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Epiphany 4 | Ordinary Time 4, Cycle B (2015)

THEME OF THE DAY
Prophetic authority. As we observe that prophecy is related to Christ, this theme leads to a lot of attention to the astonishing, wonderful things he does in our lives (Justification by Grace and Sanctification).

 

Psalm 111
This is Hymn of Praise to Yahweh for his great deeds. The psalm is acrostic with every line beginning with a successive letter of the Hebraic alphabet. This poetic form suggests that it may have been written for instruction as well as for praise. The psalm begins with the word hallelujah [Praise the Lord] and an expression of thanks (v. 1). God is described as gracious [channun] (v. 4), as righteous [tsedaqah] (v. 3), and faithful to the covenant with Israel (vv. 7, 9; cf. 105:8-10). It is good to remind ourselves again that the concept of “righteousness” even in an Old Testament context is not to imply that the believer lives in faultless conformity to some moral norm. It has to do with living in right relationship with God (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 370-371). Thus the term in this case could refer to a vision of a just society or merely to what happens to faithful people through God’s justifying grace. God’s great works are said to be studied only by those who delight in [chaphets, literally “desire”] them (v. 2). Reference is made to God giving his people the heritage of the nations (v. 6), presumably a reference to the land of Canaan that had been occupied by various nations. The psalm also refers to the redemption [pdeuth] of the people (v. 9), which could be understood as a prophecy about Christ’s work. Reference to wisdom [chokmah] being rooted in faith (fear of the Lord) (v. 10; Proverbs 1:7) sets the stage for the Wisdom Psalm that follows.

Application: The Psalm offers several distinct sermon directions. This can be an opportunity to praise God for his great works, which set us free, saves us (Justification by Grace), and brings about justice (Social Ethics). But more in line with the Theme of the Day, the closing references to redemption could be construed as prophecy that all these great works that are praised refer to the work of Christ.

 

Deuteronomy 18:15-20
This book is the product of writings that emerged during the sweeping religious reform under King Josiah in Judah in the late seventh century BC. This literary strand also influenced the histories of the books of Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel as well as 1 and 2 Kings. The basic theme of this piece of literature is evidenced by the meaning of its title (“Second Law”). Portrayed in the form of Moses’ Farewell Address, it is the reaffirmation of the covenant between God and Israel. Having warned the people of Israel to reject all forms of pagan superstition (vv. 9-14), the promise is made that God will raise up another prophet after Moses. Yahweh claims that he will put his words in this prophet’s mouth (vv. 15-18). This was in response to the promise God had made in an appearance on Mount Horeb at the giving of the Ten Commandments (5:23-31). It is said that a prophet is needed to mediate the awesome God to the people, for he is like a fire [esh] that can devour. We are said to be accountable for not heeding a prophet’s words or for being a false prophet. Those prophets who speak without divine authorization or blaspheme commit a capital offense (vv. 19-20; cf. 13:1-5; Ezekiel 13).

Application: The text affords opportunity to clarify the nature of prophecy (a mediator between God and the people in proclaiming God’s word) as well as why the church needs it and to call us away from all forms of contemporary idolatry (Sin and Justification by Grace).

 

1 Corinthians 8:1-13
We have already noted that the epistle is 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). He seeks to address the strained relations between him and the church. The letter aims to address doctrinal and ethical problems disturbing the Corinthian church (cf. Romans 14:1-4). In the lesson, Paul addresses the question of whether Christians may eat food consecrated to an idol. It was apparently common for Christians to hold banquets in pagan temples or to buy food sold in markets that had come from animals sacrificed in Roman temples. He urges that we deal with the question more with love than with knowledge [gnosis] which puffs up (vv. 1-2). Here and at other points in the letter, the apostle addresses the Corinthian belief that some of them possessed a special knowledge (much like Gnostics), not available to all believers (1:17ff). Paul begins by claiming that we are truly blessed when God knows us (v. 3). (Known by God in this sense refers to being chosen or called by him [cf. Romans 8:29-30].) The apostle extrapolates that eating such food is not problematic, because there are no other gods, just the one Father from/of whom all things exist and one Lord Jesus Christ through [dia] whom all exist. Other gods do not really exist (vv. 4-6). But since not all Christians have this knowledge, as some think food has been desecrated when consecrated to so-called idols (v. 7), Paul asserts that food is not a problem for our relationship with God (v. 8). He proceeds to urge that such liberty/authority [exousia] not be made a stumbling block for the weak [astheneo] (v. 9). Paul does not want believers without this knowledge to be tempted (vv. 10-11). If the weak fall because of the faithful’s actions, it is a sin against Christ (v. 12). Thus Paul urges that if food offends a brother, we should not eat it (v. 13).

Application: Sermons on this lesson should make clear that because we are known by God (elect — predestination and Justification by Grace), we may live prophetic and holy lifestyles (Sanctification) living in freedom and love for the weak.

 

Mark 1:21-28
We turn again this Sunday to a text in the first of the Synoptic Gospels to be written, a book that was quite likely 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 it presumes readers unfamiliar with Jewish customs and Palestinian geography (see 7:2-4, 31), but it also could have been written for Palestinian Christians. This lesson is set in Capernaum, a significant town on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee at the outset of Jesus’ ministry. He demonstrates his authority there through teaching and healing. Only in Luke (4:31-37) is there a parallel account, and it closely follows Mark’s version.

The lesson begins with Jesus teaching [didasko] in the synagogue of Capernaum. This reportedly astounds [ekplessomai] auditors, because he taught with such authority [exousia], not like one of the scribes [grammateus, professional interpreters of the law] (vv. 21-22). Astonishment in response to Jesus’ activity is a recurring theme in the gospel. Mark underlines this authority by attributing only “teaching” to Jesus, while John the Baptist and others around Jesus only “preached” [kerusso] (1:14; 3:14; 6:12). The astonishment of the crowd is a common response to Jesus (vv. 21, 27; 6:2; 7:37; 11:18). A man with an unclean spirit [pneuma akathartos] encounters Jesus (v. 23). He had been suffering from some form of illness, implying that illness is not God’s will. The man (and the demons in him) angrily calls out Jesus’ name. (In the ancient world to know another’s name was to have power over him.) He identifies him as “the holy one of God” [Hagios tou Theou ] (v. 24), an ancient title found only in the New Testament in John 6:69 as a messianic title. The point is that Jesus’ authority is even recognized by those outside faith (9:38; 15:12, 32, 39). Jesus rebukes the spirit possessing the man to leave him alone (v. 25). This is a typical formula for ancient exorcisms. The departing spirit leaves the man with a loud cry [krazo] (v. 26) indicating a real struggle between Jesus and the forces of evil. The crowd is astounded by this, noting the authority Jesus has as a teacher and his command of unclean spirits (v. 27). Jesus’ fame [akoe] began to spread (v.28).

Application: Jesus’ authority to overcome all the evils in life (Justification by Grace and Atonement) should be the focus of a sermon on this text.

Epiphany 4 | Ordinary Time 4, Cycle B

The issue of absolute authority and of derived authority is the most significant factor that is considered in these texts.

In Deuteronomy 18:15-20 it is said that the absolute authority of God is so awesome that the people of God pleaded that they would not hear the voice of the Lord God again or see the great fire of God again, lest they die. Therefore, God spoke through the prophet Moses rather than directly to them. God also promised that after the death of Moses God would raise up another prophet who would be like Moses and whose voice the people of God were instructed to hear.

In Psalm 111 the absolute authority of the Lord is recognized as inextricably tied to the everlasting providence of the Lord. The Lord is gracious and merciful, just and trustworthy. A person is wise when that person fears and respects the Lord. It is said to be wise and good to be subject to the absolute authority of the Lord God.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 that “There is no God except the one God.” (It is interesting to note that this statement of faith that is based on the Israelite-Jewish statement of faith in Deuteronomy 6:4 is utilized in Arabic as the basis for the Islamic Creed, “There is no allah (god) except Allah (God).” Therefore, the Israelite-Jewish Creed, Paul’s Creed in 1 Corinthians 8:4, and the Islamic Creed of Muslims are essentially the same.)

More explicitly, for Paul, according to 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, there is no God except the One God, the Father, from whom all things come and for whom we exist. This absolute authority, wrote Paul, is revealed to us as God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He wrote that many are called “gods” in heaven and upon the earth, but actually there can be and is, of course, only one God, since by logic we perceive that there can be only one absolute authority. Also, Paul wrote, there are many who are called “lords” on the earth, many “bosses,” that is, under whose derived authority we function on the earth. But for us, Paul wrote, just as we perceive that there is logically only one God, we perceive that there is logically for us only one Lord, Jesus the Christ. If it were any other way for us, we would be confused in our lines of authority, not certain whom we should serve and obey, especially during those inevitable instances when conflicting orders would be given.

So it is also this way for us today. Institutions, including our own Christina institutions, struggle to define organizational charts so that all can see to whom they are responsible. Families seek to clarify authority structures for the children in the family.

We read in Mark 1:21-28 that Jesus was remembered as a person who taught with authority, even over unclean spirits, which were forced to obey his commands. Because Jesus had been given this authority from the absolute authority of God his Father, Jesus’ fame spread everywhere, throughout the entire region of Galilee.

If we are to be faithful to God as God is revealed in these texts, we should start with God, the one absolute authority and work down, so to speak, from God to derived authority and to authority received from derived authority. As responsible leaders in the Church today, we are expected to clarify the authority structures as we understand them. The manner in which we perceive God, the one absolute authority, and the authority derived from God will be expressed in our teaching, in our preaching, and most of all in our lives within our congregations and communities.

We should begin with a clearly worded acknowledgment that God and only God is the absolute authority. We should follow this with the affirmation that the Bible, the Church and its Sacraments, and inspired individuals in interaction with each other within a dynamic process of checks and balances are the principal secondary or derived authorities for us. Beyond these, there are lower levels of authority, especially as we move into the areas of education, employment, and political and social structures.

Since the time of the early Church, followers of Jesus using Deuteronomy 18:15-20 have enthusiastically identified Jesus as “the prophet like Moses” whom the Lord God would later raise up. As Christians, we have every right, of course, to make this identification. We should always note, however, that we do not stop with the “prophet” designation for Jesus. We take Jesus far beyond that. Also, now that we give greater attention than we have for many centuries to the historical setting of the Jewish Scriptures texts and to the process by which they became and remain sacred Scriptures for Jews and for Christians, we acknowledge that it was Israel seeking clear direction and leadership that spoke within the Deuteronomy 18:15-20 text, Israel as a remnant people wishing to be led back into the “promised land” as once before they had been led by the “prophet” Moses.

Epiphany 5 | Ordinary Time 5, Cycle B (2015)

THEME OF THE DAY
God is in control, even in tough and changing times. The lessons afford opportunities for preaching on God’s providential care in all circumstances, at least as it relates to the future (Eschatology).

 

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c
This psalm is a hymn praising God for his universal power and providential care. (The concept of praise in ancient Hebrew is associated with singing [see zamar in vv. 1, 7].) The song echoes themes of Job (37:9-11) and Second Isaiah (40:26). Yahweh is said to be gracious, fitting of praise (v. 1). God’s concern for the oppressed is noted (vv. 6, 3; cf. Isaiah 11:12, 56:8; Zephaniah 3:19). He is said to determine the number of stars (v. 4). His power [koach] and understanding [tebunah] are beyond measure (v. 5). He sends the rain and makes grass grow, giving animals their food (vv. 8-9). His delight is in those who fear/reverence [yare] him and hope in his steadfast love/mercy [chesed] (vv. 10-11). The community is called to praise Yahweh (v. 20c).

Application: The psalm invites sermons on God’s majesty, creation (including ecology), providence, and also Social Ethics (God’s concern for the oppressed). The sense in which God is to be feared (with reverence) could also be a sermon theme (Sanctification).

 

Isaiah 40:21-31
It is well known that this book is actually the product of two or three distinct literary traditions. The first 39 chapters are the work of the historical prophet who proclaimed a message to Jerusalem and the Southern Kingdom of Judah from 742 BC to 701 BC, a period during which the Northern Kingdom of Israel had been annexed by the Assyrian empire. Chapters 40-66 emerged in the later period immediately before the fall of Babylon (in 539 BC). Our lesson is a work of this later strand, addressing the Babylonian exiles. It is taken from the Book of Consolation, a series of eschatological prophecies. In the context of offering comfort to the exiles, a discussion of God as Creator of the universe begins in verse 12. The lesson begins with a hymn of God’s lordship of history. It is stated that we are like grasshoppers, for the Lord can bring rulers to naught. He is said to sit above the circle [chug, connoting vault or horizon] of the earth, and all whither [yabesh] in his presence (vv. 21-24). God’s incomprehensibility and omnipotence are affirmed, as the people express a sense of feeling abandoned by God (vv. 25-27). None compare to him. He is able to call those he created by name [shem]. God’s creative work and his inexhaustible compassion for the faint and powerless are extolled. Those who wait/hope [qavah] for Lord will renew their strength; they will run and not be weary (vv. 28-31). God will not abandon his people.

Application: Like the psalm, this text invites sermons on providence, reminding the flock that God is in control of history and that nothing, not even earthly powers, can stand in his way. The lesson and so the sermon may address the weary and those suffering. It is also in line with the prophetic character of this text to frame these points of hope eschatologically, as promises for the future.

 

1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Again we turn to 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). The letter aims to address doctrinal and ethical problems disturbing the Corinthian church. After asserting his rights as an apostle [apostolos] (vv. 1-14), for he has been obligated [anagke, of necessity] to do it (vv. 16-17), Paul contends that the gospel [euaggelion] is to be given free of charge (v. 18). He then notes that he is free [eleutheros] with respect to all, though he has made himself a slave [edoulosa] to all (v. 19). This leads Paul to a reflection on his ministerial strategy, his commitment to becoming all things to all people for the sake of the gospel (vv. 20-23).

Application: This text affords excellent opportunities to proclaim a new way of doing mission and ministry, to recognize that the biblical vision and our freedom in Christ (Justification by Grace) directs us to tailor ministries to our context (Sanctification).

 

Mark 1:29-39
This is a Sunday we continue to examine the first of the Synoptic Gospels to be written, a book that was perhaps the source of other gospels, probably 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 book presumes readers unfamiliar with Jewish customs and Palestinian geography (see 7:2-4, 31), but it could also have been written for Palestinian Christians. The lesson recounts how after a healing in the synagogue in Capernaum Jesus and his disciples visit Simon’s and Andrew’s home (v. 29). Parts of the account (up to v. 35) are found in Matthew (8:14-17, 23), but the story is completely present in Luke 4.

In the home visited, Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law, and she begins to serve them (vv. 30-31). His willingness to be served by women made him more liberal than many rabbis of the era. That evening many who were sick are brought to Jesus, and he heals them, casting out demons [daimonion] who are forbidden to speak (vv. 32-34). (It is significant that the request for healings came after sundown, after the sabbath had ended. The call for silence is typical of Mark’s account and narration of the messianic secret.) The demand for silence may be an example of Mark’s Jesus safeguarding the messianic secret (see 1:44; 7:36; 8:26). In the morning Jesus retreats for prayer. The disciples find him, indicating that people are looking for him (vv. 35-37). (According to Mark’s version, those looking for Jesus or looking for ways to do things often have hostile intentions [8:11-12; 14:1, 11, 55].) They misunderstand the nature of his ministry. Jesus responds by indicating that it is time to move on to other towns. They journey throughout Galilee proclaiming his message in synagogues and casting out demons (vv. 38-39).

Application: The account offers preachers occasions to proclaim and advocate a vision of the Christian life informed by the future, which is in God’s hands (Realized Eschatology), or to preach on God’s hidden ways that come as a surprise in the midst of apparent silence.

Epiphany 5 | Ordinary Time 5, Cycle B

Isaiah 40:21-31

God is acclaimed in this text as not only the Creator of all of the splendor of the universe, but also as the one who watches over and actually mini-manages everything, without ever growing weary or lacking in understanding. Although even young men and women become tired and weak during strenuous activity, all persons, whether young or old, who trust in the Lord God will rise up and soar with wings like the wings of eagles.

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c

God is acclaimed in this psalm with words that have many similarities to the Isaiah 40:21-31 text. These words of praise must be read with much joy and enthusiasm. A perfunctory responsive reading will not suffice. Preparation in advance with lay readers, choirs, and worship committee members is always necessary, but especially when the lections are as joyful as these. The time and effort of preparation will be well spent! The use of lectionary aids such as this by pastors, members of worship committees, lectors, organists, music directors, and choirs can improve the quality of the readings greatly, with reasonable expenditures of time and effort and without embarrassment to any reader.

Mark 1:29-39

Basically, what is attributed to the Lord God in Psalm 147 is attributed to Jesus in Mark 1:29-39. For the members of the Markan community, Jesus heals, casts out demons, and provides hope. Jesus, in turn, is to be praised and served, just as it is said in Isaiah 40 and in Psalm 147 about the Lord God. We will certainly want to share this in our message this coming Sunday within the setting of the congregation at worship, as well as in private counseling situations.

Nevertheless, as the Mark 1:29-39 text indicates, none of us can keep Jesus to ourselves. He withdraws from us to a lonely place. He moves on to other people to serve them also.

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

It was obviously of great importance for the Apostle Paul in his relationships with the followers of Jesus at Corinth not to receive any financial assistance from them during his ministry among them. We know from the letter that he sent to the Philippians later in his life that he did accept assistance from the Philippians for a different reason and in a different situation. Apparently Paul refused assistance from the Corinthians in order that he would have the maximum freedom and flexibility in his difficult ministry among them. He wanted to be able to say what he believed that God was calling him to say and to offer the gospel and himself to many types of persons and in many different ways, without being financially dependent on them.

What are the implications of this for us? What do these texts say to us about our mission? How can we attain the maximum freedom and flexibility in our mission within a changing, merging, and emerging Church?

Not only should we continue to be concerned about our priorities and about our mission. We should also clarify and communicate carefully — as in our reaction to the texts of the previous Sunday — that only God is the absolute authority for us. We are actually called and “hired” by God before we are called and hired by the Church or by a congregation or agency of the Church. We work for God. We work for God among a particular group of people in a particular place at a particular time. When we remember this, we will have the courage and the maximum freedom and flexibility as inspired individuals, with appropriate humility and without arrogance, to be of service in many different ways to many different people, as Paul provided the example for us. We must exercise within the emerging Church of our time the freedom and flexibility that Paul described in 1 Corinthians 9:16-23.

Transfiguration Sunday, Cycle B (2015)

THEME OF THE DAY
Christ be glorified! These texts and the festival provide more occasion for sermons on the glory of God, Christology, Realized Eschatology, and how we might live in light of these insights (Sanctification).

 

Psalm 50:1-6
This Psalm of Asaph (see Psalms 73-83) as a whole is a liturgy of divine judgment. (Asaph was one of David’s chief musicians [1 Chronicles 6:39; 15:17; 16:5-7].) With one exception, God is identified as Elohim in the psalm. The verses considered focus more on the majesty of God, his beauty, perfection, wrath, and righteousness. Elohim is said to “shine forth” out of Zion (the hill on which the temple in Jerusalem was built) (v. 2). This phrase is a way of speaking of God’s appearing in might to do battle. A devouring fire [esh] is said to go before him (v. 3). It seems that judgment will be on those under the Old Covenant who base their relation with God on sacrifice (vv. 5-6). (The Hebrew term for judgment in ancient Hebrew, mishpat, can refer to a sense of comfort, not just to punishment [Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, p. 358].) Hints of the establishment of a new covenant echo elsewhere in the psalm (v. 23). The term Selah is a liturgical direction indicating that there should be an instrumental interlude at this point in the singing.

Application: Preaching on this psalm could be an occasion to highlight that God does not want our sacrifice — that he is too awesome to need us to do things for him. It might be pointed out that the New Covenant to replace the sacrifices has been established by the risen Christ (Atonement). Or the Old Testament understanding of God’s judgment as a word of comfort (Justification by Grace) could be proclaimed.

 

2 Kings 2:1-12
Once again the First Lesson is taken from the second half of the Old Testament’s 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. This book 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 Jehoiachim in exile (chs. 18-25). As we have noted, 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 rival sanctuaries outside Jerusalem. Yet the promise of the eternality of the Davidic covenant is said to remain secure.

This lesson is the story of the prophet Elijah being assumed into heaven and his mission continued by Elisha. This is testimony to Elijah’s greatness, as only Enoch ([of the patriarchs the one who is said to have “walked with God”] Genesis 5:24) and he were deemed worthy of this honor. From a Christian perspective Elijah’s ascent is a kind of prophetic prefiguring of what would happen to Jesus. The two [Elihah and Elisha] are reported to travel from Gilgal (to the north of Bethel). This event tugged at the Hebraic religious imagination so that by the end of the Old Testament era, continuing into Jesus’ lifetime, Elijah’s return was associated with the coming of the day of the Lord.

Elijah charges Elisha to stay there as he journeys to Bethel (twelve miles north of Jerusalem). But Elisha refuses to depart, and they continue to travel together (vv. 1-2). Prophets [nabi] in Bethel inform Elisha of the Lord’s plan to take away his master (v. 3). Elijah again tries to have his disciple stay behind, but Elisha refuses and they continue to Jericho. There Elisha is again confronted by prophets telling him that Elijah will be taken away (vv. 4-5). Again Elijah directs Elisha to stay behind, but he refuses to leave. They proceed to the Jordan, accompanied by a company of prophets at some distance (vv. 6-7). At the Jordan, Elijah strikes the water with his mantle and the water parts so that they can cross on dry land (v. 8). This act recalls the entry of Israel into Canaan (Joshua 4:7-17) and Moses’ parting of the sea during the Exodus (Exodus 14:21-22). Elijah asks Elisha what he can do for his disciple before being taken. Elisha requests a double share of Elijah’s spirit [ruach, life force] (v. 9). Elijah notes that Elisha’s request will be granted as long as he sees his master taken away (v. 10). A chariot and horses of fire [esh] come and take Elijah in the whirlwind [searah, a sign of God’s presence (Job 38:1; 40:6; Psalm 83:15; Jeremiah 23:19)]. Elisha grasps his own clothes and tears them (as a sign of mourning) (vv. 11-12).

Application: Several sermon options are suggested. The passing of the prophetic ministry from Elijah to Elisha reminds us that what is done in ministry passes on to the next generation, and what we do in and for the church must be understood in an eternal/eschatological perspective. Another option would be top highlight that God and Christ in all their glory accompany us along the way in our service (Sanctification).

 

2 Corinthians 4:3-6

This lesson is taken from one of Paul’s authentic letters, written as relations had further deteriorated between Paul and the Corinthian church in the period since writing 1 Corinthians. Chapters 10-13 of the book are so different in style and tone from its first chapters as to lead many scholars to conclude that they may be the “severe letter” mentioned in 2:4. Like the first letter, this epistle aims to address doctrinal and ethical problems disturbing the Corinthian church. In this lesson, while defending his ministry from critics, noting that he and all who are being saved have seen the glory of God with unveiled faces [anakekalummeno prosopo] and so have been transformed/changed [metamorfpsometha] (3:18), Paul observes that we who are engaged in ministry by God’s mercy [eleeo] do not lose heart [faint] (4:1). Consequently if the gospel is veiled, it is veiled [kekalummenon] to those perishing (v. 3). Such persons have had their minds blinded by the god of the world (perhaps the New Testament’s only reference to Satan) (v. 4). Paul and his colleagues do not proclaim themselves he insists, but proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord [kurios] and make themselves slaves of those whom they serve (v. 5). The God who says, “Let the light [phos] shine out of darkness” (Genesis 1:3) shines in our hearts the light of the knowledge of God’s glory [doxa] in the face of Jesus Christ (v. 6).

Application: The text invites opportunities to offer a word of comfort and confidence for the despairing, for when we have such feelings it is because of the work of evil hiding God’s mercy, and yet Christians know that the transfigured Christ in all his glory goes with them, and so the doubts and evil have no chance (Justification by Grace and Sanctification).

 

Mark 9:2-9
Once again this Sunday’s Gospel Lesson is 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 it presumes readers unfamiliar with Jewish customs and Palestinian geography (see 7:2-4, 31), but it also could have been written for Palestinian Christians.

This text is the account of Jesus’ Transfiguration, an account shared by all the Synoptic Gospels. The event is reminiscent of Moses’ experience reported in Exodus 24:16. The event transpires on a high mountain with Peter, James, and John present. It is said to have transpired six days after Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah (v. 2; cf. 8:29). Jesus’ clothes reportedly became dazzling white [leukos] (v. 3). White clothes are associated in Judaism with the apocalypse (Daniel 7:9; 12:3). Elijah and Moses appear to talk with Jesus (v. 4). (Elijah’s reappearance was expected as a sign of the appearance of the Messiah [Malachi 4:5-6]. Moses’ appearance probably relates to his parallel experience reported in Exodus 24.) Peter asks to be excused or to build temporary shelters/tents [skenas] for Jesus and his heavenly guests largely as a result of the terror all the disciples present felt (vv. 5-6). (Tents were regarded as dwellings for divine beings due to their association with the Festival of Booths [Exodus 25:1-9; Leviticus 23:39-43].) The disciples’ misunderstanding or fear of what transpires in Jesus’ ministry, as it is a reaction to divine manifestations, is a characteristic Markan theme (4:41; 6:51; cf. Isaiah 6:1-5).

A cloud (nephele, associated with Old Testament theophanies [Exodus 24:15-18; Isaiah 4:5]) overshadows all, and a voice is heard identifying Jesus as God’s beloved Son [huios]. Then all the visitors, save Jesus and his disciples, vanished (vv. 7-8). Jesus orders his disciples to tell no one of the event until after the Son of Man has risen from the dead (v. 9). This is another example of the messianic secret in Mark. This also links the Transfiguration to the resurrection as well as to the end of time.

Application: With this text preachers have occasion to preach on Christology (especially Jesus’ divine nature and glorification) in order to understand how he has already brought in the end times (1:15). This vision draws the faithful to respond with lives lived in awe (Sanctification).

Advent 3, Cycle B (by Norman Beck — 2008)

How shall we put together a well constructed worship service based upon Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 and Psalm 126 with their liberation theology for Zion, the Magnificat from Luke 1:47-55 with its emphasis on God bringing down those who are mighty and exalting those who are lowly, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 regarding appropriate behavior for the Thessalonians as they wait for the Day of the Lord, and John 1:6-8, 19-28 with its depiction of John the Baptizer as a man sent from God to be a witness to the Light, one who was much less worthy than was Jesus? How shall we do this when in many congregations the children are already presenting their Christmas program, people want to sing the Christmas carols in church because they have been hearing them in the department stores and discount stores since long before Thanksgiving, and many families are getting ready to leave soon so that will be able to travel to other places to be together with their extended families for Christmas? Our task as worship leaders on the Third Sunday in Advent is never easy.

There is obviously a point of contact with the Second Sunday in Advent through the person of John the Baptizer. One week earlier we heard about John from the perspective of the Markan narrative; now we have John from the vantage point of the Fourth Gospel. (Although we are in the Markan cycle in Series B, we shall not see Markan texts again until the First Sunday after the Epiphany, one month away. Our three year lectionary Series B is constructed in this way because in the Markan narrative there is no annunciation to the Virgin Mary, no virgin birth from the Virgin Mary, and Mary as the human mother of Jesus worries about the safety of her son as he becomes a significant political as well as religious leader. In Mark, Jesus was “adopted” by God as the Son of God when the voice of God announced this as Jesus was being baptized by John.) The Fourth Gospel perspective of John the Baptizer is also different from that of the Markan narrative in important aspects. Unlike Mark and its Synoptic parallels, the Fourth Gospel does not emphasize the Baptizer’s role as one who condemns those who come to him for a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of their sins and baptizes Jesus along with many others. Perhaps this is because the Fourth Gospel tradition with its high Christology could not and would not perceive Jesus as participating in a baptism for the forgiveness of sins, even in order “to fulfill all righteousness.” In the Fourth Gospel Jesus is the exalted “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” If we as worship leaders gently maintain the integrity of the Advent season and utilize Advent hymns and texts within an Advent worship service, we can focus the service primarily on the John 1:6-8, 19-28 text and use the other texts chosen for this day in doing this.

One of the ways in which we can utilize these Advent texts is to use the extended comparison “just as.” We see that just as John the Baptizer was “sent from God” (John 1:6), we too are “sent from God.” Just as John the Baptizer came not as the Light but to bear witness to the Light (John 1:7-8), we have not come as the Light but to bear witness to the Light. Just as John the Baptizer was not the Christ, not Elijah, nor “the Prophet” (John 1:19-21), we today are not the Christ, not Elijah, nor “the Prophet.” Just as John the Baptizer is presented as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the ways of the Lord’ ” (John 1:23), we too are voices crying in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” Just as John the Baptizer baptized with water and said that he was not worthy to untie the sandals on Jesus’ feet (John 1:26-27), we today baptize with water and are not worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals.

This extended comparison can and should be continued in a similar manner with the other texts chosen for this day in order to construct a cohesive message that will have an impact and be remembered, while being true to the Advent theme. Just as Mary, according to the Magnificat canticle that the inspired Lukan writer skillfully constructed on the Song of Hannah model of 1 Samuel 2:1-10, sang that her soul (her entire being) magnifies the Lord and her Spirit rejoices in God her Savior (Luke 1:47-55), we also should sing that our soul magnifies the Lord and that our Spirit rejoices in God our Savior. Just as a leader within the Isaiah tradition at the end of the Israelite period of exile in Babylon proclaimed that the Spirit of the Lord God was upon that person because the Lord had anointed that person to bring good news to the afflicted (Isaiah 61:1ff.), we too can and should proclaim that the Spirit of the Lord God is upon us. Just as the writer of Psalm 126 rejoiced with shouts of joy, we also should rejoice with shouts of joy on this Third Sunday in Advent. Just as the apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, saying, “Rejoice always, pray, and give thanks as you wait for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-24), we can and should say the same.

When we do this, we proclaim the message of these texts, we identify ourselves with the message of these texts, and we demonstrate audibly and visibly that we today are what John the Baptizer, the Lukan writer, Mary, the Isaiah tradition prophet, the Israelite psalmist, and the apostle Paul were in their times, i.e., instruments of God’s grace, bearers of God’s Word, people being used by God, and, just as they were, joyful to be used by God.

It will be especially effective if we use simple drama, or at least dramatic readings of these texts by a variety of people within the congregation, in presenting this message and in showing that both clergy and lay people are bearers of these messages now as in the past. Biblical storytelling in which various persons memorize and tell the stories dramatically will be especially effective. A bit of sweeping dance as the stories are told will add beauty to the Advent presentation.

Advent 4, Cycle B (by Norman Beck — 2008)

If we concentrate on the Luke 1:26-38 Gospel account exclusively or even primarily, we will probably emphasize the person of Mary along with her relationships with God, with the angel Gabriel, and with Elizabeth. On the other hand, if we utilize all of the texts appointed for this day, we will probably in some way apply to our own life situation the Jewish and the Christian “Messianic expectations” regarding the promise of the Lord of an everlasting throne of David, a house, a kingdom that will endure forever.

It would be appropriate to take the latter of these two paths, since we have most likely heard many sermons and homilies, including some of our own, in which Mary’s experiences as developed within the Lukan Gospel’s creative drama were further expounded from the preacher’s own supply of interpersonal relationships, experiences, and inspired imagination. There is, of course, much value in continuing the Lukan Gospel’s process of thorough research of the subject, the gathering of oral and written traditions, and the use of earlier biblical style in the formation of a new literary or homiletical product. The Lukan playwright used effectively the references to the angel figure Gabriel in Daniel 8:15-17 and Daniel 9:21-23 in formulating the scene that we know as Luke 1:26-38, our Gospel text for this occasion. The Lukan writer also used the same type of terminology that is included in the Zoroastrian account of how the “Holy Spirit of God” (Ahura Mazda’s Spirit) had come over the mother of Zoroaster and had caused her to conceive Zoroaster without any interaction with a man. (The concept of the Spirit of God as the agency of conception of the Savior figure was also used in the Matthean tradition. Therefore, both of the Newer Testament traditions that developed a virgin conception explanation of how Jesus could be truly divine and truly human share terminology with the Zoroastrian tradition.)

By using all of the texts appointed for this day, however, we have an opportunity to explore an area with much broader implications for our own faith and lives today than that of the virgin conception accounts and to this we now turn.

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

This text is a very important component of the suspense-filled “Succession Document” or “Court History of David” narrative that extends from 2 Samuel 6 through 1 Kings 2. It contains the delightful pun regarding the “house” that David had wanted to build for the Lord God but instead the Lord God would build for David. The “house” that the Lord God will build for David will be a structure made not with timbers and adornments but with the lives of people, for it will be a dynasty, a Davidic dynasty intended to last forever. This is the “Messianic expectation” within the Succession Document, and it became a dominant theme in much of the Older Testament, as well as later within Judaism where it provided a new phase of the promise of land, people, nationhood, and blessing to the patriarchs that had served its purpose and would be continued by being blended into this new Messianic expectation.

We can perceive a measure of how vitally important and relevant this Messianic expectation of continuity on the “throne of David” must have been for the remnant among the exiles from Jerusalem who remained faithful to the Lord God during many decades of relocation in Babylon where many among them accepted the religion and culture of the Babylonians and worshiped Marduk, the Lord of the Babylonians. We note the importance of this Messianic expectation with its Zionist hopes for Jews who were deprived of basic human rights in country after country throughout the centuries. We see also the related use of this Messianic expectation within the developing traditions of many of the followers of Jesus, as in this Luke 1:32-33 text, and continuing for us as Christians since that time. Jews have intensely wanted continuity as a People of God and have struggled valiantly to maintain their identity as a people and as a culture. The striving for continuity of life within the “kingdom of God” has dominated and shaped oral and written traditions within apocalyptic Judaism and within apocalyptic Christianity. As Christians, we ride upon this Jewish Messianic expectations vehicle within a somewhat modified Christian model. Certainly we shall want to acknowledge with great respect the Israelite-Jewish origins of this Christian vehicle in which we ride in accordance with the Word of God in these texts selected for this day. As the Christmas season approaches, what can be more appropriate than to acknowledge this in order to inform and to sensitize our own people and help them and ourselves to appreciate the heritage that we have received from the Jewish people. If we do this, the Fourth Sunday of Advent this year will be a good time to have Jewish guests within our worship services.

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26

In this context we concentrate on these few verses of this fascinating psalm. Psalm 89 should be taken seriously in its own setting, with its expectation that the descendants of David will be established forever, the throne of David built for all generations to come. The best of our Christian theology in harmony with the views of the apostle Paul that he expressed in Romans 11:28b-29 has held that the gift and calling of God are irrevocable for Israel and for the church. For the sake of our Christian covenant, we must respect the irrevocable nature of the antecedent Israelite-Jewish covenant. We must realize that if we reject the antecedent Israelite-Jewish covenant, it is only right and just that someday our derivative Christian covenant may also be rejected. For more about this, please see, among others, Norbert Lohfink, The Covenant Never Revoked: Biblical Reflections on Christian-Jewish Dialogue (New York: Paulist, 1991); Mary C. Boys, Has God Only One Blessing? Judaism as a Source of Christian Self-Understanding (New York: Paulist, 2000); and Mary C. Boys, “The Enduring Covenant,” in Seeing Judaism Anew: Christianity’s Sacred Obligation, ed. by Mary C. Boys (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005, 17-25).

Luke 1:46b-55

If this text is used on the Fourth Sunday of Advent this year, the emphasis should be focused on the final summation two verses 54 and 55 of the Magnificat in which the emphasis is on God’s enduring covenant with Israel, an emphasis easily overlooked within Christian Bible studies and worship services. With the texts selected for the Third and Fourth Sundays of Advent in Series B, the emphasis is on the enduring covenants of God, which, while they may and indeed often are broken by us as people, are according to these texts, never revoked by God. Our Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions, at their best, are always fully aware of this and find comfort in this. What better way than this can we as Christians prepare to celebrate during the coming Christmas season!

Romans 16:25-27

May this beautiful benediction with which the apostle Paul concluded his momentous letter to the followers of Jesus in Rome be ours also, together with the entire People of God! And with this benediction, shall we not let God define the extent of “God’s People”?

Luke 1:26-38

As followers of Jesus, we have every right to claim that the Lord God has given to Jesus the “throne” of David, so long as we realize that this is a theological throne and not a political or physical throne. Other necessary qualifications are that we understand the process by which some of the followers of Jesus made this theological claim, and that we openly recognize and continue to acknowledge the continuing validity of Jewish spirituality, Jewish life and faith, and of Jewish Messianic expectations. We know that we as Christians have taken the Jewish Messianic expectations into a new extended phase and in doing this we have given to them a somewhat different Christian Messianic expectation meaning through the Christian claim that Jesus in his life fulfilled the Messianic “prophecies” of the Older Testament. But what we have done is alongside the Jewish use of these expectations and in no way replaces or excludes the ongoing and dynamic Jewish use for which Jews have the primary claim. What we as Christians have done and are doing with these Messianic expectations must be seen as in a sense secondary to the Jewish use and in continuity with and congruent to the ongoing Jewish hope and expectations. It would be most appropriate for us as Christians to remember this and to acknowledge it at all times and especially here at the conclusion of our Advent season. Then perhaps we could invite Jews to be our guests in our Christian worship services and to hear our understanding of the Messianic expectations that we share, even as we are invited to be their guests and to hear their understanding of their Messianic expectations. When we have done all of this, we are truly “ready” for Christmas, prepared to celebrate the Nativity of the Lord.

Transfiguration Sunday, Cycle B

2 Kings 2:1-12

This account is evidence that there was a tendency in the direction of the deification of Elijah within some Israelite traditions, just as there may have been with regard to Moses (Deuteronomy 34:1-12) and earlier within some Semitic traditions with respect to Enoch (Genesis 5:22-24). The accounts of the ascension of Jesus within the Luke-Acts corpus provide the most extensive biblical evidence of the more complete theological development of this nature among early Christians with regard to Jesus.

As we look at 2 Kings 2:1-12, we see that according to this account after a certain point in time Elijah was seen no more, but that he was perceived to be alive with God. This was the basis, of course, for the expectation that developed among some of the Israelites — an expectation that is still evident within the Passover liturgy for Jews — that Elijah would return to the earth in a visible form some day. This expectation was used by early followers of Jesus with respect to the person and function of John the Baptizer and it was certainly used in the development of the account of the Transfiguration of Jesus that is the dominating text among the four that are selected for our use on this day.

In 2 Kings 2:1-12 the whirlwind and the chariot of fire were the means of transportation in lifting Elijah from the earth and its gravitational force. In the Luke-Acts account Jesus was taken up within a cloud. A cloud was also the setting for the voice from the cloud in the Markan Transfiguration account.

Psalm 50:1-6

Reference to God as speaking and summoning the earth, reference to a devouring fire, and most of all reference to the words, “Gather to me my faithful ones!” link this portion of Psalm 50 to the 2 Kings 2:1-12 text.

2 Corinthians 4:3-6

For Paul, the face of Christ was apparently seen more vividly in the good news of the crucified Jesus being raised by God from the dead as Lord and Savior than in the face of the Jesus of history whom Paul had not seen. That is to say that for Paul the Risen Christ was in a sense transfigured perpetually. Paul saw the glory of God in the face of the Christ. This was for Paul the light that shines unceasingly out of the darkness of death. The face of the Christ was seen, however, only by those who would believe. We who live more than nineteen centuries later are basically in the same position as Paul was. For us also Jesus is in a sense perpetually transfigured.

Mark 9:2-9

This Transfiguration story, along with its parallels in Matthew and in Luke, is considered by the great majority of Christians to be a record of an event that occurred just as it is recorded here. It is likely, however, that much more is involved in these texts than simply a record of an event. If these are simply records of an important, spectacular event that occurred during the public ministry of Jesus, we may wonder why there is no mention of such an astonishing occurrence within the Fourth Gospel. According to popular understanding, the Fourth Gospel was written by John, and John is said to have been present with Jesus on the mountain at the time of this event. How could the writer of the Fourth Gospel have forgotten this profound experience of seeing and hearing men who had lived and died hundreds of years earlier and who remained prominent in Jewish thought?

Although the Fourth Gospel has no mention of this event, Mark, Matthew, and Luke, who are nowhere said to have been present on the mountain, all include this story.

With our understanding of biblical symbolism, we can see that in these Synoptic Gospel Transfiguration stories Moses and Elijah function as symbols for the Torah and for the Prophetic Traditions respectively. The Torah and the Prophets together constituted the sacred Scriptures for most Jews and for the earliest Christians during the time in which the Synoptic Gospels were written. Symbolically, these Transfiguration stories may have been intended to proclaim that Jesus is in the “same league” with Moses and Elijah. By means of these stories Jesus and the words of Jesus are validated as on the same level of authority as the sacred Scriptures as the Scriptures were known at that time. (The so-called Writings had not yet been canonized.) From the standpoint of those who first heard or read the Transfiguration account in Mark, Jesus’ words and Jesus as a person were validated within these accounts by God God’s self by means of the very impressive voice from the cloud saying, “This is my Beloved Son! Listen to him!” In the story after the cloud moved away, the three awe-stricken disciples are said to have seen no one there except Jesus. Moses and Elijah were gone.

Symbolically, therefore, both the Torah and the Prophetic traditions were also no longer to be seen nor heard. At this point the message intended almost certainly was to indicate vividly that Jesus and the words of Jesus have replaced the Torah and the Prophets as sacred authorities for followers of Jesus. The Transfiguration account in Mark 9:2-9, therefore, served to validate the entire “Gospel of Jesus Christ (Mark) much as the “Burning Bush” account in Exodus served as a validation of the entire book of Exodus or even of the entire Torah. When the Matthean and Lukan redactors included the Markan Transfiguration account in their expanded Gospels, the Transfiguration accounts served the same purpose in those documents as validation stories for those documents.

The writers of the Fourth Gospel chose to validate their account also, but not by using the Markan Transfiguration account. Instead, they validated the Fourth Gospel by their use of the great “I Am” statements that they have the Johannine Jesus express in key places in their document.

Thus we have the Four Gospels validated as “words of Jesus” and actually as “Word of God” that God God’s self directly and indirectly is said to have commanded us to hear as we transition from the Epiphany season to Ash Wednesday and to the Lenten season.

Lent 1, Cycle B

These four texts are linked by the themes of covenant and of baptism, as well as of trust and of obedience. All are appropriate for the Lenten season. They provide many possibilities for Lenten keynote messages.

Psalm 25:1-10

The psalmist makes no attempt to present before the Lord a facade of sinlessness. Instead, the psalmist stakes everything on trust in the Lord. The psalmist reminds the Lord that the Lord is widely known and characterized by mercy and steadfast love. Therefore, the psalmist asks the Lord to concentrate on the goodness of the Lord and to teach that goodness and that way of life to those who, like the psalmist, are humble sinners who are eager to live according to the terms of the covenant that the Lord God has established with God’s people. Although this psalm may be nearly three thousand years old, it is not outdated. It provides an excellent model for us, and for the people among whom we serve, for Lent and for all seasons.

Genesis 9:8-17

Among the various covenants described within our biblical accounts, this covenant of God with Noah, with the descendants of Noah, and with every living creature is the most inclusive and perhaps the most gracious on the part of God, the mighty power in the covenant. In this covenant God makes no demands; God makes only promises. It is affirmed in the text that every rainbow that every living creature will ever see will be a reminder to God and to every living creature of God’s everlasting mercy and grace.

1 Peter 3:18-22

The Lenten theme of redemption in Christ is extended in this text to those who, at the time of Noah, did not obey God. Through the waters of the great flood in the Noah story God destroyed all who were disobedient; in the waters of baptism now God saves those who are obedient. The covenant of baptism links the believer to Jesus the Christ, who is raised from the dead and ruling in the heavenly regions. By means of the baptismal covenant with Christ, the believer is endowed with the righteousness of Christ and linked to God the Father. 1 Peter 3:18-22 is a principal reason that 1 Peter, along with Paul’s letter to the Romans and the Gospel According to John, were the favorite New Testament documents for Martin Luther.

Mark 1:9-15

If Jesus was obedient to God in coming to John the Baptizer to participate in a baptism for the forgiveness of sins, how much more should not those who wish to follow Jesus as the Christ come to the Church, the Body of Christ, for baptism in Christ’s name? In the Gospel According to Mark the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptizer marks the beginning of a very special covenant relationship of God with Jesus, a covenant between Father and Son, a covenant in which Jesus is declared to be very pleasing to God. In this text Jesus is depicted as obedient to God even when Jesus is tempted by “Satan” in the wilderness. In this text Jesus proclaims the kingdom of God’s grace and rejects the kingdom of Roman power. He overcomes the temptation of “Satan,” the temptation to try to help Jesus’ fellow oppressed Jewish people by cooperating fully with the alluring, satanic power of the Roman state. Jesus is depicted in this text as not believing that by his cooperating fully with the oppressive Romans the Roman oppression will be reduced. With his life and with his words Jesus will speak out against the satanic power of the Roman state, the state that will near the end of the Gospel According to Mark and at the end for us of the season of Lent this year crucify Jesus. Nevertheless, the Roman state will not, even with all of its power and glory, be able to prevent God from raising Jesus from the dead on the third day, Easter morning for us. That is the Easter message that we will anticipate in a few short weeks when the season of Lent has run its course.

Proper 18 / Pentecost 13 / Ordinary Time 23, Cycle A

THEME OF THE DAY
God keeps us together. The texts for this Sunday are about how in all God does he aims to keep us in communion with each other and with him (Justification by Grace, Sanctification, Church).

Psalm 149
This is a hymn to accompany a festival dance. It directs that the Lord is to be praised [tehillah] in a new song in the assembly (v. 1). It also directs Israel to be glad in its maker and the children of Zion [the oldest and highest part of Jerusalem, a term poetically used to connote the whole city] to rejoice in their king (v. 2). We are to praise his name with dancing (v. 3). Yahweh is said to take pleasure in his people, ordaining the humble/afflicted [anav] with victory [yeshua, literally safety or salvation] (v. 4). The faithful are exhorted to exult in glory and sing for joy on couches (perhaps a ritual action that was part of the festival) (v. 5). High praises of God should be in their throats with swords in hand to execute vengeance on the nations, bringing their kings and nobles, executing them on the judgment decreed (vv. 6-9a). The dance that accompanied the music and lyrics may have been war-like in character. All this is said to be glory for the faithful. Yahweh is to be praised (v. 9b).

Application: A sermon on this text will link with its original theme of celebrating how God takes those in need with their afflictions and who know their needs and brings them to safety (Justification by Grace and Atonement). But insofar as the celebration is communal and dancing which is tied to the Psalm is communal, God’s salvation that is celebrated is communal, for God is said to take pleasure in his people (Social Ethics, and if read prophetically, this could refer to the Church).

OR

Psalm 119:33-40
The Psalm is acrostic, with each stanza of eight lines beginning with the same Hebrew letter. The 22 stanzas use all the letters of the alphabet in turn (accounting for the significant length of the hymn). Almost every line contains the word “law” or a synonym. These verses are part of a meditation on the law, specifically a prayer to understand the law.

The psalmist pleads to be taught the way of Yahweh’s Law [torah] and pledges to observe it to the end (vv. 33-34). Petitions are offered to be led in the path of the commandments/statutes [mitzvah], for in them is delight [chaphets] (vv. 35-36). They give life (v. 37). We need to remind ourselves here that references to the law in the Hebraic faith of the Old Testament should be construed in terms of the Hebraic concept of torah, which is not intended as a judgmental, condemnatory decree, but regards the law as instruction or a guide for life (Leo Trepp, Judaism: Development and Life, p. 2).

Pleas are made that Yahweh’s promise [dabar, literally word] for these who fear him [in the sense of devotion] be confirmed (v. 38). His ordinances are said to be good [tob], and pleas are offered to turn away disgrace. The psalmist notes a longing for the law, so that in God’s righteousness [tsedaqah] he would receive life (vv. 39-40). We note again that in the Hebrew Bible righteousness does not connote judgmentalism on God’s part but is about right relationship or deliverance [Psalm 71:2] (Gerhard Von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 371ff). This is made clear in this song as the psalmist claims that God’s righteousness gives life (v. 40), a theme most reminiscent of Romans 3:21-25.

Application: Although the devotion of the psalmist to the law could be taken as an occasion to point out how a life lived under the law leads to despair (Sin), a sermon more in line with the original intention of the Psalm will talk about how good life is when we are guided by God, in right relationship with him, but that he is the one who delivers us into this right relationship (Justification by Grace and Sanctification).

Exodus 12:1-14
This book is so named for the Greek term referring to the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. Its Hebrew name (meaning “These are the names”) refers to the first words of the text’s prologue. Like Genesis, the book is a compilation of three distinct oral traditions. This lesson is the version of the Passover from the Priestly oral tradition (the P strand of the Pentateuch, probably composed in the sixth century BC). It follows the account of the final plague the Lord worked against Pharaoh, which does not succeed in liberating the people (chapter 11).

The month of Nissan (March-April) is designated the beginning of the year (v. 2). On the tenth of the month, each family is to take a lamb or share a lamb with its closest neighbor and divide the lamb (vv. 3-4). The lamb is to be one year old and without blemish [tamim] (v. 5). Instructions are given to put the blood [dam] of the lamb on the doorposts and the lintel [mashqoph, or upper doorpost] of the houses of the people (these were the holy places of a house). The lamb is to be eaten the night it is killed, and instructions are given on how it is to be prepared and what is to be eaten (vv. 7-9). The lamb is to be entirely consumed, except for the remains to be burned the next morning (v. 10).

Instructions are given on the attire one is to have when eating the lamb, which should be consumed hurriedly (v. 11). The hurry with which to eat the meal is in commemoration of Israel’s hasty exodus. Passover is explained, how Yahweh would strike down the firstborn of all living things in Egypt, but the blood on the doorposts would be a sign for him to pass over [abar] the house so the plague would not destroy them. The gods of Egypt will also be judged (vv. 12-14). Henceforth the day is to be one of remembrance/memorial [zikkaron], a celebration of perpetual observance (v. 14).

Application: This lesson is a story of freedom, how God set the people of Israel free and so sets us free today (Justification by Grace and Social Ethics). It is crucial to note that the people as a whole, the community, are saved, not just individuals (an opportunity to highlight the importance of the Church). Or the Passover event might be interpreted Christologically, that as the lamb’s blood sets the people free, so Christ’s blood makes our exodus possible (Atonement).

OR

Ezekiel 33:7-11
The Complementary First Lesson appears in a book attributed to a sixth century BC prophet from a priestly family whose ministry was to his fellow exiles during the Babylonian Captivity. Some oracles pre-date the fall of Jerusalem. This lesson is part of a series of Oracles of Restoration. The verses pertain to God’s charge to the prophet regarding his responsibility. First Ezekiel is reminded that he is a sentinel [tsaphah, literally watchman] for Israel, that whenever he hears a word [dabar, can also mean thing] from the Lord he is to give Israel warning (v. 7). Not to proclaim God’s judgment of death on the people entails that they will die in their sin and their blood [dam] will be required at Ezekiel’s hand (v. 8). But if warned and they do not turn [shub] from their ways, they will die (v. 9). Thus he is to condemn them for their sins but assure the people that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked and wants the wicked to turn from their ways and live [chayah] (vv. 10-11).

Application: Several options for preaching emerge from this text. The call to turn back from sin is an opportunity to develop the theme of repentance, made possible by the God of love who has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. A focus on prophecy, its character as a critic of society, properly emerges from this text and from this point a sermon condemning problematic local or national social trends might be developed. This theme of condemning sin might be related to the theme of the Power of the Keys which emerges in the Gospel Lesson.

Romans 13:8-14
Paul begins to terminate his letter of introduction to the Roman church with a discussion of love fulfilling the law and the imminence of Christ’s second coming. The apostle first urges the Romans to owe nothing to anyone except for love [agapao] to one another, for whoever loves fulfills the law [nomos] (v. 8). The commandments, it is said, are fulfilled by love (vv. 9-10). Now is the time to awake, for salvation [soteria, also meaning safety] is near [egguteron], Paul proclaims (vv. 11-12a). The faithful are urged to lay aside works of darkness, putting on the armor of light [phos], living honorably and not in sin (vv. 12b-13). He urges the faithful to put on [enduo, literally "clothe"] Christ, making no provisions for the flesh (v. 14). Clearly Paul here indicates belief that the Esachaton (or Christ’s second coming) is near at hand.

Application: This text also opens the way for a number of possible sermons. Concern about nurturing community through love is an option in line with the Theme of the Day (Church and Sanctification). But this is only possible when we are clothed in Christ (Justification by Grace construed as being united with Christ, as per Galatians 2:19-20). Other themes (which might be linked to those just noted) include Realized Eschatology (the urgency of acting because Christ’s coming into our lives is on the immediate horizon) or condemning sin (that the Law of God is not fulfilled unless we practice selfless love).

Matthew 18:15-20
We continue to consider the most Jewish-oriented of all the gospels, addressing an original audience that was probably Jewish Christians no longer in full communion with Judaism (see 24:20). This is an account of Jesus’ discussion of discipline among followers. Except for verse 15 the account is unique to Matthew. This is not surprising, for of the gospel writers Matthew alone concerns himself with matters of the church and how Christians are to live together.

The lesson begins with Jesus claiming that if another member of the church sins against a believer the aggrieved is to go and point out the fault to the offender in solitude. If this succeeds, this one has been regained (v. 15). If there is no reconciliation, then one or two other Christians should accompany the one offended in order that there be confirmation of what transpires by witnesses (v. 16; cf. Deuteronomy 19:15). If this fails, the church [ekklesia] should be told, and if the offender still refuses to listen he or she is to be treated as a non-member (a Gentile or tax collector) (v. 17). Jesus awards the Power of Keys to all the disciples (whatever they bind or loose is bound or loosed in heaven) (v. 18; cf. 16:19). If two agree on earth about anything requested, Jesus promises it will be done by the Father in heaven (v. 19). Where two or three are gathered in Christ’s name he agrees to be present to them (v. 20). This point suggests the vicarious presence of the risen Christ (28:20).

Application: The most obvious sermon emerging from this text is to proclaim forgiveness, how Christ has granted us the Power of the Keys, and the virtues of his mode of discipline — the virtues of private confrontation with those in the wrong before public reprimand (Sanctification). The fact that when we are in communion with each other Christ is present provides an excellent occasion to reflect on the church. And the promise of Christ’s presence among us is also a comforting word to proclaim.

Ash Wednesday, Cycle B (2015)

THEME OF THE DAY
Christ be glorified! These texts and the festival provide more occasion for sermons on the glory of God, Christology, Realized Eschatology, and how we might live in light of these insights (Sanctification).

 

Psalm 50:1-6
This Psalm of Asaph (see Psalms 73-83) as a whole is a liturgy of divine judgment. (Asaph was one of David’s chief musicians [1 Chronicles 6:39; 15:17; 16:5-7].) With one exception, God is identified as Elohim in the psalm. The verses considered focus more on the majesty of God, his beauty, perfection, wrath, and righteousness. Elohim is said to “shine forth” out of Zion (the hill on which the temple in Jerusalem was built) (v. 2). This phrase is a way of speaking of God’s appearing in might to do battle. A devouring fire [esh] is said to go before him (v. 3). It seems that judgment will be on those under the Old Covenant who base their relation with God on sacrifice (vv. 5-6). (The Hebrew term for judgment in ancient Hebrew, mishpat, can refer to a sense of comfort, not just to punishment [Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, p. 358].) Hints of the establishment of a new covenant echo elsewhere in the psalm (v. 23). The term Selah is a liturgical direction indicating that there should be an instrumental interlude at this point in the singing.

Application: Preaching on this psalm could be an occasion to highlight that God does not want our sacrifice — that he is too awesome to need us to do things for him. It might be pointed out that the New Covenant to replace the sacrifices has been established by the risen Christ (Atonement). Or the Old Testament understanding of God’s judgment as a word of comfort (Justification by Grace) could be proclaimed.

 

2 Kings 2:1-12
Once again the First Lesson is taken from the second half of the Old Testament’s 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. This book 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 Jehoiachim in exile (chs. 18-25). As we have noted, 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 rival sanctuaries outside Jerusalem. Yet the promise of the eternality of the Davidic covenant is said to remain secure.

This lesson is the story of the prophet Elijah being assumed into heaven and his mission continued by Elisha. This is testimony to Elijah’s greatness, as only Enoch ([of the patriarchs the one who is said to have “walked with God”] Genesis 5:24) and he were deemed worthy of this honor. From a Christian perspective Elijah’s ascent is a kind of prophetic prefiguring of what would happen to Jesus. The two [Elihah and Elisha] are reported to travel from Gilgal (to the north of Bethel). This event tugged at the Hebraic religious imagination so that by the end of the Old Testament era, continuing into Jesus’ lifetime, Elijah’s return was associated with the coming of the day of the Lord.

Elijah charges Elisha to stay there as he journeys to Bethel (twelve miles north of Jerusalem). But Elisha refuses to depart, and they continue to travel together (vv. 1-2). Prophets [nabi] in Bethel inform Elisha of the Lord’s plan to take away his master (v. 3). Elijah again tries to have his disciple stay behind, but Elisha refuses and they continue to Jericho. There Elisha is again confronted by prophets telling him that Elijah will be taken away (vv. 4-5). Again Elijah directs Elisha to stay behind, but he refuses to leave. They proceed to the Jordan, accompanied by a company of prophets at some distance (vv. 6-7). At the Jordan, Elijah strikes the water with his mantle and the water parts so that they can cross on dry land (v. 8). This act recalls the entry of Israel into Canaan (Joshua 4:7-17) and Moses’ parting of the sea during the Exodus (Exodus 14:21-22). Elijah asks Elisha what he can do for his disciple before being taken. Elisha requests a double share of Elijah’s spirit [ruach, life force] (v. 9). Elijah notes that Elisha’s request will be granted as long as he sees his master taken away (v. 10). A chariot and horses of fire [esh] come and take Elijah in the whirlwind [searah, a sign of God’s presence (Job 38:1; 40:6; Psalm 83:15; Jeremiah 23:19)]. Elisha grasps his own clothes and tears them (as a sign of mourning) (vv. 11-12).

Application: Several sermon options are suggested. The passing of the prophetic ministry from Elijah to Elisha reminds us that what is done in ministry passes on to the next generation, and what we do in and for the church must be understood in an eternal/eschatological perspective. Another option would be top highlight that God and Christ in all their glory accompany us along the way in our service (Sanctification).

 

2 Corinthians 4:3-6
This lesson is taken from one of Paul’s authentic letters, written as relations had further deteriorated between Paul and the Corinthian church in the period since writing 1 Corinthians. Chapters 10-13 of the book are so different in style and tone from its first chapters as to lead many scholars to conclude that they may be the “severe letter” mentioned in 2:4. Like the first letter, this epistle aims to address doctrinal and ethical problems disturbing the Corinthian church. In this lesson, while defending his ministry from critics, noting that he and all who are being saved have seen the glory of God with unveiled faces [anakekalummeno prosopo] and so have been transformed/changed [metamorfpsometha] (3:18), Paul observes that we who are engaged in ministry by God’s mercy [eleeo] do not lose heart [faint] (4:1). Consequently if the gospel is veiled, it is veiled [kekalummenon] to those perishing (v. 3). Such persons have had their minds blinded by the god of the world (perhaps the New Testament’s only reference to Satan) (v. 4). Paul and his colleagues do not proclaim themselves he insists, but proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord [kurios] and make themselves slaves of those whom they serve (v. 5). The God who says, “Let the light [phos] shine out of darkness” (Genesis 1:3) shines in our hearts the light of the knowledge of God’s glory [doxa] in the face of Jesus Christ (v. 6).

Application: The text invites opportunities to offer a word of comfort and confidence for the despairing, for when we have such feelings it is because of the work of evil hiding God’s mercy, and yet Christians know that the transfigured Christ in all his glory goes with them, and so the doubts and evil have no chance (Justification by Grace and Sanctification).

 

Mark 9:2-9
Once again this Sunday’s Gospel Lesson is 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 it presumes readers unfamiliar with Jewish customs and Palestinian geography (see 7:2-4, 31), but it also could have been written for Palestinian Christians.

This text is the account of Jesus’ Transfiguration, an account shared by all the Synoptic Gospels. The event is reminiscent of Moses’ experience reported in Exodus 24:16. The event transpires on a high mountain with Peter, James, and John present. It is said to have transpired six days after Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah (v. 2; cf. 8:29). Jesus’ clothes reportedly became dazzling white [leukos] (v. 3). White clothes are associated in Judaism with the apocalypse (Daniel 7:9; 12:3). Elijah and Moses appear to talk with Jesus (v. 4). (Elijah’s reappearance was expected as a sign of the appearance of the Messiah [Malachi 4:5-6]. Moses’ appearance probably relates to his parallel experience reported in Exodus 24.) Peter asks to be excused or to build temporary shelters/tents [skenas] for Jesus and his heavenly guests largely as a result of the terror all the disciples present felt (vv. 5-6). (Tents were regarded as dwellings for divine beings due to their association with the Festival of Booths [Exodus 25:1-9; Leviticus 23:39-43].) The disciples’ misunderstanding or fear of what transpires in Jesus’ ministry, as it is a reaction to divine manifestations, is a characteristic Markan theme (4:41; 6:51; cf. Isaiah 6:1-5).

A cloud (nephele, associated with Old Testament theophanies [Exodus 24:15-18; Isaiah 4:5]) overshadows all, and a voice is heard identifying Jesus as God’s beloved Son [huios]. Then all the visitors, save Jesus and his disciples, vanished (vv. 7-8). Jesus orders his disciples to tell no one of the event until after the Son of Man has risen from the dead (v. 9). This is another example of the messianic secret in Mark. This also links the Transfiguration to the resurrection as well as to the end of time.

Application: With this text preachers have occasion to preach on Christology (especially Jesus’ divine nature and glorification) in order to understand how he has already brought in the end times (1:15). This vision draws the faithful to respond with lives lived in awe (Sanctification).

Lent 1, Cycle B (2015)

THEME OF THE DAY
God lovingly calls his people in various ways for response while providing comfort and joy. The theme and texts for this Sunday testify to God’s love and the comfort that affords in bad times (Sin and Justification by Grace).

 

Psalm 25:1-10
This is a lament song attributed to David, which is a prayer for deliverance from personal enemies. We are reminded again that 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). This psalm is also acrostic, which as we have noted entails that each line begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The artificial pattern may contribute to the absence of a clear logical structure to this psalm. It begins with a cry for help, a plea not to be put to shame. It may be that part of the psalmist’s shame is that he has not yet received a response from Yahweh Elohim (vv. 1-3; cf. 22:2-8; 69:17). The lesson includes a confession of sin and prayer for forgiveness. Yahweh is said to be a God of mercy and steadfast love [chesed] or compassion (vv. 6-7). The affirmation of Justification by Grace includes a concern with the practice of the religious life (Sanctification). It seems that the forgiven sinner is led/taught [yarah] the way [derek] by God (vv. 5, 8-9). This is guidance by God, not a legalistic command (Leo Trepp, Judaism: Development and Life, p. 2).

Application: A sermon on this text invites reflection on how our loving God is always ready to deliver us from tough times (Sin and Justification). When we are uncertain about what to do or what comes next, God provides loving guidance (Sanctification).

 

Genesis 9:8-17
Like all five books of the Pentateuch, this Book of Origins is probably the product of several distinct literary traditions. This one is just comprised of three strands: (1) J, a ninth/tenth-century BC source, so named for its use of the Jahweh or Yahweh (translated “Lord”); (2) E, an eighth-century BC source named for its use of the divine name Elohim; and (3) P or Priestly source, dated from the sixth-century BC. The lesson seems to be the work of the P source. It recounts part of God’s covenant with Noah after the flood. The covenant [berith] is not just with Noah and his progeny (with human beings) but with every living creature (vv. 8-10). Unlike later covenants, this one is truly universal, including all human beings since Noah’s sons are said to be ancestors of all nations (9:8-19; 10) and all living things.
Preservation of the natural order from a flood or the powers of chaos is pledged (vv. 11, 15). (In the worldview of Genesis [1-2] and its P tradition, water is associated with chaos.) A rainbow will function as a sign of this covenant (vv. 12, 16-17). Ancients imagined the rainbow as a weapon of the divine warrior from which the lightning of arrows were shot (see Psalm 7:12-13; Habakkuk 3:9-11; Lamentations 2:4) but by locating the bow in the clouds this seemed to be a visible sign that God had removed his wrath and threats to the earth.

Application: This lesson opens the way to sermons on the beauty of nature (Creation and Providence) as testimonies to the love and care of God, stimulating both joy (Sanctification) and renewed ecological appreciation (Social Ethics).

 

1 Peter 3:18-21
The lesson is found in a pastoral exhortation (circular letter) by an elder in Rome (claiming to be Peter) to Gentile churches in Turkey (1:1; 5:1). Probably written between 70 AD and 90 AD, the later date and high-quality Greek makes it unlikely to have been written by the apostle. Exactly what then the connection of the epistle to Peter might mean is a matter of much debate in the academy. The letter offers comfort and advice to Christians who are suffering persecution (2:19-24; 3:14-15; 4:12-19). Romans expected Christians, like practitioners of other foreign religions, to practice immorality and insubordination to patriarchal social relationships. In response, the epistle calls for imitating Christ by doing good and maintains the typical Roman social order.

While counseling readers about their suffering, the author begins the lesson by noting that Christ also suffered. His suffering was for sin, bringing hearers to God. This was done once for all. Testimony to the resurrection is given (v. 18). Christ is said to have made proclamation to those in prison [phulake] (perhaps to the dead in hell). Reference is made to the proclamation being made to those who did not obey during the building of the ark prior to the flood (vv. 19-20). The point seems to be that the cosmic Lord conquers all disobedience. Baptism is said to save [soza, keep sound], as an appeal to God for good conscience [suneidesis, a knowing of oneself] (vv. 20-21). Christ has gone to glory in heaven, at the Father’s right hand (v. 22). In Hebraic thinking, the right hand is the place of power and honor of a ruler (Psalm 110:1).

Application: This is another opportunity to proclaim God’s astounding and persistent love (Justification by Grace) in face of the suffering and sense of abandonment many, like recipients of this epistle, feel today (Sin). His unwillingness to lose anyone or any relationship is evident in the comfort we have from our own baptisms (they keep us sound, the Greek phrase affirms) and from the inviting image of Christ even pursuing his people in hell (Atonement and Eschatology).

 

Mark 1:9-15
Again we consider 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 it presumes readers unfamiliar with Jewish customs and Palestinian geography (see 7:2-4, 31), but it also could have been written for Palestinian Christians.

The lesson narrates Jesus’ baptism (vv. 9-11), his temptation in the wilderness (vv. 12-13), and the beginning of his ministry (vv. 14-15), accounts appearing in all the gospels (except that John with his stress on Jesus’ divinity omits Jesus’ temptation and in Matthew [3:14-16] John is portrayed as more reluctant to do the Baptism than in the other gospels). While baptized, the heavens are torn apart (an apocalyptic image signifying divine disclosure [Isaiah 64:1]) and the Spirit [pneuma] descends on Jesus like a dove (vv. 9-10). A voice from heaven proclaims him God’s Son [huios] (v. 11). References to Jesus being “beloved” [agapetos] here could connote Jesus’ chosenness (cf. Isaiah 42:1). The Spirit then drives Jesus into the wilderness for forty days where Satan tempts him. The forty days in the wilderness is reminiscent of Exodus 34:28. He was with wild beats and angels are said to wait on [diakonia, served] him (vv. 12-13). Jesus’ interactions with the wild animals could suggest that in him the paradisiacal condition of harmony of all living things existing before the fall is restored (Genesis 1:28, 2:19-20; Isaiah 11:6-9, 65:17-25). Many more details of Jesus’ temptation are provided by the other synoptics (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). Mark then reports that after John the Baptist’s arrest, Jesus begins proclaiming God’s good news (v. 14). It is summarized as a call to repentance [metanoia] and eschatological urgency concerning the coming kingdom of God [basilieai tou theou] (v. 15). This is likely the oldest, most historically authentic account of Jesus’ preaching.

Application: This text invites sermons on the good news of Realized Eschatology, the word that there is no time for procrastination as the kingdom of God is breaking into our present reality. Repenting in this way we can proceed with confidence because we have God’s assurance that Christ has traveled with us and has shared our temptations (Christology).

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  • SermonSuite Special
     
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    Dean Feldmeyer
    Authority and Power
    Deuteronomy 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28

    An old adage warns leaders that “authority is like soap -- the more you use it, the less you have.” Effective leaders use their authority only as a last resort. They know that productive planning more often comes through building consensus and group ownership. People want to be led, but not pushed or forced.
         History and literature teach this lesson over and over. Julius Caesar, King Lear, Chairman Mao, Richard Nixon, Captain Kirk, Pontius Pilate, John XXIII, and Superman all come to us as figures who struggled to find a balance between authority and power -- some more successfully than others. And we struggle with it still.
         As our president and the congress jockey for position, thrusting and parrying in their ongoing legislative duels, they both want to claim the authority that gives power. The president points to the successes he has managed to achieve in spite of an obstructive congress, as well as to the recent rise in his approval rating to 50 percent. He claims that these accomplishments give him the necessary authority to move forward with his agenda. The Republicans in congress counter with their victories in the midterm elections, and claim that the voters have given them the authority to block the president’s agenda and move forward with their own.
         Each side is claiming authority and trying to exercise the power which they claim is concomitant with it. Who is right? Whose authority is genuine and how much power flows rightly from it?
         This week’s lectionary readings point us toward the only kind of authority that matters to the people of God -- and that is the authority that flows from God and God’s words....more
    Setting: Corinth, Greece, 55 AD
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    Wayne Brouwer
    Prophet
    When the nation of Israel came out of Egypt and met God at Mount Sinai, there was a political transaction taking place. Israel had belonged to the pharaoh of Egypt. Now she belonged to God. God had fought the pharaoh for the right to own and care for Israel, and he had won. Just as prior to the Exodus the pharaoh had specified the contours of his relationship with Israel, so now God did the same. At the top of Mount Sinai, God and Moses hammered out the political, social, and religious covenant that would determine the character of Israel’s future existence....more
    Sandra Herrmann
    Thank You, God, With My Whole Heart!
    Psalm 111

    "Go ahead and ask her! There’ll never be a better time -- she's alone. Quick, before the rest of her gang gets here!"
          Declan leaned forward, as though to walk over to her -- or maybe to stretch himself out, with just his head getting close to Abby. Then he took a step forward and nearly tripped over his own feet. And, of course, here came Abby's best friends. All of them. They seemed to surround her, cutting off any hope he had to talk with her alone....more
    Janice Scott
    The Foolishness of the Cross
    I recently watched a televised tribute to Dame Judi Dench, who really is an outstanding actress. She'd been selected for a special BAFTA award, so it was a glittering occasion gathering in the great from around the world.
          Many famous names gave testimony to Dame Judi's terrific acting ability, but what came over from almost everyone who spoke, was that Judi Dench doesn't act, she actually becomes the person she's portraying....more
    Cynthia Cowen
    Live Life with Power
    The Point: Jesus brought authority and power to God's word.
    The Lesson: Good morning boys and girls. Thank you for sharing this time with me.
          I brought a lamp with me this morning, and I have an extension cord that is plugged into an electrical outlet on the wall....more

Author of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen

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