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Month: July 2014

Bible Tuesdays

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, August 3, 2014

Isaiah 55:1-5

Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labour for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
3 Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
4 See, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
5 See, you shall call nations that you do not know,
and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you.

God speaks to the Israelites, and to all people, as Israel is preparing to leave Babylon and return to Judah. According to the Jewish Study Bible, the water and food of verse one are to be understood metaphorically. God invites all who crave guidance and wisdom to come drink the water of Torah and feast on the wisdom of God. The admonition for buying and consuming that which does not satisfy is a reference to Israel following other pursuits and other gods, while ignoring Yahweh and the Torah.

Various rabbis have interpreted verse 3 as a shift in the covenant with David. God promised David that he and his descendants would be on the throne of Israel forever, but during the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities, that promise ended. Here God is shifting that promise from David’s progeny only to all of Israel. “The restored Judean commonwealth will have no one human king, for all its members will have royal status. Thus Deutero-Isaiah transforms the older Davidic covenant by democratizing it.” (Jewish Study Bible)

Verses 4-5 have been understood by Christians as the promise of Israel and Jesus to us, and all people. However, after the first generation of Jewish disciples and the destruction of the Temple in 70AD, Christians have tended to run to the Jewish scriptures, that is, the Old Testament, and leave the Jews behind, even persecuting them generation after generation.

Psalm 145:8-21

The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and rich in love.

9 The Lord is good to all;
he has compassion on all he has made.

14 The Lord upholds all who fall
and lifts up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food at the proper time.
16 You open your hand
and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways
and faithful in all he does.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
he hears their cry and saves them.
20 The Lord watches over all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.

21 My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord.
Let every creature praise his holy name
for ever and ever.

Psalm 145 is an acrostic psalm, meaning that each verse begins with each subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This style of psalmody and poetry was common in ancient literature. To sing God’s praise with every letter of the alphabet is the same as saying “God is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end.” It symbolizes that God’s wonders and glory are found everywhere and that everything in creation praises God.

Romans 9:1-5

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit— 2I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people,* my kindred according to the flesh. 4They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; 5to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah,* who is over all, God blessed for ever.* Amen.

Paul reminds his readers in the church in Rome, and all who ever read this book of Romans, that God’s covenant was first given to Adam and Eve, and then to Abraham and his progeny: Isaac, Jacob, Judah, etc., etc., etc. While we believe that this covenant was fulfilled and culminated in Jesus, God promised it to the Jews, of whom Jesus was one. To be a Christian is to be grafted onto the family tree of Abraham, and the whole Hebrew covenant. To despise Jews or forsake them in any way, is to despise and forsake God’s covenant and our own heritage and family tree.

Matthew 14:13-21

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ 16Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ 17They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ 18And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

While this story happens mid-way through the gospel of Matthew, it is quite early on in Jesus’ ministry. He has just gone home to Capernaum and been disrespected. [“We know you.  We know your parents.  Where do you get off saying things like that
about Yahweh and us?  You little punk!”  Matthew 13:54-57 paraphrased] While Jesus was there, John the Baptist was beheaded by Herod Antipas. Such an event meant that Jesus was in danger, himself. As he had much teaching and preaching to do before his execution, the gospel writers tell us that when Jesus heard of John’s beheading, the realization of how threatened he was became clear and he “withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.” I am sure time for grieving, prayer, and evaluation was also needed. However, I think the term “no rest for the weary” was first coined referring to Jesus, because that is an apt description of his entire ministry.

No sooner does Jesus get out of the boat than he is surrounded by people who desperately need his attention. While Jesus Christ Superstar has a claustrophobic, exasperated Jesus scream, “Heal yourselves!”, the biblical Jesus compassionately resumes right where he left off, healing, loving, teaching, serving.

When the disciples finally catch up with Jesus and the crowds, he gives them a command, “You feed them.” Now, was Jesus being metaphoric, in the same manner as the above Isaiah passage? If he was, the disciples didn’t take it metaphorically. Regardless of how Jesus meant it, the disciples felt inadequate to obey. The disciples scrounged around for what food they could find and hand over to Jesus what little they had. With that, Jesus fed the crowds: five thousand men, plus the women and children.

There were twelve baskets full of leftovers, an amazing fete since we started out with two little perch and five small dinner rolls. But this whole meal is literal and metaphorical. Jesus came to feed the hungry with the bread of life, and to teach the disciples to do the same. There are not just some leftovers. There are twelve baskets of leftovers. How many tribes of Israel? 12 How many disciples? 12 The 12 tribes symbolize the old Israel. The 12 disciples symbolize the new Israel. Those twelves baskets of leftovers are for the Israel yet to come…the non-Israelite Israel.

The gospel of Matthew is particularly focused on the question of “To whom was the Son of God sent?” To his home town? Yes, but they dissed him. To the Jewish authorities? Yes, but they for the most part hated him and helped execute him. To the Jewish peasants? Yes, some of whom became disciples but many misunderstood him. To the non-Jews? Yes, for those who are willing to listen and become disciples. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go make disciples of all nations…”

Bible Tuesday

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, July 13, 2014

Isaiah 55:10-13

10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

12 For you shall go out in joy,
and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial,
for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

The 55th chapter of Isaiah is a famous one, filled with verses we recognize, “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near!” “Ho, all who are thirsty, come for water, even if you have no money; come, buy food and eat!”

Even the above verses are famous, often quoted among Christians discussing evangelism strategies, but we tend to bend them to fit our own purposes. In this section of Isaiah, God is addressing the doubting Israelites. God has prophesied to them through Isaiah that they will be released from captivity in Babylon and will return to their native land unmolested. But the Israelites doubt and grumble. God replies, “But as the heavens are high above the earth, so are my ways high above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.” Immediately after this sentence, the above passage occurs.

I read this very much like a parent/child exchange. A child asks very concrete questions about a very abstract concept which the parent tries to answer and after several salvos and amidst escalating tempers, the parent ends the conversation with a “Because I said so!”

God says to the Israelites that freedom and joy are coming. The Israelites respond with complaining doubt. God answers, “You don’t know enough to doubt. You can’t see enough to even for a moment think you have the whole picture. Trust that when I make a promise, no one can say that my words are empty.

Psalm 65

1 Praise awaits[b] you, our God, in Zion;
to you our vows will be fulfilled.
2 You who answer prayer,
to you all people will come.
3 When we were overwhelmed by sins,
you forgave[c] our transgressions.
4 Blessed are those you choose
and bring near to live in your courts!
We are filled with the good things of your house,
of your holy temple.

5 You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds,
God our Savior,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas,
6 who formed the mountains by your power,
having armed yourself with strength,
7 who stilled the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
and the turmoil of the nations.
8 The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders;
where morning dawns, where evening fades,
you call forth songs of joy.

9 You care for the land and water it;
you enrich it abundantly.
The streams of God are filled with water
to provide the people with grain,
for so you have ordained it.[d] 10 You drench its furrows and level its ridges;
you soften it with showers and bless its crops.
11 You crown the year with your bounty,
and your carts overflow with abundance.
12 The grasslands of the wilderness overflow;
the hills are clothed with gladness.
13 The meadows are covered with flocks
and the valleys are mantled with grain;
they shout for joy and sing.

“The beginning of the psalm celebrates God and the Temple, the place where vows are paid. The psalmist is thankful for the privilege of entering the Temple—coming into God’s presence—in order to pay his vow (present an offering). The payment is made possible by the bounteous harvest that God has provided. The vow may have been to bring a special offering for a good harvest. The body of the psalm praises God for His power over the sources of water and his beneficence in providing water for irrigation. It is possible that the psalm was sung during Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, which marks the end of the summer harvest and the beginning of the rainy season.” The Jewish Study Bible

Romans 8:1-11

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit* of life in Christ Jesus has set you*free from the law of sin and of death. 3For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin,* he condemned sin in the flesh, 4so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.* 5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit* set their minds on the things of the Spirit.* 6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit* is life and peace. 7For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

9 But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit,* since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit* is life because of righteousness. 11If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ* from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through* his Spirit that dwells in you.

In the four gospels we are given Jesus’ words and his teachings. It is Paul, especially in his letter to the church in Rome, that applies those teachings and develops them into doctrines. Heretofore in this book of Romans, Paul has been laying out why humanity is in the self absorbed, self serving, navel gazing that that it is in. Paul talks of natural law, those laws of physics and the sciences, which gives evidence to a supreme creator. However, people ignored the evidence of the supreme creator, and worshipped various aspects of the creation. Paul also discusses the Torah, the Hebrew law as summarized in the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures, which was to be a tutor, until the real teacher arrived. The Torah is also that which points out the level of depravity and self absorption to which humanity has sunk.

In chapter 8 of his letter to the church in Rome, Paul introduces the Law of the Spirit. The nature of the Spirit or breath of God is one of complete selflessness, the absolutely opposite of human nature. By the power of the Holy Spirit and by the nature and work of Jesus, life free of condemnation and self centeredness is now available and it does not require adopting a new set of laws. When we live in Christ, it is Jesus and the Holy Spirit who make their home in us and live in and through us, granting us life and purpose beyond creature comforts.

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.9Let anyone with ears listen!” 18“Hear then the parable of the sower.19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

In the chapters immediately preceding this one, Jesus has several encounters with the Jewish authorities over God’s law. The authorities have taken following God’s law to its anal retentive extreme, found themselves to be blameless in adherence to it, and condemn all those who do not do the same. After Jesus has found fault in their heartless interpretation of what God intended to be a framework in which to live lovingly and peacefully, the Jewish authorities “sought to destroy him.” It is in reaction to those very unfruitful encounters with the Jewish authorities that Jesus sits down and teaches the crowd, beginning with the parable of the sewer and the seeds.

Because of the way the Greek is structured in this parable, the gospel writers make it pretty clear that the Sewer in the parable is meant to be Jesus. So, Jesus walks along sewing seeds. They fall on various surfaces and sprout and grow or not accordingly. What does this seemingly careless seed distribution say about God? With today’s GPS guided tractors, it is possible to plant without waste! No seed will get flung onto the road or into the weeds or onto the piles of gravel where the road has washed onto the shoulder of the field. Efficiency and effectiveness are the names of the game. Every seed is given every opportunity to sprout and grow to its maximum potential. The fact that in the parable Jesus adopts an entirely different strategy to planting says something about God…but what?

If this parable is an example of God’s outreach plan, then how does he get a maximum bang for his buck? God is doing outreach all over the place, on hard pack dirt, among the obstinately fallen away and the nebulously apathetic. What kind of impact does God’s grace and forgiveness have in such unfertile terrain? Any at all?

“When we start thinking that we’ve earned God’s grace in some way; that it has become our personal possession; then we tend to become more stingy with it; guarding it; protecting it from abuse and waste; becoming overly concerned with spreading it in only efficient and effective ways. A pastor friend often quoted, "Some things are worthy doing poorly." At first I reacted negatively to that idea. I want to give my best for the sake of God; but perhaps we could rephrase it, "Some things are worth doing ineffectively or inefficiently or wastefully in spreading God’s Word." That’s certainly better than doing nothing. If the sower had sowed no seed, there would have been no chance for growth and fruit bearing.” Brian Stoffregen

Perhaps there is a law which Paul does not discuss, the law of the economy of congregational finances and resources. Our hearts and our practical sides are at odds when it comes to helping those in need and evangelizing.

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, July 6th, 2014

FIRST READING: Zechariah 9:9–12

9Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 10He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war-horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. 11As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. 12Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.


The is the second major prophecy from God to the prophet, Zechariah, in this book.  The prophecy begins with a description of the ideal king, a concept very important to both Jews, and those Jews who came to follow Jesus and recognized him as fitting this description.   All four gospel writers cite this passage as they relay the events of Palm Sunday.  It is this passage that the gospel writer of Matthew misquotes, saying that the king will come “humble and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey,” which leads him to describe Jesus as straddling both mother and colt simultaneously for the Palm Sunday procession.


In Hebrew, both Mt. Zion and Jerusalem are feminine names.  To capture that aspect of the language, English translations add “daughter” to these verses and throughout the Old Testament.


The references to the king cutting off the chariots and war horses from Ephraim and Jerusalem are an indication of the king riding out against enemies to the north of Israel and Judah.  The “waterless pit” was a place to keep prisoners of war during and after battle.  God remembers his covenant with Israel and Judah and will restore Israel to its position of greatness before being conquered by all of the armies of Babylonia, Assyria, Egypt, and Philistia.


Psalm 145:8–14

8The LORD is gracious and full | of compassion,

slow to anger and abounding in | steadfast love.

9LORD, you are | good to all,

and your compassion is over | all your works. R

10All your works shall praise | you, O LORD,

and your faithful | ones shall bless you.

11They shall tell of the glory | of your kingdom

and speak | of your power,

12that all people may know | of your power

and the glorious splendor | of your kingdom.

13Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom;

your dominion endures through- | out all ages.

You, LORD, are faithful in all your words,

and loving in | all your works.

14The Lord upholds all | those who fall

and lifts up those who | are bowed down. R


In the Hebrew understanding of God, God is bound to the Israelites, not out of affection but under a legal contract, a covenant.  The covenant is described in a variety of ways in the Hebrew scriptures, one of allies, one of king to subjects, one of husband to wife, etc.  This psalm sings God’s praises due to God’s faithfulness to this covenant, and the ways in which God fulfills the obligations.  God is compassionate, patient, and thorough.  The things which God brings about for Israel and all humanity are so beautiful and well done, that they stand as testimony to what kind of being God is.  And, no one escapes God’s attention, even the poor and heavy burdened.


SECOND READING: Romans 7:15–25a

15I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!


This is the apostle, Paul’s, eloquent description of the human condition.  We know how things should be.  We may even have some ideas of how to get things to where they should be, but when we, humans, touch them, our selfishness and pride get in our way.  “We are a fallen humanity.”


GOSPEL: Matthew 11:16–19, 25–30

[Jesus spoke to the crowd saying:] 16“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, 17‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ 18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” 25At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”


Jesus is comparing the crowds to 2 year olds.  I am sure you have seen two year olds act like this.  “What would you like on your sandwich, meat or cheese?”  “Cheese.”  “Okay, here is your sandwich with cheese.”  But the two year old whines, “I want meat!”


God sends to Israel prophets about whom they whine.  Then Jesus comes, as the bridegroom, the son of man, dining and celebrating with people, healing and serving,  and the Israelite leaders whine about him too.  Jesus thanks God that while the leaders of Israel completely miss the pint of his coming, the common folk, those in desperate need of mercy, grace, food, purpose, and hope, are responding favorably to Jesus’ ministry.


“Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden…my burden is light.”  This is one of the most beloved quotes of Jesus.  Jesus speaks such words of compassion and hope.  Yet, it is paradoxical, at least in our application of what Jesus says.  As I knelt before Bishop Gary Wollersheim, with former Bishop Gregory Villalon behind me, for ordination, their hands were laid on me and this passage was quoted.  It is part of the ELCA rite of ordination.  I suppose it was quoted as comfort to me for this calling before which I knelt.  It was also quoted as an example of what I was to do for others; embody Jesus’ easy yoke and light burden for others.  I have always understood that to mean that my burden was going to be heavy and my yoke hard.


No, that is not what Jesus is saying to me or any of us, but the yoke of his teaching is a call to selflessness, to shouldering one’s own cross, to empowering others with the mercy and love of God.  Is that a light burden?  To what are we comparing it?