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Month: October 2017

Bible Tuesday for the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation 2017

Bible Tuesday for the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation Sunday, 2017

Jeremiah 31:31-34

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

In this section of Jeremiah, God declares that Israel and Judah, that is both the northern tribes and the southern tribes that make up the whole nation of Israel, have broken God’s covenant with them by worshiping other gods along side God/Yahweh. The above passage contains God’s intent to renew God’s marriage covenant with all the tribes of Israel. It is not the covenant that is unique in this prophecy, but how it will be given. God says this time, the Covenant/Law/Torah will be written “within them” (Hebrew – “in their inmost being”). This time “I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.” It is a renewal of marital vows but with no recollection of the sordid history that precedes them.

The law that written “on their hearts” is harkening back to “in the image of God He made them. Male and female He made them.” (Genesis 1) Both passages support theology that says humanity carries with us a divine spark, a sign of God, which is extended to us through God’s forgiveness of us.

Psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present[a] help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth reels,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah

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

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

This psalm is an admonition to trust in God despite everything. The raging, foaming waters refer to the primordial chaos in Genesis 1:1 (“…the earth was a formless void while the spirit of God brooded over the waters…”) Despite God’s unfathomable power which orders chaos into creation, God is a very present help, that is, very near, not off throwing lightening bolts around.

The city of Jerusalem, both then and now, is fed by the Gihon Spring which is not a river. The river in this psalm appears more apocalyptic, like the river in Revelation 21, whose water flows right out of the Temple to the Dead Sea, bringing life, lush greenery, to a salty wasteland.

The psalm goes on to describe God’s power in the lands of the world, toppling governments and imposing peace. While such divine intervention is alarming, frightening, the psalmist adjures the faithful to recall that “The master of the armies is with us (very present). The God of our ancestors (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob) is our sanctuary.”

In a statement of contrast, while waters rage and foam, while mountains topple into the sea, while armies march on each other, God calls the faithful to be still in the “sheer silence” in which Elijah recognized God. God is above all nations and governments, and lands.

Romans 3:19-28

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.

The Torah of God given to Israel and applies to them, and through them to everyone else, so that no one has authority but God.

20 For “no human being will be justified in his sight” by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.

No human to whom this law applies will measure up to the law, but instead will find all the ways in which he/she breaks the law, thereby sins.

21 But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ[a] for all who believe.

The law not only shows humans that they sin, but it shows humans that God never sins and is always right. But now, the rightness of God, that the biblical prophets and the Torah talk about, is shown to humanity through faith, faith in Jesus who is the messiah, the Christ.

For there is no distinction, 23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24 they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement[b] by his blood, effective through faith.

Every has sinned. Everyone is condemned under the law. (Set aside the whole concept of Original Sin and just focus on the fact that no one is purely altruistic, sharing everything without one thought of self.) But God made Jesus the sacrifice which makes up for all sin ever. So now everyone, though a sinner, is forgiven and therefore measures up to God’s standards. How is that forgiveness effected? Each sinner must have faith in God and what Jesus has done.

He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; 26 it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.

God did this as an example of pure rightness. God completely erased and ignored all the sin previously committed; an act which in and of itself is purely right. And now, in an act of rightness, God makes all, who believe into Jesus, measure up to God’s standard.

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

So what about all those people who say they measure up to God’s standards because of all the good things they have done? Well, that’s garbage! By what law?! Some kind of recipe for good works to make God happy?! No! God operates by faith in Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection. The good things don’t make you measure up for God. Only faith in Jesus’ perfection and sacrifice on your behalf makes you measure up.

John 8:31-36

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

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

It is important to remember, when reading the gospel of John, that the term “Jews” refers to the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem, which in other gospels are referred to as “the chief priests and scribes” etc. With that in mind, in the above paragraph Jesus is addressing the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem who have thus far believed that he is at least a great prophet is not the messiah. Among these would be Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea.

“my word” – The first sentences of the gospel of John tell us that Jesus is God’s Word in the person, in the flesh. So when Jesus says, “If you continue in my word…” it means “If you continue into faith in me, faith in God the Father.”

“then you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” – The truth is that the Law, according to St. Paul’s theology, was not supposed to enslave people by defining “what is what and what is not work”, which, in Jesus time, it was interpreted to do. (In a society where the bottom 99% walked everywhere, how much walking could one do on the sabbath before it was working? The answer the scribes determined? 2 miles. Was watering your animals work? Well, yes, but they will die if you don’t water them so hopefully God will overlook your sin of working to water your animals on the sabbath. Etc…….) No, the Law was supposed to be the fencing of a HUGE pasture in which God’s sheep could graze serenely. However, the Law’s interpretation ended up imposing a huge burden on the Israelites which impoverished the bottom 99% and made fat and happy the priestly class 1%. The Truth about which Jesus speaks is supposed to destroy that entire way of being Israelites and free Israelites and all people to live in God’s glory, forgiveness of all through faith in Jesus.

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 19, 2017

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 19, 2017

Isaiah 45:1-7

Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus,
whose right hand I have grasped
to subdue nations before him
and strip kings of their robes,
to open doors before him—
and the gates shall not be closed:
2 I will go before you
and level the mountains,*
I will break in pieces the doors of bronze
and cut through the bars of iron,
3 I will give you the treasures of darkness
and riches hidden in secret places,
so that you may know that it is I, the Lord,
the God of Israel, who call you by your name.
4 For the sake of my servant Jacob,
and Israel my chosen,
I call you by your name,
I surname you, though you do not know me.
5 I am the Lord, and there is no other;
besides me there is no god.
I arm you, though you do not know me,
6 so that they may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is no one besides me;
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
7 I form light and create darkness,
I make weal (a sound, healthy prosperous state) and create woe (weal’s opposite);
I the Lord do all these things.

This is an amazing and truly unique passage in Hebrew scriptures. God, through the prophet Isaiah, is telling Israel that God has made a “goya”, a Gentile, his ANOINTED! God’s messiah! A pagan king is God’s messiah!!!!! I am sure that when the prophet proclaimed this word of God to the Israelites, they felt sick, and possibly went after the messenger. Why has God chosen a pagan king as messiah? Because this guy has power and will deal kindly with the Israelites, as it conquers Babylonia. When Cyrus crushes the Babylonians, he frees all Israel to return back to the Promised Land. He makes Nehemiah, a promising Jew, the governor of Israel under his eye, and makes Ezra the priest of the Temple.

The above prophecy continues by saying that despite the fact that Cyrus does not know Yahweh or care about Him, nevertheless, God will not only save Israel through him, but all the nations of the world, since through Israel, all the nations of the world will come to know God.

Psalm 96

1 O sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
2 Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
3 Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvellous works among all the peoples.
4 For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
he is to be revered above all gods.
5 For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
but the Lord made the heavens.
6 Honour and majesty are before him;
strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

7 Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
8 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
bring an offering, and come into his courts.
9 Worship the Lord in holy splendour;
tremble before him, all the earth.

10 Say among the nations, ‘The Lord is king!
The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved.
He will judge the peoples with equity.’
11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
12 let the field exult, and everything in it.
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
13 before the Lord; for he is coming,
for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with his truth.

A new song is solicited for God because God is doing a new thing! This psalm is likely a hymn used during Temple and ancient synagogue worship services. Words very similar to these are proclaimed at the installation of the Ark of the Covenant as recorded in 1 Chronicles. The ancient Greek language Old Testament, called the Septuagint, (which is actually much older than the oldest Hebrew manuscripts), aka LXX, has a superscript for this psalm which said, “When the House was being rebuilt after the captivity.”

Note how Hebrew tradition understands and believes that trees and rocks and oceans and animals all can and do praise God in their own way. Perhaps that way is merely existing and testifying to God’s artistry.

“Nations” and “Peoples” in verse 3: This is the psalmist’s admonition to the Jews, the Israelites who are here worshiping God to go out and proselytize to Gentile peoples about God, Yahweh, who saves what He has created.

Ascribing…God does not need us to tell God how wonderful God is. If God were that petty, God wouldn’t be God. Rather, the admonition to ascribe to God all these wonderful things is a call to recognize from whence life, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self control comes. “Give credit where credit is due.”

The final admonition is “Say among the nations, ‘The Lord is King!’” Kings in Israel are anointed, which means that kings are messiahs. To proclaim that Yahweh is King is to proclaim that the one who created out of nothing all that exists is your messiah, your hero, your champion. Martin Luther was right. There is Law and Gospel in each verse in the Bible, both Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament!

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

Grace to you and peace.

2 We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly 3remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4For we know, brothers and sisters* beloved by God, that he has chosen you, 5because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of people we proved to be among you for your sake. 6And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit,7so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place where your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. 9For the people of those regions* report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, 10and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.

First, in the address and salutation of this letter, we learn quite a bit. Paul does not work or travel alone. Here, he is likely writing from house arrest while awaiting his hearing by the government official, Felix. Timothy and Silvanus are with him, though not under house arrest. Likely, these two are also known to the congregation in Thessalonica. Next, while Paul does not think of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the way that modern Christians do, he does mention all three persons in this letter.

“we know…that He has chosen you…” Paul frequently mentions the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the attributes of the Holy Spirit in his letters. In these opening paragraphs of this letter, Paul mentions the various manifestations of the Holy Spirit in this congregation—“You became imitators of us and of the Lord…in spite of persecution…”—which Paul interprets as proof that this congregation received the Holy Spirit and is doing the Holy Spirit’s work with their hands.

Matthew 22:15-22

15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said.16So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ 18But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. 20Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ 21They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’22When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

For the past two weeks the chief priests and scribes have been trying to discredit Jesus in front of the crowds and Jesus’ disciples. Instead Jesus leveled some scathing parables at them. So, in come the tag-team partners, the Pharisees’ disciples and representatives of King Herod, who seek to entrap Jesus in Roman law.

“Give unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” While this may have been a crystal clear statement in Jesus’ mind, it has been enigmatic for everyone else, even those Pharisees’ disciples and agents of Herod, who were amazed (astounded and stupefied) and wandered away.

“Whose head is this and whose title?” – Israelite law has never been interpreted to allow for statures or images of any kind in worship spaces. Therefore, money given as offering in the Temple and in synagogues had to be without pictures or embossings of humans or animals. When folks came to the Temple and wanted to give an offering, they had to exchange their Roman currency with either the emperor’s image or a god’s image on it for Jewish currency which had different pictures on it depending on who was king at the time. At the time Jesus says this, the Temple currency had reeds forming an “x” on them, the sign for Herod Antipas. The fact that the disciples of the Pharisees and the agents of Herod had a Roman coin in their pockets on Temple grounds, which they produce for Jesus, does not speak well of their adherence to Jewish law.

This text asks the questions: What things are the Emperor’s? What is God’s? Certainly these have been answered by saying, “Everything is God’s. God made everything, therefore everything is God’s.” Lovely. So then why do we pay taxes to the government? Martin Luther would answer that question by affirming that God institutes governments so paying taxes is giving money back to God. But taxes are not one’s tithe to the church, although, when the tithe was instituted in ancient Israel, their “church” was made up of the Levites and the priests who, along with their judges, and later their kings, were the government. So, a tithe really was a 10% tax given to the church. There were no other taxes, unless cities instituted taxes on their own, which may have happened but the Bible does not record it.

Some Christian bodies have answered these questions by saying that their allegiance is to God alone. Therefore, they do not say the Pledge of Allegiance nor do they stand with hand on heart for the National Anthem because they understand these activities to put the USA above God. When drafted, these Christians also successfully fought in our courts to allow them to serve in non-combat positions or even to stay out of the military as conscientious objectors.

Other Christian bodies put national government one notch below God and the church. They see God as acting in the world through the government. Therefore, taxes are money freely given to the government to carry out the work of God, above and beyond the tithe given to the church.

Still other Christians see all forms of taxation and government as satanic and opt out of all of it. Though most folks who espouse these arguments usually end up being cultists whose validity is challenged the government, itself. (ie: Branch Davidian, Hale Bop, Jim Jones and his followers, etc.)

Inspirational Speaker and Best Selling Author John O’Leary

Mascoutah Police Department and the Ministerial Alliance Host: Inspirational Speaker and Best Selling Author John O’Leary


John O’Leary, who survived a devastating fire as a child, “chose not only to rise above adversity, but to thrive,” according to his website. “As a college graduate, business owner, philanthropist, husband and father, he serves as an amazing become of hope, positive change and bold action.”

O’Leary has spoken to more than 850 organizations in eight countries since 2005.



Who: International motivational speaker John O’Leary

What: O’Leary draws from his story as a childhood survivor of fire that burned 100 percent of his body and gave him slim chances of survival at age 9. His painful comeback story – involving dozens of surgeries, years of therapies and the loss of all his fingers — empowers listeners to lead fuller, more productive and inspired lives.

When: 7 p.m. on Tuesday, November 27, 2017

Where: Mascoutah High School Auditor ium

(limited seating; overflow seating with video broadcast in school cafeteria)

How: Cost is $10.00 for adults, $5.00 for school aged youth

Online tickets sales only

*** Order tickets early, this event is anticipated to sell out quickly ***

Event sponsored by the Mascoutah Police Department and the Mascoutah Ministerial Alliance

Download a Flyer – John O’Leary Event

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 19, 2017

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 19, 2017

Isaiah 25:1-9

O Lord, you are my God;
I will exalt you, I will praise your name;
for you have done wonderful things,
plans formed of old, faithful and sure.
2 For you have made the city a heap,
the fortified city a ruin;
the palace of aliens is a city no more,
it will never be rebuilt.
3 Therefore strong peoples will glorify you;
cities of ruthless nations will fear you.
4 For you have been a refuge to the poor,
a refuge to the needy in their distress,
a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat.
When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm,
5 the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place,
you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds;
the song of the ruthless was stilled.

6 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear.
7 And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
8 he will swallow up death for ever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
9 It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

Chapters 24–27 of the prophecy of Isaiah are apocalyptic in style and content, echoing themes in Daniel and Revelation. Chapter 24 discusses the sin of Israel in its many forms and the blight its brings upon both the people and the land of Israel.

So it is a surprise, while reading a litany of Israel’s evils and God’s punishments, to suddenly read poetic praise of God. This could be interpreted as words of adoration and love a child might coo to his mother in an effort to avert her attention from the permanent marker mural he just drew on kitchen wall. Isaiah 25 could also be the words of thanksgiving for justice a faithful Jew might pray.

Verse 2 refers to a strong city that has been demolished and is an example for Israel’s enemies. This could be Jericho or any of the many walled cities that were defeated by Israel over its history. While God, who created all that exists, can easily destroy a walled city, the writer praises God for being the refuge of the poor and the shelter of the needy.

Verse 5 in this translation speaks of “the noise of aliens”. This same phrase can also be translated as “the rage of strangers” or of “arrogant men.” “Alien” and “stranger” are synonymous in Hebrew, being translated from one word which means “everyone except Jews”. With that in mind, the writer of this passage of Isaiah is describing for the reader the quelling of secular noise that God will bring about, the ending of the chaos of “vanity”, in order that God’s feast may be served and enjoyed in true peace.

Psalm 23 (translation from The Jewish Study Bible”)

The Lord is my shepherd; I lack nothing.

He makes me lie down in green pastures;

He leads me to water in places of repose;

He renews my life;

He guides me in right paths as befits His name.

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no harm, for You are with me;

Your rod and Your staff—they comfort me.

You spread a table before me in full view of my enemies;

You anoint my head with oil;

My drink is abundant.

Only goodness and steadfast love shall pursue me all the days of my life,

And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for many long years.

This is a psalm attributed to King David. That is important to note because Kings were referred to as Israel’s shepherds. One of the very common sins of Israelite kings is that they forgot they were shepherds for God, the farm and flock owner, and usurped God’s role for themselves. But in this psalm, King David, sung as Israel’s greatest king, is putting everything in proper perspective by acclaiming God as his shepherd.

King David describes God’s kingship as benevolent perfection. God abundantly feeds and waters his sheep in safety and peace. God prepares and presides at a feast set out for David and his enemies so as to broker peace. God ritually prepares David for God’s work by anointing his head with oil. The tools for shepherding, the rod and the staff, are not used to punish the sheep but to guide them and keep predators away.

The last line of this psalm, can be translated as it is above or as “And I shall dwell in the Horse of the Lord forevermore.” The above translation speaks of dwelling in the Temple all the days of this life. The more traditional translation speaks of living with God in eternity. Both Jews and Christians who recite this psalm, especially at funerals, no doubt hope for both life with God now and forever.

Philippians 4:1-9

1Therefore, my brothers and sisters,* whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.3Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion,* help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

4 Rejoice* in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.* 5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, beloved,* whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about* these things. 9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

St. Paul describes the congregation in Philippi as “my joy and crown”. Does Paul mean to claim some kind of laurel wreath for being God’s messenger to this congregation?

Over the history of Christianity, much has been made about the proper role for women in the church. Certain passages of St. Paul are frequently cited, as are Timothy and Titus, when delineating the freedoms of women in the church differently from those of men. “Women should keep silent in church… If want to know anything, they should ask their husbands…” 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, for example. But the roles of women and men in St. Paul’s correspondence with Christian communities are quite varied and broad. Take, for instance, these two women in the congregation in Philippi.

Euodia and Synteche are two church women who appear to be having a conflict that is reverberating through their congregation. Paul admonishes them, and the whole congregation, to strive for harmonizing their minds with that of Christ’s, since they, Paul states, have been his co-workers for the gospel and have received the gift of eternal life (“names are written in the Book of Life.”)

Paul goes on to reinforce a theme of Jesus’ which Paul also champions, “Do not worry. Pray to God and give thanks in all situations.” The following paragraph restates this same admonishment, “focus on what is lovely, praiseworthy, etc. and let God’s peace fill you.” When worry seizes you, speak a petition to God for these things, and then turn your heart in gratitude to meditate on what is good and right.

Matthew 22:1-14

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.” 5But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. 7The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” 10Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 ‘But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless.13Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 14For many are called, but few are chosen.’

Here comes another hard hitting parable spoken to the chief priests and Temple leaders in the presence of the disciples and the crowds on Palm Sunday afternoon in one of the Temple courtyards.

In this parable, as in the previous ones of this series, Jesus is describing the Kingdom of Heaven. A king is giving a wedding banquet for his son. This is a White House state dinner. RSVP-ing in the negative is not an option. Yet, when the king’s slaves arrive to escort the guests to the banquet, some guests ignore the slaves, while others abuse them, and no one actually comes to the banquet! These first guests represent the chief priests and religious leaders in Jerusalem. Jesus, the son for whom the wedding banquet is thrown, has just ridden into Jerusalem as the new king, on the backs of donkeys as is the tradition of Israel. Yet NONE of the Jewish leaders came out to acclaim him! They were AWOL!

Since none of the originally invited guests bother to come to the King’s banquet, the slaves are sent out to gather all of the regular people off the streets to come eat a free gourmet meal and celebrate the prince’s marriage. These people come by the droves if for no other reason than to eat their fill. (Remember the feeding of the 5,000? Some of the folks who were fed kept following Jesus around hoping for more free food, while others seemed to not only eat physically but started to be quenched spiritually too.) To attend a wedding in Jesus’ day was very different than attending a wedding in the US today. Couples who ask handfuls of friends to be part of the wedding party are also asking these friends to not only buy a wedding gift from their registry, they are also asking these bride’s maids and groom’s men to put out hundreds of dollars on matching outfits, whether rented or purchased. In Jesus’ day, wedding guests were not to be kept away if they did not have proper clothing. The banquet host arranged not only for food, wine, tables and linens, but also rental clothing for those who did not own formal attire. In this parable, when the second round of guests show up from off the streets, slaves greeted them with soap and water to refresh themselves and rented formalwear for them to don. Now they were ready to party!

The last part of this parable is the hardest to hear. One guy is setting at table with everyone else, chowing down, who is not cleaned up and wearing his rented tux. The king greets him as “Friend” and asks him why he didn’t stop at the concierge tent and get cleaned up. The guy “was speechless.” So the king has the guy roughed up and tossed out, because “many are called but few are chosen.” Wow!

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 18, 2017

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 18, 2017

Isaiah 5:1-7

Let me sing for my beloved
my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
2 He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watch-tower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.

3 And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem
and people of Judah,
judge between me
and my vineyard.
4 What more was there to do for my vineyard
that I have not done in it?
When I expected it to yield grapes,
why did it yield wild grapes?

5 And now I will tell you
what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
and it shall be trampled down.
6 I will make it a waste;
it shall not be pruned or hoed,
and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;
I will also command the clouds
that they rain no rain upon it.

7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice,
but saw bloodshed;
but heard a cry!

This is one of many instances where the vineyard is used metaphorically to refer to Israel. (The fig tree is also frequently used.) Stanzas 1-2 and 7 are the prophet speaking whereas stanzas 3-6 are God’s words. This is written as a artful poem, with each line have the same meter. There are many word plays as well: in verse 7, “he expected” is mishpat (Hebrew) is juxtaposed with “but saw” which is mispah, the pronunciations of which are very similar. Same with “righteousness” sedaqah and “a cry” se’aqah which are also pronounced very similarly.

Isaiah is a book of prophecy written to the southern kingdom before being conquered, during the siege of Jerusalem and Israel’s defeat, during Israel’s exile, and concluding with Israel’s return from exile and reconstruction. Through this entire period of more than 100 years, Israel complains against God is one of a spoiled first born, “You said we were your heirs, your favorite! Why are you letting us suffer disgrace and defeat?” This passage of Isaiah answers those complaints first in metaphor and then directly.

God chose the perfect spot for the vineyard, the land of Canaan, which was then a narrow strip of fertile land through which the major trade routes of the day pass, from Egypt to Assyria, later Babylonia, and India, as well as others. God prepared this ground for choice vines: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah, Rachael, Zilpah, and Bilhah, Joseph and his brothers and all of their descendants. God fed these with manna, quail, and water from a rock, led them with God’s own presence in cloud and fire, gave them the Law. Israel in return was to yield fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, compassion, and self control, which would convey life in the Kingdom of God to all these peoples who passed through this land on their way from one country to the next. But instead, Israel took up the gods of the other nations and some truly amoral religious practices. For this, the above prophecy states, God is willing to let Israel be ravaged and taken captive, in the hope that they will, in their suffering, be willing to again turn to and trust in the one true God.

Psalm 80:7-15

To the leader: on Lilies, a Covenant. Of Asaph. A Psalm.
1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
2 before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your might,
and come to save us!

3 Restore us, O God;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.

4 O Lord God of hosts,
how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
5 You have fed them with the bread of tears,
and given them tears to drink in full measure.
6 You make us the scorn* of our neighbours;
our enemies laugh among themselves.

7 Restore us, O God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.

8 You brought a vine out of Egypt;
you drove out the nations and planted it.
9 You cleared the ground for it;
it took deep root and filled the land.
10 The mountains were covered with its shade,
the mighty cedars with its branches;
11 it sent out its branches to the sea,
and its shoots to the River.
12 Why then have you broken down its walls,
so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
13 The boar from the forest ravages it,
and all that move in the field feed on it.

14 Turn again, O God of hosts;
look down from heaven, and see;
have regard for this vine,
15 the stock that your right hand planted.*
16 They have burned it with fire, they have cut it down;*
may they perish at the rebuke of your countenance.
17 But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand,
the one whom you made strong for yourself.
18 Then we will never turn back from you;
give us life, and we will call on your name.

19 Restore us, O Lord God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.

While the above Isaiah prophecy gives voice to God’s frustration with Israel, this psalm gives voice to Israel’s frustration with God. The Isaiah passage states what God will allow to happen to Israel and this psalm proclaims how Israel feels about what God has allowed to happen to them. While in Isaiah, God says God will allow the vineyard to be ravaged that Israel may in their suffering turn again to God, in this psalm Israel turns to God both in a plea for grace and in a plea for justice. The repeated refrain, “Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine [upon us] that we may be saved,” is a call to God to remember all of the covenants God made with Israel and to act in accordance with them, never mind all the ways Israel broke those covenants with God!

Philippians 3:4-14

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more:5circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ,* the righteousness from God based on faith. 10I want to know Christ* and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal;* but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Beloved,* I do not consider that I have made it my own;*but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly* call of God in Christ Jesus.

Many of the congregations to whom Paul wrote were made up of Gentiles or Jewish converts as well as Jews, but the congregation in Philippi to whom Paul wrote this letter had to be comprised of Jews, otherwise the opening sentences of the above passage wouldn’t make any sense.

The first part of this pericope is Paul’s statement explaining that he is a model Jew. By being born a Jew of Jewish parents of the tribe of Benjamin, being circumcised on the 8th day, etc., Paul is giving examples of how perfect and Law abiding a Jew he has always been. Among the Jews of his day, this would be his very impressive list of credentials. But says calls them “rubbish.”

As Lutherans, we throw our whole selves onto “I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.” Powerful stuff, trading what we strive to earn for ourselves in for the freedom of receiving grace through life in Jesus. What is more foreign to us is the “sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death”. Luther wrote and spoke in this vein but we modern Lutherans struggle with the concept of sharing in Christ’s suffering. I tend to think, teach, and preach that Christ shares in our suffering, that Jesus already blazed that trail and that we are not alone in suffering despite the fact that suffering, especially grief, is alienating.

Matthew 21:33-46

33 ‘Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watch-tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” 38But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” 39So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ 41They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.’

42 Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures:
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;*
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes”?
43Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.* 44The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.’*

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

This text is a continuation of last week’s argument with the chief priests and Jewish leaders in the Temple, on Palm Sunday afternoon, with the crowd and the disciples watching. The above parable is spoken to the priests and leaders, while overheard by all the rest.

In the Isaiah text the vineyard stood for all Israel; it does in this parable of Jesus’ as well. In Isaiah, the prophecy was aimed at all Israel, but Jesus is addressing this parable to the religious leaders, and introduces new characters to stand for them, the wicked tenets.

When King David stole Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, then murdered Uriah and took Bathsheba as his own wife, God sent the prophet, Nathan, to confront David. Nathan told a parable of a poor man and his pet lamb which his wealthy neighbor stole and fed to his guests. David did not understand that the parable was about him until after David passed harsh judgment on the rich man who then Nathan identified as King David, himself. This exchange between Jesus and the Temple leaders takes the same form as the exchange between Nathan and King David. Just as King David did not see himself in the parable, neither do the chief priests and Temple leaders.

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone…” – In last week’s gospel, Jesus poses the question, “Did the baptism of John come from God or was it of human origin?” Because the chief priests, et al, did not heed John the Baptist, Jesus does not give them the honor and respect they believe they deserve. At this stage in the argument, Jesus may be using the above Psalm 118 verse to refer to John the Baptist, as well as himself. The chief priests, et al, did not honor or respect John as God’s agent, nor do they recognize Jesus as God’s son. Certainly, Jesus is referring to himself exclusively as the breaking, crushing stone in verse 44.

The moral of Jesus parable is that the vineyard is not condemned, as in Isaiah, but the tenant farmers are! The prophets have been sent to the religious leaders to whip them into shape, but instead they whipped, beat, and killed the prophets. Now, God sends Jesus, God’s son to collect fruit but instead they will kill him and try to gain wealth in the absence of an heir.