20th Sunday after Pentecost Lectionary 29

Isaiah 53:4-12

bulletThis selection from the 4th Servant Poem in Second Isaiah matches nicely the gospel from Mark 10:35-45, which says that whoever wishes to be great must be a servant.
bulletIn its original context, the servant poem was meant to spell out the vocation of Israel as servant.  Despite its suffering, it trusted God and would be ultimately vindicated.  Many scholars believe that the prophet's own life illustrated this vocation as servant.
bulletThe nations of the world are the "we" in this passage.  The servant's/Israel's suffering was on their behalf.  Though they considered Israel as chastised by God, they recognized the substitutionary role that Israel has played.  In vv. 4-6 the nations confess their own guilt.
bulletThe servant himself is steadfast in faith.  Though oppressed and afflicted, he never complained.  Unjustly punished, the servant experiences an apparently dishonorable death.  His grave was with the wicked though he had done no violence.
bulletBeginning with v. 10, the poem talks about the servant's final vindication:  he will see future generations, he shall see light.  By his faithful, unjust suffering, he makes many righteous.
bulletThe "I" in v. 12 is God.  The servant experienced a cruel death, but in his suffering he bore the sins of others and prayed for his persecutors.  The vindication of the servant will be glorious.  God promises to the servant a great reward.
bulletEarly Christians saw in the career of the servant a picture that made sense and gave meaning to the crucifixion of Jesus.  They saw Jesus as THE servant, whose suffering, death, and resurrection makes it possible for us, like ancient Israel, to be God's servants in the world.

The psalm for the day is Psalm 91:9-16

21st Sunday after Pentecost Lectionary 30

Jeremiah 31:7-9

bulletJeremiah 30-31 is called the Book of Consolation and has a number of hope oracles (including the promise of a new covenant in Jer 31:31-34).  Not all of these oracles come from the historical Jeremiah himself.
bulletThe passage just before our pericope is addressed to the former Northern Kingdom.  Verses 7-9 can be classified as an oracle of salvation for the refugees from that kingdom.
bulletVerse 7 combines celebratory cheers with a petition for Yahweh to save the remnant of Israel.  Jacob/Israel is hailed as the chief of the nations.
bulletGod's preferential option for the disadvantaged is spelled out in v. 8.  This includes the blind and the lame, and also those with children or in the last stages of pregnancy.  Have the exiles been fruitful and have they multiplied?  They came from a "northern" exile.
bulletThe weeping returnees are consoled by God.  Like a good shepherd, God leads them by brooks of water and keeps their feet from stumbling.
bulletGod owns them as divine parent and gives Israel/Ephraim the double portion of a firstborn child. 

The psalm for the day is Psalm 126

Reformation Sunday

Jeremiah 31:31-34

bulletThis text promises a new or renewed covenant (testament) between Yahweh and Israel.  I say "renewed" because this covenant is only a revised version of the old covenant at Sinai.  I also want to avoid the implication that the people of the "new covenant or testament" have a different religion from the people and God of the Old Testament.  Note that this covenant is with the whole people--the house of Israel and the house of Judah.
bullet The difference between the two covenants is that the people frustrated or broke the older covenant made with them after the Exodus.   Under God's new deal that will be impossible.  The people broke the covenant even though God was their "husband."  The Hebrew could also be translated "even though God was their Baal."  In the latter understanding, God had given the people every thing and material blessing that they could have imagined, and still the people frustrated the covenant.
bulletThe "law" inscribed on the hearts does not refer to some kind of natural ethics.  Rather, Jeremiah is making the point that obedience or discipleship will be so inherent in this relationship that an inclination to obey God would seem to be engraved right on human hearts.  This same inherent understanding of obedience or transformation explains why religious education will become superfluous.  Ethical transformation will not be elective.
bulletOn what basis can God make such a new covenant since the people's breach of the Sinai covenant would put the people under its curse?  In a beautiful anthropomorphism Jeremiah promises that God will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.  The only hope is to have a God for forgets!

The psalm for the day is Psalm 46

 

22nd Sunday after Pentecost Lectionary 31

Deuteronomy 6:1-9

bulletIn Deuteronomy Moses gives farewell addresses in which he instructs Israel on their appropriate behavior within the land.  The general consensus in modern scholarship is that these addresses were actually composed in the seventh century BCE and were first made known as part of the Josianic reform.
bulletMoses promises long life in the land to those who keep these commandments, statutes, and ordinances, this preached law. 
bulletVerse 4 is known in Judaism as the Shema and comes close to being the creed of Judaism:  Hear, O Israel, Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone!  (Jews, of course, substitute the word Lord for Yahweh).  This is their testimony to monotheism and their allegiance to what we call the first commandment.  (That is the second commandment in Judaism, with the first being Exod 20:2).
bulletThe Shema is followed by the exhortation to love Yahweh with heart, soul, and might.  This language has become so well known to us that we forget that it first appears as late as Deuteronomy.
bulletMoses goes on to urge passing this faith on to the next generation and meditating upon it at all times.  These words are also to be bound on one's forehead and affixed to doorposts (mezuzah).
bulletThe Gospel in Mark 12:28-34 finds Jesus citing the Shema!   Jesus joins to it another admonition from Lev 19:18:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  A scribe who had asked Jesus about the greatest of the commandments congratulates Jesus for identifying the most important commandments and adds that these commandments are more important than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices.  Jesus commented enigmatically:  You are not far from the kingdom of God.

The psalm for the day is Psalm 119:1-8.

23rd Sunday after Pentecost Lectionary 32

1 Kings 17:8-16

bulletElijah had called for a drought because of the sins of Ahab, and had been preserved by the river Cherith, where ravens brought him bread to eat.
bulletNext God sends him to Zarephath on the Phoenician coast where God had commanded a widow to feed him.  Widows in the Bible are practically synonymous with the word poor.  Elijah first asked her for water, but then ups the ante by asking for bread as well.  The widow answered that she only had a tad of flour left and a little bit of olive oil.  She had been gathering wood so that she could bake a last little meal for her son and herself. 
bulletElijah tells her to follow through on her plan, but first bring him some food and then make a meal for her family.  He adds the further promise that her flour and oil will not run out until Yahweh would break the drought he had imposed.
bulletAll happened according to this promise:  The flour and the oil never ran out, just as God had promised.
bulletThe Gospel from Mark 12:38-44 consists of two paragraphs.  In the first Jesus chastises the scribes for showing piety but then devouring widows' houses.  The other paragraph is about the widow's mite.  Like the widow of Zarephath, this woman was willing to give all she had in response to God's promise.

The psalm for the day is Psalm 146

24th Sunday after Pentecost Lectionary 33

Daniel 12:1-3

bulletThis is the clearest statement in the Old Testament about resurrection.  Daniel was composed in the 160s before the Common Era.
bulletcMichael, the archangel, stands up in the heavenly assembly on behalf of God's people.  Many Jews were dying martyrs deaths at this time because of Syrian persecution.  The passage promises, however, that all those written in God's book of life would be delivered.
bulletVerse 2 promises a double resurrection:  some to everlasting life and some to everlasting contempt.
bulletThe wise ones, those who follow the advice of Daniel, are assured that they will be exalted.  Daniel fights against those who are going along with the Syrians and he also opposes those who want to take up guerrilla tactics.  He urges steadfast trust in God's impending deliverance.  The wise teachers are assured that they will shine like the stars forever and ever.
bulletDaniel, who supposedly received this message in the 6th century, is asked to seal it up for the time being--until its disclosure at the appropriate time in the 2nd century.
bulletThe Gospel, from Mark 13:1-8, is part of an apocalyptic discourse.  Jesus prophesies the destruction of the temple and warns that many false Christs will arise claiming that they themselves are Christ.  Jesus talks of troubling times ahead, designated as the birth pangs of the messianic age.

The psalm for the day is Psalm 16

Christ the King

Dan 7:9-10, 13-14

bulletThe pericope for this day is selections from Daniel's vision.  The verses cited are printed as poetry in the NRSV.
bulletIn v. 9 Daniel sees the Ancient of Days (God) take his seat on a throne.  God has white hair and clothing and the throne is outfitted with fire and wheels (cf. Ezekiel 1).  Verse 10 talks about the numerous heavenly beings that attend him.
bulletIn the omitted verses 11-12, we learn that the horn that was speaking arrogant words was put to death, thus indicating the fate of Antiochus Epiphanes.  The other beasts, that is the four kingdoms outlined in vv. 3-8, are given one last gasp of life.
bulletIn vv. 13-14 a son of man (human being) approaches God.  This may be a reference to the archangel Michael, who represents Israel's interests before God.  To him was given dominion, glory and kingship, and he is told that all nations will serve him.  This reassures Israel that although they are now experiencing oppression and martyrdom, ultimately victory will be theirs.
bulletThese verses contribute aspects to the picture of Jesus as Son of Man in the New Testament and also to depictions of the Last Judgment.

The Psalm for the day is Psalm 93

Thanksgiving Day

Joel 2:21-27

bulletThe preceding pericope, Joel 2:12-17 (plus 2:1-2) is the regular OT lesson for Ash Wednesday.
bulletIn vv. 18-19 Yahweh promises renewed fertility for the land, and in v. 20 he promises to remove the northern enemy.
bulletVerses 21-22 address the personified soil and the wild animals and urge them not to fear.  God is bringing nature to new life.
bulletVerse 23 tells the people of Zion to rejoice for God is sending rain, that will help the threshing floors and the wine vats to be full (v. 24).
bulletThese benefactions will repay Israel for the years they have suffered under a locust plague (v. 25).
bulletPlenteous food should lead to plenteous praise (v. 26).  Both vv. 26 and 27 assure Israel that they will never again be put to shame.

The psalm for the day is Psalm 126