9th Sunday after Pentecost

Gen 18:1-10a

bulletAfter various false starts--an attempt to adopt a servant in chap 15, siring a child via Hagar in chap 16--Sarah and Abraham are given the promise of a child, when he is 99 and she 89.
bulletYahweh appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre; three "men" actually showed up for Abraham and Sarah, who demonstrate lavish hospitality--baked goods, a fatted calf.  Abraham stood by a tree as his guests ate.
bulletVerse 10a gives the wonderful promise that they will be parents within a year.  The lectionary wisely omits Sarah's laughing disbelief in vv 10b-15--no point emphasizing a stereotype!
bulletThe gospel, Luke 10:38-42, speaks of the hospitality of Mary and Martha as Jesus congratulates Mary and castigates Martha.  Watch out for the stereotypes!

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This wonderful sixth century mosaic from the church of St. Vitale in Ravenna depicts this pericope and the sacrifice of Isaac as a foreshadowing of the Eucharist.  On the opposite wall, Melchizedek brings out bread and wine (get it?) for Abraham.

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Note the tree by which Abraham stands has new growth grafted into it, symbolic of the relationship of Christianity and Judaism.  Abraham presents the fatted calf (too small from my point of view).  The three, Trinitarian guests have three Eucharistic hosts before them.  On the right Abraham sacrifices Isaac, with the ram (lamb of God) looking on.  Note the hand of God that reaches out from the sky to stop Abraham.  Note the pious posture of Isaac, who here is truly a Christ figure.

The psalm for the day is Psalm 15 or

Psalm 52 (semi-continuous)

10th Sunday after Pentecost

Gen 18:20-32

bulletThis lesson continues the one from last Sunday.  As the guests leave Abraham and Sarah's house, Yahweh decides to tell Abraham of his plans to destroy the wicked Sodom and Gomorrah.
bulletThe original reading in v 22 was:  And Yahweh was standing before Abraham.  Since "to stand before" can mean to worship, the ancient scribes changed the text to have Abraham stand before Yahweh.  In any case, Abraham and Yahweh are left alone so that their awesome dialogue can continue.  
bulletThe next verses record the moving petition of Abraham.  He argues, even bargains with God.  Since Yahweh is the judge of all the earth, is he not required to practice justice?  Ironically, Abraham is chosen in v 19 so that all his descendants will do justice and righteousness.
bulletSo the bargaining goes on--Yahweh will not punish the wicked if there are 50--45--40--30--20--10!  Note the divine patience in matters of judgment.  Terence Fretheim has written:  "The righteousness of a few can so permeate a wicked society that they can save it from the destructive effects of its own evil ways."  But there comes a time when God cannot avoid judgment and still be just.
bulletHow many righteous in fact were there?  Ms Lot?  Oh, she looked back and became a pillar of salt.  Lot and his two daughters?  But they participated in drunken, incestuous sex and brought forth two illegitimate children (19:30-38).

Hosea 1:2-10 (semi-continuous)

The psalm for the day is Psalm 138 or

Psalm 85 (semi-continuous)

11th Sunday after Pentecost

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23

bulletBoth Ecclesiastes and Job are reactions to, even criticisms of, Wisdom theology and literature.  Wisdom affirms the doctrine of retribution (good deeds merit rewards; bad behavior leads to punishment), the presence of "order" at the center of the universe, and the doctrine of creation.  Wisdom has an optimistic assessment of human nature and says little or nothing about salvation history.  The date of Ecclesiastes is debated although generally ascribed to post-exilic times (3rd century?).  No one in contemporary critical scholarship ascribes it to Solomon.
bullet"Vanity of vanities" is a motif with which the book begins and ends (12:8).   Most scholars believe the last six verses of the book are supplementary or secondary.
bulletThe word "teacher" in v 12 is a translation of the Hebrew word Qoheleth (Qal participle fem singular).  Some would translate the word as "preacher" or "one who teaches in the assembly."  The teacher claims to be King Solomon.
bulletWhile the theology of the book is pessimistic, sometimes cynical, almost fatalistic, the one thing that Teacher does not advocate is suicide. 
bulletReaders of the book will find in it many familiar quotations that you had forgotten came from this book!  See 9:11:  the race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong.
bulletIn 2:18-23 the writer considers the vanity of accumulating possessions since we do not know whether our heirs will use their inheritance wisely or foolishly.  What is the outcome of our life?  What is its meaning?
bulletThe last verse has been my bane:  think about a problem late at night before you go to bed and you will probably think about it all night as you lie awake with insomnia.
bulletThere are a number of interesting bridges one can draw from this text to the Gospel, with its message about the man who built a bigger barn for himself, but was not rich towards God (Luke 12:13-21).

Hosea 11:1-11 (semi-continuous)

The psalm for the day is Psalm 49:1-12 or

Psalm 107:1-9, 43

12th Sunday after Pentecost

Genesis 15:1-6

bulletAbram and Sarai were having difficulty in having a child and in their desperation sought to adopt their slave Eliezer as their heir.  Adoption was generally NOT practiced in ancient Israel.  (In the next chapter, they conceive a child via Hagar, clearly not believing that God would effect the promise in gives in v 5 of this chapter).
bulletAs the NRSV notes, the Hebrew of v 2 is very difficult.  Verse 3, however, is clear and verse 2 seems to say much the same thing.
bulletVerse 5 ups the ante.  If Abram and Sarai were having trouble believing they would have a son, God made the promise even more grandiose:  they would have as many children as there are stars.
bulletThe NRSV makes verse 6 almost too clear.  The Hebrew states:  Abram believed in Yahweh; aye, he reckoned it to him as righteousness.  What are the antecedents of "he" and "him."  "Righteousness" in the Bible means fidelity to the terms of a relationship.  So the verse might mean either:  Abram believed in Yahweh, and God considered such belief as meeting the requirements of the divine human relationship.  Or it could mean:  Abram believed in Yahweh, aye, he considered Yahweh's reaffirmation of the promise as meeting the requirements of the divine human relationship. 
bulletPreachers might want to explore the ambiguity of verse six since both interpretations are things we should be proclaiming!

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 (semi-continuous)

The psalm for the day is Psalm 33:12-22

or Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23 (semi-continuous)

13th Sunday after Pentecost

Jer 23:23-29

bulletJeremiah regarded dreams as subjective experiences that had nothing to do with God's word.  We probably don't talk about true and false prophets today, but how do we know what's true among the plethora of theologies with which we are confronted?  How can people judge whether the assertions from our pulpits are truly God's will?
bulletThe OT gives a number of criteria for distinguishing between true and false prophecy.  If a prophet predicts something and it does not happen, that prophet is false.  The trouble is, one often has to decide right now what is true and can't afford to wait ten years until history proves or disproves the prophet's point.  Some things the canonical prophets said (Second Isaiah comes to mind) have not proven true--or at least not yet.
bulletThose prophets are false if they ask you to go after other gods (Deut 13:1-5; 18:20).  This is true enough, but most false prophets/theologians are more subtle than that.  Theologians who promise that prayer will make you rich may say all sorts of nice things about Jesus, his death and resurrection.  They are false, nonetheless.  No heretic really ever said "Jesus be cursed."
bulletIn Jer 23:22, Jeremiah says that the true prophets have stood in God's council--they have really heard God's plan.  Deuteronomy says that false prophets are not sent by God (18:20).  Both of these seem valid points, but how does one know whether a prophet has "stood in God's council" ?  How does one know that God has not sent a particular prophet?  
bulletMicah says that the false prophets are those who preach "peace." (Micah 3:5).  By this he means those prophets who say that everything will be ok and there is no need for repentance.  Concealed in this verse is the best criterion:  That theologian/prophet is true whose message confirms to what we know to be the central message of the gospel:  God's unmerited love is given to people to transform and change them into new creations.
bulletVerses 23-24 say that God has both immanence and transcendence.  God is not some local deity unaware of the doings of God's people.
bulletThose who base their prophecies on dreams are judged to be liars since they can make up what they supposedly experienced through dreams.  While they prophesy in God's name, they are actually trying to get people to forget God's name.  True prophecy is compared to wheat; false prophecy to chaff.
bulletThe metaphors of fire and hammer in v 29 express the powerful character of God's word.

Isaiah 61:7-11

Isaiah 5:1-7 (semi-continous)

The psalm for the day is Psalm 82

Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19 (semi-continuous)

14th Sunday after Pentecost

Isa 58:9b-14

bulletThird Isaiah (Isaiah 56-66) was addressed to Israel after it had returned from the Babylonian exile.  After the return, there was disappointment about what had actually taken place and much internal division in the community.
bulletThis poem was written before the reconstruction of the city walls by Nehemiah in 445 and possibly before the rebuilding of the temple in 515 (v 12)
bulletVerse 9b refers to social oppression (yoke) and legal accusations (pointing of the finger).  Social justice (v 10) will result in God's blessings.  See also the words about fasting in vv 6-7.  The best kind of "fasting" is freeing the captives and giving bread to the hungry.  In short, the prophet promises that disappointment over current living conditions will be done away when people live like true children of God for then God will satisfy all their needs.
bulletVerse 13 refers to violations of the sabbath day.  While Christians generally do not observe the sabbath, we might find analogies to these violations in the pursuit of wealth and success at all costs, regardless of the harm done to other people or one's own family or to one's faith through such idolatry
bulletTaking delight in God's presence (v 14) will result in vindication for God's people.  One needs to guard against promising material prosperity for those who are faithful.

Jeremiah 1:4-10 (semi-continuous)

The psalm for the day is Psalm 103:1-8

Psalm 71:1-6 (semi-continuous)

15th Sunday after Pentecost

Proverbs 25:6-7

bulletThe selection of this reading clearly had the gospel for the day in mind:  Luke 14:1, 7-14, Jesus' criticism of those who chose the chief seats for themselves.
bulletA recent commentator wrote about vv 2-10:  The restraints that Proverbs here puts on social climbing through devious means and on unwarranted litigation speak a word of caution to our litigious and contentious culture.
bulletThis is generally thought to be a prohibition that admonishes young aspiring scribes to wait on the king's summons to come into his presence. 

Jeremiah 2:4-13 (semi-continuous)

The psalm for the day is Psalm 112

Psalm 81:1, 10-16 (semi-continuous)

16th Sunday after Pentecost

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

bulletThe Deuteronomist sets before the reader stark alternatives between life and prosperity on the one hand, and death and adversity on the other.  The writer makes an earnest appeal to choose life.  While the implied author is Moses, the Deuteronomist is addressing a much later audience and setting before them real alternatives.
bulletDeuteronomy holds to the doctrine of retribution: a good life leads to prosperity (v 16); a disobedient life leads to God's judgment (vv 17-18).  
bulletObedience is set forth in characteristic deuteronomic clichés: loving Yahweh, obeying him, holding fast to him.
bulletIf this advice is heeded, it will lead to long life in the land.  The promise to Israel's ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is made conditional on Israel's obedience
bulletA similar choice between the way of righteousness and wickedness is set forth in the Psalm for the day.
bulletIn the gospel, Luke 14:25-33, Jesus' definition of obedience is clear and radical:  None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions!

Jeremiah 18:1-11 (semi-continuous)

The Psalm for the day is Psalm 1.

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 (semi-continuous)

17th Sunday after Pentecost

Exod 32:7-14

bulletThe lesson for this Sunday is from the middle of the Golden Calf incident.  While Moses was away on the mountain, the people asked Aaron to make gods for them.  Aaron ordered the people to turn in their ear rings and cast the resultant gold into an image.  He then make an "Exodus" proclamation about the calf:  "These are your gods...who brought you out of the land of Egypt."  On the next day, the people celebrated a festival (vv 1-6).
bulletThere are a number of intriguing aspects to this story:  1.  Aaron, the brother of Moses, and later high priest is involved; 2. the relationship of the Golden Calf to the Exodus; 3. the fact that Jeroboam I used this iconography at his break-away sanctuaries at Bethel and Dan.  Some scholars speculate that there might once have been a more positive story about Aaron's creation of this calf.  In any case, the present pericope is colored by the polemic against the cultic system of Jeroboam I.
bulletIn the lesson for this week itself, Yahweh commands Moses to return to the camp and to the Israelites who have been acting perversely.  Yahweh also quotes the Exodus confession which the people had used about the calf (v 8).
bulletIn v 7 Yahweh acts as if the Exodus were the idea of Moses:  the people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt.  In v 10 Yahweh threatens to destroy the nation and make of Moses a new nation.
bulletVerses 11-13 recount a beautiful intercessory prayer of Moses.  He reminds Yahweh of the paradoxical tension between divine wrath and divine grace.  Yahweh brought out from Egypt the people whom he now wants to punish.   He appeals to God's own reputation.  Why should he allow Egypt the opportunity to slur Yahweh by claiming that Yahweh only brought them out in order to punish them.  He prays for Yahweh to change his mind!
bulletIn v 13 Moses reminds Yahweh of the promises of descendants and land he had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.   As a result, Yahweh did change his mind and did not carry out the judgment he had contemplated.
bulletPsalm 51 (below) is David's response to his sin with Bathsheba, and the gospel for the day, Luke 15:1-10 (lost sheep and lost coin) speaks of the great joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.  Moses' intercession and Yahweh's resultant mercy fits in well with these other readings.

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28

The psalm for the day is Psalm 51:1-10

Psalm 14 (semi-continuous)

18th Sunday after Pentecost

Amos 8:4-7

bulletThis is one of the strong indictments of those who oppress the poor in the book of Amos.  People can hardly wait for the sacred holidays (the monthly new moon festival) and Sabbath to be over so that they can get back to cut throat business dealing.  So the indictment is double:  false business practices and disdain for religious obligations. They say: God deserves one day a week and no more!
bulletMaking the ephah small means the merchants cheated on the amount of goods they gave the customer; making the shekel large means they put a heavy weight in the balance when the customer put her or his money on the scale.  Even the scales themselves were rigged.
bulletThe crooked business people also traded in human commodities.  They bought  impoverished people as slaves for a piddling payment.  They bragged that they sold the chaff of the wheat.
bulletAn oath introduces the forthcoming punishment in v 7.  God promises never to forget any of their actions.
bulletIronically, God swears by the very attribute of the people he has condemned--the pride of Jacob, pride so richly illustrated in the previous verses.  In Am 6:8 God says:  "I abhor the pride of Jacob." Alternately, "pride of Jacob" may be a divine title. In 4:2 and 6:8 Yahweh swears by himself. He also may be swearing by himself here. God promises never to forget their evil deeds. Compare this with Jer 31:34 I will remember their sin no more!!
bulletPreachers need to figure out whether and how this pericope applies to the people in the audience.  Condemning unnamed "crooked merchants" may offer the audience an easy escape.  How about comparing the 350 or so billion we spend on Defense to the piddling amounts we dole out via welfare?  or to our educational systems?  Is this not the rich cheating the poor as well?
bulletThe gospel is Luke 16:1-13, the story of the crooked bookkeeper, who cancelled his master's debts in order to feather his own nest.  "The children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light."  You cannot serve God and wealth!

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1 (semi-continuous)

The Psalm for the day is Psalm 113.

Psalm 79:1-9 (semi-continuous)

19th Sunday after Pentecost

Amos 6:1a, 4-7

bulletThe readings from Amos continue with the prophet's blistering critique of the rich.  In v 1 he castigates the indolent wealthy of both capital cities, Zion/Jerusalem and Samaria. The word "alas" indicates that Amos is grieving over the people he is criticizing. Amos was primarily a prophet to North Israel so that the reference to Zion/Jerusalem is rare in his book.
bulletIn v 4 he criticizes those who lie on wooden beds with inlaid ivory, and who eat abundant meat.  While we in North America eat much, probably too much, meat, meat-eating in antiquity was relatively rare.  The rich eat calves fattened with grain in their stalls.
bulletVerse 5 talks about the rich people's vapid use of music.  The text here is somewhat uncertain.  Why should this shallow use of music be compared to David's use of musical instruments?  The commentaries are full of suggestions for changing the text.  Shalom Paul says Amos is heaping scorn upon the reputed musical accomplishments of those who would compare themselves with David the "sweet singer of Israel."
bulletThe rich, according to v 6, drink wine by the bowl-full and anoint themselves with the most precious oils.  Much of the activities in vv 4-6 might be considered ancient mourning rites, but the same people who seem to participate so grandly in such rites are not grieved over the ruin of "Joseph" = the sins of the Northern Kingdom. They just don't care.
bulletThese elite, first-class citizens will also be the first to go into exile.  The word translated "revelry" may refer to an ancient luxury club, the marzeah, which observed death by conspicuous consumption of food and alcohol.  
bulletThe gospel for the day, Luke 16:19-31, tells of the rich man who ate lavishly every day, and poor Lazarus who longed to eat what fell from the rich man's table.   This arrogant rich man suffers torment in Hades after his death. 

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 (semi-continuous)

The psalm for the day is Psalm 146

Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16 (semi-continuous)

20th Sunday after Pentecost

Hab 1:1-4; 2:1-4

bulletThe words of Habakkuk can be dated between about 625 BCE and 590 BCE.  While he seems to be protesting against the injustices of a king like Jehoiakim, he also struggles with the fact that the Babylonian enemy that delivers God's judgment also deserves that judgment itself (1:15-17).  God has made his people like the fish of the sea, without a ruler (v 14).
bullet1:1-4 is a lament, in which the prophet complains that God does not answer his prayer and injustice is allowed to prevail.  The wicked seem to be winning.
bulletIn 2:1 the prophet promises to be on alert to see how God will respond to his complaint.  We are not told how long the prophet had to wait.
bulletJ. J. M. Roberts explains v 2 as follows:  "Behind the surface meaning, 'Write the vision legibly on the tablets so that the one reading from it can read quickly,' lies the deeper meaning, 'Write the vision on the tablets and make its import plain so that the one reading can take refuge in it.'"
bulletOne purpose of writing down the message was to leave those unprepared to hear the message without excuse.  But the written word would also reassure and guide those who in fact believed.
bulletAccording to v 4, the righteous individual will find in the reliability or trustworthiness of the vision the strength to go on living.  God's vision and ultimately God's self are reliable and faithful.  The appropriate human response to the trustworthiness of the vision is to believe it and live in a way that reflects that faith.  Cf. Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:38.  Life is to be found by trusting in God's promises rather than by earning it through one's own meritorious deeds.  The righteous will live, that is, they will endure and engage the necessities of the present with the patience and joy that only the certainty of the coming end could give.  The righteous person trusts in the reliability of God's promise in the vision and therefore is free to live in the present, no matter how unjust or oppressive it may be.

Much of the above is taken, with modifications, from the commentary on Habakkuk in the Old Testament Library by J. J. M. Roberts.

Lamentations 1:1-6

The psalm for the day is Psalm 37:1-9

Lamentations 3:19-26 (semi-continuous)

Psalm 137 (semi-continuous)

21st Sunday after Pentecost

2 Kgs 5:1-3, 7-15c

bulletThis OT lesson deals with the healing of Naaman, a commander of the army of Aram or Syria.  He suffered from leprosy, which is not the disease known by that name in modern times, but a skin disease akin to psoriasis.  A female prisoner of war, servant to Naaman's wife, bore witness that the prophet Elisha could cure Naaman.
bulletVerses 4-6 are omitted from the pericope.  Naaman contacts the king of Aram, who sends a letter to the king of Israel, asking him to cure Naaman of his "leprosy."
bullet The king panics when he hears of this request, but Elisha offers to demonstrate his prophetic powers by curing Naaman. 
bulletElisha does not even bother to meet with Naaman, but suggests that he bathe in the Jordan river seven times.  Naaman takes umbrage at this suggestion and at Elisha's failure to meet with him.  He considers the rivers of Aram superior to the Jordan river in any case.
bulletNaaman's servants persuade him that if Elisha had demanded something difficult, Naaman would have done it.  Since he only requested Naaman to bathe he should follow the prophet's suggestion.
bulletWhen Naaman washed himself in the Jordan river, his skin was fully restored.  He returned to Elisha and acknowledged the God of Israel as the only God.  Thus he offers thanks and testimony to God, just like the Samaritan leper who is cleansed in the gospel lesson for the day. 
bulletThe pericope omits Naaman's offer to pay a bribe, Elisha's rejection of that bribe, and his servant Gehazi's decision to accept that bribe out of greed.  As punishment, Gehazi becomes leprous.
bulletThe gospel for the day is the story of the ten lepers, Luke 17:11-19

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 (semi-continuous)

The psalm for the day is Psalm 111.

Psalm 66:1-12 (semi-continuous)

 

22nd Sunday after Pentecost

Gen 32:22-31

bulletI invite you to read an article I have written, comparing the experience of God in this pericope, Genesis 28 (Jacob's ladder), and Genesis 33 (Jacob's reunion with Esau).  This might give you a hint for a whole sermon!  See Celebrating and Sharing the Gift.  Reflections on Jacob, Israel's Ancestor.
bulletWith whom did Jacob wrestle?  Traditionally, it is thought to be with an angel, but no angel is mentioned in this account.  This interpretation is as old as Hos 12:4.  The text says it was a "man" or God.  In the present, final form of the text, the opponent is God.  Since this opponent fights unfairly (throwing Jacob's hip out of joint) and has to leave at daybreak, some commentators have speculated that the opponent was originally an evil spirit or demon, guarding the river crossing.  However that may be, the present text suggests that Jacob wrestled with God himself, however implausible that seems.  Some have spiritualized the text by arguing that Jacob wrestled in prayer or with his conscience.
bulletIn vv 22-24 we learn that Jacob sent his two wives, two concubines, and his eleven children to the other side of the river so that there were no eyewitnesses to this event, except Jacob himself.
bulletJacob refuses to let his opponent go without giving him a blessing (v 26).  The blessing given, as Jacob enters the land, is that his name is changed from Jacob to Israel.   The explanation of the name in v 28 builds on one possible meaning of the verbal root in "Israel."  (Actually scholars are quite unclear about the etymology of Israel).  Jacob has wrestled with God (here) and with men (Jacob) and has won!
bulletThe opponent refuses to disclose his own name--thus retaining the distance between humans and God in v 29.
bulletJacob names the place Peniel (v 30) or Penuel (v 31), a name that means "face of God" in Hebrew.  This is appropriate since here Jacob saw God face to face.
bulletVerse 32 explains that as a result of this incident, where Jacob's hip was thrown out of joint,  Israelites do not eat the sciatic nerve of animals.  This food law is not attested elsewhere in the Old Testament.

Jeremiah 31:27-34 (semi-continuous)

The psalm for the day is Psalm 121

Psalm 119:97-104

23rd Sunday after Pentecost

Jer 14:7-10, 19-22

bulletVerses 1-6 provide a graphic description of the drought that has afflicted Judah.
bulletThe people acknowledge their iniquities in vv 7-9.  Yahweh is identified as the hope of Israel and its savior in time of trouble.  God should not act like a stranger, traveler, a confused person, or a mighty warrior who cannot help. Rather, he should act for his own name's sake--he ought to live up to his reputation.
bulletVerse 9 affirms two things about Yahweh:  he is in the people's midst and they are called by Yahweh's name.  Their petition:  do not forsake us!
bulletAnother lament is included in vv 19-22.  The people again acknowledge their wickedness and that of their ancestors, and they ask Yahweh whether he has completely rejected them.  Note the directness of their confrontation with God. If you can't tell God your troubles, whom can you tell.
bulletIn v 21 they ask God to remember and not break God's covenant with them.  Per contra:  Jer 31:31-34, which speaks of a new covenant.
bulletVerse 22 denies the power of idols;  the people set their hope on Yahweh (cf vv 7-9).

Joel 2:23-32 (semi-continuous)

Sirach 35:12-17

The psalm for the day is Psalm 84:1-7

Psalm 65 (semi-continuous).

Reformation Sunday

Jeremiah 31:31-34

bulletNote that the new (or renewed) covenant promised by Jeremiah is with both Israel and Judah.  Even in the Old Testament there is a constant goal for the unity of the whole people of God.
bulletThe new covenant will be different in that it will not be broken.  The old covenant had been broken even though God was their husband, even their "baal," who gave them everything a person could want.
bulletThe new covenant will be written on the heart--that is, observance of the covenant is not an option, but all people will be expected to serve God.  The last part of v 33 is called the "Covenant Formula":  I will be their God and they shall be my people.
bulletEveryone will know Yahweh.  Jer 22:16 states that Josiah judged the cause of the poor and the needy.  Is not this what it means to know Yahweh.  Hence social justice is an intrinsic part of the new covenant.
bulletThe old covenant had the doctrine of retribution built in.  Guilt was necessarily followed by punishment.  How then can God make a new covenant if the old covenant should bring a curse.  Answer:  I will forgive their iniquity and not remember their sin any more.  In other words, our only hope lies in God's forgetfulness.

The Psalm for the day is Psalm 46.

24th Sunday after Pentecost

Isaiah 1:10-18

bulletThe prophets frequently contain polemical passages that criticize sacrificial worship (Hosea  4:6; Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:6-8).  Most scholars understand these passages today, not as a categorical rejection of worship, but a rejection of that kind of worship that substitutes ritual for obedience and transformation.  Temple personnel could easily profit by grabbing a steak off the sacrificial fire.
bulletSodom and Gomorrah had come to represent egregious social disorder and injustice though not homosexuality. 
bulletEven (empty) prayers come under prophetic indictment (v 15).
bulletVerse 17 recites a characteristic list of moral behavior:  seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.  Orphans and widows are code words for the poorest and most dependent people in society.  Widows often bear tremendous financial burdens also in our society, but orphans have ceased to be a major concern.  Who in your community is a counterpart to widows and orphans?  The homeless?  Racial and ethnic minorities?  Other?
bulletVerse 18 describes in graphic detail what divine forgiveness means.  It is similar to a change from scarlet or crimson dye to white snow or white wool.  In v 15 the prophet says their hands were stained with red blood, which they needed to wash off (v 16).  Israel can still enjoy the gifts of the land if it is obedient to the way of life prescribed by God.

The psalm for the day is Psalm 32:1-8

All Saints Sunday

Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18

bulletThe vision in this chapter was written at the time when Antiochus IV was harassing the Jews (167-164 B.C.E.). It describes a sequence of kingdoms in vv. 4-8, namely, those of Babylon, the Medes, the Persians, and the empire of Alexander the Great. The little horn in v. 8 is Antiochus IV. He was a Seleucid king, and the Seleucids had defeated the Ptolemies from Egypt who were the immediate successors of Alexander the Great.
bulletPart II of the vision, vv. 9-14, describes a courtroom scene, in which God (the Ancient One) is surrounded by millions of heavenly beings. The beast (the Greek empire) was put to death by the authority of this court  (v. 11). Then one like a human being (son of man; possibly the archangel Michael) came into the courtroom and was given dominion, glory, and kingship, and his is told that all nations will serve him (v. 14).
bulletThe vision is interpreted to Daniel by an attendant of the heavenly court in vv. 15-27. The holy ones of the Most High (v. 18) are the angelic representatives of Israel who are presented by the human being/Michael. The other horn (v. 20) is Antiochus who was winning over Israel (the angelic holy ones and their earthly counterparts) until the Ancient One, God, intervened (v. 22). Verse 25 mentions Antiochus IV's attempts to change the sacred seasons and the law. That is, he banned the observance of the Sabbath and other Jewish festivals. Verses 26-27 state that the heavenly court took dominion away from Antiochus and gave it to "the people of the holy ones of the Most High." The holy ones are angelic representatives who argue Israel's case before God; the people are Israel or the Jews; and the Most High is God.
bulletVerse 28 states that Daniel was stunned by this message and decided to keep quiet about it. This is an attempt to explain why the message of Daniel, who lived in the sixth century, did not reveal his message until the second century. We now know, of course, that this part of the book of Daniel was written in the second century, during the Antiochan crisis.
bulletThe Old Testament reading selects bits and pieces from this grand vision. Verses 1-3 tell us that Daniel had a vision while he was sleeping in bed. The four winds of heaven stirred up the great sea (the mythological place of chaos and trouble). Four beats came up out of that troublesome sea.
bulletVerses 15-18 are the first part of the interpretation of the vision discussed above. God's people, the holy one of the Most High will receive the kingdom and possess it forever and ever. Presumably this suggests that Christian saints will rule (with Christ) forever.

The psalm for the day is Psalm 149.

25th Sunday after Pentecost

Job 19:23-27a

bulletThis text from Job was probably chosen because of the gospel lesson for today that deals with Jesus' controversy with the Sadducees about the resurrection.  The Sadducees were the conservatives of their day, accepting only what was found in the Pentateuch, where there is no reference to resurrection.  Jesus counters that by noting that Moses referred to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the burning bush.  Since God is a God of the living and not the dead, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob must be still alive.  It is generally agreed today that the only clear references to resurrection in the OT are Isa 26:19 and Dan 12:1-3.
bulletIn Job 19, Job wishes that his words would be written in a book or etched in stone as a witness to future generations (vv 23-24).
bulletVerses 25-27a are a very difficult text.  Traditionally understood as a reference to resurrection ("I know that my redeemer lives..."), it is actually quite unlikely that this is the case.
bulletIn Job 9:33 Job laments that there is no umpire who might put his hands on God and Job so that their differences could be reconciled.  In 16:19 Job expresses his confidence that he has a witness in heaven, one to vouch for him on high.  In the OT God is often portrayed as surrounding by a divine council of heavenly beings, in which there was an "accuser" (Satan) and one who defended God's people (sometimes identified as Michael). 
bulletI believe that 19:25-27a is to be understood against this background.  A "redeemer" is the one who stands up for the rights of family members, the best brother or sister imaginable (Lev 25:25, 28; Ruth 4:4-6; Jer 32:6-7; Num 5:8; Deut 19:6-12; 2 Sam 14:11).  Job confesses that he has such an advocate, perhaps the defender in the divine council, who will defend his interests against God, and that before Job dies--"in my flesh"--he will see God standing on his side, defending him.  Others see two scenes here:  a post mortem vindication in v 26a (but such post mortem vindication does not imply that Job would be alive to experience it) and a wish expressed in 26b-27a that he would experience such a vindication while he is still alive, that is, before he dies. 

The psalm for the day is Psalm 17:1-9

 

26th Sunday after Pentecost

Mal 4:1-2a

bulletThis brief Old Testament lesson announces the coming of the day of the Lord (cf. Zechariah 12-14; Joel 2-3).  That day will bring judgment on the arrogant and the evildores. 
bulletThe opposite fate awaits those who revere the name of Yahweh.  For them "the sun of righteous" (=God as a winged sun disk as at top of drawing below)  will rise with healing in its wings (cf. Num 6:26; Pss 4:6; 31:16; 34:5; 84:11).  This answers the question posed earlier in the book:  "Where is the God of justice" (2:17).

bulletThe precise date of the book cannot be determined.  Almost all scholars locate it somewhere in the Persian period (539-332 BCE).
bulletThe lectionary (understandably) omits v 3 with its imagery of the righteous treading down the wicked who are ashes under the soles of their feet.  But why v 2b?  Can you not imagine your congregation like calves leaping from the stall? 

The psalm for the day is Psalm 98.

Christ the King--Last Sunday after Pentecost

Jer 23:1-6

bulletThe prophet condemns the shepherds (kings) who destroy and scatter the sheep (the people).  Because they have scattered the sheep, driven them away, and not "attended" to them, Yahweh will "attend" to (punish) them.
bulletIn v 3 God promises to bring back from exile the remnant of Israel whom God himself has driven away.  So while the sins of the kings brought the people into exile, God himself carried out that sentence.  Note the word driven is used of the kings and of God in vv 2-3.
bulletIn bringing the people back from exile, God reverses his judgment.  Cf. 31:28:  "As I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, to destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant."
bulletThe returning exiles will be fruitful and multiply, echoing the command/promise to humanity in Genesis 1, also addressed to Israel in exile.
bulletGod also promises to restore kings (shepherds) to Israel (v 4).
bulletVerses 5-6 are a messianic promise.  The king's new name "Yahweh is the source of our vindication" reads in Hebrew yhwh sidqenu.  This king can be seen as the direct opposite of Jeremiah's contemporary Zedekiah, written in Hebrew as sidqiyahu.  "Yahweh is the source of our vindication" is "Zedekiah" written backwards!  The messiah's name points to the real source of hope:  Yahweh is the source of our vindication.
bulletThis king will be a real king and rule wisely.  Zedekiah was a puppet king installed by the Babylonians, who constantly acted stupidly in Jeremiah's opinion.  The messiah will practice justice and righteousness--contrast Jehoiakim (Jer 22:13-17).
bulletJudah and Israel will be safe in his days, unlike their fate in the time of Zedekiah.

The psalm for the day is Psalm 46.