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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.

Proper 7 | OT 12 | Pentecost 3, Cycle A (Ellingsen)

Christian life made easy. The texts make clear why Christian life is easy — for it is not our work, but the result of God’s grace (Justification and Sanctification).

Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17
A prayer for deliverance from personal enemies attributed to David, a lament. As we have noted previously, 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 a reminder about trust in God that all the faithful experience.

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The psalmist cries for help, referring to himself as poor/oppressed [ani] and needy [ebyon], though devoted to the Lord (vv. 1-4, 6-7). Yahweh is said to be good and forgiving, rich in mercy to all who call on him (v. 5). The psalmist proceeds to urge that Yahweh hear his supplications (vv. 6-7). God is praised for his power with a hymnic exaltation, for there is none like him among the gods [elohim, which is plural in Hebrew] (vv. 8-10). Again we observe the awareness of the ancient Hebrews of many gods, all subordinate to Yahweh. The Lord is petitioned to be gracious [channun] and give strength/hardness [oz]. Reference to “child of a serving girl” is a synonym for the psalmist describing himself as Yahweh’s servant (v. 16). A sign of God’s favor is requested, putting to shame those who hate the psalmist, for Yahweh has comforted [nacham] him (v. 17).

Application: This is an opportunity to reflect on the hard times in life, the enemies we confront (Sin). But the song also affords occasion to celebrate God’s love and the confidence we can have that none of these enemies can ultimately overcome (Justification by Grace and Providence). The psalmist’s reference (in the guise of David) to being a servant affords occasion for sermons that remind the flock that all of us (even the most powerful and privileged, like David) are but servants of God (Sanctification).


Psalm 69:7-10 (11-15) 16-18
Another prayer for deliverance from personal enemies in the form of a lament attributed to David. For a discussion of the significance of Davidic authorship, see the previous Psalm above. The meaning of the reference to Lilies is uncertain, but the term likely refers to a particular popular melody to be used in the Psalm.

The psalmist laments his status as bearing shame, a stranger to his kindred (vv. 7-8, 10-13). It is not clear what kind of deliverance he seeks. It may have been an illness that was construed as God’s judgment, eliciting taunts from others. Reference to being consumed by zeal for God’s house (presumably the temple in Jerusalem) (v. 9) suggests the psalmist may have been a zealot for rebuilding the temple, much like Haggai and Zechariah in the period of Persian domination. And so perhaps it is this commitment to rebuilding the temple which may have been the cause of the critiques he was receiving. The psalmist pleads for rescue from the pit [beer, which is a synonym for Sheol or the place of the dead) (vv. 13-15). In a prayer the psalmist begs that the Lord not hide his face (a phrase which has to do with God hiding his mercy) and refers to the Lord's steadfast love and abundant mercy [chesed], pleading for redemption (vv. 16-18).

Application: The song provides occasion to reflect on how fickle our sphere of acquaintances can be (Sin) or how often God seems hidden (turning providentially his face from us). But like the first Psalm, we are also given a text for proclaiming God’s love and the confidence that we will not ultimately be rejected (Justification by Grace and Providence). Certainly the psalmist’s apparent commitment to rebuilding the temple makes this a text most favorable to sermons exhorting new building programs (stewardship). And just as God’s love gave the psalmist confidence to pursue this agenda even in face of public critique, we have in this song assurance to proceed in our countercultural ways for God’s sake (Social Ethics).

Genesis 21:8-21
In this lesson from the Bible’s book of origins (the reason why we name it Genesis), the product of four distinct oral strands, we read the story of the relationship between Abraham’s sons Isaac and Ishmael, as recounted by the E strand. This oral tradition derived from the eighth century BC is so named for its use of the divine name Elohim (translated “God”). Isaac is reported to have started to grow and with much celebration was weaned (v. 8). Sarah requests of Abraham that Ishmael, the son of Hagar the Egyptian, be cast out lest her son inherit some of Isaac’s inheritance (vv. 9-10). This distressed Abraham. Elohim told him to do as Sarah said, for it was through Isaac that Abraham’s line of offspring would continue (vv. 11-12). See the different account of Abraham’s feelings about Hagar in the J account of Genesis 16, where he seems willing to subject Hagar to Sarah.

God promises that the son of Hagar will also become ancestor of a nation (v. 13). He is the ancestor of the Bedouin tribes to the south; Muslims trace their ancestry to Abraham through him. Abraham sends Hagar and her son away. Hagar wandered in the wilderness of Beer-Shebat (v. 14), the locale of the Isaac stories (in the Negev desert, about sixty miles southwest of the eventual site of Jerusalem). When Hagar’s reserves run out she places the child under one of the bushes, lamenting that he would die (vv. 15-16). Abandoning the young, weak, and old was a necessary action in the nomadic way of life. God hears the lament and through an angel [malak, messenger] assures Hagar that God will make a great nation of Ishmael. (Traditionally he is thought to have been the progenitor of the Arab people. The Hebrew phrase for “has heard” is a word play on “Ishamel,” suggesting God hears the plight of Ishmael. ) Then the Lord shows her a well and water to give him to drink (vv. 17-19). God is said to have been with Ishmael and he grew up to become an expert hunter. He is said to have lived in the wilderness of Paran (near Sinai, next to the Red Sea). His mother found a wife for him in Egypt (vv. 20-21).

Application: God’s and Abraham’s concern for Ishmael (the forefather of the Arab people) suggests the validity of sermons on God’s love of the Islamic faithful. But we might also identify with Hagar’s complete dependence on God, how God delivered her and her son without bringing anything to him (Justification by Grace). Her life is a story about openness to God (Sanctification).


Jeremiah 20:7-13
The Complementary Version of the First Lesson is drawn from a book of prophecies of a late seventh/early sixth century BC prophet of Judah, dictated to his aid Baruch, from the reigns of Josiah, Jehoiakim, and Zedekiah through the era of the Babylonian Captivity. Some of the prophet’s criticism of the house of David and the temple, giving more attention to the Sinai covenant, may relate to his being an ancestor of one of David’s high priests, Abiathar, who lost control of the temple and was finally banished. Three sources of the book have been identified: 1) An authentic poetic strand; 2) Biographic prose; and 3) Deuteronomistic redaction during the reign of King Josiah in the seventh century BC. The interplay of these strands suggests that the final Deuteronomistic editors saw Jeremiah’s prophecies as relevant in the new context. In this lesson, as we consider Jeremiah’s fifth personal lament, it is likely we consider something from the authentic poetic strand.

Though tested and mocked, the prophet confesses God’s irresistible power over him (it has “enticed” [pathah] him), such that he cannot but proclaim the word and see his enemies overcome (the Classic View of the Atonement evidences itself here) (vv. 7-9). Though his opponents plot his fall, Jeremiah expresses confidence that the Lord will deliver him and they will be harmed. He uses excerpts from liturgical hymns (like Psalms 6:9-10; 31:13; 109:30; 140:12-13) to express confidence that God protects and delivers the needy/poor [ebyon] (vv. 10-13).

Application: The text is an ideal opportunity to proclaim our total dependence on God and that all we do is in God’s hands (Providence, Justification by Grace through Faith, Sanctification as Spontaneous Activity). We may celebrate these insights, for they give confidence in the tasks that lie ahead.

Romans 6:1b-11
The epistle is a self-introduction by Paul to the church in Rome, probably written between 54 and 58 AD. The lesson is a discussion of dying and rising with Christ, teaching Justification by Grace as Union with Christ. Paul’s insistence that salvation is entirely a gift of God may have led to criticisms that he encouraged sin. He rejects this charge (vv. 1-2). All baptized are said to be baptized into Christ’s death. Consequently, just as Christ was raised, those baptized may walk in the newness of life (vv. 3-5). The old self is crucified, so we are not enslaved to sin. It is not the physical body that is crucified but the sinful self. One who has died is freed from sin and having died with Christ we will live with him (vv. 6-8). Christ having been raised from the dead, he will never die again. Death has no dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, but the life he lives he lives to God (vv. 9-10). Thus those who believe must consider themselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ (v. 11).

Application: Two sermon possibilities present themselves. It is possible to address Paul’s concern in the text to refute those who accuse Christians of teaching “cheap grace,” that since we are saved we can do whatever the heck we want. But a proper understanding of baptism puts that to rest, for we have been born again in the sacrament, changed, are people who want to live lives dying to ourselves and sin for the sake of Christ and others (Justification by Grace and Sanctification). Another possibility for developing these themes, more in line with the Theme of the Day, is to focus on how in the midst of the burdens of life two things come easy for Christians — faith and love for one’s neighbor. Christian life is no burden but rather comes easy, for it is a doing of what we are.

Matthew 10:24-39
This gospel’s efforts to address Jewish Christians who were experiencing tensions with the Jewish community (see 24:20) is a theme that receives further treatment in the text’s reporting of Jesus’ instructions to the disciples and his comments on the nature of discipleship. Jesus’ way, it seems, is in tension with some Jewish expectations. Jesus first claims that a disciple is not above a teacher. It is enough that he be like the teacher. If the master of the house is called Beelzebul, the whole household is maligned (vv. 24-25). “Beelzebul” is the prince of demons; but it also means “head of the family.” Some speculate that this allegation suggests that charismatic episodes and exorcisms were transpiring among Jesus’ followers (9:34). The disciples need not fear. All will be disclosed to them (vv. 26-27). This comment is in accord with our observation in last week’s gospel of Matthew’s blurring distinctions between the time of the earthly Jesus and the risen Christ’s exaltation (Matthew 28:16-20). There is nothing to fear since those killing the body cannot kill the soul (v. 28). Two sparrows are sold for a penny, yet none falls to the ground apart from the Father. Even the hairs of the disciples are counted by God. There’s no need to fear, for they are worth [diafero] more than a sparrow (vv. 29-31). (The Greek word for “worth” or “value” shares a root with another Greek term, diageronta, which translates “thing that really matters.” Thus we matter more than a sparrow to God.) Jesus reportedly adds that those who acknowledge/confess [homologeo] Jesus will be acknowledged/confessed before his Father, but not those who deny Jesus (vv. 32-33). Fear of God and fearlessness before others stand firm through Christ’s death and resurrection.

Jesus claims he has not come to bring peace. He quotes Micah 7:6 on coming to set families against each other (vv. 34-36). Whoever loves family more than Jesus is not worthy of him (v. 37). Yet it must be noted that elsewhere in the gospel Matthew has Jesus teach about honoring mother and father (15:4). Jesus next observes that we must take up the cross to be worthy [axios] of him (v. 38). This discourse seems to have an eschatological intention. It conflicts with Jewish expectations about the Messiah being a Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), but it still illustrates the new era Jesus has brought about. With regard to the controversial claim that Jesus sets family members against each other, some scholars contend that conflict in families over Jesus was transpiring with some regularity at the time the gospel was written, so that this verse is just a way of giving Jesus credit for prophesying in advance what was happening (Eduard Schweizer, Good News According to Matthew, p. 251). The lesson concludes with Jesus’ claim that those finding their lives will lose life, and those losing life for his sake will find it (v. 39).

Application: At least two possibilities emerge. We can celebrate Jesus’ comforting words about our worth and value that he protects us now and that the final judgment of our value has already been made (Justification by Grace and Realized Eschatology). However, we are also reminded how this sets us apart from the ways of the world and puts us in tension with the world and its ways; so we are called to a countercultural lifestyle (Sanctification and Social Ethics)….click here for the full installment

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    Mary Austin
    Do I Have to Invite Jesus Over for Thanksgiving?
    Matthew 10:24-39; Genesis 21:8-21

    Daytime talk shows, podcasts, and reality TV shows remind us every day that family drama is common, even normal. Advice columns are full of questions about where to place our loyalty. What are our obligations to in-laws, stepchildren, and extended family? What about the troublesome family? The abusive family? None of these questions would have made any sense in Jesus’ day, where loyalty to family was a sacred obligation and duty to family was clear. Family strife may have been normal, but there was no option to check out of the family and find a new one.
         The question of who belongs comes at us constantly, in a world where we can select our own tribe. We can choose to live near people who share our economic status, work with people who share our values, and vacation with people who love the same places. We can eat with people who follow the same eating plan, and shop with people who share our taste. At the ballgame, we sit with people who have the same loyalties. Our news comes slanted to our particular taste.
         But Jesus pokes his way into our cocoon, raising the question of who belongs in a wider family of faith; and Abraham and Sarah, believing they’re following God’s plan, make a choice to exclude rather than include. So who belongs? Who gets to come over for a family dinner?...more
    Proper 7 | OT 12
    The Gospel assigned for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost comes out of the heart of Matthew 10. Last week's text brought us through Chapter 10:23. In the optional verses from 10:9-23 we heard Jesus give additional words of instruction for the disciples as they are set to carry out their mission to Israel. In 10:16-23 there begins a section of Jesus' call and commissioning that portends a mission that will be very difficult....more
    Mark Ellingsen
    Living in Jesus can ease our anxieties
    In accord with the overall theme of the Pentecost season, all the texts for this Sunday pertain to living the Christian life (sanctification), specifically with how Christian life is easy, for it is not our work but the result of God’s grace....more
    C. David McKirachan
    Going Native
    Matthew 10:24-39
    A few years ago, when I’d been in my then church about 10 years, I took a continuing education course called Renewal in the Long Pastorate. Walter Wink and Roy Oswald came at the attendees from both directions, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. To get in you had to be in your present parish at least eight years....more
    Janice Scott
    Steven couldn't believe his luck. He'd been slouching around the shopping centre with his hands in his pockets feeling miserable because he had no money. There was a new computer game he was desperate to buy, because all his friends had it and were raving about it. Steven had been wandering around the shop gazing longingly at the game, but he had no means to buy one....more
    Arley K. Fadness
    No Fear
    Object: Football or bicycle helmet

    Have I got something to show you today! But first I have a question.
    Are there things that make you afraid?  (children answer)
    Are you afraid of the dark? Are you afraid of thunder?
    Are you afraid of getting sick or hurt in sports?...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