Lent (Part 2): Matthew 6:1-18 // Practicing Righteousness

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Lent (Part 2): Matthew 6:1-18 // Practicing Righteousness

Matthew 6:1-18 (ESV)

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.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. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from evil.
For yours is the kingdom and the power
    and the glory, forever. Amen.

14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

16 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

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 Lent (Part 1): Matthew 3:13 - 4:2 // Beginning as Beloved

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Lent (Part 1): Matthew 3:13 - 4:2 // Beginning as Beloved

Matthew 3:13-4:2 (NRSV)

3:13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

4:1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.

References:

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Signs (Part 7): John 11:1-45 // Death to Life

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Signs (Part 7): John 11:1-45 // Death to Life

John 11:1-45 (NRSV)

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11 After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two milesaway, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

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Signs (Part 6): John 9:1-41 // Blindness to Sight

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Signs (Part 6): John 9:1-41 // Blindness to Sight

John 9 (NRSV)

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. Wemust work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

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Signs (Part 5): John 6:1-15 // Scarcity to Abundance

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Signs (Part 5): John 6:1-15 // Scarcity to Abundance

John 6:1-15 (NRSV)

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

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Snow Day: Dwelling in the Word

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Snow Day: Dwelling in the Word

Dear Church Family,

I hope that you are all staying warm and safe this morning. I miss being with you all today, but the snow is beautiful. As I look out our front window the bushes are just small, white bumps in a sea of fluff. Everything is bright and fresh. The sight of a world covered in snow helps me imagine what redemption will look like. It reminds me of David's words in Psalm 51:7, "Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." Someday Christ will come to make all things new --- he will wash everything and the whole world will be whiter than snow! Let the sight out your window become a meditation for you today, a reminder of redemption.

Though we are not gathering today, I want to invite you to spend some time in our dwelling passage Philippians 3:7-4:1. I know that this passage is a long one and has felt difficult to engage for many of us, so I have broken it up into smaller sections and provided a few questions to lead you into reflection and prayer (see below). You can engage these questions individually with a journal, together with your family, or perhaps both, taking some time to reflect individually and then share with one another.

I hope these questions are helpful and lead you deeper into this passage that we are dwelling in together throughout this year.

Though we are not together, I am praying for you this morning. And I look forward to being with you all again soon.

"May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you.
May the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace."

Grace and peace,
Drew Dixon

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Signs (Part 4): John 5:1-18 // Waiting to Walking

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Signs (Part 4): John 5:1-18 // Waiting to Walking

John 5:1-18 (NRSV)

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in HebrewBeth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.

Now that day was a sabbath. 10 So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, “It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’” 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take it up and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. 14 Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. 16 Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is still working, and I also am working.” 18 For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.

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Signs (Part 3): John 4:45-54 // Sickness to Health

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Signs (Part 3): John 4:45-54 // Sickness to Health

John 4:45-54  (NRSV)

45 When he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, since they had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the festival; for they too had gone to the festival.

46 Then he came again to Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine. Now there was a royal official whose son lay ill in Capernaum. 47 When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. 48 Then Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” 49 The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my little boy dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way. 51 As he was going down, his slaves met him and told him that his child was alive. 52 So he asked them the hour when he began to recover, and they said to him, “Yesterday at one in the afternoon the fever left him.” 53 The father realized that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he himself believed, along with his whole household. 54 Now this was the second sign that Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee.

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Signs (Part 2): John 2:1-11 // Water to Wine

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Signs (Part 2): John 2:1-11 // Water to Wine

John 2:1-11 (NRSV)

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

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Signs (Part 1): John 1:1-18 // Unseen to Son

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Signs (Part 1): John 1:1-18 // Unseen to Son

John 1:1-18 (NRSV)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

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Matthew 2:1-12 // King of All, Light of the World

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Matthew 2:1-12 // King of All, Light of the World

Matthew 2:1-12 (NRSV)

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

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Songs of the Season (Part 5): Luke 2:21-40 // Simeon's Song

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Songs of the Season (Part 5): Luke 2:21-40 // Simeon's Song

Luke 2:21-40 (NRSV)

21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
    according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
    and for glory to your people Israel.”

33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

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Songs of the Season (Part 4): Luke 2:14 // Angels' Song

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Songs of the Season (Part 4): Luke 2:14 // Angels' Song

Luke 2:1-20 (NRSV)

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

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Songs of the Season (Part 3): Luke 1:68-79 // Zechariah's Song

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Songs of the Season (Part 3): Luke 1:68-79 // Zechariah's Song

Luke 1:5-25, 57-80 (NRSV)

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. 10 Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11 Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16 He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” 19 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”

21 Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. 22 When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. 23 When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

24 After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, 25 “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”

. . .

57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60 But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” 61 They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” 62 Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63 He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

67 Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us
    in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71     that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
    and has remembered his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
    to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness
    before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    by the forgiveness of their sins.
78 By the tender mercy of our God,
    the dawn from on high will break upon us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

80 The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.

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Songs of the Season (Part 2): Luke 1:46-55 // Mary's Song

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Songs of the Season (Part 2): Luke 1:46-55 // Mary's Song

Luke 1:26-56 (NRSV)

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

56 And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

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Songs of the Season (Part 1): Isaiah 11:1-9 // Prophet's Song

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Songs of the Season (Part 1): Isaiah 11:1-9 // Prophet's Song

Isaiah 11:1-9 (NRSV)

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
    the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the spirit of counsel and might,
    the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
    or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
    and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
    and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
    and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
    the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
    and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
    and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
    on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

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Psalm 126 // Sowing and Reaping

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Psalm 126 // Sowing and Reaping

An audio recording of the sermon from Sunday, November 25th, is not available. A transcript of the sermon is available below.

PERSONAL UPDATE

Good morning! It’s great to be back with you. I want to say a great big thanks to the elders and to you all for the gift of the past two weeks. There has been so much goodness in them.

First of all, Katelyn and I are now married! Here’s a photo of us and our wedding party -- siblings and longtime friends. The wedding was beautiful, somehow the weather was clear and perfect. We had friends and family travel from all over the country to join us on our special day. The ceremony was wonderful. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Then a couple of days after the wedding we headed off on our honeymoon in the U.K. We got to see London, Oxford, and the British countryside as well as Edinburgh and the Scottish highlands. Then, on the way back we had a long layover in Iceland where we got to explore a little. Here’s a photo from our first day in London, standing outside the Buckingham Palace. And here’s a photo from our final day in Iceland, standing in front of the beautiful landscape of that country.

Some other time, I’d love to share more stories and more pictures with you, but for now I just want to say thank you again to you for the gift of getting to take off the last couple of weeks for our wedding and our first adventure together as a married couple. (There’s a lifetime of adventures yet to come!)

INTRODUCTION

You can all go ahead and open up to Psalm 126, this will be our text today. Psalm 126 has been a very special psalm to Katelyn and I, because it played a special part in each of our lives before we met. It captures a lot of the redemption that we have experienced in our relationship together.

As I reflect on the laughter that we shared in the car driving around the UK, our relationship began on a very different note. Some of you know our story and some of you may not, but both Katelyn and I were married before. Those marriages ended in abandonment and betrayal. We first met as two friends who had been through painful divorces and we sat down to ask one another the question, “How did you survive? How are you surviving?” We each shared our stories of pain and brokenness. Long before we shared the laughter of a honeymoon, we shared the tears of our divorces.  --- And how far we’ve come since that first conversation! Our relationship and now marriage has been an act of God’s redemption through and through. It is a story that I hope we will have more opportunities to share with you and please feel free to ask us.

Psalm 126 is a psalm of both laughter and tears. It is also a psalm about harvest, so it connects well to this autumn season and our celebration of Thanksgiving this past week. Katelyn and I arrived back in the U.S. right around 5pm on the evening of Thanksgiving. Her dad came and picked us up and we headed to her parents place in time for a late Thanksgiving dinner. I’m sure many of you had your own Thanksgiving celebrations this past week with family traditions and special recipes. Times like these can be filled with laughter and joy as we gather round tables with loved ones. But others of you may have had a different kind of experience. Maybe holiday gatherings stir up more tears for you rather than laughter as you miss family members who have passed on or as strained relationships come more sharply into view during this time of year.

Psalm 126 does well, I think, to set the stage for us as we navigate the many emotions of the holiday season. The laughter and the tears that it can be so filled with. I hope that we can gather some wisdom and hope from it together today.

So let’s read this psalm responsively together.

TEXT

1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
   we were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
   and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
   “The Lord has done great things for them.”
3 The Lord has done great things for us,
   and we rejoiced.

4 Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
   like the watercourses in the Negeb.
5 May those who sow in tears
   reap with shouts of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping,
   bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
   carrying their sheaves.

The word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

A SONG OF ASCENTS

Before we dive into the psalm, I want to point out what kind of psalm this is. As you look in your Bible, do you see an indicator above verse 1? It should say something like “A song of ascents.” If you flip over and look as the psalms that come before this one and the psalms that come after, you’ll see the same thing. Psalms 120 - 134 are all psalms of ascent. They were songs that the people would sing as they “ascended” their way to Jerusalem for gathering festivals like Passover and Pentecost. There is something for us to consider in this today.

The songs of ascent are not the songs of the festival they are going to but rather songs intended to prepare them for the festival. They are not songs of celebration, but of anticipation. These songs were sung in the midst of the journey. They are pilgrim songs, songs on-the-way, not songs of arrival.

These are apt songs for us to know and sing as well (or at least read) because we are all pilgrims on-the-way. We have not yet arrived, yet we have hope for the journey. In some ways, this is true of all of our worship. The songs we sing together each week prepare us for the coming celebration of the coming of God’s kingdom. Someday, we will sing full-throated songs of celebration when Jesus returns to make all things new.

This theme is especially true for us in this season as we “Walk to Bethlehem” which you can see on the wall back there. (Reminder to send your activity info to Corinne each week!) We are all on a journey together as a church. Next week we will begin the season of Advent, which is not Christmas but rather an anticipation of Christmas. The songs of ascent are songs of anticipation. It’s the difference between the Christmas song “Joy to the world, the Lord is come” and the Advent song “Come O Come Emmanuel.” One is celebration and the other anticipation. The songs of ascent are like this. They are songs sung on-the-way. And we’ll see as we look more closely at the psalm that the first half of it, the psalmist rejoices in “When the Lord restored our fortunes” but then in the second half cries out “Restore our fortunes, Lord!” It’s not either/or, but both. God has restored their fortunes and yet there is further anticipation of restoration along the way.

So let’s look at it more closely now.

A SONG OF LAUGHTER

As I just said, this first half is a picture of God’s restoration. And look at the description here. “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream… our mouth was filled with laughter… our tongue with shouts of joy…” I wonder if any of this sounds like the kind of celebration that some of you had this past week? Was there laughter and joy around the Thanksgiving table? I can tell you that I certainly felt this at Katelyn’s and my wedding celebration. And there were multiple times throughout the honeymoon that it just felt like a dream. “Is this actually real?”

This is what the restoration that God brings to our lives is like. Forgiveness of sin; daily bread; revitalized relationships; “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow” as we just sang. Every now and then the reality of God’s love ought to make us dizzy like a dream. The wonder of the gospel fills our lives with laughter and joy. As I prepared for this week I came across a Yiddish proverb: “What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul.” So let laughter come from your mouth and let the joy of the Lord cleanse your soul from all that weighs it down!

And as great as all of this is, the psalm goes on to say that this laughter is not just for our sake. The nations overhear the joy that comes from Israel and exclaim, “The Lord has done great things for them!” And I think this is what it means to witness to others, to share the gospel with others. It’s not primarily about convincing people about how bad things are (most people already know that), but rather about showing them how good things can be. We should let the daze of the gospel’s dream and the echo of redemption’s laughter carry out into our everyday lives. Let your joy in God’s restoration be overheard by the people around you!

So, for those of you who experience the restoration of God: Where are the places of laughter in your life that you can share with others? Where are the shouts of joy that might be overheard by your coworkers, neighbors, and family members? Meditate on these things and let them be heard! For as the psalm says, “The Lord has done great things for us and we rejoiced!”

But the psalm doesn’t end there. Because we’re a people on-the-way. And some of us aren’t experiencing laughter right now.

A SONG OF TEARS

So it goes on to say, “Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb.” This is a prayer from those still in need of restoration.

The Negeb is the region south of Jerusalem, which places is right between Egypt and Jerusalem. This is the desert wilderness that Israel had to cross through on their way out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. This is the region that some of the pilgrims who sang this psalm would have been passing through on their way to Jerusalem for the festival. The Negeb is a very dry region, but when it rains the watercourses fill and flow. It’s transformed. This is their prayer.

Yet, even in the wilderness of despair, they have hope. Look at these last verses. “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.” Verse 5 is a blessing and verse 6 is a promise. And they read much like Jesus’ own words in Luke 6:21, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” You see, tears are not a sign of weakness but of strength. They are not a sign of curse, but of blessing. Though they may feel like a barren land, they hold the promise of a great harvest! These tears are blessed! Those who sow their tears into the broken landscape of a fallen world will someday reap with the laughter and joy of redemption! This is a promise from the psalmist and from the mouth of Jesus himself! These tears aren’t all for naught. If laughter is like soap for the soul, then tears are like ointment for broken hearts. Let them flow and let them bring healing to your heart and to the hearts of others! And let us look to Christ who sowed not only with tears in Gethsemane, but with his blood on the cross. His sowing has reaped salvation and redemption for us all! Truly, “those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!”

CONCLUSION

In addition to soap and ointment, laughter and tears are relational adhesives. Just think about it, those who you are closest with, are those who stick together through both the laughter and the tears of life. Katelyn and I have the firm adhesive of both tears and laughter holding us together. Many of you have friends and family who you’ve shared both joy and sorrow with. My word to you this morning is that throughout this coming holiday season, there is sure to be a mix of laughter and tears for all of you. There will be moments of celebration and moments of anticipation. So let the laughter resound and let the tears flow. They are the adhesive that will bring you nearer to those around you. They are the signs of blessing that God gives. They are the experience of God’s restoration for both now and all the days to come.

Amen.


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Hebrews 2:6-18

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Hebrews 2:6-18

Hebrews 2:6-18 (NRSV)

But someone has testified somewhere,

“What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
    or mortals, that you care for them?
You have made them for a little while lower than the angels;
    you have crowned them with glory and honor,
    subjecting all things under their feet.”

Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

10 It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11 For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, 12 saying,

“I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters,
    in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”

13 And again,

“I will put my trust in him.”

And again,

“Here am I and the children whom God has given me.”

14 Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. 16 For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

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Hebrews 1:1-4

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Hebrews 1:1-4

Hebrews 1:1-4 (NRSV)

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son,whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

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