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Bible Tuesday for Advent I, 2015

Bible Tuesday for Advent I, 2015

Jeremiah 33:14-16

14 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

The twelve sons of Jacob did not get along well at all, and when those sons had children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and so on…those descendants of the original twelve brothers did not get a long either. Some of the tribes made alliances with other tribes, but almost never did all twelve tribes work in completely harmony. The closest they came was under the rules of King David and his heir, King Solomon. Once King Solomon died, the Kingdom of Israel split into two, a band of 9 tribes (plus Dan) to the north, called Israel, and a band of two tribes to the south, called Judah. There was constant disharmony between these two, even civil war, which made it much easier for Assyria and Babylonia to conquer them.

It was just as Babylon was destroying both the remains of Israel and the whole of Judah that the above passage was written. God promises through the prophet, Jeremiah, that though cities are burning and Babylon has laid siege to Jerusalem, yet will God restore the Kingdom. All factions of Israel and Judah will live under one king, again from David’s line. The sins of idolatry and faithlessness will be set aside as God makes Israel and Judah a new kingdom which God, himself, will make right.

Psalm 25:1-10

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
2 O my God, in you I trust;
do not let me be put to shame;
do not let my enemies exult over me.
3 Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;
let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

4 Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.

6 Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!

8 Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
9 He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
10 All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.

This is the first portion of an acrostic psalm, meaning that each line of the psalm starts with a different and proceeding letter of the alphabet.

In contemporary Christian practice, this and other psalms that ask God to punish or shame some people, while being forgiving and protective to others is antithetical to what Jesus teaches. This is certainly not “turning the other cheek.” So then how do we read these psalms? While I do not believe that because the psalmists seek vengeance, we are justified in doing so also, I do appreciate the honesty with which the psalmist addresses God. The author tells God that he/she doesn’t think he/she is as bad as some people. That is bold! In the author’s discussion with God, the author acknowledges that God is “from old” meaning eternal, so the whole history of the psalmist should be addressed, but mercifully. “Do not remember the sins of my youth.” Please, God, forgive our youthful indiscretions.

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.

11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. 12 And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. 13 And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

The Apostle Paul traveled for years evangelizing in a town until there were enough baptized to make up a congregation and then nurturing that congregation until it could stand on its own. Then Paul would travel on to the next community and try to do the same thing all over again. These letters that Paul wrote are to the congregations that Paul and others planted in Rome, and Corinth, and Ephesus, Galatia, Colossi, and Thessaloniki. How hard it must have been for Paul to get letters from these congregations, hear their trials and their joys, and not be there to help or celebrate with them!

So what do Paul and his traveling companions do? Pray…pray that they may be reunited again and that more ministry may be done among them! And give benediction, blessing, and commendation all in the hopes of salvation through faith in Jesus.

Luke 21:25-36

25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

This section of Luke’s gospel is called “the Apocalypse”. “Apocalypse” means “to pull back the curtain, or to reveal”. This portion of Luke is in the same style as the book of Revelation and portions of the book of Daniel. Apocalyptic writing was very popular in Jesus’ time among Jews. It is very imaginative and dramatic, serving as political and religious punditry of the day.

In Luke’s gospel, this apocalyptic passage occurs right after Palm Sunday. Jesus and the disciples go into the Temple, see the widow putting her last two copper coins into the offering collection, and then the disciples comment on the amazing architecture to which Jesus replies, “You see all this?! It will all be brought down!” Then the disciples ask Jesus, “When?!” and Jesus replies with the above apocalyptic passage.

The challenge to understanding apocalyptic Biblical writing is that we do not know how to correctly interpret the symbols. It is rather like the Teddy Bear. Those who know the story of President Teddy Roosevelt and his hunting of the great grizzly bear which he had taxidermed for the White House know what the Teddy Bear originally symbolized. For everyone else, it is just a cute stuffed toy. In the same way, we can read biblical apocalyptic writing and we can appreciate the imagery but we are only scratching the surface on the meaning of this writing. Some Christians put a lot of energy and time into transposing the images of Biblical apocalyptic writings over current world events and then predicting the future, even the end of the world! Lutherans tend to see this as a waste of time, quoting Jesus when he said, “About that day or hour, no one knows. Not the son. Only the Father knows.”

But what do we do with the frightening images of Jesus’ words in these apocalyptic passages? We take heart in the good news that Jesus reveals. Verse 28 in the above passage says, “But when you see these things begin to take place, stand up and raise up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” While Jesus is describing scary things, he does not tell the disciples to be scared, but rather to be hopeful, because when these things come to pass, they signify the redemption of God for all creation. So then, we do not read these passages with fear and foreboding, but with courage, hope in God’s redemption, and faith in Jesus who loves us beyond our understanding.

Bible Tuesday for Christ the King, 2015

Bible Tuesday for the Feast Day of Christ the King, 2015

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14

9 As I watched,
thrones were set in place,
and an Ancient One* took his throne;
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames,
and its wheels were burning fire.
10 A stream of fire issued
and flowed out from his presence.
A thousand thousand served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him.
The court sat in judgement,
and the books were opened.
13As I watched in the night visions,
I saw one like a human being*
coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One*
and was presented before him.
14 To him was given dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
that shall never be destroyed.

The book of Daniel is both narrative and apocalyptic. It contains the great stories of Shadrach, Mishach, and Abednigo, as well as Daniel and the Lion’s Den, among others. And it contains accounts of the prophet, Daniel’s visions. The visions sound very much like the entire book of Revelation, because they are the same type of literature. These apocalyptic visions are interpretations of the political and socio-economic context of the seer. The book of Daniel was written in both Hebrew and Aramaic.

The above passage is a small section of “a dream and a vision of Daniel’s mind in bed; afterward he wrote down the dream.” (Daniel 7:1) The first verses of this vision recorded in Daniel 7 describe four beasts which come out of a body of water. Each beast represents a world power at that time: Babylon, Medes, Persia, and Alexander the Great of Greece. These beasts are judged by Yahweh in his throne room, the scene of which is described in the above passage. The pericope omits one of the judgments of one of the beasts.

Daniel’s vision portrays God as an amalgamation of Canaanite myth and contemporary throne room court scenes x 1000. In those various myths, the gods ascend to their thrones after defeating various enemies. However, Yahweh does not gain godliness but rather created all and has always been God. This is why the title “Ancient One” is used. Important recurring symbols are that of a river flowing from God’s throne. In Jewish tradition and Hebrew scriptures, a life-giving river will flow from Zion (the mount on which the Temple was built) when God returns to the Temple and restores Jerusalem and all Israel to its former glory.

But why is this text chosen for Christ the King Sunday?! Because of the “one like a human being” in verse 13. In Jewish tradition, this reference was to a) the hoped for messiah king whom God would use to overthrow those who occupied Israel, or b) a human like figure who will execute God’s judgment such as the angel, Gabriel, or c) the whole people of Israel.

The more common translation of the Aramic for “one like a human being” is “son of man”. This is a term Jesus uses to describe himself in three of the four gospels. It is an idiom for “human being” but when Jesus uses it, he seems to be referring to not just any human being but a special, designated one, THE designated one.

Psalm 93

The Lord is king, he is robed in majesty;
the Lord is robed, he is girded with strength.
He has established the world; it shall never be moved;
2 your throne is established from of old;
you are from everlasting.

3 The floods have lifted up, O Lord,
the floods have lifted up their voice;
the floods lift up their roaring.
4 More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters,
more majestic than the waves* of the sea,
majestic on high is the Lord!

5 Your decrees are very sure;
holiness befits your house,
O Lord, for evermore.

This psalm is thought to have been used during coronations of Israelite kings, with the understanding that Yahweh is king of Israel and the crowned kings are merely God’s agents. This psalm also reflects the authority of God as established, not by defeated enemies, but by having made and exerting power over all that is. In verses 4-5 the uncontainable, uncontrollable aspects of vast amounts of water are illustrating the ultimate over which God is elevated.

Revelation 1:4-8

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and freed* us from our sins by his blood, 6and made* us to be a kingdom, priests serving* his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
7 Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.
So it is to be. Amen.

8 ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

Let us leave the imagery of Revelation and the 7 spirits for another time and focus on why this text is being used for Christ the King Sunday. Within this text we find many descriptors of Jesus: the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, the king above kings, the one who frees from sins, the ultimate sacrifice, the one who will come on the clouds, the Christ which means the anointed one. God grants Jesus “glory and dominion forever” because Jesus carried out and embodies God’s love for us. Revelation does not abide by the fully fleshed out doctrine of the Trinity, but it does contain the beginnings of it.

John 18:33-37

Then Pilate entered the headquarters* again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ 34Jesus answered, ‘Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?’ 35Pilate replied, ‘I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?’ 36Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ 37Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ And Pilate replied, “What is truth?”

The crime for which Jesus is hauled in front of Pilate is treason. The Israelites are a conquered people under Roman rule. Although the Israelites/Jews have a “Jewish” king even while under Rome’s thumb, that king was put in power by Rome. Herod the Great was raised in Rome and educated with Caesar’s own kids. Herod was put in power to keep the Jews under control and to generate revenue for Rome. If at any time Herod told Rome to go fly a kite, Herod would have been squashed and another puppet king would have been put in his place.

When Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin hauled Jesus to Pilate, it was with the hope that Pilate would find him guilty of treason and Rome would crucify Jesus, leaving the hands of the high priest and Jewish leaders clean. But in John’s gospel, Pilate is portrayed as much nicer than he really was, seeking to free Jesus because Jesus does not seem treasonous to him. Crazy? Maybe, but not treasonous.

Bible Tuesday for November 15, 2015

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, November 15, 2015

Daniel 12:1-3

‘At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise. There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book.2Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth* shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky,* and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.

The final chapters of the prophecy of Daniel describes the last vision Daniel receives. This vision summarizes dynastic rivalries between the Ptolemy and Seleucid empires and the ways in which Israel is caught up in them. It also describes heavenly battles between the angels of these empires, with Michael and Gabriel representing Israel. Most of the vision is hindsight, culminating in the above verses which begin the final chapter of the book of Daniel. It is from this passage that some Jews came to believe in the resurrection of the dead and some form of judgment in the final days of this earth. This is the only Hebrew scriptural passage that mentions resurrection, and resurrection for the purpose of being sorted into everlasting life or everlasting “contempt.”

The book referred to in verse 1 is the “book of Life”.

Psalm 16

A Miktam of David.
1 Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
2 I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.’*

3 As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble,
in whom is all my delight.

4 Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;*
their drink-offerings of blood I will not pour out
or take their names upon my lips.

5 The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
I have a goodly heritage.

7 I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
8 I keep the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
my body also rests secure.
10 For you do not give me up to Sheol,
or let your faithful one see the Pit.

11 You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.

“A Miktam of David”. “Miktam” is translated in the Septuagint as a monument or pillar inscription, perhaps indicating that this poem was carved in stone in some capacity and was then included in the book of Psalms.

Verses 3-4 in the Hebrew language are very obscure and translators are absolutely not sure how to translate them. While the above translation has verse three referring to godly people, the Jewish Study Bible translates it in the opposite tone, “As to the holy and mighty ones that are in the land, my whole desire concerning them is that those who espouse other [god] may have many sorrows!”

In the Hebrew culture, various body parts were thought to be the seat of various emotions or thought processes. For instance, anger came from the nose. Quite literally, what is translated as “God’s anger burned against…” in Hebrew is actually, “God’s nose burned against…” Reason was thought to come from the gut, emotion from the belly (as opposed to the heart), and in this case, conscience comes from the kidneys, but it is translated, “My heart gives me counsel” because in English, “My kidneys give me counsel” makes no sense.

Hebrews 10:11-25

11 And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. 12But when Christ* had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, ‘he sat down at the right hand of God’, 13and since then has been waiting ‘until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.’ 14For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. 15And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying,
16 ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds’,
17he also adds,
‘I will remember* their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’
18Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

19 Therefore, my friends,* since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

The sacrificial system set into law in the first five books of the Bible never did garner forgiveness from God but rather just evened the score. If you sin, you sacrifice this and this which pay the penalty for your sin. (There were sacrifices for gratitude and first fruits offerings as well, but the above Hebrews passage only deals with sin offerings/sacrifices.) There really wasn’t “forgiveness” as we know it until God made the new covenant in Jeremiah.

This passage of Hebrews is developing a theology for how it is that Jesus’ death does God’s will and benefits those who believe in Jesus. Even though in previous passages, the author of Hebrews describes Jesus as the ultimate high priest, now the author states that Jesus is an entirely different kind of priest! Regular high priests preside over the offerings of other people’s sacrifices day after day after day and those sacrifices don’t earn forgiveness. As I stated above, they only evened the score between humans and God. But Jesus’ sacrifice of himself blows up the whole scoreboard! Now there really is a whole different kind of relationship between God and humanity as attested by Jesus: “This blood is the new covenant for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin.”

Mark 13:1-8

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ 2Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’

3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?’ 5Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. 6Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!”* and they will lead many astray. 7When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

This is a very cryptic passage of Mark. There is debate over when the gospel of Mark was written and that timing influences how this passage is interpreted. If Mark was written in the 60’s AD, then this passage is at least in part prophesying the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. If the gospel of Mark was dated after 70AD, then this passage is describing what has already taken place, that is, the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. Josephus, the Jewish historian, writes that when Jerusalem fell, over 3,000 Jews were crucified in one day. This is in addition to the rape and slaughter of women, children, the elderly, etc. When the carnage was over, truly, the only wall of the Temple left was what is now the Wailing Wall. Some city wall were left as well but the rest of the city was burned and/or pulled down.

This passage of Mark is the culminating summary and response of Jesus’ run-ins with the Scribes, Pharisees, a various other religious authorities in and around the Temple in the preceding two chapters. Jesus has been disrespected, toyed with, and plotted against by the Jewish leaders. The Temple is their seat of power. It is supposed to be the “stone and mortar” representation of God’s presences with God’s people, but it is severely corrupted. Jesus says as much with his scrutinizing the fig tree outside Jerusalem, looking for fruit, but there was none so he cursed it. Jesus then enters Jerusalem looking for fruit of the relationship with God that the religious authorities have, and also finds none. Jesus does not curse them and the Temple but he does tell what will happen to it.

The disciples and the Jews of Jesus’ day believe that if the Temple is destroyed, so will the Jewish religion also be destroyed. Jesus assures the disciples that, while terrible things will happen, they should not be alarmed. In the gospel of Mark, Jesus goes on to tell the disciples that what the Jewish authorities do to Jesus, they will also do to the disciples. But, the Holy Spirit will be with them and “they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory…”

This section of Mark is right before Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. It is very apocalyptic in tone and prophecy. We began the church year with these portions of Mark last Advent. Now we close out the year with them as we prepare to celebrate Christ the King Sunday next week and begin a new church year the last Sunday of November.

Bible Tuesday for November 8, 2015

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, November 8, 2015

I Kings 17:8-16

8 Then the word of the Lord came to him[Elijah], saying, 9 “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” 10 So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” 11 As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” 12 But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” 13 Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. 14 For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.” 15 She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. 16 The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.

The book of I & II Kings is a redaction, or compilation, of oral tradition, written records of various kings’ historians (histories were not meant to be written from an unbiased point of view in these days) and passages lifted from The Annals of the Kings of Israel, a source referred to in I & II Kings but which has been lost. The author of Kings describes the various kings as either “walked in the ways of the Lord God” or “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, as his fathers had done”. King Omri, a king of Israel who was mighty in battle and whose name appears in Assyrian record, founded the city of Samaria. When Omri died, his son Ahab became king of Israel. Ahab built a temple and altar to Baal, a fertility god, in Samaria and worshiped Baal only. Ahab then married, not an Israelite woman, but a Phoenician princess who worshiped her gods and goddesses and taught these religions to the Israelites. In the book of Kings, Ahab and Jezebel are described as the WORST King and Queen of Israel.

Suddenly Elijah appears in this story. Because of the way Elijah is introduced, without a story of God calling this prophet which is traditional when introducing a prophet, scholars think the Elijah stories that appear in the books of Kings are selected from a much longer story of Elijah/Elisha. Elijah is introduced to the books of Kings when he marches up to Ahab in court and declares, “As the Lord lives, the God of Israel whom I serve, there will be no dew or rain except at my bidding.” And a great drought commenced. Baal was worshiped as a god of water who brought fertility to the land, in part, through rain. God taking away all rain, and even dew, shows that there is no power in Baal.

But how will Elijah, this humble prophet, survive the drought? First God sends Elijah to the Wadi Cherith where he drinks water from the wadi and ravens bring him food to eat. But when the wadi dries up, God sends Elijah out of Israel into Zeraphath, north of Israel on the Mediterranean Sea. Here Elijah encounters a widow onto whom he encumbers himself.

While Elijah’s behavior in this story is completely out of line in our culture, it must have been acceptable for a man to imposed himself on a woman for refreshment in that culture, as Elijah is not the only biblical figure to act this way. Abraham’s servants do the same when seeking a bride for Isaac. Jesus does the same when in Samaria at the well. While the woman readily complies with Elijah’s request for water, she is not willing to give up her last meal for her son to some strange foreigner. However, Elijah promises to the woman that the God of Israel will not let her food staples run out until the drought is over. When acting in faith or futility, the woman obeys Elijah and hosts Elijah throughout the rest of the drought.

Psalm 146

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!

In the early books of the Hebrew scriptures, God tells the Israelites that they will not have a human king, but God alone will be their king. The scriptures describe God’s concerns as being exactly what we read in the above passage of I Kings, a human king who chooses his own god, his own religion, and leads all Israel away from Yahweh.

In this psalm, the writer describes God as over and against “mortals in whom there is no help.” Not only is God allpowerful, creating all that is, but God “executes justice” and cares for those who suffer at the hands of normal, fallen society.

Hebrews 9:24-28

24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; 26 for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

The author of Hebrews is taking Jesus’ speeches in the gospel of John and turning them into a theology. On Maundy Thursday, before his arrest, Jesus teaches the disciples and prays for them saying. “Now I am going to the Father,” and “No one can come to the Father except through me”, and “I must return to the Father.” The Hebrews author takes these and other sayings of Jesus and uses them to describe a) how is it that Jesus’ death and resurrection bring salvation to humanity? and b) how does Jesus fit into Jewish religion and tradition? By viewing Jesus as the ultimate High Priest of Israel and as the ultimate sacrifice which only the ultimate high priest can offer, he describes a new religion, a fulfilled Judaism, where Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection end the need for sacrifice but instead make way for faith in God.

The teaching in the passage that Jesus offered himself once for all is one of the things that separates Lutherans from Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians. While Roman Catholics and Orthodox priests are taught and believe that when they stand at the altar and elevate the host, they are Jesus offering the sacrifice again, Lutherans believe that Jesus is the only one who can offer himself and he already did. Holy Communion is not a resacrifice but instead a feast on the one bread/one body/one cup/one blood of Jesus shed only once on Good Friday so long ago. Pastors, then, are mere agents of God, consecrating the bread and the body to continue to the meal.

Mark 12:38-44

38 As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Since Liberation Theology has developed, starting in the 1960’s, this text has gained a new reading. Instead of reading verses 38 – 40 as one thought and 41-44 a separate thought, scholars read these two passages as one thought expressed in two different ways.

The context of this passage of the gospel of Mark is that Jesus has been embroiled in debates with the Sadducees, a faithful scribe, and other scribes, some of whom are trying to trap him in front of the crowds at the Temple. Out of these disputes comes this teaching on being wary of Jewish authorities. But why:

1. Dress in long robes-one doesn’t wear long robes for manual labor, so these guys consider themselves above working for their food/clothing/shelter.

2. They expect special, respectful treatment in the public places of town. They expect to be treated better than the average person, indicating that they think themselves higher up than others.

3. The best seats in the synagogues are the ones that are closest to the scrolls and the speakers, seats that are most visible to the rest of the crowds. These Jewish authorities consider themselves exemplary and want to show it.

4. Because this elevated lifestyle costs money, these Jewish authorities are supported by the taxes paid to the Temple and are able to buy investment properties which they rent out to those whose families have had to sell their original land holdings. They have become the quintessential slum lords.

5. They pray out loud in public, making the prayers much longer than necessary, another attempt at showing off.

Now, knowing that about these church authorities, Jesus and the disciples sit down (Jesus, perhaps, in disgust) and watch folks heap their offerings into the collection receptacles in the courtyard of the Temple. Loads and loads and loads of offerings are being handed over by the wealthy, and the working class. And here comes this very poor widow who puts in a very meager offering, something at which the collection takers would scoff. But Jesus says she has put in more than everyone else because she has put in all that she has!

This is usually read and preached as the widow gave everything and we should do the same. But Liberation Theologians have said that, no! Jesus isn’t praising her and calling everyone else to do the same. Jesus is commenting on how corrupt the Temple system is that they would buy up land, take advantage of the poor by renting to them at very high rates, and then on top of it expect them to give “until it hurts” to the Temple, so that they can walk around in luxurious clothes and show off around town.

Who criticizes these Temple/church practices?!!! God, in the flesh, walking around in the plain ol’ clothes of an itinerate rabbi, having to stay in peoples’ homes for food and shelter, having to live off the support of certain women who provide for this ministry out of their means. If anyone should walk around in tailor made tunics and dripping with gold, it would be God in the flesh, but he does not. Instead, the scribes and Sadduccees do, and snub the son of man.