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Bible Tuesday for September 27, 2015

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, September 27, 2015

Numbers 11:4-29

4The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; 6but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” 7Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its color was like the color of gum resin. 8The people went around and gathered it, ground it in mills or beat it in mortars, then boiled it in pots and made cakes of it; and the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil. 9When the dew fell on the camp in the night, the manna would fall with it. 10Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, all at the entrances of their tents. Then the Lord became very angry, and Moses was displeased. 11So Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? 12Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child,’ to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors?13Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. 15If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once—if I have found favor in your sight—and do not let me see my misery.”

16So the Lord said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tent of meeting, and have them take their place there with you. 17I will come down and talk with you there; and I will take some of the spirit that is on you and put it on them; and they shall bear the burden of the people along with you so that you will not bear it all by yourself. 18And say to the people: Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat; for you have wailed in the hearing of the Lord, saying, ‘If only we had meat to eat! Surely it was better for us in Egypt.’ Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. 19You shall eat not only one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, 20but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you—because you have rejected the Lord who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, ‘Why did we ever leave Egypt?’” 21But Moses said, “The people I am with number six hundred thousand on foot; and you say, ‘I will give them meat, that they may eat for a whole month’! 22Are there enough flocks and herds to slaughter for them? Are there enough fish in the sea to catch for them?”23The Lord said to Moses, “Is the Lord’s power limited? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not.”

24So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. 25Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again. 26Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. 27And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” 29But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”

My frustrated father used to employ a phrase I am sure you have heard once or twice, if not used yourself, “If you don’t stop your crying, I am going to give you something to cry about!!” While the irony flew right over my head, I sure knew a threat when I heard it.

God tells Moses, “They want meat?! Oh I’ll give them meat and they will eat and eat and eat meat until they vomit it out their noses!!!” Kind of scary to hear out of the mouth of the creator of heaven and earth…and we have to take this all in context.

Moses, with the meager help of Aaron and Miriam, led Israel out of Egypt by God’s might hand (clenched, raised right fist) and outstretched arm (left arm extended with hand open, beckoning a child to be enfolded in embrace). With the Israelites being such a rambunctious, rebellious bunch, Moses was burned out to the point of hospitalization for exhaustion. “Put me to death at once!” he pleads. God has better ideas: a). God will teach the Israelites that if they turn their backs on the one who saved them from slavery, consequences will ensue, which in this case includes nose puking, and b). God will anoint 70 tribal leaders who will arbitrate the disputes between their own tribal members and leave Moses to hear and proclaim the Word of the Lord.

In this story we hear of “prophesying” which the 70 tribal elders do when they receive some of the spirit which God bestows on Moses. What exactly is meant by “prophesying?” King Saul does the same thing when Samuel first anoints him as king of Israel. Various groups of Israelites “prophesy” throughout the Hebrew Scriptures (OT). This term in these contexts is usually understood not as receiving a word from God “Thus says the Lord…” like Moses or Samuel or Elijah, etc., receive, but that these folks fall into some kind of ecstatic experience. Throughout the Old and New Testaments, trance like states, speaking in tongues, spinning, and the like are understood to be signs of possession by a spirit. Whether a spirit of the Lord or of evil is usually found in the context. In this case, the prophesying of the elders is seen as proof that they have received the spirit of the Lord.

Psalm 19:7-14 (translation from The Jewish Study Bible)

The teaching of the Lord is perfect, renewing life; the decrees of the Lord are enduring, making the simple wise; the precepts of the Lord are just, rejoicing the heart; the instruction of the Lord is lucid making the eyes light up.

The fear of the Lord is pure, abiding forever, the judgments of the Lord are true, righteous altogether, more desirable than gold, than much fine gold, sweeter than honey, than drippings of the comb.

Your servant pays them heed; in obeying them there is much reward.

Who can be aware of errors?

Clear me of unperceived guilt, and from willful sins keep your servant, let them not dominate me; then shall I be blameless and clear of grave offense.

According to The Jewish Study Bible, Psalm 19 is used as a sort of call to worship during Jewish Saturday morning services, even to this day. It is divided into three sections. The section we have for this Sunday is a hymn on Torah, the Law of God. In the above translation, the Hebrew “torah” or “law” specifically “law of God” is translated “instruction”.

James 5:13-20

Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 17Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest. 19My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 20you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

In his letter to the churches, the writer of James give some formula for how the baptized should behave, both with the world and with each other. In this little passage we read all kinds of ideas which give pause to today’s baptized followers of Jesus.

1. Prayers of the faithful will “save” the sick. The writer couples this idea with “Anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven, therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed.” Modern Christians tend to interpret this to mean that if the faithful pray hard enough, the sick will be as good as new…and then something about forgiven. In Jesus day, Jews and many people throughout the Roman Empire, believed that illness was a punishment from the gods or God for sins. Jesus challenged this notion in all four gospels, but James appears to be reverting to it here. Modern Christians tend to read “save” in the Bible as “go to heaven when you die” but Bible writers did not intend that interpretation. The word that is translated “save” is “sozo” which is most commonly translated “restored”. James calls for prayers for the sick which ask God to restore sick folks to their homes, families, jobs, lives. Certainly, the ultimate restoration is to be restored to sinless life face to face with God.

2. “If we pray hard enough, God will give us what we want.” This line of thinking implies that prayer allows the pray-er some kind of hold on God that God has to give you what you ask, as long as you are praying when you ask it. In the Lutheran tradition, this is anathema, or the opposite of God. Jesus states over and over again that we are to pray, and that if we pray in concord with the Holy Spirit, what we ask for will be given. You can pray for a Lexus until you are blue in the face but if it is not for the good of the Kingdom of God, it is not the will of the Holy Spirit, and you aren’t going to get it unless you earn the money yourself. The act of prayer, humbling one’s self to God (“Not my will by your will”) is to ask the Holy Spirit to align one’s self with God’s will so that what we seek is what God wants. “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Mark 9:38-50

38John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”39But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40Whoever is not against us is for us. 41For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

42“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 43If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. 47And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

49“For everyone will be salted with fire. 50Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Salt-In Israel and Galilee, true salt in pure mineral form was hard to come by and expensive. The salt that most folks had was impure, having very fine non-salt particles in it. If it became moist in any way, the molecular structure of the salt would change, binding to the impurities, the result being that it didn’t taste salty anymore.

Millstone-To make anything into powder: grain for flour, minerals for concrete, one has to grind it. Two huge stone disks were laid one on top of the other with holes in the top one for getting the substance to be ground down between the two disks. Then one disk, aka millstone, was held stationary while the other was turned, or both were turned but in opposite directions. Millstones weighed several thousand pounds. The ones found buried outside V.S.Balbac & Son in Warren, IL are the size of tractor tires!

Hyperbole-In the same way that we use hyperbole to animate our speech, so did Jesus. One sister yells to another, “I’m going to cream you!!!” when she finds her diary pried open. Of course the offending sister is not so whipped that she becomes cream, but she runs screaming none-the-less. Jesus uses hyperbole too, most effectively in the above passage. Jesus did not intend that we read this as instruction for how to treat our bodies when we sin. If so, Christians would have no eyes, hands, or feet! As we read this passage, let us focus on what does cause us to stumble, and mislead others.

In the first verses of this passage, the disciples are indignant because someone they do not recognize is doing the works of God without their approval. They are indignant that they exclusivity on Jesus is being violated. They perceive a threat to their “specialness” in hanging with Jesus so they try to squelch it. So, what caused them to sin? Ego? Envy? Pride? The human drive to stand out in the crowd?

To this Jesus answers, “Be at peace within you.” Align yourself with the Holy Spirit and rest in that current.

Bible Tuesday for September 20, 2015

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, September 20, 2015

Jeremiah 11:18-20

It was the Lord who made it known to me, and I knew;
then you showed me their evil deeds.
19 But I was like a gentle lamb
led to the slaughter.
And I did not know it was against me
that they devised schemes, saying,
‘Let us destroy the tree with its fruit,
let us cut him off from the land of the living,
so that his name will no longer be remembered!’
20 But you, O Lord of hosts, who judge righteously,
who try the heart and the mind,
let me see your retribution upon them,
for to you I have committed my cause.

The preceding chapters of Jeremiah are filled with judgements given by God to Jeremiah for broadcast to the people of Jerusalem. The Israelites are completely polytheistic at in this time, to which God declares through Jeremiah, “You have as many gods are you have villages!” Through Jeremiah, God decries the idolatry practiced by the Israelites, including child sacrifice and ritual prostitution. The Israelites bristle at God’s scolding and, as they cannot go after God, they go after God’s mouthpiece, Jeremiah.

How very different is the theme of retribution, common in the Hebrew scriptures, from Jesus’ turn the other cheek!

Psalm 54

To the leader: with stringed instruments. A Maskil of David, when the Ziphites went and told Saul, ‘David is in hiding among us.’
1 Save me, O God, by your name,
and vindicate me by your might.
2 Hear my prayer, O God;
give ear to the words of my mouth.

3 For the insolent have risen against me,
the ruthless seek my life;
they do not set God before them.

4 But surely, God is my helper;
the Lord is the upholder of* my life.
5 He will repay my enemies for their evil.
In your faithfulness, put an end to them.

6 With a freewill-offering I will sacrifice to you;
I will give thanks to your name, O Lord, for it is good.
7 For he has delivered me from every trouble,
and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies.

The introduction to the psalm is cryptic, even to the best scholars. First of all, it is to be played on stringed instruments, but we truly do not know what stringed instruments were used by the Israelites in the year 1000 BC. There are Hebrew words which are translated “harp” and “lute” but that does not mean that what passes for harp and lute in our time is anything like what was known to these ancient Israelites.

“A Maskil”-Scholars speculate that a maskil is a type of song distinguished by rhythm or tone, as we distinguish a waltz, plainsong chant, or rap.

The setting-The book of I-II Samuel tells the story of David being given the honor of serving as King Saul’s armor bearer and harp player until King Saul became so jealous of David that he tried to kill him. David was a fine young man and soldier of great renown by this time. When King Saul put a bounty on David’s head, David gathered his most loyal military buddies to himself, formed a militia, and sought shelter/employment among the neighboring tribes, most of which were Israel’s enemies. During David and his army’s stay with the Ziphites, some of those folks ratted them out forcing them to flee not only the Ziphites but also Saul’s army in hot pursuit.

“Selah”-Scholars speculate this word marks where a musical interlude or well known chorus (such as the “Fa la la la…” in “Deck the Halls”) would be inserted.

James 3:13-4:8

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for* those who make peace.

4Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 2You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet* something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. 4Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, ‘God* yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us’? 6But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says,
‘God opposes the proud,
but gives grace to the humble.’
7Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

This passage contrasts the nature of God with the nature of evil and admonishes the baptized to Godly life. “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you,” makes logical sense in this letter. Practice a life that is “peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy” and God will come close to you. But, because of this line of thought, that by our piety and/or works we can attract God, Luther was not fond of the book of James. Instead, Luther embraced Paul as summarized in Ephesians, “For by Grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of you. This gift is of God.”

Mark 9:30-37

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.’ 32But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ 34But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ 36Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’

In the gospel of Mark, the author describes the disciples as dim witted and faithless. Here is a prime example. We read above the second time Jesus tells his disciples about what comes next. The disciples are clueless that they, not only don’t understand what Jesus is talking about, but they let their fear stop them from asking Jesus to explain. Peter got chewed out for voicing their thoughts on the subject so now, the disciples just ignore it. Instead, they start posturing with each other. Once Jesus takes the throne, who gets to be King Jesus’ chancellor? Who will get ambassador posts? Who will run the treasury?

Then Jesus points out how truly antithetical human nature is to God’s nature. The humble, the ignored, the all but invisible, the defenseless, the helpless, and those who serve them are those on whom honor is bestowed in the Kingdom of God. The people to whom we pay attention for the greater part, those to whom we are indebted, those who have power over us, those with cultivated comportment, get no more attention than anyone else from God. To be first, or honored by God is to open our eyes to see as God sees and to be used by God to act as God acts.

Bible Tuesday for September 13, 2015

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, September 13th, 2015

Isaiah 50:4-9

The Lord God has given me
the tongue of a teacher,*
that I may know how to sustain
the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens—
wakens my ear
to listen as those who are taught.
5 The Lord God has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious,
I did not turn backwards.
6 I gave my back to those who struck me,
and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face
from insult and spitting.

7 The Lord God helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
8 he who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together.
Who are my adversaries?
Let them confront me.
9 It is the Lord God who helps me;
who will declare me guilty?

Isaiah, the prophet, is called by God to proclaim God’s word to the people of Israel. Sounds easy enough except that the people of Israel are almost all ignoring God and screwing up royally, so the word of God given to Isaiah to proclaim is mostly one of scolding, threatening, cajoling, and finally one of promised doom. Here the prophet clings to God’s love despite how the prophet is treated by the Israelites.

We also hear this passage during Lent, where it is ascribed to Jesus, when dealing with us.

Psalm 116:1-9

I love the Lord, because he has heard
my voice and my supplications.
2 Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
3 The snares of death encompassed me;
the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.
4 Then I called on the name of the Lord:
‘O Lord, I pray, save my life!’
5 Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
our God is merciful.
6 The Lord protects the simple;
when I was brought low, he saved me.
7 Return, O my soul, to your rest,
for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

8 For you have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling.
9 I walk before the Lord
in the land of the living.

The psalmist celebrates God’s attention to his/her plight.

Sheol-originally the garbage dump in the lowlands outside the city (village) gate. There garbage and dead/diseased animals were burned. It came to be known as the place of utter darkness and unquenchable fire.

Soul-In Hebrew, the term is Nephesh which doesn’t translate well into English but means one’s whole self: past, present, potential, dreams, dreads, aspirations, memories, abilities, loves, yearnings, physical being, experiences, learnings. All that makes up a person is that person’s Nephesh, or soul. While we tend to think of the soul as that which leaves the body at death, note here that the psalmist speaks of God’s restoration of the soul to the living.

James 3:1-12

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters,[a] for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4 Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs.5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature,[b] and is itself set on fire by hell.[c] 7 For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8 but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters,[d] this ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters,[e] yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

Jesus’ teaching from two weeks ago that what comes out of us is what defiles us is here arrived at from a different approach by James. I have to disagree with James, though, that not everyone should be a teacher. No matter what, we all are teachers. Our mere presence is society teaches others. As adults, children look to us for all manner of models and examples, whether we intend them to or not. The whole concept of “paying it forward” shows that our every action in society impacts others, either positively or negatively, or both.

And then there is one’s call in baptism. Luther taught that we are to be little Christs to the people around us. Our thoughts, words, and deeds are all to proceed from the Holy Spirit at work in us, the faith that has been planted and taken root in us. We are then to teach one another and all neighbors about Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit, “and if necessary, use words.”

Mark 8:27-38

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’28And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ 29He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’* 30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel,*will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words* in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’

Verse 32 of the above passage is one of many times in this gospel that Jesus sternly admonishes folks to “say nothing to anyone” about what has just taken place, usually a miracle. Scholars call this the “messianic secret”. Why does Jesus not want anyone to know who he is, yet Jesus goes around healing folks and feeding over 5000 people all from a sack lunch? All we can do is speculate. What makes the most sense to me is that Jesus needs time to make sure that at least his closest circle know who he is and are equipped to take over the ministry after Easter and Ascension.

In the gospel of Mark, the messianic secret is suddenly revealed starting at verse 31. Note how well the whole plan for salvation goes over. The disciples are aghast! Peter is just the one brave enough to voice their shock and horror. Apparently, the disciples were hoping that by hanging in with Jesus, there would be some kind of reward, perhaps a cabinet position or an ambassadorship. Jesus dissuaded the disciples of their visions of grandeur with this famous and most difficult teaching. Even those among us who are servant of all, Mother Theresa, are still famous and receive accolades and seen as great! How hard it is to live the upside down life that is required of truly following Jesus.

Bible Tuesday for September 6, 2015

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, September 6th, 2015

Isaiah 35:4-7

Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
‘Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.’

5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6 then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
7 the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,*
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

The Israelites are being conquered by the Babylonians with siege laid against Jerusalem. The people within the city are terrified, panicked, and full of dread. It is to this situation that the prophet responds as he writes the above passage.

While I struggle with the idea of God reeking vengeance on anyone, (Certainly Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are the example of the opposite of vengeance.) I really do appreciate this passage. The recompense that God will work is illustrated by new life sprouting from death. The blind, deaf, and dumb are receive restoration of their senses. Arid, barren, desolate places are promised to come alive with water, plant and animal life.

How is it that God will save these trapped, frightened Israelites? With abundant life in places they never thought they would find it.

Psalm 146

1 Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
2 I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

3 Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
4 When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.

5 Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
6 who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
7 who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
8 the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
9 The Lord watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

10 The Lord will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!

The psalmist celebrates a divine power that defines itself not with acts of wealth or military power, which sway with change in leadership, but rather the through creation of all that exists and who exerts power through compassion and constancy.

James 2:1-17

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” 4have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?5Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

8You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 9But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

14What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

So frequently we read scriptures and struggle to understand the culture from which they are written. What is Jesus talking about? What do we have in common with these folks. James nails it for his own congregations and for us, as well. Because of human nature, the neuro pathways in our brains, we constantly judge books by their covers. Jeff and I both taught and practiced “looking professional”, “speak properly”, “act politely” in order to garner the best possible first impressions and all other impressions that follow. Firm handshakes and a straight look in the eye mean a lot in American society.

Of course James draws an absolutely true dichotomy between how the “beautiful people” are treated and how the poor are treated. But I think he over simplifies this lesson. “Has not God chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith…?” It is as if James is suggesting that there is a converse relation between being poor and faithful and rich and faithless, with the middle class being dead center on both spectrums.

There is in Liberation Theology a tenet called “Preferential Treatment for the Poor” which teaches that God prefers the poor over the rich, tending and nurturing the poor the most. There sure is a lot of scripture that supports this: Rich Man and Lazarus, Camel through the Eye of the Needle, “Go, sell all you have and give your money to the poor. Then come, follow me.” In my own understanding of this tenet, I think that a) the poor are more vulnerable on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and b) their desperate need gives them a more immediate opportunity to hear and receive God, a Theology of the Cross moment, if you will. But dearth of financial means does not equal wealth of faith in God. I have met people of amazing faith in all walks of life and socio-economic classes. Spitting on the cross also spans the socio-economic spectrum.

James goes on to states St. Paul’s point that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” therefore, no one, for whatever reason, deserves favor for anything. We serve, not because people deserve our service, but because God serves us. Our service to others our response to God’s service to us.

James’ last point in this passage can be a sticky one for Lutherans and sure seems to fly in the face of “Salvation by Grace through Faith apart from works of law.” As the Holy Spirit works in people, planting within them faith in the marvelous acts of Jesus, then that faith is bound to grow and produce fruit, works. If not, it is merely seed that landed on the path or was choked by the sun and weeds. Living faith is exemplified in acts inspired by and harmonizing with the Holy Spirit.

Mark 7:24-27

24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre.* He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ 28But she answered him, ‘Sir,* even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ 29Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’ 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ 35And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36Then Jesus*ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37They were astounded beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.’

Last week’s gospel text was the verses that immediately precede these, where Jesus teaches that what defiles a person is not the absence of religious ritual, but rather sinful thoughts and actions. This week’s gospel is a set of stories which illustrate Jesus’ point. In both stories Jesus encounters people who are unclean by Israelite tradition, and yet Jesus, the God/Man, declares them clean and grants to them what they desire of God.

In the first story, Jesus takes his disciples out of the land of the Israelites, the land of Canaan promised to Abraham and his descendants by God. Jews don’t go there. Jews don’t eat there or sleep there or even travel there because the people there are unclean goyim, “not us.” The Hebrew scriptures do not instruct Israelites to leave their homes and work places and go out to evangelize the goyim about Yahweh. Israelites are supposed to “go to the land that I will give you,” and be faithful to Yahweh there, and the goyim will come to them. It was unheard of for a rabbi and his disciples to leave Israel and enter the house of goyim in a strange land. The disciples had to be unsettled by the whole thing.

Then here comes a goya woman begging Jesus to exorcise a demon from her little girl. The theme of humility before the master runs through this story. The woman’s demon possessed daughter is a “little girl” or a diminutive female child. The woman humbles herself by bowing down at Jesus’ feet. (Notice that none of the disciples or apostles ever do this, except the woman who washes Jesus’ feet with her hair. Rather, in the gospel of John, Jesus knees at the disciples’ feet.) Jesus seemingly chastises the woman by saying that food, literally bread in Hebrew, should not be taken from the children (as opposed to “the Israelites” or “God’s chosen people”) and throw it to the dogs. The woman replies, “Sir, even the puppies under the table get the children’s crumbs,” not “even the dogs get table scraps.” The fruits of this humble, beseeching exchange? The mother returns to her home and finds her little daughter healed.

Returning from foreign soil toward Galilee, Jesus is presented with a man who is deaf and unable to speak. Consistent with “Theology of Glory” alive and well in our own time, disabilities, as well as poverty, misfortune, and untimely death, were considered just deserts bestowed by God. When Jesus responds favorably to the begging of this man’s sponsors and touches this man, Jesus is defying defilement traditions in favor of mercy.

Almost two months ago, the gospel lesson was John’s version of the feeding of the 5,000. That miracle happens in Chapter 6 of Mark. Now in chapter 7, the idea of God feeding all who seek to be fed, both the Jews who are present, and everyone else who might eat from the leftover baskets, is expounded on in living color by the debate of what defiles, and then by the “feeding” of the demon possessed daughter and the deaf mute.