Home » Archives for August 2017

Month: August 2017

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 13, 2017

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 13, 2017

Jeremiah 15:15-21

O Lord, you know; remember me and visit me, and bring down retribution for me on my persecutors. In your forbearance do not take me away; know that on your account I suffer insult. Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts. I did not sit in the company of merrymakers, nor did I rejoice; under the weight of your hand I sat alone, for you had filled me with indignation. Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Truly, you are to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail. Therefore thus says the Lord: If you turn back, I will take you back, and you shall stand before me. If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall serve as my mouth. It is they who will turn to you, not you who will turn to them. And I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you, says the Lord. I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked, and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.

As is frequently the case with the lives God’s prophets, Jeremiah’s life with God is a case in point example of Israel’s/Judah’s life with God. In this passage, Jeremiah is pleading his case to God. Jeremiah has found God’s commands and promises to “be like a deceitful brook”, that is, by the shape of the path and by the sound of water, it should be thirst quenching and satisfying, but when you go to get water, the course has changed or the water is dried up.

God’s response to Jeremiah, and to the people of Israel/Judah, is to invite them to turn back (the true meaning of the word “repent”). If Jeremiah repents, God will restore him to the role of God’s prophet. If Israel/Judah turns back, God will save them from their enemies.

Psalm 26:1-8

Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.

Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and mind.

For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in faithfulness to you.

I do not sit with the worthless, nor do I consort with hypocrites;

I hate the company of evildoers, and will not sit with the wicked.

I wash my hands in innocence, and go around your altar, O Lord,

singing aloud a song of thanksgiving, and telling all your wondrous deeds.

O Lord, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides.

This psalm is the cry of someone suffering “for no good reason.” “If I haven’t done anything wrong, why, O Lord, are you punishing me?!” At the same time, the psalmist conveys a brazen hubris that Lutherans would not adopt. Lutherans believe that we are never perfect and blameless before God. I personally would be absolutely terrified to have God “prove me, try me, and test my heart and mind!”

Romans 12:9-21

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. ”No, if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Here the apostle, Paul, admonishes the congregation in Rome to show love to one another.

No doubt you have heard or read that there are three words in the Greek language that all mean love.

Eros-erotic love

Agape-love of spouses for one another, love of parents to children

Philadelphia-love for friends, neighbors, community, country

This is a very typical confirmation class lesson here in the US. However, the distinctions between Agape and Philadelphia are not nearly so clear as appears to be the case in the above definitions. Paul, himself, seems to use the words interchangeably in his New Testament writings.

Confusion between Agape and Philadelphia withstanding, a far more important point in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome is that they express love. Love as a feeling was not important at all in Paul’s writing. However, love as an action was extremely important! Note that the first sentence in the above pericope admonishes the baptized to “let your love be genuine.” The remainder of the pericope is Paul’s explanation on what “genuine love” looks like.

Our culture puts so much time and energy into exploring what love feels like, whether on talks shows or in movies and television. But the Bible puts all its time and energy into explaining what love looks like: God becoming a person, allowing people to execute Him in order that God might save all people. Paul’s letter to the church in Rome is an attempt to help the church make sense of God’s love and to teach how the baptized can and should extend God’s love to all.

Matthew 16:21-28

From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

How quickly poor Simon went from Petros, (Peter in English) the rock on which Jesus will build his church, to Petros, the rock that tries to make God stumble! Peter and the rest of the disciples expected Jesus to raise an army and march on Jerusalem to expel the Romans and reinstate the Davidic Dynasty. So what is Jesus talking about suffering and dying at the hands of the corrupt Temple authorities for?

Peter is sure that Jesus has misspoken or misinterpreted God’s will for him, so Peter usurps the role of teacher and challenges Jesus. When Jesus responds with, “Get behind me!” Jesus is putting Peter back in his place as disciple and follower.

Satan -In the tradition of the Hebrew Scriptures, Satan was the accuser, the challenger, as in the book of Job. In the New Testament and subsequent tradition, Satan and the snake in the Garden of Eden have been conflated into the Tempter and Tormentor. When Jesus calls Peter, “Satan”, he is referring to the misdirection that Peter is giving, without any connotations of hell and damnation, etc.

“For those who love their life will lose it, but those who lose their life for the sake of me will find it.” – Jesus does not necessarily mean “death” when he says “lose their life.” The disciples did lose their businesses and social standing when they became apostles and lived as itinerate preachers after Jesus’ ascension. They lost their lives as they knew them, but found lives in Jesus. But most of the apostles, Peter among them, lost their lives, meaning died, at the hands of the Roman and Jewish authorities because they preached “Christ, and Christ crucified.” Even though they were martyred, they nevertheless gained eternal life with God because of the work of the Holy Spirit granting them faith.

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 12, 2017

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 12, 2017

Isaiah 51:1-6

Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the Lord. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. 2Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many. 3For the Lord will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.

4Listen to me, my people, and give heed to me, my nation; for a teaching will go out from me, and my justice for a light to the peoples. 5I will bring near my deliverance swiftly, my salvation has gone out and my arms will rule the peoples; the coastlands wait for me, and for my arm they hope.6Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and those who live on it will die like gnats; but my salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended.

This passage of Isaiah is written to Israelites returning from exile who see before them all the work that is to be done to restore their homes, farms, businesses, synagogues, and Temple. Sooooooo very much work and so few hands.

To these people God delivers the above imperative exhortations. I have bolded them above. God commands the complaining, worrying Israelites to Listen to me! Drop your hopelessness and pick up faith in me! Why should you trust me? Because Abraham and Sarah were just two people but I made a whole nation out of them! I will do it again with you!

“My teaching” – literally “My Torah” This statement implies that God will send the Torah/Law/Teaching/Word to all the nations not necessarily by written scroll but definitely by word and action.

“Coastlands” – In Isaiah, this word refers to the coasts of Israel held by the Philistines, and those coastlands north held by other goyim/non Jews. Note that God will send his deliverance of all people, even those traditional enemies of Israel, with whom God hopes to make peace.

“Lift” – God commands that Israel look at the seeming permanence of earth and sky, which is nothing but a gnat’s life when looking at the power and permanence of God’s salvation.

Psalm 138

1I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise;

2I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness; for you have exalted your name and your word above everything.

3On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul.

4All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O Lord, for they have heard the words of your mouth.

5They shall sing of the ways of the Lord, for great is the glory of the Lord.

6For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly; but the haughty he perceives from far away.

7Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies; you stretch out your hand, and your right hand delivers me.

8The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.

Regarding this psalm, The Jewish Study Bible “This is the first of a collection of hymns (psalms 138 – 145) that conclude the Psalter. Petitions characterize the Psalter’s opening, and many see an intentional movement from petitions to hymns as part of the structure that the editor tried to convey. The book of Psalms would then reflect a movement from lament to praise.”

“before the gods” – can also be translated “before the divine beings”. Ancient Israelites believed God to be the greatest of many divine beings, though that is not what God says about God’s self through the prophets and direct communication to Abraham, Elijah, Moses, etc. To that point, at the burning bush when God gives Moses a name for Himself, God says “I am” which is to state emphatically that God IS while all other imagined divine beings ARE NOT.

“he regards the lowly, but the haughty he perceives from far away” – This sentence conveys God’s “very present” immediacy with those who humbly walk with God. However, those who proudly march off in their own directly put great distance between God and themselves.

Romans 12:1-8

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. 3For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

What does Paul mean by “living sacrifice?” Throughout the readings from Romans leading up to this week’s pericope, Paul has been talking about the salvation of the Jews and the grafting of the Gentiles onto the family tree of the Jewish people. In the above passage, Paul again draws on religious worship language of the Jews and uses it to make a very important distinction. Whereas Jews (while the Temple still existed) offered thank offerings of grain and animals, sin offerings of lamb “without spot or blemish”, and wellbeing offerings of incense, grain, oil, and/or animals most of which was burned on altars, those who believe Jesus was the final sacrificial lamb are to make themselves and their whole lives an offering to God. Specifically in this passage, Paul is admonishing the baptized to live in such purity that they are like the sacrificial lambs, without spot or blemish. Those who truly believe in Jesus and take seriously his teachings will not engage in behaviors that dirty themselves before God and others. Hence, the faithful are to imitate Jesus as best they can, and not imitate (be conformed to) the self indulging, self focused world.

The final verse of this passage reminds us that faithful living is as varied as the faithful people, themselves. While some might feel connected to God through lotus position meditation, others might experience connectedness through gardening or mountain hiking. While some might serve God through caring for aged neighbors, others might tutor in the local after school program. None of the members of the body of Christ are given the privilege of defining “the perfect way of being a Christian” for all of the rest of the body. We each are different and God connects with each of us differently, though God always connects to us in community.

Matthew 16:13-20

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Last week’s gospel took place in the lands of the Gentiles. This week, Jesus and his disciples are back in Galilee, Jewish territory. In this passage, Jesus uses both “Son of Man” and “I” to refer to himself. “Son of Man” is a curious idiom which means a human man who is specially chosen by God. But throughout the gospels, Jesus uses this term to refer to himself, because the term comes from the Hebrew Scriptures and traditional interpretation of them to refer to a very special human God would choose to lead Israel.

In this passage, Jesus uses the term “Son of Man” to refer to himself when he asks the disciples who the crowds and Jewish authorities say he is while they gossip. Note that all the folks the crowds identify with Jesus are dead. Only Simon identifies Jesus correctly as the Messiah in Hebrew, the Christ in Greek, the God sent Savior in English. Upon this correct identification, Jesus gives Simon a new name, Peter, or petros, which is Greek for “rock”. Then Jesus makes a pun on this new name, saying, “On this rock I will build my church.”

Jesus goes on to give the keys of the kingdom of heaven to Peter. In this passage it seems that the Keys of the Kingdom are not explained but in other gospels, the ability to bind and loose on earth and in heaven are the Keys to the Kingdom. In Greek as in English, the word “bind” means both to tie up/shackle (Regarding Lazarus, Jesus says, “Unbind him and let him go.) and to bandage (In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus says that the Samaritan bound the wounds of the man on the side of the road.). To loose in Greek as in English can mean to let loose, letting an attack dog loose on an intruder, and to unbind, unbinding bandages. The keys are both to lock and to unlock, all in accordance with Jesus’ teaching.

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 10, 2017

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 10, 2017

Isaiah 56:1, 6-8

Thus says the Lord:
Maintain justice, and do what is right,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my deliverance be revealed.

6 And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant—
7 these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.
8 Thus says the Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered.*

The terms “my holy mountain”, “Mount Zion”, and “Zion” are all synonymous for the hill in the city of Jerusalem. Called Zion, on which the Temple was built. Frequently Zion is also used synonymously with the city of Jerusalem and even the Temple itself.

When Israelites were released from captivity in Babylonia and returned to their native land, not only did they find their homes and businesses, farms and orchards, in shambles and occupied by other people, but they found the Israelites that were left in place by Babylon had intermarried with non-Jewish neighbors. This was abhorrent to the returning priests and religious leaders! They detested all the “goyim” (non Jews) living in their sacred lands.

In the above Isaiah passage, God reminds the returning Israelites that it was God’s purpose for Israel all along to welcome the alien and the foreigner so they may also receive God’s love and live in God’s covenant with all creation.

Psalm 67

May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us,
2 that your way may be known upon earth,
your saving power among all nations.
3 Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.

4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth.
5 Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.

6 The earth has yielded its increase;
God, our God, has blessed us.
7 May God continue to bless us;
let all the ends of the earth revere him.

This psalm begins by invoking the blessing that God gave to Aaron to say over the Jewish people, “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord look on you with favor and give you peace.”

This is a marvelous example of “call and response” liturgy in the Jewish “hymnal” psalter. The leader states why all the peoples of the world should praise God and the congregation responds with an “amen” of sorts, an invitation to all people to join in praising God. Both leader and congregation join together in the final verses to affirm the benevolence and faithfulness of God.

Romans 11:1-2, 29-32

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? 29for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, 31so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now* receive mercy. 32For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.

In this passage Paul teaches that Jews were God’s chosen people, designated by the covenants God made with them, in order that all may come to God through their God-like love of all humanity. But the Jewish people failed at this task. God, himself, Jesus did that work instead. Those who believe into Jesus are now made beneficiaries of that same covenant and are now to evangelize to the Jews. But because both Jews and Gentiles are all fallen people, demented by sin to be ever self focused, if God wills to free us from ourselves and know God, God must grant mercy to all, Jew and Gentile.

Matthew 15:10-28

Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, ‘Listen and understand: 11it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.’ 12Then the disciples approached and said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees took offence when they heard what you said?’ 13He answered, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind.* And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.’ 15But Peter said to him, ‘Explain this parable to us.’ 16Then he said, ‘Are you also still without understanding?17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.’

21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ 24He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ 26He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ 27She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ 28Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.

“It is not what goes into the body but what comes out the mouth that defiles.” – To be defiled in the Jewish religion meant to be filthy, too filthy to go to the Temple and worship God. The books of Exodus and Leviticus delineate what foods, deeds, and actions defile a person. Touching a dead body, having an active skin disease, bleeding, eating the wrong foods, having sex with someone other than one’s spouse, etc., all defile a person. But nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures does it say that thoughts defile. Yet, that is exactly what Jesus states in this text. Contact with certain things may make a person dirty, but that is what soap and water are for. What defiles a person, what makes a person unclean, repulsive to God’s perfection, is what comes from the mind and the heart.

After Jesus drove this lesson home with his disciples, they all traveled out of Jewish territory and into the Gentile territory of Tyre and Sidon. The gospel writer lists these cities to make clear the point that Jesus took his disciples into Gentile lands. While there, a gentile woman approaches Jesus to heal her daughter. This woman has several strikes against her in the eyes of faithful Jews. 1) She is a woman who is speaking for herself instead of having a male relative speak for her. 2) She is a non-Jew. 3) She is asking for healing for another female, worse yet, for a female child.

The exchange between this woman and Jesus is a hard one to read. Yes, Jesus really does call her a dog, compared to the Jews, who are children at God’s table. Why does Jesus, who came “that they might have life and have it abundantly” call a poor woman a dog? There is no good answer. Some scholars speculate that Jesus is playing devil’s advocate, saying to the woman what he knows the disciples are thinking. Other scholars thinking Jesus is pushing the woman to argue her case so the disciples must examine their own prejudices. Still other scholars argue that heretofore, Jesus believed himself to be sent to the Jews alone and that this faithful non-Jewish woman shows him God’s true calling, to all the world. There are mere educated guesses, however.

When Jesus and the woman talk about dogs, the word they are using is translated best “puppies” or “lapdogs” though it is not know if ancient Jews kept lapdogs.

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 10, 2017

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 10, 2017

1 Kings 19:9-18

At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ 10He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’

11 He said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.13When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ 14He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’ 15Then the Lord said to him, ‘Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 16Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. 17Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. 18Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.’

While we usually hear this text during Lent, due to Elijah being in the wilderness, it is prescribed for this Sunday because of the natural forces at work in it. Elijah executed more than 100 priests of Baal who served Queen Jezebel. In retaliation, Jezebel put a price on Elijah’s head. To avoid execution himself, Elijah flees south, out of Judah, into the wilderness. While Bible Tuesdays has covered this text many times, a new angle to consider is this. Baal is a pagan god of fertility who is frequently portrayed with a lightning bolt in his hand. Elijah dismisses Baal as childish and calls Israel to worship not creation but the Creator. In this story wind, earthquake, and fire assail the mountain where Elijah hides, yet the text tells us “the Lord was not in” the wind, earthquake, or fire. Out of the sheer silence God calls to Elijah. God created wind, plate tectonics, and fire, but they neither represent nor speak for God.

Psalm 85:8-13

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people,
to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.*
9 Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.

10 Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
11 Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky.
12 The Lord will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
13 Righteousness will go before him,
and will make a path for his steps.

This psalm is about the exiles returning to Israel. There is debate regarding whether the psalm was written as the exiles were returning or after they arrived in Israel and found it in a shamble. The psalmist is invoking God’s covenant with the patriarchs to bind God to aid the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the entire nation. In familiar Hebrew Scriptures style, the psalmist invokes the covenant and then praises God for faithfulness to that covenant and what God will bring about.

Romans 10:5-15

Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that ‘the person who does these things will live by them.’ 6But the righteousness that comes from faith says, ‘Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?” ’ (that is, to bring Christ down) 7‘or “Who will descend into the abyss?” ’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).8But what does it say?
‘The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart’
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9because* if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.11The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

14 But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’

Here St. Paul writes of the immediacy, the intimacy of God with humanity as a whole, and with each individual. Through Jesus, God is not the “Deist” clockmaker who created all that is, set it in motion, and then walked away to let it do its thing. No, Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is on our lips and in our hearts, fanning the flames within our hearts of relationship with God.

Once our eyes are opened to the wonders God works on, in, and around us, then we are to have the beautiful feet of those who are fleet footed in sharing the good news of God’s love for every other person.

Matthew 14:22-33

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land,* for the wind was against them.25And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake.26But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’

28 Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ 29He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind,* he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ 32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’

The first paragraphs of Matthew 14 tells how John the Baptist was beheaded. When Jesus hears this news, he craves quiet, private, prayer time and goes off in a boat to find it. However, the crowds are waiting for him when the boat lands. Though Jesus needs time away to pray and grieve, he ministers to the crowds and teaches the disciples a lesson in faith and ministry by feeding all 5,000 men, and several thousand women and children.

Here the above pericope picks up the story. Jesus’s need for private time is now critical. He launches the disciples into the Sea of Galilee and sends the crowds home himself. Then he find a quiet hill top spot to pray, ponder the ramifications of John’s death, and grieve. The disciples can’t sail near the shore, but are being driven out to sea by a hard wind and high waves. “Early in the morning” is an English translation of “during the fourth watch” which was from 3am-6am. The disciples are terrified to see someone walking on top of the Sea toward them. Who wouldn’t be?! Jesus’ call to them, “It is I” is and English translation of the Greek translation of Jesus’ Aramaic, which may well have been “I am.” When Moses gets marching orders from God in the burning bush, Moses asks God, “Whom shall I say sent me?” God answers, “I am that I am” or “I will be that I will be”. Here comes Jesus, demonstrating that he is God, creator and master of wind and water.

Peter tests Jesus, and his own faith by jumping onto the water at Jesus’ invitation. He makes it for a step or two but the facts of the situation belie the words and actions of Jesus, and suck him into the water. As Jesus grabs Peter and they climb into the boat, the wind quiets. The disciples see that Jesus is even God of water and weather and they proclaim him as Son of God. Jesus is not son of Neptune, god of the sea, or son of Baal, god of thunder, lightning, and rain, but Son of Yahweh, creator and ruler of all.

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 9, 2017

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 9, 2017

Isaiah 55:1-5

Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labour for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
3 Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
4 See, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
5 See, you shall call nations that you do not know,
and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you.

Here is a Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament version of Jesus’ Living Water teachings. In this and other Hebrew Scripture passages, water is synonym for Torah, covenant relationship with God. Relationship with God does not cost money, yet it feeds you, quenches your thirst, and satisfies you. In this same vein, the gospel of John presents Jesus as the living Torah, the Living Word, the Word made flesh. Jesus says to the woman at the well, “If you drink this water [live in relationship with God through Jesus] you will never thirst again, for the water that I give is living water.” Jesus was obviously drawing on this passage.

In verses 3 – 5, the prophet is transferring the covenant that God made with King David to the whole people of Israel. God promised King David that someone from his family line would rule Israel forever. Well, that line fell apart shortly before the Southern Kingdom fell to Babylonia. But in these verses, the prophet declares that all Israel will be heirs of David and through them, “nations that do not know you” shall know God. A King is no longer needed, in the eyes of the prophet.

Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21

The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 The Lord is good to all,
and his compassion is over all that he has made.

The Lord upholds all who are falling,
and raises up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
16 You open your hand,
satisfying the desire of every living thing.
17 The Lord is just in all his ways,
and kind in all his doings.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfils the desire of all who fear him;
he also hears their cry, and saves them.
20 The Lord watches over all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.

21 My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord,
and all flesh will bless his holy name for ever and ever.

Psalm 145 is one of many acrostic psalms, meaning that it has one line which begins with each letter of the alphabet in alphabetical order. The psalmist praises God for caring for all creation, the wheat and the weeds. The psalmist attributes God’s benevolence and compassion to the covenant God has made with creation, referenced in the first verse of the reading as indicated by the key words “abounding in steadfast love.”

Romans 9:1-5

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit— 2I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people,* my kindred according to the flesh. 4They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; 5to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah,* who is over all, God blessed forever.*Amen.

In this passage, St, Paul laments that his people, the Jews, are by and large, rejecting Jesus as Messiah. Paul reminds the church in Rome that God’s salvation of humanity comes through the Jewish people. God made the first covenant with Adam and Eve, and all of the subsequent covenants with Abraham and his progeny, which is the Israelite or Jewish people. Paul makes the point that while the Messiah comes through the Jewish people according to Jewish law, the Messiah is above and rules over all.

Matthew 14:13-21

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ 16Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ 17They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ 18And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

The first verse of the above pericope states that Jesus withdrew to be by himself when he heard something. What was it? The very sad news that John the Baptist was beheaded at Herod’s birthday party as a result of drunken boasting. Grieved, alarmed, probably frightened, and definitely disgusted, God in human flesh reacts to this news by seeking alone time, prayer time. Jesus jumps in a boat to get away, but the hunger and need of the crowds crashes his grief.

This story appears in all four gospels but the setting is different. In one, Jesus has just spent the day teaching the disciples and the crowds, but here in Matthew, the crowds receive not a formal lesson, but rather Jesus’ compassion and healing. In one of the gospels, a child has a lunch of five loaves and two fish. Here in Matthew, the disciples have this among themselves. “Loaves” is a generous term for the little dinner rolls that are in the original text. The fish are smaller than small perch, likely smoked.

Note that the number of food items is seven. While we, westerners, tend to skip over the number to focus on the amount of food, Matthew’s Jewish audience would have noted the number of items, seven. In Jewish culture, the number seven has symbolic significance. Seven is the adding of the number four, which is the symbolic number of all creation (four winds, four directions, four corners of the earth) with the number three which is the symbolic number for God. (Remember, this is Jewish tradition so the number three does not signify Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for them.) The addition of four, symbolizing all of creation, to three, symbolizing God, equals seven, the number symbolizing God’s activity in creation.

The number twelve is also symbolic in Jewish culture. Again the number four symbolizing creation and the number three symbolizing God, but this time they are multiplied for emphasis. The result? The twelve tribes of Israel (symbolizing all of God’s people, since the twelve tribes were supposed to evangelize to all who traveled through their trade route lands), the twelve disciples/apostles (who are the new patriarchs of the new twelve tribes who are made up of all peoples, not just Jews).

Jesus, who is God in human flesh, takes a couple fish and a hand full of little pita breads, which are products of creation, and causes this little bit of food to feed 5,000 men plus how many thousand women and children. Seven = God interrupting creation’s natural course to do His own thing. To emphasize God’s activity in this feeding, and that the feeding is for all people, loaves and fish, healing and compassion, mercy and forgiveness, how many baskets of leftovers are collected? Twelve. Jesus fed the original tribes of Israel, this crowd of Jews, and the leftovers will feed the new Israel, the people who will know God through the work of the disciples and apostles.