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Month: October 2016

Bible Tuesday for Reformation Sunday 2016

Bible Tuesday for Reformation Sunday 2016

Jeremiah 31:31-34

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband,* says the Lord. 33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

The context of this pericope is that God is addressing the Israelites as Jerusalem is falling and its citizens are being enslaved by Babylonia. Jeremiah prophesied about this by proclaiming God’s judgement against Israel for adopting the religions of the peoples around them and blending them into Judaism. In the above passage, God says that the covenant that he made with Israel was a marriage. Therefore, Israel’s adopting of new religions is infidelity! God’s response? Remarriage that doesn’t rely on rings and vows, but on God’s actions. God will forgive and forget. That equals grace. Christians interpret this passage as being fulfilled in Jesus, through whom we truly have complete forgiveness of sins, and through the Holy Spirit through whom we receive knowledge of God.

Psalm 46

To the leader. Of the Korahites. According to Alamoth. A Song.
1 God is our refuge and strength,
a very present* help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of the city;* it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.*

8 Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
10 ‘Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.’
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.*

How terrifying it must have been for the Israelites to be holed up behind their city walls, waiting for the Assyrians and later the Babylonians to conquer them and haul them into captivity. Surely they praised, admonished, feared, trusted, and decried God as the enemy armies came ever closer. In this context, the psalmist writes to God. “No, my fellow Israelites, we are not alone in this terrifying mess. The Lord of Hosts is with us and the God of our ancestor, Jacob, is our refuge. No matter what happens to us, God will ultimately make peace between us and all other nations.

Verses 8-11 invite the fearful Israelites to look to both nature and history for proof of what God can do. “Israelites, do not panic…be still in the presence of God. Trust that God will act.”

Romans 3:19-28

Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20For ‘no human being will be justified in his sight’ by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.

21 But now, irrespective of law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ* for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement* by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; 26it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.*

27 Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.

Here is St. Paul’s masterpiece on the use of the Law and the righteousness of God. To paraphrase Paul, the Law both points out what humans are doing incorrectly or are unable to do, and the perfection of God. But, the perfection of God is not completely revealed through the law because the Law only shows what God is and what we are not. But God is completely revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Jesus, the God/man, there is both Law and gospel, condemnation and redemption, the “pioneer and perfecter of the faith”. All humans, who are each, without exception, condemned under the Law, are now made righteous (without condemnation) by faith in Jesus and the grace God grants through him.

John 8:31-36

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ 33They answered him, ‘We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, “You will be made free”?’

34 Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

In the previous verses to this pericope, Jesus has been speaking in the Temple to crowds including Jewish authorities: Pharisees and others. Some of those who heard Jesus teach began believing that he might be the Messiah. In the gospel of John those who are officials in the Hebrew faith who work in the Temple or for the High Priest or the Sanhedrin, or are Pharisees or Sadducees are called Jews. In the gospel of John, Jews are not to be confused with the crowds, the disciples or the apostles.

So then the first sentence in the above pericope is addressed to those Jewish authorities who were in the crowd and began believing what Jesus was teaching. Jesus encourages them to continue to listen to his teaching and grow in believing in him as the Son of God/Son of Man. Continuing in Jesus’ words would mean believing that righteousness before God comes not by one’s heritage or through good deeds, but through faith in Jesus’ impending death and resurrection.

By their response to Jesus, these Jews show they are ready to believe in Jesus. They rebuff Jesus’ statement and cling to their Jewish heritage as their key to heaven’s door. These Jews neither known their own peoples’ history (Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, Assyria, and Babylonia), nor do they understand their own figurative enslavement to sin which the Law points out.

Jesus uses an analogy to illustrate his point. “You all are merely slaves to the Law God meant for guidance and freedom. However, I am God’s son, and as such, heir to all that God has made. By Jewish law then, if I set the slaves free, they are legally freed. Why choose enslavement to freedom in me?”

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 23, 2016

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 23, 2016

Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22

7 Although our iniquities testify against us,
act, O Lord, for your name’s sake;
our apostasies indeed are many,
and we have sinned against you.
8 O hope of Israel,
its saviour in time of trouble,
why should you be like a stranger in the land,
like a traveller turning aside for the night?
9 Why should you be like someone confused,
like a mighty warrior who cannot give help?
Yet you, O Lord, are in the midst of us,
and we are called by your name;
do not forsake us!

10 Thus says the Lord concerning this people:
Truly they have loved to wander,
they have not restrained their feet;
therefore the Lord does not accept them,
now he will remember their iniquity
and punish their sins.

19 Have you completely rejected Judah?
Does your heart loathe Zion?
Why have you struck us down
so that there is no healing for us?
We look for peace, but find no good;
for a time of healing, but there is terror instead.
20 We acknowledge our wickedness, O Lord,
the iniquity of our ancestors,
for we have sinned against you.
21 Do not spurn us, for your name’s sake;
do not dishonour your glorious throne;
remember and do not break your covenant with us.
22 Can any idols of the nations bring rain?
Or can the heavens give showers?
Is it not you, O Lord our God?
We set our hope on you,
for it is you who do all this.

The prophecy of Jeremiah is an excellent example of a few themes found in the Hebrew Scriptures.

1. If something bad is happening, it is likely a judgement against you from God.

In this passage of Jeremiah, Israel is experiencing a severe drought. Jeremiah interprets this as God’s judgement against the idol worshiping Israel.

2. When a judgement is made against you, repent and God will grant reprieve.

The second portion of the above pericope is Jeremiah’s lament and admonition to Israel; lament of Israel’s sins, and admonition to Israel to repent so that God will send rain.

3. If you wouldn’t have sinned in the first place, this bad thing would not have happened.

Following this line of thinking, illness is judgement from God for sin, so are accidental injuries and deaths, whereas wealth and health are blessings from God for doing good.

Jesus specifically addresses this fallacy in the Sermon on the Mount, the parable of the sheep and the goats, and many other places. Matthew 5:45 “God sends rains on the just and the unjust.” If, indeed, we were able, by our own behavior, to manipulate God’s interaction with humans, that would imply that God is somewhat subject to humans, or at least vulnerable to humans. It also implies that we get what we earn. But, in fact, Christians firmly believe that we absolutely do not get what we earn, but what Jesus earned for us.

Psalm 84:1-7

To the leader: according to The Gittith. Of the Korahites. A Psalm.
How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, indeed it faints
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh sing for joy
to the living God.

Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.
Happy are those who live in your house,
ever singing your praise.

Happy are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
the God of gods will be seen in Zion.

It was the goal of every Jew to travel to Jerusalem and worship God in the Temple. This psalm is one of a few psalms used specifically during one’s pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The psalmist sees a sparrow’s nest built into the altar, not a nuisance, or sacrilege, but a symbol of God’s eagerness to grant refuge to all who seek it.

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

6 As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing. 16 At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! 17But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.18The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Jouette M. Bassler writes in her introduction to Second Timothy, “The second letter to Timothy differs in significant ways from both First Timothy and Titus. According to the latter two, Paul was a free apostle, but 2 Timothy assumes that he is in prison, probably in Rome, abandoned by all but a few of his friends, and facing imminent death. The Letter thus assumes many aspects of a final testament, a thoroughly pseudepigraphical genre in which a dying patriarch exhorts and blesses a faithful child, warning him of problems to come. Concern for church orde3r is thus less important in this Letter than are personal exhortations. In particular, the example of Paul’s endurance in the face of suffering is used to encourage Timothy—and through him all Christians—to similar endurance.”

“The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom.” We read many such statements in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. Frequently these are read to mean that if one believes in God hard enough, then one will be spared from all harm. Therefore, if harm befalls you, it is because you do not believe in God enough. The Apostle Paul did not teach this, nor do I think that is the meaning of this passage. Jesus taught and Paul believed that no matter what evil or harm occurs in life, God is beside you, and will vouchsafe you to eternity with Him.

Luke 18:9-14

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’

As per Martin Luther’s instruction, one must use scripture to interpret scripture. In the case of these past months’ readings from Luke, one must read the whole of Luke to interpret a selection of Luke. Last week’s lectionary reading was of the window and the unjust judge. The Judge was bored with the poor widow, but she kept pestering the judge until he finally heard her case and ruled in her favor. Jesus concludes this parable with the moral, “Will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?” We are to ceaselessly pray to God. AND we are to hear this week’s parable.

In this week’s parable, there are two stereotypical characters, the good guy Pharisee and the bad guy tax collector. But we find out that the good guy’s status in the faith has gone to his head and his haughty prayers are filled with hubris and finger pointing. Meanwhile, the bad guy knows what people think of him and whisper behind his back. He believes it about himself and comes to God in shame and deep humility. Once again in Luke, Jesus turns the world on its head making the bad guy good and the “good guy” a hypocrite. The moral of this parable is to pray humbly, in full knowledge of your sinfulness and complete dependence on God’s grace.

If we combine the morals from these two parables, we learn how Jesus wants his followers to pray: endlessly, and humbly, knowing that we are completely dependent on God for everything.

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 21, 2016

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 21, 2016

2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15

Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favour with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy.* 2Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3She said to her mistress, ‘If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.’* 4So Naaman* went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. 5And the king of Aram said, ‘Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.’

He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. 6He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, ‘When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.’*7When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, ‘Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy?* Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.’

8 But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, ‘Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.’ 9So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. 10Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, ‘Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.’ 11But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, ‘I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy!* 12Are not Abana* and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?’ He turned and went away in a rage. 13But his servants approached and said to him, ‘Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, “Wash, and be clean”?’ 14So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

15 Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, ‘Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.’

Here is a story about a military man questioning orders. Naaman, top general for the king of Aram, was fine with taking orders from his own king, and even desperate enough to entertain the suggestion of his wife’s foreign born slave girl. But Naaman put his foot down to taking orders from some religious shaman’s slave. Naaman wanted some show of hocus-pocus magic power. The idea that obeying a simple command would heal him was preposterous.

Themes in this story: Those in power cannot go at it alone but must listen to thiose in lesser positions (Naaman to his wife’s servant girl, the king of Israel to Elisha, Naaman to not only Elisha’s servants but more importantly, his own) Leprosy: while some leprosy in the Bible is disfiguring and worthy of social shunning, this story is an example of dermatological diseases being referred to as leprosy.

Anomalies in this story. While the servant girl of Naaman’s wife is aware of Elisha’s position as prophet and healer, the King of Israel is not! Unlike Elijah’s many prayers before action, Elisha does not pray, but merely prescribes.

Psalm 111

Praise the Lord!
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
2 Great are the works of the Lord,
studied by all who delight in them.
3 Full of honour and majesty is his work,
and his righteousness endures forever.
4 He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds;
the Lord is gracious and merciful.
5 He provides food for those who fear him;
he is ever mindful of his covenant.
6 He has shown his people the power of his works,
in giving them the heritage of the nations.
7 The works of his hands are faithful and just;
all his precepts are trustworthy.
8 They are established for ever and ever,
to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
9 He sent redemption to his people;
he has commanded his covenant forever.
Holy and awesome is his name.
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it* have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever.

This psalm is one of several acrostics in the psalter. These are written using each letter of the alphabet to begin a line to symbolize that, just as every letter can be used to praise God, so does all creation praise God. In response to Naaman’s healing, one can understand how such a psalm can be employed.

Psalms 111 & 112 are a pair, both acrostics, one which praises God, while the other praises the God worshiper. The last line of psalm 111, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…” is the linguistic link between the two psalms.

2 Timothy 2:8-15

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel, 9for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. 10Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. 11The saying is sure:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
12 if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he will also deny us;
13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.

14 Remind them of this, and warn them before God* that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. 15Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.

This letter, written as if from the apostle, Paul, reminds us that Paul was actually imprisoned and wrote letters to many congregations while shackled. Like some of Paul’s letters, this epistle also quotes a contemporary hymn, and introduces it with “The saying is sure”. The writer also invokes the spirit of Paul when admonishing the recipients of the letter. “Avoid wrangling over words, which does not good but only ruins those who are listening!” Doctrine and dogma arguments need to be held away from those who would be hurt or befuddled and thereby misled.

Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus* was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers*approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ 14When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. 15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’*feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ 19Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’

Last week our lesson was on us wanted to be praised for doing what is right when we are mere slaves and only doing what is expected of us. This week Jesus blesses 9 Jews and one Samaritan with healing and finds no gratitude among his people, only among the Samaritan!

With these verses, the gospel of Luke turns from teaching and preaching back to Jesus’ journey toward Jerusalem. Note that this takes place on the borderlands between Samaria and Galilee, the hick towns and wildernesses of the Roman Empire. The Revised Common Lectionary couples this story with the Naaman story for a few reasons. Both these lepers and Naaman are commanded by a “man of God” to act on the command before anything has actually happened. These lepers are to go show themselves to the priest who will verify their healing and allow them to live back inside the city walls and be restored to their families and friends. Naaman was supposed to go wash seven times, a religious ritual affirming cleanliness, even though Naaman had not yet been healed. In other words, all of these lepers were to act in faith.

The gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus SEES the lepers. Lepers in Jesus’ day were by Jewish Law to stay several yards away from people and to prevent folks from stumbling upon them (and possibly contracting the disease) were to cry out “Unclean” so as to warn of their presence. But instead of avoiding these lepers, Jesus SEES them. AS the story progresses, we are told that the lepers all SEE that they are that they are healed but only one returns to Jesus because of what he sees. Where are the other nine? Did they get so caught up in SEEing their healing that they missed SEEing God’s hand in it? Jesus’ presence right there in their midst? Only the leper whom Jews assumed would be ignored by God, not only saw his own healing, but also ran back in gratitude and actually SAW God, who declared him well/healed/saved.

Gratitude: Naaman shows initial disappointment and disgruntlement but then gratitude. The nine Jewish lepers never do show gratitude. But the one Samaritan leper, as soon as he realized he had been made clean, he did not continue to the priest to be declared clean and then go home, but instead ran back to Jesus in gratitude. This one Samaritan humbled himself in front of his Jewish Savior and fell prostrate on the ground in front of him. Jesus commends him by saying, not “I am glad someone showed gratitude” or “I have healed you” but “Your faith has made you well.”

Merit: The story from last week and this story both reinforce that God’s salvation and grace are given freely as gift, and not something we can earn. We are servant of God, which means that we are to be about God’s work for us and that in the midst of this care also cares for us. This is not a reciprocal relationship: since God takes care of me, I will do things to make God happy. No, Jesus healed all ten lepers even though only one acted in a way that made Jesus happy. God cares for creation, and we, called as God’s servants, do the work of God.