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Month: February 2016

Bible Tuesdays for Lent III, 2016

Bible Tuesdays for Lent III, 2016

Isaiah 55:1-9

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.3Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. 4See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. 5See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

6Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near;7let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 8For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. 9For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

In ancient Hebrew tradition, “water” is a euphemism for Torah/Law/first five books of the Bible/Pentateuch, which Jesus plays on when he says “I will give you living water.” The hunger and thirst which the writer is addressing is both physical and relational/spiritual. The Israelites have been either in Babylonia or at home but ruled and oppressed by Babylonian soldiers. Whether home or in Babylonia, they were hungry and spiritually defeated.

Whether God’s invitation for all thirsty and hungry to come for free food and drink is for all people, or just Israelites, is not clear. However, verse five is definitely about Israelites and a foreign nation.

During King David’s reign, God promised David that his kingship line would be everlasting. However, the Israelites were completely defeated and had no king nor Temple when Israel fell to Babylonia in 586 BC. Here in verse 3-4, that everlasting covenant is remade and is shifted from David’s family to the entire peoples of Israel. There will not be one Israelite king, but rather all Israelites will be royalty, God’s people. Through them, nations of the world will come to know the one true God.

Verses 6-9 are a call to repentance. This call is broad enough to be for both Israelites and all the nations of the world. However, here we encounter a troubling thread found throughout scriptures, (which is also opposed throughout scriptures,) that one should seek the Lord “while He can be found. Call upon Him while He is near.” This implies that there are times when God is hidden and far away, a blood curdling thought! While Luther and others write about the hidden God, this term refers to those aspects of God which are completely unknown to humanity.

Psalm 63:1-8

O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

2So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.

3Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.

4So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name.

5My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips

6when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night;

7for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.

8My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.

Here the psalmist is exceedingly thankful to God for seemingly “being there.” The psalmist does not site a particular instance of God’s presence or a certain victory that God has wrought over enemies. Rather, the psalmist merely states that he craves God and has found God in the Temple, and that experience has filled with psalmist with satisfaction and joy.

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea,2and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3and all ate the same spiritual food, 4and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.5Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.

6Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. 7Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.” 8We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. 10And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. 12So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. 13No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

Paul is addressing a challenging congregation with this letter to the church in Corinth. They are Jewish, Roman, Greek, and other who are poor and rich. The wealthy congregation members have come to believe that, since God forgives them all their sin through baptism into Jesus, then “All things are lawful for me!” because I am forgiven no matter what I do. The entire book of I Corinthians addresses the grievous error of that thought.

This passage uses the story of the Exodus as a model for necessary Corinthian congregational reform.

The Corinthian congregants think they are free to indulge all appetites because they are baptized into Jesus/God and under God’s promise. Paul describes the Israelites as under the cloud, which refers to the pillar of cloud that led the Israelites by day in the wilderness. The water through which the Israelites passed through is the Red/Reed Sea, whereas the Corinthian congregants passed through baptismal water. The spiritual food and drink of the Israelites was the water that flowed from the rock in the wilderness, and the manna which they gathered every day. The image that the Israelites were baptized into Moses is somewhat cryptic.

But note that Paul is teaching that Jesus was always with the Israelites, in the form of a rock. The rock image comes from many of the Exodus stories which mention “a rock” that provides for them, whether water, shelter, navigational purpose, etc. The image of Jesus as eternal, existing with God before Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, is not exhibited in the three earlier gospels, two of which were written at least 10 years after 1 Corinthians, but only in the gospel of John, written sometime after 90AD, a full 30 years after Paul’s writings. So here Paul gives testimony to a belief that was not shared and argued over throughout the first four centuries after Jesus’ death: Jesus is eternal and was present throughout history.

Paul then applies the Exodus story to the Corinthian congregants. This portion of the passage is rather clear. The statement that Paul makes in verse 13 I find very difficult to exegete. There certainly is a strand throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament which teaches that God tests the Israelites/baptized followers of Jesus. But to what end? I understand God/Jesus to know that all humanity is sinful so what test can we pass? And why test humanity?

It is from this passage that the axiom, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle,” was developed. As a Lutheran pastor, I completely reject this premise. It sounds as if God sends bad things our way to see how we react, whether or not we grow. But Luther’s arrival on the Theology of the Cross says that God does not put us in suffering, but rather we are most able to see God, experience God, when we suffer. We know God’s true nature when we experience God as we suffer. Jesus suffered and died for that very reason. I don’t believe God sends us calamities or even little trials and temptations. I think life puts us through enough of those as it is.

Luke 13:1-9

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

6Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ 8He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

The previous two chapters in the gospel of Luke are filled with Jesus’ teachings on a whole variety of topics. The teaching immediately preceding this text is a critique on the lack of judgment the people of Jesus’ time show. “You know how to interpret the weather conditions and how to read the land and sky, but you do not know how to interpret the present time?!!” says Jesus.

Then someone runs up to Jesus with the horrible news that Pilate, Roman governor of Jerusalem and the surrounding area, executed some Jews from Galilee and mixed their blood in with the blood of whatever Pilate was sacrificing to one of the many Roman gods/goddesses. It was the common belief among both Jews and Romans that suffering, dying by freak accident, disease, were all curses from the gods, the Lord God. Jesus challenges that “folk theology” with his questions, “Do you think they were worse sinners than all the rest?! No, I tell you!” Jesus sites another example of deaths by freak accident and draws the same conclusion.

“Unless you repent, you will parish as they did.” When the gospel of Luke was first written, it was written after 70AD, the year the Roman Army destroyed Jerusalem and completely decimated the Jewish Temple, and slaughtered thousands of Jews, and crucified those who could be rounded up, as many as 5,000 in one day. This admonishment that Jesus gives, “but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did,” can be read as prophecy of the devastation in 70AD. However, that sounds as if Jesus is saying, “Unless you shape up, you are going to suffer just as these folks who died by no fault of their own.” The “shape up” is a true theological problem. However, “repent” does not mean “shape up”. The Greek word which is translated “repent” is a military term which means “to do an about face turn”. What necessitates an about face turn for a military unit? The soldiers have all been naughty and now need to do something else? Of course not! No, the direction in which the soldiers are moving is no longer feasible, advisable, appropriate. So the soldiers must change direction in order to complete their mission. The soldiers must “repent” and head in a new direction.

“See here, I find no fruit!” The image of the fig tree is often used to symbolize Israel in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). The number 3 is always used to symbolize God or God’s activity. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, God tells the Israelites that they are planted in the land of Canaan (modern day Israel about doubled in size) to tell others about God and show others how blessed Israel is by God so that others know God and become God’s people too.

The parable in verses 6-9 can be understood in this way: God looks at Israel and wonders why it is not fulfilling its mission to tell and show others about God. There are no people who have come to know God through the words and example of Israel, so God is ready to throw out Israel and put some other people in Canaan instead, people who will carry out the mission. However, Jesus, the gardener (remember, on Easter morning, Mary Magdalene sees Jesus but “supposes him to be the gardener”) asks God to give the fig tree one more year, a year during which he will fertilize it. If the tree still does not bear fruit, then “you can cut it down.”

While that sounds ominous, keep in mind that this gardener is Jesus, and the fertilizer he spreads on the fig tree is his own blood. St. Paul writes that all those who have come to believe in Jesus but did not come to know Jesus by being a Jew first have been grafted onto the fig tree which is the Jewish people.

Bible Tuesday for Lent II 2016

Bible Tuesday for Lent II, 2016

Genesis 15:1-18

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”

2But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

7Then he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.” 8But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” 9He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. 11And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

12As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. 13Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know this for certain, that your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs, and shall be slaves there, and they shall be oppressed for four hundred years; 14but I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.15As for yourself, you shall go to your ancestors in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16And they shall come back here in the fourth generation; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

17When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates,

“After all these things”…so this pericope begins. In order to understand the passage, we need to know what “all these things” are. Abram’s nephew, Lot, and his family, had been captured. Abram raised his “men of fighting age” and set out with some allies to conquer those to held Lot and his family captive. Abram defeated these and allowed his men to take plunder. Upon returning from battle, Abram and his men came upon King Melchizadek, who was a priest of the Most High God, who blessed Abram. Abram gave one tenth of his wealth and then returned to his home/camp.

So Abram is at the pinnacle of his personal success. He is married to a lovely women. He is so wealthy that he has more than 1000 men of fighting age in his “household”, and can give away 1/10th of everything and still have plenty. And, Abram and his fighting men just won a decisive military victory. But Abram is grieving that his estate will fall, not to a son, or even a male family member (since Lot is not living as a member of Abram’s household) but rather a son born to one of Abram’s slaves is his closest heir. And not only does Abram not have the heir that God promised, but he doesn’t possess any land that God promised either. To both of these problems, once again God states the covenant He has made with Abram. Abram doubts. “You promised that a while ago and it still hasn’t come to pass. When will you make good on your word? How do I know you will keep your promise?!”

So, God instructs Abram to set up a blood covenant. Abram is to take five specific animals of specific ages and cut them in half from nose to tail. Abram is to lay them one half on one side and one half on the other side of a culvert-like land formation, so that the blood of the halves of the animals flows together in the bottom of the culvert. This is traditional practice for several Middle Eastern ancient cultures when bonding parties in a covenant. The animals are cut in half stem to stern and laid with one half on one side and one half on the other side of a culvert to symbolize the two parties entering into the covenant. The two parties then walk through the blood in the bottom of the culvert, sealing their deal. In addition, the halved animals and bloody mess indicated what each party was permitted to do to the other if the other breaks the covenant.

So Abram halved the animals, but then just sits and a great darkness comes upon him. Abram is entering into a covenant with GOD! And GOD can do this to Abram if he doesn’t keep his end of the covenant? How can Abram possibly keep his end of the covenant with God as well as God can keep his end? And does Abram trust God enough to enter into such a potentially deadly covenant? But suddenly a smoldering pot and a flaming torch passes through the blood! Abram doesn’t ever dip a toe in the stream of blood. God signs for both Abram and God’s self. Abram need do nothing to inherit the land and have his own children. God will bring it all to pass!

Psalm 27

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

2When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh— my adversaries and foes— they shall stumble and fall.

3Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.

4One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.

5For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock.

6Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

7Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me!

8“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, Lord, do I seek.

9Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!

10If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up.

11Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.

12Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence.

13I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

14Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!

This psalm is attributed to King David and is used liturgically by Jews in preparation for Rosh Hashanah, the day of confession and pleading for mercy.

“To live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life” and “to frequent His temple”-Throughout Hebrew scriptures, included the Genesis pericope for today, “house” means “household and family” as well as “ancestors” and “lineage”. In this passage, it is possible that psalmist is asking God to not only visit the Temple regularly, but also be counted among God’s household, God’s people, his whole life long.

Philippians 3:17-4:1

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. 18For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. 19Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. 20But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.

4Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

I doubt that anyone has ever accused the Apostle, Paul, of being a humble person, as the first verse of this passage illustrates. In this passage, he posits two models: himself and his colleagues exemplifying Godly behavior, and those in the Church who still live in self-absorbed, self-serving ways.

To live life as a human among humans is to either focus on your appearance and lifestyle, or face ridicule. In the Middle Eastern cultures, where honor and shame is much more culturally central than it is here, avoidance of ridicule is HUGE. Yet Paul lambastes those who focus on themselves in order to maintain uprightness in society. Paul calls Christians to a life which will alienate them from the rest of society. Instead, Paul says that Jesus, “will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory.” Paul adjures the faithful to “stand firm in the Lord” because it is through Jesus’ shame and death that humanity, and all creation, are truly given dignity and worth.

Luke 13:31-35

1At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

“At that very hour”-Immediately prior to this passage, Jesus teaches the crowds in a town about the difficulty of entering “through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able.” It is a very difficult teaching which indicates that some of those who assume they will “be saved” will not, but “people will come from east and west, from north and south, [from outside the boundaries of Israel] and will eat in the kingdom of God.” This is exactly the kind of teaching which drove a wedge between Jesus and the Jewish and Temple authorities of his day and brought about his arrest and execution.

Politically, Jesus and John the Baptist teach more closely to the beliefs of the Pharisees than any other group. Jesus teaches that the dead will resurrect, and actually raises some people from the dead. The Sadducees completely reject this teaching and these miracles, but the Pharisees agree with this teaching and are filled with wonder by what Jesus does. The Pharisees are thought to be more merciful and more charitable, interpreting scriptures more in favor of the needy than the Sadducees and the ruling families. Certainly that draws the Pharisees closer to Jesus’ and John’s camp than any other. So it is little surprise that the Pharisees come to warn Jesus of King Herod’s plot.

While we have many artistic renderings of Jesus snuggling children or sheep, or the elderly, there really aren’t many actual biblical stories of Jesus acting like that. Sure, there is the “suffer the children to come unto Me” story which, in one gospel, actually has Jesus taking a child up in his arms. But other than that, the above lament is really the only biblical account of Jesus mothering/snuggling/protecting.

While Jerusalem was made to be the capitol city and center of worship for Israel under King David, it quickly developed a reputation for being the center of execution for any who were not acceptable to the monarchy or religious purists. All of the prophets sent by God to Israel fell into this category, and many of them were executed in Jerusalem, mostly by stoning.

In this lament, Jesus seems to be voicing a yearning he has had for much longer than his earthy 30+ years. The people of Jerusalem refuse to come under “Thy Holy Wings”. Do we?

Bible Tuesday for Lent I, 2016

Bible Tuesday for the First Sunday of Lent 2016

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

When you enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a heritage, and you possess it and settle in it, you shall take some of every first fruit of the soil, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, put it in a basket and go to the place where the Lord your God will choose to establish His name. You shall go to the priest in charge at that time and say to him, “I acknowledge this day before the Lord your God that I have entered the land that the Lord swore to our fathers to assign us.” The priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God. You shall then recite as follows before the Lord your God: “My father was a fugitive Aramean. He went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there, but there he became a great and very populous nation. The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us, they imposed heavy labor upon us. We cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our plea and saw our plight, our misery, and our oppression. The Lord freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand, by an outstretched and awesome power, and by signs and portents. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Wherefore I now bring the first fruits of the soil which You, O Lord, have given me.”

You shall leave it before the Lord your God and bow low before the Lord your God. And you shall enjoy, together with the Levite and the stranger in your midst, all the bounty that the Lord your God has bestowed upon you and your household.

Here is a description of liturgy, worship and thanksgiving, which the Israelite men were to do at the first harvest in Canaan. This offering of first fruits celebrates the Festival of Weeks, during which Israelites are to travel to where ever the Tent of Meeting housing the Ark of the Covenant are set up.

The Israelite man brings a basket full of a sampling of his springtime harvest. As he hands this to the priest, he is to recite this brief history of his ancestors, starting with Jacob and his flight from Laban, later migration to Goshen, Egypt, subsequent enslavement under Egypt and then freedom led by Moses. In Genesis 12, God calls Abram and promises to him land, descendants, and a heritage of blessing to all peoples. When offering this thanksgiving basket, the Israelite man celebrates the fulfillment of God’s covenant: land of their own which to work and harvest, descendants numerous enough to populate all of Canaan, and enough food to share with the alien and foreigner among them!

Psalm 91:1-2 & 9-16

O you who dwell in the shelter of the Most High and abide in the protection of Shaddai—I say of the Lord, my refuge and stronghold, my God in whom I trust.

Because you took the Lord—my refuge, the Most High—as your haven, no harm will befall you, no disease touch your tent. For he will order His angels to guard you wherever you go. They will carry you in their hands lest you hurt your foot on a stone. You will tread on cubs and vipers; you will trample lions and asps. “Because he is devoted to Me, I will deliver him; I will keep him safe, for he knows My name. When he calls on Me, I will answer him; I will be with him in distress; I will rescue him and make him honored; I will let him live to a ripe old age and show him My salvation.”

This psalm is the basis for the very popular hymn, “On Eagle’s Wings”. We only have part of the psalm assigned for this Sunday. On the one hand, this psalm implies that those who exhibit faith in God are protected from disease, famine, and calamity. Therefore, if one is suffering from disease, famine, or calamity, then one does not have sufficient faith in God…or so it has been thought and taught among some Jews and Christians for several thousand years.

Yet this psalm, and the hymn that is based on, are frequently used at funerals! If someone died, it is safe to assume that harm has indeed befallen that one and disease has certainly touched that one’s tent.

Perhaps this psalm isn’t meant to be an incantation invoking God’s presence for good luck and safety, so much as it is a statement of faith in God’s benevolence. At funerals we stare death and loss quite literally in the face, and we claim God’s promises of protection, mercy, benevolence, and grace despite death.

Romans 10:8-13

8But what does it say? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” 12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

In Paul’s letter to the congregation in Rome, Paul has several agendas. The one most clear in this passage is to equalize all who believe into Jesus, and affirm that salvation is God’s activity and will, not human ingenuity or wages. Let’s define a couple words.

Salvation-Greek – sozo, to restore, to reinstate, to make whole. We, Christians, tend to read the New Testament with the idea that “to be saved” means “to go to heaven,” but that is not specifically what most of the New Testament writers mean when they use sozo. Paul and Jesus use sozo to mean “restored, made whole, healed.

Keeping this definition in mind, allow me to paraphrase verse 10. “For one believes with the heart and so is made right with God, and one confesses with the mouth and so is restored to right relationship with God.”

Paul goes on to specify that no one group of people has “most favored status” with God. Rather any person who acts in trust on the gift of faith given by the Holy Spirit finds graciousness in God.

Luke 4:1-13

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” 5Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 9Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 11and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 12Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Jesus is baptized by John at the Jordan River, is proclaimed God’s son and blessed with the Holy Spirit who then leads Jesus into the wilderness for better than a month. The number 40 is important here because, in the minds of readers and hearers of the gospel, 40 immediately connects Jesus with Israelites and Moses. Moses was up on Mt. Horeb/Sinai for 40 days of fasting and talking to God as God gave Moses the law. When Moses return from the mountain with the two stone tablets and found the Israelites in the throes of idolatry, God banished the Israelites to wander the desert for 40 years before entering the promised land. Those forties all echo the 40 days and 40 nights that it rained when Noah, his family, and all those animals, were on the ark.

Now remember, the number 40 is a symbolic number for Israel. Israel was not a European culture with exact, precise measurements down to the fractions of seconds. The ancient Israelites thought differently than that and used certain numbers to symbolize ideas, including the number 40. 40 meant “as long as it takes”. “Are we there yet?” “No.” “How long is it going to be until we are there?” “40 hours.” “We are going to be in this care for almost two days?!!!!!” “I don’t know. We will be in this car as long as it takes to get there. The more bathroom stops, the longer the ride.” “Oh.”

So, Jesus is out in the wilderness fasting and praying for 40 days, just like Moses. Jesus is thinking through the task at hand. He has a year, or three depending on which gospel we are reading, to convince people he is God on earth, the Lord, the Messiah they have been waiting for. But how does Jesus do this God’s way, which is not the way the people want? How does Jesus dodge the authorities long enough to teach, preach, heal, and love enough people that they carry on this ministry after he is dead? The temptations to just Roy it, just ram God’s will down people’s throats and force them to act as they should, had to be enormous. And the devil’s temptations show exactly that.

Make stones into bread. “Come on. You are so hungry, you thought about eating leaves off trees! Just whip out your God-power and take care of yourself!” The fact of the matter is that Jesus does make stuff into bread, bread enough to feed 5000 men + women and children. Jesus doesn’t feed himself, he feeds all who are hungry and he does it where everyone around can taste and see how good God is.

Worship me and I will give you all power and authority. “You are God. Just humble yourself a little and you can have all the authority and power on earth that you want. You don’t have to put up with these idiots. You can rule over them.” In fact Jesus does rule over all humanity, but he does it shamed and debased, dying on the cross. Authority and power is a human construct. God doesn’t need it.

Throw yourself down from here. “Force God’s hand. Make God show us all that He really loves you. God isn’t going to let anything actually happen to you!” Here the devil/evil/complete self-centeredness shows how wrong it is. God would not and did not save Jesus, the God/Man. God came to earth in Jesus for the very purpose of dying. The angels were not going to save Jesus. No one would. “Eloi, eloi! Lama sabbachthani!”

Bible Tuesday for Transfiguration Sunday 2016

Bible Tuesday for Transfiguration Sunday, 2016

Exodus 34:29-35

29 Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant* in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. 31But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. 32Afterwards all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. 33When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; 34but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded,35the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

This story is of the second set of tablets containing the Law. The golden calf debacle immediately precedes this chapter in Exodus, so a second set of tablets is required to replace those which Moses hurled down in pain and disgust.

On this second trip down the mountain, Moses is found to be quite literally radiant. His time in God’s presence has changed him too, making him shine with God’s glory. The people are even more leery of Moses, and Moses is left to either be stared for the radiance or for covering the radiance with a veil.

This Exodus story tells us of Moses’ very difficult position in life. First, Moses is a Jewish slave being raised as an Egyptian prince, but his adoption and different physical features do not allow for full acceptance as an Egyptian. When he finally does break from his adoptive people and attempts return to the Jewish slaves, he is rebuffed and rejected. Moses runs to Midianites where he is accepted and even marries into the clan but he is still an Egyptian Prince/Jewish Slave among Midianite goatherders. When God sends Moses back to the Jews and Egyptians, Moses is very hesitant to go in great part because he truly belongs to neither group, and has already been rejected by both groups. Now, in this story, God marks Moses as honored and set apart, making Moses the conduit between God and Israel, leaving Moses in the middle, serving both but truly a part of neither.

Why does Moses veil his face? Is Moses self conscious of God’s glory radiating from him? Since the Israelites have rejected Moses so soundly, I would think there might be some pride and comfort in God’s glory rubbing off on him a bit. If Moses was merely self conscious of his appearance, how would being the only guy in the whole Israelite camp wearing a veil over his face help that?

As a translational issue, The Jewish Study Bible makes these margin notes, “Radiant Hebrew “karan,” from “keren” or “horn” in the sense of projection and emanation as in Habbakuk 3-4, also translated “rays”. In the Vulgate (the first translation of the Greek/Hebrew scriptures into the common language of the people, which was at that time and in that place Latin), Jerome, in an over etymological translation, rendered “was horned”, [instead of “was radiant”] although he knew from the Septuagint that the meaning was figurative. Nevertheless, his translation led to the image of Moses with horns in medieval and Rennaissance art (especially Crannach’s wood cut illustrations of the Guttenberg Bible and Michelangelo’s Moses), and eventually coupled with the notion of Satan’s horns, to the anti-Semetic belief that Jews have horns.”

Psalm 99

1 The Lord is king; let the peoples tremble!
He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!
2 The Lord is great in Zion;
he is exalted over all the peoples.
3 Let them praise your great and awesome name.
Holy is he!
4 Mighty King,* lover of justice,
you have established equity;
you have executed justice
and righteousness in Jacob.
5 Extol the Lord our God;
worship at his footstool.
Holy is he!

6 Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
Samuel also was among those who called on his name.
They cried to the Lord, and he answered them.
7 He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud;
they kept his decrees,
and the statutes that he gave them.

8 O Lord our God, you answered them;
you were a forgiving God to them,
but an avenger of their wrongdoings.
9 Extol the Lord our God,
and worship at his holy mountain;
for the Lord our God is holy.

You were a forgiving God to them,
but an avenger of their wrongdoings.

“He is enthroned on the cherubim”-a reference to the heavenly beings depicted in statue on the ark of the covenant, which was God’s earthly throne. Throughout the Pentateuch or Torah, God is understood to be God of all. The Jewish people are charged with helping the nations know and love God so that they might recognize God as their God too. When King David selects the site of the Temple which Solomon builds, it is on the flat top of a hill, originally thought to be the highest point in the new capitol of Jerusalem. When the ark of the covenant was moved to the construction site, then God’s thrown was literally and figuratively “above all the peoples”.

The reference to forgiveness and exacting of retribution are curious and unique. Certainly God’s punishment to the third, four, or even seventh generation of those who sin is not new to the Hebrew scriptures, it is not usually coupled in the same verse with God’s forgiving nature.

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

12 Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, 13not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that* was being set aside. 14But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. 15Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; 16but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

4Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.

While in the previous Exodus reading, Moses elects to wear a veil over his face out of modesty or embarrassment, in passage of his letter to the congregation in Corinth, Paul is interpreting that veil as something the Israelites required. The Exodus story is replete with incidences of the Israelites being afraid of God, and even of the pillar of cloud by day, fire by night, and cloudy presence on top of Mt. Sinai. In the Exodus story, the Israelites want an intermediary between themselves and God so they force Moses into that role. Paul here interprets that fear as a veil that lies between Israel and the Hebrew scriptures which prevents the Israelites from correctly interpreting the scriptures as fulfilled in God’s Christ, Jesus. Why may the Corinthian congregation members clearly see and interpret the Hebrew Scriptures? Because they Spirit of Christ, that is the Holy Spirit enlightens them. And, by the power and clear vision of the Holy Spirit, Paul admonishes this congregation to boldly speak the clear truth of God’s Word, Jesus.

Luke 9:28-43

28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus* took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake,* they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.33Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings,* one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said. 34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen;* listen to him!’ 36When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38Just then a man from the crowd shouted, ‘Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he* shrieks. It throws him into convulsions until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. 40I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.’41Jesus answered, ‘You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.’42While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43And all were astounded at the greatness of God.

All this talk of veils and God’s presence brings us to the Transfiguration of Jesus. Jesus has just fed the 5,000 and taught the disciples that discipleship is not fame and adulation but shouldering your cross and losing life as you know it. Just over a week later, Jesus takes the three inner circle disciples and shoulders his cross up the mountain. There the disciples see the real Jesus, Jesus’ real burden, unveiled for the first time. Jesus really is God and human. Jesus really does know everybody, even dead heroes of old! Like Moses, Jesus truly belongs to neither camp. Jesus is not dead on earth but alive in heaven with Moses and Elijah, nor is Jesus just a average Joe like the disciples. Because of the sinfulness of humanity and the unfathomable love of God, Jesus is pressed into the middle, to be a conduit between God and humanity.

Only Luke’s account of the transfiguration says that the disciples were just about asleep when the fun started. Somehow in his sleepy, confused stupor, Peter still manages to utter something senseless about tents and camping out. But the whole revelation of Jesus as God, of the dead who are alive, the thick cloud and heavy voice, leaves the disciples speechless, silent, dumbfounded.

Jesus finds the remaining disciples in the same state after descending the mountain. The disciples had just returned from deployment two by two where they had successfully healed the sick and cast out demons, but here was this possessed, epileptic boy and his father…and they were impotent. The target of Jesus’ exasperated exclamation is unclear: the disciples? the crowd? the father and son? all of them?

The sickness, the demon possession keeps father and son apart. Son is seized with senseless writhing. Father helplessly stands panicked watch. But Jesus reunited father and son with mere words of rebuke and touch of healing. Was Jesus craving for someone to heal him of his illness called humanity, messiah, so he, too, could just be well and go home?