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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
  • 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.


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


Epiphany 3, Cycle B

Now is the time! The theme of Realized Eschatology should dominate in the sermons, stressing the urgency of God’s love (Justification by Grace) and our response (Sanctification).

Psalm 62:5-12
This is a Psalm attributed to David, which refers to God as Elohim. We note once again that most Psalms attributed to the great king were not his work. Thus, many scholars have concluded that references to David in the Psalms like this one 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 about confidence in God’s protection and total dependence on God that all the faithful experience. The Psalm begins with the Psalmist noting that he waits in silence for God, for he alone is his hope [tiquah], fortress/tower, and rock of salvation [yeshuah, meaning "safety"] (vv. 5-6). The reference to the Psalmist’s “soul” employs the Hebrew term nephesh which literally means life-source, not the Greek concept of a spiritual being distinct from the body. Our total dependence on God is expressed (v. 7); we are called to trust him (v. 8). Reference to Selah at the end of verse 8 is a liturgical direction which may indicate that there should be an instrumental interlude at that point. Life is said to be but an instant, and we are warned not to set hope on riches and gaining them dishonestly (vv. 9-10). An awareness that power [oz] belongs to God and of God’s steadfast love/mercy [chesed] is expressed, even though we are to be repaid according to our works (vv. 11-12).

Application: Several sermon options emerge from this Psalm. It is an occasion to confess their dependence on God and his loving mercy, despite the fact that they deserve condemnation were they repaid by their works. (Providence and Justification by Grace are the key themes for such a sermon.) Other possibilities include sermons on the transience of life (Eschatology) or against excess preoccupation with wealth and the dishonest ways it is often acquired (Sin and Social Ethics).

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Jonah 3:1-5, 10
This book was likely written in the sixth or fifth centuries BC as Jews struggled to adjust to the Babylonian captivity. Drawing on Mediterranean folklore, a story told of Jonah who seems to have been a Northern Kingdom prophet who counseled Jeroboam II in the eighth century BC, the book is a satire seeking to communicate the theme of undeserved forgiveness of foreign people. The lesson commences after Jonah’s deliverance from the whale (2:10). He is commanded a second time to preach in Nineveh (the capital of Assyria). He goes and succeeds in calling the people to repentance (vv. 1-5). (The three days it took to traverse the city [v. 3] recalls Jonah’s three days in the fish’s belly [1:17].) As a result God spared them (v. 10). As is widely recognized, after the lesson ends Jonah expresses his unhappiness about God’s saving foreigners (4:1-2; 1:3). God responds with a reiteration of his concern for all, even Ninevites (3:11). Salvation is of the Lord (2:9b). This is a critique of a misunderstanding of Israel’s election as a particular status.

Application: This lesson provides a good opportunity to proclaim Realized Eschatology, the urgency of deciding for serving Christ without delay, for God can use us even when we are not really ready, willing, and able (Sin, Justification and Sanctification by Grace).

1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Again we read a lesson is taken from one of Paul’s authentic letters, written from Ephesus prior to his epistle to the Romans, to a church he had established (Acts 18:1-11). Relations had become strained with the church. The letter aims to address doctrinal and ethical problems disturbing the Corinthian church. The verses of the lesson emerge in the context of Paul’s discussion of marriage throughout the chapter. In these verses (vv. 29, 31) Paul notes that the end will soon come. As a result of the imminence of the end, Paul advises those with wives to live as though they had not (v. 29), to mourn as though not mourning (v. 30), to deal with the world as though not dealing with it (v. 31).

Application: This lesson also affords opportunity to proclaim Realized Eschatology, the urgency of deciding to serve Christ right away, and given this urgency Christians are to live “in,” but not “of” the world (Sanctification).

Mark 1:14-20
We return this Sunday to a text in the first of the synoptic gospels to be written, a book that was perhaps the source of other gospels, perhaps based on oral traditions of the passion narrative and accounts of Jesus’ sayings (the so-called Q-source). Probably written prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, this anonymous work is traditionally ascribed to John Mark, perhaps referred to as an associate of Paul (Acts 12:12-25; 15:37; Colossians 4:10) or as Peter’s scribe (1 Peter 5:13). Some speculate that the original audience was the church in Rome (especially Gentiles), as the gospel presumes that readers are unfamiliar with Jewish customs and Palestinian geography (see 7:2-4, 31), but it also could have been written for Palestinian Christians. The lesson reports on developments at the beginning of Jesus’ activity in Galilee. It commences by noting that after John the Baptist’s arrest Jesus began proclaiming God’s good news (v. 14). This word is summarized as a call to repentance [metanoeo] and eschatological urgency (highlighting the kingdom of God [Basileia tou Theou]) (v. 15). This is the oldest, most historically authentic account of his preaching. The kingdom’s proclamation precedes the call to repentance. (This is not the priority in the parallel version in Matthew 4:17 and Luke 4:14.) An account of the call and response of Simon and his brother Andrew follows. Both are said to be fishermen who left their father Zebedee to follow Jesus (vv. 16-20). In typical Markan fashion these responses and those of others called are said to be “immediate” (at once [eutheos]) (vv. 18-20), signifying the eschatological urgency of the response. (This urgency is also reflected in the Matthean parallel account [4:22].)

Application: A sermon on this text will also exhort a lifestyle (Sanctification) governed by an awareness that the kingdom of God is at hand, a sense of the urgency about life (Realized Eschatology). This makes us bolder in the interests of seeing life in light of God.

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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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