Saturday, February 15, 2020

Transfiguration of Our Lord
February 23, 2020
Embracing Mystery

St. Matthew 17:1-9

The Transfiguration

17 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I[a] will make three dwellings[b] here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved;[c] with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”


  1. Matthew 17:4 Other ancient authorities read we
  2. Matthew 17:4 Or tents
  3. Matthew 17:5 Or my beloved Son

Embracing Mystery

Remember your Confirmation Class when the pastor or priest came in to teach the class?  Maybe you or others in the class would raise questions.

The Lutheran take on the sacrament of Holy Communion is pretty strange.  Is the sacrament bread and wine?  Yes!  Is it the body and blood of Christ, too?  Yes.  It is both – and you may recall the heavy use of prepositions to get at what is going on – ‘in, with, and under the bread and the wine is the body and blood of Christ.’ 

Who can explain that?  It is what Lutherans call a paradox – holding two things that seem not to go together – together.  Yet, how satisfying is that explanation? 

I remember my pastor somewhat exhausted from our questions finally telling us ‘It is a mystery, we cannot explain a mystery.’

That seemed to me to put an end to the discussion – as though when something in religion is a mystery you are to accept it without question.

I was wrong – saying something is a mystery does not stop our questions but invites more questions…everyone likes a good mystery…mystery novels keep us glued to the page…a good mystery movie draws us into an “Aha!” experience.  Mysteries are not always solved but keep us on edge and going deeper.

I was wrong.  And the pastor was not necessarily trying to close off questions.  When something is a mystery it does not mean we stop questioning – but it means that our questions, though unanswered will take us deeper into the mystery.

All three Scripture readings attest to a mystery.  Moses goes up to the mountain and encounters God in a cloud of mystery – we can only speculate what happened to him during those 40 days.  Later on we are told that his face shined like the sun when he arrived back at the camp with the Law.

Matthew and Peter both give witness to the mystery of Christ transfigured before the three disciples – Peter, James, and John.  Elijah and Moses appear with Jesus and a bright cloud overshadows them.  In fear we revert to what we know.  So, Peter, out of fear clings to the tradition of making a place – a Tabernacle for the sacred, domesticating what he cannot grasp.

Then a voice from heaven is heard by the three disciples:  “This is my Son, the Beloved; with whom I am well pleased; listen to him!”  The three disciples fall to the ground and as quickly as the vision came it disappeared – you know how it is trying to remember your dreams.  If you do not write them down right away they often evaporate.

Then Jesus is there alone – touching them and telling them:  “Get up and do not be afraid.”  It is a common assurance whenever the Divine appears in Scripture – the greeting is often:  ‘Do not be afraid.’

Then Jesus gives explicit instructions that they are to remember the vision but tell no one until after the cross and resurrection.

The story of the Transfiguration is strange.  If it was not in Scripture and another prophet was being transformed we’d have even more questions.  But mystics and mystery are not to be explained but rather experienced and the telling of this experience can shed some light on how we make it through our lives.

So this story invites questions in order to lead to a deeper relationship with the Divine.

The disciples did not get it – this experience threw them off – it is only in looking back that it deepened their faith and relationship with God.

Yet this moment – a resurrection moment - was meant to shed light on every other moment and transform the disciples.

It was Yogi Berra who said some nonsensical things that left one saying:  ‘Huh!”  Like ‘when you come to a fork in the road – take it!’ 

Yes, that is funny and seems not to make sense – but to the mystic and poet it could mean going down both roads at the same time or taking a path down the middle – between the two.  Or it suggests just doing the ‘out of the ordinary’ and seeing life from an altogether different perspective.

That is what Epiphany and this Transfiguration story is about – taking us down a different path so that we might see life from an altogether different perspective.

Context is so important.  Just before this Transfiguration account, Matthew tells us that Jesus explicitly reveals to the disciples that he is going to Jerusalem to be killed and on the third day be raised. 

Peter takes Jesus aside and chides him, saying:  “God, forbid it, Lord.  This must never happen to you.”

Jesus turns to Peter and says, “Get behind me, Satan!  You are a stumbling block to me; for your are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

This incident sets the stage for the Transfiguration.  The Transfiguration begins to set their minds on divine things so that they may see human things in a divine light.

This moment –the Transfiguration, along with the resurrection wrote the Gospels.  The Gospels are all written from the perspective of the open tomb. 

This moment – really a resurrection moment – sheds light on all our moments and opens them up to change – growth – meaning.  The disciples never looked at Jesus in the same way – their witness to the cross is given through the lens of the transfiguration and open tomb.

There is truth in the cliché and that ‘the darkest hour is just before the dawn.’  The mystics know it and have shared their witness to that insight.

“Blessed are the weird people, poets, misfits, writers, mystics, painters, musicians, troubadours, for they teach us to see the world through different eyes.” Jacob Norby

A conversation overheard:

“How do you do it – make it given the circumstances?”  The circumstances were the failing health of a loved one.

“By the grace of God,” he said.  It was a sincere heartfelt response. 

‘By the grace of God’ is not an answer – but a way of living.  It does not answer the question of why or undo the difficult circumstances we may find ourselves in. 

But living ‘by the grace of God’ shines the light of the transfiguration into our darkness. 

It means we trust – not knowing – we trust that God’s divine grace will have the last word…that the darkest hour is before the dawn…but the dawn is coming.

In his book A Year to Live – Steven Levine tells of his experience with hospice patients. 

“His daily encounters with those who had been given a terminal diagnosis often revealed people with transformed lives.  Their perspective on life changed, their priorities were reordered, and many of the circumstances and choices that had crippled them before their diagnosis evaporated into new life. 

[Out of that experience Levine tried an experiment.]  He set a date for his own death and lived as though he would die on that day.  His book, A Year to Live, records his radical experiment to get a glimpse of that transformation himself.  In so doing, he gave himself permission to address his unfinished business and enter into a new vibrant relationship to life.  He gained a new appreciation to live each moment mindfully.”

[Source: Living the Questions the Wisdom of Progressive Christianity – David M. Felten and Jeff Procter-Murphy, page 124]

The Divine Light of the risen Christ shines in the darkness of our circumstances – opening us up to trust God and live each moment mindful of God’s grace, knowing that God will not abandon us.


Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
February 16, 2020
Places in the Heart

St. Matthew 5:21-37

Happy [belated] Valentine’s Day – hope you did not forget to share a gift or card with your spouse, friends, or significant others.  The Gospel reading for today goes straight to the heart.

The Gospel continues with Jesus’ teachings from the Sermon on the Mount.  Matthew is portraying Jesus as the new Moses – bringing insight into the Torah – the Law of God’s people.  Two Sundays ago we heard the Beatitudes – Jesus declaring those who God blesses and values – the poor in spirit, the meek, and the peacemakers, those persecuted for righteousness sake.  Last Sunday Jesus declared:  You are the salt of the earth.  You are the light of the world.

And now the Sermon on the Mount continues with a series of teachings that interpret the Law:  “You have heard it was said…” – “but I say to you…”

In interpreting the Law – Jesus is taking us to places in the heart.  Like the prophets before him, Jesus challenges the way of the Pharisees and those who insist on legalism and ritual observance as the best response to God.  Jesus challenges the way of those who observe the letter of the Law, but miss the spirit of the Law.  In other words – Jesus challenges outward observance of the Law as opposed to a change of heart.

Peter Woods – a Pastoral Therapist, Writer, and Conflict Mediator tells the story of a colleague who posted his distress over losing a member and friend from his congregation.  The member had gone off to a right wing fundamentalist church.  The friend shared:  “I work hard all week, and when I come to church, I really don’t want to think.  In my church that just tell me what to do.”

That is human nature – there is a place in each of our hearts that simply wants to be told what to do.  That is a path that leads to spiritual diminishment.  I never grow up if I never have to figure out the rules and apply them to my own life. 

If our faith is all about observing external rules – than our hearts can remain untouched and we can either pat ourselves on the back for obeying a rule, or we can feel the pangs of guilt when we don’t live up to the rule.

Then the Confession and Absolution in our worship become nothing more than a giant eraser erasing our sins from the black board for yet another week.  But by next week the board will be full and another time for erasing sins will be necessary.

God’s grace is not some giant eraser that wipes out my sins off my personal blackboard each week.  The Christian faith is not about external observance of laws but about places in the heart. 

Wearing a clerical collar can be dangerous.  So often people of the clergy are seen as moral experts – “Is this wrong?” or “Is this right?” is not only asked by parishioners but by strangers who see the clergy as moral experts.  Outer observance of rules has all too often become the mark of Christianity.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus takes a different path.  Jesus takes the path to places in the heart.  Walking the path to places in the heart is nothing new for this Jewish Rabbi named Jesus.  He is taking a cue from such prophets as Jeremiah who proclaims:

The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt — a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the LORD," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.  Jeremiah 31:31-34

Follow along in the Gospel reading today and you will see the places in the heart that Jesus invites us to visit.

§  Visit the place of anger and have a change of heart that is open to forgiving and extending the hand of peace. 
§  Visit the places in which we turn people into objects of love rather than loving them as persons – whether it be adultery or divorce. 
§  Visit the place of contention and have a heart check-up that leads to open and honest dialog.

This will not be a pleasant visit for it calls us to look at the dark places in the heart and turn them over to God – crying to God to change our hearts of stone and give us hearts for love alone.  That is called repentance and turning toward God.

There in those dark places in the heart we will hear God’s word of forgiveness, love, and acceptance.  God does not abandon us but heals and restores us – when we face our brokenness God’s unconditional acceptance makes us new – giving us hearts for love alone.

Biblical scholar, theologian and activist Walter Wink tells this story:

Two peacemakers visited a group of Polish Christians 10 years after the end of World War II.  “Would you be willing to meet with other Christians from West Germany?’ the peacemaker asked.  “They want to ask for forgiveness for what Germany did to Poland during the war and to begin to build a new relationship.”

At first there was silence.  The one Pole spoke up.  “What you are asking is impossible.  Each stone of Warsaw is soaked in Polish blood!  We cannot forgive!”

Before the group parted, however, they said the Lord’s Prayer together.  When they reached the words “forgive us our sins as we forgive…,” everyone stopped praying.  Tension swelled in the room.  The Pole who had spoken most vehemently said, “I must say yes to you.  I could no more pray the ‘Our Father,’ I could no longer call myself a Christian, if I refuse to forgive.  Humanly speaking, I cannot do it, but God will give us the strength!”  Eighteen months later the Polish and West German Christians met together in Vienna, establishing friendship that continues to this day.

[Source:  What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey, p. 123]

Jesus invites us to go inside to places in the heart.  In the cave of the heart we can hear again that we are indeed God’s beloved children. 

Secured in love we are empowered by God’s unconditional acceptance to heal broken relationships – and when humanly speaking we cannot do it – we ask God for the strength.


Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Epiphany V - A
February 9, 2020

Be Who You Are!
Saint Matthew 5:13-20

“You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world.”  Saint Matthew 5:13a, 14a

Salt has been in health news lately.  Those of us over 51 are to take in less salt.  The food industry is being chastised for over use of salt.  For centuries salt has been known as a preservative and essential for life.  We are being told to moderate our use of this essential element and not eliminate it.

Light – “Seasonal Affective Disorder” [SAD] refers to episodes of depression that occur every year during the fall or winter.  Symptoms improve during the spring and summer.  Light is not only essential to life but even our emotional state is affected by light.

This morning Jesus tells us:  “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world.”  Notice he does not say become salt or strive to be light but he tells us that we are salt and we are light.

I am going to ask you to think a little bit differently about Jesus this morning.  We have to get beyond a piety that only hears these expressions of Jesus as a very somber and serious teacher.  Jesus uses humor.  Christ uses exaggeration and sarcasm and images in his teachings.  Here Jesus is speaking in images and metaphors and is actually being rather sarcastic:

“Hey, folks – if you are salt then be salt – don’t be a tasteless bland spice in the world.  You are light – how silly it would be to put a light under a basket – that is nonsense.  No, if you are light than be like a city on a hill – light up the world!”

The images of salt and light are dripping with meaning.  When Jesus used the image of ‘salt’ in the first century the people listening knew the multiple uses for salt in their day:
·         To strengthen flavor and preserve food
·         Rub on newborn infants to protect them
·         Used to seal covenants
·         Sprinkled on sacrifices
·         Used to heal and purify
·         Was a metaphor for ‘wisdom.’

In our day we’ve come to know that salt is an essential ingredient for life.  It preserves as well as gives flavor and zest to life.  It melts snow, keeps our bodies balanced, our oceans clean and alive.  Too much salt can be harmful and can make a fertile field barren.  Salt has both life giving properties and properties that can destroy life, too!

The prophets were sometimes called salty prophets – people who were outspoken for justice and peace

So Christ is saying – “You don’t have to become salt – but be what I’ve made you – the salt of the earth.”

Light, too is life giving!  Without light we die. But too much light can also bring cancer and unprotected eyes dare not stare into the sun.  Light has the property of giving life and destroying life.  During the Season of Epiphany we talk about light and the darkness being overcome.  But God has also balanced our lives and given us the darkness for rest.

Light is a symbol of hope.  Several weeks ago Matthew (4:6) quoted Isaiah:  “the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9:2a).  Those who feel lost, or in despair, or confused, those who have no idea which way to turn – on them light has dawned.  The ministry of Christ brought hope.  His teachings brought wisdom.  His miracles brought healing. 

The words of Christ also brought judgment – his light exposed hypocrisy and injustice.  Christ rubbed salt in the wounds of those who brought oppression.  The light of Christ exposed the lies and the powers that cause people pain.  Christ taught and lived a radical love that both preserves and perseveres. 

God has named us and claimed us and told us that we are ‘salt’ and ‘light.’ As a community of faith are we still salty or have we lost our saltiness?  Have we let apathy set in, despair, and fear?

Are we at Gloria Dei claiming who we are – light to the world?  Or have we dismissed God’s claim upon us and put our light under a bushel?

You are beloved of God.  You are named and claimed by God.  That is a gift.  That is a given in our lives as God’s people.  We don’t have to spend time earning our salvation or fretting over whether we are saved or not.  God loves you!  God loves me!    Until we receive that love which comes by sheer grace we will spend the rest of our lives in futile efforts of trying to please God!

We will be enslaved to all sorts of things that we think will make us pleasing to God.  That game is over.  God does not play those kinds of games.  You are free – set free in Christ – set free to be salt and light – to be what God made you to be!!!

Are we salty Christians – spicing things up and stirring up our world or have we turned bland and indifferent?

Are we shedding light or just giving off heat? 

The church is way too shy, way too bashful.  God has made us to be much spicier.  God has made us to be light in a dark and gloomy world.  

We are salt! We are light!  How does that play out in our everyday lives?

Audacity in prayer is certainly what it means to be salt and light.  Maybe we are just too shy in our prayer life and don’t ask God for what we need!

One of our parishioners gave me this story from a pamphlet put out by the Brethren Revival Fellowship of the Church of the Brethren.  A story that speaks of audacity in our prayer life:

Shortly after the Dallas Theological Seminary began in 1924, they found themselves in financial straits.  Facing bankruptcy, the creditors threatened to close the school.  On the morning of the foreclosure, Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer, President of the seminary, assembled the founder in his office and there fervently asked God to deliver the school from its financial distress.

One of the men in attendance that morning was Dr. Harry Ironside.  He had a reputation for salty and direct prayers.  He did not mince words with God.  So Dr. Ironside prayed:

“Lord, we know you own the cattle on a thousand hills.  Please sell some of them and send us the money.  Amen.”

In a short time a man entered the business office.

“I just sold two carloads of cattle and have spent the whole morning trying to make a business deal go through,” he said.  It is just not working out, and I feel the Lord is compelling me to give this money I was going to spend on the business deal to the seminary instead.  I don’t know if you need it or not, but here is the check.”

The man left as abruptly as he had come.

The secretary took the check to the board room and knocked gently on the door for she knew that the board members were praying for the future of the seminary.  When Dr. Chafer opened the door she told him, “I think you should see this, sir!” 

Dr. Chafer held up the check and couldn’t believe his eyes.  Ironically it was the exact amount the seminary needed.  He exclaimed to Dr. Ironside who had prayed:  “Harry, God sold the cattle!”

Prayer is not magic – nor is it meant to get us off the hook of our own generosity.  But the point is that as salt and light we just might want to be more audacious in our prayers – asking God to give us generous hearts and the will to be faithful to our mission!

Being the Church – God’s people – being ‘salt’ and ‘light’ is not glamorous work.  It is the hard work of details, sweat, persistence and vision.  Presbyterian preacher and writer, Lisa Nichols Hickman, tell a brief story that help make the point:

There is an old story of three guys laying bricks.  When asked why they are doing it, the first says, “I’m doing it for the wages.”  The second brick layer replies, “I’m doing it for my family.”  The third says, “I’m building a cathedral.”

Our fortifying, our bearing out, is about building up that cathedral in the world so the sanctuary itself is not the only sanctuary.  God has a vision bigger than the walls of our churches, a vision that means laying bricks through the world.  It is hard work, often unnoticed and unappreciated, but a beautiful cathedral will be the result.”

We face a major challenge as a church and rearranging our assets is not going to meet the challenge. Even before the economy turn toward a near collapse, the church – especially mainline churches - have been challenged for some time.  Thomas Long – preacher and writer shares this insight:

“The church, for all its vision, is overpowered, outnumbered, and often overlooked.  The challenge is indeed formidable for a small group trying with mixed results to live out an alternative life, set down in the midst of a teeming, fast-changing culture that neither appreciates nor understands them…The hardest part is not being a Christian for a day, but being faithful day after day, maintaining confidence in what, for all the world, appears to be a losing cause.”

No matter what – God has claimed us.  God has re-created us in Christ as salt and light.  No matter what the culture says or the obstacles that face us -- God is faithful.  God empowers us to be what God made us to be.

God’s call to us is not to be about institutional survival, but is something of much greater significance.  What we do in the world really counts.

As a community of faith – as a city on a hill the people around us will see and sense more – more hope and the possibility of a different world.  That different world is marked by simple truth-telling, unheard of forgiveness, and outrageous generosity.

We are called to be out there – not shy pew bound parishioners intimidated by the challenges before us.  The message of the Gospel is not some secret we whisper in low tones.  Jesus tells us who we are right from the beginning, or as Eugene Peterson translates: 

“We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill…Now that I have put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand –shine!  Keep open house; be generous with your lives.” (The Message)

As we strive to live faithfully in the world, we may be small, but we are mighty, not because of our own strength but because of God’s own grace, which will never leave us on our own.


Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Epiphany IV - A
February 2, 2020

Matthew 5:1-12 – NRSV

The Beatitudes

5 When Jesus[a] saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely[b] on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.


Matthew 5:11 Other ancient authorities lack falsely


What if there are no sides?
No God in the skies?
And all that you’ve been told
has yet to unfold?

What if the poor in spirit
garner divine merit?

What if mourning and grief
turn to dancing and relief?

What if the powerful have no say
and the meek bring on a new day?

What if hunger and thirst are gone
with food and drink now for all?

What if grace and mercy
help us all to see?

What if those pure in heart
teach to us a new kind of art?

Now peacemakers are named
by divine decree acclaimed.

What is learned
must be unlearned
if we are all to discern
the nearness of God’s Kingdom.

Copyright 2020 @A Poem a Sunday
May be used with permission.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Epiphany III - A 
January 26, 2020

Isaiah 9:1-4
9:1 But there will be no gloom for those who were 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 will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

9:2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined.

9:3 You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.

9:4 For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.

 Carrie Newcomer

Draw a circle of love, draw a circle of light,
There are songs on the air like birds in flight.
Said the finger to the moon and the moon to the door,
"There's a light shining from the farthest shore."

Shining, shining down,
Shining, all around
Rising, up from the ground
Shining, Shining all around.

There is meaning in the music, there is reason in the song
There is hope you we dare to sing along.
Said the sparrow to the water and the water to the wind
"We're made of light and have always been."

Shining, shining down,
Shining, all around
Rising, up from the ground
Shining, Shining all around.

He threw a line in the water where the water was deep,
Where the spirits move and the spirits sleep,
He saw it for a moment and the moment did glow,
He held it in his hands and then he let go.

Shining, shining down,
Shining, all around
Rising, up from the ground
Shining, Shining all around.

It is more than luck more than chance or fate,
When the lines of our lives are not clear or straight,
It was there all the time if I'd seen the signs,
But usually it's clearer when we look behind.

Shining, shining down,
Shining, all around
Rising, up from the ground
Shining, Shining all around.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Sunday, January 26, 2020
Third Sunday after Epiphany
Texts and Themes


Jesus begins his public ministry by calling fishers to leave their nets and follow him. In Jesus the kingdom of God has come near. We who have walked in darkness have seen a great light. We see this light most profoundly in the cross—as God suffers with us and all who are oppressed by sickness, sin, or evil. Light dawns for us as we gather around the word, the font, and the holy table. We are then sent to share the good news that others may be "caught" in the net of God's grace and mercy.

A New Way to Follow
Nations wage war, gangs battle each other, families quarrel, communities of faith divide. We hear others say and even hear ourselves saying, "There is no other way."

In Jesus, the light of Gods kingdom draws near and a new way shines for us to follow.

In today's gospel, Jesus first withdraws (Matt. 4:12). The word anachoreo (to withdraw) is used ten times in Matthew's gospel—each time as Jesus' response to violence or conflict. John the Baptist has been arrested, and tension is beginning to build. The way of God and the way of the world's rulers are beginning to collide.

In Jesus, a new kingdom has drawn near, a kingdom of nonviolence and non-retaliation. Jesus' withdrawal is not simply passivity but points to a vision of an alternate way of reigning as king. Jesus rules not with violence, abusive power, or through division but through voluntarily emptying himself of power, identifying with the oppressed and burdened, and healing that which is broken. Into this new reign, Jesus calls the disciples to follow him, a way that appears foolish and weak to those who cannot discern it. To those God calls, it is the wisdom and strength, the light and power of God.

To follow in the way of Jesus places one's life at risk, for it eventually leads to the cross. To follow, though, implies someone is leading. The way God calls us to follow has already been filled with the loving kindness and mercy of Jesus who has gone before us and who leads us to the foot of the cross. There, in the shadow of the cross, God makes a way for unity in the midst of division, for healing in the midst of brokenness, for peace in the midst of violence, for forgiveness in the midst of betrayal. Around the table, the kingdom of God draws near; Jesus' broken body announces forgiveness, healing, peace, and unity. Many bodies are nourished and formed into the one body of Christ, called and sent to follow in the way of Jesus, to be broken and shed for the sake of the world.

Prayer of the Day

Lord God,
your lovingkindness always goes before us and follows after us.
Summon us into your light,
and direct our steps in the ways of goodness
that come through the cross of your Son,
Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

First Reading: Isaiah 9:1–4

The northern tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali experienced defeat, but they are assured that their condition will be reversed when God makes a light-filled appearance. The joy they will experience will resemble celebrations of great harvests, because God will deliver them from everything that diminishes or oppresses them. The people in the northern parts of Israel have experienced "gloom" and "darkness" because of the destruction wrought by Assyrian military forces. To these people, the prophet announces the shining of a great light of salvation.

But there will be no gloom for those who were 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 will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
             2The people who walked in darkness
            have seen a great light;
            those who lived in a land of deep darkness —
            on them light has shined.
  3You have multiplied the nation,
            you have increased its joy;
            they rejoice before you
            as with joy at the harvest,
            as people exult when dividing plunder.
  4For the yoke of their burden,
            and the bar across their shoulders,
            the rod of their oppressor,
            you have broken as on the day of Midian.\

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:10–18

Paul calls on the Corinthians to end their dissensions and share the unified outlook of the gospel. Discord arises when we forget that we belong not to human leaders or institutions but to Christ who was crucified for us. Indeed, the unifying word of the cross of Christ is the center of the gospel and the power of God's salvation.

10Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.  11For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.  12What I mean is that each of you says, "I belong to Paul," or "I belong to Apollos," or "I belong to Cephas," or "I belong to Christ."  13Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?  14I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius,  15so that no one can 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.)  17For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.
             18For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Gospel: Matthew 4:12–23

Jesus begins his public ministry shortly after John the Baptist is imprisoned by Herod. He proclaims the nearness of God's reign and calls four fishermen to be his first disciples.

12Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.  13He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali,  14so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
             15"Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
            on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles —
  16the people who sat in darkness
            have seen a great light,
            and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
            light has dawned."
  17From that time Jesus began to proclaim, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."
             18As he walked 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.  19And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people."  20Immediately they left their nets and followed him.  21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them.  22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
             23Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

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