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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.


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.     


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).   

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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