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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 4, Ordinary Time 9, Pentecost 2, Cycle C (2016)

God’s word does it all! This is a Sunday that calls us, as Trinity Sunday did, to an appreciation of God’s awesomeness, which is evidenced in his faithfulness and love for us, stealing us and all human beings away from our preoccupations. God, Providence, Justification by Grace, and Sanctification receive attention.

Psalm 96:1-9
This is an Enthronement Psalm celebrating God’s kingship. Such psalms that populate this section of the book (93-95-99) were likely used on festivals like the Festival of Booths (Leviticus 23:33ff). They may be more cosmic, having less to do with Israel’s experience, and more shaped by foreign influences (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, p. 363). It begins with a summons to all the world [erets, earth] to worship with singing a new song (vv. 1-3). It is directed that Yahweh is to be revered above all gods [elohim]; gods of other peoples are idols (vv. 4-5a). Honor and majesty [hadar] are said to be before Yahweh (v. 6). All the nations are called to join in his praise, ascribing to him the glory [kabod, honor] due (vv. 7-8). The call is made to God in holy splendor [qodesh, holiness], a reference to ceremonial garments (v. 9).

Application: Sermons on this text might celebrate God’s holy splendor, contrasting that to the idols we often make our god (God and Sanctification).

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1 Kings 18:20-21 (22-29) 30-39
The book’s origin as a distinct work derives from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Septuagint), which divided the story of Israel’s monarchy into four sections (1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings). In its final form it is probably the result of the Deuteronomistic (D) History (the result of sweeping religious reforms in Judah under King Josiah in the seventh century BC), but perhaps later revised after the Babylonian Exile in 587 BC. This book recounts the history of Israel from the death David through the history of the divided kingdoms and the death of the Israelite King Ahab.

This account reports on a contest on Mount Carmel to show that Yahweh, not Baal, both sent a drought and can end it. King Ahaz of Israel (the Northern Kingdom) is said to have assembled the people and the prophets at the mountain, and Elijah challenges them with whether they will follow Yahweh or Baal. He receives no immediate answer (vv. 20-21). Elijah notes that he is the only prophet [nabi] of Yahweh remaining (an exaggeration in light of v. 13) compared to all the prophets of Baal (v. 22). He will offer a sacrifice of one bull to Yahweh and dares the prophets of Baal to do the same. Each will have no fire to offer the sacrifice and the people may see which god responds with a fire (vv. 23-24). When the prophets of Baal were unable to get a fire for their sacrifice, Elijah mocks them. The “leaping” [pasach] referred to, which Baal’s priests engaged in summoning their god probably refers to some sort of ritual dance. The claim made by Elijah that Baal must have wandered away sarcastically implies that this false god must have taken a bathroom break. This “journey” [derek] made by Baal was based on the belief that during dry season he slept in the underworld and rituals by his priests were to awaken him (vv. 25-27). Then as was their custom they cut themselves and bled (v. 28). These were pagan mourning rites, but the purpose of the bleeding may have been to awaken the gods. Then Elijah summoned the people and built an altar [mizbeach, a place of slaughter] to Yahweh with twelve stones, according to the twelve tribes of Israel (vv. 30-32). He invites the people to pour water on the altar and wood three times, and the water filled a trench (vv. 33-35). This seems to symbolize the rain that Yahweh would send. Elijah next calls on Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and a fire fell on the offering even licking up the spilled water (vv. 36-38). All the people then confessed that Yahweh is God (v. 39).

Application: This is a text for proclaiming the hidden realities of God, that God is real and is only known in a direct encounter with him. He is greater than all our idols (things we make important), who cannot deliver us as God does (Justification by Grace and Providence).


1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43
See the description of the book in the first alternative to the First Lesson. This lesson is part of Solomon’s Prayer of Dedication for the temple he built, followed by an expansion of the prayer which may have been composed during the Babylonian Captivity. The prayer itself and the first verses of this Complementary First Lesson clearly reflect Deuteronomistic themes. In the prayer Solomon says there is no god like Yahweh Elohim, either above, beneath, or on earth. He keeps the covenant and steadfast love [chesed, mercy] for his servants [ebed] who walk before him with all their heart (vv. 22-23). After petitions that Yahweh would maintain the Davidic covenant and hear the prayers of his people (vv. 24-40), Solomon petitions that when a foreigner [nokri] not of Israel comes from a distant land because of his name and prays, that Yahweh would hear him and so all the foreigner asks. If that were to transpire, Solomon notes, then all the peoples of the earth might know Yahweh’s name [shem, also translated “renown”] and fear [yare, also reverence] him, and then all would know that his name has been invoked on the temple Solomon has built (vv. 41-43).

Application: This lesson invites sermons on God’s faithfulness to his promises, which leads to reverence and a sense of God’s renown. God, Providence, and Sanctification are the relevant doctrinal concerns.

Galatians 1:1-12
This book is a polemical letter written by Paul to a church in Asia Minor (near today’s Ankara, Turkey) he had founded. Its aim is to affirm that Gentiles need not become Jews in order to become Christian. In this lesson we read the letter’s salutation, a discussion of the Galatian apostasy, and an assertion of the divine origin of Paul’s gospel. Paul first identifies himself as not sent by human authorities, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him (v. 1). He then greets and blesses the Galatians in the name of Christ and the Father. Christ is said to be the one who gave [didomai] himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age [aionos poneros], in contrast to the one to come (vv. 3-4). This idea of a present evil age supplanted by an era in which God’s justice would prevail was in line with Jewish apocalyptic thought in this era (Isaiah 65:17-25; 1 Enoch 91:15-17). The apostle then laments the Galatians’ desertion of the gospel. He claims that even if he or an angel would proclaim something contrary to what he originally proclaimed, the person should be cursed [anathema] (vv. 6-9). Paul insists that he is not seeking human approval but would be a servant [doulos, or slave] of Christ (v. 10). Apparently he had been accused of conciliating people, being soft on observing Jewish Law, in order to win Gentile converts (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:4). Paul’s gospel is not of human origin, he insists, but is received through a revelation [apokalupsis, literally “uncovering”] of Jesus Christ (vv. 11-12).

Application: This is a lesson for sermons proclaiming that the gospel is for all and that the Triune God loves openness. Justification by Grace, the Atonement, and Social Ethics are relevant doctrines.

Luke 7:1-10
We are again 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 is the story of the centurion’s faith. Parallel accounts appear in Matthew (8:5-13) and John (4:46b-54).

The narrative begins with Jesus entering Capernaum (v. 1). A centurion [ekatontarchos] there had a slave [doulos] whom he valued, but the slave was close the death (v. 2). The elders [presbuteros] approach Jesus claiming how the centurion had been good to the Jews, building a synagogue [sunagoge, place where people are led together] for them (vv. 3-5). Jesus goes to the house, but before arriving, the centurion sends friends to him claiming he need not go further (the centurion claims not to be worthy of having Jesus in his home), but that he need only speak the word, and the servant would be healed (vv. 6-7). The centurion justifies this by claiming to be a man with authority over many who can command and receive obedience (v. 8). Jesus praises the faith [pistis] of this Gentile (v. 9). (He praises the centurion’s faith, but not his works.) When the friends return to the centurion’s house, the slave had been healed (v. 10). Jesus’ positive interaction with this Gentile is a clear illustration of Luke’s concern to emphasize the Church’s universal mission.

Application: This account invites sermons proclaiming and exhorting faith, but with the stipulation that it is God word that creates such faith that it is a gift (Justification by Grace).
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    Psalm 8

    1 Kings 18:20-21 (22-29) 30-39; Galatians 1:1-12; Luke 7:1-10

    “How long will you go limping with two different opinions?” Elijah asks the People of God. If YHWH is God, follow YHWH. If Baal is God, follow Baal. For crying out loud, just decide.
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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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