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Month: October 2014

Bible Tuesday for All Saints Day

Bible Tuesday for Sunday November 2, 2014

Revelation 7:9-17

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

13Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” 14I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

The context for this portion of Revelation is that John, the writer of Revelation, has been “taken in spirit” up to the throne room of God. What he sees there is beyond words so he draws on images to describe this fantastic vision.

The book of Revelation was written in the second half of the first century, when Christianity was still, by and large, considered a sect within Judaism. Yet, in verse nine of this passage, John tells us that people “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” are standing before the throne of God and the lamb (Jesus) with palm branches in their hands, praising God. Palm branches were considered by the Jews to be symbols of God’s power and action, rather like flags to be waved at parades and rallies. John tells us that Jews and Gentiles are wearing the white of purity, holding the symbols of God’s power, and standing around God’s throne, praising God. That is an astounding vision to any religious or political “zealot” or “extremist”.

These white robed, ethnically diverse praisers of God are those who have suffered for their faith in Jesus/Father/Holy Spirit. Now that they are before God’s throne, they are saved from and protected from any future suffering. AMEN

Psalm 34:1-10, 22

I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2 My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
let the humble hear and be glad.
3 O magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together.

4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me,
and delivered me from all my fears.
5 Look to him, and be radiant;
so your[a] faces shall never be ashamed.
6 This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord,
and was saved from every trouble.
7 The angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
8 O taste and see that the Lord is good;
happy are those who take refuge in him.
9 O fear the Lord, you his holy ones,
for those who fear him have no want.
10 The young lions suffer want and hunger,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
22 The Lord redeems the life of his servants;
none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

This is another acrostic psalm, though the negative verses that talk about revenge against enemies are omitted from the above selection. The above verses emphasize those who humble themselves, or “subjugate” themselves to God. They are (v. 4) answered and delivered from all their fears, (v. 5) never ashamed, (v. 6) heard by the Lord, (v. 8) happy, (v. 9) without want, (10) lack no good thing, (v. 22) spared condemnation.

I have always struggled with the concepts of humans magnifying God. How can we, bound in finitude, make bigger that which is completely beyond all dimensions? But, a quick glance at Webster’s showed that an archaic meaning of “magnify” is to glorify or laud.

1 John 3:1-3

1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.2 Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he[a] is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

In the time of Jesus, being the son of someone meant that you were automatically afforded the social class privileges (or curses) afforded the father. That was almost the only way to elevate to a new class. (The other way was to come under the patronage of someone, who frequently legally adopted the beneficiary.) The eldest son not only inherited the estate, but also frequently political and religious office. John reminds us in this passage that all the baptized receive these amazing gifts from God. But, this inheritance from God is very different than normal patronage. With God, we inherit God’s glory in the giving and receiving grace. We inherit God’s power through the purity from evil which God alone bestows. We inherit God’s might through the exercise of mercy.

Matthew 5:1-12

5When Jesus* saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely* on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

The term translated “Blessed” or “Happy” is one of those words which is not translatable into English. The Greek macarios has a deeper, all encompassing meaning. Macarios can also be translated as satiated, satisfied/at peace. When read with these synonyms in mind, these beatitudes can be read as statements of God’s individualized care for those who suffer.

Poor in Spirit can be understood as humble, bowed over by life. Meek can be understood as those at the bottom of a society with very strict social structures.

Chapter 4 of Matthew recounts Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, the calling of the disciples, and the first forays into ministry, healing the sick. Jesus’ fame spread and crowds were gathered. The first verse of this text tells us that as the crowd gathered, Jesus called his disciples to himself and taught them. The context seems to be that as Jesus sees all of these suffering people coming to him for relief and he uses this as a teaching moment. The traditional interpretation of suffering is that it is a sign of God’s displeasure. Jesus turns that on its head, listing those who suffer and their gifts from God. Mercy, a weakness which makes one vulnerable is rewarded with God’s mercy. The meek, while taken advantage of by people in higher classes, are rewarded with the inheritance of all the earth.

Bible Tuesday for Reformation Sunday, 2014

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, October 26, 2014

Jeremiah 31:31-34

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband,* says the Lord. 33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

In this section of the prophecy of Jeremiah, God is giving a new prophecy of hope to Israel and Judah. God assures them that they will be released from captivity in Babylon and will return to the land given them in God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But the covenant God made with the patriarchs which extends to all Israel has not endured because, which God was faithful to his end, the Israelites ignored God for the most part and did all kinds of monstrous things in the name of other gods. The prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah tell the Israelites that it is because of their betrayal of God that they are being conquered and captured by Babylon.

But this comes from a passage of great hope. God is making a new covenant with Israel and Judah. Actually, it is the same covenant: I, Yahweh, will be your God and will care for you. You, Israel and Judah, will be my people and show my love and faithfulness to yourselves, each other, and all people that pass through your lands. You will only worship Me and look to Me as your God.” What makes the covenant different this time around is not the content of the covenant but the way in which it will be learned. No one will have to teach the covenant. God will write it on everyone’s heart and mind so that all will know the covenant.

Psalm 46

God is our refuge and stronghold,
a very present[a] help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth reels,
though the mountains topple into the heart of the sea;
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of the city;[b] it shall not be toppled;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
6 The nations rage; kingdoms topple,
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our haven.[c]Selah

8 Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
10 Desist! Know that I am God!
I dominate the nations,
I dominate the earth.”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our haven.

This psalm depicts God as the ultimate warrior/champion for Israel. So powerful is God that he can impose the end of war between nations, melting away the earth and the weapons of war.

For the Israelites, God is a haven, the ultimate storm shelter, as well as their military champion. The phrase, “The Lord of Hosts is with us,” should be understood as, “The Master of the heavenly army is on our side.

Romans 3:19-28

Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20For ‘no human being will be justified in his sight’ by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.

21 But now, irrespective of law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ* for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement* by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; 26it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.*

27 Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.

Martin Luther, in his writings, tells of his great discovery of God’s Grace while preparing to teach at the new university of Wittenberg. Luther was studying Romans in preparation for lecturing when he came upon this chapter where he finally understood that everyone is indeed filthy with sin and condemned to hell but God justifies them through faith in Jesus which God grants through faith. This was absolutely HUGH to Martin Luther since he was taught that hell and damnation were the certain fate of everyone who didn’t earn God’s grace and Luther knew there was absolutely no way to earn this since we are so base and selfish. But here St. Paul describes with Luther comes to call the Happy Exchange: Jesus sets aside his perfection in Godhood, and takes on humanity and sinfulness. But Jesus is perfect even in humanity. On the cross Jesus trades his perfection for our imperfection, taking the fallenness of humanity to death with him and gifting to us eternal life with him.

This discovery of Luther’s in this third chapter of Romans launched Luther into writing the 95 Thesis, pounding in the nail heard ‘round the world.

John 8:31-36

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ 33They answered him, ‘We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, “You will be made free”?’

34 Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

First, in the gospel of John, “Jews” always refers to Jewish authorities in Jerusalem. In John, “Disciples” is used both generally to refer to those who follow Jesus, and specifically to what Luke calls, “the twelve”, and to those with whom Jesus eats the Last Supper.

There are certain Jewish authorities who are following Jesus to hear him teach. Jesus turns to them and addresses them specifically in the above passage. Jesus draws a distinction between those who are “truly my disciples” and those who listen to him for amusement or mere edification. These “Jews” immediately display on which side they fall. How strange that they do not know the in-and-out-of-slavery history of their own people but instead incorrectly claim perpetual freedom for their ancient ancestors all the way up to themselves.

Jesus answers the preposterous statement of the Jews with an even more astounding statement. Jesus infers that the Jewish authorities, likely Sadducees or Pharisees from Jerusalem, are sinners! And they are only temporarily in this house of God, the temple in Jerusalem, and that only the son of God can remedy their situation, making their holy living situation permanent, AND that Jesus is God’s son! True freedom can only come through the actions of the Son, God’s son.

Bible Tuesday

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, October 19, 2014

Isaiah 45:1-7

Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus,
whose right hand I have grasped
to subdue nations before him
and strip kings of their robes,
to open doors before him—
and the gates shall not be closed:
I will go before you
and level the mountains,*
I will break in pieces the doors of bronze
and cut through the bars of iron,
I will give you the treasures of darkness
and riches hidden in secret places,
so that you may know that it is I, the Lord,
the God of Israel, who call you by your name.
For the sake of my servant Jacob,
and Israel my chosen,
I call you by your name,
I surname you, though you do not know me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other;
besides me there is no god.
I arm you, though you do not know me,
so that they may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is no one besides me;
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
I form light and create darkness,
I make weal and create woe;
I the Lord do all these things.

The setting for this text is that Cyrus, king of Persia, has defeated the Babylonian Empire and has released from captivity in Babylon all those foreign peoples, including the Israelites. In this passage of Isaiah, God is telling Cyrus what God has done for him and how he fits into God’s faithfulness to His covenant with Israel.

God does the absolutely shocking thing of calling a non-Jewish king “my anointed” or “Messiah” in Hebrew or “Christ” in Greek. God describes the blessing the Cyrus will receive by serving God as Israel’s messiah, and the blessing that Israel will receive through him, all at the hand of God.

“Treasures in the darkness and riches hidden in secret places” should not be understood as dirty money or blood money but rather that Cyrus will receive the spoils of war, including those treasure stores that were hidden and secreted away.

Why would God use Cyrus and not empower one of the Israelite kings to save His people? In this passage, God states that by doing this, God will prove his faithfulness to His covenant with Israel and that all peoples will see the benefit of faithfulness to the God of the Israelites, the God who made all things, instead of worshiping the gods whom they made with their own hands.

“I make weal and create woe” According to Merriam Webster, weal is a state of prosper and happiness. Woe is the state of sorrow and loss.

Psalm 96:1-13

1 O sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
2 Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
3 Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples.
4 For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
he is to be revered above all gods.
5 For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
but the Lord made the heavens.
6 Honor and majesty are before him;
strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

7 Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
8 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
bring an offering, and come into his courts.
9 Worship the Lord in holy splendor;
tremble before him, all the earth.

10 Say among the nations, “The Lord is king!
The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved.
He will judge the peoples with equity.”
11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
12 let the field exult, and everything in it.
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
13 before the Lord; for he is coming,
for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with his truth.

This psalm is chosen for this group of texts because it reiterates much of what is said in our Isaiah text. Yahweh is great than all the gods. Those other gods are mere idols but Yahweh made all that exists. Therefore, give God credit for all that God does. Verse 12 says that all of creation sings God’s praise. Since we are creation, we should join in that song, even among those who do not know or believe God to be God.

1 Thessalonians 1-10

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

Grace to you and peace.

2 We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4 For we know, brothers and sisters[a]beloved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. 9 For the people of those regions[b] report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.

Here is a great example of the greeting and salutation portions of a typical letter in the late BCE (BC) early CE (AD) Roman world. Paul follows the standard formula perfectly: first, the “from” line, then the “to” line, and then the flowery introduction to the main content of the letter.

This text was chosen for this pericope set because it, too, talks about turning away from idols to worship I AM. (verse 9) There were at least two gods commonly worshiped among Roman territories during Paul’s time who were thought to die at the winter solstice and come back to life days later. Paul calls God “living and true” and describes God’s action to Jesus as “whom he raised from the dead” stating that God is the power behind the lesser gods and mere idols. While they die and need to be raised, God is the one who does the raising. Later Paul talks about Jesus’ equality with God.

Common in Old Testament stories and in the books of Acts and Paul’s letters is the idea that if God touches you with the Holy Spirit, you will give some kind of evidence to the fact. Verse 5 indicates that Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy not only preached to the congregation in Thessalonica (pronounced Thessaloniki in modern Greece) but also somehow demonstrated power and gifts of the Holy Spirit, so that they were believable and not more fly by night itinerate preachers.

Matthew 22:15-22

Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

In regard to taxes levied on the Jews by the Romans, Oxford Companion admits that we know few details about this tax, but says: "… it consisted of a flat-rate personal tax on all men from age fourteen and women from age twelve to age sixty-five and was levied at least at the rate of one denarius (about a day’s wage) per year. Later (we do not know when) it was combined with a percentage tax on property." Paying taxes to a pagan government was financially supporting it, and that was directly in opposition to God’s law. But not paying taxes was death by agony Roman Style, and that left one’s family in horribly dire straights. In addition, paying taxes to Rome meant paying the salaries of Roman troops and government officials who thought nothing of molesting, attacking, persecuting and executing Jews.

Coinage in Roman was newly minted with each emperor, with the caesar’s image on at least one of the denominations. Jewish coinage never had an image on it, either human or animal, because Jews understood that such images were breaking the “You shall not make for yourself graven images” command. Jews were constantly struggling with how to be faithful to the commands of God and survive in the Roman world. Carrying Roman coinage on one’s person was breaking God’s command. But the only thing one could do with Jewish coinage was give offerings at the Temple and do business with Jews in Jerusalem. Everything else had to be done with Roman currency.

The dilemma which the Herodians and the disciples of the Pharisees try to trap Jesus was a very real one that plagued faithful Jews in everyday life.

Herodians were a religious/political group who were either a political party in addition to Sadducees and Pharisees, or a group of people who supported the Herods (who were not, in fact, Jews, but rather Edomites, descendants of Esau, not Jacob. Herod the Great and his family were all put in place by Rome and built temples to the caesars and Roman deities. They were, in a word, pro Roman and Jewish in name only.

“Whose likeness” employs the same word that God uses in Genesis 1 when God says “Let us make humans in our image.” Is Jesus being as ironic as the Pharisees and Herodians were in their false compliments of him? Is Jesus intentionally hearkening back to Genesis 1 with his question? When Jesus says, “Give therefore to the Emperor the things that are the Emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s” the word is apodidomi which means to give back/return that which already belongs to one.