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Lent 2, Cycle C (2016)

Hanging around the Lord changes you. Justification by Grace and Sanctification are the key themes for this Sunday.

Psalm 27
This Psalm is an act of devotion for deliverance, a song of trust, attributed to David. As we have previously noted it is unlikely that David is the author of the Psalms attributed to him (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p. 512). In fact some scholars conclude that references to David in the Psalms may be a way of using him to represent the inner life of all his subjects, and so of all the faithful (Ibid., p. 521). In that sense this Psalm calls on the faithful to turn to God in confidence for deliverance.

The Psalm begins with a song of trust, expressing confidence that because Yahweh is our salvation [yesha, safety, ease] and stronghold [maoz] we need fear [yare] no one, for adversaries will fall (vv. 1-3). He will hide us in his shelter (v. 5). In this context, the psalmist vows, asking the Lord that he can seek to live in Yahweh’s house [bayith, i.e., the temple in Jerusalem] forever and behold his beauty [noam, pleasantness] (his graciousness) (v. 4). Promise is made to offer sacrifices in the Lord’s tent [ohel] and sing to him (v. 6).

A cry for help (a lament) follows, pleading for graciousness and that we not be forsaken [azab] by the Lord (vv. 7-9). Confidence is expressed that even if forsaken by parents, the Lord will not (v. 10). The Lord is asked to teach us his way and lead on a level path and not to be given over to the will of enemies who are breathing violence (vv. 11-12). The psalmist expresses confidence that he will see the Lord’s goodness in life and exhorts waiting for Yahweh and remaining strong (vv. 13-14).

Application: This Psalm invites sermons on how cared for by God we will live lives of worship, praise, and continue in strength. Providence, Justification by Grace, and Sanctification are the key emphases.

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Like all five books of the Pentateuch, this Book of Origins is probably the product of several distinct literary traditions. This one is just comprised of three strands: 1) J, a ninth /tenth-century BC source, so named for its use of the Jahweh or Yahweh (translated “Lord”); 2) E, an eighth-century BC source named for its use of the divine name Elohim; and 3) P or Priestly source, dated from the sixth century BC. This lesson, the story of the everlasting covenant with Abraham and Sarah seems to be the work of the J source, paralleling and earlier than the version of the call and covenant reported by the P source in 17:1-7.

The account begins with Yahweh appearing to Abram in a vision, identifying himself as Abram’s shield [magen] and indicting that his reward will be great (v. 1). The reward referred to here is the Patriarch’s posterity. Yahweh’s designation in this verse may refer to an ancient custom that allowed a slave to be adopted as an heir in case of childlessness. Abram laments that a slave born in his house, Eliezer, is to be his heir, since he has no offspring (vv. 3-4). It is possible that this Eliezer, designated as a Damascan, was just Abram’s chief steward. Yahweh reiterates an earlier promise made to Abram (12:1-2), claiming that he will have true heirs, who shall be as numerous as the stars [kokab] (15:4b-5). Abram is said to have believed the Lord, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness [tsedaqah] (v. 6). 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 law. It has to do with living in right relationship with God (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 370-371).

Yahweh reminds Abram that he is the one who brought the Patriarch from Ur of the Chaldees to the Promised Land of Palestine, which he and his offspring were promised to possess (v. 7; cf. 11:31; 12:1). Ur is located in the southern part of modern Iraq. But since the Chaldeans did not occupy it in the early second millennium BC (the likely era in which Abraham lived) the city’s biblical moniker (as belonging to the Chaldees) is probably anachronistic, the result of later editing of an oral tradition. (It is interesting that many of the names of the Abrahamic accounts are found in state archives of the royal house of Ebla, which ruled the region of Ur. This includes Abram’s ancestor Eber [11:15-17] whose namesake was a great king of the Ebla dynasty.)

After asking for assurance that the land promised would be his (15:8), Abraham is instructed to offer a sacrifice by cutting animals in two (vv. 9-10). Abraham is reported as falling into a deep sleep (v. 12). It is the condition in which he receives the revelation. Verses omitted in the lesson (vv. 13-16) report Yahweh’s prophecy that Abram’s progeny would live as aliens and slaves, though would return to the Promised Land. In the dark that Abram experienced, a smoking fire pot and flaming torch (symbolizing God’s presence) appeared, and God made his covenant [berith] with the chosen one, giving his descendants the land of Palestine (vv. 17-18).

Application: A sermon on this text will proclaim the good news that God’s promises endure, are not dependent on what we do (Justification by Grace). Some attention may be given to the joy that this message nurtures and its implications for living faithfully (Sanctification).

Philippians 3:17–4:1
This Epistle is a letter written by Paul while a prisoner to Christians in a province of Macedonia. There is some debate about whether the book in its present form might be a combination of three separate letters (as early theologian Polycarp, Philippians, 2.3, spoke of Paul’s letters to this church). Its immediate occasion was to thank the Philippians for their gifts, by way of the return of Epaphroditus to Philippi (2:25-30) who had brought these gifts to Paul. Paul’s main purpose is to urge persistence in face of opposition, using himself as an example. This lesson is an exhortation by Paul, urging the reader to imitate him and others who are faithful (3:17).

Paul begins by noting that many (perhaps he refers to Christians) live as enemies of Christ’s cross (3:18) and their end is destruction, as their bellies are their god [theos] (3:19). Christians are said to have their citizenship [politeuma] in heaven, whence we expect Christ to come (3:20). He will transform/change [metaschematidzo] our bodies that they may be conformed [summorfon] to the body of his glory [doxa] by the power that subjects all things to himself (3:21). Justification as Intimate Union with Christ is suggested here. A closing exhortation to beloved readers to stand firm in the land is offered (4:1).

Application: This is text for proclaiming how despite our Sin the gospel changes us (or will change us Eschatologically). Justification by Grace and Sanctification are the main themes to be emphasized.

Luke 13:31-35
We are again reminded that this gospel is 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 is a lesson reporting on Jesus’ message to Herod and his lament over Jerusalem. Only the lament has a parallel in any of the other gospels (see Matthew 23:37-39). Having offered prophecies about the end of the age (vv. 22-30), some Pharisees urge Jesus to escape for Herod reportedly planned to kill him (v. 31). Jesus refers to Herod as a “fox” [alopex], contending that he will continue his work of healing but would finish on the third day (v. 32). Jesus seems to imply that Herod is cunning; reference to the third day may foreshadow his time in the tomb. He says that on the third day he will leave, because as a prophet he cannot be killed outside of Jerusalem (v. 33). Lamenting over Jerusalem Jesus bewails how it is a city that has killed the prophets. He would gather its children as a hen [ornis] with her brood, but the town’s citizens have been unwilling (v. 34). Jesus refers to a house [oikos] left to Jerusalem, suggesting a judgment on or destruction of the temple (Jeremiah 22:5-6). He adds that the citizens of the city will not see him until the time comes and they will bless him (v. 35). Perhaps this prefigures the Palm Sunday procession.

Application: Sermons on this text do well to proclaim a vision of the Christian life (Sanctification) that helps the faithful find the golden mean between denying the things of the world and still using God’s good creation as they were intended. Another focus might be to concentrate on how this was Christ’s strategy, and so our intimacy with him inspires such a lifestyle (Justification by Grace).

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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