Ash Wednesday

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

Notes on the Old Testament readings and the Gospels for the Sundays in Lent 2014.

First Sunday in Lent

Gen 2:15-17; 3:1-7

bulletThe OT lesson for this day is the temptation of the first man and woman, matching the temptation of Jesus.  For reasons of time, only excerpts are cited--regrettable imho.
bulletThe command in 2:15-17 is directed only to the man since the woman has not yet been created (2:18-25).  Every tree is permitted except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil of which the man is forbidden to eat.  "Good and evil" here many connote "everything."  To attempt to know everything is considered presumptuous. 
bulletSnakes in antiquity were considered intelligent animals and therefore a snake poses the question on which the man and woman "bite."  The word "crafty" is a pun in Hebrew on the word "naked" in the previous verse. 
bulletThe woman's reply to the snake slightly recasts the commandment--we cannot eat of the tree in the midst of the garden or touch it lest we die.  The addition makes God look petty.  The ancient writer may well be reflecting on the nature of temptation and our gradual succumbing to it.
bulletThe snake picks up the challenge of the woman's answer.  God knows that your eyes will be opened--true enough, but does not tell them they will not see new realities but only realize that they are naked.  The snake also said they would be like God knowing good and evil--except that was going beyond the limitation God had placed on them.
bulletAt least the woman dialogued with the snake!  After she had eaten she gave the fruit also to her husband and he ate--no questions asked.  He seems belly oriented.
bulletNakedness had been a good thing, we suppose, until they ate the fruit.  Then their eyes were opened to their shame and they desperately tried to make fig aprons to hide themselves.
bulletThis story is more our story than a story about origins.  It also makes the man and the woman equally culpable.  And the beautiful relationships which were intended by the creator quickly break down. 
bulletThe proposed remedy comes in Gen 12:1-3 where Sarai and Abram are called to be a blessing to all the families of the earth, to knit up the relationships broken in the primeval history.

The psalm for the day is Psalm 32.


2nd Sunday in Lent

Gen 12:1-4a

bulletThe next four Sundays in Series A feature Gospel readings from John.  The Gospel for this Sunday is Jesus' dialogue with Nicodemus in John 3:1-17.
bulletThe pericope from Genesis ties together the Primeval History (Gen 2:4b-chap 11) with the story of Israel's matriarchs and patriarchs.  The problem presented by the Primeval History is the complete breakdown in relationships--of humans with God and with one another, of human alienation from the natural world, of the violence inherent in sibling rivalry, in the ironic fact that language which enables humans to communicate better than any other animal is all the source of division and harm:  sticks and stones may break my bones, and words do hurt me.
bulletGenesis 12 begins with the call for Abram and Sarai to go to the land that Yahweh will show them.  For the people who first read this verse, that promise had been fulfilled completely, perhaps including the imperial gains of David and Solomon.
bulletGod promises them a great nation and a great name.  The promise of a great nation had also become a reality with David and Solomon.  The people who had sought to make a name for themselves wound up in disaster in the story of the Tower of Babel.  The expected outcome of God's gracious gift of nationhood and fame is that the people would be a blessing.
bulletGod promises to bless all those who bless the faithful (Sarai, Abram, you, me) and to impose a curse on that rare exception who disdains us.
bulletThe final line of v 3 is traditionally rendered "and by you shall all the families of the earth be blessed."  In this translation, the obligation of Sarai, Abram, and all who are called is to seek to bring blessings to others.  That is, in seeking us, God seeks the world.  There are other possibilities for translation:  NAB "All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you."   Cf. Word Biblical Commentary.  Or:  "Through you shall all families of the earth bless themselves."

The psalm for the day is Psalm 121.

3rd Sunday in Lent

Exodus 17:1-7

bulletThis story of Moses bringing water from a rock is to be compared with Num 20:2-13, where Moses and Aaron are denied entry into the land because of their lack of trust in Yahweh when Moses brought water from a rock.
bulletThe story in Exodus relates two place names associated with this miracle to Israel's quarreling with Moses (Meribah) and their putting Yahweh to the test (Massah).  The testing of Yahweh is summed up in the last sentence of the pericope:  Is Yahweh among us or not?
bulletIn v 3 the people complain that Moses had brought them out of Egypt in the Exodus only to kill them and their livestock with thirst in the wilderness.
bulletPsalm 95 is the biblical source for the Venite, but that hymn of praise ends with v 7a.  A prophetic voice admonishes Israel and us in vv 7b-11.
bulletThe prophet complains that the people tested God and put God to the proof even that they had seen God's great deed in the Exodus.  The consequence is that they were not allowed to enter the land ("my rest").
bulletThe passages from Exodus and Psalms remind us that the gospel has expectations on God's part, that it would transform our lives.  Even those who experiencing the greatest saving event in the Old Testament could fall away in ingratitude and disobedience. 
bulletWhile there is no sin so large that God cannot forgive it, God always loves us with the condition, or at least expectation, that God's grace and kindness will lead to transformation in our lives.

The psalm for the day is Psalm 95

4th Sunday in Lent

1 Samuel 16:1-13

bulletThis passage begins the "History of David's Rise," a pre canonical document ending in 2 Samuel 5, that concludes with the northern tribes anointing David.  It tells of the struggles between David and Saul, and the increasing recognition by all sorts of people--Jonathan, Michal, Abigail, Saul himself, and God--that David will be king.  There are three accounts of David's anointing altogether:  this pericope, 2 Samuel 5, and 2 Samuel 2, where David is anointed by Judah after the death of Saul.
bulletSamuel acts under divine orders and with some danger.  To anoint a new king could be interpreted as an act of treason.  Samuel covers his tracks by claiming that he is going to Bethlehem to perform a sacrifice for Yahweh.
bulletNone of the first seven sons of Jesse--only the first three are given names--prove satisfactory to David.  While outwardly impressive, they are rejected because Yahweh can judge their inner intentions or character, that is, their heart.  According to 1 Chr 2:13-5, David was the seventh son.  Already in the Pentateuch many younger sons are preferred over their elder brothers--Isaac, Jacob, Perez, Judah.    This choice often results from a pre natal call or blessing and expresses the election of the person.
bulletAfter some discussion, David, the shepherd boy, is sent for, and Samuel anoints him.  The spirit of God then rushed on David.  Saul, too, had this spirit, but the kings beginning with Solomon did not have the spirit--they were kings because their father had been king.  According to Isa 11:2, the messianic king will be blessed with the spirit.

The psalm for the day is Psalm 23.

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Ezekiel 37:1-14

bulletThere are four great visions in Ezekiel:  a) the call vision in chps. 1-3; b) the vision of the corruption of the temple and its destruction in chps. 8-11; c) the vision of the valley of the dry bones in 37:1-14; d) the vision of the restored land and temple in chps. 40-48.
bulletThis lesson was chosen to match the gospel from John 11--the raising of Lazarus.
bulletIt is generally agreed that the resurrection motif in Ezekiel 37 deals not with individual resurrection of dead persons, but with the recreation and reconstitution of Israel after the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple and the exile to Babylon.  The pericope speaks of creation, resurrection, and Exodus (bringing up from graves leads to bringing back to the land)--all of which can only be accomplished by divine intervention.
bulletThere are three uses of the recognition formula (You shall know that I am Yahweh) in this passage--vv 6, 13, 14.  The ultimate purpose of divine actions in Ezekiel is not just judgment or not even deliverance, but that those who experience these events will come to know and acknowledge Yahweh.
bulletThe bones in the valley were both many and dry--the destruction was widespread and Israel was indeed "dead."  Although the bones, sinews, and flesh come together, there was no breath in them.  This distinction between making the body and breathing life into it recalls the creation account in Genesis 2.  God's presence is shown by the rattling earthquake (a typical accompanying phenomenon with theophany) and the breath or spirit of God.
bulletThis pericope comes in response to the people's complaint:  "Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost."  Note that twice God utters an endearing "O my people." (vv. 12, 13)
bulletThe last verse of this pericope celebrates the sure connection between God's promise and God's fulfillment of promise--I have spoken and I will act!


The psalm for the day is Psalm 130.

Palm Sunday

Isa 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 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.

The processional psalm for the day is Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29.

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 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 33:4.
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 reflects the association of the first Last Supper with Passover.

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.
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? 
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


Jer 31:1-6

bulletThis pericope is from the Book of Consolation, chapters 30-31, which speak of the future restoration of Israel and Judah.
bulletThe slogan "I am your God and you are my people" is known as the covenant formula.  Verse 1 is a variation of that, indicating that there is no Israel without all Israel.  A poignant reminder of the catholicity of God's people.
bulletVerse 2 looks back on the wilderness journey as a period of grace for Israel.  "Rest" is a term often used of possession of the Promised Land.
bulletSince Yahweh loves Israel with an everlasting love, it is not surprising that he promises to continue his faithfulness to them.
bulletThe time of salvation is foreseen as a time of joy, with music and merrymakers.
bulletThe prophets sometimes contain "frustration oracles."  Consider Amos 5:11:  "You have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine."  Jer 31:5 promises the opposite:  vineyards will be planted in Samaria (North Israel) and people will enjoy the fruit of these labors.
bulletVerse 6 offers a graphic picture of a united Israel:  sentinels in North Israel (Ephraim) will issue a call to make a pilgrimage to Zion/Jerusalem.

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

2nd Sunday of Easter

No Old Testament Lesson

The psalm for the day is Psalm 16.

3rd Sunday of Easter

No Old Testament Lesson

The psalm for the day is Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17 = Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19.

See also sermon study on the Third Sunday of Easter, Preaching Helps 8 (1981):25-26.

4th Sunday of Easter

No Old Testament Lesson

The psalm for the day is Psalm 23

See also sermon study on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Preaching Helps 8 (1981):26-27.

5th Sunday of Easter

No Old Testament Lesson

The psalm for the day is Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16

6th Sunday of Easter

No Old Testament Lesson

The psalm for the day is Psalm 66:7-18 = NRSV 66:8-20

7th Sunday of Easter

No Old Testament Lesson

The psalm for the day is Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36