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Bible Tuesday for Lent V, 2017

Bible Tuesday for Lent V, 2017

Ezekiel 37:1-14

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.

The book of Ezekiel is one of prophecies and mystic visions meant to give guidance, chastisement, and hope to the Israelites exiled under Babylonia. The above passage is a vision of hope.

In his vision, Ezekiel is brought to the valley at the foot of Har Megiddo, where many fierce battles of Israel took place. No doubt the last battle there against Babylonia left many Israelite soldiers dead in the fields with no one to bury them. Ezekiel is shown this field full of the bones of Israel’s fallen army and commanded to prophesy to these dead. As the obedient Ezekiel declares the words given him, God reconstructs Israel’s army. But Ezekiel must prophesy to the breathe to fill the lungs of these soldiers that they might truly live.

In Israelite culture, breath, or “ruach” in Hebrew, is the life force. It is synonymous with “spirit”. In the last verse when God says, “I will put my spirit within you and you shall live,” this had the double meaning that God will put breath and God’s spirit within them. All this is to fulfill God’s promise that God will redeem Israel from captivity to Babylonia.

Psalm 130

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.

Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?

But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;

my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.

It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.

The psalmist cries out to God for attention. As in other psalms, this psalmist points out that, if God does not forgive and save, no one would be left to praise God.

It is noteworthy that the psalmist points out to God that the reason people praise God is because God forgives them, as opposed to punishes them. This psalmist is decided vigilant in waiting for God’s response to his/her supplication. Then, as if to bolster his/her own faith in God, the psalmist admonishes all Israel to have faith and hope in God.

Romans 8:6-11

To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

It is passages like this which are the foundation of the doctrine of baptism. The stories of the giving of the Holy Spirit in the gospels (Jesus’ Easter Sunday upper room appearance) and the books of Acts and Paul’s writings, Christians believe that, in baptism, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in people through baptism. Paul explains that because the Holy Spirit dwells in the baptized, those who are baptized are vessels of the Holy, the Divine. Because of this amazing mystery, there is the you which dies and is buried/cremated (the flesh), and there is the you which is eternal (the spirit).

John 11:1-45

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

In John’s gospel, Mary, sister of Lazarus, is the woman who pours perfume on Jesus’ feet and dries them with her hair. Mary appears in the gospel of Luke as the sister who sat at Jesus feet and “chose the better part.”

Four days – In ancient Jewish folklore, the spirit of a person lingered around the body for three days before departing or allowing the person to revive. Here, Lazarus is dead for four days, making it clear that Lazarus didn’t just revive but was actually raised from the dead by Jesus.

“told them plainly” – In the gospel of John, Jesus “speaks in parables that the blind may see and those who see may become blind.” Since the disciples do not understand Jesus when he speaks in “parables”, they are blind but being made to see.

Like the blind man healed in last week’s text, Lazarus is dead, not to punish Lazarus or his sisters, but that God might be glorified through Jesus raising Lazarus. Indeed, it is this act that alarmed the Temple leaders enough to put a price on Jesus’ life.

Why did Jesus weep? Why was he greatly disturbed? The gospel does not explain. In the gospel of John, Jesus is calm, cool, collected, and in control, except at this moment. When faced with the death of a very close friend, Jesus sobbed and became very upset, with grief that is not given words. I am grateful to know that Jesus really does know exactly how horrible death is when it happens to a best friend or a spouse, and when it happens to one’s self.

“Unbind him and let him go.” – Jesus has released Lazarus from death, at least for a while. He commands those who witness this resurrection set Lazarus free from the grave and its clothes. Later, on Easter morning, when Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit into the disciples and apostles, he gives them the “The Keys”. “The Keys” are both the command and the power necessary to carry them out: “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you lose on earth will be losed in heaven.” Here, Jesus gives an example of what we are to do with those keys. We are to free people from the horrible ramifications of death as best we can until we are around God’s table in the feast that has no end.

Bible Tuesday for Lent IV, 2017

Bible Tuesday for Lent IV, 2017

1 Samuel 16:1-13

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” 2Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” 4Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” 5He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

6When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” 7But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 8Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 9Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 10Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 11Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” 12He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” 13Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

Why is Samuel grieving over Saul and who is Saul, anyway? Saul was the first king of Israel. He was a big, strong guy whose profession was herding his father’s asses. God sent Samuel to anoint him king, just like God sent Samuel in this story. So Samuel went and found Saul herding the asses, poured oil on his head to anoint him, and proclaimed him God’s first king over all Israel. He was from the smallest of the tribes, Benjamin, and had proven himself militarily against the marauding Philistines. As such, he was accepted as king even by the larger, more powerful tribes so the twelve all accepted him as king.

But Saul had problems. He did not always pray to God or sacrifice to him in the accepted manor before going into battle. God was displeased with this and chided King Saul through Samuel, the prophet, but Saul blew off Samuel. The last straw was when God sent King Saul and the army of Israel into battle against the Amalekites and was not to take spoils but to destroy all. Before going into battle Saul was supposed to lead the army in prayer and animal sacrifice to God. Instead, Saul erected a monument to himself and then allowed the army of Israel to take plunder for themselves (including statuettes of idols) after they defeated the Amalekites. For this, God rejected Saul as king. While Samuel anoints David as king of Israel when he was an adolescent, David does not become king until he is an adult and a proven soldier. In the meanwhile, Saul stays king but becomes paranoid and delusional.

The above story of the crowning of David shows the reader several things. First of all, we learn what it means to be anointed. The literal meaning of the words “messiah” in Hebrew and “Christ” in Greek is “Anointed one.” Samuel anoints David with oil to set him apart for God’s service, in this case, to be king of Israel.

Second, we see in this story one of many instances in the narration of the Hebrew Scriptures where the person favored by people is not the person favored by God. In the Law given by God, the oldest son gets a larger inheritance, given the birth right, and is societally favored. Yet, Jacob is favored over his very slightly older brother, Esau. Isaac receives his father’s entire inheritance but Ishmael and his mother are thrown out of camp. Joseph is the eleventh born son but is his father’s favorite. David is the youngest of Jesse’s handsome, muscular sons, and is so inconsequential in his own family that he has a job frequently given to daughters, keeper of the family flocks. But God chooses David to be the second and greatest king of Israel; a shepherd boy to be the Shepherd King of all Israel. Even among David’s 19 sons, it is Solomon, one of the middle, overlooked sons, whom David appoints as his successor.

Third, we get a glimpse of what is meant by a Thank Offering in the Law. When Samuel objects to God’s summons to go visit Jesse in Bethlehem, God says, “Take a heifer with you and make it a thank offering!” When Samuel gets to Bethlehem and slaughters the heifer, notice that unlike a sin offering, the whole heifer is not burnt up. Instead, the sacrifice is actually a cookout feast for whomever the sacrifice invites to join him/her in giving thanks!

Fourth, we are told that God sent the Holy Spirit mightily onto David. As 1 Samuel continues with the narration of Saul’s fall and David’s rise as king of Israel, we are told that “The Spirit of the Lord was removed from Saul.” In the Hebrew Scriptures, not every Jew received the Holy Spirit nor was the gift of the Holy Spirit a permanent thing. In the gospel of John, on Easter morning when Jesus appears to the disciples gathered in the upper room, “He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit…’” After the Pentecost event in the second chapter of Acts, the Holy Spirit fills people at their baptism into the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is now doctrine that the Holy Spirit comes into people and does not leave them.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

2He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;

3he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

4Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me.

5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

Israelite kings were commonly referred to as Israel’s Shepherds. The kings did not own the flock but were the caretakers of it for the owner, God. But here is King David, to whom this psalm is ascribed, referring to God as his shepherd.

In the context of Saul’s demise and fall from power and David’s boyhood anointing and rise to power, this psalm is especially meaningful. Once David is anointed, he becomes Saul’s weapon bearer and constant companion. As King Saul slips into madness, his fits are soothed by David’s harp playing. (Whenever David is depicted in medieval/Renaissance art, he can be identified by his harp.) David becomes best friends with Jonathan, Saul’s oldest son, and is married to King Saul’s daughter Michal. However, as David matures from child armor bearer to adult very successful soldier, Saul becomes jealous of David and paranoid that David will take his throne. Despite the fact that David is actually the anointed king, a secret confined to Samuel, David, and David’s family, David remains loyal and devoted to Saul and Jonathan. Nevertheless, Saul attempts to kill David, causing him to flee, taking with him junior soldiers loyal to him. They become a mercenary band living in the shadows of Israel’s neighbors. Periodically Saul send out troops to hunt down David and his soldiers. During this time David lives a desolate life in “no man’s lands”. What an inspiration for this adamantly peaceful psalm.

Ephesians 5:8-14

For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— 9for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. 10Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. 11Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; 13but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore, it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

While modern Christians are accustomed to the light/dark language of the New Testament, the original audience of this letter would not have been, unless they had heard or read the Dead Sea Scrolls. The author proclaims that believers “are light”; not walking in the light, but light itself. The last quote of this periscope is unknown outside of Ephesians. Perhaps the author is quoting an ancient hymn.

John 9:1-41

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

8The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

13They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind.14Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” 18The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind;21but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” 24So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

35Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.

39Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

This pericope from John expounds on the gospel’s themes of light and darkness, and blindness and sight. The setting for this story is just outside the Temple in Jerusalem. While the other gospels don’t tell of Jesus going to the Temple as an adult until Palm Sunday, the gospel of John has Jesus going to Jerusalem three times as an adult. This is the first time. Jesus has just finished an argument with the Pharisees and Temple authorities who reject him because they “are descendants of Abraham” and reject Jesus’ claims to be God/Son of God/Son of Man. “Before Abraham was, I am,” replied. That ended the argument and resulted in the Pharisees trying to stone Jesus.

Jesus gets away from the Pharisees and comes upon this blind man. The juxtaposition is developed between the Pharisees and Temple religious leaders who should see God in their midst but choose to be blind, and the blind man who does receive Jesus and sees, both spiritually and physically.

This story starts with the disciples introducing Jesus’ new teaching. Heretofore, one identified those favored by God through their success: wealth, health, popularity, power, etc. When the disciples ask, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answers with a thought that was truly out of the question. “Neither. It doesn’t work like that.” Jesus then heals the man in a truly unique way. The entire rest of the story is the conflict over how God’s favor is exhibited.

The Pharisees believe themselves to be favored by God because of their wealth and status. Manifest destiny! Unless they are serious about loving and serving God, why would they want to believe someone who taught otherwise? This “prosperity gospel” is so entrenched in Jewish society that even the blind man’s parents are afraid to testify to and celebrate their son’s new sight. Only the now sighted son, is willing to point out the irony of the situation: I was blind but I can clearly see that this man was sent by God, while you all have always been able to see but you cannot see God right in front of you!

Bible Tuesday for Lent III 2017

Bible Tuesday for Lent III, 2017

Exodus 17:1-7

From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

The chapter before this story contains the manna episode. The Israelites griped using the same tone and perspective as they do in the above passage. “Life was way better in slavery than it is out here in the wilderness. You, Moses and God, you brought us out here to punish us and made us die!” The Israelites sound VERY different than the refugees I have heard, and met.

Moses complains to God about the Israelites and God solves the problem. The area around what scholars and archeologists believe to be the Wilderness of Sin (a place name, not a same after sins that might have been committed there) is full of porous limestones which can have droplets of water coming off of them. When they are cracked open, they may contain water. However, in this story, the water amount is truly miraculous and not simply a couple of water inside a rock. God provides enough water for the thousands of Israelites and the livestock they have not eaten yet.

Moses renames the place where the water came forth “The Place of Testing and Bickering”. Unfortunately, the entire book of Exodus is filled with events like this one, where the Israelites complain about how God is treating them. There are no places where Moses renames the place “Gratitude and Joy” because the Israelites never voiced any.

Psalm 95

O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!

Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.

In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also.

The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have formed.

O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!

For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. O that today you would listen to his voice!

Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,

when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.

For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they do not regard my ways.”

Therefore in my anger I swore, “They shall not enter my rest.”

The beginning of this psalm voices the sentiments that Israel should have given to God time and time again. “Thank you, Lord God of heaven and earth, for providing for us at every turn.” The psalmist then goes on to give voice to God’s grievance against Israel, and to warn Israel to instead, sing songs of gratitude and praise, like the first verses of the psalm.

Romans 5:1-11

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

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

St. Paul reminds all readers/hearers that being made right with God is not something that happens at your death, or at the final judgment, but at Jesus crucifixion. So if we are already settled up with God, why is there suffering? Isn’t that punishment from God? St. Paul says that no, suffering can work for the good if through suffering we learn endurance, because that begins a chain reaction of maturity in Christ.

Paul goes on to refute the thought that Jesus only came to save the righteous people. Paul states that Jesus came to save those who need saving, that is, all humanity.

John 4:5-42

So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him. Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor .”Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

Jesus leaves Judea, the southern half of the former Kingdom of Israel, because the High Priest and Jewish authorities in Jerusalem were after him. Jesus took his disciples back up to Galilee through the shortest route, Samaria. Jews and Samaritans have a mutual disrespect/hatred that goes back to 900’s BC. First, after King Solomon, the third king of Israel, died, Israel divided along tribal lines, with the south being Judah and Benjamin, and the north being all the other tribes. The Southern Kingdom continued to worship at Jerusalem,, while the Northern Kingdom went back to worshiping at Shiloh, where folks worshiped Yahweh before Israel had kings. Then, when the Northern Kingdom was defeated by Assyria in the 600’s BC and the Southern Kingdom fell to Babylonia in 586 BC, the area which became Samaria in the Northern Kingdom, was left to continue its agrarian life and paid high tributes in kind to their conquerors. While the Northern and Southern Kingdom city folks were held in captivity on foreign soil, the Jewish farmers and trades folks in Samaria carried on as best they could, even intermarrying with their captors and local pagans. Their practice of Judaism was somewhat corrupted by the basic beliefs and tenets were still intact. When the Jewish captives were released and allowed to return to their Northern and Southern Kingdom lands, their homes and businesses, even the Temple in Jerusalem, were decimated. However, the Samaritans were still living as they had before the captivity. Great jealousy arose between the Samaritans and those who were returning. The Samaritans were seen as half breeds, since they intermarried with non-Jews. They were hated because they “bastardized” the true religion of Yahweh.

While all four gospels recount at least one event where Jesus leads his disciples into Samaria, John has Jesus doing so right away in chapter 4. Jesus breaks also kinds of social norms in this story. In Jewish society, women were not allowed to speak with men outside their families. If women worked in the market, their husband, son, brother, or nephew did all the bartering. If women had to make business transactions, they had to do so through a man, as they were not allowed in the courts unaccompanied by a man.

In this story, Jesus addresses a woman and asks her to give him a drink. Through their repartee, the woman makes it clear she knows she is looked down upon by Jews and wants no part of it. It times her tone seems snide, bordering on sarcastic. But then Jesus speaks the truth to her. “You’ve had five husbands and the one you have now is not your own.” If Jesus had spoken this with condemnation in his voice, she would not have responded with wonder. No, Jesus speaks the truth to her with empathy, compassion, love. And the truth spoken with love opens her up to a whole different relationship with Jesus.

So touched by Jesus is this woman that she goes into town and tells everyone who will listen that she has found a great prophet, a Jew. And so convincing is this woman’s testimony that many townsfolk “come and see” Jesus for themselves. The townsfolks are moved to invite Jesus and his disciples to stay with them, and they do!

Compassionate, empathetic truth telling is what God does with us and what we are to do with one another. Such power!

Bible Tuesday for Lent 2, 2017

Bible Tuesday for Lent 2, 2017

Genesis 12:1-4

Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’*

4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him.

In the book of Genesis, the reader/hearer has been going along with some great stories of how things came to be: the creation stories that explain the natural word, the Tower of Babel story that explains the origins of language, the Flood Story that explains more aspects of the natural world the disbursement of peoples and ethnicities. Then the writer spells out the family tree of Shem, son of Noah, through whom the Semitic tribes descend. In that family tree are lots and lots of men including one Abram. (Abram is given the name Abraham by God later in the story.) With this mention of Abram, suddenly “the plot thickens!”

Despite the fact that we know nothing of Abram other than who is father and grandfathers were, going back many generations, God suddenly speaks directly to Abram and gives his the foundational promise of all Judaism and Christianity.

“I am asking you, Abram, to leave behind all this family tree that the previous chapter took such great pains to spell out, and to start anew in a place that I have chosen for you. In so leaving your past behind, I will do new and amazing things with you. I will give you your very own land which I will show you. I will give you your very own offspring, despite you age, offspring that will become so numerous that you will be ‘Abraham’, which means ‘the father of a great nation’. Through your great nation in your own land, I will bless all people of the world.”

It is because of this promise that the nation of Israel has fought for the past 4000 years to retain and maintain the Holy Land. It is because of this promise that Christians believe Jesus came, to fulfill this promise and be the blessing to all nations that God pledges to Abraham. It is because of this promise that the gospels and Paul’s letters were written, as an explanation of how God fulfills this promise through Jesus.

It is because of this promise that Christians are obligated to view Jews as the tree on which we have been grafted, because Christians are heirs to this promise because of the people who are Abrahams descendants, the Jews.

Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
from where will my help come?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

3 He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
4 He who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

5 The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
6 The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.

7 The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
8 The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time on and for evermore.

Even a casual reading of the Hebrew Scriptures (aka Old Testament) reveals that the Israelites frequently blew off God and worshiped the gods of the peoples who already lived in Canaan at the time that God moved Abraham into the land. The most popular of these gods were Baal and his consort/concubine Ashera/Astartes. A common way to worship these was to erect little shrines to them atop the highest places around: atop hills, mountains, at the base of the tallest trees. It was a common thought that the higher up in the air you were, the closer you were to the relm of the gods and could best get their attention.

This psalm starts out “I lift my eyes to the hills” directly referencing those shrines to Baal and Ashera. The psalmist is in need of divine help and asks, “Will it really help me to go to the shrines in the high places?” But emphatically answers, “No! My help comes from the Lord God, the maker of all that is!” Frequently when gods are compared with Yahweh/God, these are divinities whose attributes are that they control fertility or water or mountains/volcanoes. But God’s attributes are that God made all the stuff which these other lesser deities supposedly control.

The psalm goes on to state how God rules and works all that God has created and how God cares for the people to whom God made that promise through Abraham.

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

What then are we to say was gained by* Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? 2For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3For what does the scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’ 4Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. 5But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness

13 For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

16 For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, 17as it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations’)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

Here Paul the Apostle is formulating an argument. In the time of Jesus and Paul, Jews believed that salvation was assured them because they were descendants of Abraham, which they reasoned meant that they inherited the covenant which God made with Abraham in the Genesis text above. However, here Paul argues that inheritance by family tree, “according to the flesh”, doesn’t count for anything because the covenant God made with Abraham required that Abraham keep his end of the covenant, that is, Abraham had to leave his family and his kindred and go to where God would show him. For Abraham’s progeny, keeping the covenant meant living perfectly according to the Law of Moses. However, it is impossible for them to keep the Law perfectly, therefore the promise given to Abraham does not pass down to them.

Paul presents a whole new way of looking at the covenant God made and that Abraham was supposed to keep. Instead of discerning whether or not Abraham and all of his kindred kept the covenant, therefore will inherit what was promised, Paul argues that what really matters is whether or not Abraham believed God when God made this covenant. It was Abraham’s faith in God and what God was promising that was counted by God, not Abraham’s imperfect adherence to his end of the covenant.

John 3:1-17

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.2He came to Jesus* by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ 3Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’* 4Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ 5Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.* 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You* must be born from above.”* 8The wind* blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ 9Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ 10Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

11 ‘Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you* do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.* 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.*

16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

17 ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Nicodemus only appears in the gospel of John. He is a member of the ruling council of the Jews, the Sanhedrin, or “the Seventy”, along with Joseph of Arimathea. In the gospel of John, both Joseph and Nicodemus go to Pilate asking for the body of Jesus and they both lay him in Joseph’s tomb.

This story is written to illustrate the main themes of the gospel of John. 1) Jesus is “the light of the world”. 2) Jesus “came to his own and his own did not receive him. 3) Jesus is the messiah who is to come AND the Son of God.

Jesus is the light of the world –

Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night symbolizing that Nicodemus is living in the dark. He acknowledges that Jesus is a great teacher, even one from God, but is still in the dark about the rest. When Jesus tries to revel the light of God to him, Nicodemus seems completely stumped and befuddled.

Jesus came to his own and his own did not receive him –

Jesus’ own should have been the not only his family but also the Jewish authorities: the High Priest, King Herod, the Sanhedrin, the Scribes and Pharisees. These were the guys that were supposed to know Hebrews Scriptures backward and forward and be able to spot the messiah from miles away. Yet here is Jesus in the flesh, in the same room as Nicodemus, but the poor guy fails to recognize God in the flesh.

Jesus is messiah AND Son of God –

For ancient and some modern Jews, these are not the same people. The Messiah was supposed to be a great military hero and monarch like King David. But the Son of God was supposed to be more like Elijah, a great prophet, but with Godly power. The gospel of John states from its very first verses that Jesus is God in the flesh, God in human form. Jesus is more than the messiah. Jesus is more than the Son of Man. Jesus is completely the Son of God and God himself. It is impossible for humans to wrap our minds completely around this. No wonder Nicodemus was so confused!