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Month: November 2016

Bible Tuesday for Advent II, 2016

Bible Tuesday for Advent II, 2016

Isaiah 11:1-10

A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

6 The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9 They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

The verses in Isaiah preceding these describe how God shall punish those who march up against Israel and occupy the land. The final imagery of that section describes how God will take the tops off the cedars of Lebanon, and even fell them. These cedars reach heights of 130 feet typically and have trunks with an average circumference of better than 8 feet. (The average maple is about 30 feet tall and the average oak is about 70 feet). Lebanon, located in Assyria at that time, was a trading partner of Israel off and on throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, with these cedar trees being a very important part of that trade.

So the most powerful trees known to Israel God will fell for them, a sign of God’s mighty hand against the foes of Israel. So then where will God’s might manifest, if not in these monster trees? In the sad ol’, defeated stump of Israel. God promised David that someone from his line would always be king of Israel, yet that line has been broken long before the prophet Isaiah, speaks to Israel. Yet, God’s promise is good and is renewed in the above verses. What kind of king will grow from Israel, from Jesse’s/David’s stump? The above verses describe not only the king, but the land of Israel under his reign. Under this new king, there shall be peace over all the earth. This king will not only rule Israel, but all lands and peoples will fall under his justice, equity, and peace.

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

Of Solomon.
1 Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to a king’s son.
2 May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice.
3 May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness.
4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the needy,
and crush the oppressor.

5 May he live* while the sun endures,
and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
6 May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
like showers that water the earth.
7 In his days may righteousness flourish
and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

18 Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
who alone does wondrous things.
19 Blessed be his glorious name for ever;
may his glory fill the whole earth. Amen and Amen.

There are only two psalms ascribed to Solomon. Some Jewish scholars suggest this psalm was actually written by King David for his son, Solomon, as he ascended to the throne of Israel. The king of Israel was to rule with God’s constant guidance and justice. Note that this prayerful psalm does not mention the king’s power or military might. Rather, the most important aspects of rule are justice, equity, governing in such a way as to bless the peoples and assure their wellbeing.

Romans 15:4-13

4For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. 5May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

7 Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,
‘Therefore I will confess* you among the Gentiles,
and sing praises to your name’;
10and again he says,
‘Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people’;
11and again,
‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples praise him’;
12and again Isaiah says,
‘The root of Jesse shall come,
the one who rises to rule the Gentiles;
in him the Gentiles shall hope.’
13May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

At the time and in the locations from which Paul writes this letter to the church in Rome, there are conflicts between those Christians who were raised Jewish and those who were raised worshiping Roman, Greek, and other gods (aka: Gentiles). The Jewish Christians believe that the Gentile Christians must become Jewish, that is, be circumcised and obey the dietary restrictions, and then become Christian. This made sense to the Jewish Christians because they believed Jesus to be the long awaited messiah about which the above psalm and Isaiah prophecy speak. So, first one should enter the narrow hallway of Jewish life in order to pass into the joy and freedom the Jewish Messiah brings. St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, and the rest of his writings, argues that the freedom that Jesus, the messiah, brings is not limited to those who are Jews, because the Messiah was to come for all nations, as the above psalm states. Therefore, entrance into the joy and peace of the messiah requires only faith in Jesus, the messiah, who is God father/son/holy spirit.

Matthew 3:1-12

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’*3This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.” ’
4Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 ‘I baptize you with* water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with* the Holy Spirit and fire. 12His winnowing-fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’

This new church year, we will read primarily from the gospel of Matthew. This gospel was written in approximately 70 AD. Because this gospel is greatly concerned with how Jesus fulfills the prophecies concerning the messiah in the Hebrew Scriptures, it is thought this gospel was written to a primarily Jewish audience.

Right off the bat, the writer of Matthew identifies John the Baptist as “the one about whom the prophet Isaiah spoke.” The writer then goes on to describe John the Baptist as one wearing the clothes of an outcast prophet, like Elijah. This is important to a Jewish audience because Jewish tradition has it that Elijah will reappear to identify the messiah. So, John the Baptist serves as Elijah to the messiah, Jesus. Only the gospel of Luke identifies John the Baptist as a distant cousin of Jesus. In the gospel of Matthew, John is Jesus’ herald.

“Bear fruit worthy of repentance!” – John’s baptism was one of repentance and preparation for the “One who is to come.” To repent means to turn away from the wrong direction to the right direction. The Sadducees and Pharisees were opposing Jewish political parties which imposed many burdens on the faithful, especially the poor. They also misinterpreted the Law of Moses and imposed their misinterpretation onto others. For this reason John calls them a “brood of vipers”. If these religious leaders repent and are baptized by John, John expects them to act differently in their repentance. Since the actions of the Sadducees and Pharisees gain them political and social status, as well as lavish lifestyles at the expense of others, John the Baptist is expecting no change and therefore does not welcome them into the Jordan River.

Bible Tuesday for Advent I 2016

Bible Tuesday for Advent I, 2016

Isaiah 2:1-5

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. 2In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. 3Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. 5O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

In verse one of this text, the second chapter of a 66 chapter book that spans some 90 years, the prophet Isaiah is introduced. Because this prophecy covers such a length of time, and because it falls into three sections of very different writing styles, many scholars think the book was written by three different people, master, student, and student of the student, or one person from a religious community, and two other individuals from that same community in subsequent generations.

While the prophecy of Isaiah proclaims judgement, and warning, it begins and ends with hope. The city of Jerusalem was built on a hill. Mt. Mariah, by the Canaanite peoples that built it originally. King David defeated them and took the city, making it his new capital. David had the Tent of Meeting, the portable “Temple” which predated the Temple first built by Solomon, on Mt. Zion which is immediately adjacent to Mt. Mariah.

In the above prophecy, the Temple will no longer be on little Mt. Zion admissible by the Israelites only, but will be on the highest mountain, (not for inaccessibility reachable only by the most skilled of mountain climbers). This elevated Temple image is intended to convey that the Temple will be visible by all peoples and used by all nations. God will be worshipped by all, arbitrating all conflicts and adjudicating all injustices.

If there is only one God and one religion, all peoples truly being brothers and sisters in Yahweh, then weapons are no longer needed and retooled for peaceful purposes.

“Oh House of Jacob, come! Let us walk in the light of the Lord!” The prophet calls all Israelites back to the purpose for which God called them, to be the conduit through which God would bless all people.

Psalm 122

1I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”

2Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.

3Jerusalem—built as a city that is bound firmly together.

4To it the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord.

5For there the thrones for judgment were set up, the thrones of the house of David.

6Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you.

7Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers.”

8For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, “Peace be within you.”

9For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good.

This is a psalm of ascent. The lands of Israel were by and large at a lower elevation than Jerusalem atop Mt. Mariah. Therefore, when pilgrimage to the Temple is discussed in the Bible, it is frequently referred to as “going up” and “ascent”.

How ironic that this psalm, while lovely and a guide for prayer for all God’s children, also seems to directly illustrate that which the above Isaiah passage prophesies against, the ethnocentrism of Israel.

“House of David” refers to the dynasty of King David, second king of Israel and idealized as the greatest king of Israel. The book of II Samuel recounts that God promised to King David an everlasting dynasty. While it only took a few generations for David’s line to be broken with none of his descendants sitting on the throne of either the northern or southern kingdoms, nevertheless, Jews believed that the anointed one would come (“messiah” in Hebrew and “Christ” in Greek), a descendant of David’s, who would rally the people of Israel from where ever they were scattered and make of them a powerful dynasty again. Some contemporary Jews are still looking for such a messiah while others believe there will be a messianic age when Israel will be a great, benevolent, and powerful nation again.

Romans 13:11-14

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

In Paul’s letter to the congregation in Rome, Paul admonishes the congregation to urgently respond to their baptismal calling. There is in the passage a reiteration of the early Christian belief that “the Son of Man would come with all his angels” to judge the “sheep and the goats” at any minute. While some early believers saw this as a reason to just sit around watching the sky, Paul insists that Jesus’ imminent return was all the more reason to be about the work of God.

Matthew 24:36-44

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

In Old Testament tradition, there is an event called “The Day of the Lord” which is described as a day when God will judge each person on the earth and punish evil deeds. It is also described as a day of blessing and wonder for those who are righteous before God. In the above verses, Jesus follows this ancient tradition and describes what that day will be like, but Jesus adds that the Day of the Lord will be when he, himself, will return to the earth. Of course Jesus’ disciples what to know when that day will be. Jesus answers in the first verse that no one knows when it will be except God the father.

“Days of Noah” – Genesis 6:5 “The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.” What Jesus is saying is that there will be nothing unusual about the days immediately preceding the Day of the Lord.

“Son of Man” – This is a term in Hebrew tradition that is synonymous with “messiah”. It means something like “a man among men, a hero above all human heroes.” Messiah does not mean God in Human Form. Nor does Christ. Messiah/Christ merely mean one who is anointed to be God’s agent on earth. The gospels tell us that Jesus was the real, true messiah and Christ, and even Lord and savior. Jesus was messiah, Christ, Son of Man, and God in flesh.

How curious that Jesus compares his coming to a thief coming in the night. But the images serves Jesus well if he is speaking about stealing into the realm of evil just when God is not expected. For this reason the faithful to God must also be alert.

“one will be taken and one will be left” – While those who subscribe to “rapture” theology read this and passages like it as a description of the rapture, there is no reason to read this as God taking the good ones and leaving the bad ones behind. It may be that evil will leave the earth and the faithful will remain to receive the new heavens and new earth that are described in Revelation, Isaiah, 2 Peter, and Hebrews.

Bible Tuesday for Christ the King Sunday, 2016

Bible Tuesday for Christ the King Sunday, 2016

Jeremiah 23:1-6

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. 2Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. 3Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. 4I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord. 5The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

Throughout Israelites law and tradition, the kings of Israel were given the title “shepherd” and Israel was their “flock”. As discussed in earlier “Bible Tuesday”s, the book of Jeremiah is a prophecy to and against Israel for their unfaithfulness, concluding that the Babylonian army is God’s tool meting out judgement and punishment against Israel. The above passage blames the kings of Israel who have lead their flock astray. Ahab and Jezebel are the most notorious of these kings. Ahab ignored God’s law and allowed his non-Israelite wife to erect statues and altars of her gods in God’s Temple in Jerusalem. Many of the other Israelite kings not only allowed the building of the high places (shrines under tall trees and on tops of hills to the god Baal and his consort Ashera) but offered prayers and sacrifices to Baal and Ashera there too!

When David was king, God promised David that his dynasty would last forever. Verses 5-6 harken back to that covenant God made with King David. While Christians read this as prophecy regarding Jesus and his lineage through Mary that is traced all the way back to King David, the Jews, to whom this promise was given, believed it to be about a king who would restore Israel to its great glory under David and his son, Solomon.

Psalm 46

1God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;

3though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah

4There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.

5God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.

6The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.

7The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

8Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth.

9He 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.”

11The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

The language in verse 2 “though the earth reels, through mountains topple into the sea—its waters rage and foam; in its swell mountains quake” is originally from Canaanite religions. It was quite common for Jews, and later Christians, to coopt the language of other religions into the praise of their God.

When the instructions to build The Ark of the Covenant are given in Exodus, the ark is said to be God’s Footstool, a place to which God will come and be present for Israel to address and beseech. Verse 5 refers to this concept, when it states that “God is in the midst of her [Jerusalem].” The river whose streams make glad the city of God is miraculously made, as the city of Jerusalem as insufficient water supply to be called a river.

“The Lord of Hosts” is referring to God as the master of a huge army. God’s army is so successful on earth that the weapons of earthly opponents are shattered and burned. Based on the description of what God’s victory looks like, it is understandable that the author would be eager to side with God, not against him.

The Lord of Hosts is with us! The God of Jacob (the God of our ancient ancestors) is our refuge! (not our enemy or oppressor)

Colossians 1:11-20

11May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully

12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. 21

In the time of St. Paul, Colossae was a city famous for its temple to a Roman god. The small Christian congregations in Colossae and Ephesus had very tough rows to hoe. The Romans pilgrims who flocked to their cities viewed these Jesus devotees as sadly mislead, or down right treasonous. St. Paul alludes to their plight in the first lines of the above passage. When St. Paul writes in verse 15, “the image of the invisible God”, he is referring to one of the criticisms thrown at both the Jews and the Christians. While all the Romans can go to these huge temples with the “colossal” statue gods to pray, these “poor, mislead” Jews and Christians worship “the invisible God”. How could the Jews and Christians house their God in some building when “in him all things visible and invisible were created, whether in heaven or on earth.”?

Luke 23:33-43

3When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.34Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!”36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine,37and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 39One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

“Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” – For whom is Jesus praying? The Roman soldiers and Pilate? Herod? Caiaphas and the Jewish authorities? The run away disciples? All sinners for whom Jesus dies? None of these parties appear to take notice of Jesus’ prayer for them. The soldiers still divide Jesus clothes among themselves. The Jewish authorities still deride Jesus while he is dying. The disciples still run away and hide while their beloved Rabbi is being tortured to death.

In the gospel of Luke, Jesus is mocked three times by three different parties while he hangs on the cross. First, the Jewish leaders ekmykterizo which means “looked down their noses at” Jesus. Then the Roman soldiers “mocked” or “acted like bratty kids”. Lastly, the other two criminals “blasphemed” or “spoked against God regarding” Jesus.

The two criminals being crucified with Jesus illustrate the two ways Jews usually reacted to Jesus, either humility tempered by fear, or disbelief exhibited through ridicule.

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 26

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 26, 2016

Malachi 4:1-2

See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. 2But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.

In these text notes I have written much about Israel’s defeat, occupation, and exile by Assyria and Babylonia. The above text is a prophecy written to Israel when the exile was over. Babylonia was defeated by Persia and King Xerxes allowed the Israelites to return to their own lands. Persia even funded the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem (called the Second Temple, and the time of the prophecy of Malachi, and the books of Ezra and Nehemiah is creatively called The Second Temple Period).

The language of the above text is hard to stomach. Would God really “burn up” the enemies of Israel? Are they not God’s children also? And, it is understandable that the prophet, Malachi, would write such harsh language about the enemies of Israel. The Israelites were finally released from 40+ years of captivity in Babylon, and returned to a ruined Jerusalem and fellow Jews who had been left behind to farm or ply their trade had now intermarried with non-Jews and practiced a bastardized Judaism with no Temple at which to sacrifice. Just as POW’s have cried out for vengeance over the centuries, so did Israel.

Psalm 98

O sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things.
His right hand and his holy arm
have gained him victory.
2 The Lord has made known his victory;
he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.
3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the victory of our God.

4 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
5 Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody.
6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.

7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who live in it.
8 Let the floods clap their hands;
let the hills sing together for joy
9 at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming
to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity.

This is one of the Kingship psalms, that is, a psalm that is written to praise God as king of Israel.

“His right hand, his Holy arm” – This is written to conjure the image of God wielding a huge sword with his right hand and arm.

“Revealed His vindication in the sight of the nations” – Israel understands itself to be God’s chosen people through whom God will rescue and redeem the nations of the world. The psalmist sees Israel’s restoration after exile to be not only salvation for Israel, but also a message of invitation as well as defeat for the peoples of the world.

“mindful of His steadfast love and faithfulness” – As I have mentioned before, this is the English translation of Hebrew legal language in the covenant God made with Israel. God is ALWAYS faithful to this covenant.

All creation, whether peoples or nature, joins in praising God, the maker and savior of all.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. 7For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you,8and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labour we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you.9This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. 10For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. 11For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. 12Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 13Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.

Paul is writing to the first Christians about 30 years after Jesus ascended back to heaven. There was a widely held belief, by even Paul himself, that Jesus would return to “judge the quick and the dead” any second now. In that belief, there were Christians who thought, “Why cook dinner, why clean the house, why go to work if Jesus is coming back and the world will end any second now?” So they didn’t. In the above passage, Paul scolded the heck out of them!

Paul and a partner (Paul had a few different partners throughout his ministry) traveled to Thessalonica and stayed for a while. Paul earned his living, while serving as evangelist to the city and house church, by making and repairing tents. In verse 9, Paul says that though he had a right to command wages from the congregation for the work he was doing for them, yet he did not “in order to give you an example to imitate.” Being a devoted follower of Jesus does NOT mean being a lazy bum who says “the Lord will provide” when supper should be on the table. Just as Jesus and his apostles worked, so should we.

Luke 21:5-19

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’

7 They asked him, ‘Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?’ 8And he said, ‘Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, “I am he!”and, “The time is near!” Do not go after them.

9 ‘When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.’10Then he said to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

12 ‘But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17You will be hated by all because of my name. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By your endurance you will gain your souls.

This passage is introduced by the story of the Widow’s Mite, Jesus and his disciples are in the Temple where offerings are collected. Many people are giving great sums of money and fine gifts, but a poor widow puts in two copper coins. Jesus comments that, “She has put in everything that she had, all she had to live on.” One way to interpret this story is that Jesus sees all the opulence of the Temple funded by the offerings of the faithful, especially this poor woman, and was saddened. Why? Let’s look at the above passage.

As Jesus gathers disciples, he is mostly in small towns in Galilee. By their comments to Jesus, they have never been to Jerusalem before. The Second Temple was a sight to behold, and is thought to be one of the largest and most impressive structures in the Roman territories. Upon entering the Temple, the disciples voice their awe but Jesus uses this time to prophesy. Jesus says that while it is impressive, the Temple will all be knocked down and ruined. Indeed in 70AD the Romans did rape and pillage Jerusalem, and utterly destroyed the Second Temple. All that remains of that Temple is the Wailing Wall, which still stands in Jerusalem.

The disciples react to Jesus’ prophecy with understandable alarm and fear. To ease their fears of the unknown, Jesus proceeds to make a little known. “There will be false prophets all over the place who will claim, ‘Only I can save you.’ Ignore them. There will be wars between nations, earthquakes, famines, but before all this, you will be arrested, so don’t worry about the other stuff.”

“When all this occurs, don’t worry. I will be with you, giving you what you need to say. You may be tortured and killed, but that does not mean you cease to exist. No, not even one hair of your head will parish. By continuing to believe in me through all this, your whole self will be with me forever.”

Bible Tuesday for All Saints Sunday, 2016

Bible Tuesday for All Saints Sunday, 2016

Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18

In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head as he lay in bed. Then he wrote down the dream: 2I, Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea, 3and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another.15As for me, Daniel, my spirit was troubled within me, and the visions of my head terrified me. 16I approached one of the attendants to ask him the truth concerning all this. So he said that he would disclose to me the interpretation of the matter: 17“As for these four great beasts, four kings shall arise out of the earth. 18But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever—forever and ever.”

Ancient Israelite forms of literature included the apocalypse. Apocalyptic literature satirizes occupying forces, in this case Babylonia, and reveals that God is ultimately in control of all things. The books of Ezekiel and Daniel both fit into the apocalyptic category. In the New Testament, Revelation does as well.

While the book of Revelation is entirely a vision relayed by John of Patmos, and has that eerie dream like quality to it, the books of Daniel and Ezekiel includes whole chapters of straight forward accounts, with a few chapters of apocalyptic visions mixed in.

The setting of the book of Daniel is that Babylonia has conquered Israel. The armies have hauled away the educated, the wealthy, and the religiously/politically powerful back to Babylon. The farmers and tradespeople have been left in Israel to ply their trades and pay hefty tariffs to Babylonia. Once in Babylon, the young Israelites are separated from their families and brought into the royal courts for reeducation; Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, are among them. These four young men show particular faithfulness to Yahweh during their “captivity” which earns them both great punishment for their rejection of false gods, and great favor for their honesty and faithfulness. Daniel ends up head of the King Nebuchadnezzar’s advisers and diviners. When Nebuchadnezzar died and his son rose to the throne, Daniel had the above dream. It was chosen for today’s lectionary because it mentions that though Daniel sees in his vision four kings from the region’s greatest power, yet, by the power of God, Israel will be restored to it’s kingdom.

Psalm 149

1Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the faithful.

2Let Israel be glad in its Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.

3Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre.

4For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with victory.

5Let the faithful exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their couches.

6Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands,

7to execute vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples,

8to bind their kings with fetters and their nobles with chains of iron,

9to execute on them the judgment decreed. This is glory for all his faithful ones. Praise the Lord!

This psalm echoes Daniel’s prophecy. While Daniel was prophesying to people in exile, this psalm seems to be written to Israel as it leaves exile and defeats those who usurped their lands and homes.

At night on their couches – at home during dinner, as they eat, not as poor people do, sitting on the floor, but as wealthy people do, reclining on backless couches.

Their king – Judah is restored to its earliest days when God alone with their king and they had no palace or throne, only the Tent of Meeting that housed the Arc of the Covenant.

Ephesians 1:11-23

In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit;14this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

15I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

As usual, Paul presents so many concepts and his language is so complicated that one could write a PhD dissertation just on the above pericope. As you do not want to read a dissertation and I do not want to write one, please allow me to focus on a few phrases/concepts.

“live to the praise of his glory” – Paul is saying that those first disciples who believe in Jesus and live faithfully, evangelizing and witnessing as they go, are also praising Christ in their daily living.

“may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation” – As Paul traveled throughout the Roman Empire, preaching and teaching the good news of Jesus, he encountered people who claimed to be followers of Jesus but believed in all kinds of screwy things. Since no gospels had been written yet, and the baptismal creeds left a lot of room for interpretation, variation in beliefs about Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit is understandable. In the above passage from his letter to the congregation in Ephesus, a city filled with temples to the Roman gods, it is quite pastoral of Paul to pray that they would receive the spiritual gifts of wisdom and revelation. With these gifts, this congregation can discern what is true and real about God and what being propagated by heretics.

Luke 6:20-31

0Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. 24“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25“Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. 26“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

27“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Since the above passage is part of the Sermon on the Mount, we assume it was preached to the huge crowd that had gathered around Jesus. But note the first words of this passage, “He looked up at his disciples and said…” This passage is to those who are following Jesus. It is too early in Jesus ministry to call any of these Apostles (the sent ones) yet, but in Luke, the disciples are different than the crowds. The disciples include the twelve and the women who provide for Jesus out of their own means. To these in Jesus’ inner circle and to those who have traveled with Jesus for this trip, Jesus teaches how God views human dignity.

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” – 90% of Jews under Roman rule were poor. While this cannot be found in Hebrew Scriptures, the Jewish authorities in Jesus’ day taught that to be poor was to be cursed by God. Jesus turned that on its head. The verses after this one are related, “Blessed are you who are hungry…” whether spiritually or physically, God will feed you through the good news of Jesus.

“Woe to you…” Throughout the gospel of Luke, Jesus teaches that those who have now, whether wealth or fame, happiness or comfort, will lose it in the kingdom of God. If you have these things, it is at the expense of those who do not have. “Whoever has two coats must give one away.” God calls the faithful to share wealth, food, comfort, not hoard it, or merely exchange it with friends who also have wealth.

Jesus teaches that we are to treat others as we would want to be treated. In the Kingdom of God there is no room for vengeance. But Jesus does not teach that his followers should be doormats. That is not how we or anyone want to be treated! To love our enemies does not mean to have warm, snuggly feelings about them. Jesus admonishes us to have the kind of love for our enemies that wishes them no harm, that is “patient, kind, not boastful, does not seek revenge”.

“If someone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other.” In this culture, to be struck backhanded was to be shamed (just as in our culture) and treated as a lesser person, but by giving the other cheek, you are demanding that the one who strikes now use the palm and treat you as an equal.

If someone takes your coat away, do not withhold even your shirt.” In Hebrew law, one could not make another be naked. The shame was not on the naked one but on the one who forced a fellow human being to be naked. By giving the coat thief even your shirt (in a culture that did not wear tidy whities or pants), you are actually loving with “tough love”, posing the question, “Do you really want to bring such same on yourself? There is a better way.”

“Give to anyone who begs from you.” In today’s United States, we have taught ourselves to ignore hitch hikers, street beggars, those whom we encounter who ask for gas or food. Do these beggars really need what we have? Do they deserve our help or are they just scamming us? Folks scammed others in Jesus’ day too, yet Jesus adjures us to quiet our skepticism and carefully give to those who beg.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In these final days before an entirely too long election season, Jesus’ admonition is badly needed. We grieve Jesus when we vilify our opponents. We want our side to be given some slack; folks should look at the heart of our candidate, at his/her intent, not his/her gaffs and spurious past acts. So then, we must cut our opponents and those who support them the same patience and compassion we expect. And Jesus is speaking about much more than just election seasons. What an incredibly hard thing Jesus is insisting we do!