1st Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 64:1-9

bulletIsaiah 63:7-64:12 is identified as a Community Lament.  It begins with an account of Yahweh's deeds of redemption in the past (63:7-14), continues with an appeal for help with reference to the psalmists' present miserable condition (63:15-64:5a), a confession of sin (63:5b-7), and a final appeal which brings together previous themes (63:8-12).  It is dated to the early post-exilic period.
bulletThe first two verses of chap. 64 appeal to Yahweh to come down and help.  Yahweh's home in the heavens is depicted as a gigantic tent from which God makes his exit.  His fiery presence brings fear to the enemy.
bulletIn vv. 3-5a, the psalmists remind God of former theophanies when he came down to deliver the people (cf. Judg 5:4-5; Ps 68:7-8; Hab 3:2-15; and the theophany at Sinai).   God's uniqueness is seen in his steadfastness towards those who have trust in him (they wait for God and remember God's ways).  
bulletIn vv. 5b-7 comes the confession of sins.  The people confess their unrighteous deeds and compare their best efforts to a menstrual cloth.  Mixed with this confession are acknowledgments of divine anger and of God hiding his face.  The sequence between divine anger and human sin is not always clear, and the petitioners may be claiming that God's anger and hiding of self precedes their sinning.
bulletVerse 8 provides one of the few references in the Old Testament to God under the metaphor of Father.  Since God is the divine parent, those who pray ask for parental protection.  They declare their dependency:  We are the clay and you are the potter. (And therefore we pray:  Pater....[sorry for the Latin pun]). Verse 9 asks for a limit to God's anger and expresses the hope that God will forget iniquity.  Those who pray confess their loyalty--we are all your people--and thereby express the hope for matching divine loyalty. 
bulletWith several references to the ruined state of Jerusalem and its temple (vv. 10-11), the petitioners ask God whether it is possible for him to restrain himself and keep silent in response to their plea.

The psalm for the day is Psalm 80:1-7 and 17-19.

2nd Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 40:1-11

bulletThis pericope forms the call of the prophet known as Second Isaiah.  The opening imperatives (Comfort!) are in the plural and are an address by God to the divine council or the angelic attendants of God. 
bulletThese council members are instructed to reassure Jerusalem that her hitch in captivity is over and that she has already suffered twice as much as she deserved. 
bulletThe punctuation in v. 3 is crucial.  A voice from the council urges fellow members of the divine council to build a mighty superhighway from Babylon toward Jerusalem so that the exiles may return home.  When this passage is quoted in the New Testament it is applied to John's cry for repentance.  In Isaiah it is not a voice crying in the wilderness, but a voice crying, "In the wilderness...."
bulletGod's glorious presence will be made manifest on that highway for all the world to see (v. 5).  The New Testament sees this fulfilled in the Christian mission to the nations.
bulletIn v. 6 another voice says, "Preach."  The prophet responds by asking what should be the content of this preaching. The poetry then reflects on the unstable quality of grass and flowers when smitten with the wind of the Lord.  The last line of v. 8 admits that the people of God, too, are passing away.  (Some scholars judge this last line to be secondary).
bulletThe important thing, however, is that while everything in the world is transient and fickle, God's word or promise is always sure.
bulletVerse 9 implores personified Jerusalem to act like a herald announcing to the neighboring suburbs Yahweh's triumphant return.  Yahweh is like an ancient warrior returning home, with the people of Israel serving as the booty he has won.
bulletVerse 11 hails Yahweh as shepherd, gathering the little lambs in his arms and gently leading the nursing mother sheep.

The psalm for the day is Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13.

3rd Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

bulletThis is another pericope from "Third Isaiah," a part of the prophetic book written in post-exilic times. This passage is quoted by Jesus in his first sermon at Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30).
bulletThe prophet (or the servant whom he represents) claims that he possesses the Spirit since God has anointed him to preach good news to all who are oppressed, brokenhearted, or captive.  This is a kind of year of Jubilee (v. 2).  The "vengeance" of our God is a mistranslation.  It means rather that God will exercise his imperial rule on behalf of his people.
bulletThis comfort and joy are extended especially to Zion, the center of the post-exilic community, and the place where the temple has already been rebuilt or soon will be rebuilt.  A mighty rebuilding program is promised in v. 4. 
bulletThe verses omitted, vv. 5-7, promise that foreigners will be at Israel's service while the Israelites themselves will serve in a priestly capacity for the nations.  Instead of their previous shame, they will receive a double portion, as God's firstborn.
bulletYahweh declares his love for justice and his hatred of robbery and wrongdoing in v. 8.  Yahweh promises to make with Israel an everlasting covenant.
bulletAccording to v. 9 other nations will recognize that Israel has been blessed by Yahweh.  This is a far cry from Isaiah 52:13-53:12! 
bulletA personified Zion expresses its joy in v. 10.  Yahweh has clothed it with garments of victory (salvation) and with appropriate robes as if Zion were a bride or groom.
bulletJust as gardens send forth new growth in the Spring, so Yahweh will cause righteousness and praise to redound to Israel's name.  All the nations will testify to Yahweh's faithful restoration of his people.

The psalm for the day is Psalm 126

4th Sunday in Advent

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

bulletThe story line in this Oracle of Nathan is well known:  in response to David's desire to build a temple (a house), Yahweh announces that he has been more than content to live in a tent or tabernacle and denies David the right to build a temple, but Yahweh promises that he will instead build a house (dynasty) for David that will last forever.
bulletThe monarchs on the throne of Judah for the next four centuries were descendants of David, with the exception of the one reigning queen, Athaliah, who was a daughter of Ahab of the northern kingdom.
bulletAs the prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel grew weary of the parade of bad kings they began to announce that this promise would be fulfilled in God's future and so the eschatological hope for a messiah was born.  Christians see this hope fulfilled in Jesus but with several notable changes:  1. The central action of our Messiah is his death, never hinted at in the Old Testament.  No wonder Paul said that the crucified messiah was a stumbling block to Jews; 2.  We also hail this messiah as Lord and Son of God and we worship him.  Again that understanding is not explicit in the OT; 3. We tend to see that the future is "already and not yet" in Jesus.  OT promises emphasize that when the messiah comes all will be transformed right away.
bulletWe who are accustomed to electing our rulers democratically are not big fans of dynastic kingship.  One of the signs of God's incredible goodness is that he can use a flawed institution, like dynastic kingship, to raise up a savior.
bulletLet me mention at least two difficulties that plague interpreters of 2 Samuel 7.  1.  The oracle originally opposed the building of the temple because God was satisfied with living in a tent.  Why then does v 13 say that David's son Solomon is authorized to build the temple?  Has the original oracle been secondarily glossed?  2.  While the oracle indicates that disobedient kings may be punished, God also promises never to break his commitment to this royal line.  To many scholars this seems to put the kingship above covenantal law.  For a much more limited view of kingship, see Deut 17:14-20.

The psalm for the day is Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26.

The Nativity of our Lord--Christmas Eve

Isaiah 9:2-7

bulletThe original setting of this passage (9:1-7) is the birth of a Judean king, which thereby signals that the promise to David is still alive.  The northern kingdom (here implied in the mention of the tribes Zebulun and Naphtali) had been devastated by an invasion of Tiglath-pileser in 734-33, who carved out three Assyrian provinces that are here called "the way of the sea," "the land beyond the Jordan," and "Galilee of the nations."
bulletVerse 2 could be translated in the past tense, as in the NRSV, or the verbs could be taken as "prophetic perfects."  Light connotes victory, change of circumstances, or even theophany.
bulletThe joy of Yahweh's deliverance in v. 3 is compared to similar joy at harvest time or at military victory.  We might compare it to joy at winning the Super Bowl.
bullet Yahweh's victory is compared to that of Gideon, here referred to as "the day of Midian."
bulletThe Hebrew word for "boot" in v. 5 is a loanword from the Assyrian language.  The uniforms of the occupying Assyrian forces will be burned up.
bulletWhat gives the prophet such hope?  The birth of a new member of the royal line.
bulletThe name in v. 6 is very problematic.  OT kings were not considered to be God, at least in orthodox circles.  Hence the series of titles, as in Handel's Messiah and the NRSV, does not make sense.  I would interpret the child's name as two sentences:

                    The warrior God is planning a marvel

                    The everlasting Father is planning to give us a Captain of peace or wholeness.

That is, the birth of the child in Jerusalem signals that God's plans for Israel are still operative!  That also might be one application we could draw from the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem:  God's plans for God's people are still operative!

bulletVerse 7 spells out what is expected of the reign of the newly-born royal heir:  authority, wholeness, and a passion for justice and righteousness.
bulletIf the name in v. 6 points to God's promise as the ultimate source of our salvation, that interpretation is confirmed by v. 7:  The passion of Yahweh of the heavenly armies will see to it that this happens.

The psalm for the day is Psalm 96


The Nativity of our Lord--Christmas Day

Isaiah 62:6-12

bulletAnother reading from the post-exilic Third Isaiah.
bulletYahweh announces that he has posted sentinels on Jerusalem's walls.  They are not to rest or give Yahweh any rest until he reestablishes Jerusalem.
bulletYahweh takes a solemn oath in vv. 8-9 that he will never again give Israel's grain to her enemies, but those who gather grain and wine will eat and drink it in Yahweh's temple.
bulletThe vindication of Zion in vv. 10-11 is much like Isa 40:3-5, 10; 29:22).
bulletThe people will get victorious names: "Holy People" and "the Redeemed of Yahweh." The tiles "sought our" and "a city not forsaken" provide an echo of 62:4.

The psalm for the day is  Psalm 97

Isaiah 52:7-10

bulletIsaiah of the exile exults over the prospect of a messenger running from Babylon to Jerusalem with the message that God reigns!  Three synonyms are worth noting in v. 7:  peace (shalom), good news, and salvation (or victory).  The prophet describes the sentinels on the city walls catching sight of this running messenger in v 8.  They are eye witnesses to Yahweh's return.
bulletThe word "comfort" in v. 9 connotes much more than sympathy; it also includes acts of deliverance (cf. 40:1; 49:13; 51:3).  Yahweh has redeemed Jerusalem.  In the Old Testament, "redeem" means fulfilling the obligations of a family relationship.  Hence Yahweh has been the best mother and father Israel has ever known.
bulletIn baring his arm, v. 10, Yahweh is playing the role of the divine warrior who wins deliverance and victory for his people.  The Hebrew word for victory is translated in the NRSV by salvation.
bulletAt Christmas we believe that God's rule is affirmed and confirmed in the birth of Jesus.  We should cultivate among ourselves the excitement and anticipation of the ancient prophet and the heralds on Jerusalem's walls.  The inclusion of Gentiles is clearly signaled in v. 10:  All the ends of the earth will see the victory of our God!  We also might picture ourselves as the messenger, sharing with others the news of God's reign.

The Psalm for the day is Psalm 98


1st Sunday after Christmas

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

bulletThe post-exilic section of Isaiah (chaps 56-66) contains, among other things, praise for Jerusalem's deliverance and petitions for God to make that initial deliverance complete.
bulletIn v. 10 the servant-prophet (see v. 1) praises Yahweh for clothing him with victory garments (garments of salvation) and a robe of righteousness.  This robe is given him by Yahweh because of Yahweh's righteousness or faithfulness. The prophet compares himself to a bride or groom getting dressed up for their wedding ceremony.
bulletThe prophet vows never to cease praying until Jerusalem's vindication and victory are clear as the day.  Preachers might use this opportunity to address the need for peace and justice in Israel-Palestine.  They might also take "Jerusalem" as metaphorical for the people of God or the church.
bulletThe prophet expects nations and kings to be witnesses to this vindication.  Christians might see one fulfillment of this in the coming of the magi. Jerusalem's new status will be marked by a new name, just as we receive our Christian names at our baptisms.  According to v. 4 Jerusalem will no longer be called Forsaken and Desolate, but "My Delight is in Her" (Hephzibah) and "Married" (Beulah).
bulletJerusalem/the people of God is compared to a beautiful crown or a royal diadem, held and admired in God's hand.  Some would see here a comparison between the protective walls encircling the city and the circumference of the crown. 
bulletSee also my study from Preaching Helps 12 (1985):72-73

The psalm for the day is Psalm 148

2nd Sunday after Christmas

Jer 31:7-14

bulletThis pericope is part of the "Little Book of Consolation" in Jeremiah (chs. 31-34).  One of the most famous parts of this section is the New Covenant passage in 31:31-34.
bulletThe passage starts with an exhortation for people to praise and pray that Yahweh will save his people, the remnant of Israel.  Yahweh promises to bring Northern Israel back from its exile, including the blind and the lame and pregnant women.  The number of returnees will be great.  Yahweh will provide consolation for them.  Yahweh identifies himself as the divine parent and Ephraim (North Israel) as his firstborn heir.
bulletIt is Yahweh who scattered Israel who will also bring them back.  Yahweh promises to act like a royal shepherd, and the nations are called to witness this deliverance.  Yahweh has ransomed and redeemed--Yahweh has been the best mother or father Israel has ever known.  Yahweh has delivered Israel from a powerful enemy.
bulletThe returnees will make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and will find abundant prosperity--much food and strong flocks.  Those who return will never languish again.  Young women and men of all ages will rejoice and celebrate over this deliverance.  In a great exchange, Yahweh will give them gladness instead of sorrow.  Both clergy and laity will enjoy this bounty.

The Psalm for the day is Psalm 147:13-21

Epiphany of our Lord

Isa 60:1-6

bulletThe imperatives in v 1 in Hebrew are in the 2fs and hence are addressed to Jerusalem.  What God is in Godself is "holy"; what we see of God is God's "glory."  This is the connotation of "glory" in vv 1-2.  The contrast in vv 1-3 is between light and darkness, good news and bad, with "light" also standing for God's presence.
bulletNations and kings will be drawn to the light (God) in Jerusalem, as if they were drawn by a magnet.  The mention of kings led to the association with the Magi and the day of Epiphany.  "Light" also seems appropriate for Epiphany.
bulletThese nations will bring back to Jerusalem its dispersed sons and daughters.
bulletThe nations will also bring tribute--goods brought by sea and the general wealth of nations.  This eschatological hope has been seen as one of the reasons Paul took up his famous collection.  Since for him the new day had dawned, he was trying to bring a down payment on this stream of money.
bulletCamel caravans will also bring goods to Jerusalem (V 6).  The Midianites lived in the north Arabian desert, east of the Gulf of Aqebah.  Ephah is considered a son of Midian in Gen 25:4.  It is not clear whether the Midianite camels will carry the wealth of Sheba or whether the Sabeans themselves will bring tribute to Jerusalem. The Sabeans were known as suppliers of gold, frankincense, and spices.  This verse also leads to an association with the magi, or, otherwise viewed, the story of the Magi in Matthew has been shaped by this eschatological hope.

The psalm for the day is Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14.

The Baptism of our Lord--1st Sunday after the Epiphany

Gen 1:1-5

bulletThe pericope covers the introduction to the account of creation and the first day of creation.  Psalm 29 deals with God's appearance in a thunderstorm--a manifestation/epiphany of God's glory.  It ends with an affirmation of Yahweh's kingship and a prayer for God to give strength and peace to God's people.
bulletGen 1:1 is a dependent clause that is completed by v. 3.  When God began to create the heavens and the earth--oh, by the way, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep--then God said, "Let there be light."  Strictly speaking, Genesis 1 does not affirm creatio ex nihilo.  The stuff of the world was there when God began the creative process.
bulletDays 1-3 run parallel to 4-6.  Light--separation of waters above and below the "dome"--creation of lands and plants is matched by creation of the big one, little one, and stars--creation of things that live against a blue background (birds and fish)--creation of animals and woman and man.  Eight events are fitted into six days, with days 3 and 6 having two events each.  There is also a movement from top to bottom so that the reader is informed that the real action will be down here on the earth and not in the sky somewhere.
bulletThe creation of light fits in well with an epiphany theme and could be developed in a variety of directions.

The psalm for the day is Psalm 29

2nd Sunday after the Epiphany

1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20]

bulletThe call of Samuel was chosen as the Old Testament lesson to complement the call of Philip and Nathanael in the Gospel for the day. 
bulletEli the priest of Shiloh had grown old, and in the previous chapter  a man of God told him that his family would lose its claim to priesthood because of the corruption of his sons Hophni and Phinehas.  Eli's priesthood would go begging to Zadok.  Zadok and Abiathar, a descendant of Eli, were priests during the reign of David.  At the beginning of Solomon's reign, he banished Abiathar to Anathoth, the later home town of Jeremiah, and Zadok and his descendants became priests.
bulletSamuel mistook the voice of Yahweh for that of Eli and went running to him when he heard his name called in the middle of the night.  In  v. 7 we are told that Samuel did not yet know Yahweh.  Presumably this means that he did not yet have the special relationship with Yahweh that he would later enjoy (cf. vv. 19-20).  Yahweh would later reveal himself to Samuel (v. 21).  After three false alarms, Eli perceived that Yahweh was the one calling and instructed Samuel to say the next time, "Speak, Yahweh, for your servant is listening."  That is exactly the way Samuel answered on the fourth occasion.
bulletThe alternate extension to the Old Testament lesson contains the message that Yahweh was trying to communicate to Samuel.  Yahweh promised to fulfill the threats he had issued against Eli.
bulletBecause of fear, Samuel kept the message to himself until morning.  Then when Eli encouraged him to speak, addressing him affectionately as "my son," Samuel told him everything.  Eli accepted the word from Yahweh with resignation--let him do whatever seems good to him.
bulletThe chapter closes with Samuel's growing reputation: everyone knew he was a trustworthy prophet.  Yahweh continued to appear at Shiloh and made revelations to Samuel.

The psalm for the day is Psalm 139:1-6 and 13-18

3rd Sunday after the Epiphany

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

bulletJonah was called by God to preach to Nineveh, but he took a boat and fled toward the west.  When a storm came up, the sailors cast lots to see which person had brought them back luck, and the lot fell on Jonah. The sailors tried to avoid the inevitable, but finally they tossed Jonah into the sea and it immediately stopped tossing.
bulletAfter being swallowed by a big fish, Jonah prayed to God, vowing to sacrifice to God and pay his vows.  The fish vomited Jonah out on dry land, and this brings us to the point where the OT lesson for the day begins.
bulletAt his second call, Jonah obeys and heads off for Nineveh, that great city.  Notice how many things are big or great in Jonah.  A great city, a great wind, a great fish, etc.  Nineveh, we are told, was a big city--even for God!  (Nineveh is located at the city of Mosul in Northern Iraq today).  It took a person three days to walk across it.  How long would it take to walk across Chicago from south to north?  Perhaps a day and a half.  Ancient Nineveh was big, but by no means that big.
bulletJonah walked into the city as far as he could go in one day.  Then he preached a five word sermon.  Forty--days--more--Nineveh--destroyed.  It worked!  Everybody believed (even though in that sermon there is not a single word of Gospel).  Everyone put on mourning clothes and everyone--big and little shot alike--went on a fast.
bulletWhen God saw their true repentance--why even the animals put on mourning clothes--God changed God's mind about the judgment he had been promising them...and he did not do it.
bulletThe book of Jonah debates the issue of whether God has the right to change God's mind and to forgive the unforgivable.  God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loyalty, and changes God's mind about judgment.  Is there anyone we are not willing to forgive?  Isn't it great when God contradicts Godself.  Compare God's attitude toward Nineveh with the U. S. attitude today toward Mosul and Baghdad.

The Psalm for the day is Psalm 62:5-12

4th Sunday after the Epiphany

Deut 18:15-20

bulletVerse 15 should be translated in a frequentative way:  Yahweh your God will raise up for you again and again a prophet like me. This verse authenticates the whole prophetic movement by making the prophets heirs of the Mosaic prestige and authority.  They will be like Moses in that they will hear the word from God and deliver it to the people.
bulletDeuteronomy 34:10 understands this verse eschatologically. The writer notes that no prophet has ever lived up to the reputation of Moses and therefore God is expected to still send such a prophet.  At Qumran and in the New Testament this hope for a prophet is attested.  When Jesus fed the 5,000, feeding them like Moses with food from heaven, people hailed him as a prophet.
bulletVerse 16 gives the history of the mediatorial role of Moses.  To hear God's voice directly was too frightening.  People wanted Moses as a buffer between themselves and God.
bulletVerse 19 indicates with what seriousness the word of the prophet should be received:  God himself holds people accountable for it.
bulletBut verse 20 also deals with the issue of false prophets--they deserve to die!  Two criteria are given for detecting a false prophet.  A.  The false prophet speaks in the name of other gods.  A good criterion, but normally false prophets are much more subtle in their deception.  Note that Hananiah the false prophet in the days of Jeremiah was known to have said, "Thus says Yahweh."  B.  The second criterion is that the false prophet speaks a word God has not given them.  But how are we to know that?
bulletThe Old Testament gives two other criteria for identifying false prophets.  C.  They say something that doesn't happen.  The trouble with this criterion is that we often have to make a decision today and can't wait for history to prove the prophet true or false.  In addition, some of the biblical prophets said things that never happened (e.g. Second Isaiah).  D.  The prophets who prophesy "peace" are false prophets.  These are the prophets who say everything is ok and there is no need for repentance.  When we judge someone's teaching, we judge it on whether it conforms to what we know to be true from the central word of the Gospel.  If someone promises you riches if you believe in God, that does not conform to what we know the Gospel to be.  So also if the person claims that we are saved by our own efforts.

The psalm for the day is Psalm 111.

See also sermon study on the 4th Sunday after Epiphany, Preaching Helps 3 (1976):2.

5th Sunday after the Epiphany

Isaiah 40:21-31

bulletThis pericope forms the conclusion to the opening chapter of Second Isaiah (Isaiah 40-55).  It takes the form of a disputation between Yahweh and the people, defending both Yahweh's ability to save and his willingness to save.
bulletThe passage talks about Yahweh's reputation from the beginning of time. Yahweh sits enthroned above the earth, and the earth's human inhabitants seem like grasshoppers in his presence.  Before Yahweh who is the creator, the rulers of the earth, who often strike other humans with terror, seem completely overmatched. 
bulletHuman rulers are barely on the scene when they are done in.  They are like young plants who have trouble establishing a good root system before they wither or before the storm carries them away.
bulletYahweh is incomparable.  Yahweh invites the reader to consider the stars in all their magnificence, but reminds us that he after all is the one who created them. Words are put into Israel's mouth in v. 27, and it claims that its right is disregarded by God.  Not so, says the everlasting God.  Yahweh is the creator--he also never tires out and his wisdom is self-evident. 
bulletThe good news is that Yahweh is a partisan of the faint and the powerless.  The last two verses paint a contrasting picture.  Young people may grow faint and suffer from exhaustion,  but those who "wait for" Yahweh will renew their strength, and run without ever growing weary.  Waiting for Yahweh is a beautiful description of faith.

The Psalm for the day is Psalm 147:1-11, 20c

6th Sunday after the Epiphany

2 Kings 5:1-14

bulletEpiphany celebrates God's shining out to the gentiles, and Naaman, the Syrian general, is an important foreign figure in the Old Testament, who confesses faith in Yahweh.  Naaman ranked high because Yahweh (!) had given victory by him to Aram or Syria.  This general however suffered from leprosy (By the way, this is generally not thought to be the same ailment known as Hanson's disease today). 
bulletA little girl, taken captive from Israel, bore witness to Naaman's wife that the prophet in Samaria could cure him.  The king of Aram sent Naaman to the king of Israel, and he brought along with him lavish presents.  The king of Israel took exception to the request for a cure, thinking that the king of Aram was picking a quarrel with him since he could not cure such an illness.
bulletElisha, who had heard of the king's astonished grief, urged that Naaman be sent to him so that he would learn there was a prophet in Israel.  When Naaman came to visit the prophet, Elisha did not even meet him in person.  Instead, via messenger, he urged Naaman to wash seven times in the Jordan River and he would be cured. 
bulletThis was Naaman's turn to take exception.  He expected the prophet to meet him, call on the name of Yahweh, and even wave some kind of magic wand over his skin sore.  He considered his local rivers near Damascus superior in any case to the Jordan. 
bulletNow his servants intervened and urged Naaman to follow Elisha's instructions. After all, he would have done so if they were complex instructions.  Why should he be insulted that the instructions were so simple?  Naaman took their advice, bathed in the Jordan, and was cured.
bulletA sequel in vv. 15-19, not included in this week's pericope, tells how Naaman returned to Elisha to give thanks and to confess his own faith in Yahweh.  Elisha twice refused a perquisite offered by Naaman.  Naaman asked for two mule-loads of earth to take back to Syria so that he could offer sacrifices to Yahweh back in Damascus on a little piece of the land of Israel.  Naaman also asked permission to accompany the king of Aram when he would worship the god Hadad Rimmon in his temple, even though he would be required to bow down to this "other god" as well.  Amazingly, Elisha said, "Go in peace"--giving an implicit ok to this "unionistic" worship. 

The Psalm for the day is Psalm 30

7th Sunday after the Epiphany

Isaiah 43:18-25

bulletThis pericope from Second Isaiah, the prophet of the exile (547-540 BCE) includes parts of two genres:  vv. 16-21 are a proclamation of salvation and vv. 22-28 are a trial speech against Israel.
bulletWhile biblical writers often admonish us to remember things past, v. 18 says those things are to be forgotten since Yahweh is doing a brand new thing.  This "new thing" is the promised new Exodus from Babylon to Jerusalem, in which Yahweh will build a highway leading Israel home and renewing creation at the same time.  The future in the Bible is typically something that is rushing toward us.
bulletEven the wild animals will join in the praise of Yahweh (v. 20). The purpose of God's creation of his people is that they would recount his praise (v. 21).
bulletVerses 22-24 bring an indictment against Israel.  Israel did not pray to Yahweh but in fact grew weary of God.  Apparently replying to a complaint that the people had offered many sacrifices, Yahweh says that Israel has not been burdened by the number of offerings, but they have burdened Yahweh with their sins and wearied Yahweh with their iniquities (v. 24).
bulletYahweh blots out transgressions because of who he is.  And then God promises to be forgetful:  I will not remember your sins (v. 25).  Yahweh forgets Israel's sins just as Israel had been asked to forget the past (v. 18).

The psalm for the day is Psalm 41.

The Transfiguration of our Lord

2 Kings 2:1-12

bulletElijah's ascent into heaven is a logical choice for the OT lesson for Transfiguration since he and Moses appear in the New Testament account.  Elijah is a prophet like Moses (1 Kgs 18:30-46; 19:4-18; 2 Kgs 1:1-15).
bulletThe two prophets start out at Gilgal and then go about twelve miles west to Bethel.  (Some scholars, however, locate this Gilgal seven miles north of Bethel).  There a band of prophets ask Elisha if he knows that Elijah will be taken away, and he replies affirmatively and orders them to keep silent.  This indicates that Elisha accurately perceives the transition in roles that is about to happen.  With the command to kept silent, cf. Mark 9:9, 30.
bulletThen the two head toward Jericho, very close to where they started at Gilgal. The prophets at Jericho have the same question, and Elisha answers in the same fashion.
bulletElijah then heads for the Jordan River, ordering Elisha to stay put.  Elisha refuses, as he had refused a similar order at Gilgal and at Bethel.  This shows Elisha's deep commitment to his calling.  Fifty prophets accompany them.
bullet At the Jordan, Elijah struck the river with his rolled-up mantle (resembling a rod?) and it parted so the two of them could cross to the east side on dry land. This crossing echoes the entry into the land in Josh 4:7-17 and the crossing of the Reed Sea in Exod 14:21-22.  Elijah is a prophet like Moses.  And he will "die" like Moses in Trans-Jordan.
bulletWhen asked for a final request, Elisha proposes that he receive a double portion of Elijah's spirit.  A firstborn heir received a double share of the inheritance (Deut 21:15-17).  Elijah labels this a hard request--because only God can grant it--and says it will be answered affirmatively only if Elisha actually sees Elijah taken up into heaven.
bulletElijah is separated from Elisha by a chariot of fire and horses of fire.  Elisha called out "Father, Father!"--a title of respect and honor.  He added:  "The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!"  John Bright remarked years ago:  Elijah was worth divisions.  By this he pointed to one of the functions of prophets in the OT:  they were the ones who gave the king permission to engage in warfare. The prophets of the eighth and later centuries often announced Yahweh's holy war against Israel.
bulletWhen he realized what had happened, Elisha tore his clothes in grief.  In a sequel to the pericope, in vv. 13-14, Elisha picks up the mantle of Elijah and splits the Jordan with it.
bulletElisha sees heavenly power in the midst of human struggles.  Cf. the Transfiguration. 

The psalm for the day is Psalm 50:1-6.

See also sermon study on Transfiguration, Preaching Helps 9 (1982):104-106.