Ash Wednesday

See sermon study on Ash Wednesday, Preaching Helps 9 (1982): 106-107.

1st Sunday in Lent

Gen 9:8-17

bulletThis is the priestly account of the covenant with Noah, his descendants, and with every living creature after the flood.  This covenant is unilateral as shown by the verbs used with it:  God establishes or gives this covenant.  Elsewhere in the OT God "cuts" a covenant with Israel.
bulletThe central promise in this covenant is that there would never again be a flood.  God set the bow up in the sky to remind himself of this covenant if he should--I speak foolishly--forget it.  This is a very anthropomorphic image of God.
bulletGod promises to remember this covenant, which he does, in Egypt, in Exod 6:5, at the time of the Exodus:  "I have also heard the groaning of the Israelites whom the Egyptians are holding as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant."  Just when it seemed as if God had forgotten Israel, God in fact had not.  Since this part of the Pentateuch was written when Israel was in exile, the basic message was:  when God remembers the covenant, we will be going home.
bulletIn Lent we remember the lengths God went in Jesus to keep this promise.  This passage also reminds us that no one is really outside of God's concern--this is a pact God made with everyone and with all of creation.  This would be a good time to reflect on our relationship with non-Christian people, and to ponder what our ethical response should be to God's making a covenant with the whole animate, non-human part of creation.

The psalm for the day is Psalm 51:1-18

Power point presentation on Lent 1 by Ralph W. Klein

2nd Sunday in Lent

Gen 17:1-7, 15-16

bulletThis is the priestly account of God's everlasting covenant with Sarah and Abraham.  Cf. Genesis 15 for J's account.  Signs of the priestly writer (P) include the age of the ancestors, the term God Almighty (El Shaddai), the command for the ancestors to be blameless, the command to be fruitful, and the rite of circumcision.
bulletThe promise that Abraham will be the ancestor of a multitude of nations is a pun on the word Abraham.  The new status of the ancestors is denoted by the change of their names from Abram to Abraham and from Sarai to Sarah. 
bulletAbraham and Sarah are exiles or aliens in the land, and yet recipients of the land promise.  When these words were penned, Israel was in exile as aliens in Babylon.  Verse 8 contains the "God promise" (I will be their God).  The implication of the promise in this context is that those who hear or read it will be everlasting recipients of the land.  This verse is omitted from the pericope!  But the God promise and the promise of the land are central to this passage.  Perhaps the pericope pickers did not want to get involved in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, but I am very nervous about this kind of text editing.
bulletCircumcision is a sign of the covenant although the pericope leaves out the verses (9-14) spelling this out.  Was circumcision thought to be too intimate to talk about or not inclusive enough?  Circumcision is a sign of the covenant as the rainbow was in last week's reading.  The Babylonians did not circumcise and so this rite was a crucial way of knowing who remained faithful during the Babylonian exile and who just went along with the winners.  In Israel's environment circumcision was a puberty rite; it became an infancy rite and a sign of the covenant for Israel.
bulletIn both v. 6 and v. 16, the ancestors are promised kings among their heirs.  But the promise of kingship plays a very subordinate role in P.
bulletThe promises of this covenant were actualized in the Exodus from Egypt.  But an everlasting covenant cannot be broken, and so this promise is a rock of support for the faithful in every generation.

The psalm for the day is Psalm 22:22-30

Power point presentation on Lent 2 by Ralph W. Klein

3rd Sunday in Lent

Exodus 20:1-17

bulletThe OT lesson for this week is the ten commandments.  Here are a few hermeneutical suggestions:
bulletEight of the ten commandments are negative, forbidding a specific crime.  That leaves much of life unregulated by law, where we are to maximize our love for God and neighbor within an ethic of freedom.
bulletJews count v. 2 as the first commandment.  While this is not really a commandment, these colleagues make an important point:  The following commandments are given for those who are already part of God's community and only really have meaning for them.  Without such saving events as the Exodus and the crucifixion, the roster of ethical concerns in the ten commandments would not be particularly important. 
bulletThe third and fourth commandments are "positive," that is they demand certain types of behavior.  Since the commandments were addressed to adults or at least to those who could count themselves sons or daughters of the law, the fourth commandment has more to do with respect for the elderly rather than obedience toward parents.
bulletThe third commandment on the Sabbath is kept literally by few of us.  Sabbath in Exodus 20 is to remind the community of creation; in Deuteronomy 5 it reminds the community of God's liberating actions.  Exodus 34:21 urges the keeping of the Sabbath, also in times of plowing and harvesting.  We Westerners are driven by deadlines and datebooks.  Sabbath is to be observed even at a time of deadlines or non postponable events like planting and harvesting.
bulletThe Sabbath law suggests that servants and domestic animals should also rest.  Hence Sabbath includes a concern for the weakest in the society.  Sabbath is also a sign of eschatological freedom:  Sabbath rest is a down payment on the ultimate rest that awaits the people of God.
bulletSabbath has an eschatological dimension--observing the Sabbath is a foretaste of life in the nearer presence of God.
bulletSomeone once called the commandments "ten words of freedom."  That comes from the idea that they offer very narrow prohibitions, but recognize that most of life is lived "where there are no laws."  But such freedom entails ultimate responsibility.  In freedom we maximize love for God and for neighbor.

The psalm for the day is Psalm 19.

Power point presentation on Lent 3 by Ralph W. Klein

4th Sunday in Lent

Num 21:4-9

bulletThe story of the Brazen Serpent needs to be understood first of all in its Old Testament context.
bulletThe Israelites complained that they should never have been freed from slavery in Egypt.  Out in the wilderness there was no food or drink and they complained bitterly about the Mannah God has graciously granted them.  They also complained against both God and Moses (v. 5).
bulletThis led to the punishment of poisonous snakes and the repentance of the people.  Moses was asked to intercede on their behalf to God.
bulletAt God's instruction Moses made a brazen serpent.  People couldn look at this serpent when they had been bitten and live.
bulletWe often complain even about God's acts of goodness.  Israel acted as if slavery back in Egypt would be better than freedom. 
bulletIt is not made clear why looking at the serpent would mean healing.  We assume that those who look to the serpent are expressing thereby their faith in God.  Wisdom 16, 6 states:  "They were troubled for a little while as a warning, and received a symbol of deliverance to remind them of our law's command."
bulletBy the time of Hezekiah, 500 years later, the brazen serpent had become had become an object of superstitious trust.  Hezekiah therefore destroyed the brazen serpent Nehushtan (2 Kgs 18:1-8).
bulletIn John 3:14-15, this passage is understood typologically.  And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.  The crucifixion in John's gospel is a kind of exaltation.

The psalm for the day is Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22

Power point presentation on Lent 4 by Ralph W. Klein

5th Sunday in Lent

Jeremiah 31:31-34

bulletThis passage on the new covenant is part of the Book of Consolation in Jeremiah (30:1-31:40). 
bulletThe timing of the prophecy is indefinite--in the days that are coming.  Many scholars favor a translation of "renewed covenant" rather than "new covenant."  The old connection between a relationship to God and radical obedience, as at Sinai, is to be maintained in this renewed covenant.  This translation also avoids supersessionism.
bulletThe covenant is with all of God's people, both Judah and Israel.  The renewed covenant will be different in that it will be unbreakable.  The earlier covenant had been broken in spite of God's loving role as husband.  The Hebrew could also be understood as saying that God had been Israel's "Baal"--giving them every material blessing--and still they had disobeyed.
bulletLaw and obedience will be an inescapable part of the new covenant or "new testament."  It is not an elective or something on the shelf that one can take down at will.  Instead, God's law will be written indelibly, on the heart of every person.  The expression "I will be their God and they will be my people" is called the covenant formula. 
bulletTo know the Lord is not merely head knowledge.  Josiah judged the cause of the poor and needy, he was socially responsible.  Is not this what it means to "know" Yahweh?  Jer 22:16.
bulletBut how can God make a new or renewed covenant if the penalty for breaking the old covenant was divine curse?  The answer:  God forgives our iniquities and does not remember our sin.  Our only hope is to have a forgetful God!

The Psalm for the day is Psalm 51:1-13 or Psalm 119:9-16

Power point presentation on Lent 5 by Ralph W. Klein

Sunday of the Passion--Palm Sunday

Isaiah 50:4-9a

bulletThis is the third of the four "servant songs" in Second Isaiah (cf. 42:1-9; 49:1-7; 52:13-53:12).  The servant in Second Isaiah, in my opinion, is either Israel as a whole or the prophet as the embodiment of Israel.  Sometimes both understandings seem to be presupposed.  The sufferings of the servant were used in the New Testament and in the early church to understand the significance of the suffering and death of Jesus.
bulletThe servant was a good listener to the divine word, and he was empowered by that word to give support and encouragement to the weary among the exiles of Israel. (vv 4-5).
bulletThe servant is willing and resolute in his suffering--suffering from whipping, from having his beard pulled out hair by hair, and from being spat upon.    His confidence stems from his conviction that God will help him and will vindicate him.  (vv 6-8a).
bulletHe challenges his opponents to face up to him:  Let us stand up together; let them confront me; who of them will prove the servant guilty (vv 8b-9a).  The lectionary omits v 9b, which expresses the servant's confidence that the opponents will perish like a moth-eaten garment.  I personally think it is a mistake to omit such imprecations.  Rather, let them stand in some tension with "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."  There is a place in our worship for the public processing of pain.  Note that vv 7 and 9 both begin with an affirmation of God's role as helper.  That is the servant's reason for boldness in suffering:  if God is for us, who can be against us?

The Psalm for the day is Ps 31:9-16.

Maundy Thursday

Exod 12:1-4 (5-10) 11-14

bulletThis pericope provides the regulations for the celebration of Passover, with the final verse referring to the subsequent, week-long celebration of Unleavened Bread.  All of these verses are attributed to the priestly source (P).  All other priestly regulations are given at Sinai.  The festival of Passover may originally have commemorated the moving of livestock from one pasture land to another.
bulletThe first month (in the spring) is elsewhere called Abib (early) or Nisan (late).  The lamb for the Passover was selected on the tenth of the month and killed on the fourteenth of the month.
bulletThe optional verses 5-10 provide additional regulations.  The "lamb" can be either from the sheep or the goats, what Germans call Kleinvieh--small cattle.  The lamb is to be a yearling and without blemish (Lev 22:19, 21; Deut 17:1).
bulletPutting the blood on the doorposts and the lintel is a sign that will lead Yahweh to pass over this house and not kill the first born of Israel (v. 13).  The lamb is roasted, and is to be eaten with unleavened bread (cf. the following harvest festival called Unleavened Bread) and with bitter herbs (in later liturgical use this symbolized the hard labor in Egypt).  According to Deut 16:7, the Passover lamb was to be boiled.  
bulletThe Passover was to be eaten by people dressed for a quick departure and ready to leave Egypt (in haste, v. 11).  This is in tension with the regulations given in vv. 14-20 to celebrate a week long festival of Unleavened Bread.  Yeast in antiquity was made of sour dough, derived from last year's crop.  Hence by eating unleavened bread the participants did not mix last year's crop with the first results of the new crop.  
bulletThe killing of the firstborn was forecast in Exod 4:23 and 11:5. Cf. also 12:29.  On the judgment of the gods of Egypt, see Num 33:3b-4: On the fifteenth day of the first month; on the day after the passover the Israelites went out boldly, while the Egyptians were burying all of their firstborn, whom the LORD had struck down among them.  The LORD executed judgments even against their gods.
bulletThe first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread is to be a memorial of the Exodus.  Unleavened Bread was celebrated at the sanctuary, whereas Passover was originally a domestic feast.
bulletThe choice of this text for Maundy Thursday reflects the association of the Last Supper with Passover.  This is the case in the synoptic gospels, but in John passover begins on Friday evening.

The psalm for the day is Psalm 116:1, 10-17

Good Friday

Isa 52:13-53:12

bulletThis fourth servant poem played an important role in shaping the significance of the death of Jesus in the New Testament and the early church.  That influence was probably mediated through passages like Wisdom of Solomon 2:12-20, which also speak of the suffering and vindication of God's child.  I encourage you to read Wisdom 2, which makes it even more understandable why the early Christians used this tradition to help them understanding the meaning of the crucifixion.
bulletIn 52:13-15 Yahweh is the speaker, and this paragraph speaks of the final vindication of the servant.   The servant--Israel?--shocked the nations by his bad appearance and by his ultimate vindication.
bulletThe nations or their kings are the speakers in 53:1-6.  The servant had such a bad appearance that people could not stand to look at him.  In his suffering the servant bore their sicknesses, their iniquities, and their rebellions.  In the servant's wounds there was healing for the nations.
bulletThe death of the servant is problematic in the OT context.  Was the servant killed?  Was Second Isaiah executed?  Or did Israel in exile die a metaphorical death in exile? 
bulletThe servant's life is a sin offering, but this passage also speaks of his coming vindication:  "he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days."
bulletThrough his humiliation the servant makes "the many" righteous.  Verse 12 is direct speech of Yahweh.  The servant's vindication comes because he poured himself out into death, he carried the sins of many, and he prayed for them.
bulletIf the servant originally was the prophet and/or Israel, and if Jesus by his faithful dying is the servant, then we are also called and empowered to be servants--bearing our suffering and at the same time maintaining our confidence and trust in God.

The Psalm for the day is Psalm 22



The Resurrection of our Lord:  Easter Day

Isa 25:6-9

bulletThe materials in Isaiah 24-27 are apocalyptic and were written two centuries or more after the prophet Isaiah of Jerusalem. 
bulletThe passage in question describes an eschatological victory banquet that Yahweh will host on the mountain of Jerusalem.  All nations will be invited and there will be a bountiful menu of rich food and wines.  The roots of this tradition go back to divine victory banquets in Canaanite lore.  The fruit of this tradition is among other things the Eucharist.  That meal itself is the foretaste of that great banquet which is to come.
bulletVerse 7 makes this lesson particularly apt for Easter.  The shroud that is cast over all peoples is a reference to our mortality.  And Yahweh promises to swallow up death forever.  In Canaanite mythology death was personified as a god Mot.  Mot had an enormous mouth, one lip touched the sky, the other dragged on the earth, and Mot stretched out his tongue to the stars.  Just as we talk about death as the grim reaper, our Canaanite ancestors talked about death as the great swallower.
bulletBut the promise is that the "swallower" will become the "swallowee"--swallowed up by no less than Yahweh himself.  Consequently tears and disgrace will be removed from people.  The reader is urged to believe this because God has promised it--Yahweh has spoken.
bulletAt the time of Jesus, almost all Jews believed in the resurrection of the dead.  The good news of Easter is that it [the resurrection] has started to happen, and therefore we should look for other signs of the new age as well--the outpouring of the Spirit, the ingathering of the nations, peace and justice made manifest.
bulletVerse nine talks about the joy of that eschatological future, made real for us in the joy of Easter.
bulletFor a sermon by me on this text in 2005, click here.

The psalm for the day is Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

2nd Sunday of Easter

No Old Testament reading

The psalm for the day is Psalm 133

3rd Sunday of Easter

No Old Testament reading

The psalm for the day is Psalm 4

4th Sunday of Easter

No Old Testament reading

The psalm for the day is Psalm 23


5th Sunday of Easter

No Old Testament reading

The psalm for the day is Psalm 22:24-30

6th Sunday of Easter

No Old Testament reading

The psalm for the day is Psalm 98

7th Sunday of Easter

No Old Testament reading

The psalm for the day is Psalm 1