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
THEME OF THE DAY
God’s surprising ways to love us. Themes of these lessons lead to an appreciation that God does not operate as we would expect and that he cares for the poor and overcomes evil when things are bad (Providence, Social Ethics, Justification by Grace).
Psalm 107:1-9, 43
This psalm is a group thanksgiving for pilgrims who have come to Jerusalem for a festival. It begins with praise of God for his love. His mercy [chesed, loving-kindness] is said to be forever (v. 1). The redeemed [gaal, freed] of the Lord should concur, it is said, for they were gathered from north, south, east, and west (vv. 2-3). Reference seems to be made here to the Babylonian Exiles. Then follow groups of verses offering thanks for deliverance from various dangers. Thanks for deliverance of those who traveled across the desert are offered in verses 4-9. In their hunger and thirst (v. 5), it is sung, those traveling in the desert cried out to Yahweh, and he delivered them (v. 6). The people should thank the Lord for his steadfast love and wonderful works [pala], the psalm reiterates, for he satisfied the thirsty and hungry with good things (vv. 8-9). The lesson ends with the observation that the wise [chakan] give heed to these things and consider the steadfast love [chesed, mercy] of the Lord (v. 43).
Application: Sermons taking direction from this psalm will proclaim the wisdom that God cares for us, even when things seem worst (Justification by Grace, Providence). God’s care for us in the worst of circumstances is also for the poor, we are reminded (Social Ethics).
The Alternative Psalm is an Elohistc Wisdom Psalm meditating on the transience of life and wealth. It is a psalm of the Korahites — a group of temple singers. The song begins with a call to people of all socio-economic estates (vv. 1-2). It purports to offer a wisdom [chokmoth] utterance to which we should incline our ears (vv. 3-4). No need to fear in times of trouble at the hands of the wealthy (v. 5), for those who trust in their wealth have no ransom to save their lives (vv. 6-9). The wise die along with fools, leaving their wealth to others (v. 10). Graves become the homes of the dead and not their great lands. Rather than abide in their pomp, they perish like animals (vv. 11-12).
Application: The themes of the First Alternative Psalm are appropriate to this psalm, though this one may even stress Social Ethics and a critique of wealth even more than the first alternative.
Hosea’s ministry to the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the eighth century BC followed closely upon Amos. But unlike Amos he came from that region. He worked at a time when Israel was suffering from war with Assyria and in virtual anarchy. The prophet’s marriage to the prostitute Gomer and forgiveness of her dramatizes the book’s dominant theme of divine compassion and love. This lesson is a proclamation of God’s repentance, his decision to exercise compassion despite his original plan to punish Israel’s ingratitude.
Yahweh speaks of Israel as a child he loved, having called his son out of Egypt (v. 1). The more he called Israel, the more the people practiced idolatry (v. 2). The Lord then claims that he taught Ephraim to walk and was led with love [aheb]. God is compared to one who lifts infants to his cheeks (vv. 3-4). (Ephraim is the tribe stemming from the region of Ephraim, twenty miles north of Jerusalem.) It is prophesied that Israel shall return in captivity to Egypt or Assyria, as they have not returned to Yahweh. He will not respond to their calls (vv. 5-7). Then follows Yahweh’s lament that he cannot give up his people, cannot treat them like Admah and Zeboiim (sites destroyed along with Sodom and Gomorrah [Genesis 19]), for his compassion is warm and tender (v. 8). There is a suggestion in this text that God has changed his mind, as the “heart” [leb] which is said to have recoiled is the seat of decision-making in ancient Hebrew cosmology. He promises not to destroy the people, will not execute wrath, for he is God. He calls himself the holy one [qadosh, the one set apart] (v. 9). He prophesies that they will repent (go to the Lord), and then he return them to their homes (vv. 10-11).
Application: Sermons on this text will proclaim the consistent love of God — a love which is holy (sets him apart). This is a love expressed differently and in new ways when different or new situations emerge (Justification by Grace).
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23
The name of this book and ultimately of the author derives from the Hebrew word Qoheleth. It literally means “leader of an assembly,” which some scholars interpret “preacher.” The editor of the book, perhaps one of the author’s students, identifies the author as “son of David.” This has led some to identify him with Solomon, though the late language and tenor of the work make that impossible. A date around 300 BC for its composition seems plausible, but other scholars date it as late as the second century BC. It is a Book of Wisdom that is skeptical of Wisdom itself. It focuses on the limits and contradictions of life.
The lesson begins with the famed appreciation of the vanity [hebel] of all life, its utter meaninglessness (1:2). The lesson skips to the writer claiming to have been king of Israel and in searching out wisdom [chokmah] and found it futile. He concluded that God has given human beings unhappy business to be busy with, for all deeds are just vanity and a chasing after wind (1:12-14). Though the wise [chakam] have eyes and fools [kesil, literally “self-confident”] walk in darkness, but they all end up with the same fate (2:14-15). The preacher reflects on hating all his toil, since he must leave it to those who come next and none know if they be wise or foolish. And so all is vanity (vv. 18-19). Then he turns his heart to despair, because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil, and this too is vanity and a great evil (vv. 20-21). Mortals get nothing from all their toil. Their days of full of pain, and their work a vexation. It is all vanity (vv. 22-23).
Application: This Complementary Version of the First Lesson affords an opportunity to reflect on the meaninglessness of life (Sin) apart from faith, so that we truly appreciate the surprising character of God’s love (Justification by Grace).
Again we noted that this is a circular letter which, much like Philippians, was either written by Paul from prison (4:3, 10, 18) late in his career or by a follower of Paul who had a hand in assembling the collection of his Epistles. These conclusions follow from the fact that this Epistle includes vocabulary and stylistic characteristics different from the indisputably Pauline writings. The letter addresses Christians in a town in Asia Minor (the most eastern part of modern-day Turkey) near Ephesus, whose church, though not likely founded by Paul, was basically in line with his teachings, though threatened by ascetic teachings (2:21, 23), ritual practices rooted in Jewish traditions (2:16), and philosophical speculations (2:8, 20), all of which were related to visionary insights, and perhaps even the heresy of Gnosticism. This lesson is part of a discussion of the Christian life.
Paul notes that having been raised with Christ, readers are urged to search the things that are above [ano] (v. 1). We seek the things above for we have died and our lives are hidden [kekruptai] with Christ who is said to be life [zoe, motion, activity] (vv. 2-4). Colossians are exhorted to put to death all this earthly fornication, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry) (v. 5). These behaviors are said to be why the wrath [orge] of God is coming (v. 6). Living with these earthly behaviors is said to be the ways followed by the Colossians (v. 7). Now they must rid themselves of such things (including anger, slander, abusive language) (v. 8). Hearers are exhorted not to lie to one another since they stripped off the old self and have clothed themselves with the new self, which is renewed according the image [eikon] of God the Creator (vv. 9-10). In that renewal, differences between Jew and Greek, slave and free, are abolished, for Christ is all in all (v. 11).
Application: Sermons on this lesson will describe the Christian life as hidden, as the struggle between the holiness we have been given through Christ while remaining in sin (Sanctification).
Once more we note 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.
This lesson reports on Jesus’ parable of the rich fool. The account is unique to Luke. This critique of wealth is not surprising given Luke’s special concern about the poor (Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Luke, p. 262). The story begins when someone in a crowd asks Jesus to tell his brother to divide the family inheritance with him (v. 13). Questions like this about inheritance laws would commonly be posed to teachers/rabbis. Jesus asks who sent him to be arbitrator/judge [dikasten] (v. 14). Jesus next issues a warning to be on guard against greed, for one’s life (presumably, full human experience) does not consist in an abundance of possessions (v. 15). The parable follows pertaining to a rich man whose land produces abundantly (v. 16). He wonders what to do with no place to store his crops (v. 17). He decides to pull down his barns and build larger ones in which to store his grain (v. 18). Then the rich man would feel he had ample goods and could relax, eat, and make merry (v. 19; cf. Ecclesiastes 8:15). God calls him a fool [afron], for that night he was to die and then who would own what was prepared (v. 20)? So it is with those who store treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God (v. 21).
Application: This lesson can inspire sermons that challenge the usual way we live in capitalist society, reminding us of the futility of life unless God enters us, shattering all our categories and providing a fresh visions for sharing life’s goods. Sin, Justification by Grace, Sanctification, and social Ethics all receive attention.
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