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Sixth Sunday of Easter, Cycle C

The emphasis in these texts selected for the Sixth Sunday of Easter this year is clearly on “good things” and on the belief that all good things come from God, as the Prayer of the Day specifies: “Bountiful God, you gather your people into your realm, and you promise us food from your tree of life. Nourish us with your word, that empowered by your Spirit we may love one another and the world you have made, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”

These texts in Cycle C all carry this emphasis without entering seriously into the related question of the origin of “bad things.” It is appropriate that our sermons and services next Sunday maintain the emphasis of these texts. There are other opportunities to consider the more difficult issue of the origin of evil.

Psalm 67

The “good things” here are God’s gracious interaction with and blessing of the people of the worshiping community. The results of this interaction and blessing are seen most clearly in the good harvest cited in 67:6. This and presumably other blessings will cause people of all nations to fear God and to praise God. God is said to judge and to guide all nations. In this Community Hymn of Praise there is no mention of Adonai. It is entirely Elohim who is acclaimed.

Acts 16:9-15

In this segment of the Acts of Apostles literary drama the “good things” come to the woman named Lydia, a seller of purple cloth who worshiped God and listened to Paul and to the other apostles. The Lord had opened her heart to be receptive to the message of Paul. After she and her entire household had been baptized, she invited Paul and those who were with him to be guests in her home. Together with Lydia, we too are nourished by the Word of God.

Revelation 21:10, 22–22:5

Here in beautiful unrestrained apocalyptic imagery we are given a description of the glorious new city of Jerusalem coming down from heaven from God to become the Bride of Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Life is so good in this new city that there is no need of a temple, or of sun or moon, for its temple is the Lord God and the Lamb. The glory of the Lord provides its light and the Lamb of God is its lamp.

John 14:23-29

Three “good things” form the basis of this Fourth Gospel text. They are presented in two promises and in a gift of “my peace” from the Johannine Jesus. The first good that is promised is the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in Jesus’ name to remind the disciples of all that Jesus had said. The second good that is promised is the assurance that the Johannine Jesus and the Father of Jesus will come to those who keep Jesus’ word, and the third is that the Johannine Jesus and his Father will make their home with those who keep the word of the Johannine Jesus.

As the Johannine writers and community, inspired by God, reflected theologically about how Jesus as they perceived him would be and was active among them, they claimed Jesus’ peace. Nevertheless, the grammatical condition contrary to fact in 14:28 suggests that they realized their love for Jesus was not adequate. Perhaps this condition contrary to fact construction is the key that provides for us the best entrée into this text and into a homily/sermon based on this text. They perceived Jesus as saying to them, “If you had loved me the way that I wanted you to love me, you would have rejoiced that I am going to my Father, because my Father is greater than I am.”

We too look for good things from God as we reflect theologically over the absence of Jesus and claim his presence. Like the members of the Johannine community, we also recognize that we do not love Jesus as the Christ, as the Son of God our Savior, as we should love, and that because of this our joy is not complete. Therefore, the “good things of God” remain for us somewhat elusive, as they were for the community by which and for which this texts was composed. They are realized only in part. The full measure of the “good things from God” is still to come.

John 5:1-9

The “good thing” that the man at the pool near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem who had been ill for 38 years received was to be healed. The question asked by the Johannine Jesus, “Do you want to be healed?” seems at first to be entirely unnecessary. Of course, he wants to be healed! After being helplessly ill for 38 years, would he not want to be healed? On further reflection, however, we see that it is totally essential that he has the will to be healed. Without the will to be healed, he would not have been healed. We too must want the healing and all of the other “good things” that God provides.

Proper 6 | Ordinary Time 11, Cycle B (2015)

THEME OF THE DAY: A way out of no way. This is a Sunday for reflecting on how when things look bad, God is always available and present, ready to restore us to thriving (Providence, Justification By Grace, and Sanctification).

Psalm 20
This is a prayer for the king’s victory in battle, purportedly by David.  It was likely composed to accompany a sacrifice offered before a battle had begun (v.3).  It seems useful to reiterate the conclusion of many scholars that references to David in the Psalms like this one may have been a way of using him to represent the inner life of all his subjects and so of all the faithful (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p.521).  In that sense this song is about how all Christians do well to pray to God for victories in life.  

God’s actual Name [shem, also translated “renown”] is deemed a sanctuary (v.1).  Prayers are offered that God would send help, remember all our offerings and grant our hearts’ desire (vv.2-5).  The reference to Selah after v.3 is a liturgical direction instructing that there be a musical interlude at this point in the Psalm.  The Psalmist calls for the Lord to help His anointed, answering Him with mighty victories (v.6).  The term anointed [mashiach] refers to Messiah for the Hebrews.  Rather than taking pride in armies, the Psalmist claims to take pride in the Name of Yahweh (v.7).  Those taking pride in their armies, it is said, will collapse and fall, but those taking pride in Yahweh will stand aright (v.8).

Application: Sermons on this Psalm might explore with congregants the battles and struggles in life, that the resources we bring to those struggles are not nearly as useful, not as likely to succeed (Sin), as when we go into them with God and Christ (Providence and Atonement).  The sermon might also highlight how for the Jews the Anointed One is the Messiah.

or

Psalm 92:1-4,12-15
The alternative Psalm is a thanksgiving after deliverance from personal enemies.  This is the only Psalm designated as a Song for the Sabbath Day.  The introductory hymn praises God for His steadfast love [chesed, literally mercy] and faithfulness [emunah, or stability] (vv.1-3).  By the Lord’s Word the Psalmist is made glad [someach] (v.4).  The Lesson skips on to a discussion of the rewards and fruits of righteousness [tsaddiq].  We have noted on a number of occasions 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).  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).  The righteous are said to be planted in the house of the Lord where they will flourish in God’s court (v.13).  The implication is that God is the Agent of righteousness.  Note that reference to the palm tree and the cedars in v.12 connoted prosperity and longevity to the ancient Hebrews.  In old age, fruit is said to be produced (v.14).  This suggests that works follow spontaneously from righteousness/justification.  The works of the righteous show God’s righteousness (v.15).  It is good to remind ourselves at this point that Christian scholarship on the Old Testament largely agrees that God’s righteousness is not so much about a punitive attribute of God as it is about relationship, concerning God’s loyalty to His Covenant in saving us.  Sometimes the righteousness of God is even construed, as perhaps in this Psalm, as something bestowed on the faithful (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol., pp.373,376ff.).

Application: A sermon on this Psalm might focus on its character as a Sabbath song, that every Sunday we come to sing praises to God for His mercy, love, and stability – His faithfulness to His Promises never to abandon us, even in the midst of the enemies and evils that come our way (Providence).  Another angle for sermons might be to elaborate on the themes of righteousness in the Psalm, how when things look bleakest (Sin), God puts us in right relationship with Him and we may flourish (Justification By Grace and Sanctification).

1 Samuel 15:34–16:13
We have previously noted that this Book has its origin as a distinct text derives from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Septuagint), which divided the story of Israel’s monarchy into four sections (1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings).  This Book is probably the result of two or three sources: (1) Early traditions about Samuel and Saul; (2) Editor-molded materials brought together into a connected history, implying a critique of the events, deeming kingship as problematic, and so must be set under the rule of God and Samuel His Prophet; (3) Incorporating the previous strand into the more Deuteronomistic (D) history (the result of sweeping religious reforms under King Josiah in 621 BC).  This is the story of Samuel’s anointing of David to succeed Saul as king.

Having confronted Saul, it is reported that Samuel returned to his home Ramah (about seventeen miles northwest of Jerusalem) and never saw Saul again.  He is said to have grieved over the king’s plight (15:34-35).  The Lord challenges Samuel not to grieve indefinitely, but charges him to go to Jesse (of the tribe of Judah, a grandson of Ruth and Boaz) in Bethlehem, as the next king will be from among his sons (16:1).  As Samuel fears consequences if Saul learns of these actions, the Lord responds to the Prophet that he is to offer a sacrifice to the Lord and invite Jesse.  Further instructions are to be received (16:2-3).  Samuel complies and invites all the elders to join him in the sacrifice after ceremoniously sanctifying themselves through ritual washing.  Among them are Jesse and his sons (16:4-5). 

Samuel meets Jesse’s eldest son Eliab, who was tall and handsome.  Samuel thinks that he must be the one the Lord has chosen, but Yahweh reveals that Eliab is not the one, for the Lord does not look on human beings as they appear outwardly, but considers their heart (16:6-7).  We have already noted in the exposition of Psalm 20 that reference here to the Lord’s anointed is the Hebrews term mashiach, which is linguistically related to the term for Messiah.  Already connections between the (Davidic) king of Israel and the Messiah are being drawn.  Jesse’s second son Abinadab and third son Shammah (elsewhere called Shimeah [2 Samuel 13:3,32] or Shimei [2 Samuel 21:21] are summoned, and Samuel notes that they as well as the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh sons of Jesse are not the chosen one (16:8-10).  Samuel asks to see all of Jesse’s sons; only the youngest (David) who is tending sheep has not been seen.  Samuel would have him be summoned, claiming he would not sit down (not eating the part of the sacrifice not reserved for God) until he sees David (16:11).  Although David is the eighth son in this account, according to I Chronicles 2:13-15 he is seventh son of a seventh son, a widespread Hebrew folklore.  David is said to be ruddy [admoni, either a reference to his complexion or red hair] and quite handsome.  Yahweh directs that he be anointed, and he is given the Spirit [ruach] of the Lord (as Saul and other religious leaders in the Old Testament received) (16:12-13).  See Judges 6:34.

Application: This text readily lends itself to sermons proclaiming a Word of hope (Justification By Grace, Providence, and Social Ethics [esp. for the poor and powerless]) in the midst of despair about present American economic, social, and political realities.     

or

Ezekiel  17:22-24
We have previously noted that Ezekiel was a Prophet from a priestly family whose ministry to his fellow Exiles during the Babylonian Captivity extended from 593 BC to 563 BC.  Some of the oracles pre-date Jerusalem’s fall.  The original collection was rewritten and expanded by an editor.  The Book includes judgment of Judah for its idolatry and defilement of the sanctuary, the proclamation of God’s abiding Presence among the people, consolation and hope expressed in a proclamation of God’s unconditional care.  This Lesson is the Allegory of the Cedar – a Messianic allegory (reminiscent of Jeremiah 23:5-6 and Zechariah 3:8).  Essentially Yahweh Elohim refers to taking a sprig/branch [porah] from the top of a cedar, breaking off a tender one from the top of its twigs, and planting it on a high and lofty mountain [har] (v.22).  Jeremiah (23:5-6) also refers to the Messiah as a branch.  This twig will be planted on the mountain height of Israel, Ezekiel proclaims (presumably the highest point of Jerusalem – Mt. Zion) in order that it may bear fruit [peri] and become a noble cedar on which all birds will live in the shade of its branches (v.23).  This reference to a mountain height in Jerusalem may be consistent with the hope of a restoration of the Davidic monarchy.  All the trees of the field will know then that God is the Lord. But then the tree will be brought low by God, and He will make high [gaboah] the low tree, drying up the green tree and making the dry tree flourish (v.24).   
      
Application: Understood Messianically, this Complementary First Lesson opens the way to sermons on what God does in Christ, in hopeless situations creating from what seems like a little twig (Christology and the lowliness of Christ) and using it and Christ to bring shade and relief to us all (Atonement).  We flourish as we live in Him (Sanctification).

2 Corinthians 5:6–10 (11-13), 14-17
We continue this week again to consider an Epistle written by Paul to address relations with the Corinthian church which had further deteriorated during the period after I Corinthians was written.   As previously noted, Chapters 10-13 are so different in style and tone from the first chapters as to lead many scholars to conclude that they are the “severe letter” mentioned in 2:4.  This Lesson is Paul’s articulation of confidence when facing death.  The middle three verses of the Lesson (vv.11-3) launch the Apostle on a further defense of his ministry and its relation to the Word of Christ.

Paul’s confidence seems to be a function of having experienced the burden of our earthly bodies and the longing for the heavenly dwelling through the Holy Spirit.  Yet there is also an awareness that while at home in our bodies [soma] we are away from the Lord (vv.6,4-5).  As a result, Paul notes that we must walk by faith, not by sight (v.7).  There is a preference in the faithful to be with the Lord away from the body (v.8).  Whether at home with the Lord or away, it is the aim of Christians to please Him (v.9). 

Reference is made to the fact that all will be judged [bema, appear before a tribunal] by Christ for what they have done (v.10).  It is useful at this point to remember that Paul was a Jew, and for the ancient Hebrews the term mishpat (judgment) refers both to punishment and also a sense of comfort for the faithful, and that this sense of comfort may be what Paul has in mind here.  The Apostle speaks of knowing the fear [phobon, a concept which implied reverence for the Biblical-era Hebrews] of the Lord and makes efforts to persuade the Corinthians, not by boasting about himself, but so that the Corinthians might be loyal to him in face of critics who proclaim themselves in their ministry (vv.11-12).  As a number of Paul’s critics had claimed ecstatic experiences of the Spirit (I Corinthians 12), he seems to contend to be undergoing such an experience [ekestemen, besides ourselves] (v.13).  The love [agape] of Christ controls/constrains [sunekei] us, he claims, for we are convinced that Christ has died for all (vv.14-15a).  As a result of Christ’s Work, those who live no longer live for themselves, but for Christ Who died and was raised for them (v.15b).  Consequently, Paul claims to regard no one from a human point of view [kata sarka], though Christ was once known from such a point of view (v.16).  Judging from such a perspective involves merely noting the outward appearance of what people do.  As a result, anyone who is in Christ is said to be a new creation [koina ktisis], for all that is old has passed away and become new (v.17; cf. Isaiah 43:18-19; 65:17; 66:22; Galatians 6:1-5; Ephesians 2:15).

Application: This is a text for proclaiming how we have been made new (people who live for others and are no longer chained by the past) by Christ.  Preachers can make clear that God’s love constrains us to do good, that we can do no other (Justification By Grace, Sanctification, and Realized Eschatology).

Mark 4:26-34
Once 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 70AD, 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 (I Peter 5:13).  Some speculate that the original audience was the church in Rome (esp. 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 reports Jesus’ Parables of the seed growing secretly (vv.26-29) and of the mustard seed (vv.30-32).  The first Parable, with no parallels in the other Gospels, sends the message that the Kingdom of  God [Basileia tou Theou] grows and sprouts while we sleep, is produced by the earth, but when ripe is harvested.  References to the use of the sickle and harvest in v.29 may suggest the Final Judgment, as eschatological orientation typical of Mark (see Joel 3:13; Revelation 14:14-20, for the eschatological use of these images).  One’s life depends totally on God’s act, not on our own. 

The Mustard Seed Parable has close parallels in the other Synoptic accounts (Matthew 13:31-33 and Luke 13:18-19), especially to the Matthean version.  The Parable reminds us that the Kingdom of God is like the smallest of seeds becoming the greats of shrubs.  It gives shelter to the birds.  The reference to shelter for birds suggests Daniel 4:21 (or Ezekiel 31:6), entailing that the Kingdom includes all nations (also see 13:10).  The pericope concludes with a description of Jesus teaching all things in Parables [parabole], telling them only as much as they could understand, though He did explain them privately to His Disciples (a point not made in the parallel Matthean version (vv.33-34; cf. Matthew 13:34-35).  Only the Presence of Jesus, it seems, can clarify such matters.
     
Application: This is a text for sermons on the unexpected character of the Work of God and Gospel and of the good things life (Providence, Justification By Grace, and Sanctification).   

Proper 10 | Ordinary Time 15, Cycle B (2015)

THEME OF THE DAY:  It’s all in God’s hands.  The texts invite us to celebrate our being lost in grace in all our undertakings (Justification By Grace, Sanctification, Church, Worship, and Social Ethics).

Psalm 24
This Psalm has been attributed to David.  It is a liturgy on entering the sanctuary of the Jerusalem Temple, perhaps in connection with a procession of the Ark of the Covenant.  It seems useful to reiterate the conclusion of many scholars that references to David in the Psalms like this one may have been a way of using him to represent the inner life of all his subjects and so of all the faithful (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p.521).  In that sense this song is about the mandate that all the faithful worship Yahweh, with confidence that He is Present in worship.  At two points in the Psalm the word Selah appears, suggesting times when musical interludes were to be played.        

The Psalm begins with an acknowledgement of the Lord as Creator, that the earth is Yahweh’s.  Reference to His founding the earth on the seas is suggestive of the Creation Account in Genesis (1:2,6) (vv.1-2).  The Psalmist grapples with the question of who should be admitted to the sanctuary (v.3).  The answer to the question is given: Only those with clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift themselves to what is false (vv.4-6).  Whether this entails one must have sufficient moral qualities or simply travel with God is an open question (perhaps it is both).  In another Psalm concerned with worthiness to enter the sanctuary (132:9), righteousness [tsedaqah] is deemed essential.  We should highlight once 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).  In the Psalm’s final verses, the choir outside the gate requests entrance, so that the God of Israel in the Ark may enter.  He is praised as the King [melek] of Glory [kabod] (vv.7-10).           

Application: A sermon on this Psalm affords an opportunity to reflect on worship, on how God is Present in our sanctuaries, and so worship is in His hands.  Even our worthiness to worship is not a matter of what we do, but the relationship He creates with us.  It is His Presence that makes us worthy to worship (Justification By Grace and Sanctification). 

or

Psalm 85:8-13
This is prayer for deliverance from national adversity. It is a Psalm of the Korahites (a group of professional Levitical musicians).  Thus the verses seem to have origins in The Jerusalem Temple.  The opening reference to God’s favor to His land and its people (v.1) could be occasioned by the return of the Exiles from captivity in Babylon.  But it could also be taken as Messianic Prophecy, describing all Christ will do.  The bulk of the Lesson (vv.8-13) includes an oracle of assurance, likely delivered by a priest.  A message of salvation/safety [yesha] (v.9) is  delivered.  Righteousness [tsedeq] and peace [shalom] are said to kiss each other (v.10).  We should highlight once again that the concept of “righteousness” even in the Old Testament has to do primarily with living in right relationship with God.  See the discussion of the concept above in the preceding Psalm.  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.  And peace [shalom] in this Jewish context refers not just to a state in which there is no combat, but to a state of well-being and thriving, to social justice (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol.1, p.130).  Right relationship with God leads to a state of well being (Justification By Grace, Sanctification, and Social Ethics).  Likewise mercy [chesed, or loving kindness] and truth/faith [emeth] are said to meet.  Love and faith go together.  Salvation [yesha , also translated “safety”] and these new realities are said to be close at hand for those who fear [yare, that is “reverence”] Yahweh (v.9).   Thus there is a clear eschatological dimension at this point in the text, which fits the viability of interpreting the text as a Prophecy of Christ’s Coming.  Yahweh, it is said, will give what is good [tob], and this gift is related to the righteousness (restored relationship He will work out with us) going before Him like a herald before a king and also to the faithfulness [emeth, properly translated “truth”] which will spring from it (vv.11-13).  Again it seems clear that when God acts with righteousness (faithful to the Covenant relationship with the His people), faith and all good follow (Sanctification As Spontaneous Good Works).

Application: The Psalm gives occasion to celebrate God’s forgiving love and goodness (Justification By Grace and Providence), but also to relate this to what God is about to do in Christ the Coming One.  Not only do we find a loving God described here in the Old Testament, but also a vision of the Christian life (Sanctification and Social Ethics) springing spontaneously from God’s righteous actions.  The future and even our good works are in God’s hands.

2 Samuel 6:1-5,12b-19
We have already noted that the origin of this Book as a distinct text derives from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Septuagint), which divided the story of Israel’s monarchy into four sections (1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings).  This Book is probably the result of two or three sources: (1) Early traditions about Samuel and Saul; (2) Editor-molded materials brought together into a connected history, implying a critique of the events, deeming kingship as problematic, and so must be set under the rule of God and Samuel His Prophet; (3) Incorporating the previous strand into the more Deuteronomistic (D) history (the result of sweeping religious reforms under King Josiah in 621 BC).  The role of this last source not surprisingly entails that a central theme in the Book is the struggle to remain obedient to Torah, to be God’s covenant people, and to inherit divine blessings.  This Book especially relates to the reign of David as King of Israel.  This is the story of David’s bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem in order to add to the city’s prestige as the new capital and Saul’s daughter Michal’s negative reaction to it.

The account begins with David gathering the chosen men of Israel to go to Baale-juhad (an error or another name for Kiriath-jearim) where The Ark of the Covenant (where Yahweh was thought to reside) was enthroned in order to bring it to Jerusalem (vv.1-2).  This would add to the prestige of David’s capital, as with the Ark present in the city it would become not just the military and political center of Israel, but also its religious center.  Uzzah and Ahio are charged with transporting the Ark.  They were sons of Abinadab who had been guarding the Ark (vv.3-4; I Samuel 7:2).  David and many in Israel celebrate with dance (v.5).  As the Ark came to Jerusalem, one of David’s wives Michal, the daughter of Saul, saw the new king dancing [karar] a ritual and despised him (vv.12,14-15).  She may have been angered over having been torn away from her husband Paltiel (3:15-16) so David could claim more legitimacy for assuming the throne.  Or she may have been embarrassed by the scant clothing he wore while dancing (v.20).  Even David assumed the priestly task of offering a sacrifice [alah] (vv.17-18a).  He then blessed [barak] the people in Yahweh’s Name and distributed food (vv.18b-19).     

Application: This is a great text for extolling the joy of worship, an even that takes us out of ourselves and into God’s hands.

or

Amos 7:7-15
The Complementary First Lesson is drawn from a collection of teaching and traditions concerning a Prophet who may have written during the prosperous reign of Jeroboam II in Israel (786 BC – 746 BC).  From Judah, Amos did his prophesying in the Northern Kingdom, but then after The Babylonian Exile may have returned to Judah to write a summary of his proclamation.  Some scholars contend that his addresses were gathered and combined by others to form the book.  This Lesson is a portion of the five visions of God’s judgment and restoration given to Amos and his confrontation with Amaziah, the official priest of the Northern Kingdom’s royal sanctuary in Bethel (v.10).  Yahweh reveals a wall with a plumb line to symbolize that Israel is warped beyond correction and so must be destroyed (vv.7-9).  Amaziah reports to King Jereboam that Amos was conspiring against him (vv.10-11).  Amaziah admonishes Amos to flee to Judah and cease prophesying in Bethel (vv.12-13).  Amos responds that he is no Prophet [nabi] (not part of a prophetic order common in Israel and Judah), but a herdsman summoned by Yahweh to prophecy (vv.14-15).

Application: This Lesson offers opportunities to speak out prophetically against injustices in America (Sin and Social Justice), critiquing the Church for its cooption by the establishment, but to proceed with confidence that we have been summoned by God to these undertakings, that all we can co it dependent on Him (Providence and Sanctification).

Ephesians 1:3-14
The Book is a circular letter, either written by Paul from prison late in his career or by a follower of the Apostle who had had a hand in assembling the collection of his Epistles.  These conclusions follow from the fact that the Letter includes vocabulary and stylistic characteristics different from the Pauline corpus.  It was likely addressed to a younger, later generation of Christians (1:15).

This Lesson is a thanksgiving for the blessing God has showered on the cosmos.  The blessings are related to our being elected [eklego, literally “chosen”] in Christ destined for adoption as children (vv.3-5,11).  He is said to be the Beloved [agapao] (v.6).  In Christ redemption [apolutrosiss – a loosing away] through His blood is given by grace [charis] lavished/abounded [perisseuo] on us (vv.7-8).  Reference is made to this being a mystery [musterion], an age-long purpose discussed now in the fullness of time [pleromatos ton kairon -- an eschatological image] (vv.9-10).  All things are gathered up [anakefalaiosasthai, to head up] in Christ.  This could refer to the Church as the Body of Christ or to all the world redeemed in Christ.  The Holy Spirit, said to be given to seal [chatham] or as a pledge [arrhaban, literally “earnest”] of our redemption, is given with faith in Christ (vv.13-14; cf. 1:22).

Application: This Lesson invites sermons explaining (Single) Predestination and its implications for our unity in Christ (Church) as well as the comfort this insight provides (Justification By Grace).

Mark 6:14-29
As is well known, this Book is likely the oldest of the Synoptic Gospels.  It was probably written prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD and was the source of other Gospels.  It is likely based on oral traditions of the Passion narrative and accounts of Jesus’ sayings (the so-called Q-source).

Although an anonymous work, the tradition of ascribing authorship to John Mark  is largely accepted, but his identity is not always clear – whether this is the John Mark referred to as an associate of Paul (Acts 12:12,25; 15:37; Colossians 4:10) or as Peter’s scribe (I Peter 5:13).  There is an extra-Biblical source (Eusebius of Caesarea, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2/1: 115-116) who designates Mark as the Apostle to Africa.  Some speculate that the original audience was the church in Rome (esp. 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.  In this Lesson the beheading of John the Baptist is recounted along with Herod’s fears about Jesus.  The Markan version has more details than the other Gospels with only Matthew 14:3-12 providing the actual account of John’s death. 

Herod Antipas (the Roman tetrarch of Galilee, reigning during Jesus’ adulthood) is reported to have heard of Jesus’ Ministry and those of His Disciples.  Some say Jesus is a reincarnation of Elijah or one of the other Prophets.  Others believe that John the Baptist had risen.  Herod becomes convinced of the latter, for he had beheaded John (vv.14-16).  The account of John’s beheading follows.  Only here and in Matthew (14:1-12) are such details provided.  John is put to death by Herod for critiquing him for marrying a niece, Herodias, also the wife of his brother (vv.17-18; cf. Leviticus 18:16; 20:21).  Herodias is especially desirous of John’s death (v.19).  Herodias’ daughter [named Herodias, but actually named Salome] provides an opportunity to have her wish fulfilled, as Herodius has her dance before Herod and guests at a party in such a way as to please the ruler and in gratitude to her and her mother anything she wished David pledges to grant.  Guided by her mother she asks for John the Baptist’s head (vv,21-25).  The king is grieved [perilupos], but grants the request out of duty.  John is arrested and killed (vv.26-28).  John’s disciples claim the body and bury it (v.29).

Application: Sermons on this text can help the congregation appreciate the need for and risks involved in prophetic courage, focusing either on a pressing congregational issue or pressing social concern (Social Justice and Sin), proclaiming our total dependence on God (Justification By Grace).

Proper 8 | Ordinary Time 13, Cycle B (2015)

THEME OF THE DAY:  God delivers: There’s lots of reasons to be grateful!  Texts for this Sunday remind us that God forgives us and overcomes all evil, that suffering is not His Will and that He gives us the true riches in life (Providence, Justification By Grace, and Sanctification as a life of gratitude for all He gives us).

Psalm 130
As previously noted, this is a lament prayer for deliverance from personal trouble.  It is one of the Songs of Ascent (or Pilgrim Psalms).   Recall that such Psalms are so-named for referring to the ascent of pilgrims to Jerusalem on the way to the Temple, which required of them an ascent up a mountain.  (Some instead claim that these Psalms are so named because they have an ascending style of poetic form.)

The Psalmist cries out for help out of the depths [maamaqqim] (vv.1-2).  He notes that though none are worthy to stand before God, yet He is forgiving [selchah, a sending away], not marking [shamar, literally observing] iniquities (vv.3-4).  God is portrayed as a God of steadfast love [the Hebrew term chesed is used here, and so can be translated “loving kindness” or “mercy”].  Comments in v.6 suggest that ancient Hebrews believed that God’s help often came in the early morning after a night of prayer.  Finally, the Psalmist assures that He will redeem [padah, also meaning “free”] Israel, presumably from all its national difficulties (vv.7-8).

Application: This Psalm invites sermons on God’s love, how He overlooks our Sin, even as we wallow them and the despair we often experience (Justification By Grace), or how He delivers or sets our nation free from destructive patterns like the growing poverty and racial injustice.

or

Psalm 30
This is a thanksgiving for healing (or restoration).  It is said to be a Song at the dedication of The Jerusalem Temple, which may indicate that it was used at the Feast of Dedication (Hannukkah) after Judas Maccabeus cleansed The Temple in 164 BC.  The Psalm is attributed to David.  It seems useful to reiterate the conclusion of many scholars that references to David in the Psalms like this one may have been a way of using him to represent the inner life of all his subjects and so of all the faithful (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p.521).  In that sense this song is about how all the faithful are to give thanks.

The Psalm begins with praise [rum, extolling] for God not letting the Psalmist’s foes/enemies [oyebh] to rejoice over him (vv.1-2).  These foes could be those who claimed that the illness the Psalmist endured was a deserved punishment of God.  Yahweh is said to have brought the Psalmist up from Sheol [the Pit, or abode of death removed from God’s Presence].  (Mention of the soul [nephesh] at this point is a reference to the breath of life, not indicative of the Hebrews’ belief in a distinct eternal entity like the ancient Greeks and many Christians teach.)  The Psalmist noted that before enduring his trial he had felt secure (vv.6-7a).  Then with illness, as God hid His face [panim] from the Psalmist (cf. 10:1), he turns to God, noting that God gains nothing with his death since dust cannot praise God (vv.8-10), and God restores health, clothing the Psalmist with joy/gladness [simchah].  Reference to the Psalmist taking off his sackcloth refers to removing the clothing of mourning or penitence (vv.11-12).  Another testimony to a strong doctrine of Providence emerges.  God’s wrath seems subordinate to His love (v.5).

Application: A sermon on this text allows preachers to explore how God heals when we least expect it, when things seem worst (Providence).   This insight helps make the Christian life a little less secure, but one filled with rejoicing (Sanctification).  We have a God of love Who works to deliver us, often in surprising ways.

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27
The origin of this Book as a distinct text derives from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Septuagint), which divided the story of Israel’s monarchy into four sections (1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings).  This Book is probably the result of two or three sources: (1) Early traditions about Samuel and Saul; (2) Editor-molded materials brought together into a connected history, implying a critique of the events, deeming kingship as problematic, and so must be set under the rule of God and Samuel His Prophet; (3) Incorporating the previous strand into the more Deuteronomistic (D) history (the result of sweeping religious reforms under King Josiah in 621 BC).  The role of this last source not surprisingly entails that a central theme in the Book is the struggle to remain obedient to Torah, to be God’s covenant people, and to inherit divine blessings.  This Book especially relates to the reign of David as King of Israel.  This particular text is David’s lament over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan.

The scene is set after Saul’s death while David’s army had just defeated the Amalekites.  Informed by a messenger (vv.2-4), David offers laments over Saul and his son Jonathan.  He orders that the Song of the Bow from a lost book of Jashar (a collection of poetry praising Israel’s military victories) be taught in Judah (vv.17-18).  This may be the oldest song in the Bible and is the one most likely to have been an authentic composition of David.  The song begins with a lament concerning how the mighty [Israel’s beauty] have fallen (vv.19,27).  The news is not to be shared with the Philistines.  (Gath and Ashkelon were Philistine cities.) (v.20).  Saul and Jonathan are praised (vv.22-23).  The daughters of Israel are urged to weep, for Saul had clothed with luxury and expensive jewelry (v.24).  David expresses deep love for Jonathan, a love [ahobah] more wonderful than the love of women (v.26).

Application: Sermons in this Lesson will proclaim God’s gracious Providence in leading to the good things we have in life, in order that we may come to gratitude toward Him and to those we have encountered along the way (Sanctification).

or

Lamentations 3:22-33    
This Book is a small psalter of communal laments over Jerusalem followings its destruction by the Babylonians in 577 (586) BC.  Traditionally ascribed to Jeremiah (because of 2 Chronicles 35:25) the thought and diction are sufficiently unlike that of the Prophet to make his authorship unlikely.  The first four chapters are alphabetic acrostics (with a stanza for each of the twenty letters of the Hebrew alphabet). In this Chapter the sadness of the people are voiced by an individual.  In this Lesson the psalmist counsels penitence in acknowledgment of God’s righteousness and mercy.

God’s steadfast love [chesed, or mercy], it is proclaimed, never ceases (v.22).  His mercies are said to be new every morning, His faithfulness great.  Yahweh is said to be His portion, in Whom we can hope [yachal] (vv.23-24).  Yahweh is good [tob] to those who wait for Him, to the soul that seeks Him (v.25).   The writer states that it is good to wait quietly for the [teshuah, literally “safety”] salvation of the Lord, to bear the yoke it youth and it alone in silence, to put one’s mouth in the dust [to abase oneself] that there may be hope [tiguah] (vv.26-29).  It is good to take the insults (v.30).  Yahweh will not reject forever, we are assured.  For although He causes grief, He will have compassion according to the abundance of His steadfast love [chesed] (vv.31-32).    It is added that God does not willingly [from His heart] afflict/lower [anah] or grieve [yagah] anyone (v.33).

Application: Preaching on this Complementary First Lesson leads to sermons proclaiming God’s abundant and steadfast love, that suffering and bad times are not His will (Providence and Justification By Grace).   

2 Corinthians 8:7-15
We continue this week again to consider an Epistle written by Paul to address relations with the Corinthian church which had further deteriorated during the period after I Corinthians was written.   As previously noted, Chapters 10-13 are so different in style and tone from the first chapters as to lead many scholars to conclude that they are the “severe letter” mentioned in 2:4.  

The Lesson is an exhortation to support the collection Paul was organizing for relief of the Jerusalem church.  Praising the Corinthians’ faith in view of love for them, he urges their involvement in this collection as a test [dokimazo, literally “proving”] of the genuineness of their love, but not as command [epitogen] (vv.7-8).  Paul speaks of Christ’s generosity, that though rich [ploutizo] He became poor [ptochos] so that by His poverty we become rich (v.9).  He notes that the offering begun in the previous year (presumably interrupted due to strained relations with the Corinthian church) should be completed (vv.10-11).  The Apostle refers to eagerness to give, regarding a gift as acceptable, not according to the amount.  He proceeds to speak of the Corinthians’ abundance [perisseuma] compared to other churches (vv.12-14).  He cites Exodus 16:18, that one who had much did not have too much, and one with little did not have too little (v.15).

Application: This is a good Lesson for preaching on how the Word of God makes us rich (Justification By Grace and Sanctification), though not in terms of material blessings we “deserve” (a condemnation of our Sin), but by gaining an appreciation of Christ.  God’s propensity to confound reason and the ways of the world is also implicit (Providence).    Distinctions between proving ourselves as Christians and the Christian life as a response to Commandments (Sanctification) might also receive attention.

Mark 5:21-43
As is well known, this Book is likely the oldest of the Synoptic Gospels.  Some speculate that this Gospel’s original audience was the church in Rome (esp. 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 the story of the raising of Jairus’ daughter.  More details are provided in Mark’s account than in the other Synoptic equivalents (cf. Matthew 9:18-26; Luke 8:40-56).

Jesus and the Disciples land their boat on the coast of the Sea of Galilee.  He meets Jairus, a leader of a local synagogue, who pleads with Jesus to heal his daughter (vv.21-23).  The request that Jesus heal by laying on hands was not characteristic of Jewish healing in this era, but was typical of Jesus’ style (6:5; 7:32; 8:22,25).  On the way to Jarius’ house, a healing of a woman suffering from hemorrhages [puseihaimatus, flow of blood] transpires when she touches Jesus’ clothes (vv.24b-29).  When confronted by Him she concedes in fear and trembling that she was the one healed and shows Him homage.  He praises her for her faith (vv.30-34).  The Semitic farewell “go in peace” [hupage eis irenen] suggests a wholeness involved in Jesus’ healings.  For peace in ancient Jewish culture refers not just to a state of no combat, but to a state of well-being, of justice (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol.1, p.130).

Jairus is next informed that his daughter had died.  Jesus hears the report and assures Jairus (vv.35-36).  Only Peter, James, and John the brother of James proceed to accompany Jesus (v.37).  Mourning had already begun for the daughter when Jesus and His followers arrive.  When He claims that she is merely sleeping He is mocked (vv.37-40a).  Jesus proceeds to raise the girl “immediately/instantly” [eutheos] (vv.40-42a).  Only in the Markan version are Jesus’ actual Semitic/Aramaic words in the healing reported.  All are said to be amazed [exestesan] (v.42b).  But Jesus orders them to keep the healing secret (v.43).  (Matthew’s version [13:58] does not include this reference to the Messianic Secret – the Markan theme [1:33,44; 3:11-12; 7:36; 9:9,30] that Jesus’ Messiahship is to remain a secret except among the faithful until the Resurrection.)    

Application: With this text preachers might proclaim the comfort of the Gospel when facing the trials of life and death (Justification By Grace) and the hope of life eternal (Future Eschatology), helping the flock to appreciate that if we are confident that death is conquered the other trials of life (including injustice) are overcome.  (See the discussion of peace above.)  Another possibility might be to focus on the Messianic Secret, on how Jesus is not fully known    
by people (why so many reject Him) apart from God’s deliverance of Him and us on Easter (Apologetics and Atonement).  

Proper 9 | Ordinary Time 14, Cycle B (2015)

THEME OF THE DAY:  God and His people get in the trenches.  Providence, Social Justice, Justification By Grace, and Sanctification are the doctrines which best express this theme, implicit in all the texts.

Psalm 48
This Korahite Psalm is a song celebrating the beauty and security of Jerusalem’s Mount Zion (the oldest and highest part of the city).  Recall the Korahites were a group of Temple singers (2 Chronicles 20:19).  They may have collected and transmitted a number of Psalms attributed to them.

The Lord is praised as the God of Jerusalem, its sure defense in providing refuge (vv.1-4).  The text’s claim that the city’s Mount Zion is the joy of all the earth.  Reference to the mountain being in the north is a Hebrew play on words for Canaanite Mount Zaphon, a divine dwelling place in Canaanite mythology.  The Hebrew word for “North,” tsaphon, resembles the Canaanite name of the mountain (v.2).  When in the last days Gentile kings unite to attack the city, it is prophesied that they will be routed.  The ships of Tarshsish to be shattered refer to the Phoenician colony of Tarshish (vv.4-8).  The appearance of the term Selah after v.8 is a liturgical directive likely calling for an instrumental interlude at that point.  This insight regarding the steadfast love [chesed, or mercy] of God causes rejoicing in the ceremonies of The Temple (vv.9-11).  A call for a procession about the city’s walls concludes the Psalm.  God is said to be our guide forever [nahaq] (vv.12-14).       

Application: This text suggests sermons on God’s involvement in our cities and other political realities – a most appropriate Word in view of the recent July 4 celebrations.  He is our loving guide in all things in life.  Providence, Sanctification, and Social Ethics might get attention when guided by the Psalm.  

or

Psalm 123
This is a prayer for deliverance from enemies, a group lament.  The Psalm is also a Song of Ascent (a pilgrim song [or plea by an oppressed class in Israel], so named because one needed to ascend Mount Zion to get to the Temple in Jerusalem).  It begins with an act of submission to God’s Will.  The group pledges to look to the Lord until He has mercy [chanan] (vv.1-2).  The actual prayer follows: God is petitioned for mercy in view of all the contempt and scorn experienced by the people from the contempt [buz] of the proud [yannah, or those who oppress] (vv.3-4).

Application: Sermons on this Psalm might focus on submitting to God’s Will (Sanctification and Providence).  Prayerfully anticipating God’s special concern and mercy for the oppressed, this is an excellent opportunity to proclaim God’s preferential option for the poor (Social Ethics).

2 Samuel 5:1-5,9-10
The origin of this Book as a distinct text derives from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Septuagint), which divided the story of Israel’s monarchy into four sections (1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings).  This Book is probably the result of two or three sources: (1) Early traditions about Samuel and Saul; (2) Editor-molded materials brought together into a connected history, implying a critique of the events, deeming kingship as problematic, and so must be set under the rule of God and Samuel His Prophet; (3) Incorporating the previous strand into the more Deuteronomistic (D) history (the result of sweeping religious reforms under King Josiah in 621 BC).  The role of this last source not surprisingly entails that a central theme of the  Book is the struggle to remain obedient to Torah, to be God’s covenant people, and to inherit divine blessings.  This Book especially relates to the reign of David as King of Israel.  And so it is appropriate that in this text David is anointed king over all Israel and makes Jerusalem the capital.

With the death of the last of Saul’s heirs (4:1-12), the tribes of Israel reportedly came to Hebron (about twenty miles southwest of Jerusalem) to make David (already king of Judah [2:1-11]) king of the whole nation of Israel.  They note his military victories and the Lord’s Will.  Yahweh has designated him as the one to feed them, they claim (vv.1-2).  David makes a covenant [berith] with the people before the elders anoint him (v.3).  This seems to have been a covenant not like the one between God and Israel, which is an agreement between parties of unequal status, but in this case one among equals (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol.1, pp.129-130).  He is said to have been thirty years old at the time and to have reigned forty years (a Biblical expression for “a long time”).  Seven of these years are reported as his reign in Hebron only over Judah and the remaining 33 in Jerusalem over Judah and Israel (the Northern Kingdom) (vv.4-5).  Several intervening verses (6-8) describe David’s conquest of Jerusalem, defeating resident Canaanites (the Jebusites) (see I Chronicles 11:4-9).  David’s interest in the city seemed to be a function of its neutral position between Judah and Israel, and so was an ideal capital for the united Hebrew nation.  It is reported that he occupies the whole city and calls the stronghold the City of David (v.9).   It is also said that because Yahweh was with him he became greater and greater (v.10).

Application: Several sermon options emerge from this Lesson.  David offers a model for leadership, with his willingness to covenant with the people, to subordinate his authority (Ministry, Social Ethics).  Also we are reminded that the more we are with God, take Him into the trenches with us, the greater we become (Sanctification).

or

Ezekiel 2:1-5
Ezekiel was a Prophet from a priestly family whose ministry to his fellow Exiles during the Babylonian Captivity extended from 593 BC to 563 BC.  Some of the oracles pre-date Jerusalem’s fall.  The original collection was rewritten and expanded by an editor.  The Book includes judgment of Judah for its idolatry and defilement of the sanctuary, the proclamation of God’s abiding Presence among the people, consolation and hope expressed in a proclamation of God’s unconditional care.  This text is the first of five commissions given to the Prophet.

Yahweh says to the Prophet, calling him son of man (ben, meaning mortal man], to stand on his feet and speak with the Lord.  These words lead to the Spirit [ruach] entering into him which places Ezekiel on his feet (vv.1-2).  Yahweh sends him to the people of Israel, a nation of rebels [marad] who with their ancestors have transgressed against Him (v.3).  They are said to be impudent and stubborn, and Ezekiel is charged to say to them, “Thus says the Lord.” (v.4).  Whether they hear or refuse to hear, they shall know that there has been a Prophet [nabi] among them (v.5).

Application: This is text for preaching prophetic condemnations of injustices in America, helping the flock see that we have become a nation of rebels (Social Ethics).  Like Ezekiel, however, we can only proceed in such a ministry with the Holy Spirit and an awareness that there is hope in God’s Providential care (Justification By Grace).    

2 Corinthians 12:2-10
We continue this week again to consider an Epistle written by Paul to address relations with the Corinthian church which had further deteriorated during the period after I Corinthians was written.   As previously noted, Chapters 10-13 are so different in style and tone from the first chapters as to lead many scholars to conclude that they are the “severe letter” mentioned in 2:4.

In this Lesson we read an even stronger defense by Paul of his ministry.  He boasts by way of making the case for his paradoxical strength in weakness.

Paul begins by seeming to refer to his Damascus Road experience, being caught up to the third heaven ([triptois ourances] an expression for the highest ecstasy) (vv.2-4).  He wants to boast about these revelations but take no credit for them, boasting only about his own weaknesses (vv.5-7a).  He refers to his thorn [skolops] in the flesh (what it is, is not clear).  He concludes that it was given to him to keep him from being too elated and to have him boast of his weaknesses so the power of Christ [dunamis tou Christou] may dwell [episkiazo, or overshadow] in him (vv.7b-9).  This enables Paul to be content with weaknesses, insults, and persecutions.  For when he is weak, he is strong [dunatos, or powerful] (v.10).

Application: This text can lead to sermons that offer hope and comfort for those who feel weak and powerless, stressing that grace overshadows our weaknesses and inadequacies (Sin), that God gets in the trenches with us and takes charge of our lives.  Both Justification By Grace and Sanctification are themes to be stressed. 

Mark 6:1-13
As is well known, this Book is likely the oldest of the Synoptic Gospels.  Some speculate that the original audience was the church in Rome (esp. 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 account is the story of Jesus’ rejection in his hometown, after sparking some astonishment [ekplessomai] in the synagogue by His teaching [sophia, literally wisdom] (vv.1-2).  He is demeaned for merely being a carpenter, the son of Mary and his brothers and sister known in town (v.3).  (No reference is made to Joseph.  But He is said to be a carpenter’s son in the parallel account in Matthew 13:55.)  Jesus responds by claiming a prophet [prophetes] is without honor in his hometown (v.4).  Only in Mark is it reported that Jesus could do no deeds of power [dunamin], except cure a few who were sick through the laying on of hands (v.5).  He is reportedly amazed [thaumazo, literally “marvelled’] at the unbelief of those who were present (v.6).  Apparently God can be thwarted, but not entirely, by our lack of faith.  He is concealed in the commonplace things of life.  (Many more details are given in the parallel Lukan account [4:16-30], and it is not as clearly stated that Jesus’ power was limited by unfaith.) 

What follows is a report of the instruction of the Twelve Disciples and their commissioning (vv.7-12).  The parallel accounts in Matthew (9:35; 10:1,9-11,14) and Luke (9:1-6) do not like Mark follow the story of His rejection.  Jesus urges them to shed extra belongings (including money) (vv.8-9), presumably so they depend solely on God.  The Twelve are commissioned to take up ministries two-by-two, with authority over unclean spirits [eksousian ton pneumaton], and they succeed in curing many (vv.7,13).  They are to preach repentance [metanoeo] (v.12).  Instructions are also given regarding the hospitality they should expect and the pointed disapproval they are to show (shaking the dust off their fee) to those who reject them (vv.10-11). 

Application: Several sermon options emerge from this text.  One possibility is to focus on Jesus’ rejection in His hometown, how often we take Him and God for granted since we have known them our whole lives, because they are always in the trenches with us (Sin).  And yet Jesus is still involved in curing us, even when we take Him for granted (Justification By Grace).  Another possibility is to note that Jesus and God take the consequences of our Sin, that our unfaith can thwart for a time the good He would do.  Evil is not caused by God (Providence).  Or preachers might focus on the call of the Disciples, how like them we have been called to get in the trenches with Him, to leave behind what we have and so will receive both the curses as well as the blessings others give to Jesus (Sanctification and Evangelism).    

Proper 11 | Ordinary Time 16, Cycle B (2015)

THEME OF THE DAY:  All are one.  In making clear that this unity is God’s Work, sermons will focus on Justification By Grace, Christ’s Work, and Providence.

Psalm 89:20-37 
The Psalm is identified as a Maskil, an artful song composed with artful skill, composed by Ethan the Ezrahite.  He was either a wise man of Solomon’s court (I Kings 4:31) or a Temple musician (I Chronicles 15:17,19).    This is a hymn extolling God’s power and faithfulness; it has its origins as part of a king’s prayer for deliverance from his enemies.  It is considered a Royal Psalm, for it portrays itself as a prayer of a king for deliverance, a national lament.

Having been defeated in battle (vv.38-45), the Psalmist refers to the anointment of David by Yahweh (v.20), the Lord’s faithfulness [emunah] is extolled (v.24), and his unalterable covenant  [berith] with David is remembered.  It is God’s Promise that David’s descendants be established forever (vv.19-26).  David is considered the Lord’s firstborn [bekov], the highest of all the kings of the earth (v.27).  The Lord pledges steadfast love [chesed or lovingkindness] for David and His covenant with him forever (vv.28-29).  If David’s heirs forsake God’s Law [torah] , Yahweh says that He will punish them, but will not remove His steadfast love (vv.30-33).  The eternity of the covenant with David is reiterated (vv.34-37).          

Application: This Psalm links nicely with the first option for the First Lesson in highlighting    the eternality of the covenant with David and his line, proclaiming God’s faithfulness and love.  Sermons might develop the theme of Justification By Grace, that God never leaves us alone or abandons us, or that God has been faithful to His Promise in the work of David’s heir Jesus (Christology).

or

Psalm 23
The famous Psalm expresses confidence in God the Shepherd’s [raah] protection.  It extols the comfort of Providence.  God is said to lead us in the paths [magal] of righteousness [tsedeq] (v.3).  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).  As a result, the Psalm continues, we need fear no evil [ra] (v.4).  Yahweh is compared to a gracious host (v.5).  Surrounded by goodness [tob] and mercy [chesed], the Psalmist pledges regular worship in The Temple (v.6).  This is a Psalm about gratitude to God.   

Application: The Lord as Shepherd and the comfort that brings, how like a Shepherd He keeps us together, is a sermon theme that logically grows out of this Psalm (Justification By Grace and Providence).  

2 Samuel 7:1-14a
We note again that the origin of this Book as a distinct text derives from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Septuagint), which divided the story of Israel’s monarchy into four sections (1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings).  This Book is probably the result of two or three sources, culminating with the work of the Deuteronomistic (D) strand (the result of sweeping religious reforms under King Josiah in 621 BC).  The role of this last source not surprisingly entails that a central theme of the Book is the struggle to remain obedient to Torah, to be God’s covenant people, and to inherit divine blessings.  This Book especially relates to the reign of David as King of Israel.      

The Lesson accounts the story of David’s desire, expressed to the Prophet Nathan, to build a temple (vv.1-3) and what follows regarding this dream.  The Lord appears to Nathan indicating His contentment with continuing to dwell in a portable tent (vv.4-7).  This overlooks that the Ark of the Covenant had earlier been housed in a building in Shiloh (1 Samuel 1:7; 3:3).  Scholars tend to conclude that the entire pericope is a later addition to older sources, based on Psalm 89.  Others argue that, insofar as vv.6-7 seem to give no permission of the Tabernacle to be placed in a permanent building, these passages are in fact part of the earlier source. 

The Lord instructs Nathan instead to recount to David how the Lord had brought him to power, from the life of a shepherd [literally, “one who follows sheep”] to an internationally known uncontested leader (vv.8-9).  Yahweh claims that He will appoint a place for Israel from which they will no longer be disturbed and afflicted (v.10).  The establishment of a permanent Davidic dynasty is promised (vv.11b-12).  Reference is made to a Davidic offspring who would build the house of Yahweh’s Name [shem] and the throne would be established forever (v.13).  (Only in the parallel account in 1 Chronicles 28:6 is Solomon expressly designated as the one who will build the Temple.)  Yahweh promises to be a Father to the Davidic ancestor and his status as Yahweh’s Son [ben] is proclaimed (v.14a).  The promise and the desire to build a temple have close parallels to ceremonial texts of the royal house in Israel.

Application: This Lesson opens to door for sermons on the Christological implications of the Lord’s establishment of the Davidic line and also that God is not fully contained in any church.  A bigger God entails all people have some fellowship with Him (Providence).  In getting hearers of the sermon to recognize that God had greater plans in mind than David did, efforts can be made to help them appreciate that God is still in the business of giving us more than we can ever imagine (Providence).

or

Jeremiah 23:1-6
The Book is a collection of prophecies of a late seventh or early sixth century BC Prophet of Judah from the reigns of Josiah through the era of The Babylonian Captivity.  He dictated these prophecies to his aide Baruch.  Some of the Prophet’s criticism of the house of David and The Temple, giving more attention to the Sinai Covenant, may relate to his being an ancestor of one of David’s high priests, Abiathar, who lost control of the Temple and was finally banished. (I Kings 2:26-27).  Three sources of the Book have been identified: (1) An authentic poetic strand; (2) Biographic prose; and (3) Deuteronomistic redaction.  The interplay of these strands suggests that the final editors construed Jeremiah’s past prophecies as relevant in the new context.

This Complementary Lesson is a Messianic Oracle, probably part of a sermon.  The Prophet proclaims woe the shepherds who have destroyed and scattered the sheep (a reproach of Judah’s rulers (v.1).  Yahweh threatens to attend to their evil ways (v.2).  He promises to gather a remnant [sheerith] of the flock out of all the lands where he has driven them, bring them back and allow them to multiple (v.3).  He then pledges to raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, so that they need no longer fear or be dismayed, and none shall be missing (v.4).  Yahweh then proclaims that He will raise up for David a righteous [tsaddiq] Branch [tsemach], who will reign as king and deal wisely and execute justice [tsedaqah, literally “rightness”] in the land (v.5; cf. 33:15-16).  In making this point it is good to be reminded that the ancient Hebrew term for judgment can refer to a sense of comfort, not just to punishment [Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol.1, p.358].)  In calling the Lord righteous, we also need to recall that Christian scholarship on the Old Testament largely agrees that God’s righteousness is not so much about a punitive attribute of God as it is about relationship, concerning God’s loyalty to His Covenant in saving us.  Sometimes the righteousness of God is even construed, as perhaps in this Psalm, as something bestowed on the faithful (von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol.1, pp.373,376ff.).  It is in this sense that Jeremiah can proclaim that in the Messiah’s days Judah will be saved, Israel will live in safety, and God will be called by the Name, “The Lord is our righteousness.” (v.6)

Application: A sermon on this Prophecy of Jesus might expound the concept of God’s righteousness, but it also affords an opportunity to reflect on how Jesus repairs the brokenness we all experience in Sin (Justification By Grace).

Ephesians 2:11-22
As noted last week, this Book is a circular letter, either written by Paul from prison late in his career of by a follower of the Apostle who had had a hand in assembling the collection of his Epistles.  These conclusions follow from the fact that the Letter includes vocabulary and stylistic characteristics different from the Pauline corpus.  It was likely addressed to a younger, later generation of Christians (1:15).  This Lesson is an exposition of Christ’s benefits, bringing together Gentile and Jew, with special attention to implications for Justification By Grace and Ecclesiology.

Paul notes that though the Gentiles were originally aliens [enos, literally “strangers”] from Israel, in Christ they have been brought near (vv.11-13).  Christ is said to be our Peace [eirene], breaking down the wall that had divided Jew and Gentile (v.14).  In His abolition of the Law [nomos], Christ is said to create a new humanity [anthropos] in order to reconcile the group into one Body [soma] through the Cross (vv.15-16).  Through Christ, then, we have access to the one Spirit and Father.  None are aliens, but members of the household [oikeios] of God built on the foundation [themelios] of the Apostles with Christ the cornerstone (vv.17-20).  Paul next speaks of the Church as a holy temple [katoiketerion, dwelling-place] of the Lord in which we are all joined together in the Spirit (vv.21-22).

Application: This Lesson offers an opportunity to proclaim the unity of the Church and its implications for fully including all through Christ’s breaking down the Law all barriers and bringing us near the Father (Justification By Grace).  In becoming a dwelling place of Christ, we become One with Him as well.

Mark 6:30-34,53-56
We continue again to 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 70AD, 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 (I Peter 5:13).  Some speculate that the original audience was the church in Rome (esp. Gentiles), as the Book presumes readers unfamiliar with Jewish customs and Palestinian geography (see 7:2-4,31), but it also could have been written for Palestinian Christians.  In this pericope we hear the beginning of The Feeding of the Five Thousand, with the actual miracle omitted.  All four of the Gospels include this narrative, except the final verses have no parallel in Luke.

The Lesson begins with the Disciples, having returned from their commission to preach and heal (vv.7-13), returning to Jesus, reporting, and retreating with Him to a deserted place (vv.30-32).  Many are said to have seen Jesus and His followers and followed them on land, meeting them when they docked their boat.   Going ashore Jesus saw a great crowd and had compassion on them, as they were like sheep with no shepherd (vv.33-34).  The actual feeding of the 5000 account follows (vv.35-44), along with a story of Jesus walking on water (vv.45-52).  Both accounts are omitted from the Lesson.  The account resumes with Jesus and His followers landing their boat at Gennesaret.  The crowd recognizes Him and brings the sick to Him, begging that they might touch the fringe [kraspedos] of His cloak [himation, literally “garment”] to be healed [esodzonto].  All touching His cloak were healed (vv.53-56).  (It was common belief in the Ancient Near East at the time to expect holy people to have magical powers, and so touching them to gain blessings was common.  Fringes were blue twisted threads at the four corners of male garments, intended as reminders to obey God’s Commandments [Numbers 15:38-40].)

Application: Several sermon options are suggested by this text.  One possibility is to proclaim that God’s grace and compassion heals, gives life, and gives guidance (Justification By Grace) in the midst of chaos, loneliness, and meaninglessness of our sinful reality.       

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

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