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  • Pastors who need inspiration and idea starters for their sermons
  • Church musicians who want to coordinate music and hymn selections with scriptural themes
  • Anyone who wants deeper insight into each week’s lectionary passages

These background notes cover every assigned text in the Revised Common Lectionary for each Sunday and major observance throughout the year.


Writer Mark Ellingsen

Mark Ellingsen, Pastor, Theologian, AuthorMark Ellingsen, author of Lectionary Scripture Notes, is a minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) and a professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated magna cum laude from Gettysburg College and has received four degrees from Yale University. He has authored many titles, most recently Lectionary Preaching Workbook for CSS Publishing Company….read more


Proper 26, Ordinary Time 31, Pentecost 24, Cycle C (2016)

God will make things better. The lessons for this Sunday explore the evils created by sin with lots of hope about how God makes things better (Providence, Realized Eschatology, Justification by Grace, and Sanctification construed as the Spontaneity of Good Works).

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Psalm 119:137-144
We note again that Psalms is a collection of prayers and songs composed throughout Israel’s history. It is organized into five collections of books, perhaps an analogy to the five books of the Torah. The authors of each of the psalms are largely unknown, as in this case. This loosening of them from their historical origins entails the validity of their use today in very different contexts from their origins (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p. 523). The actual title of the book is derived from a Greek term meaning “Song” [psalmos]. The Hebrew title of the book, Tehillim, means “hymns” or “songs of praise.”

As pointed out earlier in the month, this is a Wisdom Psalm on the Law of God, especially devoted in these verses to its beauty and sweetness. It is an acrostic Psalm in which each stanza consists of eight lines beginning with the same Hebrew letter. The 22 stanzas use all the letters of the Hebrew alphabet in turn.

The verses that comprise this selection are an acknowledgment of the righteousness of God as evidenced in the law. Yahweh is declared to be righteous [tsaddiq], making righteous judgments [mishpat] and likewise his decrees have this quality (vv. 137-138). The psalmist is consumed with zeal [qinah] because his foes forget his words (v. 139). The Lord’s promise is well tried and loved by his servant, who confesses to being small and despised [bazah]. Yet God’s precepts are not forgotten (vv. 140-141). click here for the rest of the installment

Reformation Day


Freedom! The texts and the festival invite consideration of our freedom from the law and uncertainty about our worth (Sin, Justification by Grace, and Sanctification as Spontaneous Good Works), what this all means for everyday life.

Psalm 46
This is a Korah Psalm (one of the songs attributed to professional temple singers [see 2 Chronicles 20:19]). The reference in the Psalm’s preface to Alamoth is uncertain. We do know that this is the psalm (especially v. 1) which inspired Martin Luther’s famed hymn “A Mighty Fortress.” click here for the rest of the installment

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All Saints Day

How Christ makes us saints. The texts provide different perspectives on sainthood, but all agree on God’s active role in making saints (Justification by Grace, Sanctification, Eschatology).

Psalm 149
This Psalm is a hymn to accompany a new song in the assembly, a festival dance or the envisioning of an eschatological victory celebration (v. 1). It is a hymn of praise for God’s salvation. The Lord is to be praised in new song [shir] in the assembly [qahal, congregation] (v. 1). Israel is directed to be glad [sameach, rejoice] in its maker [asah] and the children of Zion to rejoice in their king (v. 2). We are to praise God’s name with dancing (v. 3). The Lord is said to take pleasure [ratsah] in his people, ordaining them with humble victory (make them beautiful [paar] with salvation) (v. 4). The faithful are exhorted to exult in glory [kabod] and sing for joy on couches (perhaps part of the festival) (v. 5). High praises of God should be in their throats with swords in hand to execute vengeance on the nations, binding their kings and nobles, executing on them the judgment decreed (vv. 6-9a). The dance accompanying this song seems to have had a military-like theme. All this is glory for the faithful. Yahweh is to be praised (v. 9b).

Application: This psalm provides a chance to celebrate how God makes saints (makes them beautiful) that leads to much celebration as the holy ones proceed to overcome (Justification by Grace, Sanctification).

Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
This is an apocalyptic book comprised of six stories and four dreams. Much of the material in the first six chapters probably originated in the fourth and third centuries BC, circulating independently. The fact that chapter 11 seems to refer to Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Selucid ruler of Syria, makes it clear that the book took its final form during Antiochus’ persecution of the Jews (167 BC–164 BC). It seems to be a passivist alternative to the Maccabean Resistance.

The aim of the books seems to be to console Jews facing persecution. The first six chapters provide heroic role models of Jews who thrive because they remain faithful while serving a foreign king (during the Babylonian Captivity). The final four chapters (the four visions) hold out promise for deliverance in the kingdom of God.

This lesson is part of Daniel’s vision of the four beasts. A dream of Daniel is set in the context of King Belshazzar of Babylon (probably in 754 BC). Four winds of heaven stir up a great sea (traditionally a symbol of chaos, associated with dragons and monsters), and the four beasts come out of the sea (vv. 1-3). The four beasts likely refer to four kingdoms. The lesson skips verses 13-14 and its reference to one like a human being coming from the heavens who would receive dominion over all people in everlasting dominion. Traditionally these verses have been interpreted messianically. The lesson resumes with a reference to Daniel being troubled with the visions, asking one of the attendants (perhaps an angel) to interpret the vision (vv. 15-16). He interprets the four beasts as four kings (probably the Babylonian empire, the Medes, the Persians, and the Greeks) (v. 17). The holy ones of the most high will be the ones to receive and possess the kingdom (v. 18). This entails that the messianic reference in verse 14 may be a collective representation of either the heavenly beings or all Jews (the saints from a Christian perspective).

Application: With this lesson, sermons may proclaim that in the final analysis (Eschatology) God will and has subdued the forces of evil and earthly powers, so that saints might receive the new kingdom. The nature of sin might be explored along with an analysis of how God’s conquest can manifest today in a vindication of the saints and a more just society (Social Ethics).

Ephesians 1:11-23
This epistle is a circular letter, either written by Paul from prison late in his career or by a follower of the apostle who had had a hand in assembling the collection of his epistles. These conclusions follow from the fact that the letter includes vocabulary and stylistic characteristics different from the Pauline corpus. It was likely addressed to a younger, later generation of Christians (v. 15). This lesson is comprised of thanksgiving reflections and prayer.

We read first that in Christ we have been chosen to an inheritance [eklerothesev], having been predestined [proorizo] according to God’s purpose who accomplishes all things according to his will (v. 11). This is to ensure that those who were first to set hope [elpis] on Christ might live for the praise of his glory [doxa] (v. 12). In him, readers have been marked with the seal [sphragizo, sign of authentication] of the promised Holy Spirit, who is the pledge [arrasov, down payment] of their inheritance toward redemption [apolutrosis, losing away] as God’s own people (vv. 13-14).

Paul claims to have heard of the Ephesians’ faith and love toward all the saints. Thus he gives thanks for them, remembering them in his prayers (vv. 15-16). He prays that the God of Jesus Christ may give the Ephesians a spirit of wisdom [sophia] and revelation enlightening their hearts, so that they may know the hope [elpis] to which he has called them and the riches of this inheritance among the saints (vv. 17-18). All the saints are called and expected to live in accord with their calling.

Paul also speaks of the immeasurable greatness of God’s power [dunamis] for all who believe (v. 19). God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him and seated him at his right hand, far above all earthly powers (vv. 20-21). God has put all things under Christ’s feet, making him the head [kephale] over all things, for the church. It is his body [soma], the fullness of him who fills all in all (vv. 22-23).

Application: At least two possibilities emerge (or both options could be combined). One could proclaim the cosmic Christ, his saturation and penetration of all dimensions of the created order (Christology, Creation, and Sanctification). Or the focus could be on the calling of the saints under Christ’s auspices (Sanctification).

Luke 6:20-31
Again we are reminded that this gospel is the first installment of a two-part history of the church traditionally attributed to Luke, a physician and Gentile associate of Paul (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24). Along with Acts, the author’s intention was to stress the universal mission of the church (Acts 1:8). Addressed to Theophilus (1:1), it is not clear if this means that the work was written for a recent convert or for a Roman official from whom the church sought tolerance. But since Theophilus means “lover of God” it is possible that the author addressed all the faithful. This lesson offers a segment of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain (probably authentic words of Jesus).

Luke includes part of Matthew’s (5:3-12) version of the Beatitudes, having Jesus refer to the blessedness [makarios, happiness or favored] of the poor, the hungry, and mourning. In their place will follow the kingdom of God, fullness and laughter (vv. 20-21). We see here a consistent theme in Luke’s gospel — God’s preference for the poor (4:18; 7:22; 14:13, 21; 18:22). Likewise, Jesus contends, we are blessed when hated, excluded, reviled, and defamed on account of the son of man [huios tou anthropos] (v. 22). This title may refer to a prophetic figure (Ezekiel 2:1, 3) or to the end time judge expected to arrive on the clouds of heaven (Daniel 7:13-14). The faithful, it is said, can rejoice in that day, for their reward in heaven is great, as they endure what the prophets did (v. 23).

Jesus expresses the woes to the rich and happy, for they will be hungry and mourn (vv. 24-25). He also warns about pitfalls of what happens when all speak well of us, for the Jewish ancestors did this to the false prophets (v. 26). His point is that material satisfactions will not last. Jesus then proceeds to urge the crowd to love [agapao] their enemies, doing good to those who hate them (vv. 27-28). He advises that when hit on the cheek or when enduring the stealing of one’s coat, we are to offer the other cheek or our shirts (v. 29). Likewise we are instructed to give to everyone who begs from us, that if anyone takes away our goods we are not to ask for them again (v. 30). The Golden Rule is taught in closing (v. 31).

Application: A sermon on this text will explore the character of the Christian life (and our saintliness — Sanctification), with an appreciation that we also sin when we do good, for we fall short of the behaviors that Jesus commends. click here to view on separate page

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Author of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen

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