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Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 20

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 20, 2016

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4

The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw. 2O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? 3Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. 4So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous— therefore judgment emerges deformed.

I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint. 2Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. 3For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. 4Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.

The prophecy of Habakkuk is primarily one of a conversation between God and the prophet. The conversation is about Israel and the impending doom of being conquered by Babylon. Note that while scholars date this section of the book to 600’s BCE, there is nothing in this passage to anchor it to a particular time. It has been and continues to be used in prayer and liturgy by peoples who are oppressed.

The second part of the passage is from the beginning verses of chapter 2. Here the prophet begins to proclaim not only lament, but faith that God will act. “The righteous (those who are in right relationship with God) live by their faith.”

Psalm 37:1-9

Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers,

2for they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb.

3Trust in the Lord, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.

4Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

5Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.

6He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday.

7Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices.

8Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret—it leads only to evil.

9For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.

One way of interpreting proverbs like the ones included in this psalm is to say, “Obey God and God will reward you with lots of cool stuff.” Most of the TV evangelists preach that interpretation of scriptures. Frequently those evangelists also ask for donations as a sign of the viewers’ faith in God and teach that those donations will be multiplied many times over as God rewards the donators.

Another way to interpret such proverbs is this: When believers “take delight in the Lord,” then their hearts become full of that which they desire, God. Prayer, scripture reading, worship, and humility before God bring about change in people. Their longings morph from luxuries to comfort for neighbor and justice for all. Therefore, donating is not a down payment on a bigger blessing from God, but an effort to help the world with the means that we have.

2 Timothy 1:1-14

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, 2To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.3I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. 5I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.

6For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.8Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, 9who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, 12and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. 13Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

The beginning of second Timothy starts in classic Roman-Greco correspondence style: Greeting with identification/authority, and salutation to addressee, then blessing, which proceeds into thanksgiving.

In this greeting, Paul again identifies himself as an apostle. This is key to Paul’s understanding of who he is and why he is writing to these congregations and individuals. Because of Paul’s road to Damascus experience with Jesus, Paul counts himself as the 13th apostle right in there with Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, Thaddaeus, James son of Alpheus, Simon, and Matthias. Paul’s status as an apostle was questioned and disputed among early believers so it was very important to Paul to make this claim at the very beginning of his correspondence.

Paul mentions that Timothy should not be ashamed of Paul or the gospel. How difficult it must have been to believe in salvation through Jesus when your fellow Jews, as well as the Romans, thought you were crazy, and you had no Bible to back you up, just interpretations of the Hebrew scriptures. You believed that a convicted insurrectionist who had been publicly executed was actually God and rose from the dead, and the guy who taught all this to you is now in prison in Rome (Paul) awaiting his day in front of Caesar who will likely make your hero into lion food.

So your hero writes to you, admonishing you to hold fast to the gospel, that Jesus is real and so is resurrection, grace, and eternal life.

Luke 17:5-10

5The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. 7“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”

Once again, let’s look at what immediately precedes this text to get some context for what Jesus is saying. Jesus just finished his many parables regarding wealth and the idolatry of it, culminating in “The Rich Man and Lazarus.” Realizing that what he has just taught is very hard to understand, much less live by, Jesus then says in chapter 17:1, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come,” but then continues sternly to his disciples “but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” Jesus continues to his disciples, “Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent’, you must forgive.” It is to these very hard teachings and the demand for forgiveness each and every time a person repents that the apostles (the twelve) exclaim, “Increase our faith!”

The hyperbole that Jesus uses when discussing mulberry trees and mustard seeds is meant to alarm the disciples, not describe Monty Python-esque antics those with faith should undertake. No, the faithful should be about the business of forgiveness as if it were the mundane tasks undertaken by a slave for his owner. No fanfare or gratitude is expected or given. Forgiveness is merely granted because it is the correct course of things. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We sin at least seven times a day and God forgives us each and every time. Extending that to those who sin against us is the least that we can do.

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 19, 2016

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 19, 2016

Amos 6: 1, 4-7

Alas for those who are at ease in Zion, and confident on the hill of Samaria. 4Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall; 5who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and like David improvise on instruments of music; 6who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! 7Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile, and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.

This passage is in a section of the prophecy of Amos which scolds various factions in both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. The above passage takes aim at the ruling elites in both Jerusalem, the capitol of the Southern Kingdom, and Samaria, the Capitol of the Northern Kingdom. They are described as wiling away the hours, eating gourmet foods, humming “snatches of songs to the tune of the lute”, all the while powers from the east attack its outlying cities.

In other places in Amos, and throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament, this complacency is due to taking God for granted. The elites of Israel believed that because they were God’s chosen people, they were untouchable. They understood their wealth and status to be signs of God’s favor extended to them as over and against not only other counties and ethnicities, but even over the major of Israelites who were very poor. These elites do not use their wealth or power to serve God and help neighbor, as God demands, but rather to “feather their own nests”.

The consequences of their apathy is that they will be dragged into exile, shamed by a foreign power in front of their own country folks. Their wealth and their status will all fall away as they are shackled and dragged to Babylon.

Psalm 146

1Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul!

2I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

3Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.

4When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.

5Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God,

6who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever;

7who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free;

8the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous.

9The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

10The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the Lord!

The book of Psalms contains 150 psalms, which served as the hymnal for ancient Israel. The last several psalms are all praise psalms, like this one. Coupled with the above passage from Amos, verses 3-4 seem to describe the very elites Amos chastises. Yet, the Israelite peasant folk find God faithful and praise him!

1 Timothy 6:6-19

6Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment;7for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; 8but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. 9But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. 11But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. 12Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

13In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15which he will bring about at the right time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. 16It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. 17As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, 19thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

The ancient Israelite understanding of wealth was that there was only so much wealth, so much food, so much luxury to be had in the world. If some folks had more than their share, then other folks would have to get by with less. While this thought process was not at all popular in north America from its founding, the modern comprehension of the finitude of fossil fuels has given rise to a reincarnation of this concept: if some have more than their fair share, others must get by with much less.

This idea is part of the foundation of the Jewish and Christian teachings of the use of wealth. Wealth is a tool to be used in the service of God. To love the tool, to make it the center of your life, your score board, your main objective, is to completely distort the usefulness of the tool.

No matter how much or how little wealth one has, viewing it as a tool to carry out the will of God allows the faithful to “take hold of the life that really is life,” the love and peace that is ours in Christ Jesus.

Luke 16:19-31

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

This parable is in the form of a joke/fable and should not be read as a revelation by Jesus of the nature of heaven and hell. It is more formulaic, like “A guy walks into a bar…” as the opening line of so many jokes. As it is a Jewish formula, St. Peter is not at the gate of heaven, but Abraham serves as the host of heaven. There is no devil, but there certainly is torment and fire in hell. The rich man and his brothers are all evil. How do we know that? Are they wearing “black hats?” No, but there is six of them, the Hebrew number for evil. Nowhere else in all of the Bible is it mentioned that there is an unpassable chasm between the good life with Abraham (note, Jesus doesn’t call it “heaven”) and Hades.

So why does Jesus employ this well worn formula for his parable? To prophesy about his own effectiveness. The chapters of Luke 15 and 16 consist of Jesus teaching very hard, challenging lessons to those who oppose him, those who follow him like a rock star, and now those who are his disciples. Surely Jesus senses, if he does not have full knowledge, that his words are falling on naïve, and/or deaf ears. How exasperated Jesus must have been as he delivered the punch line of this parable, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they listen to someone who rises from the dead.”

These hard, challenging lessons from Luke, chapters 15 & 16, are all about money, and wealth. Jesus again and again states that to be a true follower of Jesus, our orientation must be to God; not to ourselves, or our comfort/security, not to estate we hand on to our kids, but to God. This is an extremely difficult lesson for we, followers of Jesus, and one that is not formulaic. We cannot merely tithe to our church and walk away self satisfied. What Jesus is calling for is a radical change in how we see the world and our place in it. In the Cain and Abel story from Genesis, Cain snaps at God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?!” Jesus would have us answer decisively, “Yes!” I am keeper of my neighbor and my neighbor is my keeper. And in each person’s life, and in each relationship in that person’s life, this will look different. How hard this is!!!!

Much easier to lounge apathetically on our couches, eat our dinners, flip on the TV’s, and close our eyes to the rest of the world. To which Jesus says, “When you come to your senses and open your eyes, it will

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 18, 2016

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 18, 2016

Amos 8:4-7

Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
5 saying, ‘When will the new moon be over
so that we may sell grain;
and the sabbath,
so that we may offer wheat for sale?
We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
and practice deceit with false balances,
6 buying the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and selling the sweepings of the wheat.’

7 The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.

The prophecy of Amos was written in the 8th century BCE, a full 100 or more years before the southern kingdom fell to Babylonia. Amos is writing from a southern kingdom perspective, supporting the Temple in Jerusalem as the sole place of proper worship of God. The prophecy addresses social ills more than religious ones and champions compassion and morality.

In the above pericope, God calls out the corrupt merchants. Their crimes are this: They complain about the blue laws of the day, because they were making any money when shops were closed for religious reasons. They were using dishonest scales which always weighed in their favor. “Ephah” is a measurement of volume equal to just over 6 gallons, however, these thieving merchants were skimping on how much they put into the ephah bags. When weighing the silver used to pay for the ephah of grain, the weights used were always light, so the silver was devalued. In addition, these guys were filling the bottoms of the ephah bags with chaff and sweepings, only putting wheat grains on the tops of the bags.

These upper class merchants were feathering their nests with the down and flight feathers of the working class, the vast majority of Israelites who lived hand to mouth and died young. This God decries!

Psalm 113

Praise the Lord!
Praise, O servants of the Lord;
praise the name of the Lord.

2 Blessed be the name of the Lord
from this time on and for evermore.
3 From the rising of the sun to its setting
the name of the Lord is to be praised.
4 The Lord is high above all nations,
and his glory above the heavens.

5 Who is like the Lord our God,
who is seated on high,
6 who looks far down
on the heavens and the earth?
7 He raises the poor from the dust,
and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
8 to make them sit with princes,
with the princes of his people.
9 He gives the barren woman a home,
making her the joyous mother of children.
Praise the Lord!

This psalm is recited as part of major holiday worship services. In its Hebrew iteration, the first verses more clearly suggest that the activity of servants of God is to praise God, this is their service. The psalm also draws on the polar opposites meeting in God, God who is everywhere and hold the top social standing, tends to those who are completely outside social standing, the homeless who haunt the always burning garbage heaps, and the childless woman.

1 Timothy 2:1-7

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for everyone, 2for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. 3This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, 4who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5For
there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
6 who gave himself a ransom for all
—this was attested at the right time. 7For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth,* I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

While there is much in Timothy with which to struggle, here the author states doctrine I fully embrace, “God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” The author teaches that as Christians, we are not to pick and choose people we want God to tend to and ignore others, but rather hold everyone in prayer.

Verses 5-6 are a quote from an unknown liturgical source, perhaps a hymn or a litany. Since only a small portion of this source is quoted, we do not know if the source supports the “homo ousius” nature of Jesus: that Jesus is fully human and fully divine.

Luke 16:1-13

Then Jesus* said to the disciples, ‘There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2So he summoned him and said to him, “What is this that I hear about you? Give me an account of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.” 3Then the manager said to himself, “What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.4I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.” 5So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, “How much do you owe my master?” 6He answered, “A hundred jugs of olive oil.” He said to him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.” 7Then he asked another, “And how much do you owe?” He replied, “A hundred containers of wheat.” He said to him, “Take your bill and make it eighty.” 8And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth* so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.*

10 ‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth,* who will entrust to you the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.’*

First, let’s define “dishonest wealth”. This does not mean “ill gotten gains” as one would assume, but rather “dishonest wealth” refers to the wealth of this life, as opposed to “Store up treasures for yourself in heaven where no moth consumes and no rust destroys.” Jesus is teaching about the false senses of security, status, and self-made-man smugness that frequently accompany wealth.

The parable closely follows the parable of the prodigal son, in which the younger son is described as “squandering” his inheritance, just as the above “dishonest steward.” By using the same adjective, Jesus is telling his now smaller, more intimate audience (the disciples) that he is still on the same theme of sinners repenting, but he’s coming at it from a whole new angle, what sinners get hung up on: wealth.

To better understand the steward’s shrewdness, let’s examine his position as steward. Scholars think this parable describes a common business arrangement in ancient Israel, that of the absentee land owner. The owner hires a steward to manage his property. The steward leases the land out to farmers and orchard managers who pay their rent in crop products, in this case, wheat and olive oil. The New Interpreter’s Bible states, “The amounts in question underscore the rich man’s wealth. The first debtor owes one hundred “baths” (batos in Greek) of oil. Since a bath is equivalent to nine gallons, this man owes nine hundred gallons of olive oil. The second debtor owes one hundred “kors” (koros in Greek) of grain. Estimates of the size of a kor vary from 6.5 to 10-12 bushels, and even Josephus give inconsistent reports as to its meaning. Nevertheless, a hundred kors of grain would have been a large amount. The rich man and his debtors were dealing in large commercial interests therefore and not household amounts.”

But how did the steward’s debt reduction ingratiate himself to the debtors? And was he falsifying records, or was he removing the interest on these debts, interest that was prohibited in Deuteronomy 23:19-20, or was he simply removing his own commission from the debts? There is no way of knowing. But, certainly the land owner cannot rectify what his steward is doing without seriously losing face. In fact, the dishonest steward has ingratiated not only himself to the debtors, but also his master to those debtors. What tenant farmer would not be grateful and loyal to a landlord who cut the rent by 20% or 50%?

In this way, the dishonest steward is shrewd. He has used material wealth to secure shelter for himself. Jesus admonishes his disciples to use material wealth to make friends for themselves, not hoard the wealth but use it to better the lives of people around them.

For Jesus’ disciples, wealth is a tool, not the goal. Wealth is to be used to serve the heavenly Father, to love neighbor as self. If wealth shifts from being a tool to being the goal, then it becomes master, and Jesus clearly states an obvious fact, “No slave can serve two masters.”

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 17, 2016

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 17, 2016

Exodus 32:7-14

The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; 8they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshipped it and sacrificed to it, and said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” ’ 9The Lord said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. 10Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.’

11 But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, ‘O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12Why should the Egyptians say, “It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth”? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. 13Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, “I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.” ’ 14And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

This is such a fascinating text. To set the context, this is the part of the Gold Calf Story where Moses has already received the Law and is about to go down the mountain to give it to the people who have, in his absence, cast a golden calf to worship in the place of God.

In a complete role reversal, God complains to Moses about the Israelites, calling them “Your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt” as if Moses volunteered for that job! In this text, God has the temper tantrum and Moses talks God down from it. Moses points out to God that God’s reputation would be greatly damaged in the eyes of the Egyptians if God forsook the Israelites right after God saved them. “Be faithful to your covenant!” Moses admonishes.

And then, God CHANGES HIS MIND! The Greek word here is “metanoia” which means to change direction back toward the goal. This is usually translated “repent” and in many versions of the Bible, this verse does say that “The Lord repented the disaster that he planned…” The Jewish Study Bible translates this word “renounce”.

Psalm 51:1-10

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgement.
5 Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.

6 You desire truth in the inward being;*
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right* spirit within me.

These are the beginning verses of Psalm 51 which is read liturgically on Ash Wednesday. Tradition has it that King David wrote this psalm after the prophet, Nathan called him out for his affair with Bathsheba and murder of her husband, Uriah. It is fitted with the Exodus reading for this Sunday as the proper response of Israel to God when they were caught red handed with the freshly cast golden calf. This psalm also embodies the theme for this Sunday, true repentance and its joyous heavenly response.

1 Timothy 1:12-17

I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, 13even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. 16But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life.17To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory forever and ever.* Amen.

This is a challenging text in that it is written either by St. Paul or as if by St. Paul but it teaches things St. Paul does not. Before becoming a follower of Jesus and later an apostle of Jesus, Paul was a zealous Pharisee who was granted authority and soldiers from the High Priest in Jerusalem to go round up followers of Jesus. Paul would bring them back to Jerusalem where they were dealt with very harshly, and likely stoned to death. But Jesus appeared to Paul, as he was marching to Damascus to round up Christians, and brought Paul to his knees. Then Paul, himself, became a follower of Jesus. The first verses this passage refer to Paul’s time as a Pharisee.

What I struggle to reconcile with Paul’s writings in Romans, Corinthians, and Philippians is the above statement that “I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief.” In other writings by Paul, he expressly states that mercy comes from God because it is the nature of God and does not come from humanity (save by God’s action and power) because it is not the nature of fallen humanity. God’s mercy is not granted because we “act ignorantly in unbelief”. In fact, we intentionally do all kinds of evil things and then see the full consequences of our actions and regret them all the time, but that does not win us the label, “I didn’t know what I was doing.” Ignorance is no excuse for the law.

No, we do not earn God’s mercy because we sin in ignorance. God’s mercy is granted to all creation because we are sinful and ignorant, and God loves us anyway.

Luke 15:1-10

Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’

3 So he told them this parable: 4‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” 7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.

8 ‘Or what woman having ten silver coins,* if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?9When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’

Most of the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day subscribed to the teaching that if you kept God’s Law perfectly, than God was perfectly pleased with you. The Pharisees believed this earned you a spot in eternal life, while the Sadducees did not believe in eternal life. Jesus teaches against this belief system throughout all four gospels, especially with this chain of three parables in Luke. The above passage contains the first two parables followed by the Prodigal Son parable.

If we identify with the sinner who is sought and rejoiced over, these parables give great relief. If we identify with the 99 sheep, those who never left the shepherd and went wandering off, these stories give rise to jealousy and resentment.

In his letter to the congregation in Rome, St. Paul writes “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Martin Luther took that and many other teachings of St. Paul and taught that “our whole lives should be ones of repentance” because we are constantly turning away from what God wants toward our own navels. Therefore, we are forever getting lost, meandering or running away, and Jesus is forever hunting us down. There parable says there are 99 sheep who stay put. But that is just a parable. In real life, the only one who stays put is God the Father, keeping the porch light on for each of us.