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LectionaryScriptureNotes.com is a free website that provides brief yet probing exegetical commentary for:

  • Pastors who need inspiration and idea starters for their sermons
  • Church musicians who want to coordinate music and hymn selections with scriptural themes
  • 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.

Lent 4, Cycle A (Beck)

In the Older Testament texts of Psalm 23 and of 1 Samuel 16:1-13 the Lord God overcomes the darkness of the “valley of the shadow of death” and provides hope for all of our days. In the Newer Testament texts of Ephesians 5:8-14 and John 9:1-42 the Lord Jesus overcomes basically the same “darkness” and provides the same “hope.”

Psalm 23
Psalm 23 is certainly for us an effective psalm of hope. When we are confronted by the death of loved ones or by the reality of our own impending death, we turn individually and as the Church corporately to this Israelite song of trust. It may even be accurate to state that Psalm 23 is one of the few texts within the Israelite Scriptures that has greater use among Christians than it has among Jews. For us, of course, the Lord is not only the Lord God as perceived by the ancient Israelites, but also the Lord Jesus, who for us is the “Good Shepherd,” and “all the days of our life” are perceived to include not only life in this time and space, but also eternal life beyond the limits of this time and space….click here for the full installment

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Lent 4, Cycle A (Ellingsen)

THEME OF THE DAY
Seeing the light! Historically this Sunday in Lent was called Laetare (Rejoicing Sunday), a time to relieve the austerities of Lent with a mood of celebration. Consequently, although the themes of Sin and Repentance are evident in the texts, the focus is on hope (Realized Eschatology), complimenting Providence as well as Justification and Sanctification by Grace.

Psalm 23
This famed Psalm expresses confidence in God the shepherd’s protection, extolling the comfort of providence. This is a Psalm attributed to David, but as we have noted he is not likely the author or even the collector of the Psalms attributed to him (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p. 512). Consequently we cannot be sure when this Psalm was written. This inability to pin-point the place or time of origin of the Psalm indicates that the Psalm is properly read as a living voice for the present, not bound to its historical point of origin (Ibid., p. 523).

The image of Yahweh as shepherd or the faithful as sheep is not unique to this Psalm; see 95:7; 100:3; Ezekiel 34:11-16. The Lord is said to lead us in right paths (v. 3). Thus we need to fear no evil (v. 4). Surrounded by goodness and mercy, the psalmist pledges regular worship in the temple (v. 6). This is a Psalm about gratitude to God. The believer is pursued not by enemies, but by God’s love.

Application: This is a great opportunity to rejoice (Sanctification), for we are pursued by God’s love (Providence and Justification by Grace). The Psalm also invites us to help the faithful see themselves as sheep, as followers, and not as autonomous as we think (Sin and Sanctification).

1 Samuel 16:1-13
This book’s origin as a distinct literary work derives from the original 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: 1) Early traditions about Samuel and Saul; 2) editor-molded materials into a connected history implying a critique of the events, deeming kingship as problematic, and so maintaining that Israel should be set under the rule of God and his prophet Samuel; and 3) incorporating the previous strand into the more Deuteronomistic history (which is a product of the sweeping religious reforms under Davidic King Josiah in the late seventh century BC).

The lesson is the story of the anointing of David. The account begins with Yahweh asking Samuel how long he will grieve over Saul (as a result of Yahweh’s rejection of Saul as king due to his disobedience [ch. 15]). He sends Samuel to Jesse in Bethlehem, from whose sons he has provided a new king (v. 1). Samuel fears he will be killed by Saul if he undertakes such a mission. The Lord instructs him to take a heifer with him, claiming Samuel has come to offer a sacrifice to the Lord (v. 2). The idea then is to invite Jesse to the sacrifice, at which time Yahweh plans to show Samuel whom to anoint as the new king (v. 3).

Samuel follows the command. In Bethlehem he is met by elders, to whom he assures his peaceful intention. He sanctifies Jesse and his sons and invites them to the planned sacrifice (vv. 4-5). Seeing Jesse’s son Eliab, Samuel first thinks he is the chosen king, as he has impressive size and stature. But Yahweh claims to have rejected this young man (vv. 6-7). Then Jesse calls his sons Abinadab and Shammah to pass by Samuel, and he responds that the Lord has not chosen them (vv. 8-9). Next Jesse makes seven of his sons pass before Samuel with the same judgment (v. 10). Finally Jesse indicates that Samuel has seen all his sons, except for David the youngest who is keeping sheep. Samuel asks that he be summoned (v. 11). David is reported to have been ruddy and handsome. Yahweh directs that he be anointed. Samuel does so and from then on the Spirit of the Lord was on David, and then Samuel departs (vv. 12-13).

Application: This is a story of God finding a way to help his people out of a difficult situation by providing new leadership. This invites reflection on what is wrong with the nation (Sin and Social Ethics) as well as a confidence that God will not abandon his people and will find a new way (Providence).

Ephesians 5:8-14
It has been noted that this letter portrays itself as having been written by Paul from prison, late in his career. But in view of the fact that the book includes vocabulary and stylistic characteristics different from the rest of the Pauline corpus, some scholars have concluded that it may be the work of a follower of Paul who had a hand in assembling the collection of his epistles. The fact that Paul’s salutation in 1:1 does not appear in many ancient manuscripts suggests the non-Pauline origin of the work….click here for the full installment

click here for future days

  • Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!: Cycle A Gospel Sermons for Lent and Easter
     
    SermonSuite
    Beth Herrinton-Hodge
    See the Light, Live the Light, Shine the Light

    John 9:1-41; Ephesians 5:8-14
    We are not strangers to dichotomies. The world seems easier to get our head around as we construct dichotomies: male and female; voters and non-voters; old and young; haves and have-nots.
         We can align ourselves with one side or another. We find kinship among those who are on “our” side.
         What implications do these dichotomies have for God’s people, for Christ’s followers, for us?
         The writer of Ephesians has an answer: Live as children of light. Fully embrace it. Let the light that is yours in Christ shine -- try to find what is pleasing to God, what is good and right and true...more
    A Man Born Blind

    This is the story of a miracle that is important mostly as the beginning of the real action of the story. Most often the miracle itself is the centerpiece of the story, but in this instance the focus is on people's reaction to the man who was healed, not the healing itself.
         This can make the lesson easier as a subject for a sermon by providing an alternative to a miraculous healing which can easily be dismissed. A focus on the reactions of the audience can translate quite easily into a contemporary view of modern reactions to Jesus and the stories we hear of his actions....more
    David Kalas
    And there was light
    The significance of light and darkness is evident from the very beginning of scripture. Indeed, from the very beginning, period. “Let there be light” is, famously, the first thing we have a record of God saying. It is the essential first act of creation. And as we continue to read, we discover that it is just the first blow in God’s ongoing combat against darkness.
         Later, the gospel writer picked up on what God did at creation and built upon it. John saw yet another divine victory over darkness in the person and work of Christ. “In him was life,” John wrote, “and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:4 NRSV)....more
    C. David McKirachan
    Your Staff Comforts Me
    Psalm 23
    There were four of us, American teen aged boys, living in an Ethiopian Orthodox monastery near Addis Ababa. We were there for three months helping to build a school for the local children. There were a dozen or so Ethiopian young men, around our age living with us. It was called an ecumenical encounter....more
    Janice Scott
    How to wake up to a life of radiance
    Anyone who lives in the country will know that there's a particular quality to the darkness of night in the country. For those who live in the town, total darkness is rarely if ever experienced, but in the country the quality of blackness during night hours can be almost absolute. Country people who go out during evening hours in the winter soon get into the habit of carrying a torch, for without some source of light they would be utterly blind....more
    Mary Kay Eichelman
    Mean Lies
    Object: small pieces of poster board that say "Stupid," "Ugly," "Can't do anything right!," "Cheater"
    Let's imagine that there is a new student that comes to your school. They don't have any friends so you invite them to play with you at recess.  But when your other friends see you do that they say things like what are on my cards.  Can you read them with me.  (Read off the cards together.)  It could really be painful hearing these words and you may feel like giving up doing the kind deed....more

Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen

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