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Proper 15 | Ordinary Time 20 | Pentecost 12, Cycle C (2016)

More about the things that faith gets you to do. This is another Sunday for exploring the Christian life (Sanctification), how it gives hope (Eschatology), relates to Social Ethics, and depends on grace (Justification by Grace alone).

Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19
This is a lament and prayer (especially for northern Israel [as evidenced by the tribes that are mentioned in v. 2]) for deliverance by the God the shepherd [raah] who is enthroned or for salvation from national enemies. The reference to Asaph is to one of David’s chief musicians (2 Chronicles 6:39; 15:17). A strong doctrine of Providence is affirmed: God is said to be the one who first brought Israel out of Egypt, gave it land, but who has sent the affliction. Israel is identified as a vine [gephen] God brought out of Egypt (vv. 8-13). A prayer for deliverance follows (vv. 14-19). Reference in verse 17 to “the one at your [God’s] right hand, on the Son he made strong [ben]” probably refers to Israel, but could be interpreted messianically. Emphasis on restoration and the theme that when God’s favor is shone, salvation transpires (probably a hymn refrain [see vv. 3, 7, 19]) are reminders that God’s new ways [the eschatological hope] are in continuity with God’s former manner of dealing with his people [redemption does not contradict the original/created order].

Application: The psalm provides opportunities to proclaim hope for the future (Eschatology) and the implications of this hope for Christian life (Sanctification).


Psalm 82
This is another Asaph Psalm (see above). It is a liturgy of the Lord’s judgment on pagan gods. The psalm begins with God taking his place in the council of gods (a common Ancient Near East belief that the world was ruled by such a coalition) (v. 1). God challenges the other gods not to show partiality to the wicked but to do justice [tsadaq, to declare right or just] to the weak/afflicted [ani] and needy [ebyon] (vv. 2-4). We have previously noted that the Hebraic equivalent term for “righteousness” when applied to God does not just connote legal, judgmental actions, but concerns loyalty to his covenant in saving us, even at times as in this case God’s righteousness is declared or bestowed on the faithful (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 373, 376ff). Likewise we remind ourselves that God’s judgment in the Hebraic sense is a word of comfort, in the sense that it can cause positive outcomes and provide comfort, knowing that God’s just acts have an end in sight (Ibid., pp. 343, 358-359). (A musical interlude designated by the term Selah follows v. 2.) Righteousness and justice are not faultless conformity to some moral law but have to do with living in right relationship with God and others (Gerhard von Rad, Ibid., Vol. 1, pp. 370-371).

The other gods whom Elohim challenges are said to be lacking in knowledge and understanding (v. 5). These gods are called “children of the most high God” which strips them of their divine privilege (vv. 6-7). The psalmist, perhaps reflecting the theology of the Pentateuch’s Priestly oral tradition, assuming the persona of a priest or prophet, closes with a prayer that God might judge the earth since all the nations belong to him (v. 8). We have here a firm indication of the emerging strict monotheism of the Hebraic faith.

Application: This Alternative Psalm puts preachers in dialogue with the false gods of our day, and how our God is judging those evils to our benefit (Providence and Sin). He declares us righteous, and so sermons on this theme might explore the Old Testament idea of righteousness as loyalty to the law, which entails that Christians are people who share God’s faithfulness to the divine promises. The call for judgment can have implications for how Christians are to live, in judgment of all the false gods and in so doing living in hope that the reign of the idols of life will wither. That will keep Christians moving (Justification by Grace and Sanctification).

Isaiah 5:1-7
Again we return to this prophetic book, which is really three books in one. The first 39 chapters, from which this lesson is taken, 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 after the Babylonian Exile in the sixth century BC. A hypothesized third section (chapters 56-66) of the book perhaps written by Second Isaiah or by one of his disciples in view of the close stylistic similarities to chapters 40 on begins at the conclusion of the Babylonian Captivity and is likely written after the restoration of exiled Judah, expressing some disappointment about what has transpired since the exiles’ return. This lesson is the work of the historical prophet, a song of the vineyard. It is an allegory, based on a didactic poem that may have been composed for a celebration of the Festival of Booths, seven-day festival held in September at the time of ingathering (Leviticus 23:33-43).

The poem is a love song, but it also has elements of a judgment oracle. It supposedly concerns the lover’s vineyard, which was a standard metaphor for “lover” (v. 1). The vineyard of the lover had a watchtower on it and planted it with red grapes, but it yielded only wild grapes (v. 2). The lover invites the people of Judah to judge what had happened to the vineyard [kerem], likely a metaphor for God’s people (vv. 3-4). This was really an invitation for Judah to judge itself. The lover (presumably God) concludes that the hedge of the vineyard must have its hedge removed and be devoured, laid to waste (vv. 5-6). We are told that the vineyard is Judah. God expected justice [mishpat] and righteousness [tsedaqah], but saw bloodshed [mispach] (v. 7). Righteousness and justice as faithfulness to the covenant relationship, living in right relationship with God and with others, both grow out of that relationship (see the discussion of Psalm 82, above).

Application: This version of the First Lesson invites sermons proclaiming the love of God and how justice flows from it (Justification by Grace, Sanctification, and Social Ethics).


Jeremiah 23:23-29
We are reminded that this 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 may relate to his having as an ancestor one of David’s high priests, Abiathar, who lost control of the temple and was finally banished (1 Kings 2:26-27). Three sources of the book have been identified; 1) An authentic poetic strand; 2) Biographic prose; and 3) Deuteronomic redaction (themes associated with the seventh century BC religious reform under King Josiah). The interplay of these strands suggests that the final editors see Jeremiah’s prophecies as relevant in a new context.

This lesson is part of Jeremiah’s denunciation of false prophets. Yahweh asks if he is a God who is far off, who can hide in secret places and not be seen. He asks if he does not fill heaven and earth (vv. 23-24). God, it seems, is both immanent and transcendent. He claims to have heard what the prophets have said, saying they have dreamed (v. 25). He asks how long will the hearts of those who prophesy turn back, for those who prophesy lie. They plan to have God’s people forget [shakach, neglect] his name [shem, renown] by their dreams, just as their ancestors forgot Yahweh’s name for Baal (vv. 26-27). Prophets may dream, but those who have his word [dabar] must speak faithfully. Straw has nothing in common with wheat, it is noted. God’s word is like fire [esh], like a hammer that breaks a rock (vv. 28-29).

Application: Sermons on this Complementary Version of the First Lesson may renounce the false prophets of our day and all their idols, denounce our idolatry, and rely on the God who burns up and smashes all the icons of culture that lure us away from him (Sin, Sanctification).

Hebrews 11:29–12:2
Again we note that this book is an anonymous treatise which given its argument for the superiority of Christ’s sacrifice to those of the Levitical priests was likely written prior to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD. Remarks in 2:3-4 suggest it was written by a member of a generation of Christians after the apostles. Modern scholars are inclined to regard the book as a sermon, perhaps modified after it was delivered to include travel plans, greetings, and a closing (13:20-25). The Christians addressed are thought to have been in danger of falling away from their confession (3:1; 4:14; 10:23). They had endured persecution (10:32-36). This lesson is a continuation of the roll call of the heroes and heroines of the faith.

The lesson begins with the author noting that by faith [pistis] the people of Israel passed through the Red Sea and Egyptians were drowned (11:29). By faith, it is noted, the walls of Jericho fell (11:30) and Rahab the prostitute did not perish when she had received Joshua’s spies (11:31; cf. Joshua 6:22-25). The dative case of means [pistei] is used here. In other words, faith is not the cause of all that is reported. They are caused by God; faith is merely the means he uses to accomplish these outcomes.

The military and prophetic accomplishments of Gideon, Barak, David, Samuel, and others by faith are accounted (11:32-34; cf. Judges 4-8, 13-16; 1 Samuel 16-30). Reference to the fire which faith quenched likely connotes the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego spared from the fiery furnace in Daniel 3. It is also noted that women received their dead by resurrection [their loved ones rose from the dead] and that others were tortured, refusing to be released in order to obtain a better resurrection (11:35-37; cf. 2 Kings 4:25-37; 1 Kings 17:17-24). Claims are made that the world was not worthy of those who have endured this suffering. Others among them wandered in deserts and caves (11:38). Reference to caves here could connote the martyrdom in caves during the Maccabean Revolt as reported in 2 Maccabees 6-11.

All these heroes of faith, though commended for it, did not receive what was promised, as God would not provide something better, not make them perfect [teleioo, complete], apart from the present faithful (11:39-40). There is a suggestion that the heroes of faith in the Old Testament were not to be rewarded apart from what Jesus has done in the New Covenant [diathekes kaines mesites, covenant of a new Mediator, see 9:15). Surrounded by this cloud of witnesses, the author urges the faithful to lay aside every encumbrance and sin, running the race with perseverance, looking to Jesus as pioneer [aitios, author] and perfecter [teleiotes, finisher] of the faith. His work in taking up the cross and sitting at God’s right hand is noted (12:1-2).

Application: Sermons on this lesson can help us further appreciate and exhort faith, comforting us in our walk (Justification by Grace) and also helping us to see how faith makes life easier (Sanctification) and that faith is easier because it is merely the means of receiving what God delivers to us.

Luke 12:49-56
Again we consider the first installment of a two-part history of the Church traditionally attributed to Luke, a physician and Gentile associate of Paul (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24). Along with Acts, the author’s intention was to stress the universal mission of the Church (Acts 1:8). Addressed to Theophilus (1:1), it is not clear if this means that the work was written for a recent convert or for a Roman official from whom the Church sought tolerance. But since Theophilus means “lover of God” it is possible that the author addressed all the faithful. This lesson concerns teachings on the end of the age. There is a parallel account, with much less details in Matthew 10:34-36.

Jesus says that he has come to bring fire [pur, a symbol of judgment] to the earth and wishes it was kindled (that the judgment had begun) (v. 49). He claims to have a baptism with which to be baptized and wishes it were completed (v. 50). The Baptism could refer here to his death. Jesus adds that though some may think he came to bring peace [eirene], he really comes to bring division [diamerismos] (v. 51). Citing Micah 7:6 he notes now he divides households (vv. 52-53). Clouds from the west indicate rain [since such winds blew off the Mediterranean] (v. 54) and winds from the south result in heat [since deserts were to the south of Palestine] (v. 55). Jesus calls his hearers hypocrites [hupokrites]. They can interpret appearances of earth and sky but are not able to interpret the present time (v. 56).

Application: This lesson affords opportunity to proclaim that the coming of Jesus challenges ordinary American life and points us toward values that can be good for society. Sin, Realized Eschatology, Justification by Grace, and Social Ethics are the relevant themes.

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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