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Bible Tuesday for Advent IV, 2015

Bible Tuesdays for Advent IV, 2015

Micah 5:2-5

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.
3 Therefore he shall give them up until the time
when she who is in labor has brought forth;
then the rest of his kindred shall return
to the people of Israel.
4 And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth;
5 and he shall be the one of peace.

Abraham had Isaac, Isaac had Esau and Jacob, Jacob had twelve sons, the most famous being Joseph, as in Joseph and the Amazing Technocolored Dreamcoat. When Jacob was dying, he called all twelve of his sons to his side and blessed them each individually. It was tradition that the oldest would get the best inheritance and the best blessing. Heretofore in the book of Genesis, God was bucking tradition and choosing the youngest for the best inheritance, a trend that continues throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, but when Jacob blesses all his sons, it is a middle son, Judah who gets the choice blessing. It is through Judah that the kinds of Israel will rise.

When it was time for Samuel to anoint a new king, one who would be faithful to God, God directed the prophet to the land given to the tribe of Judah, to a geographic region called Ephrathah, to a little town called Bethlehem, to the youngest son of Jesse. There Samuel anointed a shepherd kid named David to be king of Israel. Because David raised a successful army and more than doubled Israel’s lands, and because he moved Israel’s capitol and built a decent sized city for that area and time, and because David had a strong relationship with God, David is considered the greatest king of Israel.

It is to all this history that the above passage refers. Christians read this as a prophecy regarding Jesus, but faithful Jews, from the time the prophecy was written until now, interpret this passage in many ways. All understand this passage to look forward to God’s own appointed king of Israel, but who that would be and whether or not that one has already come is wide open in Jewish teaching.

Christians interpret the reference to “given the up until she who is in labor has brought forth” as a reference to the fallenness of humanity until Mary gives birth to Jesus, the savior of all. Many Jewish scholars focus on the “given them up” part of this passage. Does it mean that just before the messiah comes there will be nine months of great suffering? Does it mean there will be a time of less than a year of great oppression by the Romans as in the time just before the Temple was destroyed in 69-70AD? Is this pregnancy to be interpreted more figuratively, as in all of the times Israel/Judah has suffered?

Psalm 80:1-7

To the leader: on Lilies, a Covenant. Of Asaph. A Psalm.
1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
2 before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your might,
and come to save us!

3 Restore us, O God;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.

4 O Lord God of hosts,
how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
5 You have fed them with the bread of tears,
and given them tears to drink in full measure.
6 You make us the scorn* of our neighbours;
our enemies laugh among themselves.

7 Restore us, O God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.

In the ancient traditions of Christians, prayers were prescribed for every Sunday. These have come to be called the “Prayer of the Day.” While these have changed some over the centuries, the Prayer of the Day that is prayed is most liturgical churches is very similar to the prayer prayed in the 400’s by the baptized. In Advent, the Prayer of the Day begins, “Stir up your power, Lord, and come…” It is from this psalm that we get this powerful plea.

Referring to the above story of the anointed of David, and thinking on the search for and anointing of David’s predecessor, Saul, we remember that God did not want Israel to have a king. Throughout the Hebrew scriptures that precede 1 & 2 Samuel, God proclaims that God is Israel’s shepherd and that they do not need a king. When kings were crowned, they were referred to as Shepherds. Note that the first verse of this psalm calls upon God using that title, “Shepherd of Israel.”

While God did not want Israel to have a king, the people of Israel grew to crave one. “You who are enthroned upon the cherubim” is a reference to God’s distance from the lowly psalmist. The psalmist writes out of great need for God, who is nowhere to be seen. “Let your face shine that we might be saved!” You are hidden from us and we need you!

Hebrews 10:5-10

Consequently, when Christ* came into the world, he said,
‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body you have prepared for me;
6 in burnt-offerings and sin-offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
7 Then I said, “See, God, I have come to do your will, O God”
(in the scroll of the book* it is written of me).’
8When he said above, ‘You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt-offerings and sin-offerings’ (these are offered according to the law), 9then he added, ‘See, I have come to do your will.’ He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. 10And it is by God’s will* that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

The obvious interpretation of this passage is, “If you believe in Jesus, then you don’t offer sacrifices because Jesus is the sacrifice.” Yes, but why? How does Jesus change the whole religious practice of Jews?

According to the law of Moses as spelled out in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, sacrifices were offered on many different occasions and different things were done with those sacrifices. Sin offerings were made in order to restore broken relations between sinner and sinned against, and between sinner and God. Those offerings were consumed by fire completely. Thank offerings were given out of gratitude for marriages, children, promotions, land and home purchases, etc. These were slaughtered, then one leg went to the priest, and the rest was roasted or boiled right then and there by the offerer and fed to his guests during a feast of gratitude. There were offerings given when blood flowed but now it is stopped (the two turtle doves that Mary offers when she and Joseph bring Jesus to the Temple for naming and brist). There was the scape goat onto which the priest prayed all the sins of Israel, which was neither burnt nor eaten, but rather led out into the wilderness to die. There were first fruits offerings, a portion of which was burnt but the rest given to the priests to eat. And there was the incense offering which was burnt on the incense altar whose rising smoke symbolized the rising prayers of the faithful.

The problem with offerings is that we don’t always mean what the offering is meant to symbolize. You may bring a thank offering to the Temple but that didn’t make you grateful. You may bring a sin offering to the Temple but that didn’t make you either contrite or repentant. The Hebrew Scriptures prophets railed against this. “Your sin offerings and your thank offerings I have come to loathe, but a broken and contrite heart I will not despise.”

Jesus takes on human form and becomes all sacrifices. In his innocent execution, he is the sin offering. Through each of us partaking in Holy Communion, Jesus is the thank offering, his body and blood being the feast that is given. Jesus is the incense offering, teaching us to pray and bringing about the answer to all prayers: salvation, peace, healing, life, and eternal life. In Jesus’ lonely death, when all his followers have deserted him, Jesus is the scape goat, onto which all the sin has been heaped, and left to die alone.

Therefore, children of God, disciples of Jesus, do not offer sacrifices. No. The baptized voice gratitude. The baptized live gratitude. The baptized evangelize through gratitude. The baptized give out of gratitude.

Luke 1:39-55

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be* a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’

46 And Mary* said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48 for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.’

It is not merely the Jewish sacrificial system that Jesus turns on its head. As Mary proclaims, it is everything. Through Jesus, God proclaims God’s world order; everyone gets exactly the same amount of divine love, mercy, patience, freedom, and peace. How much? Exactly the amount you need to be in harmony with God, through Jesus. Why? Because God promised God’s love, mercy, patience, freedom, and peace to Abraham and all his descendants. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection has proven to be the only way this promise could be fulfilled with us, fallen humanity.

We needed a hero, a savior we could see and emulate. Someone just like us but so much better than us who could shepherd us along the right way to go. This is who the shepherds find in the manger. Thank you, God!

The next Bible Tuesday will be written for January 3rd. Until then…Merry Christmas to you all!

Bible Tuesday for Advent III 2015

Bible Tuesday for Advent III, 2015

Zepheniah 3:14-20

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it. I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord.

The book of Zepheniah was written during the time of King Josiah, who was the second to last king to rule over Judah in Jerusalem before it fell to Babylon in 587BC. The book contains several different oracles possibly by various authors. When Josiah came to the throne, Judah was not a faithfully Jewish nation. They worshipped various gods, chiefly Baal and Ashera/Astartes, along Yahweh, if they worshipped Yahweh at all. However, the books of Kings and Chronicles describe a major change under King Josiah. It is said that early on in his reign, a scroll of Deuteronomy was found tucked away in the Temple (which had become a worship place for Baal and Ashera) and read to King Josiah. He was so distressed by what he heard commanded and what he saw being lived out that he did a major house cleaning. All of the shrines to Ashera on the hill tops and under very tall trees, aka “high places”, were torn down. The Temple was completely cleaned and rededicated to Yahweh, and the King rededicated the whole nation of Judah to Yahweh.

It seems that the prophecy of Zepheniah is proclaimed before King Josiah cleaned house. The prophet proclaimed judgement and punishment for the idolatry of Judah. Chapter 3 starts with God’s action to bring the haughty and evil very low, even to destruction. Then the prophet states God’s words as, “The remnant of Israel shall do no wrong and speak no falsehood; a deceitful tongue shall not be in their mouths. Only such as these shall graze and lie down, with none to trouble them.” It is to this humble remnant that the above passage of joy and hope is proclaimed.

Isaiah 12:2-6

Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth. Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

In this passage of Isaiah, God is addressing those Israelites held captive by Assyria. God promises that they will be brought back to Canaan just as the Israelites were brought out of slavery in Egypt, even parting the Euphrates as he did the Red Sea/Sea of Reeds. In response to this promise of miraculous salvation, the prophet writes the above hymn of praise to God.

Philippians 4:4-7

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The context of this loving admonishment is that Paul has heard of conflict between two women leaders of this congregation. In the verses immediately preceding this passage, he adjures them to “be of the same mind in the Lord,” and asks his companion to help them come to a compromise. Then Paul calls for the above rejoicing.

The Philippians lived in a city filled with Roman power, authority, and religion. There were many very large and wondrous temples to Roman deities in Philippi, as well as a huge military post. Jews, and those Jews who believed in Jesus and formed Paul’s congregation, were an unwanted minority in this city. There was much for them to fear from outside sources, without the added stress of infighting. Yet in this thick fog of fear and stress Paul calls for rejoicing and an end to worry. Paul teaches this congregation, and us, to pray for help from the position of gratitude and complete trust. When we dwell in this prayerful, faithful place, we can experience the guarding of our very selves that Jesus is constantly doing for us.

Luke 3:7-18

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Last week’s gospel was an introduction to John the Baptist. This week, we hear John’s “sermon”. The key to understand John is his admonishment, “Bear fruits worthy of repentance!” Repent means to switch directions. For John, if you are going the same direction when you come out of the Jordan River as when you came in, then you have NOT repented! No point slithering out of the burning Empire if all you are doing to do complain while standing at the water’s edge.

So these newly baptized people wonder, what does repentant fruit look like? Well, don’t we all?!!! In response, John gets more explicit. You don’t have to give away all your clothes, just the stuff you have doubles on. (I don’t want to tell you how many coats I have in my closet!) If your vocation gives you authority over others—tax collector, police, soldier—do not abuse that authority. In Jesus’ time, tax collectors were told by the Romans the amount to be gathered from the citizenry. The tax collector’s wages were whatever monies could be squeezed out of the population above and beyond Rome’s dictated amount. It was all but expected practice for soldier/police to extort money from non-Roman citizens. John the Baptist decries these practices as unworthy of the repentant. When asked, John denies that he is the messiah, but insists that that one is coming armed with the Holy Spirit and fire to sort the fruit from the waste.

John’s scoldings and teachings sound really menacing, yet we are told that John “proclaimed the good news to the people.” How is John’s message good news?

Bible Tuesday for Advent II, 2015

Bible Tuesday for Advent II, 2015

Malachi 3:1-4

Behold, I am sending my messenger to clear the way before Me, and the Lord, whom you seek, shall come to His Temple suddenly. As for the angel of the covenant that you desire, he is already coming. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can hold out when he appears? For his is like a smelter’s fire and like fuller’s lye. He shall act like a smelter and purger of silver; and he shall purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they shall present offerings in righteousness. Then the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem shall be pleasing to the Lord, as in the days of yore and in the years of old.

This text is assigned for the second Sunday of Advent because of its mention of “my messenger to clear the way before me.” Long ago Christians ascribed this title to John the Baptist, but the book of Malachi predates John the Baptist by at least 500 years. About whom was the author originally writing? From the time the prophet, Malachi, first proclaimed these words through the time of the early Christians, there have been many interpretations of this text.

Certainly when Jesus asked his disciples, “Whom do people say that I am?” the disciples thought of verses like this one, both in Malachi and in Isaiah, and then answered, “Some say a prophet. Some say Elijah. Others say John the Baptist raised from the dead.” In the gospels, Jesus speaks of the interpretation that Elijah would come back to proclaim the Day of the Lord.

As we move further into the text, the references become even more obscure. The Jewish Study Bible says about these verses, “Is the messenger the angel of the covenant, a zealous, powerful enforce4r of the covenant who is like a smelter’s fire and like fuller’s like (i.e., a purifying, caustic treatment)? Is he Elijah? Or is Elijah an angel of the covenant? Does the text indicate an expectation of a priestly Messiah? There is a very long history of interpretation on this verse, with multiple meanings already in antiquity.”

Luke 1:68-79

His father, Zechariah, was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant, David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor, Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, shall be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Zechariah’s proclamation of praise introduces readers of Luke to many themes key to interpreting Luke/Acts.

Doxa-Greek for praise/bless/glorify. Elizabeth, Zechariah, Mary, the shepherds, the angel hosts, Simeon and Hannah all praise/bless/glorify God in just the first two chapters of Luke!

Remembers the Covenant-In Matthew, the author wrote, “This is to fulfill what the prophet spoke…” In Luke we read that God looks favorably and/or remembers.

Forgiveness-The author of Luke/Acts writes that the true nature of God is the one who forgives sins. Those who are faithful to God are those who forgive sins. “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing,” only appears in Luke, said by Jesus, and Acts, said by Stephen at his stoning.

Philippians 1:3-11

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, 5because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. 6I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. 7It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart,* for all of you share in God’s grace*with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. 9And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10to help you to determine what is best, so that on the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

The Pauline letters in the New Testament follow a certain formula typical of correspondence of that time. First comes the address, “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi.” Then comes the salutation, “Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” How many sermons have you heard which the pastor has begun with these vary words? Then comes Paul’s gratitude. The above passage is Paul’s generous gratitude for the church in Philippi.

Paul’s relationship with the church in Philippi appears, from this letter, to be a warm one. This congregation has supported his missionary travel financially and prayerfully, more so than wealthier congregations in larger cities. In addition, this is the only letter in which Paul uses the word “all” in his statement of gratitude for “all of you.”

Luke 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler* of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler* of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler* of Abilene, 2during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” ’

Luke is the only gospel to list the various heads of state, and the writer does this twice. The first list of government office holders is at the beginning of the annunciation to Zechariah, “A decree went out from Emperor Augustus…while Quirinius was governor of Syria,” is the second, and the above is the third. Why does Luke include these?

First, the writer of Luke/Acts is the best author at giving the gospels context. Where are things happening and when are questions Luke/Acts answers better than any other book in the New Testament.

Second, and most importantly, the writer of Luke/Acts has as a goal that you, dear Theophilus, you, dear lover of God, would come to see what real power is through the hearing/reading of these books. There are all these Roman and Syrian governors and kings, but what are they doing to exercise mercy, pay attention to the downtrodden, and forgive sins? Even Herod the Great’s sons and the Temple priests are listed, and what are they doing to fulfill the covenant that they made with God, to show mercy to the outcast, hospitality to the alien, humility and service to all? Among all these world powers and religious VIP’s, who does God talk to, talk through? The only son of an ordinary elderly couple. And how does God come to be flesh on earth? Is he born one of Herod’s the Great’s sons reared in opulent palaces? Nope.