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Month: January 2018

Bible Tuesday for Epiphany 5, 2018

Bible Tuesday for Epiphany 5, 2018

Isaiah 40:21-31

Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in; who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing. Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble. To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing.

Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God”? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

We hear parts of Psalm 40 throughout the church year, from “Comfort, comfort ye my people”, “O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion”, and “and He shall feed his flock like a shepherd” of Handel’s Messiah in Advent and Pentecost, to “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength…” now in Epiphany.

The “Messiah” passages that come earlier in the chapter proclaim the mercy and love that God will show the captive Israelites as they return from exile in Babylonia. The middle passage of the psalm, between the Messiah passages and this week’s pericope, are reminiscent of the final chapters of Job. Many questions such as, “Who measured the waters the with hollow of His hand?” are asked and followed by many statements of the inconsequential and incredibly short lives of people and nations, compared with the eternity of God. This is the setting for today’s pericope. It is a response to all of those questions of Theodicy.

One of the main issues addressed in the prophecy of Isaiah is the complaint of the Israelites that God has abandoned them to captivity and turned His back on them. In this pericope’s verses, God once again establishes supremacy over all that exists (as opposed to the idols that Israel had turned to), and God proclaims that all who wait for God’s actions will be renewed.

“wings like eagles” – might better be translated “Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, just like eagles who grow new feathers…” This is an idiom based on the belief that birds lose their strength when they go into molt but regain it when they grow new feathers.

Psalm 147:1-11

Praise the Lord! How good it is to sing praises to our God; for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.

The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel.

He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.

He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names.

Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.

The Lord lifts up the downtrodden; he casts the wicked to the ground.

Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; make melody to our God on the lyre.

He covers the heavens with clouds, prepares rain for the earth, makes grass grow on the hills.

He gives to the animals their food, and to the young ravens when they cry.

His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner;

but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love. Praise the Lord!

This psalm praises God for bringing the exiles home from Babylonia and rebuilding Jerusalem and Israel.

God’s might is illustrated in numbering and naming the stars. In many ancient cultures, to name something is to have power over it and intimate knowledge of it. Thus, for God to name the stars suggests that God created the stars and knows them as individuals.

While we might read the various attributes of God tending to weather events, crops, and animals as quaint, the author lists these things specifically. Each of these various attributes was given to a different god in both Cannanite and Babylonian religions, but the psalmist reminds Israel that Yahweh/God is God of everything because God made everything and knows every piece of creation intimately.

God does not take delight in who rides the fastest racehorse or who wins the Olympic track events, but rather who looks to God in awe, trust, and love.

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.

For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

Although the apostle, Paul, starts out this passage by saying that preaching the gospel is not something to boast about, he does a fair amount of boasting, nonetheless. Despite the boasting, there is plenty of meat to feed upon in this passage.

First, we are to follow Paul’s example and proclaim the gospel, which Paul defines as “Christ crucified and risen for the sake of all.”

Second, Paul explains that he become a Jew among the Jews in order to have them hear the gospel. Paul becomes a Gentile among the Gentiles (those outside the Law) in order that they might heard the gospel. Paul becomes weak (as explained last week, that in part means not eating meat offered to idols) in order that the weak might hear the gospel. If we walk around in white, goin’ to meetin’, clothes, knocking on doors with Bibles tucked under our arms and proclaim to whoever answers the door that God will judge them according to their deeds and they best drop on their knees and confess their sins right now before the world comes to an end, do we actually think people will hear Christ crucified and risen for them? Is this, “The Kingdom of Heaven is drawing near. Repent and believe in the good news” the gospel Jesus himself preached?

Paul sets forth a great idea for evangelizing: get to know the people to whom you hope to proclaim the gospel. When Paul found a receptive audience, he stayed with them for many days or weeks or months. Sharing the gospel takes time, trust, love, and mutual respect.

Mark 1:29-39

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Two weeks ago, we read in the gospel of Mark that Jesus called Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Nathanael as disciples. Last week they all went into the synagogue on the sabbath where Jesus preached “as someone having authority, not like the scribes” and healed a man of an unclean spirit.

In this text, it is still the sabbath but the worship service is ended so Jesus is invited by Simon and Andrew to their house. Notice that the brothers live together with their wives and at least one mother-in-law. Let’s just contemplate how well that living arrangement might work in modern American society.

Peter’s mother-in-law is ill with a fever. The family is worried about her (as there are no medicines for infections so fevers can mean imminent death) so they tell Jesus about her. “If he can heal the guy in church, maybe he can help Mom.” Jesus responds and violating social custom, “takes her by the hand”, which may mean, “helps her up off her bed.” She is restored to health so resumes her household tasks, waiting on the family and guest.

News of free healthcare, especially of the miraculous type, spreads like wildfire. Once the sun was down, signifying that the sabbath was over, the people came to Simon Peter and Andrew’s house in droves. There were other itinerate healers in that time, but they charged money, and, of course, their “cures” were merely placebos, or worse. Jesus was very different in that he didn’t seem to be about this for the attention, as evidenced by Jesus repeatedly telling everyone he healed to keep quiet about it. Also, Jesus heals for free.

It is exhausting, though, spending so much time with clamoring, pleading people, and dense disciples. So much so that Jesus wanders out into the dark and silence of the wee hours of the morning to pray. Of the many times the gospels tell us Jesus went off alone to pray, the only recording of these prayers is in the Garden of Gethsemane. We don’t know what Jesus prayed, or if he used words at all.

The Greek is a unique language in that words have both tense and “mood”. The word “searching” for Jesus has a negative and somewhat ominous mood to it which we miss in English translations. Taking that mood into consideration, Jesus’ reaction to Peter’s words makes sense; Jesus wants to keep moving. Jesus goes throughout the rural region of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and healing all comers.

Bible Tuesday for Epiphany 4, 2018

Bible Tuesday for Epiphany 4, 2018

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

15The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. 16This is what you requested of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: “If I hear the voice of the Lord my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.” 17Then the Lord replied to me: “They are right in what they have said. 18I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command.19Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. 20But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak—that prophet shall die.”

A challenge that we, modern Americans, have in interpreting the Bible is that we do not understand the role of prophets or the definition of prophecy. We tend to equate prophecy with future telling, even fortune telling. Ancient Israelites held our same understanding. However, the 18th chapter of Deuteronomy makes a clear distinction between the Word of the Lord as delivered by the prophets and future telling.

In the first verses of chapter 18, God condemns future telling and all manner of divination as “abhorrent to the Lord, your God.” So, if the Israelites cannot consult mediums, witches, or diviners to determine where the best place is to plant crops and when the rains will come and where they should graze their flocks and when they should breed them, to whom should they go for this information?

The answer is Torah, God’s Law/God’s Word. Well, the Israelites answered, that is all fine and good but we don’t understand most of the blither blather that Moses brought down the mountain which was summarized on those stone tablets. AND, to go to God directly is terrifying! HIS fire column and smoke columns are outside camp every day and night and all we do is irritate HIM once and he has us being bitten by snakes or eating so much quail we vomit it out our noses! Someone needs to be a buffer between God and us! Moses has done an okay job at that so far but he is really old. When he dies, what then?!

The above passage addresses the Israelite concerns. God will find and appoint God’s own prophets through whom God will speak to the Israelites, and the rest of the peoples of the world. When those prophets speak the true word of God, the people had damned well better listen! If the prophet lies and speaks “words of honey” to gain popularity or graft, God will deal with them harshly.

Psalm 111

1Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.

2Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.

3Full of honor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever.

4He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the Lord is gracious and merciful.

5He provides food for those who fear him; he is ever mindful of his covenant.

6He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations.

7The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.

8They are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.

9He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name.

10The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever.

This psalm is an acrostic, though it begins with the word, “Hallelujah” which is curiously translated in the NRSV. It is correctly translated as “Praise the Lord!” but I find the translation curious since the Hebrew “Hallelujah” and the Greek “Alleluia” have both made it into the American and British English lexicons. We use them and we know what they mean, or at least we are accustomed to them in “church talk” so there is no need to translate them.

This psalm is comprised of popular wisdom sayings, each of which starts with a subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet. As a result, the psalm is rather disjointed and reads like a Hebrew “Poor Richard’s Almanac”.

Note that “Wisdom” is defined as beginning with a healthy respect and awe of God. Wisdom comes from relationship with God, and is different from knowledge or intelligence.

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; 3but anyone who loves God is known by him.

4Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— 6yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

7It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8“Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? 11So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. 12But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.

In the cities of Rome, the meat for sale in the markets had all been sacrificed to the gods of the Romans when it was slaughtered. Then it was butchered and made its way to the markets for general purchase and consumption. One can imagine how this might be a problem for city dwelling Jews. It is against the Torah to eat meat of animals slaughtered and butchered improperly, much less offered to any god except Yahweh/God.

Paul writes to the Christian congregation in Corinth about this issue. Some of the congregants were Jews who believed Jesus was the long awaited Messiah. Other congregants were converts from various Roman cults. Some of them refused to eat meat since the only meat in town was idol sacrifice. Others said that since idols aren’t real, what difference does it make if the meat were sacrificed or not, and lord their seemingly informed attitude over those who refused the meat.

What is the point of a Christian Community if not to worship God/Jesus/Holy Spirit, and build up each other as the body of Christ? Paul asks. Okay, so if it is destructive to the faith of some to see you eat meat from the markets, don’t eat it in front of them, maybe don’t eat it at all. It is not the eating or not eating of meat that is important, it is mutual conversation and consolation of sisters and brothers in Christ, all done in the name of Jesus. If meat eating is getting in the way of that, then don’t eat meat! “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out! It is better for you to enter the Kingdom of Heaven blind in one eye than not at all,” says Jesus.

Mark 1:21-28

1They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

Mark, the gospel writer, is introducing Jesus to his hearers/readers. We are only 21 verses into Mark’s gospel. We know that Jesus went to John the Baptist to be baptized and saw the heavens ripped open and heard God choose him as God’s son. We know that Jesus acted like a traditional itinerate rabbi, gathering disciples to himself, those Jesus’ take on the metaphor of “fishing for people” was different than it has been used in the Hebrew Scriptures. In the above passage, we get some new, and alarming, information about Jesus.

Jesus seems to be acting normally enough, entering the nearest synagogue on the sabbath where he was invited to give the sermon. But his sermon isn’t just about the finer points of perfectly following Jewish Law and tradition. No, Jesus taught as if he had some authority, like to forgive sin, or to declare the definitive meaning of Holy Scriptures. Jesus really does have authority, not from rabbinical schools, but from GOD! Remember, God said that Jesus is His son, therefore, Jesus has complete authority to act as God’s agent, as per the rights of firstborn adult sons ascribed to them in the Torah/God’s Law.

How strange it is that the Jews in the synagogue don’t recognize Jesus as Messiah, but the evil spirits tormenting a worshiper do. By casting the evil spirits out of the tormented man, Jesus proves what the worshipers suspect, Jesus does have authority, not only to teach and preach, but over the powers of evil.

Bible Tuesday for Epiphany 3, 2018

Bible Tuesday for Epiphany 3, 2018

Jonah 3:1-10

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2“Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” 3So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. 4Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”

5And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. 6When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. 8Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. 9Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.” 10When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

Nineveh was the capital of ancient Assyria. The Assyrians attacks the Israelites/Northern Kingdom regularly, and finally defeated them in 722 BCE. Yet, God sends an Israelite prophet, Jonah, to the Ninevites to get them to repent.

When God calls Jonah the first time, Jonah refuses to go to Nineveh and prophesy. (Jonah feels like a Jew who survived Buchenwald being sent to Hitler and henchmen to prophesy God’s mercy!) Jonah tells God that he wants God to punish Nineveh for all they have done to Israel, but Jonah knows that God will relent and not punish Nineveh whether they repent or not. So, Jonah runs from God. He gets on a merchant vessel, not caring where it is headed. The vessel is swamped by a storm and Jonah confesses the storm is God forcing Jonah to prophesy. Jonah gets thrown overboard and a whale swallows him. He is “in the belly of the whale three days.” (Three, the Biblical Three, God’s number symbolizing God’s activity. Jonah is in the dark, with the dead, for three days, all caused by God.) At the end of the third day, the whale barfs Jonah up onto the land and Jonah screams at God. God responds with the above text, a second invitation to Jonah to “do what I tell you! If you just did it the first time, it wouldn’t be so bad!”

So, what happened?! The Ninevites repented heartily with sack cloth and ashes for all the people and the animals! (I can just imagine a chicken in a gunny sack rolling in ashes!) And, God relented from the punishment God had threatened, just as Jonah feared God would!

Jonah’s proclamation: “What Jonah means and what he is saying are not exactly the same. Jonah means to say, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh is undone,’ but the readers notice that he is actually saying, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh is overturned.’ Jonah chooses language that is reminiscent of God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19. But the careful readers of the book notice the irony of the situation. Jonah’s words potentially carry two, opposite meanings. (a) ‘Nineveh is undone,’ and (b) ‘Nineveh turns over (reforms itself)’. “ The Jewish Study Bible

Psalm 62:5-12

For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.

6He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

7On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.

8Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah

9Those of low estate are but a breath, those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.

10Put no confidence in extortion, and set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.

11Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God,

12and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord. For you repay to all according to their work.

This is a psalm of exhortation, the psalmist to himself and the psalmist to the whole people of God.

“Once God has spoken, twice I have heard this…” Ancient Israelite scholars believe this to mean that while God speaks only once, humans over time interpret God’s word in many ways. This is used to account for the differences in God’s word, for example in the Ten Commandments given in both Exodus and Deuteronomy. While God gave the Ten Commandments only once (and then reiterated them to Moses when Moses threw down the commandments at the people during the golden calf episode), they are written down in two slightly different ways.

“Lighter than a breath” – the idea of weighing souls appears to have been introduced into Israelite thought by the Egyptians, who weighed souls to determine the meaning of one’s life and the reward of one’s afterlife. The Israelite psalmist is stating that no Israelite weighs anything on their own merit.

1 Corinthians 7:29-31

9I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none,30and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, 31and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

“The appointed time has grown short” – Here is one of many statements Paul made to let the reader/hearer know that he believed Jesus would “come back to judge the living and the dead” any second. Paul, being single, owning no house or any possessions to speak of, under house arrest while awaiting trail in Rome, can completely devote his life to God. Paul does not here teach that service to God can be faithful parenting, faithful marriage, faithful work for an employer.

Paul is trying to describe life “in the world but not of the world”.

“For the present form of this world is passing away” – The word “form” is a translation of the Greek “schema” which could also be translated “structure”, “bureaucracy”, “world order”. God breaking into the world and living on it as the person of Jesus, is a complete game changer which is the initiator of the Kingdom of God on earth.

Mark 1:14-20

4Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 16As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

In the gospel of Mark, these verses occur immediately after the temptation in the wilderness. John the Baptist’s arrest is illustrative of danger for Jesus, himself, danger from both the Jewish and Roman authorities in Jerusalem. Galilee is the hill country north of Jerusalem, by and large rural land of fishermen, farmers, and tradesmen, land left to the Jews by the Romans. Jesus will be safe from the Jewish Temple authorities and the Romans there.

Jesus is proclaiming the good news of God in Galilee. What is the good news Jesus proclaims? “Your long anticipation is now fulfilled. The Kingdom of God is within your grasp. Turn away from what distracts and blinds you to the Kingdom’s presence, and believe this marvelous news!” What does the Kingdom of God look like? Those ostracized because of disease, like the blind, the leprous, the hemorrhaging, the barren, will be healed and restored to their places in society. The poor and the sick will be treated just as the same by God as the rich and powerful. The last will be next and the first will be next. The reward from God will be the same for all. And the king, the KING will rule from a wooden thrown with spikes pounded through his wrists and his feet, and his court will consist of criminals hanging with him.

What is the deal with all these fishermen? Why is Jesus “calling” them and why do they drop what they are doing and follow him? Last week I wrote about the tradition of the rabbis who gathered students unto themselves, and that Jesus was acting within that culturally accepted, even expected, tradition. In the gospel of Mark, Jesus lives in Capernaum, where he is in this text walking and calling disciples to himself. Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John answer Jesus’ call so abruptly in part, because the guy lives in town. It is not as if they just walk away from their wives, children, in-laws, and all responsibilities to follow Jesus. Would it not be sinful to so capriciously leave wives and children with no means of feeding themselves in order to be the disciple of a rabbi? In fact, when the disciples traveled for longer than day trips, their families likely traveled with them!

The irony of calling fishermen – In Jeremiah 16:16, Ezekiel 29:4-5, and Amos 4:2, Israelites are described as evil or stupid, with fishermen using nets and grappling hooks to catch the evil ones and pull them from the schools of Israelites. In Habakkuk 1:14-17, the evil one is ravaging the schools of fish, the Israelites, and worships the nets and hooks he uses to feed upon the Israelites. When Jesus calls these fishermen, and future disciples, he is calling them to fish for people in a new way, luring them with shalom: love, peace, contentment, compassion, wholeness, life in the presence and light of God.

Bible Tuesday for Epiphany II, 2018

Bible Tuesday for Epiphany II, 2018

1 Samuel 3:1-20

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. 2At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” 5and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. 6The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” 7Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy.9Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

11Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. 12On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. 14Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.” 15Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. 16But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” 17Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” 18So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.”

19As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 20And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.

Eli is both priest of Israel and judge, as this text takes place before Israel has its first king. Eli is quite old and blind. His sons, Hophni and Phineas, do most of the priestly duties for Eli, but they do not love God, and use their positions for graft.

This text begins by telling the hearer/reader that “the Word of the Lord was rare in those days.” In other words, Eli did not hear words from God as other judges and prophets did, despite being both High Priest and Judge. Instead, the word of the Lord comes to a little kid who serves as Eli’s go-fer from the time he was 4 years old, when his mom and dad brought him to the Tent of Meeting (precursor to the Temple) as a thank offering to God.

While Eli is blind, in the dark, both to the word of the Lord and to what his sons are up to, Eli does recognize that God might be up to something when little Samuel twice runs to his cot, insisting that someone called him. Eli knows the Hebrew tradition that the number symbolizing God is 3 so, if this voice called to Samuel a third time, it is likely God, and Samuel should just answer, “I am listening.”

God’s message to Samuel is actually God’s message to Eli, but Eli is blind physically, parentally, and seemingly spiritually, so God has to speak to Eli through someone else. This is the beginning of the end of Eli and the beginning of the great and faithful service of Samuel as God’s prophet and final Judge of Israel.

Psalm 139:1-18

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.

2You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.

3You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.

4Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.

5You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.

6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.

7Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?

8If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.

9If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,

10even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.

11If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,”

12even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.

13For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.

15My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

16Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.

17How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!

18I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you.

I do not share Martin Luther’s great love of the book of Psalms, but I do LOVE this one! I regularly use it as one of the funeral texts. I am especially fond of the section the Revised Common Lectionary skips, verses 7-12 which state in prose what St. Paul writes in Romans 8, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[a] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This psalm is “an exquisitely detailed and poetic description of divine omniscience,” says The Jewish Study Bible. God knows everything about each person in all creation. Despite fully knowledge of each of us, God loves us unwaveringly.

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.13“Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,” and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. 15Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, “The two shall be one flesh.” 17But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. 19Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?20For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.

“’All things are lawful for me’ but not all things are beneficial.” – The Law that God gave the Israelites prohibited all kinds of things, from eating shell fish and carrion eaters, to the cost of restoration if your bull gores your neighbor’s child. There was debate among the first Jews who followed Jesus as to whether or not the Law was in effect despite Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection having fulfilled it. Peter taught the early disciples that they must continue to life under the Law and that baptized Gentiles had to also be circumcised and live under the Law. Paul taught that the Law was merely meant to be a guide to relationship with God, and that once one is in relationship with God in the person of Jesus, the Law is no longer useful. Therefore, those baptized into Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit, are not bound to the restrictions under the Law. This is what Paul means by “’All things are lawful for me’.

In the above passage, Paul is addressing the congregation in Corinth which went off the deep end. Yes, they were free to live life out from under the Law, but there were wealthy folks in the congregation who used this as an excuse to live debaucherously. Paul teaches that, while the baptized Christian is not bound to the Law, he/she is bound through baptism to Christ, himself. Therefore, whatever we do, we should do to honor Christ, not get away with murder because we are already forgiven through Jesus.

John 1:43-51

3The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

It is of paramount importance whenever studying Scriptures (or any quote) to learn the context of the passage one is studying. It is especially important when the passage to be examine begins with, “The next day…” or “Immediately…” or “And then…”. So much poor Bible commentary is done by first lifting a quote from Jesus or Paul or Peter right out of context and errantly applying it to a situation it was never meant to address.

We are studying the first chapter of the gospel of John, specifically a passage that begins with “The next day…” What came before this? The first 18 verses of John 1 are the prolegomena, which we covered in Advent. Verses 19 through 28 describe John the Baptist and his ministry at the Jordan. Verses 29 – 34 cover John pointing out Jesus to John’s disciples, and describing to them what John witnessed when Jesus was the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus. Verses 35-42 occur the following day, and describe John the Baptist pointing out Jesus to two of John’s disciples, Andrew, and another, and how they followed Jesus. Then, Andrew went and told his brother, Simon, that he and the other disciple of John’s had found the Messiah/Christ. When Andrew brought Simon to meet Jesus, Jesus all knowingly identified Simon by name before any introductions were made, and then said, “You will be Cephas, aka, Petros, or Peter in English.”

This catches us up to the above pericope. Jesus already has three disciples, Andrew and the other from John the Baptist, and Simon Peter. They accompany Jesus north to Galilee where they find a likely acquaintance of Andrew and Simon Peter’s, a guy named Philip. Once called, Philip finds his buddy, Nathanael, who is not so willing to ascribe the Messianic title as Andrew, Simon, and Philip. Jesus all knowingly addresses Nathanael by name before introductions and also indicates and intimate knowledge of Nathanael: “Here is a man who is completely void of deceit.” Nathanael is impressed by this display of seeming mind reading. Jesus scoffs at this reaction knowing that there is oh so much more to come in these last several months of his life.

Why does Jesus go around calling disciples? First, it is rabbinic tradition. This is a time of education without universities so once teachers were acclaimed by authorities, they would go about, collecting students to further their particular teaching. In the gospel of John, Jesus is acclaimed by a recognized authority, John the Baptist. Therefore, in order for Jesus to be a proper rabbi, he now must go find students who will carry on his teaching. Second, Jesus is God on earth and wants to spread God’s relationship with humanity in the most relational way possible: one on one. As the Eucharistic Prayer for Christmas says, “in loving the God made visible, we may love the God whom we cannot see.” God already tried codifying relationship with God in the Law given to Moses. Instead of serving God’s intent, being a framework within which God and humans love and relate, the Law became an idol, the god of proving one’s superior holiness. Jesus sets about allowing people to get to know him in order to start the ripple effect of one on one relationship with God and one on one relationships with fellow believers.

Bible Tuesday for the Baptism of Our Lord, 2018

Bible Tuesday for the Baptism of Our Lord, 2018

Genesis 1:1-5

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

It is fitting that the first texts for this new year are the very first words of the Bible, itself. I do not think that is what the Lectionary formers were thinking, though, when they chose this text for today. Rather, this Sunday is the feast day of Jesus’ baptism and the focus is the Holy Spirit, for the Holy Spirit is always the focus of baptism.

In these first words of the story of God and creation, God is, to quote my sister-in-law, “Fixin’ to get ready” to launch all that is. The “wind from God”, aka the ruach in Hebrew and pneuma in Greek, is right there brooding over the primordial chaos (a fine translation of “formless void”), ready to speak order into being. What is the first thing that God creates? LIGHT! Chaos and darkness always move hand in hand but God is a God of order which begins in the form of light.

Psalm 29

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name; worship the Lord in holy splendor.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over mighty waters.

The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.

He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.

The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.

The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.

May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!

This psalm celebrates God’s power in, through, and over creation. Note that the psalmist is admonishing all heavenly beings (aka: deities or gods) to recognize the LORD as the supreme heavenly being because of the LORD’s strength and power over thunder, water, earthquakes, and wind. These elements were worshipped as deities by the pagans around Israel, but here they are portrayed as merely the media through which God may be seen.

Acts 19:1-7

While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied— altogether there were about twelve of them.

Here the gospel writer, Luke, describes the difference between John the Baptist’s baptism and baptism into Jesus. John the Baptist was very well known by the Jews of that day, much more well known than Jesus. All four gospel writers make a point of John the Baptist deferring to Jesus, with the gospel of John even saying, “He must increase while I must decrease.”

So what is the difference between John’s baptism and Jesus’ baptism? John’s baptism was one of repentance and preparation for meeting the Messiah. (See below.) While Jesus’s disciples (and one gospel may say Jesus baptized also) baptize people into Jesus so that they drown to sin and are raised in Jesus’ resurrection to new life now and eternally.

Mark 1:4-11

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Mark states that John the “baptizer” baptized repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The point is made clear in this gospel that John the Baptist dresses just like the prophet, Elijah. Why is that an important detail for Mark’s readers/hearers? Because Jewish tradition has long stated that Elijah will return from heaven just before the Messiah comes to give everyone a heads-up. Therefore, Mark makes it very clear that John is “Elijah”. But, Elijah is merely the harbinger, not the main attraction, which Mark makes clear in his description of John’s ministry. “I just baptize you all with water, but the Messiah will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” HUGE!!!!! Remember a couple weeks back in Advent I explained that in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Holy Spirit was only sent to a few people and even then, the visit was temporary? Here we are told that Jesus will use the Holy Spirit like water, to cleanse and change.

So why does Jesus get baptized?! He doesn’t sin so he doesn’t need to be baptized in repentance! When a rabbi ends his training and begins ministry, he commemorates this transition into public life by bathing a ritual bath in flowing water, which the Jewish tradition from which baptism flows. Jesus comes to the Jordan River to be baptized for public ministry.

The gospel of Mark tells no stories of Gabriel’s annunciations to Zechariah and Mary, nor angels announcing to shepherds, nor a star announcing to magi. Mark does not speak of any immaculate conception, lowly birth, or age twelve trip to Jerusalem. No, Mark’s gospel begins with Isaiah’s prophecy of “the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord!’ and then out comes John the Baptist. Without any of those miraculous, dream filled birth stories, how do we know ‘e’s a king? The heavens are ripped apart and the Ruach, dressed like a dove, comes down and tells us, and Jesus, so.

For the gospel writer. Mark, Jesus was the average faithful Jew until God made him Messiah/Christ/Son of God/Son of Man. The gospels of Matthew and Luke tell us that Jesus was God as soon as he was conceived because he was conceived by the Holy Spirit. The gospel of John tells us that Jesus was always God: “In the beginning was the LOGOS and the LOGOS was with God and the LOGOS was God.” (“Logos” is the Greek word for “will, intent, idea, word/promise, and a whole host of other things.) It is not that these gospels disagree with each other, but rather represent how human thought about who Jesus is and what he did/does developed from the first generation of believes (gospel of Mark and the letters of Paul were written in the early 60’s AD, during the lifetime of the first disciples and Apostles), through the second generation of believers (Matthew and Luke were written likely in the 70’s AD as the second generation of Christians was taking over from the first, most of whom were already dead), and into the third and more generations of believers (John was likely written in the early 90’s AD when the third generation was coming on line). That first generation of believers didn’t focus on Jesus’ life before they met him since they were so blown away by the experience that they were having with Jesus right then and there. They second generation started gathering the testimony about Jesus’ birth from Mary, Jesus’ siblings, and eye witnesses of Simeon and Hannah, and all the others. It is the gospel writer John who puts all of this into cosmic perspective, using the same words and style as Genesis 1:1 to begin his own gospel: “In the beginning…”

But, back to Mark. In Mark’s gospel, it is God who proclaims privately to Jesus, and through the gospel writer to us, that Jesus is “My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” Yes, Jesus was just “good”, Jesus is “very good”, the bes