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
Discipleship. Sanctification is of course the central theme of this Sunday, but since we need to know who we are following, attention to Providence and Justification by Grace as inspiring discipleship seems most appropriate.
Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20
This is an Asaph Psalm and lament praying for deliverance from personal trouble. We should be reminded that Asaph was one of David’s chief musicians (1 Chronicles 6:39; 15:17).
The psalm begins with a cry to God, seeking him in the day of trouble. Yet the psalmist adds that his soul [nephesh, life force] still refuses comfort (vv. 1-2). For encouragement, the mighty works of God are recalled (vv. 11-12). God’s way is said to be holiness [qadosh, set apart], working wonders. It is noted that no god [el] is as great as God (vv. 13-14). It is said that with his strong arm [zeroa] he redeemed [gaal, freed by repaying] the descendants of Jacob and Joseph (v. 15). The psalm likely concludes with an ancient hymn praising God’s work in creation (vv. 16-19) and in Israel’s history (v. 20). Reference to waters that God overcomes may connote the primeval waters of chaos in creation (vv. 16-17; cf. Genesis 1:2) and also the Lord’s leading the people of Israel through the Red Sea (v. 19), as in verse 20 there is a reference to how Moses and Aaron led God’s people (cf. Exodus 14).
Application: This psalm invites sermons on how God is present in our times of trouble, freeing us (the image of repaying connotes Christ’s Atoning Work which might receive attention) and moving us in holy ways (ways set apart from the ways of the world). Providence, Atonement, Justification by Grace, and Sanctification are valid sermon themes for consideration.
This song of trust, praying for deliverance from trouble (v. 1) based on God’s power to save, is attributed to David. We have previously noted it is unlikely that David is the author of the psalms attributed to him (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p. 512). In fact some scholars conclude that references to David in the psalms may be a way of using him to represent the inner life of all his subjects, and so of all the faithful (Ibid., p. 521). Consequently, this psalm seems to direct us to trust God like the psalmist did.
The psalmist pleas for protection (v. 1) and confesses that there is no good apart from Yahweh (v. 2). He claims delight in the holy ones [qadosh, those set apart] in the land who have not chosen other gods (vv. 3-4). Reference seems to be made to distribution of land Yahweh has offered and with it rich life (vv. 5-6). Yahweh is praised for giving counsel and instruction (v. 7). Confidence that God will not abandon the faithful gives joy [simchah], confidence, and direction for living (vv. 9-11).
Application: This psalm also invites sermons on God as our protector, providing us with guidance in life. His faithfulness to us gives joy and direction for life (Providence, Justification by Grace, and Sanctification).
2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
This book and 1 Kings were originally one book, providing an account of Israel’s history from
the death of David through Jehoiachim’s release from a Babylonian prison. There is some speculation that these texts are the product of the Deuteronomistic Reform of Josiah in the seventh century BC, but later revised after the Babylonian Exile in 587 BC. Second Kings recounts the history from the reign of Ahaziah (850-849 BC) to the Assyrian destruction of Samaria (721 BC), as well as the story of Judah from the fall of Israel through the destruction of Jerusalem, ending with the elevation of King Jehoichim in exile (chapters 18-25). Not surprisingly, the book largely follows Deuteronomistic themes regarding loyalty to Yahweh alone and a criticism of all the kings of the Northern Kingdom for sanctioning the worship of God in sanctuaries outside Jerusalem. Yet the promise of the eternality of the Davidic covenant is said to remain secure. Throughout the book, prophets (especially Elijah, Elisha, Jonah, and Isaiah) rise up to proclaim God’s will. In this lesson we consider the story of Elijah being taken up to heaven by a whirlwind [searah], succeeded by Elisha.
The account begins with Elijah and Elisha traveling from Gilgal (a town west of the Jordan near Jericho or else a town near Bethel far from the Jordan). The prophet asks his younger follower to journey with him to nearby Bethel. Elisha pledges to stay (vv. 1-2). The narrative continues with Elijah asking Elisha to stay with him for Yahweh has sent the prophet to the Jordan River, and Elisha consents (v. 6). Elijah removes his mantle, strikes the waters and it parts, so that the two could cross the river on dry land (v. 8). Connections between Elijah’s ministry and that of Moses (crossing the Red Sea) are apparent. Elijah asks Elisha what he could do for the younger man, as the prophet is about ready to be taken. Elisha asks for a double portion of the prophet’s spirit [ruach] (v. 9). Elijah responds that this is a hard thing, yet it will be done for Elisha if he sees the prophet taken [laqach] (v. 10).
Chariots and horses of fire appear (images associated with Yahweh), separating Elisha and Elijah, and the prophet ascends to heaven. Elisha watched, crying out, “Father, these are the chariots [rekeb] of Israel….” (The term father [ab] was a title given to a man of religion.) When Elijah was out of sight, Elisha began to tear his clothes — a sign of mourning (vv. 11-12). Elisha picks up Elijah’s mantel, which had fallen and returned to the bank of the Jordan. He strikes the water and it parts. Elisha [like Elijah and Moses] is said to have gone over to the river’s other side (vv. 13-14). This demonstrates that he had become the successor of earlier prophets.
Application: Sermons on this lesson will proclaim how life is easier and happier to live when we stand in a heritage, looking ahead to the other side of death. Sanctification, Justification by Grace, and Eschatology all receive attention.
1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
The description of the first alternative to the First Lesson above provides some insight into the origin of this book as a separate creation. This book recounts the history of Israel from the death of David through the history of the divided kingdoms and the death of the Israelite King Ahab. The lesson describes part of the revelation to Elijah on Mount Horeb where he receives a mission from God that includes calling Elisha as his successor. We begin with Yahweh’s directive to Elijah to return home and on the way to the wilderness [midbar] of Damascus (the present-day Syrian desert). And then the prophet is to anoint Hazael king over Aran and Jehu as king of Israel, and then Elisha as a prophet in Elijah’s place (vv. 15-16). (Jehu would eventually succeed in overthrowing the dynasty of Omri and wipe out Baal worship [2 Kings 9-10]. The fact that God would anoint the ruler of Gentiles like Aran was testimony to his control of affairs outside Israel.)
The lesson then resumes with Elijah finding Elisha who was plowing at the time with twelve yoke of oxen. Elijah passes by them and throws his mantle on Elisha who left the oxen and ran after Elijah. (Throwing the mantle on the younger man was a kind of anointing of Elisha.) The younger man asks first to kiss his mother and father and then pledges to follow the prophet, for Elijah makes clear that what has happened is very important (vv. 19-21). Elisha may have first displayed some lack of determination to follow Elijah in asking to bid his parents farewell. But Elisha’s slaughtering his oxen indicates his willingness to break totally with his past life.
Application: Sermon themes of the other alternative for the First Lesson seem appropriate to this alternative too. Another sermon direction might be to highlight that discipleship involves breaking with the past (Sanctification and Realized Eschatology).
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Once more we remind ourselves of the origins of this book as a polemical letter written by Paul to a church he had founded. Its aim is to affirm that Gentiles need not become Jews in order to become Christian. In this lesson Paul undertakes a discourse on Christian freedom and its implications for Christian life (Sanctification).
The lesson begins with Paul noting that for freedom [eleutheria] Christ has set us free. Readers are exhorted to stand firm and not submit to a yoke of slavery (v. 1). The freedom to which the faithful were called, Paul urges, cannot be used as an opportunity for self-indulgence but through love the faithful should become slaves [douleute] to each other (v. 13). Faith, it seems, produces good works. Love [agapao] of neighbor is said to summarize the whole law [nomos], he adds (v. 14; cf. Leviticus 19:18). This suggests that Paul’s comments on the law are not just about human regulations, but about good works. He cautions care if the faithful get ugly to each other (v. 15). He calls readers to live by the Spirit [pneuma] and not by the flesh [sarx]. The two are opposed (vv. 16-17). To be led by the Spirit is to be not subject to the law (v. 18). Paul then lists the works of the flesh (vices common in the Graeco-Roman world) like fornication, idolatry, envy, and so forth (vv. 19-21a). Those who do such things are warned that they will not inherit God’s kingdom (v. 21b). Paul then lists the fruits of the Spirit including love, joy, peace, faithfulness, and self-control. There is no law against such things, he adds (vv. 22-23; cf. Romans 12:6-8). He concludes by noting that those who belong to Christ have crucified [stauroo] the flesh with its passions (v. 24). If we live by the Spirit we should let ourselves be guided by the Spirit (v. 25).
Application: This lesson affords an opportunity to clarify what Christian freedom is like (Sanctification and Justification by Grace).
Again we are 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). This lesson recounts the narrative of Jesus’ rejection by a Samaritan village in his travels and his teaching on the claims of discipleship. Only the comments on discipleship have a parallel in the other gospels (see Matthew 8:18-22).
Luke first notes that the days were drawing near [sumplerousthai, being fulfilled] for Jesus to be taken up [analepseos, a reference to the Ascension] so he set his face to go to Jerusalem (v. 51). He is reported to have sent messengers [aggelos, the same Greek term for “angels”] ahead of him. Their task was to arrange for lodging and food. They entered a village of Samaritans, but the citizens did not receive him (vv. 52-53). James and John ask Jesus if they could command a fire to consume those rejecting him, but Jesus rebuked them (vv. 54-55). Going to another village Jesus gains other followers. One claims that he will follow Jesus wherever he goes (vv. 56-57). Jesus responds that while animals have dwelling places, the Son of Man [huios tou anthropou] does not (v. 58). This title “Son of Man” may refer to Jesus claiming the authority of a prophet (Ezekiel 2:1, 3) or an eschatological judge (Daniel 7:13-14). Jesus invites another man to follow him, but he said that he must first bury his father. Jesus responds that the dead must bury their own dead and that the man should proclaim the kingdom of God (vv. 59-62). The final verses are reflections on the cost of discipleship.
Application: With this text one can proclaim how true discipleship involves focusing on Christ with no qualifications, and all other agendas must take second place to him. Sanctification as freedom from the law could be the focus of such a sermon, along with Justification by Grace as its presupposition.
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