The Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 10, 2024

This account, the feeding of the five thousand, remains unique in that it is included in all four gospels.  Among the four, the Gospel of John has Jesus both giving thanks for the food and distributing the food to the five thousand (vs. 11).   Consider, here, the profligate abundance:  Not only did the people eat “as much as they wanted” (vs. 11), but when all had eaten their fill, the leftovers exceeded the initial amount—twelve baskets full vs. the initial five loaves and two fish (vs. 13).  Note this:  the leftovers were not cast aside but carefully gathered up so “that nothing may be lost” (vs. 12).  The Lord may provide in abundance… The Lord may even be profligate in that abundance… but the Lord does not leave things to waste.  The Lord wants nothing lost (vs. 12).  

Neither does the Lord want you to be lost.  You may consider your life to be an afterthought… a leftover… something fit only for the waste bin.  Your Lord, however, thinks differently.  Your Lord, having poured out his salvation, his grace, his life abundantly even profligately upon the world, ensures against the loss of any… against any person going to waste… by sending out his helpers to gather them up.  In the Lord’s calculus, everyone is worthy of being gathered in even those labeled leftovers.  The Lord sends his preachers to do this gathering.

The abundance of the Lord’s profligate bestowal of benefits exemplified by this important account of the feeding of five thousand, also exemplifies the selfish misuse by the people of their Lord’s abundance.  The people will use force upon their Lord, coercing him to be their king (vs. 15), and demanding a perpetual comfort from the Lord’s abundance.  Right here, this text from God’s Word delivers the Law—afflict the comfortable—and proclaims the Gospel—comfort the afflicted.  Those who would use force and coercion are afflicted while those who would be leftovers, fit only for the waste bin, are comforted.

Table Talk:  Discuss the importance of hearing Scripture as Law and Gospel.
Pray:  Heavenly Father place your word in my ears as Law and Gospel.  Amen

John 6:1-15

After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. 2 And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs 

that he was doing on the sick. 3 Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. 5 Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat? 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. 7 Philip answered him, Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little. 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many? 10 Jesus said, Have the people sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. 11 Jesus then 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 And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost. 13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!

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

The Third Sunday in Lent, March 3, 2024

No middle ground.  In Jesus’ ancient Mediterranean society, neutrality was not permitted.  One had to be for or to be against… with Jesus or against Jesus… either “gathering” or “scattering” (vs. 23).  Jesus has become suspect.  He does not speak and act as a carpenter’s son, a lowly profession at best.  He does not speak and act as a product of Nazareth, suspect city of origin.  Because he acts so out of context with his origins, he is accused of receiving power from Beelzebul (vs. 15).  Others demand a sign from him that would ratify his heavenly origins or authority (vs. 16).  Those who bring such accusations and demands against Jesus attempt to tag him with “deviant labeling.”  That is, Jesus’s words and actions run counter to his lowly origins and that means they deviate from the expectations of the cultural milieu.  Jesus, in his words and his actions, demonstrates he is not part of the “in-group.”  Instead, his counter-cultural message and his acts of authority prove that he does indeed “deviate” from the humility of his cultural origins.

Jesus pushes back against the deviant labeling with his rhetorical ripostes (vs. 17-26).  In response, a woman from the crowd speaks, perhaps echoing the sentiments of many, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed” (vs. 27).  Her words give voice to the support Jesus has among the many in the crowd who are not threatened by him but rather heartened by him in his words and his actions.  Jesus, while accepting the support displayed by the woman, presents a life that lies outside of the deviant labeling required for in-group/out-group distinctions.  Jesus speaks of a life given by the Word of God… a Word that comes from outside of oneself and is authoritative in itself without the need for any additional authority such as social status or the honor provided by exalted origins (vs. 28).

Table Talk:  Discuss “deviant labeling,” how it is used today, and how the Word of God delivers a life outside of such labels.
Pray:  Heavenly Father, hold me in your Word and give me its life.  Amen

Luke 11:14-28

14 Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. 15 But some of them said, He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, 16 while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven. 17 But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. 18 And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. 19 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 20 But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 21 When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; 22 but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. 23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

24 When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, I will return to my house from which I came. 25 And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26 Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.

27 As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed! 28 But he said, Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!

The Second Sunday in Lent, February 25, 2024

Now there’s a reason to believe!  Jesus rewards the greatness of the Canaanite woman’s faith with the fulfillment of her desire.  Surely, fulfillment of our desire provides more than sufficient motivation for us humans to grow our faith to greatness.  The reality, though, as the disciples had revealed to them when they prayed to the Lord, “Increase our faith…” their faith proved non-existent… not even as much as a mustard seed—the smallest of all seeds.  Jesus announces that even that tiniest amount of faith could uproot mulberry bushes and cast them in the sea (Lk. 17:5-6).  Having our faith, or lack thereof, revealed to us takes divine intervention.

Since the Fall in Eden’s Garden, our desires fail us.  That original sin has corrupted the affections of our hearts to the point that we can no longer know them let alone trust them.  Luther teaches this as he gives us the explanation to the Lord’s Prayer in his Small Catechism.  Luther understood that the Lord’s Prayer makes theologians of the cross out of us, especially the first three petitions which expose our bondage to our sinful self, the world, and the devil.  In the first petition, “Hallowed be thy name,” we pray against the “hallowing” or honoring or respecting of our name and for God to cause his name to be honored.  In the second petition, “Thy kingdom come,” we are praying against the elevation of all earthly kingdoms and institutions—even against the institution we know as church—so that God will bring in his kingdom, hidden, mysterious, and growing.  In the third petition, “Thy will be done,” we are praying against our wills which desire to have what we desire and call it God’s will rather than suffering God’s will to be done upon us.  Faith is not something for us to grow or increase.  The Holy Spirit gives faith, or it does not.  You have faith in its entirety… its wholeness… its greatness… or you do not.  This sharp distinction marks the divide between a faith you possess as a human virtue and the faith which possesses you as a gift from God.

Table Talk:  Discuss the humility of having your faith revealed to you.
Pray:  Heavenly Father grant me a faith that possesses me.  Amen

Matthew 15:21-28

21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon. 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, Send her away, for she is crying out after us. 24 He answered, I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, Lord, help me. 26 And he answered, It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs. 27 She said, Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table. 28 Then Jesus answered her, O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire. And her daughter was healed instantly…

Ash Wednesday, February 14, 2024

After reading through these twenty-one verses of Matthew, chapter six, one could wonder what Jesus has against piety and the demonstration of it?  He admonishes against the public practicing of righteousness (6:1).  He warns not to be as hypocrites in seeking the praise of others as you give alms to the needy (6:2).  Jesus cautions not to pray like the hypocrites (6:5).  Don’t display your fasting like hypocrites do, Jesus admonishes (6:16).  Jesus likens righteousness, almsgiving, prayer, and fasting to hypocrisy when done publicly.  All these, and the praise they receive, are “treasures on earth” (6:19).  Jesus speaks directly against them saying, “Do not lay up for yourselves” such things.  Jesus’ problem is not with piety but with the sinful affections of the heart.  These sinful affections reveal the pious as hypocrites because they seek not the good of the neighbor but rather praise for the doing of good.  The neighbor is treated as merely a means to an end (praise for the hypocrite) instead of being treated as an end in themselves.

Jesus positively provides something for us to do.  That is “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (6:20).  Many mistakenly attribute this “treasure” to the ledger of good deeds accumulated, recorded in the book of deeds (Rev. 20:12-15), and used to hold everyone accountable.  However, the Apostle Paul speaks of something better than deeds; Paul speaks of life… life as our treasure in heaven.  “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3).  Life, not deeds.  Deeds do not deliver you to this life hidden with Christ in God, but death does.  The Word of God accomplishes its alien work upon you by revealing to you the depths of sin, sin so deep the affections of your heart cannot be changed.  That old and sinful heart must die.  God’s Word of Law kills the sinner, putting that old heart to death.  Then the Word of God, the Gospel accomplishes its proper work by raising you up as a saint who has Jesus as its mortal life in the flesh and has its eternal life hidden away with Christ in God.  Death, not deeds, puts your name in the Book of Life (Rev. 20:12-15).  Dying to that pious hypocrisy Jesus warns against makes room for you with your new heart… your clean heart… Jesus’ heart… to walk among the good deeds God has prepared for you (Eph. 2:10). 

Table Talk:  Discuss the dangers of pious hypocrisy.
Pray:  Heavenly Father grant me to walk in God’s prepared deeds.  Amen

Matthew 6:(1-6) 16-21

(6:1 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.

2 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. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

5 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. 6 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.)

6:16 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.

19 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The First Sunday in Lent, February 18, 2024

We certainly shall live from the words that come from the mouth of God.  Those words are specifically Jesus Christ, who is the Word of God Incarnate.  As the Word of God, Jesus is our life… your life and my life.  While in the wilderness, Jesus faced the devil openly.  During the rest of his days, Jesus faced the devil, the tempter, less openly and through proxies such as the demons and unclean spirits.  As Jesus has the victory over the devil in these three temptations so too does Jesus have victory over the tempter—Satan and his lies.  

The great temptation facing Jesus was that of power.  God revealed to the Apostle Paul that God’s power was made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).  Satan tempted Jesus to use his power to come down from the cross, smite his foes, and save himself.  Jesus, however, endured the cross and its shame… becoming, not only a human weakling but also the weakest of gods.  In that weakness, God’s power was perfected and the victory over Satan won.

So now, you.  The strength of your willpower does not determine your success at resisting temptation… at resisting the lies of the devil… at refusing Satan’s blandishments.  Instead, your success is had in the victory of Jesus, his victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil.  You do not go out into the wilderness to do battle against the tempter’s power.  No!  You receive the victory of Jesus Christ handed over to you from the font, the pulpit, and the altar.  You take that victory out into your own personal wilderness, whatever circumstances the world has delivered you into.  The whole armor of God (Eph 6:10-20) girds you to stand fast… to stand fast in the victory Christ has already won!  Christ, and Christ alone, is the Word of God by which you live.  Just so, your preacher delivers you into the victory of Jesus Christ.  In that victory you already have righteousness and truth… indeed, all the armor.  Standfast and live!

Table Talk:  Explore the distinction between doing battle and enjoying Christ’s victory.
Pray:  Heavenly Father hold me fast in the victory of Jesus Christ that I might have life from the Word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.  Amen

Matthew 4:1-11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread. 4 But he answered, It is written,

Man shall not live by bread alone,

but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,

He will command his angels concerning you,

and

On their hands they will bear you up,

lest you strike your foot against a stone.

7 Jesus said to him, Again it is written, You shall not put the Lord your God to the test. 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me. 10 Then Jesus said to him, Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

You shall worship the Lord your God

and him only shall you serve.

11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him

Quinquagesima Sunday, February 11, 2024

Jesus’ friends and Jesus’ foes acknowledged that he had acquired a status far beyond that which could be ascribed to the circumstances of his birth.  Anytime you read of Jesus’ foes being afraid of arresting him because of the crowd, you are reading their acknowledgment of Jesus’ great honor, which was ascribed to him by the populace, earned by his conversational successes in confronting the religious leaders, and witnessed to by the seemingly miraculous deeds Jesus accomplished.  In these verses set before us, Jesus describes what must happen to him.  These events will happen, not only to fulfill scripture, but because his enemies must strip him of his honor, destroy his popularity, and shame him beyond redemption.  If this social degradation is not accomplished, Jesus’ enemies will have made a martyr of him, a slain hero of the people.

The twelve did not understand this.  Swept up in the heady adulation of Jesus and caught up in his immense popularity, they basked in his reflected glory and enjoyed the glow of being associated with him.  Jesus was so popular that it seemed as if the whole world had gone after him (Jn. 12:19).  Consequently, when Jesus presents them with the reality of what must take place in Jerusalem, they could not understand what he said (vs. 34).  What we now know as the cross and resurrection remained incomprehensible to them, hidden from their understanding.

The Apostle Paul preaches that those who are called according to God’s purpose are predestined to be conformed to the image of Jesus (Ro. 8:29).  Jesus himself cautions that to come after him is to bear a cross—that is, to receive our own social degradation ritual.  Yet, you can take heart (Jn. 16:33).  Jesus has had the victory over this sin, death, and the power of the devil because on the third day he was raised.  You, too, being joined to Jesus in a death like his, have also been joined to Jesus in a resurrection like his.

Table Talk:  Discuss social degradation rituals present today.
Pray:  Heavenly Father, conform me to Jesus in both death and life.  Amen

Luke 18:31-34

31 And taking the twelve, he said to them, See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. 33 And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise. 34 But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.

Sexagesima Sunday, February 4, 2024

“The seed is the Word of God” (vs. 11). Jesus presents to us the vulnerability of God’s Word:  it is trampled, devoured, withered, and choked out (vs. 5). Jesus, himself the Word of God, possessed this vulnerability: he was persecuted, convicted, condemned, scourged, and crucified. All these impositions upon the vulnerable Word of God come from its hearers who are listening also to a different word. Another voice is speaking into their ears. Satan, his minions, and his lies have claimed those hearers and bound them into thinking they do have a choice. They can hear God’s Word with obedience flowing spontaneously out of that hearing, or they can hear God’s Word and consider whether they will obey it. In the first instance, God’s Word is the active agent. In the second instance, the human will is the active agent.

For those who hear the Word of God and forth with are set free from their bondage to sin, death, and the power of the devil… these hearers are the good soil. These hearers are vulnerable to that Word of God. The Word of God is the active agent of their lives, not their own human will. They now have the heart of Jesus Christ; it is an honest and good heart (vs. 15). They can wait patiently for that Word—the Lord Jesus—to bear fruit. Good soil does not know that it is good soil. Good soil simply hears the Word and holds it fast. In other words, good soil “lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Dt. 8:3).

You… you who hear the Word of God need Satan, his minions, and his lies silenced. This silencing takes place when your preacher declares to you, “In the name of Jesus Christ, by his authority, and in his stead, I forgive you all your sin.” This absolution enthrones Jesus as Lord of your conscience and silences Satan and his ilk.

Table Talk: Discuss what it means to say that “Good soil does not know that it is good soil.

Pray: Heavenly Father, keep sending me a preacher with absolution on her lips that my bondage to sin would be broken. Amen

Luke 8:4-15

4 And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: 5 A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. 6 And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. 8 And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold. As he said these things, he called out, He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

9 And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, 10 he said, To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand. 11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. 14 And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.

Septuagesima Sunday, January 28, 2024

These workers presumed much, didn’t they?  They presumed, based on the wages paid to the last workers hired, that they would receive some multiple of what the last hired received.  Their presumption grew.  This inference instilled coveting.  By that coveting, they estimated that those increased wages were already their possession.  So, when the owner of the vineyard paid them a mere denarius, they felt robbed.  The vineyard owner had stolen from them what their covetous hearts had already considered as theirs.  No wonder they grumbled!

The savvy vineyard owner confronts their disgruntled and grumbling state.  Those grumblers have voiced the complaint, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat” (vs. 12).  Their suffering… their unequal burden… their labor and discipline far exceeded the last hired.  Surely, they should receive more.  That master of the household… the vineyard owner… punctures their inflated balloon of self-centered coveting, saying to them, “Take what belongs to you and go.”  Those workers had agreed to work the day for one denarius.  That is what they received regardless of how much more they had coveted.

How about you?   Has your labor in the Lord’s vineyard… perhaps over the course of years… perhaps over decades of devoted stewardship… perhaps with countless acts of self-denial… have these works given you a presumption of increased reward?  …of coveting more than mere salvation?  …of some reward greater than that of the newly baptized reprobate?  We of the church… you and I who have supported it… sweated over it… sacrificed for it… don’t you and I often react with selfishness when it comes to sharing or permitting the use of church facilities to those who have been outside the church for years and years?  Thanks be to God that he does not begrudge his generosity!

Table Talk:  Discuss the inequality of the reward of eternal life.
Pray:  Heavenly Father, keep me satisfied with what I have and content to receive what you give me.  Amen

Matthew 20:1-16

For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 and to them he said, You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you. 5 So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. 6 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, Why do you stand here idle all day? 7 They said to him, Because no one has hired us. He said to them, You go into the vineyard too. 8 And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first. 9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat. 13 But he replied to one of them, Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity? 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.

Transfiguration Sunday, January 21, 2024

Those terrified disciples assumed a posture of worship—that is, they “fell on their faces” (vs. 6). The brightness of the cloud that enveloped them… the disembodied voice speaking out of the cloud as if it, too, enveloped them… the divine recognition of Jesus—their rabbi—as the beloved Son of God… the divine imperative, “Listen to him…!” all combined to instill an overwhelming fear in the hearts of Peter, James, and John… a fear that drove them to commit an act of worship—that is, they “fell on their faces.”

Jesus changes all of that. The very first words he speaks after his Father in heaven has commanded, “Listen to him,” radically change the direction of worship. Because of Jesus, his coming in the flesh, and his coming down to be with us, we no longer prostrate ourselves in fear before an incomprehensible and terrifying divinity. Rather, the divinity has come to us in the person of his Son, Jesus… a son who speaks kindly and gently to his people, “Rise, and have no fear.” When Jesus fills our eyes, as the eyes of Peter, James, and John were filled (cf. vs. 8), then there is nothing that will separate us from the love of God which is ours in Christ Jesus (Ro. 8:39).

Perhaps we, as Christians, have lived with this so long that it ceases to be remarkable to us. The religions of the world (even Christianity is numbered among them) worship their god(s) out of fear and trembling or manipulation and greed. Without faith to see in Jesus Christ the radical reorientation of worship, Christian worship remains rooted in fear. But, when faith grasps hold of Christ’s command, “Have no fear,” then worship becomes that mighty arena in which our good God—the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ—hands out the gifts of Christ—the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation—through Word and Sacrament.

Table Talk: Discuss the radical reorientation of worship in Jesus Christ.
Pray: Heavenly Father, lift up my fearful face which I hide from your sight and let my eyes see Jesus and Jesus only. Amen

Matthew 17:1-9

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. 3 And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 And Peter said to Jesus, Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah. 5 He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him. 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, Rise, and have no fear. 8 And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

9 And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.

The Second Sunday after Epiphany, January 14, 2024

The gospel of John bookends Jesus’ story with signs, here in the second chapter and again at the end of the twentieth chapter. Well, maybe not quite bookends, for there is still the twenty-first chapter. What John does is that he encloses nineteen chapters of his gospel within a pair of signs… a pair of signs which result in a definite outcome: faith. Here in the second chapter after the miracle of water to wine at the wedding feast, John tells us, “And his disciples believed in him” (vs. 11). Toward the conclusion of chapter twenty, John tells us of the resurrected Jesus’ encounter with his disciple Thomas for the first time after the crucifixion. In that encounter, all the doubts held by Thomas as to the identity of his risen Lord were relieved when Jesus addressed him and invited him to touch the reality of his wounded hands, feet, and side. Confronted by these signs of death and resurrection, Thomas confessed belief.

But then, Jesus speaks a curious turn of phrase. Rather than applaud Thomas for his coming to faith and worshipping him, Jesus poses a question and then a beatitude to Thomas. The question asks, “Have you believed because you have seen me?” (Jn. 20:29). The beatitude simply states, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn. 20:29).

Evidently, Jesus is not a fan of signs. He emphasizes hearing over seeing. When confronting the religious leaders of his day, Jesus responded to their demand for a sign from him by saying, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah” (Mt. 12:39). Jesus delivers the sign of Jonah in his death and resurrection where he was three days in the tomb as Jonah was three days in the belly of the whale. To us who persist as an evil and adulterous generation, we may covet signs of divine manifestation but what we get is the risen Word of God, Jesus Christ.

Table Talk: Discuss the tension between visible signs and the audible word.
Pray: Father, place your Word, Jesus, in my ears. Amen

John 2:1-11

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, They have no wine. 4 And Jesus said to her, Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come. 5 His mother said to the servants, Do whatever he tells you.

6 Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, Fill the jars with water. And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And he said to them, Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast. So they took it. 9 When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now. 11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

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