It's been a couple of years since I posted regularly in this space. I am attempting to re-launch this blog as a way of engaging with others in Ripley County. It is my intent to share part of my sermon preparation with this blog by posting my first impressions (thoughts, connections, questions) in this space. I invite you to read the Bible passages for the upcoming Sunday, look over my first impressions, share your first impressions, and even challenge my first impressions.
I will format this and future "first thoughts" posts by posting each reading and sharing my first thoughts in italics underneath each reading. Remember that these are not complete thoughts but starting points to work from during the rest of the week.
NOTE: I will start writing other types of posts as well, especially as things happen around the world and around our community. It will be good to address how the Church can respond to what is happening around us and where we see the Lord in all of this. But we will start here, with a weekly posting of initial sermon preparation.
Isaiah 51:1 - 6
1Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness,
you that seek the Lord.
Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
and to the quarry from which you were dug.
2Look to Abraham your father
and to Sarah who bore you;
for he was but one when I called him,
but I blessed him and made him many.
3For the Lord will comfort Zion;
he will comfort all her waste places,
and will make her wilderness like Eden,
her desert like the garden of the Lord;
joy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the voice of song.
4Listen to me, my people,
and give heed to me, my nation;
for a teaching will go out from me,
and my justice for a light to the peoples.
5I will bring near my deliverance swiftly,
my salvation has gone out
and my arms will rule the peoples;
the coastlands wait for me,
and for my arm they hope.
6Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
and look at the earth beneath;
for the heavens will vanish like smoke,
the earth will wear out like a garment,
and those who live on it will die like gnats;
but my salvation will be forever,
and my deliverance will never be ended.
What is this rock from which we are hewn and this quarry from which we are dug that is referenced in Isaiah 51? The following verse references Abraham and Sarah with the same command, “look to”. We (the Israelites) are descendants of Abraham and inheritors of the promises given to him by the Lord. As the reading goes on, most people will read verse 6 and jump to an end-of-days mindset, but the passage is meant to be a hopeful vision for a people in exile (see verses 4 and 5).
1 I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with | my whole heart;
before the gods I will | sing your praise.
2 I will bow down toward your holy temple and praise your name, because of your steadfast | love and faithfulness;
for you have glorified your name and your word a- | bove all things.
3 When I called, you | answered me;
you increased my | strength within me.
4 All the rulers of the earth will praise | you, O Lord,
when they have heard the words | of your mouth. R
5 They will sing of the ways | of the Lord,
that great is the glory | of the Lord.
6 The Lord is high, yet cares | for the lowly,
perceiving the haughty | from afar.
7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you | keep me safe;
you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies; your right | hand shall save me.
8 You will make good your pur- | pose for me;
O Lord, your steadfast love endures forever; do not abandon the works | of your hands. R
Where Isaiah 51 offers the promise of deliverance from exile, Psalm 138 can be read as a response after the people are delivered from exile.
Romans 12:1 - 8
1I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
3For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
What does St. Paul mean by “the will of God” in Romans 12:2? We are transformed by the Holy Spirit with the goal of being made like Christ, a process that will not be completed until after the end of the age. In the meantime, a transformation of our minds/thoughts will help us see the world as the Lord sees it and help us discern what the Lord is doing in the world. The rest of the reading launches into a discussion of the different spiritual gifts that each of us possesses and that each gift is equally valuable to the Body of Christ and equally necessary for the Body of Christ; this discussion will continue into next week’s reading from Romans.
Matthew 16:13 - 20
13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
We are missing the rest of the story, and we will not get it until next Sunday. So what might we discuss in the meantime? The language of “the office of the keys” comes from this passage; starting with Peter, church leaders have had the office of the keys, i.e. the hearing of confessions and the binding and releasing of sin. We can focus on Peter, but that overlooks what Peter confesses and Jesus confirms: that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah, the Son of the living God! But there are contrasting visions of who Jesus should become as Messiah…but that is the rest of the story that we get next Sunday.