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  • 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.


Writer Mark Ellingsen

Mark Ellingsen, Pastor, Theologian, AuthorMark 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


Ascension of the Lord, Cycle C (2016)


This is the heavenly power and cosmic presence of Christ. This festival provides occasion for focusing on God in his glory and holiness, his presence with us, and his conquest of evil (Atonement, Providence, and Justification by Grace) along with an Eschatological/cosmic perspective on faith.

Psalm 47
This is a Korah Psalm celebrating God’s enthronement as king of all nations. Korahites were a group of temple singers (2 Chronicles 20:19). A summons is issued to all the world to praise God with joy and hand-claps (vv. 1-2). Yahweh Elohim is said to have subdued the nations and chosen our heritage [nachalah, inheritance] (vv. 3-4). Selah after verse 4 is a liturgical direction referring to an instrumental interlude which is to transpire at that point. The universal theme in these verses is consistent with the theme of God’s power manifested in the Ascension. The psalm is likely composed to accompany religious ceremonies connected with the Ark of the Covenant, as calls for praise to God who is said to be king of all the earth are issued (vv. 5-9). He is proclaimed king over the nations (v. 8). The kings (shields [magen]) of the earth are said to belong to God (v. 9).

Application: This Psalm provides a testimony to God’s power over all dimensions of life, even over national government and its power (Providence and Social Ethics). Spontaneous joy can only result from these insights (Sanctification)….click here for the full installment

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Easter 7, Cycle C (2016)

Living by God’s awesome vision. Sermons for this Sunday will seek to have parishioners see their lives and the events of life in light of God and his Providence. Besides these doctrines, attention should be given to Justification by Grace and Sanctification.

Psalm 97
As noted several times previously, Psalms is a collection of prayers and songs composed throughout Israel’s history. It is organized into five collections of books, perhaps an analogy to the five books of the Torah. The authors of each of the psalms are largely unknown, as in this case. This loosening of them from their historical origins entails the validity of their use today in very different contexts from their origins (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p. 523). The actual title of the book is derived from a Greek term meaning “Song” [psalmos]. The Hebrew title of the book, Tehillim, means “hymns” or “songs of praise.”

This psalm is a hymn celebrating God’s kingship. This is an Enthronement Psalm, likely used on festivals like the Festival of Booths (Leviticus 23:33ff). It begins with summoning the earth to rejoice that the Lord is king (v. 1). Various manifestations of the Lord (clouds and thick darkness, righteousness [tsedeq] and justice/judgment [mishpat] the foundation of his throne [v. 2], fire and lightning [vv. 3-4], melting mountains [v. 5], and the heavens [v. 6]) are identified. Idolators, it is said, will realize their folly (v. 7). Judah hears and rejoices in God’s judgments (v. 8). We have previously noted that the Hebraic equivalent term for “righteousness” when applied to God does not just connote legal, judgmental actions, but concerns loyalty to his covenant (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 373, 376ff). Likewise we remind ourselves that God’s judgment in the Hebraic sense is a word of comfort, in the sense that it can cause positive outcomes and provide comfort, knowing that God’s just acts have an end in sight (Ibid., pp. 343, 358-359).

The Lord is said to be exalted over all gods (v. 9). Examples of God’s justice are offered (vv. 10-11). A renewed call to worship the Lord is decreed (v. 12).

Application: Sermons on this text can praise God’s faithfulness, interpreting evils in life as having an end in sight (Providence, Justification by Grace, Eschatology).

Acts 16:16-34
It is good to be reminded again that this book is the second half of the two-part early history of the Church attributed to Paul’s Gentile associate, Luke (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24). It is particularly concerned to affirm the universal mission of the Church (1:8).

This is an account of Paul’s casting out spirits from the slave girl in Philippi, the subsequent arrest of Paul and Silas, an opportunity for escape, and the conversion of their jailer. Luke reports (using the first person plural) the encounter with a female slave who had a spirit of divination, which brought her owners much money by fortune-telling (v. 16). She followed Paul, crying out that he and his disciples were slaves of the most high God proclaiming the way of salvation [soteria] (v. 17). Pagans sometimes spoke of the God of Israel as the highest god in their pantheon. After days of this, Paul becomes annoyed and casts out the spirit from her in Christ’s name [onoma] (v. 18). Luke seems to relate healing in Christ’s name to baptizing in his name (2:38). Her owners are concerned about the loss of money from her fortune-telling and so seize Paul and Silas, bringing them before authorities, claiming they had been distributing the peace and are Jews advocating customs contrary to Roman law (vv. 19-21). The crowd joins them in this attack (v. 22a).

Magistrates have Paul and Silas stripped and flogged, throwing them in jail and placing them in stocks (vv. 22b-24). Stocks were used to torture prisoners by forcing their legs apart. At midnight, while Paul and Silas were worshiping God and the prisoners were listening to them, suddenly there was an earthquake that loosened chains and opened the doors in the prison (vv. 25-26). When the jailer awoke to see the prison doors open, he prepares to kill himself assuming the prisoners have escaped (v. 27). Paul tries to stop him, claiming none had escaped (v. 28). The jailer falls down before Paul and Silas bringing them outside and asking them what he must do to be saved [sozo] (vv. 29-30). Informed that he need only believe in the Lord Jesus, and he and his household would be saved, the jailer brings them into his house, gives them food, and he and his household rejoice because he had become a believer (vv. 31-34).

Application: This lesson invites sermons proclaiming our forgiveness despite our sin (Justification by Grace). Another possibility might be to proclaim that God is the true God, greater than all idols (God and Sanctification).

Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21
This week we consider again the last book of the Bible, an Apochryphal document written in the last part of the first century expressing hope for salvation after a world-ending new creation. Although parts of the book may predate the fall of Jerusalem, it is likely that it achieved its final form during the reign of Domitian (81-96 AD) who is said to have persecuted Christians for refusing to address him as lord and god. Written by John (1:1, 4, 9; 22:8), whose identity is not clear despite the tradition’s identification of him with the disciple, the book’s Semitic Greek style suggests that its author was Jewish. It is the report of seven (the mystical Hebrew number for fullness) dreams. It relies heavily on eschatological images of the book of Daniel and other Old Testament texts (see 1:7 [cf. Daniel 7:3]; 1:12-16 [cf. Daniel 10:5-9]).

This lesson includes portions of the book’s Epilogue reporting words attributed to Jesus. This risen, ascended Jesus claims to be coming soon with a reward [misthos] to repay according to everyone’s work. He claims to be Alpha and Omega, the first and last (vv. 12-13, 20). Those who wash their robes in order to have a right to the tree of life [zoe] may enter the city (the new Jerusalem) (v. 14). The speaker expressly identifies himself as Jesus. He claims to have his angel [aggelos] and his testimony/witness [marturion] to the churches. He is the root [rhiza] and descendent [genos] of David (v. 16). The Spirit and the bride [kallah, literally the “perfect one,” in this case the Church] say, “Come.” Anyone thirsty should come (v. 17). A concluding blessing that the grace of the Lord be all the saints is offered (v. 21).

Application: Sermons on this text should exhort and proclaim the Good News and blessings of a life lived with the glorious expectation of Christ’s return and his glorious presence in view. Sanctification and Eschatology are core themes.

John 17:20-26
Again we note that this book is the last of the four gospels to be written, probably not composed

until the last two decades of the first century. It is very different in style in comparison to the other three (so-called Synoptic) Gospels. In fact it is likely based on these earlier gospels. The book has been identified with John the Son of Zebedee, the disciple whom Jesus loved, and this claim was made as long ago as late in the first century by the famed theologian of the early Church Irenaeus (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 414). It is likely that it was written by a disciple of John.

Recently, though, some scholars have suggested an alternative account of the origins of John’s gospel. Appealing to the writings of a late-first/early-second century Bishop Papias, who may have implied that John’s gospel was the result of eyewitness origins, such scholars have argued that the book is in fact an authentic historical testimony to Jesus (Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, especially pp. 423ff; cf. Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, pp. 154-155). Regardless of its origins, though, most scholars agree that the book’s main agenda was probably to encourage Jewish Christians in conflict with the synagogue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God (20:31).

This lesson follows the conclusion of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse. We read the final portion of his high priestly prayer. While there are reports of his praying with the disciples prior to his arrest in the other gospels, the content of this prayer is unique to John. Jesus’ prayer is offered on behalf of not just his contemporaries but also for those who will believe through the word of his disciples (v. 20). He prays that they (the Church universal) would all be one [heis], as he and the Father are in each other (that his followers would also be in [en] the Father and Son so that the world [kosmos] might believe that the Father has sent him) (v. 21). Jesus proceeds to note that the glory given the Son by the Father has been given Jesus’ followers. This entails that they may be one as he and the Father are one (v. 22). Jesus says he is in the faithful and the Father in him, so that they may become completely one in order that the world might know that the Father has sent him and loves [agapao] the faithful as he loves the Son (v. 23). Jesus then prays that those given him may be with him and see his glory, because he has been loved by the Father before the beginning of the world (v. 24). Jesus prays to the Father, noting that the world does not know [ginosko] him as Jesus does (v. 25). He has made the Father known and will do so in order that the love the Father has for the Son may be given to the Son by the Father (v. 26). He prays here that the indwelling of Father and Son in the Church might express itself in a unity in love.

Application: This is a text for proclaiming our unity in Christ and how that drives us to make the world know the Son. Justification by Grace, Sanctification, Church, and Evangelism might all receive attention.
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Author of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen

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