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Bible Tuesday for Sunday, August 31

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, August 31, 2014

Jeremiah 15:15-21

O Lord, you know. Remember me and take thought of me. Avenge me on those who persecute me. Do not yield to your patience, do not do not let me perish! Consider how I have borne insult on your account. When your words were offered, I devoured them. Your word brought me the delight and joy of knowing that your name is attached to me, O Lord, God of hosts. I have not sat in the company of revelers and made merry! I have sat lonely because of your hand upon me, for you have filled me with gloom. Why must my pain be endless, my wound incurable, resistant to healing? You have been to me like a spring that fails, like waters that cannot be relied on.

Assuredly, thus said the Lord: If you turn back, I shall take you back and you shall stand before me. If you produce what is noble out of the worthless, you shall be my spokesman. They shall come back to you, not you to them. Against this people I will make you as a fortified wall of bronze: they will attack you but they shall not overcome you. For I am with you to deliver and save you—declares the Lord. I will save you from the hands of the wicked and rescue you from the clutches of the violent.

Jeremiah’s lot as a prophet of Israel isn’t a happy one. He is persecuted, ridiculed, and shunned by the Israelites for telling the truth, a truth they didn’t want to hear. In addition, God frequently used the prophets, themselves, as metaphors for Israel and Judah.

Jeremiah sees himself and righteous before God and therefore suffering unjustly. However sinful and wrongsighted, so does the entire kingdom of Israel. When God addresses Jeremiah, saying “If you turn back…” God is addressing the whole kingdom, not merely Jeremiah.

We, believers, can really appreciate Jeremiah’s lament. We go through very difficult times in life, wondering where God is and why we cannot feel God’s comforting presence. “My God, Why are You Silent?!” is a hymn in the ELW which gives voice to these very cries. It is of great comfort to see role models of faith in both Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament who give voice to these same struggles.

Psalm 26:1-8

Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked without blame; I have trusted in the Lord, I have not faltered. Probe me, O Lord, and try to me, test my heart and mind, for my eyes are on Your steadfast love; I have set my course by it. I do not consort with scoundrels, or mix with hypocrites; I detest the company of evil men, and do not consort with the wicked; I wash my hands in innocence, and walk around your alter, O Lord, raising my voice in thanksgiving and telling all your wonders. O Lord, I love your temple abode, the dwelling of your glory.

Here is the cry of an innocent person to God. It sounds like the Psalmist is crying, “What have I done to deserve this?!” As Lutherans, we can sure understand these feelings and this cry, but we also believe that justice does not come just because you are innocent or good. Jesus teaches, “God makes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” In addition, we take seriously St. Paul’s words that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Therefore, to demand action from God because we have earned it or deserve it is shocking hubris! Instead, we are to humbly ask God to care for us because we are God’s own, humble servants.

Romans 12:9-21

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;10love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.*12Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.13Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;* do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God;* for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’20No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

As I read Paul’s exhortations, I am reminded of Luther’s explanation to the 8th Commandment, where he states, “Put the best possible construct on all your neighbor’s actions.” I think this is what is meant in “Outdo one another in showing honor.” This is not to be flowery or gushy but rather to cut others the breaks that we tend to cut ourselves.

Paul gives us a great list of Jesus maxims, if you will. Actually, they sound rather Buddhist as well. His rapid fire of them in these verses lends to reading them as a skipping stone across deep water. Each one taken individually is worth meditation. The treatment of enemies is remarkable, with the result being that they burn with guilt for their treatment of us. I wonder if Gandhi had these verses in mind as he developed his non-violent approach to abuse, racism and classism.

Matthew 16:21-28

From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ 23But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

27 ‘For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’

Talk about “Good News – Bad News”! The disciples must have gotten whiplash from Jesus. First the affirmed declaration that Jesus is Messiah, the centuries awaited hero who would restore the kingdom of God on earth! But leaving no time for awe or celebration, Jesus immediately declares that he must be betrayed by the Jewish authorities and executed by the Romans, but then raised from the dead. Wait, what?! No wonder Peter tries to talk Jesus out of it. If Jesus is Messiah, then the whole betrayal execution thing doesn’t make any sense, not at all!

But Jesus is teaching that while he is Messiah, he is also denying himself, that is, he is rejecting all of the comfort and adulation and power that is his as Messiah. Instead, he is obeying God, giving all that up, and sacrificing himself.

When Peter objects to this kind of Messiah, Jesus gets pretty upset. How difficult it must have been for Jesus to “set his face toward Jerusalem” much less have the disciples try to hinder him with their own ideas of Messiah behavior.

So Jesus sets them straight. “I am God’s anointed, the Messiah, and I must sacrifice myself and die. So what do you think your lives will be like? I know you are dreaming about who will surround me and hold cabinet posts and cushy jobs. But if I have to sacrifice, don’t you think you will also?!”

While this exchange between Jesus and his disciples is in all four gospels, verse 27-28 is only in Matthew. And frankly, I don’t know what to make of it. I remember asking about this passage in New Testament Methods class in seminary and the prof was quite open that biblical scholars really don’t have any solid thoughts on what Jesus means by this. If it is taken very literally, then one would think there were followers of Jesus alive right then who saw Jesus in some kind of heavenly manifestation. The gospel of Matthew has been trying to define “the kingdom” all throughout the book with puzzling parables and word pictures. This saying of Jesus doesn’t add any clarity to that confusion.

Bible Tuesday

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, August 24, 2014

Isaiah 51:1-6

Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness,
you that seek the Lord.
Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
and to the quarry from which you were dug.
2 Look to Abraham your father
and to Sarah who bore you;
for he was but one when I called him,
but I blessed him and made him many.
3 For the Lord will comfort Zion;
he will comfort all her waste places,
and will make her wilderness like Eden,
her desert like the garden of the Lord;
joy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the voice of song.

4 Listen to me, my people,

and give heed to me, my nation;
for a teaching will go out from me,
and my justice for a light to the peoples.
5 I will bring near my deliverance swiftly,
my salvation has gone out
and my arms will rule the peoples;
the coastlands wait for me,
and for my arm they hope.
6 Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
and look at the earth beneath;
for the heavens will vanish like smoke,
the earth will wear out like a garment,
and those who live on it will die like gnats;*
but my salvation will be forever,
and my deliverance will never be ended.

This passage of Isaiah is written to the same audience as last week’s, the Israelites already returned and still returning from captivity in Babylon. Not all of those folks did pursue righteousness or trust in Yahweh anymore, so the prophet is not speaking to all Israel in this passage.

When the Israelites retuned home, they found very much the same thing as the Japanese Americans did when they returned to their homes and businesses from the internment camps, at the end of WWII. While in captivity they yearned to just get home and back to normal, when they returned to their houses and businesses, most had very unpleasant surprises. They found squatters or worse yet, foreclosures. They found their property had been looted and nothing was left. Some had very loving neighbors and friends who kept things safe in their absence, but not many. The Israelites returned to Israel after a much longer absence to find Jerusalem in ruins and the Temple desecrated. The outlying towns and countryside fared no better. Their cry to God was for safety, help, hope, and assurance. To these yearnings and lament, the prophet urges the faithful to turn to God, who created them and promised them through the covenant with Abraham and Sarah. God assures them, “my salvation is forever.” Against all contrary evidence, their faithful God is with them.

Psalm 138

I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart;
before the “gods” I will sing your praise.
2 I will bow down toward your holy temple
and will praise your name
for your unfailing love and your faithfulness,
for you have so exalted your solemn decree
that it surpasses your fame.
3 When I called, you answered me;
you greatly emboldened me.

4 May all the kings of the earth praise you, Lord,
when they hear what you have decreed.
5 May they sing of the ways of the Lord,
for the glory of the Lord is great.

6 Though the Lord is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly;
though lofty, he sees them from afar.
7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
you preserve my life.
You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes;
with your right hand you save me.
8 The Lord will vindicate me;
your love, Lord, endures forever—
do not abandon the works of your hands.

This psalm is attributed to David. However, the temple did not exist under David but the “tent of meeting” which sheltered the ark of the covenant did.

While David is much earlier than the prophets of Isaiah, this psalm uses the same metaphor as the above Isaiah passage. Whereas God admonishes the Israelites to return their gaze to their source of life, God, in this passage David makes the same claim to God.

“With your right hand you save me.” Many years ago I was in Budapest and had the opportunity to visit St. Stephen’s Cathedral during its displaying of holy relics. King Stephen, in Hungarian “Ishtvan karoly”, later canonized, was baptized in a river in the Carpathian Basin on either Christmas Day 1000, or New Year’s Day 1001, and immediately crowned king. He declared all Hungary to be Christian that day and was himself, devout. On display in his cathedral the day I visited was his mummified right hand and wrist, the symbolic seat of his power. The right hand as the symbolic seat of power is an image present in this psalm and throughout the Old and New Testaments. Even the creeds of the Christian faith state Jesus will be “seated at the right hand of God.”

Romans 12:1-8

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters,* by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual* worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world,* but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.*

3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching;8the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

Paul’s concepts here, while somewhat awkwardly worded due to the Greek/English translation, look so great and sound so good. But, how to practice them?!!! Oh that we might know with clarity what is the will of God! How often we pray for it and yet feel as if we proceed “sinning boldly” as opposed to confidently proceeding in God’s will.

As we read only Paul’s side of this correspondence, we only guess to what Paul is responding. Starting at verse 3, it appears that the congregation in Rome has develop some sort of hierarchy of spiritual gifts and abilities. Here again, as he does throughout his writing, Paul emphasizes that we are all of equal status in our service to God because we are all part of the same body, the body of Christ.

Matthew 16:13-20

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ 14And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ 15He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ 16Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah,* the Son of the living God.’ 17And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter,* and on this rock* I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ 20Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was* the Messiah.*

First, please allow me to again address the “messianic secret” as told to the readers in verse 20 of this passage. All four of the gospels to one degree or another, tell the readers/hearers that Jesus warns those around him to “not tell anyone that he was the Messiah.” What a strange thing to do when Jesus’ whole life is about proclaiming that the Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near in the flesh, his own! Throughout the ages, scholars have widely speculated, the most common conclusion being that Jesus was trying to bide time to ensure the faith and comprehension of the disciples before he was arrested and executed.

CAESAREA PHILIPPI (the following description comes from Eugene Boring (Matthew, New Interpreter’s Bible)

Caesarea Philippi, about twenty miles north of the Sea of Galilee, had earlier been the site of a Baal cultic center, then in Hellenistic times became known as Paneas because the god Pan had been worshiped in the famous grotto and spring there, but was renamed by Herod the Great after he built there a temple to Caesar Augustus. After Herod’s death it was made part of the territory of his son Philip, who enlarged the town and named it after Tiberius Caesar and himself. During the war of 66-70, Caesarea was a recreation spot for the Roman general Vespasian, who began the siege of Jerusalem and then left his son Titus in charge to complete it when he became emperor. After the fall of Jerusalem, Titus and his troops returned to Caesarea, where Josephus reports he had some of the Jewish captives thrown to wild animals. [The Jewish War 3.9.7., 44-44; 7.2.1. 23-24]. Matthew’s preservation of this location (dropped by Luke) may be only incidental, but since he did omit Mark’s setting on the road, Matthew may have wished to emphasize that the significant scene took place in a setting with older nationalistic and religious associations, Jewish and pagan. He brings the scene of Jesus’ confession as the Jewish Messiah into the shadow of a Caesar temple, where the Roman destroyers of Jerusalem had celebrated their victory, a revered site long associated with both pagan and Jewish revelatory events (cf. 1 Enoch 12-16). [p. 342]

Ancient Hebrew society functioned on an honor/shame system. Honor and shame were ascribed to a person by others: family, friends, society. An individual did not determin who he or she was, society did that for them. People were labeled by place of origin, occupation, family of origin, marital status, level of wealth, and state of health (for example “Simone the Leper”), all of which determined their social strata and level of honor/shame. To be a good person was to have high honor through family, occupation, amount of wealth, and state of health. One’s own opinion or level of introspection had nothing to do with anything in this culture. With that in mind, when Jesus asks, “Who do people say that I am?” he is asking what social place has been ascribed to him. He is asking for his identity to be given him. Same thing when he asks the disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” What makes Jesus unique, is that he identity is made clear by God, at baptism in the gospel of Mark, at annunciation of birth in the gospel of Matthew and Luke, and in God before all things in John.

The keys of the kingdom are the ability to forgive and heal here on earth. They are granted to all the disciples in the gospels except Matthew, where they are only granted to Peter. Peter’s real name is Simon but Jesus gives him the new name Petros or Peter meaning rock. Peter is the rock foundation on which the church will be built.

Bible Tuesday

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, August 17th, 2014

Isaiah 56:1, 6-8

Thus says the Lord: Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed. Happy is the mortal who does this,
the one who holds it fast,
who keeps the sabbath, not profaning it,
and refrains from doing any evil.

Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,

‘The Lord will surely separate me from his people’;
and do not let the eunuch say,
‘I am just a dry tree.’
For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.

And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant— 7these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. 8Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.

This part of Isaiah (aka 3rd Isaiah) is decided to the Israelites returning and already returned from exile. In this passage God is laying out new policies of inclusion for Israel. According to the book of Leviticus, those who were mutilated in the genitals in any way were not included in the Chosen People of God. They were unclean and to be cast out. But here, in the first four verses, note that God changes God’s own law and includes these.

Also, those who are not from Israel, not Jewish by birth, God also welcomes warmly. God says that their offerings will be accepted and that God will gather them into Jerusalem even with those Israelites already gathered. In other words, God sees the chosen people as way bigger than the Jews themselves see it.

Psalm 67

May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face shine on us—[b] 2 so that your ways may be known on earth,
your salvation among all nations.

3 May the peoples praise you, God;
may all the peoples praise you.
4 May the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you rule the peoples with equity
and guide the nations of the earth.
5 May the peoples praise you, God;
may all the peoples praise you.

6 The land yields its harvest;
God, our God, blesses us.
7 May God bless us still,
so that all the ends of the earth will fear him.

This psalm is a prayer for good harvests. In verse one, note the echo of the Aaronic Blessing, “May God make his face shine on your and be gracious to you.”

The psalm ends with “so that all the ends of the earth will fear him.” The Hebrew Study Bible translates this “and be revered to the ends of the earth.” The thought of being afraid of God is counter intuitive. We want to know God and have a comfortable intimacy with God. Being afraid of God seems harmful to our relationship with God. However, I think that if we do not have some fear of God in our end of the God/me relationship, than it is a stunted, immature relationship on our part.

God is imminent and transcendent, or right here with us and so totally beyond our comprehension that we cannot really even begin to understand God. It is the imminent part of God with which we can develop some comfort, and I think it is the totally-beyond part of God that should be truly frightening and awe inspiring. That healthy awe and fear is very much like the feeling one gets when looking over the edge into the Grand Canyon. It is stunning, and it is beyond our comprehension and one wrong move and it is the end of us.

Romans 11:1-2, 29-32

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew, 29for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, 31so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy.32For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.

Paul continues his treatise on how important the Jewish people are to the salvation of all creation. It is through Abraham that God establishes the covenant of his protection and care. Jesus is the ultimate expression of that covenant, the one, perfect bloom on the rose bush which is Judaism. “Lo, how a rose ‘er blooming from tender stem hath sprung…”

How darkly ironic, and self mutilating it is that throughout the last 2,000 years of history, Christians have sought to wound, destroy, and eradicate Jews.

Matthew 15:10-28

Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, ‘Listen and understand: 11it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.’ 12Then the disciples approached and said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees took offence when they heard what you said?’ 13He answered, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind.* And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.’ 15But Peter said to him, ‘Explain this parable to us.’ 16Then he said, ‘Are you also still without understanding? 17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles.19For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.’

21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ 24He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ 26He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ 27She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ 28Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.

The whole of chapter 15 is Jesus teaching on what is acceptable and unacceptable to God. The Hebrew Old Testament Law was written based on actions; you may or may not do this or that. If you do or don’t do what is commanded, the penalties are thus and such. However, the prophets usually prophesied about the hearts and minds of the Israelite people. “Rend your hearts and not your clothing!” “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.”

In the Hebrew language, there are several words for “us Jews”, “us Hebrews”, “us Chosen by God”, “us clansmen”. But there is one word for others, “goyim”. In Greek it is “ethnos” from where we get the word “ethnic”. Who are ethnic people? Everyone else outside “us”. They wear the weird clothes and eat the wrong foods and say the wrong prayers and have the wrong hairstyles. We are us, from this land. They are goyim, ethnos, other people. In Jewish law, the goyim were unclean. Jews could not eat with them, and had very limited social interaction with them.

But here in chapter 15, Jesus follows the tradition of the prophets and turns the commandments inward. Jesus teaches that you do not get unclean kooties from certain inanimate objects or certain people. You exhibit uncleanliness by what you think, say, and do.

Then, to illustrate the point, Jesus travels with his disciples to land beyond Israelite territory. He and his disciples are chased down by a desperate “Canaanite” woman. Canaanites were enemies of Jews from the first time Abraham traveled to Canaan to claim it as the land God promised him and his descendants. There were battles and wars between Jews and Canaanites for hundreds of years. So Jesus is approached by this ages old enemies of the Jews who treats Jesus very differently than his own people do. Whereas the Pharisees and Sadducees scoff at Jesus, this Canaanite calls him “Lord, Son of David.” Whereas the Jews as for signs and miracles, this Canaanite begs, “Lord, help me.” Whereas the Jewish authorities have no respect for Jesus, and the Jewish crowds only stay with Jesus while he is healing them and feeding them, this goya (single for “goyim”) calls Jesus Lord.

First Jesus ignores her. Then he speaks cruelly to her, calling her a dog. Dogs were unclean animals that had to snatch food where they could among Jewish communities. No Jew had dogs as work animals or pets. If dogs got food from Jews, it would be scavenging after meals. Accepting that she was not a Jew and therefore would not receive A list treatment, this woman begged for the leftovers with which she would satisfy her daughter. Not among the Jews, but among the goyim does Jesus find real faith. Real faith acknowledges that we have nothing whereby God owes us. Every covenant that God has made with God’s people, those people have broken shamelessly. Even in consideration of these covenants, God owes us nothing. This woman knows that but out of love for her daughter she comes begging. At the end of the above selection from Romans, Paul states, “32For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.” The sooner we embody this truth, the better.

Bible Tuesday

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, August 10th, 2014

1 Kings 19:9-18

At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ 10He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’

11 He said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ 14He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’ 15Then the Lord said to him, ‘Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 16Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. 17Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. 18Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.’

The term “burned out” is not used in the Bible, nor is “sick and tired”, or “I quit!” But all of these apply to Elijah at the end of his prophecy career. If you read the earlier chapters in 1 Kings, you will read about Elijah’s faithful service to God and the Israelites, and how King Ahaz and Queen Jezebel loathed and feared him. While Elijah had a couple moments of acceptance by the Israelites (God’s defeat of the prophets of Baal in chapter 18), by and large he was vilified, scoffed at, and rejected. Elijah seemed to handle his outcast roll just fine until Queen Jezebel put a price on his head and soldiers were dispatched to bring him to her dead or alive. That caused Elijah’s meltdown, as told in this Sunday’s text.

Elijah gets to actually talk to God! God comes looking for him! and asks him, “What are you doing?”! How we yearn for that kind of intimacy with God and that kind of affirmation of this God, this Faith in which we struggle to believe!

Here is what I love about this story. Elijah kvetches at God even as that still, small voice raises the hairs on the back of his neck, and God listens to him and takes seriously what he is saying. God does not send Elijah back into the fray with a “Win one for the ol’ Gipper” speech. No! God allows Elijah to retire and sets up a replacement. Not only that, but God foretells Elijah how the wicked will be punished so all his suffering and prophesying will not be in vain. Then, in the next chapter, instead of seating Elijah in a recliner with a remote in his hand and a beer at his elbow in his new retirement condo, God takes Elijah to heaven straight away on a chariot of fire to further protect and reward him. Wow! Did God take Elijah’s suffering seriously!

Psalm 85:8-13

I will listen to what God the Lord says;
he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants—
but let them not turn to folly.
9 Surely his salvation is near those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.

10 Love and faithfulness meet together;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.
11 Faithfulness springs forth from the earth,
and righteousness looks down from heaven.
12 The Lord will indeed give his bounty,
and our land will yield its harvest.
13 Righteousness goes before him
and prepares the way for his steps.

This psalm was written either just before or just after the Israelites returned to Israel from captivity. The Israelites to have lived for better than 1000 years believing that they were impervious to defeat and degradation because of God’s promise to them once he freed them from Egyptian bondage. Yet here they find themselves, having just served better than 70 years in captivity, returning to a land that looked like Dresden after it was bombed. How do the Israelites continue to put faith in God and God’s covenant with them? The prophets of that time write that the Babylonian exile was their own fault. God called to them and called to them and warned them and warned them but they did not listen. Here the psalmist warns that while God is faithful to his covenant with Israel, the Israelites better not “turn to folly,” or it will happen all over again.

The psalm is given rubrics “For the leader of the Korahites, a psalm.” The Korahites were descended from a certain line of Levites and had special singing duties in Temple worship services. The term “bounty” refers to rain.

Romans 10:5-15

5 Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that ‘the person who does these things will live by them.’ 6But the righteousness that comes from faith says, ‘Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?” ’ (that is, to bring Christ down) 7‘or “Who will descend into the abyss?” ’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8But what does it say?
‘The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart’
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9because* if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ 12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

14 But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’

In this passage, Paul continues his two fold argument of how righteousness by faith in Jesus is different than righteousness by adherence to the Old Testament Law or Torah. Verses 6 & 7 are quotes from the Old Testament. The point of those verses is that, unlike other Middle Eastern religions, it is not necessary to go find the word of God in heaven or the depths, but rather God is present, immediate, and that Jesus is God’s ultimate expression of this. Therefore, righteousness is believing and trusting in Jesus, God in the flesh.

Verses 14-15 are a call to evangelism. How can people know God: Father, Son, and Spirit, if no one tells them. The audience hearing this letter to the congregation in Rome is both Jew and Gentile. The Jews need this message to come to know Jesus as Lord and Christ. The Gentiles need this message to come to know God: Father, Son, and Spirit, as the only real God. Paul encourages them all to go forth and proclaim this to the entire city of Rome.

Matthew 14:22-33

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land,* for the wind was against them. 25And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’

28 Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ 29He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind,* he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’

This text follows directly on the heels of last weeks’ text, the feeding of the 5,000. What is the meaning of “Immediately [Jesus] made the disciples into the boat and go on ahead…while he dismissed the crowds.”? The other three gospels also relay this story, one of which says that the crowds tried to make Jesus king and he fled from them. There are a couple things going on here. One, the crowds got free food and are very willing to nab this golden goose for future exploitation. Two, Jesus originally fled the crowds trying to keep his presence a little more under the radar so as to have more time with his disciples before his own arrest and execution. The more the crowds call attention to him, the fewer days Jesus has before he is arrested.

Now, at last, the crowds dissipate, the disciples are traveling on ahead, and Jesus gets quiet, private time to pray, grieve, assess, and rest. But why not just meet up with the disciples at the next preaching location? Why walk on water? Jesus doesn’t have to prove anything, does he?

The writer of the gospel of Matthew is really focused on Jesus being the new Moses, the giver of a new law. When the Israelites are in the wilderness, remember that God provides water from a rock, and manna and quail from the sky; unlike other Middle Eastern gods, Yahweh/God is master of all elements and animals: water, quail, bread from heaven using Moses as the prophet of all these miracles. In last week’s and this week’s gospels, Jesus is shown to be master of food (bread and fish), and now water. Unlike Moses who is the intermediary for God, Jesus is God himself.

Not only is Jesus master of the food, water, and weather, but Jesus’ mastery can be conveyed to his disciples. Peter is empowered to walk on the water by having faith in Jesus.