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  • 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 17, Ordinary Time 22, Pentecost 15, Cycle C (2016)

A love that changes lives. Once again the lessons for this Sunday will lead to reflections on how life is changed because of God’s loving actions (Justification by Grace, Sanctification, and Social Ethics).

Psalm 81:1, 10-16
As noted several times previously, 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.”

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This lesson is an Asaph liturgy for a festival, probably for the Feast of Booths, an Autumn celebration of the harvest (Deuteronomy 16:13-15), usually employing the name Elohim for God. As we have noted previously, Asaph was one of David’s chief musicians (2 Chronicles 6:39; 15:17). We are urged to sing aloud [ranan] to God and shout (v. 1). The psalmist sings that to open our mouths with praise for God leads to his presence, as he fills our mouths (v. 10). A lament over the failure of Israel to respond is offered (v. 11). As a result God has given them over to their stubborn hearts (v. 12). God laments that they would listen to him and walk in his ways, for then their enemies would be subdued (vv. 13-14). Those who hate the Lord would cringe (v. 15). God would feed his people with fine food (v. 16). Those who repent will be delivered, the psalm proclaims.

Application: This is an opportunity for sermons praising God for his bounty (Providence) and also to call attention to his presence among us. When that happens we are blessed.


Psalm 112
A Wisdom Psalm, contrasting the fate of the righteous and the wicked as well as extolling the blessing of righteous living. It is an alphabetical acrostic psalm, with each new line beginning with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It begins with the ritual cry of praise the Lord (Hallelujah) (v. 1). Those who fear/reverence [yare] the Lord and their descendants will be mighty in the land and blessed/happy [asherem, seen and envied by others] (v. 2). They will enjoy wealth and their righteousness [tsedaqah] endures forever (vv. 3, 6, 9). They will be gracious and merciful, conducting themselves with justice (reflecting the attribute of God as keeping promises) (vv. 4-5). They are not afraid of evil tidings for their hearts [leb] are firm in the Lord and will triumph (vv. 7-8). They have given to the poor. The horn of honor which results refers to the prestige of the righteous. The wicked see such deeds and are angry (v. 10). Righteousness and justice are not faultless conformity to some moral law but have to do with living in right relationship with God and others (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 370-371).

Application: Sermons on this alternative can explore how a life dedicated to God leads to faithfulness to one’s commitments, living in right relationship with God and others, concern for the poor, and good reputation (Sanctification and Social Ethics).

Jeremiah 2:4-13
Once again we note that this book is a collection of prophecies of a late seventh or early sixth century BC prophet of Judah from the reigns of Josiah through the era of the Babylonian Captivity. He dictated these prophecies to his aide Baruch. Some of the prophet’s criticism of the house of David and the temple may relate to his having as an ancestor one of David’s high priests, Abiathar, who lost control of the temple and was finally banished (1 Kings 2:26-27). Three sources of the book have been identified; 1) An authentic poetic strand; 2) Biographic prose; and 3) Deuteronomic redaction (the result of King Josiah’s seventh-century BC’s religious reforms). The interplay of these strands suggests that the final editors see Jeremiah’s prophecies as relevant in a new context. This lesson is an oracle in poetic form concerning Israel’s breach of the covenant (v. 4). It takes the form of a lawsuit with God as both accuser and judge.

Yahweh asks Israel what wrong he had done to them that they have abandoned him in favor of worthless idols (v. 5). Yahweh rehearses what he has done for Israel through the Exodus and brought them into a plentiful land, though the Hebrews defiled this land (vv. 6-7). Yahweh continues to lament that the religious and political leadership did not maintain the law. The prophets even sought Baal (v. 8). Thus he accuses the people and their children’s children (v. 9).

Yahweh calls on his auditors (perhaps a heavenly assembly [see Isaiah 1:2]) to observe how Israel alone among all the nations has changed its god, changing their glory for something that does not profit (vv. 10-11). Addressing the heavens again, he laments that the people have forsaken him, the fountain of living water but also made cisterns that are cracked and cannot hold water (vv. 12-13).

Application: This is a text for condemning our sin (both individual and corporately), but also for celebrating God’s faithfulness to us, his concern to give us life/water to nourish and refresh us (Justification by Grace).


Proverbs 25:6-7
This book is a compilation of several Wisdom sayings, aphorisims traditionally ascribed to Solomon, but some of which came from Gentile scriptures (chapters 30-31) that received final editing in the post-exilic period (sixth century BC and later). Some of the sayings are indebted to other ancient near-Eastern cultures (especially Egypt). Wisdom (sometimes personified as female) in the Hebraic context was the work of sages, generally equated with the way of righteousness. It was practical knowledge of life rooted in basic experience and in faith. In this lesson, purported to be by Solomon that the official of King Hezekiah of Judah copied, we are told not to put ourselves forward in the king’s presence or to stand in place of the great [gadol] (v. 6). It is better to told to come up higher (v. 7). The lesson functions prophetically in relation to Jesus’ parable in the Gospel Lesson.

Application: Sermons on this First Lesson Alternative do well to follow the themes noted below in the Application of the gospel, making clear that these themes reflect throughout scripture.

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Once more we are reminded that this book is an anonymous treatise which given its argument for the superiority of Christ’s sacrifice to those of the Levitical priests was likely written prior to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD. Remarks in 2:3-4 suggest it was written by a member of a generation of Christians after the apostles. Modern scholars are inclined to regard the book as a sermon, perhaps modified after it was delivered to include travel plans, greetings, and a closing (13:20-25). The Christians addressed are thought to have been in danger of falling away from their confession (3:1; 4:14; 10:23). They had endured persecution (10:32-36). This lesson is the concluding admonitions of the Epistle.

The author first urges continuing mutual love [filadelfia] (v. 1). Readers are admonished not to neglect hospitality [philoxenos] to strangers [probably to Christians from other places] (v. 2) and to remember those in prison and the tortured (v. 3). Marriage is kept in honor, not defiled by fornication (v. 4). Lives are to be kept free from the love of money, and we are to be content with what we have, for the Lord has said he will never forsake us (v. 5). Psalm 118:6 is paraphrased, claiming that the Lord is our helper [boethos] and so we should not fear (v. 6). Readers are urged to remember their leaders who spoke the word of God [logos tou theou] to them, considering their way of life and imitating their faith (v. 7). Christ is said to be the same yesterday, today, and forever (v. 8). The lesson skips verses forbidding sacrifice (vv. 9-11) in view of Jesus’ suffering to sanctify the people (v. 12). Through Christ we are continually to offer a sacrifice [thusia] of praise, the fruit of our lips, and not to neglect doing good [eupoiia] and sharing what we have. These sacrifices are said to please [euaresteitai] God (vv. 15-16).

Application: Sermons in this lesson should proclaim that because of the constancy of Christ and his sacrifice we are freed for lives of contentment, service to others, and continuous worship and praise (Atonement, Sanctification).

Luke 14:1, 7-14
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 is an account of Jesus’ teaching of humility. These utterances appear only in this gospel (though the basic phrases are borrowed from Proverbs 25:6-7).

The account is set in the house of the leader of the Pharisees at a Sabbath meal (v. 1). Jesus tells a parable [parabole] noticing how guests chose seats of honor. He does this after he had done a healing on the Sabbath (vv. 2-7). When invited by someone to a wedding, Jesus urges that we not seek places of honor in case someone more distinguished has been invited by the host and we would have to move in disgrace to a lower seat (vv. 8-9). It is better to sit at the lowest place, he claims, so that the host may move to us to sit higher (v. 10). All who exalt themselves will be humbled [tapeinoo], and those who humble themselves will be exalted [hupsoo] (v. 11).

Jesus also adds that the one who invited them not invite only friends or relatives or rich neighbors in order to receive and invitation from them (v. 12). Instead he would have us give banquets for the poor [ptochos], crippled, and lame. He adds an eschatological aspect to this advice, claiming that those following these teachings will then be blessed [makarios, happy], repaid at the resurrection of the righteous/just [dikaio] (vv. 13-14).

Application: Sermons on this lesson will condemn pride (Sin) along with the Good News that in the new era of Christ which is dawning, the gospel knocks all the spiritual pride out of us, devoting us to lives of service (Justification by Grace, Sanctification as the spontaneity of good works, and Social Ethics).
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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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