- Jesus tells the story of vineyard workers hired to work for the day. Each group in the story took the opportunity presented to them and fulfilled their obligation. The owner only promised the first group a specific wage; the following groups only knew they would get what “seemed right”.
All of us can understand the displeasure of the first workers when all received the same wage. But their displeasure was quickly silenced. They had received what they were promised. The others had received generosity. In the upside down world of the Kingdom, those who earn the least, stand to gain the most. This is grace.
Who do you know of, that seems to receive much more than they deserve? How do you see the Kingdom of Heaven at work in those lives?
Gen. 50:15-21; Psalm 103:1-14; Rom. 14:5-12; Matt. 18:21-35
by Jennifer Callaway
Christians are called to forgive in ways that the rest of the world cannot understand. These readings teach us how to practice radical forgiveness in any relationship or circumstance. Think about these things.
1) Remember God is in control- Joseph knew what his brothers had done was inexcusable. He was also wise enough to know that their ‘repentance’ was more likely from fear than a true change of heart. But his unwavering trust in God made him able to recognize that God had used their horrible crime to save their own lives as well as the life of Israel in the famine. His forgiveness is a model for us to understand that God uses every circumstance in the lives of His faithful for some kind of good.
2) Remember the mercy of God- In Psalm 103, the psalmist proclaims the forgiveness and compassion of God. Remembering, “we are dust,” keeps the reader of the Psalm face-to-face with our own need for mercy. When we remain in this posture, it’s difficult to see the fault of others.
3) Remember that God is the Judge- In his letter to the Romans, Paul makes clear to people who were squabbling over insignificant issues that God is the only Judge any one of us need be concerned about. Regardless of what we think of another person, the only one they will answer to is God. We have no right to condemn them.
4) Remember all that God has forgiven us- This parable of Jesus leaves no question about whether we should forgive. Every one of us is the servant unable to pay, whose debt the king forgave. When we refuse to forgive, we become that servant choking his fellow servant and forgetting what God has forgiven us. The conclusion to the parable is chilling. Forgiveness is not an option, it is a command.
CS Lewis says it so well “To be a Christian is to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
This week, consider:
Do you have any “outstanding debts” that you are refusing to forgive?
Is someone holding something against you that you refuse to make right?
If so, do something about it. It’s the only Christian thing to do.
To Hear Fr. Pete's Sunday Sermon Based Upon The Readings: Click Here.