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Proper 14 | Ordinary Time 19 | Pentecost 11, Cycle C (2016)

The life of faith. This is a Sunday for exploring different aspects of the Christian life (Sanctification), including Social Ethics, the sense of urgency which Christians need to experience in Christ’s presence (Eschatology), and how it all depends on grace (Justification by Grace).

Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23
As noted several times previously, Psalms is a collection of prayers and songs composed throughout Israel’s history. It is organized into five collections of books, perhaps an analogy to the five books of the Torah. The authors of each psalm are largely unknown, as in this case. This loosening of them from their historical origins entails the validity of their use today in very different contexts from their origins (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p. 523). The actual title of the book is derived from a Greek term meaning “Song” [psalmos]. The Hebrew title of the book, Tehillim, means “hymns” or “songs of praise.”

This is a Psalm of Asaph (a distinct Levitical musical tradition [2 Chronicles 29:30; 1 Chronicles 15:17; 16:5-7]). It was the liturgy of a priestly admonition, perhaps sung at a festival of covenant renewal. It begins with God the Lord speaking and summoning the earth all the day (v. 1). Out of Zion, said to be the perfection of beauty, God shines faith (v. 2). He comes and does not keep silence; he is like a devouring fire (v. 3). He calls all creation (all witnesses to the covenant) in order to judge his people (v. 4) wanting to gather all the faithful ones who made a covenant with him by sacrifice (v. 5).

The heavens are said to declare God’s righteousness [tsedeq], for he is judge [shaphat] (v. 6). The word Selah which follows this verse is a liturgical direction indicating that a musical interlude was to follow at that point. 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 (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).

The psalmist proceeds to note that God will speak, testifying [ud] against Israel (v. 7). He does not rebuke their sacrifice [zebach] (v. 8). After an interruption of verses where God seems to chide the people for misunderstanding true sacrifice, for its purpose is not to sustain the deity with food but to manifest thanksgiving to God, the Lord proclaims that he will tear apart those who forget [shakach, neglect] God (v. 22). Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice are said to honor God; to those showing the right way, the salvation [yesha, safety] of God will be shown. Hints of the establishment of a new covenant echo in the Psalm (v.23).

Application: This text provides opportunities for praising God, to see the life of the faithful in terms of thanksgiving, and to recognize the urgency of this undertaking since God is doing new things making us safe (the meaning of the term salvation in this text) while remaining faithful to his promises. Sanctification, Providence, and Eschatology are key themes.


Psalm 33:12-22
This alternative psalm is a hymn to God as Creator and Lord of history. The lesson begins with a song about how blessed/happy [ashere, seen and envied by others] is the nation whose God is Yahweh, the people whom he has chosen [bachar] (v. 12). The Lord is said to look down from heaven and see all humanity, watching all the earth’s inhabitants (vv. 13-14). He forms [toar] together all the inhabitants of the earth and observes their deeds (v. 15). Military might does not save, the psalm observes (v. 16). The Lord’s eye is said to be on those who fear him and hope in his steadfast love [chesed, mercy]. He delivers [natsal, snatches away] them (vv. 18-19). The community of faith waits for the Lord as its help and shield (v. 20). This community is glad in him (v. 21). A call is made that Yahweh’s steadfast love be upon us (v. 22).

Application: Sermons on this alternative may focus more on God’s Providential care of his people or focus on God’s love (Justification by Grace) along with attention to their special status (the joy these insights provide us — Sanctification).

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
This is a book comprised of three distinct literary traditions. The first 39 chapters 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, specifically one of the oracles/visions against a rebellious Judah given to the historical Isaiah (v. 1). These verses pertain to Judah’s religious superficiality. They are presented in the form of a court hearing initiated by God against Judah.

The people addressed are identified with the evil cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:16–19:28). They are called to hear the word of Yahweh and God’s Torah (teaching) (v. 10). Yahweh rejects the sacrifices [zebach] offered by the people. Criticism is also made of their observance of new moons (vv. 11-15). Instead Yahweh calls for a change in morality, to seek justice [mishpat] with a commitment to rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, and plead for the widow (vv. 16-17). Using a judicial metaphor Yahweh declares that though Judah’s sins are wicked (stained with blood), they shall become pure/white like snow (a symbol of purity) (v. 18). If the people become willing and obedient, they will eat the good of the land, but if they rebel, they will be destroyed (vv. 19-20).

Application: Sermons on this text might condemn American economic injustice, like the idolatry practiced by the Hebrews addressed, along with the assurance of God’s forgiveness (Justification by Grace), which makes care for the poor and justice possible.


Genesis 15:1-6
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 is the story of God’s covenant with Abram, probably the work of J.

Yahweh comes to Abram in a vision [machazeh], telling him not to be afraid [yare], for he is the patriarch’s shield [magen], and his reward [sakar] will be great (v. 1). Abram laments that he is childless and that the heir of his house is Eliezer of Damscus said to be a slave (vv. 2-3). Yahweh’s word came to Abram and told him that this man would not be his heir (v. 4). He has Abram look to heaven and count the stars, promising him that many descendants (v. 5). Then Abram believed [aman, remained steadfast] Yahweh, and the Lord reckoned [chasab] as righteousness [tsedeq] (v. 6). 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).

Application: At least two sermon directions are suggested by this Complementary First Lesson. One might focus on Justification by Grace and God’s faithfulness to his promises (the biblical meaning of righteousness). Or more in accord with the Theme of the Day, focus could be placed on the life of faith made evident in Abraham (Sanctification).

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
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 reflection on the nature of faith, Abraham’s faith, and the new life.

Faith [pistis] is said to be the assurance [hypostasis, the very being or essence] of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen (v. 1). The author proceeds to describe how the ancestors received approval by faith. By means of faith [pistei] we understand that ages were prepared [katertisthai, framed] by the word of God so that what is seen was made from things not visible (vv. 2-3). Abraham’s faith is described. By faith he obeyed when called to set out for land promised. Isaac and Jacob, his heirs, lived in tents in the land promised as in a foreign land (vv. 8-9). Abraham looked forward to the city [polis] with foundations [not tents] (v. 10). (This seems to be a reference to the sedentary life in Jerusalem, rather than the hunter-gatherer life in tents, or the city could refer to the heavenly Jerusalem alluded to in v. 16.)

By faith Abraham is said to have received the power of procreation (v. 11). So from one person seeming to be good as dead, many descendants were born (v. 12). All these (presumably Jews) died in faith without having received the promise [presumably regarding Jesus, but perhaps regarding the Promised Land], but saw from a distance. They were strangers and foreigners on earth (v. 13). People who speak this way [presumably those with faith] are clearly seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land left behind, they might have returned (vv. 14-15). Instead they desired a better country, heaven, and so God is not ashamed [epaischunomai] to be called their God, preparing a city for them (v. 16).

Application: This lesson invites sermons proclaiming that we are not saved by our faith, but by the freeing word of the one who comes in faith (Justification by Grace). Of course it might be possible instead to focus on faith as linked to hope, making clear that the life of faith is future-oriented (Eschatology).

Luke 12:32-40
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 lesson is an account of Jesus’ teachings on freedom from anxiety and watchfulness. A strong eschatological orientation is evident. The text has parallels in Matthew (6:19-21; 24:43-44).

Jesus begins by exhorting the flock [poiminion, the Messiah’s people] not to be afraid, as it is the Father’s good pleasure [eudokeo] to give them the kingdom [basileia] (v. 32). He tells them to sell their possessions [hupachonta] and give alms [eleemosune, kind acts], making purses for themselves that do not wear out. He also speaks of a treasure in heaven that cannot be destroyed (v. 33). Where your treasure is, there is your heart (v. 34). He exhorts that his flock be dressed for action with lamps lit (v. 35). They are to be like those waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so they may open to door for him when he comes (v. 36). Slaves [doulos] whom the master finds alert when he comes are blessed [makarios, happy]. In that case he will invite the slaves to eat and serve [diakoneo] them (v. 37). If the master comes in the middle of the night and finds the slaves so alert, they are blessed [makarioi] (v. 38). If the owner of the house had known what hour the thief was coming, he would not let his house be broken into (v. 39). Jesus concludes that his followers must be ready, for the Son of Man [huios tou anthropos] is coming at an unexpected hour (v. 40). (Luke seems to use the title Son of Man to refer to God, who alone can forgive [5:24] or to an end time judge expected to arrive on the clouds of heaven [Daniel 7:13-14].)

Application: Sermons on this lesson will proclaim the urgency of life and how the new reality drastically changes life and our economic priorities (Realized Eschatology, Social Ethics, 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