Sermon Studies for Easter Sunday

Sermon Study on Luke 24:1-12 Easter 2016. Currents in Theology and Mission
Sermon Study on John 20:1-18 Easter 2016 Currents in Theology and Mission

2nd Sunday of Easter

No Old Testament Lesson

The psalm for the day is Psalm 118:14-29

3rd Sunday of Easter

No Old Testament Lesson

The psalm for the day is Psalm 30

4th Sunday of Easter

No Old Testament Lesson

The psalm for the day is Psalm 23

5th Sunday of Easter

No Old Testament Lesson

The psalm for the day is Psalm 148

6th Sunday of Easter

No Old Testament Lesson

The psalm for the day is Psalm 67

7th Sunday of Easter

No Old Testament Lesson

The psalm for the day is Psalm 97

The Day of Pentecost

Genesis 11:1-9 (Alternate OT lesson)

bulletThis pericope reports the climactic sin in J's primeval history.  After creation had begun with a perfect relationship between God and humans, between man and woman, between people and animals and plants, sin had ruined all these relationships and now even language, which is humanity's premier way of communicating with other members of the species, is a source of division.  Contemporary disputes about French and English in Canada or Spanish and English in the United States make this story very poignant.
bulletIn the next chapter Abram and Sarai are called so that through them all the families of the earth will gain a blessing.  God's election of Israel--and of us!--has the purpose of reuniting divided humanity.  When we ask, why does God choose us, we should not ask what quality made God choose us over others, but, rather, what would God have us to do.
bulletIt is widely recognized that the Babylonian temple towers, or ziggurats, stand behind this story.  They were constructed between 2200 and 550 BCE, and their ruins are still found at a number of sites.  The ziggurat was a ladder to heaven, the shrine on the summit elevating the priests closer to the gods.  The best preserved ziggurat is at Ur, built by Ur-Nammu ca 2100 BCE.  The one at Babylon itself was called e-temen-anki = the house of the foundation of heaven and earth.
bulletThe writer explains the alien technology to his Palestinian audience:  they used bricks instead of stone and bitumen instead of mortar.
bulletVerse 4 indicates that pride and a quest for a "name" lay behind the building of the tower. 
bulletThe explanation of the name in v 9 is a folk etymology.  The tower is called "Babel" because there Yahweh "balaled," or confused their language.  The normal etymology of "Babel" is "gate of god."
bulletPentecost has often been called Babel in reverse!  People were able to hear the gospel in their own language

The psalm for the day is Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

The Holy Trinity/1st Sunday after Pentecost

Prov 8:1-4, 22-31

bulletThis chapter features the full personification of wisdom, and verses 22-31 played a prominent role in early christological controversies.
bulletThe Arians argued that since the Lord created wisdom = Christ, Christ was not God in the same way that the Father was God.  The orthodox countered that the verb in v 22 should not be translated created but "possessed."  Athanasius even asserted that what was created was not Christ, but his position as the first of God's works or ways.
bulletWe recognize today that this passage is irrelevant to the christological or trinitarian controversies.  Feminist theologians, however, have noted that wisdom as the first of God's creations is feminine and that this balances somewhat the male language often used of God in the Bible.  Wisdom is Israel's God in female imagery.  Wisdom accompanied God in creation. 
bulletThe word translated "master worker" in v 30 is very difficult.  Some would interpret it as "little child" as in the NRSV note.  A third possibility is that "master worker" modifies God and not wisdom:  "I was with God, the master worker."
bulletIn Michelangelo's famous painting of creation in the Sistine chapel, God is surrounded by angelic beings and there is a woman encircled by God's left elbow.  This woman is Michelangelo's interpretation of wisdom.
bulletWisdom rejoices to be in God's presence, but it also rejoices in the inhabited world and in the human family.  Wisdom therefore serves as a bridge between God and humanity.  The wisdom literature in the Old Testament has a very positive view of the human condition.

The Psalm for the day is Psalm 8.


2nd Sunday after Pentecost

1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43

bulletThis OT reading is taken from Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the First Temple. Contemporary scholars identify  this as an interpretative speech in the Deuteronomistic History.
bulletSolomon affirms that Yahweh is incomparable. Yahweh keeps covenant and steadfast love for worshippers, whose conduct (walk) is pleasing to Yahweh.
bulletVerses 41-43 are part of a unit extending from vv. 31-45, that describes how Israel is to respond to its sins or subsequent punishments.
bulletVerses 41-43 shows a quite inclusive understanding of the faith of Israel. If foreigners come to the temple in Jerusalem and pray to God, Yahweh is asked to listen and act according to all that the foreigner asks so that all peoples of the earth may know the name of Yahweh, just as Israel does. Yahweh has given his name or reputation to the temple.

Psalm 96:1-9

3rd Sunday after Pentecost

1 Kings 17:17-24

bulletIsrael is experiencing a drought that had been announced by Elijah (v. 1). Elijah himself was fed by ravens (vv. 4-6), and his journeys take him to the widow of Zarephath (vv. 8-16), Elijah asks her for bread, but she informs him that she is gathering sticks for a fire to make her last bread from the flour and oil she has left. Through a miracle her oil and flour never ran out.
bulletWhen the widow's son died, she blamed it on Elijah. You have come to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause my son's death.
bulletElijah prayed, stretched himself over the boy, and he lived.
bulletThis miracle convinced the widow that Elijah was a man of God and that Yahweh's word in his mouth was truth.


Psalm 30

4th Sunday after Pentecost

2 Sam 11:26-12:10, 13-15

bulletThis pericope deals with the aftermath of David's adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband, Uriah the Hittite (2 Sam 11:1-25).  In this incident Bathsheba has no voice except for the words, "I am pregnant."  A much more assertive Bathsheba appears in 1 Kgs 1:11-31 and 2:13-25.
bulletNathan's parable is meant to evoke the king's role as administrator of justice in society.  David takes the bait, announces the death sentence on the rich man, who had appropriated the poor man's lamb, and ordered him to pay fourfold restitution.
bulletIn Nathan's response, he recites God's great benefactions to David--anointing him as king, delivering from the hand of Saul, giving him his master's daughter Michal (reading "daughter" instead of "house"; the words are very similar in Hebrew), and even giving him Saul's wives!  Some have speculated that David's wife Ahinoam, the mother of Amnon (1 Sam 25:43), was the same as Saul's wife, Ahinoam the daughter of Ahimaaz (1 Sam 14:50).  God also had given him the kingdoms (house) of Israel and Judah.
bulletDavid should have been more than satisfied with all of this and God would have given him much more if he had asked.  But like the rich man in the parable, David had taken the "lamb" of Uriah the Hittite and then had Uriah killed by the Ammonites.
bulletThe pericope does not include Nathan's words of judgment in vv 11-14.  Nathan foretells that the sword will never depart from David's house--thus alluding to the deaths of Amnon (2 Sam 13:23-29), Absalom (2 Sam 18:15), and Adonijah (1 Kgs 2:25).  He also predicts trouble in David's house (Absalom, Amnon).  David's wives will be given to his "neighbor," who will sleep with them openly (see the account of Absalom sleeping with David's harem in 2 Sam 16:21-22).
bulletOn David's admission of sin, Nathan pronounces absolution.  By law both David and Bathsheba should have been executed.  Instead their illegitimate son is condemned to death.  Is David granted royal privilege?
bulletThe gospel, Luke 7:36-8:3, tells how a woman who was a "sinner" anointed the feet of Jesus.  When the Pharisees objected to this, Jesus told a parable about how a creditor cancelled the debts of two people, one of whom owed much more that the other.  The point is, that the one with the bigger debt would love the creditor more.  Hence the woman who had been forgiven much showed greater love.  Jesus then announced forgiveness to the woman and told her that her faith had saved her.  The first verses of chap 8 names other women who joined the Jesus movement.
bulletWas David fully repentant like the woman in Luke, or do members of the royal family get a pass when they commit adultery and thus lose only their child and not their own lives?  Or is our suspicious attitude toward David as loveless as that of the Pharisees toward the woman who anointed Jesus' feet?

The psalm for the day is Psalm 32.

5th Sunday after Pentecost

Isa 65:1-9

bulletIsaiah 56-66 contains materials addressed to Israel after their return from the Babylonian exile, when the great promises of Isaiah 40-55 have not yet been fulfilled and when the community faces bitter internal strife and seems unresponsive to God's gracious deliverance.  The lectionary has a surprising number of readings from this section--in the Epiphany season and elsewhere.
bulletGod's open invitation to God's people is expressed in vv 1-3a.  God invites even when we show no interest in being invited, God seeks us when we do not seek God.  God's love contradicts our hostility:  God holds out his hands to a people who provoke him continually.
bulletThe specifics of the people's sins in vv 3b-5 are time specifice in the ancient setting:  practicing syncretistic worship, offering offensive incense, spending the night in tombs (!), eating pork, and practicing a holier than thou attitude.  Preachers will have to imagine what practices today might be similarly offensive to God.
bulletVerses 6-7 pose the great dilemma.  A just and righteous God has no alternative.  God must repay people for their iniquities.  God cannot keep silent.
bulletVerses 8-9--continuing actually through v 16--show God's great "nevertheless."  Despite all of these human provocations, God is not willing to throw out the whole "cluster."  God will bring descendants from Jacob.  God's words of acceptance refer to his audience as his "chosen."  God's servants will indeed settle in Jerusalem.
bulletVerse 16 is a beautiful picture of God's acceptance of his servants.  People will take oaths by the God of faithfulness, or they will swear by the God of faithfulness.  The former troubles are forgotten--our only hope is in a forgetful God!--and they are hidden from my sight.

The psalm for the day is Psalm 22:19-28


6th Sunday after Pentecost

1 Kgs 19:15-16, 19-21

bulletThe stories about Elijah begin in 1 Kgs 17:1 and continue through 2 Kgs 2, when he ascended to heaven in a chariot of fire.  Elijah was a passionate advocate of Yahwistic monotheism and was in a constant battle with Ahab and Jezebel about the worship of Baal and social injustice (Naboth's vineyard (1 Kings 21).  Elijah was convinced he was the only worshipper of Yahweh left (1 Kgs 19:14), but Yahweh assured him that there were 7,000, who had not yet bowed the knee to Baal (1 Kgs 19:18).
bulletVerses 15-16 tell of Elijah's threefold commission to anoint Hazael king over Aram (or Syria), Jehu as king over Israel, and Elisha as his own replacement.  It was actually Elisha who anointed Hazael (2 Kgs 8:7-15), and Elisha authorized one of his own attendants to anoint Jehu (2 Kgs 9:1-13).  Elijah's call of Elisha takes place in 1 Kgs 19:19-21.  In 2 Kgs 8:29 Joram the king of Israel was injured in a battle with Hazael of Damascus, and Ahaziah the king of Judah went to visit the injured king.  During this visit they both were killed by the newly-crowned Jehu (2 Kgs 9:1-29).    In the newly discovered "house of David" inscription, Hazael claims to have killed both Ahaziah and Joram.  While his claim in regard to Ahaziah is puzzling, both he and Jehu might rightly have been able to claim some credit for the death of Joram.
bulletThe lectionary omits vv 17-18 which tell of the violent mission of those who were anointed.  If Hazael did not kill someone, Jehu would.  And if Jehu did not kill someone, Elisha would.  Yahweh claims that he still had at least 7,000 devotees.
bulletElisha was a fairly wealthy farmer--plowing with twelve pairs of oxen.  Elijah signals his call of Elisha by throwing his mantle on him.  Elisha makes a seemingly reasonable request to say goodbye to his parents, but Elijah wants single-minded devotion.  No time for goodbyes!
bulletElisha reverses himself, sacrifices the oxen, and shares the meat in a community sacrificial meal.  Then he sets off to become Elijah's servant.
bulletThe gospel for the day, Luke 9:51-62, echoes the passage about Elisha.  A would-be disciple of Jesus wanted to bury his father before following Jesus.  Another also wanted to say goodbye to those at home.  Jesus puts proclamation of the kingdom first.  Let the dead bury the dead!  No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom.  How will preachers deal with the radicality of this call?

The psalm for the day is Psalm 16

Alternate OT reading: 2 Kgs 2:1-2, 6-14

bulletThis pericope describes Elijah's ascent into heaven. Elijah and Elisha travel from Gilgal to Bethel and on to Jericho, and at each site Elijah tries to get Elisha to drop out. Elisha, however takes a firm oath that he would never leave Elijah. Twice the company of prophets remind Elisha that his master will be taken from him, but in each case he urges them to be quiet!
bulletWhen they came to the Jordan river, Elijah rolled up his mantle and struck the waters and they parted. This is a reversal from what happened with Joshua at the conquest. The two prophets crossed over on dry land.
bulletWhen Elijah offered Elisha the opportunity to make a special request, Elisha asked for a double portion of Elijah's spirit. A first born child received a double portion in the inheritance. Elijah identifies this request as hard, but says Elisha will get it if he sees Elijah being taken from him.
bulletA chariot of fire and horses of fire separate the two prophets and Elijah ascends in a whirlwind to heaven.  Elijah and Enoch (Genesis 5) are the two people in the Old Testament who do not die. Moses dies a strange death and no one knows his burial spot. Moses and Elijah, representing the law and the prophets, show up at the Transfiguration in the New Testament.
bulletElisha calls Elijah father. He also dubs him the chariots of Israel and its horsemen. Prophets were agents of Holy War, often announcing Holy War against Israel.  The historian John Bright said Elijah was worth military divisions.
bulletElisha was able to see Elijah going up, but once Elijah had disappeared, Elisha rips his clothes in mourning. When Elisha comes to the Jordan, he asks, Where is Yahweh the God of Elijah and finds that he has the power, like his predecessor, to split the Jordan.
bulletVerses 15-18 tell that the company of the prophets demanded that Elisha authorize a search  party, which he reluctantly does. They find nothing, and Elisha says, "I told you so."

The psalm for the day is Psalm 16

7th Sunday after Pentecost

Isa 66:10-14

bulletSee what was written about Isaiah 56-66 under the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost.
bulletThe exhortation to rejoice with Jerusalem pictures Jerusalem in very maternal metaphors--nursing her citizens with an abundant supply of milk (v 11).  The addressees will be carried and nursed like young children (v 12).  The prosperity of all the nations of the world will flow to Jerusalem.
bulletYahweh is pictured in a maternal metaphor in v 13.  Yahweh will comfort Jerusalem just as a mother comforts her child.  "Comfort" can connote bringing Jerusalem's citizens home, rebuilding her ruins, or transforming her waste places into a virtual paradise  (Isa 49:13; 51:3; 52:9; 54:11)
bulletThis part of Isaiah exudes both good and bad news:  the hand of Yahweh is with his servants, and his indignation is against his enemies.  While the "servant" in Second Isaiah (chaps 40-55) stands for Israel or the prophet himself, the word servant is used in the plural in Third Isaiah and refers to the righteous believers.

Alternate Old Testament reading: 2 Kgs 5:1-14

bulletNaaman, a Syrian military leader, is afflicted with leprosy (not identical with the modern disease by the same name). He was highly respected because Yahweh (!) had given victory to the Arameans or Syrians.
bulletA nameless Israelite girl, who was a prisoner of war and a servant of Naaman's wife, told him that the prophet (Elisha) in Samaria could cure him. When asked, the Aramean king sends Naaman to Samaria with a letter of introduction.
bulletNaaman takes along enormous presents. Ten talents of silver weighed almost seven hundred pounds. Naaman assumes that the king of Israel would  know Elisha, perhaps even employ him. But the king of Israel thinks he is being set up with a trick request that will justify another Aramean raid. The king tore his clothes in shock and mourning.
bulletSomehow Elisha heard about all this and urged the king to send Naaman to him. Elisha did not even meet with him, but sent a messenger who told Naaman to wash seven times in the Jordan and his leprosy would go away.
bulletNow it is Naaman's turn to be outraged.  Why should the puny Jordan help?  Wern't the Aramean rivers much more important? He was about to head off when his servants, who called him father, urged him to follow instructions. Their argument:  you would have obeyed a difficult assignment, so why don't you do this easy one?
bulletImmersing himself seven times in the Jordan, Naaman comes out with skin renewed like that of a young boy.
bulletIn verses 15-19, Naaman returns to Elisha and confesses that Yahweh is the only God on earth. Naaman offers a gift from the items he had brought along, but Elisha adamantly refused to accept it.
bulletNaaman then asks for two mule loads of dirt from Israel so that with this bit of Israelite land he can offer sacrifices to Yahweh back home. Naaman has an interfaith problem: when he accompanies his master to the temple of the Aramean god, he will have to bow down to the Aramean god. He asks for pardon in advance and Elisha says go in peace!
bulletThere are a number of ways to approach this text:  the witness of the little girl; Naaman's failure at first to trust the good news; Elisha's demonstration that he is not in it for the money; Naaman's preemptory request for forgiveness. At the end of the chapter, Elisha's servant Gehazi gets Naaman to give him the present Elisha had turned down, and he is judged for this duplicity by getting Naaman's leprosy.

The psalm for the day is Psalm 66:1-9


Psalm 30 (semi-continuous)


8th Sunday after Pentecost

Deut 30:9-14

bulletThis chapter is part of a sermon in the Deuteronomistic History, offering the exiled people restoration subsequent to their repentance (30:1-5).
bulletJust as circumcision (originally) prepared young men for marriage, so Yahweh's circumcision of Israel's heart will ready them for new obedience (30:6-8).
bulletVerse 9 promises restored Israel many blessings:  numerous children, numerous cattle, bumper farm crops.  Repentance is defined as turning to Yahweh with one's entire heart and soul (v 10).
bulletIsrael's task is not something exotic or esoteric (vv 11-14).  Elsewhere  the Deuteronomist sums it up this way:  "Hear, O Israel:  Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone.  You shall love Yahweh with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might."  Deut 6:4-5.

Amos 7:7-17 (semi-continuous)

The psalm for the day is Psalm 25:1-10

Psalm 82 (semi-continuous)