Readings for the week of July 15, 2018

The first Reading is recorded in Amos 7:7-15. Before reading the lesson, consider some of the cliches we use in our society, for example: How are you measuring up? Are you standing straight and true? Those cliches, and similar ones, might have their roots in today’s First Reading. In the reading the prophet Amos is sent to the Northern Kingdom of Israel. In this reading he uses the image of a plumb line. A plumb line is a weight suspended at the end of a string, and is used by a builder to keep a wall straight as it is being built, and to check to see if a wall continues to be straight; a crooked wall will lead to the wall’s collapse. In this passage Amos sees the Lord using a plumb line as an image to see if Israel is measuring up, to see if Israel is standing straight and true according to the will of God. The finding? Israel is crooked, it has turned away from God, and God will destroy it for not being straight and true.
Of course the false priests of Israel at Bethel were upset by Amos’ prophecies and told him to go to Judah and prophesy there. He responded that he could do only what the Lord told him to do.
How are you measuring up in your faith? Are you standing straight and true in the Lord? When you fall into sin do you return to the Lord, asking His forgiveness and renewal in Jesus? Thankfully, we have Jesus to intercede for us when we fail to live up to God’s righteous standards.
Dear heavenly Father, let Your Holy Spirit examine our hearts and lives and point out in us when we no longer live up to the plumb line of Your will for our lives. Turn us again to Jesus, through Whom we are forgiven and restored. Enable us to stand straight and true in and through Jesus. In His Name we pray. Amen.

Today’s psalm is recorded in Psalm 85:1-13. This is a psalm with a wonderful progression, and which tells us how we can view our lives.
Vs. 1-3 are a reminder of the psalmist, addressed to the Lord, of the Lord’s faithfulness to forgive and restore His people in the past.
Vs. 4-7 are a plea for God to forgive and restore His people at the present time. They are in a bad way and need God to forgive and restore. How often do we find ourselves in the same situation?
Vs. 8-13 are a proclamation of faith that the Lord will restore His people because that is the nature of God. There is a warning not to take God’s forgiveness for granted, don’t turn again to evil, but the overwhelming theme is a theme of giving praise to God for His goodness. We have this assurance in and through Christ.
Lord God, like the psalmist, we remember Your steadfast love and mercy in the past, and we give You thanks. As we face the hardships and challenges of life remind us that You have overcome all things that would rob life through Your Son Jesus. Give us faith and encouragement to face all that comes our way each day, knowing You are faithful and trustworthy. In Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen.

The Second Reading begins a set of readings from the letter of Paul to the Ephesians. It is recorded in Ephesians 1:3-14. This is a difficult reading because of all that is packed into it; in fact, in Greek, it is one very long sentence. Notice how the reading begins with praise to God the Father Who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing. Let us give thanks to God the Father as well. Then Paul lists many of those blessings. As a way to get a handle on what the apostle Paul is saying in this passage, pay attention to the words: in Him/in Christ, and then note what blessings Paul tells us we have in Him/in Christ. You might even take a piece of paper and list each time you see the words in Him/in Christ, and then list what blessings come to us in and through Christ. God is truly amazing and has given us such great blessings in Christ.
Our God and Father, we are overwhelmed and can scarcely begin to fathom all the blessing You have given us in Christ; we give You thanks and praise. Open the eyes of faith to see more and more all the blessings we have in Him, and let us always rejoice in every spiritual blessing which You have lavished upon us. In His Name, in Christ, we pray. Amen.

The Gospel, Mark 6:14-29, is a text that was added to the three year lectionary in the mid 1990’s, and I think many preachers would like to have it dropped, it is a difficult passage, and one that seems to have no hope. It is Mark’s account of the murder of John the Baptist precipitated by the conniving wife of king Herod, Herodias. The marriage of Herod and Herodias was contrary to God’s will (they would have been judged a crooked wall – see the First Reading from Amos), and John the Baptist confronted them about the sin. They didn’t want to hear that they were living in sin; neither liked John, but Herod was afraid of John and, even though troubled by his preaching, liked to hear him. Herodias wanted him dead, and got her chance when Herod made an ill-conceived promise to Herodias’ daughter. The fulfillment of the promise led to the murder of John the Baptist.
This is a hard passage to read, and yet we have brothers and sisters throughout the world today who are being killed because they, like John, take a stand for the Lord. Let us keep our persecuted brothers and sisters in prayer, and pray for boldness on our part to stand against evil tyrants like John the Baptist did.
Lord of all, please be with, and strengthen in faith, Your children who face persecution for the faith. Keep them firm in Christ. Receive the martyrs into Your eternal rest. And Lord, give us boldness to stand up to tyrants and oppressors, trusting in You to keep us safe in life, death, and into eternal life. In Jesus’ Name, Who overcame sin and oppression in His death and resurrection, we pray. Amen.

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