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Home Altar: Week of January 9, 2022

by Steven Swanson

Baptism of the Lord, First Sunday after Epiphany

Sunday, January 9

Psalm 29

Called to Worship

Sweden has been my home since 2017. As my wife and I explore this beautiful land, we begin to understand why our immigrant grandparents felt at home in the north woods of Minnesota and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Psalm 29 invites us to go into the forest during a summer thunderstorm and worship the Creator. We begin with praise, giving glory to God. The psalmist invites us to listen for God’s voice. We can hear it in the mighty thunder. We can recognize it in the lightning. Even in the drought-parched desert landscape, God’s glory is heard. Have you taken time to worship God in the beauty of nature? Do you ponder God’s glory as you run for cover from the falling rain? All of creation calls us to worship! When we enter God’s presence with awe and wonder, we will receive God’s gifts of strength and peace.

Creator God, we join with all nature singing, “Glory, Hallelujah!” Amen.

Monday, January 10

Isaiah 43:1-7

Called by Name

The Chosen is a new online video series that dramatizes the possible back stories of Jesus’s followers. In the first episode we meet Mary Magdalene as a young girl. She is worried about the future, and her father teaches her to memorize the promise in Isaiah 43:1. When we see Mary again, she is a grown woman using a different name, tormented by demons and haunted by sadness and pain. She tries to drown her sorrow in alcohol and finally attempts to take her own life. At that moment, she meets Jesus face to face. She tries to run away and hide from his presence, but Jesus calls her by her real name. “Mary! This what the Lord God says, ‘he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.’” Mary falls into Jesus’s arms and he casts out all her demons.

Jesus, you know each of us by name. Thank you for choosing us and setting us free to love again. Amen.

Tuesday, January 11

Luke 3:15-17

Called to Be Ready

Recently I watched the film I Can Only Imagine, which is the story of how the popular Christian song of the same title came to be written. Bart Millard is a country boy from Texas who discovers his gift for singing and writing music after a traumatic childhood. After struggling to be reconciled with his father, Bart writes this powerful song. In one of the final scenes of the movie the song is about to be premiered by the famous Christian singer Amy Grant. Instead of singing it herself, Amy calls Bart up from the audience to sing his own creation. She steps aside to let Bart receive the honor and recognition he deserved. So it is with John the Baptist in today’s text. He prepares the way for Jesus. John calls us to be ready to give the Lord first place in our lives. It is not about us; it’s all about him!

Lord Jesus, help me to step aside so that that you can be the star of my life. May I be ready to give all honor to you and help others see your glory. Amen.

Wednesday, January 12

Luke 3:21-22

Called to Father

A parent’s voice can have many different tones. It can be sharp when discipline is needed. It can be firm with words of caution. It can be soft and tender with expressions of love. I wonder what God’s voice sounded like in the text we read today. Was it like mighty thunder? Was it calm and clear? Jesus did not come to the waters of baptism because he needed to be cleansed from sin. He came in humble obedience. Baptism is not so much about our decision as it is about the grace we receive from a loving, heavenly Father. Jesus received God’s blessing. He heard the power and tenderness in God’s words. He knew that he was loved unconditionally.

Heavenly Father, thank you for loving your son Jesus and for speaking that love in words we can receive. Help us to remember our baptism with gratitude and joy. Amen.

Thursday, January 13

Acts 8:14-17

Called to Receive the Holy Spirit

I grew up in a church family that didn’t speak much about the Holy Spirit. We learned about the Spirit in confirmation and read stories in the New Testament, but we didn’t experience the Holy Spirit in a tangible way. It seems that the believers in Samaria had a similar story. They had heard and accepted the Word of God but did not know anything of God’s Spirit. Often, we think of the Holy Spirit only in terms of ecstatic gifts and miracles, but Jesus tells his followers that the Father will send a Comforter and Counselor, a spirit of truth and wisdom. The Holy Spirit is God’s abiding presence with everyone who believes in Jesus. We may not receive the same expressions of the Holy Spirit, but we can know the powerful confidence and the deep joy that the Holy Spirit offers to each one of us.

Holy Spirit, we open our hearts to you. Fill us with your presence. Take away our fears and anxieties and replace them with faith and peace. Amen.

Friday, January 14

Acts 8:18-25

Called Away from Greed

We live in a world that claims that “everything has its price.” If you have enough money, you can buy anything you want. That is what Simon thought in our lesson today. He saw the miracles Peter and John and Phillip did in the power of the Holy Spirit. He wanted that power too. He thought that he could buy it. How wrong he was! God’s power is not for sale. We cannot buy it or earn it—it only comes to us as a free gift of grace. When we believe in the Lord Jesus and accept him as Lord and Savior, we receive the Holy Spirit. Simon heard the gospel and believed it, but he did not fully yield his life to the Lord Jesus. His old way of thinking clung to him like a dirty rag. He needed a second conversion to be clothed in righteousness, graciousness, and peace.

Lord Jesus, show me my hidden faults. Make plain the old habits I cannot get rid of myself. Refine me with your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, January 15

Ephesians 3:1-12

Called to Be a Servant

We often hear the word “servant” in church, but how often do we see it put into practice? In Jesus’s day, servants were considered to be of a lower class. They faced prejudice and shame. Yet Jesus took on the role of a servant, bowing before his disciples and washing their feet. Peter resisted, but Jesus reminded him that only when we serve will we truly know the power of the gospel. Paul celebrates his calling as a servant. Jesus redeemed him and called him to preach the good news to the Gentiles, to those outside his own ethnicity and religious group. Paul challenges us to be ready to step down into the role of the servant. When we follow Jesus by serving others, we will meet him again and again.

Jesus, show us your way of serving others with sincere love. Stop us when we judge and try to step away from serving. Lead us to the ones you want us to serve. Amen.

About the Author: Steven Swanson

Malmö, Sweden
I grew up in the shadow of great Covenanters and Covenant institutions. As a teenager I said to God, “Let me be anything but a pastor.” God smiled and called me to serve him and his church. I have pastored congregations in New York, Washington, and California. In 1995, I moved to Berlin, Germany, to join a church planting team in the formerly Communist part of the city. In 2004, I married Barbara Boca and together we moved to Antwerp, Belgium, to serve international workers and immigrants. In 2017, we moved to Malmö, Sweden, where we partner with the Uniting Church of Sweden. God has given us a gift for learning languages and a heart for sharing his love with strangers.

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