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    Buy Direct from CSS Publishing Company is a free website that provides brief yet probing exegetical commentary for:

  • Pastors who need inspiration and idea starters for their sermons
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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 13 | OT 18, Cycle B

Being fed by our Lord and the companionship it brings. Sermons related to Justification by Grace (including an awareness of our sin and estrangement from each other), Providence, the Lord’s Supper, the Church (and how it provides for its members and everyone else), along with the work of the Holy Spirit in binding us to God are all appropriate ways of developing this theme.


Psalm 51:1-12
A lament Psalm for healing and moral renewal, traditionally ascribed to David after being condemned by Nathan for sexual transgressions with Bathsheba. Of course as we have previously noted it is unlikely that David is the author of the Psalms attributed to him (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p. 512). In fact some scholars conclude that references to David in the Psalms may be a way of using him to represent the inner life of all his subjects, and so of all the faithful (Ibid., p. 521). In that sense this lament and plea for healing and renewal is our song.

The psalmist urges God to have mercy [chanan, to be gracious] according to his steadfast love [chesed, lovingkindness] and cleanse [taher] our sin which is confessed (vv. 1-4, 7, 9). Reference to being purged with hyssop in verse 7 suggests a ceremony of sprinkling such as those reported in Exodus 12:22 and Leviticus 14:51. God has no interest in sacrifice, the psalmist notes (vv. 16-17). He adds that sin is only sin if committed against God (v. 4). Presumably ordinary guilt is not sin. A reference is made to being born in sin (suggesting the Christian doctrine of Original Sin) (v. 5) and also to being rejected by the Holy Spirit (v. 11). The psalmist proceeds to note that God desires inward truth/steadfastness [emeth] and wisdom [chokmah] (v. 6). After reiterating the plea for deliverance and mercy (even from physical distress), the psalmist pleads for joy and gladness that Elohim would hide his face from the sins we have committed (vv. 7-9; cf. v. 12). This leads to hope for transformation so that the forgiven sinner be given a new and right heart [leb] and a willing/steadfast spirit. Reference to the Holy Spirit [ruach qodesh] given to the believer seems to be a reference even in this Old Testament context to God’s sustaining presence and companionship with the faithful (vv. 10-11).

Application: The Psalm affords occasions for sermons on Original Sin, on the need for a life of penance and/or doing evangelism (Sanctification) which results from the Spirit’s work as well as transformation by the mercy and love of God, and also on Justification by Grace (both as giving us a new heart [transforming the faithful] or as overlooking our sin). Sermons on the work of the Holy Spirit (the companionship with God that the Spirit brings) and the joy of Christian living (Sanctification) are also appropriate.

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Psalm 78:23-29
This is an Asaph Psalm. Asaph was one of David’s chief musicians (1 Chronicles 6:39; 15:17, 19; 16:5-7). This Psalm is said to be a Maksil, probably an artful song composed with artistic skill. This one was probably composed for use at the major festivals, simply reciting the history of God’s dealings with Israel and in this case also recounting his people’s faithlessness. The lesson begins with a celebration of the miraculous feeding of the people in the wilderness reported in Exodus 16 (the Complementary Version of the First Lesson) and Numbers 11 (vv. 23-24). The bread [man, a sweet gum or resin] provided is said to be bread of angels (v. 25). Yahweh repeatedly rained flesh on the people like dust, with winged birds like sand of the sea, falling all around their dwellings so they were filled full, giving them what they craved [taavah, or lusted for] (vv. 26-29).

Application: Sermons on God’s loving care for us, how miraculous it is even having the food we eat (Providence) logically emerge from this text.


2 Samuel 11:26–12:13a
We note once more that the origin of this book as a distinct text 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). This book is probably the result of two or three sources, culminating with the work of the Deuteronomistic (D) strand (the result of sweeping religious reforms under King Josiah in 621 BC). The role of this last source not surprisingly entails that a central theme is the struggle to remain obedient to Torah, to be God’s covenant people, and to inherit divine blessings. This book especially relates to the reign of David as King of Israel. In this lesson we consider the implications of David’s indiscretions and the prophet Nathan’s rebuke of him along with subsequent proclamation of forgiveness.

Having eliminated Uriah (who had been one of David’s best soldiers), David takes Uriah’s widow as his wife (11:26-27a). This displeases the Lord, who sends the prophet Nathan to condemn David (11:27b–12:1). Nathan confronts David with a parable of two men, one rich and the other poor. The poor man had a small pet lamb (12:2-3). A rich man came and took this lone lamb from the poor man rather than feed a guest from his own flock (12:4). David was angered by this account, claiming the rich man deserved death and (as per Exodus 22:1) thinking a fourfold [arbatayim, some ancient Greek manuscripts refer to “a sevenfold”] restitution of property should be provided to the poor man’s family (12:5-6). Then Nathan tells him that he is the man (12:7). And yet David has been richly blessed by the Lord (12:7-8). The question is raised why David has done such evil [ra] (12:9).

As a result of the king’s sin, Nathan informs David that the sword will never depart from his house. Trouble will be raised up against him. His wives will be taken from him (12:10-12). David confesses his sin. Forgiveness is offered, his sins are “put away” (12:13).

Application: The text invites sermons proclaiming how even people of faith like David who have sinned (whoring after their desires) are forgiven, their iniquity remembered no more or put away (Justification by Grace).


Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15
We have previously noted that the book is so named for the Greek term referring to the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. Its Hebrew name (meaning “These are the names”) refers to the first words of the text’s prologue. Like all five books of the Pentateuch, this book is probably the product of several distinct literary traditions. This one is just comprised of three strands: 1) J, ninth /tenth-century BC source, so named for its use of the Jahweh or Yahweh (translated “Lord”); 2) E, an eighth-century BC source named for its use of the divine name Elohim; and 3) P or Priestly source, dated from the sixth century BC. This lesson is the story of Yahweh feeding Israel in the wilderness with bread from heaven.

The lesson begins with the whole congregation complaining against Moses and Aaron. They claim it would have been better to have died in Egypt, for there they ate their fill of bread but in the wilderness where Moses has brought them they will be killed with hunger (vv. 2-3). Yahweh tells Moses he will rain bread from heaven for them and the people should gather enough for that day. In that way they will be tested, whether they will follow his instructions (v. 4). After instructions by Moses and Aaron, chiding the people for their complaining (vv. 5-8), Moses tells Aaron to proclaim to the congregation to draw near to Yahweh [to come close to the Ark of the Covenant] for he has heard their complaints. As Aaron spoke they see the glory/honor [kabod] of Yahweh appearing in a cloud [anan] (vv. 9-10). Yahweh speaks to Moses telling him God has heard the complaining, and Moses is to tell them that they will eat meat and in the morning have their fill of bread so they know the Yahweh is their God (vv. 11-12). That evening quails came and covered the camp and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the dew lifted a fine flaky substance like frost was found on the ground (vv. 13-14). Israelites seeing it did not know what it was. Moses says it is bread [lechem, which may just be translated food] the Lord has given them to eat (v. 15). Quite likely this may have been the “honey-dew” excretion of two scale-insects that feed on the twigs of the tamarisk tree.

Application: Given the text’s parallels to the second alternative to the Psalm of the Day, its sermon applications are most appropriate for this narrative. Themes for the Application of the first version of this lesson are also appropriate. The theme of companionship with God as making all these possible is also suggested by Moses’ approaching the Ark of the Covenant to come into more direct fellowship with God.


Ephesians 4:1-16
As noted last week, this book is a circular letter, either written by Paul from prison late in his career of 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 (1:15). This lesson is part of a discussion of the ethical implications of Paul’s cosmic Christology and ecclesiology. This aim is made explicit in verse 1.

Paul proceeds to describe the virtues of the worthy [axios] life (including humility, gentleness, patience) (vv. 2-3). He affirms the unity of the Body of Christ, the Spirit, and the one Baptism of the one God (vv. 4-6). God is said to permeate the cosmos (v. 6). Each was given grace [charis] according to the measure of Christ’s gift (v. 7). Psalm 68:18 is quoted to communicate how Christ has ascended in the sense of conquering all spiritual powers (vv. 8-9). This Ascension entails Christ’s cosmic status, filling all things (v. 10). The gifts Christ gives are said to be various offices of the church to equip saints for ministry [diakonia] to build up the body [soma] so all come to the unity [herotes] of faith, to maturity, to the full stature [helika, or “greatness”] of Christ (vv. 11-13). Thus we must no longer be tossed to and fro by every new doctrine but speaking the truth in love must grow up into Christ from which the whole body is knit together [sumbibadzomen, brought together] (vv. 14-16).

Application: The lesson affords opportunities to proclaim how the church’s structure and status as the Body of Christ entails unity in its daily life (Church and Sanctification). Providence (Christ permeating to cosmos) is another homiletical possibility.


John 6:24-35
The Gospel Lesson is again drawn from the last of the gospels to be written, probably not composed until the last two decades of the first century. We have noted that it is very different in style in comparison to the other three (so-called Synoptic) Gospels. It is probably based on these earlier gospels. The book has been identified with John the Son of Zebedee, the disciple whom Jesus loved, and this claim was made as long ago as late in the first century by the famed theologian of the early church Irenaeus (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 414). It is likely that it was written by a disciple of John. Recently some scholars have suggested an alternative account of the origins of John’s gospel. Appealing to the writings of a late first/early second century Bishop Papias, who may have implied that John’s gospel was the result of eyewitness origins, such scholars have argued that the book is in fact an authentic historical testimony to Jesus (Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, especially pp. 423ff; cf. Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, pp. 154-155).

This lesson and all those following in the next weeks from this chapter are unique to John. This account and upcoming Gospel Lessons are a continuation of Jesus’ discourse on his relation to God; this is the beginning of his discourse on the bread of life. Crowds seeking Jesus after his feeding of the 5,000 cannot find him and proceed to cross the Sea of Galilee to try to find him in Capernaum (vv. 23-24). Finding Jesus, he is addressed as rabbi. The Lord rebukes them on the grounds that they have sought him merely because they wished to eat the food he had provided at the previous miracle. He rebukes them for seeking the food that perishes, not the food [brosin] that endures for eternal life. God the Father is said to have set his seal [sphragizo, or mark of approval] on Jesus the Son of Man [huios to theou] (vv. 25-27). John does not use this title for Jesus like the Synoptic Gospels do most of the time, as a way of distinguishing the exalted and the earthly Jesus. Given this gospel’s aim to encourage readers to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God (20:31), it is crucial for John to posit an identity of the man Jesus and the exalted Christ (Brevard Childs, The New Testament as Canon, p. 135). In fact John tends to understand the title in the sense of the Gnostics, as designating a pre-existent one who became man and must be exalted again (1:51; 3:13f.; 12:23; cf. Rudolf Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, Vol. 2, p. 37).

The crowd asks Jesus how to perform the works of God. Jesus answers that faith in him who sent Jesus is the word of God (vv. 28-29). The crowd in turn requests a sign [semeion]. They refer to how the Jewish ancestors ate manna in the wilderness (vv. 30-31). Jesus responds by noting it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven, but his Father. This bread of God gives life [zoe] (vv. 32-33). They ask for bread, and Jesus responds that he is the bread [artos] that that whoever come to him will never hunger or thirst (vv. 35-36).

Application: This lesson invites sermons on proclaiming and clarifying in what sense Jesus is Bread of Life (with implications for Christology, Justification by Grace, and the Lord’s Supper). Helping hearers recognize that the bread we eat stays in our bodies, that we are intimate with the Bread of Life (Sanctification) leads to opportunities to undercut secular perceptions that faith is irrelevant for daily life (Sin).

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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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