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
Reformation Day, Cycle A
THEME OF THE DAY
Freedom! The texts and the festival invite consideration of our freedom from the law (Sin, Justification by Grace, and Sanctification as Spontaneous Good Works).
A Korah Psalm (one of the songs attributed to professional temple singers [see 2 Chronicles 20:19]). The reference in the psalm’s preface to Alamoth is uncertain. We do know that this is the psalm (especially v. 1) that inspired Martin Luther’s famed hymn “A Mighty Fortress.”
God is said to be our refuge and strength, a present help in trouble. We need not fear [yare], for he subdued all others (vv. 1-3). This may be a reference to what God will do in the last days. The promise is made that Jerusalem will endure forever (vv. 4-7). Reference to the river making the city glad is an image for the service of blessing. Reference to Selah after verse 3 probably is a direction to insert an instrumental interlude at that point in the psalm. The establishment of God’s kingdom will bring peace (vv. 8-9). We are urged to be still and know that the Lord is God (v. 10). These words may be a divine oracle of salvation, giving God praise for his observance of help against enemies.
Application: Sermons on this hymn might examine our fears and troubles (Sin) with the assurance that God is still our refuge (Justification by Grace). Opportunities are also provided to consider the atonement (the Classic View, whereby Christ and God defeat the forces of evil)…click here for the rest of this installment
All Saints Day, Cycle A
THEME OF THE DAY
This is inspired by the saints and the love of God. The festival and the assigned texts focus on the Christian life (Sanctification), with an appreciation that this does not happen apart from God’s work on us (Justification by Grace). There are also eschatological elements/themes to be explored in relation to these themes.
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
This lesson is a thanksgiving for deliverance from trouble, traditionally attributed to David when feigning madness before Abimelech, whom he ultimately overcame. (In the actual event reported in 1 Samuel 21:10-15, David tricks Achish, King of Gath.) We have previously noted that many scholars have concluded that references to David in the psalms may have been a way of using him to represent the inner life of all his subjects and so of all the faithful (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p. 521). In that sense this song is about the help we can count on from God in the midst of our troubles. The psalm is acrostic, with the first letter of each line following consecutively the order of the Hebrew alphabet.
The lesson begins with a brief hymn of praise, referring to blessing [barak] Yahweh at all times (vv. 1-3). The psalmist claims to have sought the Lord and been delivered (vv. 4, 6). Yahweh’s angel [malak, referring both to a messenger and to Yahweh's power] camps around all who fear [yare, referring to obedience and proper relationship with God] him (v. 7). We are told to taste and see that Yahweh is good [tob], and those who take refuge in him are blessed/happy [ashere] and are never in want (vv. 8-10). The style here is typical of teachers of Hebraic wisdom (Psalms 1 and 37). The Lord is said to redeem [padah, which also means "free"] the life of his servants not condemning those who take refuge in him (v. 22).
Application: Sermons on this song might depict the Christian life (Sanctification) as taking refuge in God. These saints are never in want and are blessed (which entails their happiness). The character of happiness in Old Testament times, reflecting on how we might find happiness today in holiness and right relation with Christ, could receive further attention…click here for the rest of this installment
Proper 26 | OT 31 | Pentecost 21, Cycle A
THEME OF THE DAY
The marvelous things God’s word does. The texts permit us to focus on what God does (Providence and Justification by Grace) and how that changes us and our world (Sanctification and Social Ethics). Some of these themes permit attention to the celebration of All Saints Day commemorated just the previous day.
This psalm is a group thanksgiving for pilgrims who have come to Jerusalem for a festival. God is first praised for his love (v. 1). The redeemed [gaal] of the Lord should concur, for they were gathered from north, south, east, and west (vv. 2-3). Reference is made here to the Babylonian exiles. Then groups of verses follow offering thanks for deliverance from various dangers. Verses 4-9 are thanks for deliverance for those who traveled across the desert. In their hunger and thirst (v. 5), those traveling in the desert cried out to Yahweh, and he delivered [natsal] them (v. 6).
Application: With this song, preachers have occasion to examine ways in which we are endangered (Sin) as well as tragedies of hunger locally and nationwide (Social Ethics), along with the proclamation of God’s love (Justification by Grace) and Atonement (the Classic View, whereby Christ and God defeat the forces of evil)….click here for the rest of this installment