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Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 2, 2016

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 2, 2016

1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43

22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven. 23He said, ‘O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart,

41 ‘Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name 42—for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm—when a foreigner comes and prays towards this house, 43then hear in heaven your dwelling-place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built.

As discussed in a previous “Bible Tuesday”, throughout Hebrew Scriptures, there are two threads of how the Israelites should treat non-Jews, (aka goyim in Hebrew, and ethnos in Greek). The first thread is represented here, and in God’s covenant with Abram throughout the book of Genesis. “All the nations of the world will be blessed through you.” The Israelites are God’s chosen people, chosen for the purpose of representing God to all the peoples of the world. In this way, all the peoples of the world may know, love, worship God, and become God’s faithful people too.

The second thread is represented most clearly in the books of Joshua, Ezra, and Nehemiah. In this thread, the Israelites should keep themselves away from the nations of the world, so as not to be perverted, or led astray by them. Jews are only to marry Jews, do business with other Jews, and live in Jewish communities.

Notice how this very issue, evangelize and live among the non-believer vs. keep away from the non-believer so as to keep one’s self pure, is debated in every religion all across the planet even today.

Psalm 96:1-9

O sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
2 Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
3 Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvellous works among all the peoples.
4 For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
he is to be revered above all gods.
5 For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
but the Lord made the heavens.
6 Honour and majesty are before him;
strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

7 Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
8 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
bring an offering, and come into his courts.
9 Worship the Lord in holy splendour;
tremble before him, all the earth.

This psalm tells of a new song. The nations of the world, the ethnos, the goyim, worshiping God, Yahweh, as the only god. Following neither the inclusive or exclusive threads, this psalm merely adjures the families of the world to recognize God’s glory and strength through worship of God in the courts of the Temple.

Galatians 1:1-12

Paul an apostle—sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2and all the members of God’s family* who are with me,

To the churches of Galatia:

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,4who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.

6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8But even if we or an angel* from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! 9As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!

10 Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant*of Christ.

11 For I want you to know, brothers and sisters,* that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; 12for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Salutation: The first two verses of this pericope are the salutation of Paul’s letter to the congregation in Corinth. This is classic Roman writing. Paul not only identifies himself but also states his credentials. In modern writing, Paul might instead write this letter on letterhead with his own title, or include his credentials in his signature line, or both. Note that Paul also writes and greets on behalf of “the members of God’s family who are with me.”

Paul wastes no time in scolding the congregation in Galatia. At the time of this letter, there was no “orthodox teaching” about Jesus, other than the eye witness accounts given by the disciples and Apostles. None of the gospels had been written, save possibly Mark, but this earliest church had no “holy Scriptures” to read other than the Hebrew Scriptures, which only prophesy about the messiah, but do not relay his teachings. Paul writes to this fledgling congregations to admonish them for their incorrect teachings and give them correct teachings in written form. Paul’s letters were not only read and reread, but also widely copied and passed around from house church to house church before they were ever considered Holy Scripture.

Luke 7:1-10

After Jesus* had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. 3When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, ‘He is worthy of having you do this for him, 5for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.’ 6And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, ‘Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; 7therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. 8For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, “Go”, and he goes, and to another, “Come”, and he comes, and to my slave, “Do this”, and the slave does it.’ 9When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.’ 10When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

Here we have a clear story of the thread of the first type, as mentioned above. Capernaum was a Jewish community, a fishing town, occupied by the Romans. A Roman centurion was a soldier who commanded a unit of 100 troops. Though the centurion is the occupying force, nevertheless, the Jews like him because he is good to them, builds them a synagogue.

The centurion has a slave whom he values greatly. This slave may be Jewish but no ethnicity is specified. The centurion asks a favor of the synagogue leaders to go ask a miracle of Jesus. If Jesus does, indeed, go and enter this non-Jew’s house, Jesus will be ritually unclean and unable to worship at synagogue or Temple for seven days. But the gospel does not tell us there was a breath of hesitation on Jesus’ part to go to this Roman’s home and do his bidding.

The gospel procession of Jesus, his disciples, and the Jewish leaders, is interrupted by messengers from the centurion’s house. “The centurion does not want you to come to the house of a goyim and put yourself in an awkward position. Just say the word from where you stand, and the Roman knows what you command will be done.”

It is not the centurion or the crowds who are surprised in this miracle story, but Jesus. Of all the Jews in Israel that Jesus has met, none trusted God like this Roman! Jesus hasn’t even healed the slave yet, and the Roman has complete faith that he will. Wow!

Bible Tuesday for Holy Trinity Sunday 2016

Bible Tuesday for Trinity Sunday, 2016

Proverbs 8:1-4 & 22-31

Does not wisdom call,
and does not understanding raise her voice?
2 On the heights, beside the way,
at the crossroads she takes her stand;
3 beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
4 ‘To you, O people, I call,
and my cry is to all that live.

22 The Lord created me at the beginning* of his work,*
the first of his acts of long ago.
23 Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24 When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
25 Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth—
26 when he had not yet made earth and fields,*
or the world’s first bits of soil.
27 When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
28 when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
29 when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
30 then I was beside him, like a master worker;*
and I was daily his* delight,
rejoicing before him always,
31 rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.

Proverbs 7 is a description of lewdness and lust personified as a “strange” woman. Proverbs 8 is a description of wisdom, prudence, faithfulness personified as a woman.

While the strange woman lures from the shadows, Wisdom calls from all public places, including the city gate where commerce and government are conducted. Personified Wisdom is to be sought above all things, for in practicing wisdom, it was believed that wealth and society would be gained.

While sin and lust, personified in the strange woman, are a result of the fall, Wisdom was created by God and shows the way of God. Wisdom rejoiced in God’s creating and nurturing, as will all who embrace and practice wisdom.

Psalm 8

O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens.
2 Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.

3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals* that you care for them?

5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God,*
and crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
7 all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

9 O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

This psalm is one of only 3 in the entire psalter which consists entirely of praise and does not include any petition or denunciation. The first and last lines are identical, a repetition of praise which brackets lines of praise and wonder. Verses 5-8 expound on the Imago Dei, the image of God, in which humans are created. The psalmist marvels are the position in creation in which God has placed humanity, giving humanity divinity.

Verse 2 contains an ancient idiom which is not understood by Hebrew scholars. Some scholars speculate it means that even infants and toddlers know and praise God.

Romans 5:1-5

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we* have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have obtained access* to this grace in which we stand; and we* boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3And not only that, but we* also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

This passage begins with “Therefore”, and indication that what Paul writes here is founded on a previous point. Chapter 4 of Romans is an explanation that righteousness was not reckoned/accounted to Abraham because he was circumcised, but because Abraham believed the three fold promise God made to him. Paul argues that this faith Abraham expressed was before Abraham was circumcised, and that circumcision was a sign of the covenant between God and Abraham, in which Abraham had faith. Paul further argues that a place in the covenant between God and Abraham cannot be earned through circumcision, but rather is gifted by God through faith. This is Paul’s statement that God is the God of “all the nations of the world” who believe into God, not just the Jews who mark themselves as God’s chosen through circumcision.

Beginning in the above verses, Paul goes on to state that this covenant between God and Abraham, this granting of righteousness/forgiveness of sins, is given through the sacrifice of Jesus, the Lord and Christ/Savior. God gives grace, unearned love and forgiveness, to not just Abraham, nor just to Jews, but to all who believe into the covenant which is signed with Jesus blood, death, and resurrection.

A word about boasting. Paul uses the word “boasting” several times in his letters. As a German Lutheran female, the whole concept of boasting is anathema to me. I feel guilty singing, “We are the Champions” at a Packer game when I am seated near Bear fans. German Lutherans are not good at accepting compliments but we are too good at heaping criticism. I may not accept your compliment on my horse riding but I will eagerly join in gossip about the errors in everyone else’s riding. If we, the baptized who believe into Jesus and feel relatively secure in our spot in heaven, deride other kinds of Christians or believers in other faiths, and see them as less than ourselves, we are most certainly boasting, albeit in a backhanded sort of way. We are boasting about ourselves! Paul challenges his readers/hearers to change the direction of that boasting from ourselves, to what God grants to all. Paul’s boasting isn’t boasting about one’s superiority, but advertising and evangelizing God’s graciousness to all who dare believe Jesus.

The last verses are a glimpse at the prophets’ and Jesus’ teaching to give thanks in all circumstances. Paul urges us to not complain but rather give thanks in bitter circumstances because through them we grow into faith and hope in God by the work of the Holy Spirit.

John 16:12-15

‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

The challenge of Holy Trinity Sunday is that it is a feast day of doctrine as opposed to the life of Jesus or the life of the Church. But doctrine, by definition, is teaching based on scripture. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is based on both Hebrew and New Testament scriptures. The Holy Spirit, or hagia pneuma in Greek, is found from the very first verses of Genesis through the last verses of Revelation. Genesis 1:1-2 “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while the ruach/hagia pneuma brooded over the face of the waters.” Genesis 12 gives hint at a hero, a savior, a messiah, who will come from descendants of Abraham, which is referred to and spelled out more clearly throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. Finally, in the New Testament gospels, Jesus is presented as the savior/messiah, Son of God/Son of Man, King of the Jews, and fulfiller of the covenant between God and creation.

In the above passage, Jesus acknowledges that due to his human finitude and the overwhelmed state of the disciples, the disciples have received as much as Jesus is able to give them. But Jesus also acknowledges that the disciples need more…so another will be sent to continue guiding them. Then God, the Father is mentioned in the above passage, as is Jesus, the son, as is the Holy Spirit, or in this case the “Spirit of truth”. So it really does look like there is a Father/God, a junior god in Jesus, and some kind of divine messenger in the Holy Spirit. This is exactly what the Mormons teach. But Jews are monotheists, whose key Biblical verse is the Shema, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord, your God, the Lord is one!” Christians do not deviate from this rallying cry one iota! Three divine personages but in only one God. Thus, the doctrine of the trinity. In this doctrine, Father, Son, and Spirit are all understood to be one community of three persons. The mystery in this doctrine is that there is only one God and there are three distinct personages in this one God but they are not just one God acting differently in different situations, such as a triathlete or a person who is son or daughter/adult/parent. No, one God in three persons, which makes no sense, and yet is. This mystery certainly does merit a feast day in the Christian Church Year calendar.

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 2016

Bible Tuesday for the Feast of Pentecost, 2016

Genesis 11:1-9

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2And as they migrated from the east,* they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’ 5The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. 6And the Lord said, ‘Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.7Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.’ 8So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused*the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

The story of the tower of Babel immediately follows a list of the genealogy of Noah’s descendants, which takes up the entirety of chapter 10 of Genesis. The chapter 10 genealogy lists many peoples and the languages that they speak. It can be understood, then, that the “they” of 11:2 above refers to some of descendants of Noah. The point of this story is to explain that human hubris, and God’s punishment of it, is the cause of the many languages of the earth.

Bitumen is a tar-like substance. The above passage tells us that these peoples build a ziggurat style tower and city of fired brick and bitumen in order that they may “make a name for themselves” and live in, or at least see, the heavens. This story is a foreshadowing of sorts of Isaiah 14:13-24, where God addresses the king of Babylon: “You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the starts of God; …I will ascend to the tops of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High.’” Note that in verse 7, despite the great height of the human made ziggurat, God must “go down” to it. Once the languages are confused, the place of the tower is called Babel. According to Hebrew tradition, it is from this that Babylon gets its name.

This story is followed in the next chapter, Genesis 12, by the story of the calling of Abram. In this Tower of Babel story, humans want to make a name for themselves, while in the next story God tells Abram, “I will make your name great.”

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
25 Yonder is the sea, great and wide,
creeping things innumerable are there,
living things both small and great.
26 There go the ships,
and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.

27 These all look to you
to give them their food in due season;
28 when you give to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
30 When you send forth your spirit,* they are created;
and you renew the face of the ground.

31 May the glory of the Lord endure for ever;
may the Lord rejoice in his works—
32 who looks on the earth and it trembles,
who touches the mountains and they smoke.
33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
34 May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord.
35 Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord!

This psalm is chosen for Pentecost because it speaks of the belief that God creates and gives life through the Holy Spirit. God is represented as acting not out of benevolence but rather caprice.

Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.7Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 “In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

The “they” referred to in the first sentence of this passage refers to the group of people mentioned in Acts 1:13 and following, and includes the Apostles, many disciples, Jesus’ mother and siblings, totally about 120. The number 120 is significant in that it is the number 12, the number of the tribes of Israel and the number of the apostles of Jesus, multiplied. This 120 are to be the voice of God to all the people of the world, starting with the Jews.

It is significant that this 120 people were in Jerusalem for a Jewish festival when the Holy Spirit alights on them. Why does something like flames set upon each of them? From the burning bush to the pillar of fire by night, God has manifest the Holy Spirit to God’s people through the sign of fire. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the Holy Spirit is both given and revoked by God, but in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is only given, most notably in this Pentecost story.

On the day of Pentecost, the 120 were gathered together in one place, keeping to themselves. It was only 50 days since Passover, the Holiday Jesus was celebrating with the disciples the night he was arrested. In this month and a half, the disciples had seen Jesus but were keeping very much to themselves out of fear of the Romans and Jewish authorities who had executed Jesus. But on this day, when the Holy Spirit fills them, it fills them with new life. All the 120 suddenly become very public evangelists, proclaiming the good news of Jesus life, death, and resurrection in the streets for everyone to hear.

Peter interprets the actions of the Holy Spirit for the crowds. Peter states that the Hebrew scriptures are coming true at that very moment! God’s Spirit has just been poured out on men and women. Call on the name of the Lord! Be saved!

John 14:8-17 & 25-27

Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’9Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me* for anything, I will do it.

15 ‘If you love me, you will keep* my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate,* to be with you forever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in* you.

25 ‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But the Advocate,* the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

Philip demands visible proof of God, of Jesus really being God’s Son. Instead, Jesus promises more invisible manifestations of God: the Holy Spirit, aka Paraclete, Advocate, Breath of God. The Spirit will actually dwell in the disciples and even in us, loving us and praying unceasingly to God on our behalf! This Holy Spirit will be our peace, our shalom, God within us.

Bible Tuesday for Easter 7, 2016

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, Easter 7, 2016

Acts 16:16-34

One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. 17While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” 18She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. 19But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. 20When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews 21and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” 22The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods.23After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. 24Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. 28But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”31They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.

While this story about Paul and Silas, notice in the first sentence the word, “we”. The gospel of Luke and the book of Acts are believed by scholars to have been written by the same person, Luke the physician. Luke is thought to have been an early convert to Christianity by Paul and to have traveled with Paul for a while. This and a couple other sections of Acts are believed to be eye witness accounts of Paul’s adventures.

These events take place in the city of Philippi. Philippi was a center for the worship of Zeus, the most high god of the Roman pantheon of gods and goddesses. Zeus was believed to speak through thunder crashes, lightening bolts, tornadoes/hurricanes, and earth quakes. The Jewish community in Philippi is very small, as represented by Lydia and her fellow believers meeting for worship along side a river outside of town.

As Paul and Silas go about their business in Philippi, they are hounded by a fortune telling slave girl who is possessed by a divining spirit. Note that this is not the Holy Spirit, nor is her gift for fortune telling a gift from God. She does not proclaim Paul and Silas as prophets of Jesus or Christ or even Yahweh, but rather as “prophets of the most high god” which she, and the Roman citizenry believe to be Zeus. Paul heals this girl be casting this divining spirit from her.

An important point in this text: the English terms, “to be healed” and “to be saved” come from the same Greek word in this text and throughout the New Testament and the Septuagint. The word is “sozo” and it means “to be made whole, to be restored, to embody shalom.” When Paul heals the girl with the divining spirit, she is restored to herself before this spirit took possession of her. Her life is not necessary made better, but is instead restored to right relationship with God, the real Most High God.

The jailer, a Roman, worships the various Roman gods/goddesses. An earthquake hitting his jail would be interpreted as a judgment against him by Zeus, hence his almost suicide. When he asks Paul and Silas, “What must I do to be saved?” the jailer is not thinking, “What must I do to keep from going to hell?” but rather, “What must I do to keep Zeus from destroying me?” Paul’s answer, to believe into Jesus, the only real God, was a novel answer for this jailer. After the baptism of his whole household, one wonders if they joined Lydia and the other Jesus believing Jews by the river on the Sabboth.

Psalm 97

The Lord is king! Let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!

2Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.

3Fire goes before him, and consumes his adversaries on every side.

4His lightnings light up the world; the earth sees and trembles.

5The mountains melt like wax before the Lord, before the Lord of all the earth.

6The heavens proclaim his righteousness; and all the peoples behold his glory.

7All worshipers of images are put to shame, those who make their boast in worthless idols; all gods bow down before him.

8Zion hears and is glad, and the towns of Judah rejoice, because of your judgments, O God.

9For you, O Lord, are most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods.

10The Lord loves those who hate evil; he guards the lives of his faithful; he rescues them from the hand of the wicked.

11Light dawns for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart.

12Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name!

In the gospels, Jesus does not speak about God as sending judgment by way of earthquakes and severe storms, but the Hebrew Scriptures do. Note the images of verses 2-4. In Roman and Greek religions, both gods and goddesses and the statues of them were worshiped. Note how verse 7 depicts, “You shall not make for yourself graven images.” The Jewish understand of this commandment, as illustrated in verse 7, is that there are absolutely no artistic depictions of God or of the Holy Spirit. NONE! If you go into synagogues, you will see either Hebrew scripture verses or abstract designs decorating the worship space, narthex, offices, and classrooms. Absolutely no statues are allowed.

Revelation 22:12-21

2“See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. 13I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” 14Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. 15Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. 16“It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” 17The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. 18I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; 19if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

20The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! 21The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.

Martin Luther was not fond of the book of Revelation. The first verse of this pericope is a great example of why. The book of Revelation absolutely depicts life with God as a carrot and stick religion. And there are many Christians throughout the past two millennia who believe this as well. While such an approach to Jesus is not found in the writings of St. Paul, one does find it in a couple places in the gospels and one absolutely finds it in the pastoral letters, Hebrews, and Revelation. But one cannot just dismiss Revelation because the book also gives us the image of the “Lamb who was slain, whose blood sets us free to become people of God.”

Also, while there is the carrot and stick theology, there is also the completely free Grace of God as stated in verse 17 above.

John 17:20-26

”I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

24Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

This is a passage from a section of the gospel of John called the High Priestly Prayer. It is a lengthy prayer that Jesus prays in the presence of the disciples and apostles just before he is arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. In it we read Jesus praying for all his followers to be “sozo-ed”, restored to full relationship with God.

Jesus prays for unity between himself and all believers, and unity between all believers. Jesus prays that the love with which God loves Jesus may also be in all believers. This is what it means for believers to be healed/restored. To be healed is not to recover from illness but to be put into right relationship with God that is unimpeded by sin or lack of faith.