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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


Transfiguration Sunday, Cycle C (2016)

God in all his glory is too good to miss! This festival affords opportunities for focusing on the awesome sovereignty of God and on Christ’s glorification (God and Christology) with special attention to his love for us (Justification by Grace and Providence) with an awareness of our unworthiness.

Psalm 99
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.”

This Psalm is a hymn of praise of God’s holy and righteous rule. Sometimes called an Enthronement Psalm it was likely used on festivals like the Festival of Booths (Leviticus 23:33ff). Yahweh is proclaimed king; the people may tremble (v. 1a). He is said to sit upon the cherubim [kerubim] (v. 1b). (This is a reference to the Lord’s invisible abode above carvings of winged sphinx-like creatures on the Ark of the Covenant.) The Lord is said to be great Zion (Jerusalem), exalted over all people (v. 2). All are to praise his awesome name, his holiness [qodesh] (vv. 3, 9). He is said to be a mighty king, lover of justice, who executes justice [mishpat, literally justice] and righteousness [tsedaqah] (v. 4). We have previously noted that the Hebraic equivalent term for “righteousness” does not just connote legal, judgmental actions, but when applied to God it concerns loyalty in relationships, the loyalty of God (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 373, 376ff). Likewise we remind ourselves that God’s judgment in the Hebraic sense is a word of comfort, in the sense that it can cause positive outcomes and provide comfort, knowing that God’s just actions have an end in sight (Ibid., pp. 343, 358-359).

Directives are given to extol Yahweh and worship his footstool [hadom regerl] for he is holy (v. 5). The footstool refers either to the ark on Mount Zion or to Mount Zion itself. Yahweh Elohim is praised for answering the petitions of Moses, Aaron, and Samuel who kept his decrees (vv. 6-8a). He is said to be a forgiving [nasa, lifting away] God, but takes vengeance on wrongdoings (v. 8).

Application: This Psalm fits the Theme of the Day’s concern to praise God in his majesty but with an awareness that as awesome as this God is he is still loyal and forgiving of his people (Justification by Grace and Providence).

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Exodus 34:29-35
Like all five of the books of the Pentateuch, Exodus is probably the product of several distinct literary traditions. This book is comprised of three: 1) J, a ninth/tenth century BC source, so named for its use of the name Jahweh or Yahweh (translated “Lord”); 2) E, an eighth century BC source named for its use of the divine name Elohim (translated “God”); and 3) P or Priestly Source dated from the sixth century BC. This lesson was probably put in final form by P. We have here an account of Moses’ return to the Hebrews from Mount Sinai after encountering God in the renewal of the previously broken covenant. He returns with the two tablets of the covenant and his face is reported to have shone [qaran] as a result of his encounter with God (v. 29). The people of Israel seem to have feared him because his shining face seemed like God. Aaron and all the Israelites feared to come near Moses with his shining face, but Moses summoned them to him (vv. 30-31). He then gave the people the commandments and put the veil on his face (presumably to cover the glory of God reflected in him) (vv. 32-33). When speaking to Yahweh (in the Tent of Meeting where Yahweh was thought to be present [25:8ff]), Moses removed the veil and then covers his shining face when returning. The Israelites would see the shining skin of his face (vv. 34-35).

Application: This is another lesson occasioning attention to the awesomeness of God, this time with reference to his lordship of the law. Consequently sermons on this text might explicate the true purpose of the law (to condemn Sin) so that the good news of Justification might receive more attention.

2 Corinthians 3:12–4:2
This lesson is taken from one of Paul’s authentic letters, written as relations had further deteriorated between him and the Corinthian church in the period since writing 1 Corinthians. Chapters 10-13 of the book are so different in style and tone from its first chapters as to lead many scholars to conclude that they may be the “severe letter” mentioned in 2:4. Like the first letter, this Epistle aims to address doctrinal and ethical problems disturbing the Corinthian church.

This lesson continues a discourse on the ministry of the new covenant and its freedom. We are told that we have hope [eipis] (the ministry of justification/righteousness [dikaiosune] [3:9]) and so may act with boldness [parrhesia], unlike Moses who veiled himself in order to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the Old Covenant (its temporary character) (3:12-13; cf. Exodus 34:33). In the Greek philosophy Paul had been taught, frank speech was on freedom and confidence (vv. 17, 4). To this day, the apostle writes, the Hebrew people’s minds are hardened when they hear the books of the Hebrew Bible read. There remains a veil that only Christ can set aside (3:14-16). The Lord is said to be the Spirit [pneuma], and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom [eleutheria] (3:17). (It is possible but not certain that we have here a reference to Christ and to his unity with the Spirit [Romans 8:9-10]). Paul claims that Christians, with unveiled faces, see the Lord’s glory and are being transformed [metamorfourmetha, literally changed] in the same image from one degree of glory [doxa] to another (3:18). As is by God’s mercy/kindness [eleeo] that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart (4:1). Paul insists that he has renounced shameful and cunning things. By open statement of the truth Paul commends himself to the conscience of all in God’s sight [enopian] (4:2).

Application: The lesson affords occasion for proclaiming the confidence that the risen Christ and his glory afford us, in the midst of our doubts. Sin, Justification by Grace, and Sanctification may be addressed.

Luke 9:28-36 (37-43)
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.

Appropriately enough, this lesson is Luke’s version of the Transfiguration (vv. 23-27), which may be followed by an account of Jesus’ healing an epileptic child (vv. 37-43). Parallel accounts appear in the other two Synoptic Gospels, though the parallel texts also include an account of the disciples’ questions about the coming of Elijah (Matthew 17:1-21; Mark 9:2-29).

It is reported that eight days after teaching on conditions of discipleship (vv. 23-27), Jesus ascends a mountain with Peter, James, and John in order to pray (v. 28). While praying, Jesus’ face changed and his clothes became dazzlingly white (v. 29). Several times Luke uses prayer as a setting for revelation (cf. 3:21-22; 22:39-46). Moses and Elijah are said to have appeared, speaking to Jesus about his mission to Jerusalem (vv. 30-31). Both Moses and Elijah were expected to return before the Last Judgment (Deuteronomy 18:1-5; Malachi 4:5). Though sleepy, the disciples see Christ in his glory [doxa] (v. 32). Glory is a sign of divine presence (Exodus 24:17; 40:34). As Moses and Elijah were leaving, Peter asks if the disciples should make dwellings [skene] for Jesus and prophets who had appeared (really suggesting that the favored disciples should withdraw [v. 33]). All were overshadowed by a cloud [nephele] and were terrified. (A cloud signified the divine presence [Exodus 6:10--19:1; 24:15-18].) A voice proclaims that Jesus is the Son of God, the chosen [agapetos, may also connote “Beloved] who should be heeded (vv. 34-35). Then Jesus was found alone, and the disciples who had been present kept silent (v. 36).

Coming down from the mountain, a great crowd reportedly met Jesus (v. 37). A man from the crowd begs for the healing of his epileptic son (vv. 38-39). Jesus’ disciples had been unable to do this (v. 40). Jesus laments on a faithless generation [genea], but then rebukes the unclean spirit and heals the boy (vv. 41-42). It is reported that all were astonished [exeplessomai] at God’s majesty [megaleiotes] (v. 43).

Application: This is text for proclaiming God’s majestic love for us (God, Justification by Grace, Providence).

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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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