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Proper 12 | Ordinary Time 17, Cycle B (2015)

THEME OF THE DAY:  We’re all in the same boat!  The texts help us see our commonality with each other and a commonality with Christ and the aims of God.  Sin, Justification By Grace, and Social Ethics should be the prevailing themes for sermons.

Psalm 14
This is a Psalm attributed to David, though he is probably not the author.  It is a condemnation of this cynical and unrighteous age.  It is almost identical to Psalm 53; these Psalms are unusual in generalizing personal troubles to be characteristic of an entire generation, though generalizing what is attributed to David is a tool commonly used in the Psalms (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p.521).  The Psalm begins with a description of the corruption of the age (vv.1-3).  It is characterized by a lack of faith, wisdom, and goodness.  Threats are issued to evildoers (vv.4-6).  They are especially indicted for mistreatment of the poor/oppressed [ani].  Yahweh is said to be the poor’s refuge [machseh] (v.6).  Yearning for better times is    expressed, the hope that Yahweh would turn back [shub] the fortunes/captivity [shebuth] of His people (v.7).

Application: This Psalm invites sermons describing what is wrong with America and American life, especially our exploitation of the poor or the end of the American dream (Sin).  But after helping hearers to realize our common plight, the sermon might comfort us with a Word hope that God can turn things around for us (Justification By Grace) or help us recognize that God and so all of us belong on the side of the poor (Social Ethics).

Psalm 145:10-18
The alternative Psalm is acrostic, with each new verse beginning with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet following the one used in the preceding verse.  The Lesson is part of a hymn epitomizing the character of God, traditionally ascribed 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 for God’s care. 

All the Lord’s works are said to give Him thanks, and the faithful praise Him (vv.10-12).  The Lord’s Kingdom [malekuth] is said to be everlasting [olam] (v.13).  God’s providential care for His creatures is described (vv.13b-17).  His deeds are said to be kind [chesed] and righteous [tsaddiq], upholding all who fall, providing food and satisfying the desire of all living things.  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.1, pp.373,376ff.).  The Lesson concludes with a reminder that God is near [qarab] to all who call on Him (v.18).

Application: A sermon on this Psalm option will focus on God’s goodness to us, both in His Providential rule and His kindness and righteousness to us, a chance to explain God’s righteousness as something He gives us and so saves us (Justification By Grace).    

2 Samuel 11:1-15
We continue to read from a Book whose 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).  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.      

The Lesson begins with David launching a second campaign against the Ammonites (Gentiles living in the land east of the Salt Sea and Jordan River) (v.1) but also scheming to take the beautiful Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, for himself (vv.2-3).  (Uriah was likely not a foreigner, but a member of David’s elite corps [23:39].)  David summons her and sleeps with her, even though she was still in a period of purification [qadesh] after her period and so no man was to lie with her (as per Leviticus 15:19-24) (v.4a).  Bathsheba returns home but informs David that she is pregnant (vv.4b-5).  David summons Uriah.  He tries to get him to violate ritual regulations on chastity practiced by soldiers consecrated for war (I Samuel 21:4-5; Deuteronomy 23:9-14), presumably so that Bathsheba’s child would be considered Uriah’s, but the Hittite refused (vv.6-13).  When that fails, as Uriah remains committed faithfully to observing ritual obligations, David schemes to send him to the front line in order that he might be killed (vv.14-15).

Application: This Lesson affords opportunities to preach on Original Sin and explore the liberating awareness of how as God forgives David He forgives us (Justification By Grace).  A reference to the Social Ethical implications of a political leader’s morality, how such immorality creates an ethos of moral decline in society, could be noted.  This is a liberating Word because Original Sin makes us aware that we are no worse but also no better than anyone else.

2 Kings 4:42-44
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).  Like 2 Samuel noted above, the Book is the result of long process of collection, writing, and editing, with the process likely culminating with the famed reform of King Josiah in the 7th century BC, though it may have been revised again after The Babylonian Captivity in the next century.  The Book continues the story of the Hebrew monarchies from the mid-9th century BC through the destruction of Jerusalem two centuries later.  Although its subject is political history, there is a common (Deuteronomistic) moral and religious theme, that Israel’s failings on these scores eventually led to the loss of national identity and autonomy.  Criticism is offered of 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 Complementary Lesson recounts the Prophet Elisha’s miracle of the feeding of one hundred with just twenty loaves.  Parallels to the Gospel are obvious. While in Gilgal (a place west of the Jordan River near Jericho, about 18 miles northeast of Jerusalem) where there was a famine (v.38), a man from Baal-shalishah (a place in the hill country of Ephraim, 30 miles north of Jerusalem) brought food from the first fruits to Elisha – 20 loaves of barely and fresh ears of grain.  The Prophet directs him to give it to the people to eat (v.42).  His servant hesitates, wondering how this can feed a hundred people, but Elisha directs this again, contending that Yahweh has said they will eat and some will be left (v.43).  And it was done according to the Word [dabar] of the Lord (v.44).

Application: The themes of the Gospel Lesson would intersect with a sermon on this Complementary First Lesson, since Elisha’s miracle of feeding the one hundred prefigures Jesus’ Feeding of the 5000.  The theme of Sin is prominent, insofar as like the Prophet’s servant we have our doubts about whether God can provide.  But God works successfully, despite our sin (Justification By Grace).  Sermons on Social Ethics and Providence, about God’s concern for the poor and hungry, are also suggested by the text.

Ephesians 3:14-21
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 part of a prayer for wisdom.

Paul begins by praying to God, the author of all family relations (vv.14-15), that recipients of the Epistle be strengthened in their inner being by the Spirit [pneuma] and that Christ might dwell [katoikeso, settle down] in their hearts, rooted and grounded in love [agape] (vv.16-17).  He also prays that recipients be given power to comprehend the depth [bathus] of Christ’s love and be filled with the goodness of God (vv.18-19).  A concluding doxology celebrates the boundless generosity of God (vv.20-21).

Application: This text opens doors for preachers to explore the implications for everyday life of Justification By Grace (construed as Intimate Union with Christ), Sanctification, and Holy Spirit, about what it is like to have Christ “settled down” (dwelling) in our lives.  This is a sermon about how we and Christ are all in the same boat, a chance to extol the depth and boundlessness of His love.

John 6:1-21
We have previously noted that this Book is the last of the four Gospels to be written, probably not composed until the last two decades of the first century.  It is very different in style in comparison to the other three (so-called Synoptic) Gospels.  In fact it is probably based on these earlier Gospels.  The Book has been identified with John the Son of Zebedee, the Disciple whom Jesus loved, and this claim was made as long ago as late in the first century by the famed theologian of the early Church Irenaeus (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1, p.414).  It is likely that it was written by a disciple of John.  Hints of that possibility are offered by the first post-Biblical Church Historian Eusebius of Caesarea who claimed that the Book was written on the basis of the external facts  made plain in the Gospel and so John is a “spiritual Gospel” (presumably one not based on eye-witness accounts of the author) (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol.1, p.261).  Its main agenda was probably to encourage Jewish Christians in conflict with the synagogue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God (20:31).

Recently some scholars have suggested an alternative account of the origins of John’s Gospel.  Appealing to the writings of a late first –early second century Bishop Papias, who may have implied that John’s Gospel was the result of eyewitness origins, such scholars have argued that the Book is in fact an authentic historical testimony to Jesus (Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, esp. pp.423ff.; cf. Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol.1, pp.154-155).

The Chapter from which this account is taken seems to interrupt the flow from the end of v.5 to the beginning of Chapter 7.  This text begins with The Feeding of the 5000 (vv.1-15), a   version that differs from the Synoptic accounts.  The Lesson begins with Jesus and His followers meeting a large crowd following Him because of some unspecified healings He had performed (perhaps those reported in 4:43-54).  He reportedly tests Philip (this only transpires in John’s version) by asking him how enough bread could be purchased to feed the large crowd for Passover would be possible.  Philip despairs (vv.5-7).  Andrew, Peter’s brother, identifies a boy with five barley loaves and two fish but asserts that this would not feed all the people (vv.8-9).  Jesus proceeds to feed the 5000 with these resources (vv.10-13).  As a result, they proclaim Him a Prophet [prophets], the [Messianic] King [basileus].  But in response He withdraws (vv.14-15).

An account of Jesus walking on water (vv.16-21) follows.  His Disciples get in a boat that evening and plan to travel to Capernaum.  When the sea gets rough they see Jesus walking on the water.  He confronts them, identifying Himself with the phrase, “It is I,” [ego emi] a phrase (v.20) that resembles the Hebrew equivalent “Yahweh” and seems to be a self-identification of Jesus’ divine status.  This is said in response to their fear.  Wanting to take Jesus into the boat, they immediately reach their destination.

Application: The theme of Sin is prominent in this text and so should be in sermons on it, insofar as like Philip we have our doubts about whether God can provide and like the Disciples have fear in turbulent times.  We are all in the same boat in this regard.  But God works successfully, despite our sin (Justification By Grace).  Sermons on Social Ethics and Providence, about God’s concern for the poor and hungry, are also suggested by the text, further reminders that God cares for us all. 

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen