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Month: November 2017

Bible Tuesday for Advent 1, 2017

Bible Tuesday for Advent 1, 2017

Isaiah 64:1-9

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. (This is a reference to God’s descent onto Mount Sinai when God gave to Moses the Law and the Ten Commandments.) From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.

Israel is mired in the tribulation of captivity. Israel calls out, pleading with God to shatter the barrier between earth and heaven, and manifest Himself in rescue and vengeance. The writer of Isaiah calls upon God to act as God did in the days of old: Genesis 2 when God walked in the Garden and spoke to Adam and Eve, Genesis 12 when God spoke directly to Abram/Abraham, Exodus when God spoke to Moses through the burning bush and to all Israel through a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. The prophet, Isaiah, states that God is partly to blame for Israel’s betrayal of it’s covenant with God. Israel strays so God gets angry and punishes Israel, which makes Israel doubt God’s love so it strays some more. The writer asks God to forgive Israel and remold it so that it doesn’t sin and God is pleased with Israel again.

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth

before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us!

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

O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?

You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure.

You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves.

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

But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself.

Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.

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

We had this psalm in our texts six weeks ago. This psalm cries to God with the same complaints as the above Isaiah text. Israel cries to God for mercy, saying the punishment for their sins is too great.

“But let your right hand be upon…” – This is a claim on the covenant that God made with Israel. The psalmist is reminding God that God made Israel his chosen race, the people at God’s right hand. As such, the psalmist asks that God lay the hand of blessing and benevolence on Israel.

“Give us life, and we will call on your name.” – The psalmist states that Israel feels so hurt and betrayed, through God’s punishment of them, that it has lost hope in God. God must revive the people in order to instill hope in them again, inspiring renewed worship and love.

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

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

This text, which speaks of the righteousness given by Jesus to the faithful, is in direct contrast with the above Isaiah text and the Psalm. Here Paul is grateful for those who are faithful, as opposed to the psalmist and the prophet, who are distraught by the unfaithful and the punishment they receive.

Paul states that God has granted to the congregation in Corinth every spiritual gift, including faith filled speech, and knowledge. Paul affirms these gifts, in part because he is going to scold this congregation for not using these gifts faithfully, rather like Jesus’ parable of the Talents that we had two weeks ago.

Mark 13:24-37

“But in those days, after that suffering,

the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

Prior to this passage in Mark, Jesus has been warning the disciples of the persecution they, and all the faithful, will endure. Here, Jesus states that he will deploy his messengers to gather the “elect” from all over earth and heaven. There is no further description of what this “gathering” will look like, with the exception of the book of Revelation.

Jesus is describing the end time, the final judgment, with images that reflect great cataclysm. The Bible does not give a clear accounting of how or when the end of the world will come about, but this passage relay awe/fear inspiring imagery.

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

Two “fig trees” are being referenced in this passage. First of all, throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, Israel is referred to as a fig tree. Second, in the gospel of Mark, when Jesus walks into Jerusalem with his disciples during Holy Week, Jesus sees a fig tree and looks for fruit on it. However, it is spring and the tree only has leaves, but no fruit. Jesus, finding no fruit, curses the fig tree and it withers and dies right there, like the Wicked Witch of the West, shriveling under the bucket of water. Since the fig tree is a metaphor for Israel, this symbolizes Jesus, the Son of Man/Son of God/Messiah, coming to Jerusalem, Israel’s capitol city, looking for the fruit of faith in God, but finding none. The disciples did not understand the metaphor but only saw Jesus look for fruit at the wrong time of year and then curse the tree for not having fruit.

In the above passage, Jesus draws on the symbolism of the fig tree once again to predict the end times. When Jesus came to Jerusalem, it was not the end time, the time of fruit, but only the beginning, spring when tree buds open into leaves. So also, the end time will come when not all seem ready for it.

The juxtaposition of Jesus’ seeming promise that the end will come before his disciples “pass away”, and that though heaven and earth pass away, Jesus’ promises will not, is not comprehendible. Of course, the first generation of believers did die before the last days. Here we are 2,000 years later and still the last days do not seem to be upon us. Yet, Jesus’ promise to collect the faithful from all over earth and heaven stands.

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Here Jesus warns his disciples to be ready for his appearance at all times. The one sentence parable Jesus gives states that the slaves are in charge and each have their own tasks to accomplish. The slaves would be found faithful if, in their master’s absence, they did the work he set before them.

While in Matthew’s gospel in the parable of the Ten Bride’s Maids, they were allowed to sleep while waiting for the bride groom, here in Mark there is to be no sleeping. Disciples are to keep vigilant watch for Jesus.

Bible Tuesday for Christ the King Sunday, 2017

Bible Tuesday for Christ the King Sunday, 2017

Ezekiel 34:11-24

11For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 12As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. 14I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. 16I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.

17As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats: 18Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? 19And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet?20Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, 22I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. 23I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.

When God established a monarchy for Israel, God intended that the kings act as God’s agents on earth. Whereas many Eastern cultures worshiped their monarchs as gods, for Israel, the only God was/is Yahweh. Israelite kings were mere shepherds, tending to God’s flock. However, several Israelite kings actually lend their flocks away from God, the most infamous being King Ahaz and his pagan worshiping wife, Queen Jezebel. It was due to these unfaithful kings that the prophets attributed Israel’s fall to Assyria and Judah to Babylonia.

In the above passage, God decries the horrible shepherd/kings of Israel/Judah. God declares that God, himself, will act as shepherd and gather all the scattered (into exile in Assyria and Babylonia) sheep of Israel. Interestingly, God affirms the covenant with David to make his family a dynastic one, despite the heretically reigns of some of them. The difference in this passage, is that the heirs of David are called “rulers”, not “kings”.

God not only critiques the king/shepherds of Israel, but also the priestly class, who have extorted from and oppressed the working class. God says these have “pushed with flank and shoulder against the feeble ones and butted them with your horns…” The fat, healthy sheep have gotten that way by hoarding food and water. What they cannot eat or drink themselves, they ruin (“muddy”) for anyone else. These God declares He will destroy.

Psalm 95:1-7

1O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!

2Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

3For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.

4In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also.

5The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have formed.

6O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!

7For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.

Israel has long used this psalm as a “call to worship,” especially during the Feast of Tabernacles, a fall harvest festival, and one of the three high holy days in the Jewish calendar. It is also used during the Friday night Sabbath service. In early Christian liturgies, this psalm was made the Hymn of Praise in the Matins worship service.

This psalm is similar in form to coronation psalms, but here, it is not a human but God who is being “crowned”. Of what is God king? This psalm proclaims Yahweh is king of everything, because God has made everything. Thus, the psalmist invites all worshipers to “kneel before your king, your maker.”

Ephesians 1:15-23

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

The city of Ephesus, under both the Greeks and the Romans, was a religious mecca, filled with temples to Artemis and many other gods. While a wonderful place for Romans and Greeks, it was not a hospitable place for Jews or Christians. Acts 19 tells of Paul’s travels there and that Paul stayed in Ephesus for two years, peaching, teaching, and tent making to support himself.

In this letter to the congregation in Ephesus, Paul celebrates that faith of this beset but hearty congregation. Paul delineates the rewards of being faithful to God in Christ: wisdom, the gift of the Holy Spirit, spiritual riches, Godly enlightenment, and being part of the body of Christ, the church.

Matthew 25:31-46

31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’45Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

This Sunday is the last Sunday of the church year and the holiday of Christ the King. Each of the three lectionary years gives a different view of Christ being king. Lectionary year B, when the gospels of Mark and John are read, Christ the King Sunday’s gospel is from the passion story of John when Jesus appears before Pontius Pilate and is questioned about his Kingship. Year C, when the gospel of Luke is read, the Christ the King gospel is from Jesus’ crucifixion when Jesus says, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” But Year A, which we are completing with this gospel from Matthew, portrays King Jesus in a different way; it is Judgment Day and King Jesus is judging all the people of the world.

Note that it is not just Jews and Christians that Jesus is judging, but true to Matthew’s gospel theme, Jesus is judging all peoples from all nations. As Jesus looks upon those to be judged, his criteria are not “Did you go to church/synagogue/Temple?” or “Did you tithe to the church/synagogue/Temple?” or even “Did you donate money or food to the chicken supper fundraiser at your church?” No, Jesus criteria are treatment of those in need around you. If you visited the sick and imprisoned, fed hungry people, clothed naked people, gave drinks to thirsty people, welcomed strangers, then Jesus welcomed you into the Kingdom of God. If you did not, then Jesus casts you out into eternal punishment.

For Lutherans, this description of Judgment Day sounds very wrong, because we don’t believe that good works can get you into heaven. “Salvation by Grace through Faith, apart from works of law.” But the book of James says, “Faith without works is dead.” Indeed, Jesus says that the light of faith cannot be hidden under a basket, but is more like a city on a hill, casting its light to all the surrounding area. “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

The gospel of Matthew is depicting Jesus as the new Moses given a new law, a law of acts of compassionate love. And while that law, whether old or new, does not sit well with our Lutheran sensibilities, looking at this gospel story from a different vantage point illustrates perfectly Luther’s “Freedom of a Christian.” In this essay of Luther’s, his thesis statement is ““A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject of all, subject to all.” Luther goes on to explain (in my favorite essay of his) that because of the mighty acts of Jesus, and the gift of faith from the Holy Spirit, Christians are made completely free from the bonds of any laws. What Christians are freed for is boundless acts of gratitude to Jesus for this amazing freedom. Indeed, we are free to exercise free will, but our choices have consequences, both good and bad. Jesus is showing in the above Judgement Day depiction, that choosing to love and serve others put you in harmony with God’s universal melody, whereas choosing to serve self puts you in discord with God. As God/Jesus/Holy Spirit is creator and king of all, it is better to live gratefully to God than thanklessly to self.

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 24, 2017

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 24, 2017

Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18

Be silent before the Lord God!
For the day of the Lord is near;
the Lord has prepared a sacrifice
and consecrated his guests.

12 At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,
and I will punish the men
who are complacent,[c] those who say in their hearts,
‘The Lord will not do nothing, neither good,
nor ill.’
13 Their goods shall be plundered,
and their houses laid waste.
Though they build houses,
they shall not inhabit them;
though they plant vineyards,
they shall not drink wine from them.”

14 The great day of the Lord is near,
near and hastening fast;
the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter;
the mighty man cries aloud there.
15 A day of wrath is that day,
a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness,
16 a day of trumpet blast and battle cry
against the fortified cities
and against the lofty battlements.

17 I will bring distress on mankind,
so that they shall walk like the blind,
because they have sinned against the Lord;
their blood shall be poured out like dust,
and their flesh like dung.
18 Neither their silver nor their gold
shall be able to deliver them
on the day of the wrath of the Lord.
In the fire of his jealousy,
all the earth shall be consumed;
for a full and sudden end
he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.

The prophecy of Zephaniah is proclaimed to the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Zephaniah’s “Word of the Lord” is one of severe judgment of Judah, Israel, and all the nations. It is given during the time of Josiah, a boy who became king during a particularly hedonistic period in Israel’s history. The Temple was not even used to worship Yahweh but was filled with altars to various gods. When Josiah became old enough to rule without a regent, he heeded the words of Zephaniah and other prophets, and imposed a drastic religious cleansing on the Temple and all the “high places”.

Zephaniah begins his prophecy by condemning all of the babbling worship of other gods in Judah, especially in Jerusalem. The above passage begins with “Be silent before my God…” which is a command to all who utter prayers and hymns to other gods. The prophet goes on to mention a “sacrifice” which is, in fact, all of the Israelites who are worshiping false gods.

Verse 12 begins with “I…” because it is now God who is speaking. There need be no secret police who hunt out idol worshippers for God himself will search them out through their hearts. These are Israelites who love and trust God so little that they see God as impotent, doing nothing, good or bad.

The passage moves into a description of The Day of the Lord, which is the Jewish equivalent of the final judgment which the gospel of Matthew describes as Jesus sorting sheep from goats, faithful who served “one of the least of these, my brothers and sisters” from those who did not serve any in need. The Day of the Lord will bring an end to all as humans know it, so it is described in cataclysmic terms. Zephaniah describes the Day of the Lord in terrifying terms, in part because he is building his prophecy toward its climax, a word of great hope for all who turn from false gods to Yahweh, “I AM”.

Psalm 90:1-12

A Prayer of Moses, the man of God.
Lord, you have been our dwelling-place
in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn us back to dust,
and say, ‘Turn back, you mortals.’
For a thousand years in your sight
are like yesterday when it is past,
or like a watch in the night.

You sweep them away; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning;
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.

For we are consumed by your anger;
by your wrath we are overwhelmed.
You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your countenance.

For all our days pass away under your wrath;
our years come to an end like a sigh.
The days of our life are seventy years,
or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
even then their span is only toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.

Who considers the power of your anger?
Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due to you.
So teach us to count our days
that we may gain a wise heart.

Here is a psalmist who lays out the human condition for all to see. Life is hard, arduous work which we do, only to die and wither like water starved grass. God is eternal but we are mere puffs of breath in the great history of all that is. The psalmist blames God for the struggles of life, seeing them as the fruits of God’s wrath against us.

“A wise heart” – Wisdom is defined in the Hebrew Scriptures as intimate relationship with God. After pouring out his/her agony, the psalmist appears to come to the conclusion that this great mystery is more than humans can understand and turns back to God with a prayerful petition, “Teach us to be mindful of each day we live in your presence, that we may gain wisdom in you.”

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, ‘There is peace and security’, then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labour pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then, let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

This, Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica, is the oldest book in the New Testament. Thessalonica is a port on the Aegean Sea. “This city was the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia and was devoted to the imperial cult of Rome [worship of
the Caesars as gods, and worship of Roma, the goddess who was the embodiment of
Rome], but culturally it remained a Greek city governed by Greek law.” Edgar Krentz in his introduction to the book of Thessalonians in the Harper Collins Study Bible.

Paul writes this letter convinced that Jesus will return any day now, so vigilance and faithful service to Christ and the community are mandatory.

“When they say ‘There is peace and security’…” – The Roman imperial coins of the day were imprinted with the words “peace and security.” Paul is proclaimed judgment on the Roman order. However, the beloved baptized recipients of Paul’s letter, while also condemned with the Romans under God’s judgment, are also now a part of Christ and his salvation.

Matthew 25:14-30

‘For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, “Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, “Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Talent – 1 sum equal to 15 years wages for a daily laborer.

Here is the third parable in this series to illustrate the necessity to “be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” In this parable Jesus is explaining that he has given the faithful a vast gift to use in furthering the Kingdom of God. Each slave is given a different amount and deals with the talents differently, just as each of us is given different gifts and made steward of different stuff which we are to use uniquely to serve God. When the master returns and the slaves come to give account of their activity in his absence, the two that have proved able bodied and industrious are rewarded with “the joy of their master.” The slave who proved resentful was kicked out of the household. In Christ’ absence, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are to use all that we have and all that we are to serve the world and in so doing, build up the Kingdom of God. If we are lazy or selfish with the gifts God gives us, we show contempt and distain for God’s creative act in making us, Jesus’ redemptive act in living and dying for us, and the Holy Spirit’s acts of loving and leading us. Such distain and contempt is very costly.

“outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” – If you are not a part of a household or community, you are out in the cold, out on the street, not welcome or wanted anywhere. That is a fear

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 23, 2017

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 23, 2017

Amos 5:18-24

18 Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord!
Why do you want the day of the Lord?
It is darkness, not light;
19 as if someone fled from a lion,
and was met by a bear;
or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall,
and was bitten by a snake.
20 Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?

21 I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Amos was prophet to Israel in the 8th century BC, during the reigns of Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam of Israel. Amos addresses rebellious Israelites who act selfishly, taking advantage of the poor and those living on the edges of society.

In the above passage, Amos scolds those Israelites who long for the “Day of the Lord”. The Day of the Lord for Israel is the equivalent of Judgement Day for Christians. The Israelites Amos addressed believed themselves to be pure and right with God. They longed for the Day of the Lord because they believed God would reward them for their goodness and punish their enemies. But God says just the opposite through Amos. God is disgusted by the very activities that Israelites think make them righteous: worship services, offerings, hymn singing. None of these activities reflect what God demands: justice, and mercy.

Psalm 70

1 Be pleased, O God, to deliver me.
O Lord, make haste to help me!
2 Let those be put to shame and confusion
who seek my life.
Let those be turned back and brought to dishonor
who desire to hurt me.
3 Let those who say, ‘Aha, Aha!’
turn back because of their shame.

4 Let all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you.
Let those who love your salvation
say evermore, ‘God is great!’
5 But I am poor and needy;
hasten to me, O God!
You are my help and my deliverer;
O Lord, do not delay!

This psalm gives voice to those faithful Israelites who were oppressed and scoffed at by the powerful in Amos’ prophecy.

1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. 15For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. 16For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord for ever.18Therefore encourage one another with these words.

The first generations of Christians believed that Jesus would come to judge “the living and the dead” any day, certainly within their lifetimes. When some of their faith communities started to die before Jesus’ return, they were greatly dismayed, fearing for the eternal fate of their loved ones. In this letter of Paul’s to the church in Thessalonica, Paul does his best to explain what happens to faithful Christians when they die. Paul says that the faithful dead will be raised and then the living will join them and meet Jesus in the air. The “air” is where ancient Israelites believe heaven was, in the clouds, above the dome of sky which holds back the waters that surround the earth. Since none of the biblical writers knew where God “lived”, they spoke of God as being “up” and “coming on the clouds,” which was where the peoples around them believed their gods resided. Paul uses that language here, but uses different language when addressing this same question in other of his letters. I do not interpret his many, sometimes disparate, descriptions as contradictory. Paul was making faithful attempts to put into words his trust in God and the mysteries that make his faith, our faith, necessary.

Matthew 25:1-13

25‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” 7Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps.8The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” 9But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” 10And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” 12But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.”13Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Jesus is speaking to his disciples only when he gives this lengthy sermon about the Kingdom of Heaven and keeping awake, of which the above text is a part. Jesus gave a many versed description of the Day of the Lord in Matthew 24, which ended with a parable of the wise and the foolish slaves. When their master is gone, the wise slave keeps working, while the foolish slave gets drunk and abuses his fellow slaves, thinking “My master is delayed.” Jesus ends this parable with, “The master of that [foolish] slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know.” Then comes the above text for this Sunday.

One of the tasks of Israelite bridesmaids was to welcome the new bride to her new home, which was an addition onto the groom’s parents’ house. The bridesmaids would wait for the groom to come to welcome him and his new wife into their newly furnished home, presumably with their wedding gifts. The groom could return home with his bride at any time, so the bridesmaids needed to keep watch. Personal oil lamps were made of clay and fit into the palm of one’s hand. They worked just like the old kerosene lamps our great grandmothers used, only they did not have little knobs to turn the wicks up or down.

Jesus tells this parable to describe what it will be like when he, the bridegroom, returns to earth. It will be the beginning of life together for the bride (the church, the faithful people) and the bridegroom, for which the faithful must be ready. Despite what many Christians predict, no one knows when the Day of the Lord will be, so preparation is a must. But how do we prepare and for what? In this parable, Jesus makes it clear that sleepless hypervigilance does not equal preparation. No, all ten bridesmaids slept in the night while waiting for the bridegroom. Keeping awake, being prepared, in this parable means being present when Jesus appears, and being ready to follow him into the house. The five foolish bridesmaids missed both the bridegroom’s arrival and his leading everyone into the house, after which the gate was shut and locked. Latecomers were assumed to be party crashers and were not admitted.

So how do the faithful prepare for Jesus’ coming? That question is best answered in other parables in this sermon. The parable which I mentioned above, preceding this one, illustrates that preparing for Jesus coming means continuing to serve God. The wise slave kept about his master’s business in his master’s absence. Next week we will study another parable addressing this question.

Bible Tuesday for All Saints Sunday, 2017

Bible Tuesday for All Saints Sunday, 2017

Revelation 7:9-17

9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’
11And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, 12singing,
‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honour
and power and might
be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.’

All Saints Sunday is the only Sunday of the three year church cycle when we hear from Revelation all three years. Revelation is an apocalyptic vision given to John of Patmos which he wrote for early Christians. In the above passage, John relays the part of his vision which depicted God’s throne room. John has already described the hundred plus thousand Israelites from all twelve tribes of Israel who are present before God’s throne. But in the above passage, John speaks of countless peoples from all over the world who hold palm branches and sing God’s praise.

John is addressing one of the major issues of the early church in this passage. There was a strenuous debate among early Jewish Christians about whether or not people had to convert to Judaism to become Christian. This passage depicts both Jews and Gentiles from every land and ethnicity appearing with honor before God’s throne. John also describes ancient Israelite symbols, the lamb, and the palm branch, being used or praised by Israelites and Gentiles alike.

Lamb – The lamb is a sign of innocents and purity in ancient Israelite culture. Lambs were sacrificed on the altar at the Temple to atone for sin. In the above passage, the Lamb who stands next to God, seated in his throne, is “the lamb who was slain but now comes to conquer”, who is Jesus in this vision. The Lamb was sacrificed to atone for the sin of all creation, but is now alive and being worshipped by both Israelites and Gentiles.

Palm branch – Palm branches were cut from trees to wave at military heroes in ancient Biblical times. That carried over into the New Testament times, as evident when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. John of Patmos tells us that these Gentiles appearing before God are also carrying palm branches with which to praise God as their conquering hero.

Psalm 34:1-10, 22

Of David, when he feigned madness before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.
1 I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2 My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
let the humble hear and be glad.
3 O magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together.

4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me,
and delivered me from all my fears.
5 Look to him, and be radiant;
so your* faces shall never be ashamed.
6 This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord,
and was saved from every trouble.
7 The angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
8 O taste and see that the Lord is good;
happy are those who take refuge in him.
9 O fear the Lord, you his holy ones,
for those who fear him have no want.
10 The young lions suffer want and hunger,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

22 The Lord redeems the life of his servants;
none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

When King Saul first threw David out of his kingdom, David fled to the outlying area by himself. Heretofore, if David (then a young man and very capable soldier who was a captain in King Saul’s army) went out, it was always in the company of the soldiers under him. Because King Saul threw David out, David was alone and vulnerable. The king of Gath heard David was alone and wanted to attack him so David pretended he was severely mentally ill by thrashing about and drooling. When the king of Gath saw this, he had his men merely chase David away instead of fighting him to the death. In thanksgiving to God for sparing his life, David wrote this psalm.

It is an acrostic psalm, skipping one Hebrew letter.

1 John 3:1-3

1See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he* is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

“Though it is generally referred to as a ‘letter’ or ‘epistle’, I John does not have the standard opening and closing formulas of a letter. It seems instead to be a kind of essay or homily written to deal with specific problems.” David K. Rensberger

Due to similar writing style and vocabulary, 1 John is thought to be written by the same person that wrote the Gospel of John. While both have been attributed to the apostle, John, due to the topics discussed in the gospel and this epistle, the writing date of both is thought to be later than the apostle, John, likely lived. One theory is that the congregation or disciples of John the Apostle’s wrote down his sermons and then compiled them into the gospel and the epistles.

“The world does not know us…” – “in the world but not of the world.” It seems to me that when there is marketing specifically to “Christians” and political pandering specifically to “Christians” and a demographic category specifically for “Christians”, ie. “the Religious Right”, then the baptized faithful aren’t doing Christianity correctly.

“…what we will be has not yet been revealed…” – Here is a pastor answering the questions, “What happens to us when we die? What is heaven like?” The pastor who wrote this says, “We don’t know, but we will be like Jesus, and we will see things as He sees them.” What a promise!

Matthew 5:1-12

When Jesus* saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely* on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

There are several things going on in this portion of the gospel of Matthew. First, one of Matthew’s goals is to show that Jesus is the new Moses. Just as Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, so, at the end of Matthew 4, does Jesus lead the Israelites out of their villages and towns and cities to follow him. Just as Moses went up on the mountain to receive the ten commandments, so here is Jesus on a “mount” giving ten statements, nine “blessed” and one “rejoice”. Just as Moses took “the elders” with up part way up the mountain, so Jesus is surrounded by his disciples, whom he called just a few verses earlier. Moses gave the Law but Jesus gives the Gospel, the Good News.

Second, while at the end of Matthew 4 Jesus is going around all of Galilee healing the sick and suffering, here “When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain…then he began to speak and taught them…” Jesus has just spent the last while in the barrios, the pogroms, the slums, the “core area”, with those whom Rome and the wealthy Jews consider human refuse, healing them and teaching them. I think this first sermon of Jesus’ is his meditation on and reaction to whom he has just been ministering. Sure, “When Jesus saw the crowds” does indicate that Jesus is acting like Moses, leading the people out of a sinful oppressor’s territory into the wilderness for retraining and reorientation. But “When Jesus saw the crowds” could also mean when Jesus “noticed” or “paid attention to” or “meditated on” the crowds. First Jesus did ministry, showed ministry, and now he is debriefing and theologically reflecting on that ministry. To whom did Jesus first minister? The poor in spirit, the meek, those in need of justice and righteousness, the grieving, the merciful, the peacemakers.

Third, Matthew is describing Jesus as a powerful rabbi. Jesus assumes the posture of a revered teacher when he goes to a “high” place so his students can gather below him at his feet and be taught. Jesus sits, as rabbis sit when giving sermons, while the students may have stood out of respect, or also sat out of practicality.

Finally, Jesus addresses directly his new disciples. He blesses them even as he describes the difficulties for which they just enlisted. These new recruits are going to be reviled, and lied about, and persecuted all because of their new rabbi. “Even so, be of good cheer! That is just what they did to God’s messengers of old. You