Writer Mark Ellingsen
Mark 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
THEME OF THE DAY
Christians Rebel! Sermons on these Lessons will examine our context (with its evil, chaos, or lethargy), compare these dynamics to the text considered (Sin), and boldly proclaim that no matter how bad things look, we may rebel against our condition confessing that God will overcome (Providence, Justification By Grace and Sanctification).
This Book is a small psalter of communal laments over Jerusalem composed after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 BC. Traditionally Lamentations has been ascribed to the Prophet Jeremiah, because of references in 2 Chronicles 35:25. But in that text he reportedly offers a lament on the death of Josiah and not for the whole city of Jerusalem. See the Prophet’s laments in Jeremiah 7:20; 8:18 – 9:1. This Book was written for those remaining in Israel for public recitation on the days of fasting and mourning (see Joel 2:15-17 and Zechariah 7:2-3). The Hebrew title of the Book ekah [meaning “How”] conveys the sense of bewilderment over what has happened.
The first chapters are alphabetic acrostics with a stanza for each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. This Lesson is part of a psalm using sage counseling to one in distress, exhorting patience in acknowledgement of God’s righteousness and mercy. It is good to be reminded that although in its original Hebraic context this could connote legal, judgmental actions on the Lord’s part or a legalism, most Old Testament scholars note that God’s righteousness is not in any way punitive, but more about His relationship to His people. Indeed, it has to do with God’s loyalty to His Covenant in saving us and even at times later in the Old Testament era the righteousness of God is construed as something bestowed on the faithful (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol.1, pp.373, 376ff.).
The thought of homelessness and exile with a deep distress consistently galls the Psalmist (vv.19-20). He feels that he has no hope (v.21. God’s steadfast love [chesed] is extolled. His mercies [chesed] are said to be new every morning, for the Lord’s faithfulness [emunah] is great (vv.22-23). It is proclaimed that the Lord will be good [tob] for those who wait and seek [davash] Him (vv.25-26).
Application: Sermons on this text extol a Word of hope that the faithful have that despite how bad things seem (Sin) God is faithful to His promises and will deliver (Justification By Grace and Providence).
This Psalm is a Prayer for Vengeance on Israel’s enemies. It was probably written as a reflection on the Babylonian Captivity. It begins with a lament over Jerusalem (vv.1-6). Crying by the rivers of Babylon is initiated over remembering Zion/Jerusalem (v.1). The Babylonian captors cruelly demand such songs be sung with mirth (v.3). The Psalmist pledges never to forget the beloved holy city (vv.5-6). A cry for revenge against all who helped pillage Jerusalem when it was conquered is initiated. Edomites are named, as apparently they assisted the Babylonians (v.7), and the Psalmist adds that those who conquer the Babylonians or take their youth and kill them will be blessed (vv.8-9).
Application: This Psalm also offers hope when things look bad, a hope that our enemies will not prevail (Sin, Justification By Grace, Providence).
This is an acrostic Wisdom Psalm on the certainty of retribution for the wicked. Recall that acrostic Psalms employ the literary device of starting each line with a consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The Psalm is attributed to David. But as we have noted on numerous occasions, most Psalms attributed to him are not his work (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p.512). This song seems to be words of wisdom from an elder (v.25).
We are first called not to fret [charah] because of the wicked. This may suggest that the Psalm is addressed to those persecuted or who question God’s Providence. The wicked will fade/ be cut down [malai] like grass, we are assured (vv.1-2). We are to trust in the Lord and do good, in order that the faithful live in security in Israel (v.3). Taking delight in Yahweh leads us to receive our heart’s desires (v.4). Committing our way to Yahweh and trusting in Him leads Him to act (v.5). The Lord proclaims that He will vindicate us and the justice/righteousness [tsedeq] of our causes (v.6). It is good to remind ourselves again that the concept of “righteousness” even in an Old Testament context is not to imply that the believer lives in faultless conformity to some moral law. It has to do with living in right relationship with God (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol.1, pp.370-371). The faithful are exhorted to be still before Yahweh and wait patiently, not fretting over those who prosper or carry out evil (v.7). We are admonished to refrain from anger and fretting (v.8). The wicked will be cut off [karath], but those who wait for Yahweh will inherit the land, that is, enjoy its rich blessings (v.9).
Application: Themes for sermons on the preceding Psalm noted above are appropriate for this text. In addition, preachers might take opportunity to explain the concept of righteousness in the Old Testament described above (Justification By Grace).
See the first Psalm alternative for background on the Book. This Lesson is a lament over Zion (the southwest hill of Jerusalem) which is the oldest and highest part of the city. The city is said to be lonely [badad], like a vassal [almanah] (v.1). Subsequently she is said to be a daughter [bath] (v.6). There is bitter weeping with none to comfort. Her friends have become her enemies [oyeb] (v.2). Judah is said to have gone into exile [galetah, captivity] with suffering and servitude (v.3). It is asserted that the roads to Zion mourn, as no one comes to her festivals (v.4). The city’s foes are now her masters. The Lord has inflicted this to punish transgressions. Its children are captives [sebi] (v.5). The city’s majesty [hadar, beauty] has departed (v.6).
Application: Another text for lamenting our present circumstances (Sin) yet proclaiming a liberating rebellious freedom (Justification By Grace, Sanctification, Providence).
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Nothing is known of this Prophet. The oracles in the Book come from different occasions in the last part of the seventh century BC though in the early part of the sixth century, during the height of Babylonian power. The Book reflects diverse types of literature. Dominant is the first-person, almost autobiographical account of a dialogue between God and the Prophet. But liturgical genre material is also in evidence. Overall the Book takes the form of a psalm of lament.
The Lesson includes part of the opening two-cycle dialogue, involving the Prophet’s lament and Yahweh’s response with assurance. The Prophet laments how long the Lord will seem not to listen to his cries in face of all the destruction and violence (1:2-3). He notes the Law [torah] has become slack, justice [mishpat, judgment] never prevails, and the wicked surround the righteous (1:4). The Prophet continues to indicate that he will listen for a reply to his complaint (2:1). Yahweh responds with a Word of assurance. He claims that His answer is as plain as a road sign (2:2). There is a vision at the end, and it will come even if it seems to tarry (2:3). Yahweh directs us to regard the proud who do not have a right spirit, but the righteous [tsaddiq] shall live by faith (2:4)! Note the discussion of righteousness above in the exposition of Psalm 37:1-9.
Application: See the themes appropriate for sermons in the Application of Psalm 37:1-9.
2 Timothy 1:1-14
We remind ourselves again that along with 1 Timothy through Titus, this is one of Pastoral Letters, concerned with leadership offices and pastoral oversight. This Epistle differs from the other Pastorals in being the most personal of them, directed specifically to Timothy, a young convert and companion to Paul in his travels (Acts 16:1; Romans 16:21; 1 Corinthians 4:17). As such it has the best claim of all the Pastoral Epistles for being an authentic work of Paul. The Letter’s purpose is to provide advice from a veteran missionary to a younger colleague responsible for a group of churches and for preserving them from dissidents within.
The text includes the Epistle’s salutation along with expressions of thanksgiving and exhortation. The author’s (Paul’s) salutation to Timothy, whom he calls his beloved child, claims his Apostolic status is God’s Will (vv.1-2). The author claims that the God he worships is the one his ancestors worshipped. He notes his thankfulness is occasioned by gratitude that comes when he remembers Timothy in his prayers (v.3). He recalls Timothy’s tears for him and longs to see him (v.4).
The Apostle celebrates Timothy’s faith and that of his grandmother and mother. Then follows a series of exhortation. Paul urges him to rekindle the gift/grace [charisma] of God in him through the laying on of hands (vv.5-6). God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power [dunamis], love and self-discipline (v.7). Timothy is exhorted not to be ashamed for the testimony about Christ or Paul (who has been imprisoned), but to join him in suffering for the Gospel, relying on God’s power Who has saved [sozo, keep sound] us and called us, not according to works done but according to His own purpose of grace [charis] (vv.8-9a). In what may be part of a liturgy the author says this grace has been given in Christ Jesus before the ages began but is now revealed through His appearing [epiphaneia]. He abolished death and brought life [zoe] and immortality [athanasia] to light through the Gospel (vv.9b-10).
The author claims to have been appointed a herald, Apostle, and teacher for this Gospel. This is why he suffers. But he is not ashamed [epaischunomai], for he knows in Whom to put his trust [pepisteuka, belief] until Christ comes again (vv.11-12). He urges holding fast in faith and love that are in Christ to the standard of sound teaching (the Apostolic testimony) (v.13). He also exhorts Timothy to guard this treasure with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us (v.14).
Application: Sermons on this Lesson will help hearers recognize that they have all they need to act courageously in face of all the chaos and meaninglessness which envelopes us (Sin, Justification By Grace, Sanctification, Holy Spirit).
Again we return to 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’ teachings on faith and Discipleship. It is unique to Luke.
The Lesson begins with the Apostles asking Jesus to increase their faith [pistis] (v.5). He replies that faith the size of a mustard seed [sinapi] would allow one to command a mulberry tree to become uprooted and planted in the sea (v.6). Jesus asks who among them would say to a slave [doulos, servant] to take his place at the table, for more probably the expectation would be that He prepared the food and served it (v.8). As the slave is not thanked for doing what was commanded, so when doing all that was ordered, we are to say we are just worthless slaves (those from whom nothing is owed) doing what we ought to have done (vv.9-1). Jesus speaks here of a love that knows that its duty is never done (Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Luke, p.264).
Application: This Lesson invites sermons which critique our comfort with the status quo by proclaiming a bold Word of condemnation and grace that helps us realize that all that we have is God’s and that He owes us nothing (Sin, Justification By Grace, Sanctification, Social Ethics).
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