Thursday, December 14, 2006

First Quarter, 2007 Bible Lessons and Themes

[This is an adaptation of a document I prepared for the Worship Committee at Friendship Lutheran Church, the congregation I serve as pastor. Its purpose is to give members of the committee a quick background on the lessons and themes used on the Sundays of the first three months in 2007. With this information, they'll select the music we'll sing in worship. I also included some musical recommendations, but haven't included them here. I thought this document might be useful to worship committees and pastors in other congregations, since like most Christians in the world, Friendship uses a variation on the lectionary system discussed here.

[Note: Only the lessons on which the message and worship liturgies will be based are mentioned in this little document. For a complete listing of all the Bible lessons appointed for the 2006-2007 liturgical year, go here.]

First Quarter Lessons and Themes, 2007
[The Epiphany Season begins after Epiphany Day, January 6. Epiphany Day remembers the arrival of the magicians or wise men--how many there were we don’t know--who brought their gifts of frankincense, gold, and myrrh to the Christ child, some months after Jesus’ birth.

[The word, Epiphany, is a transliteration of the Greek word epiphaneo, meaning “I shine upon.” The season takes lessons from the early points when the Deity of Jesus, the light of the world, was seen.

[Broadly speaking, the Sundays after Epiphany, have been a period during which evangelism, telling the Good News made visible in Jesus, is emphasized...

[There are seven Sundays in the Epiphany season.

[Theme for Epiphany Season: The “E” Word (Evangelism). A central focus of my preaching will be to give practical tools on how to witness...]

January 7, The Baptism of Our Lord
Bible Lesson: Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
Theme/s: Our Unique Hope
Comments: People were looking for someone like John the Baptist to be the Messiah. Instead, it was Jesus. In spite of the many ways in which we strive to make Jesus over in our own preferred images, He stubbornly remains “the God of grace and God of glory” needed by the whole world.

January 14, Second Sunday after the Epiphay
Bible Lesson: John 2:1-12
Theme/s: Jesus comes into our lives, calls us to take Him into our lives
Comments: The wedding at Cana was the first sign of Jesus’ deity. “Water into wine” also implicitly introduces us to Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, the first sacrament being our induction into Christian life and the second being a means of grace by which Christ gives us the power to continue in that life. Jesus showed His deity in everyday life, just as we’re called to share Him in everyday life.

January 21, Third Sunday after the Epiphany
Bible Lesson: Luke 4:14-21
Theme/s: We evangelize when we stick up for the poor and forgotten
Comments: Part of proclaiming the Gospel is being an advocate for the world’s poor and forgotten.

January 28, Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
Bible Lesson: Luke 4:21-30
Theme/s: Jesus is for all people
Comments: This lesson continues the incident in Nazareth recounted in the previous week’s lesson. Jesus is spurned by the people of His home village when, after reading Isaiah’s prophecy of a Savior Who will set things right, He says that He is the prophecy’s fulfillment. Initially, the people of Nazareth are welcoming of Jesus. But after Jesus goes on the rhetorical offensive to show them that He is for all people and that the key issue in His Kingdom is not if you’re connected to Him by religion or family, but by faith, the hometown folks become angry. Jesus, our life with Him, and our Church aren’t meant to be hoarded, but shared.

February 4, Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
Bible Lesson: Luke 5:1-11
Theme/s: Jesus calls us to be fishers of people (additional text: First Peter 2:9-10)
Comments: In response to Jesus’ call, Peter, James, and John make a total commitment to Jesus as Lord. They, of course, will keep this commitment haltingly and imperfectly. But God’s grace allows them to keep that commitment and to truly become fishers of people. God only uses imperfect people for evangelism.

February 11, Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany (Holy Communion)
Bible Lesson: Luke 6:17-26
Theme: We are called, as Jesus does here, to bring Jesus down on the plain, where people live and can see Him living in us
Comments: On the mountaintop, Jesus has called the Twelve. Now, He goes to the plain to proclaim His message to people. This is the Luke version of the Sermon on the Mountain, often referred to as the Sermon on the Plain.

In it, Jesus gives four beatitudes, statements to the poor and the rich; the hungry and the full; the sorrowful and the joyous; the persecuted and the popular. In Jesus’ topsy-turvy Kingdom, those despised and looked-down-upon are usually in the Kingdom because others tend to view them as self-sufficient and not in need of God.

This is a big emphasis in Luke’s Gospel. Remember that in this past weekend’s lesson, John is the highway builder who levels things so that all who are repentant would be able to welcome the Savior. Jesus’ mother, Mary, sang of how in Jesus’ Kingdom, the haughty would be brought down and the humble lifted up. (Luke 1:46-55)

The Church is charged with allowing all people access to Jesus Christ!

February 18, Transfiguration Sunday, the Seventh Sunday after Epiphany
Bible Lesson: Luke 9:28-36
Theme: The Good News of Jesus involves crosses before resurrections
Comments: After predicting His own suffering and death, Jesus takes His three closest followers--Peter, James, and John--up to a mountaintop. There, after Jesus prays, He’s transfigured, emitting and surrounded by a dazzling light. He’s joined by Moses and Elijah, representing the twin strands of Old Testament tradition, the Law and the Prophets, indicating that Jesus is the fulfillment of all God was about in the Old Testament.

Peter’s response is understandable, but in Luke’s telling, inappropriate. Peter wants to build booths memorializing this stunning moment, a booth each for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. The suggestion is inappropriate for two reasons: (1) It risks putting Moses and Elijah on the same level as Jesus, Who is, after all, God as well as man; (2) More importantly, it smacks of trying to contain an encounter with God, bottling it up and domesticating it. But God in Christ can’t be captured or contained. Throughout the Chronicles of Narnia, people are reminded that the Christ-figure of those books, the great lion Aslan, “isn’t a tame lion.”

Many churches and Christians try to boil down to some predictable box that we can pull out, get a proscribed number of goose bumps, and so continue with our lives.

But after this encounter, Jesus leads the three disciples down onto the plain again, away from the goose bumps. The Transfiguration, like turning water into wine and other things we see Jesus do during the Epiphany season, are only “signs” of Who He is and of His coming Kingdom.

By God’s mercy, this imperfect and sinning world is allowed to keep spinning so that Christ’s body in the world, the Church, will keep sharing the saving news of Jesus Christ. Until Jesus returns, bringing an end to this planet, Christians live in what the theologians call “proleptic anticipation,” that already/not yet world in which believers know that they’re already a part of Christ’s eternal kingdom, but which hasn’t yet fully arrived.

We have many signs of Christ’s universal lordship, including His resurrection. But for now, our task is clear: To tell the world about Jesus so that they too can be part of His Kingdom. Jesus means for us to be the “booths” that point the world to Him.

[Ash Wednesday happens on February 21. We’ll have worship that night at 7:00 PM. Ash Wednesday, of course, begins Lent.

[Lent is a time of spiritual renewal. It precedes Easter. It’s a time for taking inventory of ourselves and surrendering our rebelliousness to Christ.]

February 25, The First Sunday in Lent
Bible Lesson: Luke 4:1-13
Theme: A tempted Savior can help us face our temptations and tests
Comments: God the Father sustains Jesus through His encounter with the devil. At Jesus’ Baptism, which happens immediately before the Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness, He tells John that He must be baptized. Though Jesus has no sins for which to repent, His baptism is an act of solidarity with us. So too, is His subjection to temptation. It simply underscores how far God is willing to go in order to rescue us.

March 4, The Second Sunday in Lent
Bible Lesson: Philippians 3:17-4:1
Theme: Our call is to stand firm with Jesus
Comments: Paul says that those whose focus is on attaining the comforts and rewards of this world will get them, but lose out on eternity. Our call is to remain riveted on Jesus so that, as Lewis puts it, we gain joy in heaven and have joy on earth thrown in with the bargain.

March 11, The Third Sunday in Lent (Holy Communion)
Bible Lesson: Luke 13:1-9
Theme: Bear the fruit of repentance. In other words, live your faith.
Comments: Looking down our noses on those who suffer is wrong. All are susceptible to the difficulties of life. Therefore, we need to be prepared for whatever comes by constantly walking with Christ and thereby living the Christ Life.

March 18, The Fourth Sunday in Lent
Bible Lesson: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Theme: Jesus welcomes the repentant
Comments: This is the parable of the Prodigal Son. We are the prodigals welcomed by our Father!

March 25, The Fifth Sunday in Lent
Bible Lesson: Isaiah 43:16-21
Theme: Jesus comes to make us new
Comments: Seven-hundred years before the birth of Jesus, Isaiah speaks for God, saying that God is going to make things new. He says not to be hung up on the old dead ways of religiosity, but watch for Him to breathe new life into those who follow Him.

Important Dates after the First Quarter, 2007:
April 1: Sunday of the Passion (Palm Sunday)
April 5: Maundy Thursday
April 6: Good Friday

No comments: