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Month: January 2017

Bible Tuesdays for Epiphany 5, 2017

Bible Tuesday for Epiphany 5, 2017

Isaiah 58:1-12

Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. 2Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God.

3“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. 4Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. 5Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? 6Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

8Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. 9Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,10if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.12Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

The above passage is from Third Isaiah, or the portion of Isaiah written after all the exiles have returned from Babylonia to Israel. Second Isaiah was full or wonderful imagery of God’s loving care of Israel after they would be released from captivity. But not all of the prophecies came true once Babylonian occupation ended and the exiles returned. “Why not?!” the Israelites demanded to know. The above prophecy was given to answer that question.

The short answer is, “Because you are still blowing off Me and neighbor and putting yourself and your false gods before Me.” In Isaiah chapter 57, God declares that the Israelites are still worshiping other gods, making pilgrimages to the tallest trees and the highest hills to offer sacrifices at pagan altars. In this chapter, God declares that the Jewish religious practices that these folks do are also profane because they are done in great hypocrisy. In verses 3-7, fasting is not done out of devotion to God and care for neighbor, but rather to earn God’s favor. The prophecy promises that when fasting and prayer are done for the benefit of the poor, the naked, and one’s own kin, then God’s presence will be manifest.

Psalm 112:1-10

1Praise the Lord! Happy are those who fear the Lord, who greatly delight in his commandments.

2Their descendants will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed.

3Wealth and riches are in their houses, and their righteousness endures forever.

4They rise in the darkness as a light for the upright; they are gracious, merciful, and righteous.

5It is well with those who deal generously and lend, who conduct their affairs with justice.

6For the righteous will never be moved; they will be remembered forever.

7They are not afraid of evil tidings; their hearts are firm, secure in the Lord.

8Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.

9They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor; their righteousness endures forever; their horn is exalted in honor.

10The wicked see it and are angry; they gnash their teeth and melt away; the desire of the wicked comes to nothing.

This psalm spells out the blessings which come to those who “fear the Lord” and the suffering that results for those who don’t. It is in acrostic form, meaning that each line begins with a letter of the alphabet in alphabetical order. Note that the sign of “fearing the Lord” is doing justice and giving generously, v. 9.

Fear the Lord-Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament, the phrase “Fear the Lord” or “Fear of the Lord” is used. Exactly what is meant? Are we actually to be afraid of God?

The fear that the Bible is talking about is better expressed are great respect. When one stands at the edge of the Grand Canyon, despite the fact that the metal pipe guard rail is set in concrete, when one’s eyes look all the long way down into that canyon, one’s knees get a little jelly feel to them and one’s heart tends to race. Is this the fear that somehow the canyon will come up and swallow a person? Is this the fear that gravity will pull extra hard and suck a person into the canyon? No, it is the fear that comes from communing with great power and beauty that is completely beyond one’s control. This is the kind of fear which the faithful are to have in God.

1 Corinthians 2:1-16

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. 2For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

6Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. 7But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”— 10these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. 12Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. 13And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.14Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny.16“For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

First, a word on “wisdom”. In the Hebrew Scriptures, Wisdom is personified as the right hand woman of God (Proverbs 8 and 9). “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom,” says Proverbs 9:10. In other words, wisdom in the Hebrew Scriptures is defined as being faithful to God, tending to God’s relationship with you, acting in accordance with God’s vision of life on earth: do justice, love kindness, forgive, serve the poor and neglected, walk humbly with God. That is the kind of wisdom Paul subscribes to in the above passage. Paul would define wisdom in the same way Proverbs 8-9 does, save Paul would add that to be wise is to believe in Christ crucified and risen, son of God.

The general population of Paul’s day did not subscribe to this definition of wisdom. There was a strong strain of Gnosticism that had made its way into Judaism in Paul’s day. Gnosticism is the belief that certain, special knowledge gives one power. It is kind of like a mixture of Star Wars’ “The Force” and alchemy. (Alchemy- the medieval forerunner of chemistry, based on the supposed transformation of matter. It was concerned particularly with attempts to convert base metals into gold or to find a universal elixir.) Many religions in the time of Jesus and Paul, including Roman and Greek religions, and Judaism, had gnostic components. Gnosticism is the opposite of faith in that Gnosticism affords the believers special knowledge which controls the powers of the universe and affords believers in-the-know status beyond that of plebian believers.

The last verse of the above passage reveals to what knowledge Paul is pointing. Paul states God’s wisdom succinctly in his letter to the church in Corinth: “The cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved, it is the wisdom of God and the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)

Matthew 5:13-20

13“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. 14“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Salt commonly used by peasants in Jesus’ time came from minerals which, when exposed to air or moisture for a certain length of time would actually not taste salty anymore. When that happened, it was like sand, no longer good for anything. Once Rome expanded into Europe and discovered salt mines, the wealthy had actual mineral salt, but the poor peasants still had the gritty mineral to which Jesus refers in this teaching.

The teachings of salt and light are lessons on how public Jesus’ disciples were to be with their faith in him and their service to him.

“Not one letter, not one stroke of a letter” has traditionally been translated, “Not one jot or tittle”. Jots and tittles are very small marks made in writing Hebrew, rather like dotting an “i”.

“I have not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it.” – Because Jesus wasn’t a strict law observer, (allowing his disciples to glean grain and eat it on the Sabbath, allowing his disciples to eat without washing their hands, decrying the practice of charbon, reinterpreting scritpures, etc) one of the criticisms against Jesus was that he was setting aside God’s Law, the Law of Moses, in favor of his own religion. This appears to be a point of discussion within the community to which Matthew writes his gospel. Jesus states clearly that he did not come to set aside Judaism as prescribed by the Law, but instead to fulfill all that the Law commanded of humanity.

Bible Tuesday for the third Sunday of Epiphany 2017

Bible Tuesday for Epiphany 3, 2017

Isaiah 9:1-4

But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.

As to the first verse of this passage, the Jewish Study Bible says, “An unusually obscure verse. The Assyrian king, Tiglath-pileser, seized lands belonging to the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali long with parts of Galilee and Transjordan, from the Israelite king, Pekah son of Remaliah, in the aftermath of the Syro-Ephraimite crisis.”

“The people who walked in darkness…” – This passage refers to a people who are lost in the darkness of captivity both to an occupying force, Assyria and Babylonia, and to the sin of self idolatry, the punishment of which is occupation by these enemy forces. The light seen is the freedom of occupation, both of enemy forces and of idolatry.

These verses are the beginning of a passage prophesying about the messiah, the anointed one of God who will come lead Israel to freedom and right relationship with God.

Psalm 27:1, 4-9

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? 4One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.

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

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

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

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

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

This psalm begins with a statement of truth which Jews and Christians struggle to believe. St. Paul states this same truth when he writes in Romans, “If God is for us, who is against us?!” Certainly we fear all manner of evils, from burglary to an IRS audit, to the yahoo down the lane who shoots his gun at all hours of day and night. But the psalmist and St. Paul call us to a far greater truth. The creator and sustainer of all things also knows you more intimately than you know yourself and cares about you more than even your own parents. What force is there greater than God?

Ah…but the psalmist answers his/her own question. Whom shall I fear? Death. My self: my own sin, self centeredness, cruelty, and lack of compassion. Those whom I used to love but now who can hurt me horribly. To all of these fears at the center of ourselves, God says, “I tell you the absolutely truth. The Father forgives you because you don’t know what you are doing. Today…today you will be with me in paradise.” Martin Luther taught that life in Christ starts fresh every day with a reminder that “I am baptized. God has claimed me as His. I am forgiven. Though my life might be taken, yet does God cradle me in His arms. I am secure.”

1 Corinthians 1:10-18

Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

It is hard to think about this admonition of Paul’s to there be no divisions among people in a congregation and not cringe. The reason that Paul writes letters to the congregations in Ephesus, Colossus, Philippi, Thessalonica, Rome, Galatia, and Corinth is because there are divisions among peoples. Jesus saw divisions among the apostles and disciples which he also addressed. “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all,” was said to arguing disciples to teach them how to unite. We don’t argue any more about who baptized us since there are many thousand people who baptize now. We argue about adiaphora, that is, the unessential things. Who to serve and how are the essential things, but they are so hard and require us, the baptized, to have such an outward focus that we frequently shy away them. It is the discomfort of this lack of focus that launches us into arguments about building maintenance, carpet colors, and staff wages. Far easier to argue than to serve.

Matthew 4:12-23

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

In the first verses of this passage, we see a wonderful example of a somewhat cryptic Bible verse being applied and interpreted to a current situation. As stated above in the notes on today’s Isaiah passage, the reference to Zebulun and Naphtali likely originally referred to their capture by Assyria, but here the gospel writer is seeing them as referring to God in human form setting up house in Capernaum. This is historically how the Bible has been interpreted. While passages may have been written about a given context, the faithful have seen them as God addressing a contemporary context. This is one way in which the Bible is The Word of God.

As we are told in the opening verses of this passage, Jesus moved from Nazareth due to the threat of Jewish authorities, and set up housekeeping in Capernaum. Since Jesus lived in Capernaum, when Jesus walked down to the fishing area and invited workers to be disciples, he was not ordering them to leave spouse, children, and livelihood behind. Jesus was inviting them to be his students. While Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching, preaching, and healing, he maintained his home in Capernaum until he “turned his face toward Jerusalem.” This would have allowed his disciples to continue to care for their spouses and children.

“Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” – Amos 4:2 “’Behold, days are coming upon you when you will be carried off on hooks, and to the last one, on fish hooks, and taken out of the city, Each one through a breach straight ahead, and flung on the refuse heap,’ declares the Lord.” This passage is understood in Amos’ context as referring to the faithful of God will work with God to sort out of Israel the unfaithful, just like bad fish are sorted from good fish, using grappling hooks. Scholars have pondered if it is to this that Jesus was referring when he told his fishermen disciples that “I will make you fish for people.”

Bible Tuesday for Epiphany 2, 2017

Bible Tuesday for Epiphany 2, 2017

Isaiah 49:1-7

Listen, O coastlands, to me, and give heed, O nations afar. The Lord appointed me before I was born; He named me while I was in my mother’s womb. He made my mouth like a sharpened blade. He hid me in the shadow of His hand, and He made me like a polished arrow. He concealed me in His quiver. And He said to me, “You are My servant, Israel in whom I glory.” I thought, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for empty breath.” But my case rested with the Lord. My recompense was in the hands of my God. And now the Lo9rd has resolved—He formed me in the womb to be His servant—to bring back Jacob of Himself, that Israel may be restored to Him. And I have been honored in the sight of the Lord, for He has said: “It is too little that you should be My servant and restore the survivors of Israel: I will also make you a light of nations, that My salvation may reach the ends of the earth.” Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel, his Holy One, to the despised one, to the abhorred nations, to the slave of rulers: Kings shall see and stand up; Nobles, and they shall prostrate themselves—to the honor of the Lord, who is faithful, to the Holy One of Israel who chose you.

Here are the first verses of the prophet addressing Israel after Babylonian captivity is over. Cyrus of Persia has defeated Babylonia and is encouraging all captives to return to their lands of origin. This is a controversial thing among Jews. First, what will Israel look like when they return? Who will be in their houses? Who will have taken over their farm lands in their absence? Will they be able to get them back? Second, Jews were encouraged to intermarry with Babylonians and other captives. Jewish women were taken as slaves/concubines/wives of Babylonians. Those who were allowed to leave may not have wanted to leave family members behind.

For those Israelites who did return to Jerusalem, life was rather bleak. Jerusalem, the city, and the Temple in the city, were decimated during the Babylonian defeat. Houses were looted and farm lands ravaged. The job of rebuilding was emotionally, physically, and spiritually exhausting.

To these people, the prophet speaks the above words. About whom are the opening words spoken? Scholars do not agree. Some think the passage refers to all Israel while others think it is truly the prophet/writer speaking about him/her self.

“I have labored in vain. I have spent my strength for empty breath.” – The writer speaks regret. Whether referring to self or to all Israel, God has obviously saved this one for a very special mission. Yet, the words of God have not been heeded. The writer fears the sheltered, saved arrow has been wasted on an unsuccessful mission. But, God is the judge of this. The writer has been faithful to his/her call.

“A light to the nations” Over and over throughout the entire Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament, God tells the Israelites that they are to be His messengers, his bearers of good news, to all the peoples of the world. Never were the Israelites to secret themselves away from the bad influences of the world and be a private enclave unto the Lord. God wanted Israel to be faithful to Him and to evangelize to all the world the wonderful things God does for all creation.

Psalm 40:1-11

For the leader, a psalm of David.

I put my hope in the Lord; he inclined toward me, and heeded my cry. He lifted me out of the miry pit, the slimy clay, and set my feet on a rock, steadied my legs. He put a new song into my mouth, a hymn to our God. May many see it and stand in awe, and trust in the Lord. Happy is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who turns not to the arrogant or to followers of falsehood. You, O Lord my God, have done many things; the wonders You have devised for us cannot be set out before You; I would rehearse the tale of them, but they are more than can be told. You gave me to understand that You do not desire sacrifice and meal offering; You do not ask for burnt offering and sin offering. Then I said, “See I will bring a scroll recounting what befell me.” To do what pleases You, my God, is my desire; I proclaimed Your righteousness in a great congregation; see, I did not withhold my words, O Lord,. You must know it. I did not keep Your beneficence to myself; I declared Your faithful deliverance. I did not fail to speak of Your steadfast love in a great congregation.

Here is a perfect example of the gospel which Israel was/is to share with all the world. What God wants is for Israel to love God so contagiously that all the world know and love God through Israel.

“You do not desire sacrifice and meal offering. You do not ask for burnt offering and sin offering.” These were offerings made to God in the Temple, among all the other worshiping Israelites. God does not need these gifts or adoration. What God wants is relationship with the Israelites and all the people of the world through the Israelites. God says that He does not want offerings in this psalm because God does not want the Israelites cloistered, murmuring their praise privately. Rather, God wants the praise and gratitude of the Israelites to be voiced to others as a sales pitch of sorts.

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,

2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord* and ours:

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

4 I give thanks to my* God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— 6just as the testimony of* Christ has been strengthened among you— 7so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The apostle, Paul, had much correspondence with the church in Corinth. At the time Paul was writing, the city of Corinth was a mecca of religious practices. The town was filled with temples to various gods. The people who made up the Christian congregation in Corinth were a blend of Jews who believed in Jesus, Greeks and Romans who converted from paganism to following Jesus, and others. There were great challenges in gathering these people from disparate backgrounds into one intimate faith community. There was a lot of correspondence between this congregation and Paul.

Here is the beginning of the first of a few letters we have from Paul to this congregation in Corinth, and none from the congregation to Paul. The salutation is traditional but noteworthy. Paul doesn’t just write on his own behalf. He writes with Sosthenes. And, not only Sosthenes, but also God. Paul identifies himself as “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God”. Paul presents himself as speaking for God to these folks and to all with whom they share this letter.

“Grace and peace from God, our father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.” – This is so common place to our Lutheran ears that it is easy to skip right over it as we read Paul’s letters, but let’s look at it a bit. True grace, that is, God’s unearned and unconditional love and forgiveness, is a gift with which God surrounds us every moment of our lives. When we trust this love like no other, we can really settle into ourselves, love ourselves, and love all others through God’s love for them. That is peace. Paul’s blessing in salutation, God’s grace and peace, are the only thing which give us ears of compassion and hearts of empathy.

John 1:29-42

The next day he [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” 31I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ 32And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” 34And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.’*

35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ 37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ 39He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed*). 42He brought Simon* to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter*).

The gospel of John is unique in that it does not tell the story of Jesus being baptized, but instead records the passage above. Note that John the Baptist does not say, “When I baptized him, I saw…” but merely “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove…”

In the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament, the Holy Spirit is sent to folks and then removed from folks. In the story of Jesus’ baptism, all four gospels tell that the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus, in some form like a dove. In this gospel, John says that the Holy Spirit “remained” on Jesus. This is unique to all biblical writing heretofore, which is strange to us. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is never removed from anyone. As a matter of doctrine, we believe that the Holy Spirit somehow comes to live in us through baptism and stays with us always, perhaps even beyond death!!!! That permanent dwelling of the Holy Spirit starts with Jesus, as told in the gospel of John.

John the Baptist is a historical figure, actually mentioned in Roman records found in archeological digs. Josephus, a Jew turned Roman soldier and historian at the time of the Jewish revolt 68-71AD also mentions John the Baptist. John the Baptist was a really popular guy with a strong following. Many folks did not believe Jesus was the messiah John was preparing for, and did not follow Jesus when John was imprisoned and later beheaded. There are, to this day, disciples of John the Baptist, mostly in the Middle East but even in the US who do not believe in Jesus but who do follow the teaching of John the Baptist. John the Baptist was a powerhouse in his day, so it is very important that the gospel of John has John the Baptist say “After me comes one who ranks before me…I myself have seen and have testified that this is the son of God.”

This little passage of the gospel of John contains examples of two major themes of this gospel. The first is, “Come and see.” This simple phrase is repeated several times in the gospel, most especially here, in the beginning, and at the end, when the women invite the disciples to “come and see” the empty tomb. This gospel is written so that the hearers/readers may “Come and see” for themselves, and know that Jesus Christ is the son of God and Lord of all, and that “you might believe into his name.”

The second is that Jesus is always in control. Of the four gospels, John tells of a Jesus who is least human and most godly. Jesus merely walks by John, but that inspires John to proclaim him the son of God. Jesus merely sees Peter (but is not introduced to him) yet Jesus not only knows Peter’s name, but knows all about him and gives him a new name, Cephas, Aramaic for Petros, or Peter, which means “rock” because “on this rock I will build my church.”

Bible Tuesday for the Baptism of Our Lord, 2017

Bible Tuesday for the Baptism of Our Lord, 2017

Isaiah 42:1-9

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
2 He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
3 a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
4 He will not grow faint or be crushed
until he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

5 Thus says God, the Lord,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people upon it
and spirit to those who walk in it:
6 I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,*
a light to the nations,
7 to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
8 I am the Lord, that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to idols.
9 See, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth,
I tell you of them.

This passage is frequently referred to as “The Suffering Servant” passage. It is written during the time of the Babylonian exile to the Israelites who are defeated and feeling forsaken by God. As it is written allegorically, it has been interpreted many ways throughout Jewish history. One theory is that the servant is Cyrus of Persia, the king who defeated Babylonia and released all the captives, includes Israelites. The passage can be read to describe all Israel, even though the first section is written as if to one person. It is stylistically Hebrew to refer to whole peoples in the singular. The Hebrew Scriptures frequently record God referring to all Israel by the name Jacob, and whole tribes by the names of their patriarchs.

The first section of this passage has also been interpreted as referring to the ideal king of Israel whom God would appoint. The first hearers of this passage, suffering and grieving in exile, or still at home but occupied and oppressed by their Babylonian masters, read this passage as a promise from God to send them a merciful hero who would somehow defeat Babylonia.

“The nations” and “the coastlands” are terms referring to those nations near by and those far away. It is a poetic way of saying that this Servant of God will rule all.

The second part of this passage describes for what purpose God has established Israel. They are to be the living evidence of God’s covenant with all people. They are to exemplify justice, humility, grace, mercy both among themselves, and between themselves and all other nations. And, the chosen people of God are to worship only God and serve only God.

Psalm 29

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,*
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
worship the Lord in holy splendor.

3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over mighty waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.

7 The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
8 The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

9 The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,*
and strips the forest bare;
and in his temple all say, ‘Glory!’

10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
11 May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace!

This is such a fascinating psalm in that it shows modern day people some of the through patterns of ancient Israelites. This psalm was likely written 2,500 years ago by people who believed that they lived in a terrarium of sorts, surrounded by water. Rain came through holes deities opened in the ceiling of the terrarium. Floods came through the floor. Above the terrarium surrounded by waters dwelled the gods, plural. Israelites believed that Yahweh was the head of all these deities. This psalm lists the elemental forces they believed were controlled by those lesser gods: floods, the tallest of trees (cedars of Lebanon), wind, fire, and wilderness. Notice that the psalm sings God’s power is over all these things.

How did the Israelites reconcile this belief that God is the head god of a host of deities with the Shema “Hear O Israel! The Lord your God, the Lord, He is ONE!”? Well…the Hebrew scriptures give us several examples. In the book of Job, God is King and the all the lesser deities are part of his court. Genesis 6:1-8 tells of divine beings that take human women as their wives, but Yahweh is above all that, grieving at the wickedness of humanity. Throughout the books of the prophets, God insists that humans forsake all other gods, whether “divine” or human idolatry of self, or wealth, and follow only Him. The books of the prophets all warn of cataclysm if Israelites don’t ignore the gods of their neighbors and follow only Yahweh/God. They prophesy that Israel will be destroyed if they do not. Israel understood that their defeats by Assyria and Babylon were due to their lack of single minded love and faithfulness to Yahweh/God.

Acts 10:34-43

Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. 37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’

As this Sunday is the Baptism of Our Lord, this text from Acts was chosen to accompany the gospel story of Jesus’ baptism, as it also is about a baptism. Peter was summoned by the Holy Spirit to the household of a Roman military commander who was sympathetic to the Jews residing in his area of charge. This commander, Cornelius, also prayed to Yahweh and seemed to instruct his family to do so as well. Peter was summoned to proclaim the good news of Jesus to this Roman and his household (wives, children, slaves, employees) which Peter did. When Peter arrives at the Roman’s house, he relates how, while he was in prayer to Yahweh, he had a vision that he must send for a certain man named Peter who is in the town of Joppa staying with a certain Simon the Tanner. Cornelius sent two men to follow this vision which resulted in Peter’s arrival. Peter is so astounded that Yahweh, the God of the Israelites, would speak to a gentile (non-Jew) through a dream, that he launches into a speech. That is the part of this story that is the above Bible passage, Peter’s speech/testimony. What happens next in the story is that suddenly the Holy Spirit fills all of Cornelius’ household and they begin praying out loud in tongues. Peter and his Jewish travel companions are so astonished that the Holy Spirit would fill gentiles that he agrees to baptize everyone present.

Matthew 3:13-17

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ 15But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.’ Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved,* with whom I am well pleased.’

“Fulfill all righteousness” A major theme in the gospel of Matthew is to show how Jesus fulfilled the Law and the prophecies about the messiah/savior/great king of Israel who was to come. To fulfill the Law and the prophecies is to act in righteousness, since God created the Law as the way of living rightly with Him.

Baptism was and is a prescribed ritual in Jewish piety. Mikvahs are pools of flowing water for just this purpose. Women bathe in the mikvah seven days after menstruation has stopped and after childbirth bleeding has stopped for seven days. Men and women bathe after healing from diseases or surgeries. What makes John the Baptist’s baptism unique is that he is baptizing for repentance in preparation for the messiah. When the messiah shows up, John sees no reason to baptize him. Why would Jesus need to baptize for repentance in preparation for himself? But, somehow Jesus still needs to be baptized. Perhaps it is the dualism of his nature, fully human and fully divine, that requires this baptism. Perhaps Jesus must enter the water in order to lead all who follow through it.

Whatever the cause, Jesus is baptized with a baptism like no other. Heaven rips open! The Holy Spirit flies out! God speaks for all to hear, “This one! This one right here! He is my son! I am so pleased and proud of him!” Wow!