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Bible Tuesday for August 2 2015

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, August 2, 2015

Exodus 16:2-4 9-15

2The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’

4 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. 9 Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, “Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.” ’10And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked towards the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. 11The Lord spoke to Moses and said, 12‘I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, “At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.” ’

13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’* For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.

Prior to Jacob and his sons and their families moving from Canaan to Egypt, the Israelites had always been migratory herds people. Eventually they developed a system whereby a basecamp with gardening was more stationary and the herds were taken to grasslands.

This lifestyle changed dramatically when the Israelite males were conscripted by the Egyptians. We do not know if women and children remained in Goshen while men stayed in work camps or if everyone moved closer to the construction sites. Whether the Israelites continued to grow their own food or were given it by their taskmasters, according to the complaints of the Israelites stated above, food appears to have been plentiful. Fleshpots=pots in which meat is boiled.

The Israelites appear to prefer slavery to life in the wilderness. While enslaved, there was no guesswork, no creativity or ingenuity required, just labor. Out in the wilderness, resourcefulness was mandatory for survival but something the Israelites seemed to lack. In addition, the adversarial relationship between slave and overseer has been replaced with the relationship between freed people and their God, led by God’s agent and his brother and sister. This new relationship should not be adversarial, but it certainly proved to be so. God provides freedom…Israelites complain. God provides water…Israelites complain. God provides meat and “bread”…Israelites complain.

Psalm 78:23-29

Yet he commanded the skies above,
and opened the doors of heaven;
24 he rained down on them manna to eat,
and gave them the grain of heaven.
25 Mortals ate of the bread of angels;
he sent them food in abundance.
26 He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens,
and by his power he led out the south wind;
27 he rained flesh upon them like dust,
winged birds like the sand of the seas;
28 he let them fall within their camp,
all around their dwellings.
29 And they ate and were well filled,
for he gave them what they craved.

Psalm 78 recounts poetically the story of God freeing the Israelites from Egypt. In this passage, there is only the miracles of God’s gifts graciously given to the needy people; no complaining, grumbling, or rejecting God’s leaders.

Ephesians 4:1-16

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.8 Therefore it is said,

“When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
he gave gifts to his people.”

9 (When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended[a] into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) 11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Paul writes to the Christians in Ephesus, in part, to admonish them for their divisions and infighting. Instead of fracturing, Paul invites the Ephesians to unite in their baptismal calling. Thus united, there is then recognition that each member of the congregation has been gifted by God with abilities for various jobs within the community. Through uniting in baptism and serving Christ and community as each are enabled, the Ephesian Christians will mature in faith and in psychological state, to better serve God, community, and self.

John 6:24-35

So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. 25When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”

28Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

The gospel writer continues to differentiate between those who want to see or benefit from the signs that Jesus is doing, and those who learn from and obey them. The crowds who were fed on one side of the Sea of Galilee and then follow Jesus over to the other side and show up in the above passage, are identified by Jesus as those who merely want more food. But Jesus invites them to look to him for way more than free food.

While Luther wasn’t very fond of the gospel of John, it is in this gospel that works righteousness is most soundly rejected. The crowd says to Jesus, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” (I think they are hoping that Jesus will show them how to perform miracles for themselves.) But Jesus responds that performance is not necessary, but rather belief in God’s son, faith.

The crowd responds that Jesus must prove to them that he is worthy of their faith, despite the loaves and fishes they are still digesting! “God gave our ancestors miraculous food in the wilderness, “ implying “What will you give us?!”

Both in this story and the story of the woman at the well, folks are hungry/thirsty and Jesus uses that physical need to describe the even more important physical/spiritual yearning that God fills through Jesus. The Samaritan woman at the well gets it. This Israelites aren’t faring quite as well.

Bible Tuesday for July 26, 2015

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, July 26, 2015

2 Kings 4:42-44

42 A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, “Give it to the people and let them eat.” 43 But his servant said, “How can I set this before a hundred people?” So he repeated, “Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’” 44 He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the Lord.

While Elisha rarely appears in the lectionary, he is a great prophet whose miracles outnumber even his mentor, Elijah. For those who did not live near the Temple in Jerusalem nor a synagogue, taking their various offerings to the local “man of God” was also considered proper. Earlier verses of this chapter indicate the Elisha presided at sabboth and new moon festivals which locals attended.

In this story, a man brought his thank offering of the first fruits of his harvest. Exodus/Leviticus prescribes that one returned to God one tenth of the first harvest and then later one tenth of the rest of the harvest. Usually a portion of these offerings were burned and the remaining were given to the priests and Levites to feed themselves and their families. This story reflects that tradition well. Earlier in the chapter we learn that there is a famine and the company of prophets, who look to Elisha as their head, are struggling to feed themselves and their families. For this reason, Elisha does not take any of the offering brought but turns it all over to the very hungry community. How gracious is God to turn this small but genuine offering into a meal for all his hungry servants in that place.

Psalm 145:10-18

All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your faithful shall bless you.

They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom, and tell of your power,

to make known to all people your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. The Lord is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds.

The Lord upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.

The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.

You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.

The Lord is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings.

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.

Here is a wonderful example of traditional Hebrew praise to Yahweh. People of modernity and post modernity have scientifically divided creation into sentient and non-sentient beings, relegating anthropomorphism to children’s literature and poetry. But it is not so in ancient Hebrew literature, certainly not works of praise in the Old Testament! Psalmists regularly adjure sun, moon, stars, mountains and seas to praise God, and promise that the “trees of the field will clap their hands.”

While these attributes of worshipful activity to inanimate objects may seem quaint, the biblical authors did not mean it so. Truly humanity learns of some of the qualities of God merely by marveling at nature. The earth and the cosmos absolutely tell of God’s handiwork!

Ephesians 3:14-21

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,[a] 15 from whom every family[b] in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16 I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

In the verses previous to this passage, Paul tells the church in Ephesus that, through Jesus, they have access to God. It is perhaps this to which Paul refers when he states, “For this reason…”

Paul reminds the Christians in Ephesus, and all who read this letter, that Jesus dwells within us. Theologians like to use words like “incarnational” which, when they get hitched to words like soteriology, completely lose their wonder, much less their meaning. But the miracle of the incarnation inaugurated with Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary, continues as each of us are made pregnant, through baptism and faith, with the unsurpassed power of God’s love. “I pray that you may have the power to comprehend…” Thank you for your prayers, Paul, but I am certain that true comprehension of this mystery is impossible.

John 6:1-21

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all.11Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

15When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.16When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”21Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

While we have been rolling merrily along through the early chapters of Mark since Easter, now we have an interlude of 5 weeks of John. The gospel of Mark has a perfectly good and wonderful account of the feeding of the 5000 (plus women and children), and if the reader/listener does not get the point, Mark tells of Jesus later feeding 4000 (plus women and children). Nevertheless, the powers that be, when creating the 3 year Revised Common Lectionary, set aside Mark’s feeding stories for five weeks of John’s feeding story and its many applications and interpretations.

In the gospel of Mark, the miracles that Jesus performs serve many purposes. Jesus heals out of compassion “because the people were like sheep without a shepherd”, out of frustration (he heals when his disciples could not), to teach, and to manifest the Kingdom of Heaven drawn near. In the gospel of John, Jesus doesn’t do miracles, but rather signs, which are always meant to point to both Jesus’ and God’s true nature and identity.

In John’s telling of the feeding of the 5,000, note that the crowds are not pressing in on Jesus or clamoring for him, as in the gospel of Mark, but rather merely following him “because of the signs he was doing for the sick.” Jesus gathers his disciples (not merely the twelve but all of the disciples) onto a high hill/very low mountain while they see the crowd approaching in the distance. John tells the reader/hearer that it is almost Passover time a note Mark does not make. Why would John tell us that it is Passover time? The detail seems superfluous, but in fact, it is key to understanding the sign Jesus is about to do. Signs give direction. What direction is Jesus about to give? Does Philip understand? No. Philip points out that they don’t have anywhere near enough money to buy all these folks dinner. Andrew states that there is a kid with a bag lunch but that is the only food in the area. Jesus instructs the disciples to have the folks sit down and then the sign is revealed.

First Jesus takes the loaves and gives thanks. The words likely said would be the Aramaic for “Blessed are you, O Lord, our God, King of the Universe who does give us grain from the earth for bread to eat.” This is the same prayer recited three times during the Passover meal. “Jesus took the loaves and when he had given thanks…” The Greek for “given thanks” is a tense of the verb eucharist. In the gospel of John, there is no Last Supper Passover meal where Jesus institutes Holy Communion. There is only a last meal begun with foot washing. In stead, this feeding is John’s Holy Communion. All who are present get feed with the loaves and fish. And there is enough for even those who are not present.

The number 12 is a very important number in the Bible and is a symbol of: 3-God x 4-all creation = 12-all God’s people. 12 sons of Jacob/12 tribes of Israel, 12 disciples/12 apostles who are to be the New Israel sent out to witness to Jesus not just in Judea but also Samaria and to the ends of the earth, and now 12 baskets full of leftover bread. Those 12 baskets are the sign symbolizing that Jesus feeds everyone, not just those lucky enough to be present, but all the people to the ends of the earth.

What is the result of this sign? The crowds, upon witnessing the sign, come to believe that “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the w

Bible Tuesday for July 19, 2015

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, July 19, 2015

Jeremiah 23:1-6

“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” says the Lord. 2Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: “It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings,” says the Lord. “Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. 4I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing,” says the Lord. “The days are surely coming,” says the Lord, “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’”

The previous chapters of the book of Jeremiah contain admonishment and prophecy concerning the southern kingdom of Judah and their impending fall to Babylon and its king, Nebuchadnezzar. While the faithful and mighty but humble King Josiah, who restored the temple and destroyed all the places where Israelites worshiped Baal and Asherah/Astartes, he died nine years before this prophecy and his sons were not nearly so faithful, nor the ruler that their father was.

In Hebrew tradition, the king of Israel is called the shepherd. In the above prophecy given through Jeremiah, God is scold the unfaithful kings; and there have been a string of them. According to the books of I & II Kings and I & II Chronicles, of the last dozen or so kings prior to this text, only Hezekiah and Josiah were faithful and actively sought to lead the Israelites in faithful life with Yahweh/God. The other kings blended worship of Yahweh in with worship of idols.

When this text was originally delivered by Jeremiah to the people of Judah, it was understood to be a prophecy about the next king of Judah, or at least the first king after they returned from exile. As rabbinic scholars read the text in the subsequent years, it became a prophecy and job description for the messiah. Note that the name of this king will be “The Lord is our righteousness.” Because the people and the kings have by and large been so massively unfaithful, they have no righteousness. God is saying through this king’s name that God will be their righteousness, foreshadowing Ephesians 2:8 “For by Grace you have been saved through Faith. And this is not of you. This is a gift of God.”

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads in me right paths for his own name’s sake. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You spread a table before me in the midst of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows. Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of my God forever more.

As this is the assigned psalm for at least 2 Sundays a year, I have written on it in these text notes several times before. For this writing, I will focus on “He restores my soul.”

In Hebrew, the word we translate as “soul” is “nefesh”. The word “nefesh” refers to one’s whole being, mind, body, heart, hopes, dreams, history, future, successes, failures, the whole package that is you. This psalm is, in part, a list of ways in which God ministers to the psalmist: feeding, watering, protecting, anointing/giving a vocation in the Kingdom of God, making peace between psalmist and his/her enemies, and more. Through all these activities, God is restoring the whole being of the psalmist to fullness of life in God. Death does not end that, nor do rivalries with enemies, loss of purpose in life, or suffering.

As God works in and with us, God is seeking to restore our whole being/our nefesh to the fullness of life which God intends, and not only for us, but for every person ever.

Ephesians 2:11-22

So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision” —a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— 12remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

When God called Abraham and made of him a great nation, he planted Abraham and his descendants into the middle of the trade routes between Egypt/Africa, China, and India for a purpose, so that the Israelites could host these merchants during their travels and witness to them. The whole point of calling one faithful man and all his progeny was to strike a spark that would create a bonfire. Instead, as Paul notes above, the descendants of Abraham became a people unto themselves, slave holding, land grabbing, war starting, just like any other tribe in the area. But, of course, those Israelites saw themselves as best because they were “God’s chosen people” even if they ignored everything they were supposed to do in that role.

In the above passage, Paul describes how Jesus reconciles the Israelites and the goyim/ethnos (Hebrew and Greek for “not us”) through making a new covenant in his own blood; no one signs this covenant or promises anything to anyone in it except Jesus to all humanity (both the gospel of John and Revelation would argue that the new covenant is with all of creation). So, whether Hebrew or goyim, circumcised or uncircumcised, all are lumped together into one body, the recipients of the covenant Jesus/God/Holy Spirit makes with God’s self.

Mark 6:30-34 & 53-56

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. 35When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; 36send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” 37But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?” 38And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. 41Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all.42And all ate and were filled; 43and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.

45Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray.

47When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by. 49But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; 50for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 51Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

53When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

Above in the title of the gospel, the pericope is stated as only the beginning and ending verses of this passage. The feeding of the 5,000 will appear in the Sunday morning lectionary later this summer (over and over and over again for 5 weeks, mostly from the gospel of John). I have included the entire passage in these notes because the beginning and ending verses make so much more sense if you know what comes in the middle. I will treat the prescribed verses for this Sunday as part of the whole.

This text immediately follows Jesus being mobbed so badly that he can’t go out in public without expecting the same. People clamor around him so desperately that he is fully occupied with healing and does not has the opportunity to teach and preach so much. So, Jesus sends out his disciples in pairs (remember, not the 12 only, but all the disciples) to teach, heal, proclaim the Kingdom of God has come near, and to travel very light, expecting the hospitality of folks along the way to sustain them.

The above passage picks up with the return of the disciples. The disciples give their report to Jesus, that people were healed and demons were cast out. Note Jesus’ response: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” Burn out and exhaustion were real dangers even for the first “church workers” and Jesus calls for quiet down time. But the crowds keep coming and Jesus will not turn anyone away.

The miracles of the teaching and feeding 5,000 men + women + children only heightens the frenzy to reach Jesus. No matter where he goes, people bring the sick for him to cure. Despite what Jesus Christ Superstar says, “There are too many of you…Don’t push me…There’s too little of me…Heal yourselves!” Jesus goes right into the crowd and starts healing again. Those who look for healing from God get it, even if all they do is touch Jesus clothes.

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, July 12, 2015

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, July 12, 2015

Amos 7:7-15

7 This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. 8 And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said,

“See, I am setting a plumb line
in the midst of my people Israel;
I will never again pass them by;
9 the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate,
and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste,
and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”

10 Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. 11 For thus Amos has said,

‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword,
and Israel must go into exile
away from his land.’”

12 And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; 13 but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.”

14 Then Amos answered Amaziah, “I am[a] no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am[b] a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, 15 and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’

Here is one of the few famous stories from the book of Amos. But the “plumb line” is not what it seems. The word translated “plumb line” seems to refer to some kind of construction tool, while the word’s root is actually based on “sigh” or “crying jag” and the Akkadian word for “tin”. The translational challenge is that this is the only place the word is used in the entire Hebrew Scriptures and ancient Hebrew writings, so there is no cross referencing the word to determine its definition. The New Interpreter’s Bible states that the translation of this word to “plumb line” was first used by medieval commentators.

No matter plumb line or no, God does not give a rosy prophecy to Amos for delivery to the Northern Kingdom of Israel or its king, Jeroboam. Nor does this prophecy speak of good days to come when the King and his priest, Amaziah, rest in security. (Remember that after Solomon, the third king of Israel, the kingdom is divided into two: the Nothern Kingdom also called Israel whose temple was at Bethel, and the Southern Kingdom also called Judah whose temple and capitol were in Jerusalem.) Because Amaziah feels threatened by Amos, he throws him out of the northern kingdom, telling him to earn a living in prophecy in Judah. But Amos answers back that he is no prophet. He is an animal and sycamore orchard keeper to whom God gave a prophecy or two. (Sycamore trees in the middle east are quite different than trees by the same name in the US. Ancient peoples used sycamore wood for building household items, and coffins, and ate its fig-like fruit.)

“High places” refer to open air temples to the gods Baal and Ashera/Astartes who were embodiments of water, land, and sky. These worship places were always located at the highest topographical points so as to be as close to the abode of the gods as possible. It is to these high places that the psalmist refers: “I lift my eyes to the hills. From where is my help to come?” The psalmist recognizes the futility in looking for help from those idols worshiped on the hills. The psalmist then states “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth,” as over and against the worship of elements of creation.

Psalm 85:8-13

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people,
to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.*
9 Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.

10 Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
11 Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky.
12 The Lord will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
13 Righteousness will go before him,
and will make a path for his steps.

Psalm 85 is a psalm of pleading to God for restoration. This psalm comes from after the time of the return of the exiles and the rebuilding of Jerusalem. While those are seen as times when God blessed the Israelites, the psalmist is living in a time of languish. The above pericope is a statement of confidence is God’s action and favor.

Ephesians 1:3-14

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 just as he chose us in Christ[a] before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance,[b] having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this[c] is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

When Paul writes to these fledgling churches, he crams so much blessing and theology into every sentence that sometimes, as in the above text, one has to take things one sentence at a time to comprehend even an inkling of Paul’s meaning. Theologians have done just that, and those writings are called Bible Commentaries, containing whole chapters on one of Paul’s paragraphs. So as to avoid that kind of muddledimuck (my word), I will focus in on a few key ideas.

First, predestination. It is very hard to be a Lutheran and not trip over verses like “He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ according to the good pleasure of his will.” However, if we read this verse more broadly, as I believe Paul meant it, then the “we” doesn’t have to mean only Paul and the congregation in Ephesus. It is the good pleasure of God’s will that all might be drawn to Jesus Christ and gathered into the heavenly places for all eternity.

Paul goes on to explain that it is through Jesus’ will, grace, and blood sacrifice that anyone receives redemption and the forgiveness of sin. Notice that Paul does not ascribe some worthiness on the part of the Ephesians or himself, but rather God does all this in love and mercy through Jesus.

Mark 6:14-29

14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’[a] name had become known. Some were[b]saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

17 For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod[c] had married her. 18 For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed;[d] and yet he liked to listen to him. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22 When his daughter Herodias[e] came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” 23 And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 24 She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25 Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s[f] head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

What a story! First of all, what a different world where a mother would tell her pre-teen daughter to ask for someone’s head as a present! What trauma to that girl, Herodias Jr., to carry someone’s head on a platter to her mother! And the disciples of John come take a headless body away from the prison to be buried. How gruesome and horrid!

Horrid most of all for poor John the baptizer! In Mark’s gospel, John the Baptizer really rips into Herod for several reasons: 1. Herod is not Israelite, but rather Edomite, descended from Esau, not Jacob and therefore usurping the throne of the Jews, 2. Herod is a puppet king for Rome and rules on their dime and because they put him on this throne, 3. Herod had his brother killed in order to steal his wife, Herodias (her title, not her name) and then father children by her, including this dancing daughter. Herod had John arrested for shaming him. Nevertheless, Herod liked to have audiences with John the baptizer. How curious! Herod was raised in the court of the Caesar Augustus, as a sort of Jew/sort of Roman. He didn’t really fit in either world, a predicament which followed him into his position as King of the Jews. As a misfit among Romans and Jews, why did Herod like to listen to John? John certainly told the truth and called them as he saw them. Was that something Herod needed in life?

Whatever the motivation, Herod kept John in prison, in part, to protect him. But that all came to an end the night of Herod’s birthday party. How very difficult for john who has bee4n preparing the Israelite world for Jesus his whole life, and yet when Jesus comes, John isn’t sure Jesus is the real Messiah. And then John is beheaded, executed for doing God’s will and calling Herod and Herodias out, without ever really knowing if he was pointing to the right guy, Jesus.

The first lesson and this gospel text blatantly point out to the readers how hard is the life of a prophet. God gives a word to the prophet and the prophet’s life is miserable unless the word is proclaimed, but often the hearers of that world make the prophet’s life miserable for proclaiming that very word! May God teach us how to hear the words of the prophets and tame our hearts to receive those words and act upon them!