Monday of Epiphany 4 – Prayer of the Day

Prayer of the Day

Almighty God, You know we live in the midst of so many dangers that in our frailty we cannot stand upright. Grant strength and protection to support us in all dangers and carry us through all temptation; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. 

 It went as badly as all of us expected, all of us, that is, except the man in question. He had been offered a new position and his co-workers and friends could see that this was not a good fit, he was not suited for the job, this was not going to succeed. But he did not heed our gentle and not-so-gentle warnings. Within six months he was out of work and in a tough spot.

We often have an enormous blind spot when it comes to seeing ourselves. I am susceptible to this too. Did you catch the little surprise in this prayer? We pray for support in danger, but that God would carry us through temptation. I think most of us, me included, would have reversed that prayer. We almost always imagine that we can resist a temptation but danger, the physical threat of death or the like, then we need God to carry us. We tend to think of God as a superman like character who swoops in and lifts us out of the bus about to explode. But the prayer reverses this because the author of this prayer is wise. He or she had a far more clear-eyed picture of me and you. Danger comes, we will need God’s support in days of danger. But temptation will overwhelm us and sweep us away unless he carries us.

It is a hard thing to admit limitations and frailty. Your enemy, the Devil, works on that blind spot you have, that false sense of your own capacity and ability. Pray this prayer with intent and the frank admission that you are indeed crippled and bent over by your frailty. You are in the middle of dangers which you may not even be aware of. Jesus is aware of them. He has run this human race with you. Count on Him to hear and answer this prayer.


Friday of Epiphany 3 – Matthew 4:12-25

Matthew 4:12-25

12 Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
    the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people dwelling in darkness
    have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
    on them a light has dawned.”

17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

1While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

23 And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. 24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.

I am still ashamed to say it, but we mocked this man when we were at the seminary. His questions in class were so simplistic. His Greek was not very good. His grasp of the complexities of life was rudimentary at best. We wondered what would happen to him when he left the seminary and hit the “real world” of parish service. Several years later I ran across one of his parishioners and then a little while later a colleague in ministry. They could not stop singing the praises of this pastor. He was a fisher of men. His parish thrived and grew under his care. He loved people and was constantly out among them, speaking of God’s love and forgiveness.

Jesus walked along the shores of Galilee and calls the most unlikely of men to be his disciples. If I would have selected someone to be my emissary, I might have selected someone who was well educated, schooled in the finer points of rhetoric and philosophy of the age, trained by rabbis and theologians. But I would have been wrong. Jesus saw into the hearts of these men and called them for reasons which are largely opaque to me and you.

This same miracle-working Jesus is in the calling business today. Perhaps he is calling you to some work in his kingdom. Do not imagine that your apparent weaknesses are a hindrance to Him. It is quite likely that the disciples whom he called that day were barely literate. We have a beautifully written letter from Peter, but at the end of that letter he admits that he leaned on his friend, Silvanus, in its composition (I Peter 5:12). The Lord gave Peter the friend who crafted the letter and put Peter’s inspired words into beautiful form. He brings His gifts to you too. Listen to His call.

But perhaps you need to reconsider the man or woman through whom God is serving you. They can often be a little rough around the edges or perhaps not quite what you expected. But God sees differently than you and I see. Pray and listen. It is true that scripture warns us against a naïve trust in those who claim to speak for the Lord. Wolves have been known to dress in sheep’s clothing. Yet, be aware, Christ calls some strange and unlikely people to His service.

Thursday of Epiphany 3 – I Corinthians 1:10-18

I Corinthians 1:10-18

1I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

1For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

In the spring of 1518, Martin Luther was summoned to the gathering of the Augustinian order of which he was a member. This was just a few months after the nailing of the 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. He had become something of a celebrity as a result of those theses. His brother monks wanted to know just what he was saying, so they made him the plenary speaker at their conference in Heidelberg.

Luther said almost nothing about indulgences in his lengthy presentation. Rather, he spoke about the theology of the cross. He said that there were two sorts of theologians, those of the cross and those of glory. But he did not mean God’s glory, he meant worldly glory. With Paul today, Luther asserted that the only real power to save was found in the cross, a folly to those who are perishing, but the power of God for all who are being saved.

Luther’s lengthy presentation would go on to say that the Christian who adheres the theology of the cross should expect to look like a failure. Jesus surely looked like a failure on that day when he died on Calvary’s bitter hill. And He has urged us to take up a cross and follow Him. Paul admitted that he did not have words of great eloquence like the orators of his day. Today we would say that his presentation was not as polished as Madison Avenue’s advertisements or Hollywood’s productions. He simply was a man who had run into Jesus one day on the road, and he was going to tell you about that day and that Jesus.

My guess is that you can name none of the famous orators of Paul’s life. In their day, they would have each been counted as successful and glorious. Paul, on the other hand, would have looked like a failure. He was hounded from town to town. His movement was frequently dealing with problems (look at the first part of this reading!) Finally, he was arrested and executed as a criminal. He was not rich. He commanded no army. Yet, his message continues to change people and lives around the world, including yours. The message of the cross is not emptied of its power.

Wednesday of Epiphany 3 – Psalm 27:1-9

Psalm 27:1-9

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
    of whom shall I be afraid?

When evildoers assail me
    to eat up my flesh,
my adversaries and foes,
    it is they who stumble and fall.

3 Though an army encamp against me,
    my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me,
    yet I will be confident.

4 One thing have I asked of the Lord,
    that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
    and to inquire in his temple.

For he will hide me in his shelter
    in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
    he will lift me high upon a rock.

6 And now my head shall be lifted up
    above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
    sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud;
    be gracious to me and answer me!
You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you,
    “Your face, Lord, do I seek.”
    Hide not your face from me.
Turn not your servant away in anger,
    O you who have been my help.
Cast me not off; forsake me not,
    O God of my salvation!

Irma was an every-Sunday sort of Christian. She had her favorite spot in the Bible study room and regularly sat right in front of the pulpit in Church, about half-way back in the large church where my father preached. She had a delightful and self-deprecating sense of humor. But she was relentless in her quest to know Jesus and listen to Him.

You would not think of her as a heroic figure. She was rather ridiculous at times, dying her hair red long into her retirement. But if you knew her and had listened to her stories of life, you might realize that she had faced her own version of “adversaries and foes.” Her long life had not been one of ease or of apparent victories. She knew loss, pain, and defeat. Yet, the Lord kept His promise to her. He heard her when she cried out, was gracious to her, and He answered her prayers. He did not hide His face from her or cast her off. He was and is the God of her salvation.

Irma is long since numbered among those who rest in Jesus. She is a treasured memory to me. I still laugh to remember her reaction to Solomon’s great harem in the book of Kings. She is far more than a memory to our Lord Jesus. She remains His daughter and friend, the object of his redeeming love. She sought His face, and He did not hide that face from her then or now.

Tuesday of Epiphany 3 – Isaiah 9:1-4

Isaiah 9:1-4

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation;
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
    as with joy at the harvest,
    as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
    and the staff for his shoulder,
    the rod of his oppressor,
    you have broken as on the day of Midian.

Zebulon and Naphtali are not names you run into much anymore. Zebulon Pike was an early explorer of the American west. There is a mountain named after him Colorado: Pike’s Peak. In the Bible, Zebulon and Naphtali were minor characters. They were lesser-known sons of Israel who fathered small tribes of their own, but tribes which occupied the extreme northern border of Israel. We do not hear very much about them. They have few famous sons. No David or Samuel or Jeremiah or even a Malachi or Micah from their midst. To our ears, they are little more than place names on a map.

By the time of Isaiah, they had been lost the enemies of Israel, distant places which were strange and held by enemies. Yet, God has not forgotten them. He has a way of remembering what we have forgotten. Zebulon and Naphtali had been allotted a portion of land in the days of Joshua near the sea of Galilee. In the days after the exile, when the remnant of Judah returned to the promised land, some of them took up residence in these long-deserted places. That is where Mary and Joseph lived along with their son Jesus.

Our Lord’s ministry, in fulfillment of this prophecy of Isaiah many years before His birth, started here. This is the place where the lame walked, the blind saw, and the lepers were cleansed. The bonds of satanic possession were broken and a light dawned upon this whole world. God has multiplied the nation. That’s you, probably, since the majority of Christians today are gentiles. Isaiah even saw you and wove you into this story.

The light of Christ shines every time a man or woman comes to believe. It shines when sins are forgiven and a child is given a cup of cold water in his name. Jesus continues to shine in congregations, schools, homeless shelters, and nursing homes. How is God increasing your joy today? How is He shining through to increase another person’s joy? Isaiah saw that too. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.

Monday of Epiphany 3 – Prayer of the Day

Prayer of the Day

Almighty and everlasting God, mercifully look on our infirmities and stretch forth the hand of Your majesty to heal and defend us; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Gina had been abusing drugs since she was 13. She had been through rehab centers 11 times. The world had pretty much given up on Gina. She had pretty much given up on herself. She really thought she was going to die from this. But one day she walked into an emergency room and admitted that she needed help. She had been living on the street for 4 years in London. She met a social worker that day who challenged her. She said she would fight for Gina, but Gina also needed to fight for Gina.

Gina and the social worker did. Today, Gina is in college and getting a degree. How exactly did God stretch out the hand of His majesty to heal her? It was not a lightning bolt from above. She credits the love her family and that social worker. It took a twelfth time in rehabilitation and a new cadre of friends. Gina thanks God today for them all.

God looks on all our infirmities and he answers this prayer with his healing. It will not come through what looks like a miracle, at least not while it is happening. Perhaps, like Gina, you will look back one day and see the fingerprints of God all over your past. But while you are living it, you will likely only see the mundane and everyday faces of people just like you, family, neighbors, and perhaps even a few who are less than friendly. Know that through them God is healing and defending you.

Friday of Epiphany 2 – John 1:29-42a

John 1:29-42a

2The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus.

She stood out from her classmates. Her luxurious black hair and liquid brown eyes set her apart from her predominantly blue-eyed and blond-haired classmates. Her name also stood out. Its unusual use of the letters j, m, and r meant many stumbled when they spoke her name. Her parents had come from India and raised their daughter in a culturally Indian home. From their days in India, they had heard that Christian schools were some of the best, so they enrolled their little girl in the local Lutheran parochial school.

Even though she stood out, she was also one little girl in a sea of very Teutonic faces. She could not be asked to represent all Indian culture, yet, how would this become her classroom too? Her teacher wondered how to do this. Soon a meeting took place with the parents. The teacher asked the most important question of all, “What are you looking for?” Later those Indian parents would say that this question was incredibly moving for them. Someone had seen their struggle to fit into a strange world and was asking what they wanted for their beloved little girl.

Did you hear Jesus ask that question of the men He found following Him one day? On multiple occasions you might see that Jesus responds to various people who have answered Jesus’ question here. A woman will say, “Give me this water,” in chapter 4. His response to her, challenging her life and calling her faith is the water of life she sought.  The people of Capernaum will say, “Give us this bread you speak of,” in chapter 6. His long discourse which follows was as Peter later confessed, “the words of eternal life.”

Jesus has not come to impose his solutions on you either. He really listens to your prayers and wants to hear what you want. He has been a little boy in a village. He has been surrounded by grownups and has gone to work for the first time. He has stood on a boat that rocked and he has yearned for the rain when it was hot and dry. He turns and looks at you today and asks, “What are you seeking?” He really wants you to answer that question and tell Him.  

Thursday of Epiphany 2 – I Corinthians 1:1-9

I Corinthians 1:1-9

Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes,

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

It all blew up in his face. He had hatched a plan to deal with this trouble-making preacher, this Saul of Tarsus who called himself Paul now. They would let the Romans do their dirty work. They would accuse him before the governor of the province and all they would have to do would be to sit back and watch the imperial machinery grind him up. The whole synagogue agreed to his plan and elected him leader of the congregation. They needed a new leader after their old one, Crispus, had abandoned them to follow Paul. That really hurt.

But on the big day, when they made their charges against Paul before Gallio the governor, it went horribly wrong. Gallio threw the case out and then expelled the whole delegation from the synagogue out into the street. Humiliated, the congregation turned on their newly elected synagogue rule and beat him up in front of the courthouse. The governor simply shook his head and did nothing.

When it was all done and he was lying bloodied, bruised, and in the dust of Corinth’s foul streets, a shadow fell over him and a familiar voice said, “Come on, Sosthenes, let’s get you out of here and get you cleaned up.” It was not any of his friends from the synagogue. No, it was far worse. His benefactor was Paul, the very man he had tried to kill a moment ago. Paul stood there, holding out his hand to him.

I imagined and made up the third paragraph, but the first two are true. You can read about these events in Acts 18:5-17. But I think the third paragraph happened, or something like it because we have the first verse of this reading in I Corinthians. Did you catch that last part of the verse. Paul says the letter is from two people. Himself and his brother, Sosthenes. He calls Sosthenes, the synagogue ruler who once tried to kill Paul, “our brother.” Paul wrote these words to a congregation in Corinth which was riven by conflict. Did he put his arm around the man who tried to kill him and call him a brother because Jesus can change everything? I think so. I think Paul wanted his Corinthian friends to know that Jesus is our peace (Eph. 2:14) and real reconciliation between enemies is possible (II Cor. 5:16-19). Does your parish know some conflict? Many do. Jesus offers you real peace in Him. It starts with humbly confessing your owns sins, as Paul did. It goes from there to a large-hearted forgiveness and love which is the very fabric of Christian fellowship.

Wednesday of Epiphany 2 – Psalm 40:1-11 

Psalm 40:1-11 

1 I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
    out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
    making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
    and put their trust in the Lord.

Blessed is the man who makes
    the Lord his trust,
who does not turn to the proud,
    to those who go astray after a lie!
You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
    your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
    none can compare with you!
I will proclaim and tell of them,
    yet they are more than can be told.

In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted,
    but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering
    you have not required.
Then I said, “Behold, I have come;
    in the scroll of the book it is written of me:
I delight to do your will, O my God;
    your law is within my heart.”

9 I have told the glad news of deliverance
    in the great congregation;
behold, I have not restrained my lips,
    as you know, O Lord.
10 I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart;
    I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
    from the great congregation.

11 As for you, O Lord, you will not restrain
    your mercy from me;
your steadfast love and your faithfulness will
    ever preserve me!

She always had a smile for me when I came to visit. Her body was twisted by her disease, she could not really walk any more. Her once expansive world was shrinking to the window from which she gazed, letters and emails received, and the phone calls of those who remembered her. But her world was growing at an amazing rate as well as she read her Bible, perhaps for the first time with this intensity. These words had taken on new meaning for her.

I think of her when I read these words. David speaks of waiting patiently for God to lift him up and set his feet on solid ground once more, to make his steps secure once more. She was looking forward to that blessing from God. He would not disappoint her. She would sing His praises in the assembly and her voice would quaver no more. She would speak of His faithfulness and salvation, standing on legs which were strong and steady. She would not proclaim His blessings to the congregation of all humanity who are raised on that great day. She would have a song to sing, and she anticipated it.

David says that God does not delight in sacrifice and offering; rather, he gives to David and us his open ear. He loves our prayers. He loved hearing her prayers as she sat in that room with her Bible open on her lap, yearning for God’s healing and health. She waited patiently and then God answered them all. Praise the Lord.

Tuesday of Epiphany 2 – Isaiah 49:1-7

Isaiah 49:1-7

Listen to me, O coastlands,
    and give attention, you peoples from afar.
The Lord called me from the womb,
    from the body of my mother he named my name.
He made my mouth like a sharp sword;
    in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow;
    in his quiver he hid me away.
And he said to me, “You are my servant,
    Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain;
    I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my right is with the Lord,
    and my recompense with my God.”

And now the Lord says,
    he who formed me from the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him;
    and that Israel might be gathered to him—
for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord,
    and my God has become my strength—
he says:
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
    to raise up the tribes of Jacob
    and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
    that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Thus says the Lord,
    the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One,
to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation,
    the servant of rulers:
“Kings shall see and arise;
    princes, and they shall prostrate themselves;
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
    the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

Keith walked through the empty rooms and wept. He had attended this parochial school when he was a child. He had served on the school board, the board of Elders, the church council, and most other opportunities to serve. He had painted walls, replaced broken door handles, fixed a few toilets, and even crawled up the ladder to string lights for the backdrop of the school play once. Now it was closing. Children would not laugh and learn in this place, at least not at the parochial school. Even the Sunday School which used it on weekends was getting small.

Keith felt like the prophet in verse 4 above. He felt like he had labored in vain and spent his strength for nothing. It was not true. The children who had learned in that place and under his leadership and service were blessed for their time in those classrooms. But it was also true that the school would not be open this fall.

Did you hear what God said to the prophet, and to Keith, and to you in this reading today? There are a lot of people in Christianity today who feel a little like Keith. They see churches with far too many pews for the folks who show up on Sunday. They remember when those seats were all full. And they feel like they have labored in vain. God invited the prophet and his discouraged people long ago to see God’s even larger mission. God declared it was a too small a thing for them to rescue the exiled people of old. The whole world would know the salvation of God and be bathed in His light.

While we may be engaged in the kingdom’s work when we serve a congregation and its ministries, the truth is that our ministry is not the whole kingdom of God. My friend Keith ended up being called to new service in God’s kingdom, work which involved that building, empty no more. Today far more lives are being touched by that ministry than the children whom the parochial school taught. God’s response to our discouragement is to expand the scope of our call and ministry. If you are grieving the loss of something. Be ready for God to open your eyes to something new that he will do through you.

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