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Bible Tuesday for All Saints Day 2015

Bible Tuesday for All Saints Day, 2015

Isaiah 25:6-9

6On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. 7And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. 8Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.

9It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

The first part of the book of Isaiah was written to the Israelites as siege and defeat by Babylon loomed large. Toward the end of first Isaiah, the prophet speaks a word of unprecedented and, in some ways unwanted, peace and harmony. God will bring out this harmonious peace at a feast! This feast will not be just for Israel or for Judah, but for ALL PEOPLES. Those things over which peoples war: disgrace, death, will be that which God eats, while all the guests will eat the richest delicacies and choicest foods.

Psalm 24

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it;

2for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.

3Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?

4Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully.

5They will receive blessing from the Lord, and vindication from the God of their salvation.

6Such is the company of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah

7Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in.

8Who is the King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle.

9Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in.

10Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah

It is thought that this is a call to worship or entrance hymn in the ancient liturgies of Israel. Verses 1-2 would have been the Call to Worship, verses 3-6 would have been the opening litany with the priest speaking or singing verse 3 and the congregants speaking or singing verses 4-6. The “selah” is thought to be a musical interlude, rather like what an organist might play between the second to last and last verses of a gathering or sending hymn. Then, during this musical interlude, the doors of the Temple are opened and the congregation cries out or sings verses 7-10.

Note how God is described in this hymn. These descriptions are the reasons for the worshippers gathering. Verses 1-2 states what is God’s and why…because God made all that is. Then picking up in verse 8, God is mighty and valiant in battle, victorious over all peoples, so much so that the psalmist titles God, The Lord of Hosts, that is, Master of All Peoples.

Revelation 21:1-6

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” 5And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.

The book of Revelation, originally written for Christians living under severe economic, religious, and physical persecution, is filled with carrot and stick admonishments and threats meant to encourage faithfulness to Christ. There are violent, fantastical images of evil wreaking havoc on earth and its inhabitants, building to the very brief and anticlimactic battle between the Jesus, the slaughtered lamb and all the hosts of evil. Then comes the beautiful final chapters. Those who have survived the ordeals of the previous chapters are rewarded not by being raptured, but by seeing the new bride-city, Jerusalem, descending from Heaven to a new earth. God now makes God’s home with all peoples on earth. God tends these people, drying their tears and vanishing all their terrors, refreshing them with the gift of new life. The book of Revelation is meant as an allegory of life under Roman oppression for the early Christians, and as a statement of hope in God’s final banishment of evil resulting in new life of bountiful love, safety, and healing.

John 1132-44

2When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” 38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

The whole of the 11th chapter of John is the story of Lazarus’s death and resurrection. It is unfortunate that only the resurrection scene is in the pericope for this Sunday. This story when read in its entirety, more than any other in all the gospels, speaks the truth of death. Weeping, sobbing, wracked with grief and despair, first Martha and then Mary accusatorily greet the late coming Jesus with the words, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!” Do we not say the same thing when an abducted child’s dead body is found? Do we not say the same thing when prom night car accidents kill high school kids whose lives are on the precipice of beginning? Do we not wonder where God is in the midst of famines and AIDS epidemics, and so many other tragedies?

Jesus’ answer to Martha is a statement of identity, “I am the resurrection and the life…” But in this passage of the story, Jesus does not answer Mary this way, but instead goes to Lazarus’ grave and sobs. “Disturbed” and “deeply moved” are the translation here. Why is Jesus disturbed and deeply moved, to the point of sobbing? Jesus knows he is going to raise Lazarus. He said as much when the word first came to him that Lazarus was ill. Why then?

Here we see that even Jesus is not immune to the ravages of death. Of course we know that Jesus suffered horrifically as he was dying, but we don’t think about Jesus suffering at the death of others. Of all people on earth, Jesus is the only one who passes from earth to heaven to earth and then ascends to heaven. Why should death bother him?

But it does. A lot. Death is the embodiment of ugliness and horror. One moment is life, personality, possibility, potential, thoughts, actions, and the next cold waxy blue skin already starting to stink. Death binds us, like Jacob Marley’s chains. From dust were you made and to dust you shall return. “All we are is dust in the wind.” But Jesus’ last words in this passage are a statement of what he came to accomplish. “Unbind him and let him go!” he said about Lazarus and his linen death wraps. “Unbind them and let them go!” Jesus cries as he “descends to hell”. And as the sun rises on Easter morning, we find ourselves free, dimly as we look in the mirror of this word, completely as we look at God face to face in the next.

Bible Tuesday for Reformation Sunday, 2015

Bible Tuesday for Reformation Sunday, 2015

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. It 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. But 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. No 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.

Chapters 30 – 31 of Jeremiah are a prophecy of restoration for Israel and Judah. There are verses where God scolds them for their prostitution of themselves to foreign powers and gods, but most of the verses are like this week’s passage, promises of restoration. In some of the verses leading up to this passage, God refers to Israel as God’s virgin daughter, rebellious but virgin. So within this prophecy, God moves from calling out Israel on her unfaithfulness to restoration. Prostitute to virgin. Rebellious to obedient. Idolaters to God’s faithful people.

Why this passage for Reformation Sunday? Because it deals with the law. In this passage in Jeremiah, the law moves from an imposed outward authority to an inward voice inspiring and guiding the faithful in right relationship to God.

Psalm 46

To the leader. Of the Korahites. According to Alamoth. A Song.
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
‘Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.’
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.

This psalm describes with works of God as the ultimate peacemaker with a very effectives weapons buy back program! The psalmist describes God in this way to strongly emphasize why the Israelites should not fear. Life for the Israelites was just as unstable and life threatening as life is now in the middle east. There were always skirmishes, if not all out battles and wars between Israel/Judah and other nations, or civil war between themselves! For Israelite common folk who were subsistence workers, life was forever teetering between disease, starvation, invasion, and natural disasters. What a statement to claim God a refuge and strength when you are a peasant blown by the winds of human and environmental powers. “Because Yahweh is our refuge and our strength, WE WILL NOT FEAR!”

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. For ‘no human being will be justified in his sight’ by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.

But now, irrespective of law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom 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; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.

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

Paul is describing what Luther would call the first use of the law. The law is developed to curb/guide unwanted behavior. You wouldn’t make a law against sending birthday cards, because, of course, you want that behavior. Rather you would outlaw hate mail, but you wouldn’t even know you needed to outlaw it until some jerk sent hate mail which caused unreasonable harm. The law, that is, God’s law as dictated in Genesis – Deuteronomy, also shows God’s perfection, as God always keeps the law, and conversely human imperfection, since we do not always keep the law. “Every mouth is silenced” means there is no bragging about righteousness under the law since no human keeps the law perfectly. Since no human keeps the law perfectly, loving God in every thought/word/deed and loving neighbor as we love ourselves, there is no way humans can earn salvation through acts within the law. But God’s perfect love and grace, that is, God’s righteousness, is shown humanity by salvation through faith in Jesus instead of living perfectly under the law.

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; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ They 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”?’

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

The texts for Reformation Sunday are the same every year. In years past, when I have written on this text, I have spent some time on the irony of the Jews whom Jesus is addressing responding to Jesus by stating that they are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. Apparently the whole Exodus story, the seminal event in Israelite history, slipped their minds.

This year let’s focus on Jesus’ words. This text is taken from the gospel of John which opens with a definition and description of the Word. “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God…And the word was made flesh and pitched its tent among us. We beheld the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” With that in mind, let us read Jesus’ opening words in this passage. How might we continue in Jesus’ word? Of course a common read of this text is that we must read our Bibles every day, as that is the “word of God.” I would agree that reading the Hebrew and Christian Holy Scriptures is part of continuing in the word. But, according to the gospel of John, there is so much more than that! To be in Jesus’ word, is to be in relationship with Jesus/God/Holy Spirit. It is through this relationship that God woks to become the center and ground of our very being.

But, because we operate through sin, being a disciple of Jesus is just about the last thing we really want to do. Far more relaxing to rest at home with a good book and spend all our money on ourselves and maybe our nice friend and relatives. But being a disciple of Jesus, living just as Jesus lived, dying for ungrateful ignoramuses just as Jesus died is absolutely not what we practice in life. But Jesus, the son, sets us free from ourselves in order that we might be disciples, imperfect, flawed, sort of faithful disciples who are loved by God.

Bible Tuesday for October 18, 2015

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, October 18, 2015

Isaiah 53:4-12

Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
8 By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people.
9 They made his grave with the wicked
and his tomb* with the rich,*
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.*
When you make his life an offering for sin,*
he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;
through him the will of the Lord shall prosper.
11 Out of his anguish he shall see light;*
he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.
The righteous one,* my servant, shall make many righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he poured out himself to death,
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

In my conversations with Jewish colleagues, this passage is one of the most important points of diversion between us. Christians universally interpret this passage as a description of Jesus. Obviously, Jewish scholars disagree. In fact, this passage is greatly debated within the Jewish community and has been for over 2000 years.

The entirety of Isaiah does not point to one person who is Messiah. Certainly Christians interpret many passages in Isaiah as pointing to Jesus, while the original authors of the prophetic books also were addressing events current to them. Those for whom Isaiah was first written and spoken, and all Jews since then ask, “Who is the suffering servant?” Over the centuries, Jewish scholars have developed some theories.

This passage refers to the faithful remnant of Israel. It is common in the prophetic books to refer to one person while meaning the whole people of God or a particular group of Jews. It is also common throughout the Hebrew Scriptures to read about the faithful minority suffering with the adulterous majority.

Or this passage could refer to the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah did suffer greatly at the hands of the Israelites in and around Jerusalem, and ended up exiled in Egypt for a while. Jeremiah was absolutely righteous but suffered greatly with his fellow Israelites.

Or, this passage could refer to Moses. The books of Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy certain portray Moses as suffering greatly at the hands of the unfaithful, whining Israelites.

This passage was also a key point of departure between the Sadducees and the Pharisees. At the center of the argument is the second line of verse 10. “He shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the Lord shall prosper.” This can also be translated, “He might see offspring and have long life, and that through him the Lord’s purpose might prosper.” This passage in its original Hebrew can be understood as referring to resurrection from the dead, or merely as self sacrifice to make way for prosperity of one’s offspring. The Pharisees understood it to refer to resurrection and the Sadducees did not.

Psalm 91:9-16

Because you have made the Lord your refuge,*
the Most High your dwelling-place,
10 no evil shall befall you,
no scourge come near your tent.

11 For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
12 On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the adder,
the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.

14 Those who love me, I will deliver;
I will protect those who know my name.
15 When they call to me, I will answer them;
I will be with them in trouble,
I will rescue them and honor them.
16 With long life I will satisfy them,
and show them my salvation.

This is the psalm which inspired the hymn “On Eagle’s Wings”. The portions of this psalm selected for this week illustrate first the speaker, who admonishes the faithful to remain so by stating the benefits of their faithful, and then God, who promises rescue, honor, and long life to those who remain devoted to God.

It is also from this psalm, and a couple other passages in the Bible that snake handling within the Christian community developed. This is not a recent phenomena, but developed within a sect of very early Christians who used snake handling as proof that the Holy Spirit was with them, because it was protecting the handling from being bitten. In the US, snake handling is done within certain sects of the Pentecostal Church.

Hebrews 5:1-10

Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; 3and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. 4And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was.

5 So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him,
‘You are my Son,
today I have begotten you’;
6as he says also in another place,
‘You are a priest for ever,
according to the order of Melchizedek.’

7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus* offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

This is a very unLutheran way of thinking about the priesthood. While the author of Hebrews is describing the priesthood of Israel, to which a person was appointed. The priest had to offer sacrifices to purify himself before he could offer gifts and sacrifices for the people. The priest serves as a mediator between God and the people, just as Moses was. The Israelites were afraid to speak with God directly so Moses did, and then told the people what God said.

Because Jesus is fully human and fully divine, Jesus and we have direct communication so a mediating priest is no longer necessary. “I and the Father are one,” says Jesus in the gospel of John. When we relate to Jesus, we are relating to God.

So then, why do we have pastors? Luther taught that we have pastors “for good order.” Pastors are just laypeople who are educated in the scriptures and the history and traditions of the faith, and trained in teaching, preaching, and administration of the sacraments. Pastors don’t offer sacrifices for purification before worship services because, through baptism, pastors are just as clean as all other baptized. In the Lutheran Church, pastors are not ordained for life at their seminary graduation services, but rather ordained in congregations or synod gatherings to symbolize it is the people that raised up these folks to be pastors. As long as the pastor has a calling/congregation to serve, that person continues as a pastor; not ordained for life, but only for as long as service is needed.

The “order of Melchizedek” is found only in the book of Hebrews. When Abraham and Sarah were traveling from Ur of the Chaldeans to Canaan, they came upon a tribe of people who hosted them for a bit. These people had a priest who “served the Most High God” whose name was Melchizedek. No other description of this priest or the religion he practiced is given in the Bible but the title Most High God refers to no other god but Yahweh throughout the entire Bible. Abraham didn’t even have a religion, per se, certainly no prescribed rites or rituals to be done with Yahweh, but Melchizedek is a priest of God for his tribe. Melchizedek blesses Abraham in the name of the Most High God before Abraham and Sarah set out again.

Mark 10:35-45

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’36And he said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ 37And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ 38But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ 39They replied, ‘We are able.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’

41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’

The opening verses of this passage give a great example of what the disciples thought of Jesus. What a lesson in patronage! James and John have followed Jesus, did what he told them, learned (sort of) what he taught them, and now it is payback time. They want the prime cabinet positions. That Jesus didn’t call down lightening from heaven and fry them on the spot a miracle in itself!

These disciples have the gall to make demands of Jesus right after Jesus tells this disciples for the third and final time that he is heading to Jerusalem to suffer and die there. James’ and John’s request then is all the more ironic and illustrative complete incomprehension of the Son of Man.

Jesus’ reaction is to tell James and John that they do not know what they are asking. Don’t they? They want to share in Jesus’ power and in Jesus’ glory. What they don’t know is how much it will cost them to get it. As Jesus continues his scolding, he says as much. “The cup I drink, you will drink and the baptism with which I am baptized, you will also be baptized.”

Bible Tuesday for 10/11/15

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, October 11, 2015

Amos 5:6-15

Seek the Lord and live,
or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire,
and it will devour Bethel, with no one to quench it.
7 Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood,
and bring righteousness to the ground!

8 The one who made the Pleiades and Orion,
and turns deep darkness into the morning,
and darkens the day into night,
who calls for the waters of the sea,
and pours them out on the surface of the earth,
the Lord is his name,
9 who makes destruction flash out against the strong,
so that destruction comes upon the fortress.

10 They hate the one who reproves in the gate,
and they abhor the one who speaks the truth.
11 Therefore, because you trample on the poor
and take from them levies of grain,
you have built houses of hewn stone,
but you shall not live in them;
you have planted pleasant vineyards,
but you shall not drink their wine.
12 For I know how many are your transgressions,
and how great are your sins—
you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
and push aside the needy in the gate.
13 Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time;
for it is an evil time

14 Seek good and not evil,
that you may live;
and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,
just as you have said.
15 Hate evil and love good,
and establish justice in the gate;
it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts,
will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

The prophet, Amos, is sent by God to proclaim words of judgement, warning, and comfort to the northern kingdom of Israel that they might be faithful to God and spared defeat by Assyria. While many of the minor prophetic books in the Hebrew Scriptures are written in this same context, Amos is unique in that the prophet rejects the Northern Kingdom’s worship site of Bethel in favor of the Temple in Jerusalem, and prophesies not against religious sins, such as worship of Baal and other gods, but against social and political sins, as mentioned in the above pericope.

Verse 10’s “They” refers to the Israelites of the Northern Kingdom. “They” are acting as spoiled, rebellious children against those put in authority by God. Most ancient cities in most cultures were walled. Israelite cities had gates that were rather like apartment buildings which straddled large, arched gates that ran right through their middles. The exterior walls of these apartment building-gates were several feet thick. Offices were found in them for the guards of the gates, as well as offices for city officials and for the courts. It is in the city gates that prophets frequently delivered their messages from God, and it was to the city gate one went with official business such as property disputes. It is to here that the poor come, seeking justice, or assistance.

Amos decries the behavior of the powerful in the Northern Kingdom, condemning their injustice, especially to the needy. But note how the tone of chastisement flows into exhortation in the final verses. There is always hope in God, for God is faithful to the covenants.

Psalm 90:12-17

So teach us to count our days
that we may gain a wise heart.

13 Turn, O Lord! How long?
Have compassion on your servants!
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
16 Let your work be manifest to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
17 Let the favour of the Lord our God be upon us,
and prosper for us the work of our hands—
O prosper the work of our hands!

This psalm and psalm 91 are recited at the beginning of morning services on sabboth and other festivals. Psalm 90 contrasts human transience with God’s eternity. While God is eternal, human future is found in their children and their children’s children, and in those things people have done that last beyond their own lifetime. It is to these that the psalmist refers in verses 16-17

Hebrews 4:12-16

Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested* as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

The author of Hebrews herein gives vague details of his take on what the end of life will be. “All are laid bare…we must render an account” which brings classic images of standing at the gates of heaven pleading our cases to God or St. Peter. But push those kinds of images from your mind. The writer of Hebrews never saw Warner Bros. cartoons or read The New Yorker for its comics. Instead, focus on what the author says next. We are to hold fast to our confessions: confessions of sins, confessions of what God has done for us, confessions of our hurt and sorrow and troubles. Why? Because we have a high priest/judge/mediator who, himself, suffered life as we do in order that he might completely flood with grace this whole wounded world, and our lives too. Because of Jesus, we march right up to the throne of the Lamb, our confessions flowing in our thoughts and out our lips, all the while knowing that mercy, grace, healing, and wholeness will be ours. We are not afraid to be laid bare, but relieved that finally we will be at peace with ourselves, everyone else, and God.

Mark 10:17-31

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 18Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.” ’ 20He said to him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.’ 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money* to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, how hard it is* to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another,* ‘Then who can be saved?’ 27Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.’

28 Peter began to say to him, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you.’ 29Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news,* 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.’

All three of the synoptic gospels contain this story in various forms and it is usually called “The Rich Man” but note that he is not referred to as rich in Mark, merely as having many possessions. Note the question he asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He does not quiz Jesus like the Pharisees, but he ask Jesus about his teaching either. Rather, the man asks about what activity will allow him to inherit eternal life.

Jesus responds with the party line, Jewish Law as summarized in the Decalogue (aka Ten Commandments). The man is not aware of Luther’s teaching on the Decalogue (which is based on Jesus’ and Paul’s teachings) so he feels confident that he has kept the commandments perfectly since the age of responsibility. Yet, the man feels insecure with his afterlife prospects.

Jesus responds to the man with very difficult instructions which we tend to either take literally, becoming a monk/nun/ascetic, or to ignore, hoping that we somehow do not have as many possessions as that guy and therefore fly under Jesus’ radar on this one.

Jesus then paints a strange parable picture: a camel fitting through the eye of a needle. Why a camel? Why the eye of a needle? Why not say, “It is easier for a lion to fit into a fox’s den then for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God”? Some scholars believe there was a gate into Jerusalem referred to as “The eye of the needle” because it was so small, like a short, narrow doorway. If a person was without luggage, or cart, or excess body weight, that person could pass through the gate. A loaded camel would not be able to pass through. An unloaded camel would still have a very difficult time and might require some Crisco on the ribs, much less serious crouching. So Jesus’ parable implies that one would have to be completely unencumbered in order to pass through that Eye of the Needle gate. But remember that parables are mere illustrations of one aspect of something and cannot be stretched to address the whole question.

The discomfort and difficulty of the man’s encounter with Jesus and Jesus’ response is reflected in the disciples’ reactions. “Who can be saved?” they fearfully ask one another. Then to soothe their fears, Peter brags about everything that the disciples have left to follow Jesus. “Surely this very difficult lesson