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Month: May 2018

Bible Tuesday For Pentecost Sunday, 2018

Bible Tuesday for Pentecost, 2018

Ezekiel 37:1-14

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3 He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath[a] to enter you, and you shall live. 6 I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath[b] in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath:[c] Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath,[d] and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” 10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

11 Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”

The prophet, Ezekiel, is having a vision from God. Ezekiel is a prophet to Israel, a contemporary of Jeremiah, who lived through the destruction of Jerusalem and was hauled away to captivity in Babylon. In this dream, God shows Ezekiel a battle field long deserted, littered with the dry remains of the fallen warriors. Ezekiel identifies these dead as Israelite soldiers. These dry bones are the result of Israel’s loss to its enemies, which Israel believes is due to ignoring Yahweh and worshipping other gods, even in the Temple in Jerusalem. The captive Israelites, under the thumb of Babylon, feel just as dead and defeated as these bones.

God asks Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?” Can dead, defeated Israel come to life again? Ezekiel answers, “Lord, only you know.” Then the bones come together and grow connective tissue and muscle and skin, but they are not alive, just as the Israelite captives are “able bodied” but feel so defeated and bereft that they are walking dead. God commands Ezekiel to call the winds from all directions and put their breath into the lungs and nostrils of the reconstituted Israelite army.

Thus armed with this amazing visualization, God now commands Ezekiel to proclaim healing, life, and promise to the defeated, captive people of God.

Psalm 104:24-35

O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
25 Yonder is the sea, great and wide,
creeping things innumerable are there,
living things both small and great.
26 There go the ships,
and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.

27 These all look to you
to give them their food in due season;
28 when you give to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
30 When you send forth your spirit,[a] they are created;
and you renew the face of the ground.

31 May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
may the Lord rejoice in his works—
32 who looks on the earth and it trembles,
who touches the mountains and they smoke.
33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
34 May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord.
35 Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord!

Here is a psalmist who marvels at the world and the ways it works, giving glory to God for all he sees. Water and ships, God made and human made, are both occasions to praise God. Earth quakes and volcanic activity are signs of God’s hand at work.

In the face of so great, powerful, and unfathomable a God, the psalmist asks that those who oppose God’s ways be “consumed”, no longer a part of God’s creation.

Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

The festival of Pentecost is a Jewish harvest festival 50 days after Passover, hence the name “Pente” – five, “Pentecost” – fiftieth. It was for this festival that Jews from all over the Roman Empire were making pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

The disciples and apostles, including Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ mother and siblings, were all together in Jerusalem for the festival. Suddenly there was an onslaught of the Holy Spirit upon the place where they were gathered. The roar of gale force winds shook the disciples and filled them with the breath of God. Something like flames alit on each of them. Compelling them out into the crowd filled streets. Each of them began to proclaim the gospel of Jesus in languages heretofore unknown to them. These down home Galilee countryfolk were speaking in the many and varied languages of the pilgrims, all the while fulfilling ancient Israelite prophecies.

Verses 9-11 lists many civilizations and ethnicities, some of which were ancient and crumbled at the time of Jesus, while some were alive and thriving. In recounting this detail, Luke, the author of Acts, describes the coming of the Holy Spirit as a gift for people of all time.

“New wine” – the word translated “new wine” should literally be translated “sweet wine” which refers to both grape juice and to a libation with more alcohol content than the usual wine.

Peter’s sermon is to Jews. Peter exegetes Hebrew scriptures to teach his fellow Jews a new way of interpreting and applying their millennia old faith to themselves. “Yahweh has come to live with us. You killed him, but God resurrected him. Even now, he, Jesus the Christ, calls to you in love and forgiveness. Come, be baptized into life in Jesus, God’s word made flesh.”

John 15:26-16:15

“When the Advocate[a] comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27 You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.

16 “I have said these things to you to keep you from stumbling. 2 They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God. 3 And they will do this because they have” not known the Father or me. 4 But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them.

“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5 But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate[b] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about[c] sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

The word translated “Advocate” is the Greek “parakleet”. (My first pet was a parakleet. There you go, Steve Raap.) Ancient Israelites often imagined Yahweh/God as a the chief divine being in a royal court of divine beings. Satan was the title of the accuser, rather like the prosecuting attorney in modern courtrooms. Parakleet was the title of the defence attorney, the one who pleads to God on behalf of humans. Israelites saw God’s spirit, “hagia pneuma” in Greek, as a physical presence: a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night in their wilderness wandering, the wind that brooded over and frothing the primordial waters as God prepared to speak creation into being.

In this passage, Jesus combines the traditions of the Hagia Pneuma and the Parakleet into the one presence of God who will abide with the disciples, the apostles, and all of us for eternity, in Jesus’ own absence. The gospel of John proclaims this dichotomy, Jesus is finite while alive on earth but the Holy Spirit is infinite. Therefore, in order for God/Holy Spirit to be present with all, Jesus must leave earth. “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains but one grain. But if it dies, it bares much fruit.”

While the Holy Spirit will not be visible in one person as Jesus is God in the flesh, nevertheless, the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, will continue to reveal the Kingdom of God to the disciples, apostles, and all of us, through the Holy Scriptures, through creation, and through each other.

Bible Tuesday for Easter 5, 2018

Bible Tuesday for Easter 6, 2018

Acts 10:44-48

4While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

These are the culminating verses of a chapter long story which is pivotal to the spread of the gospel. While Jesus regularly spoke of spreading the gospel of “Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”, most of the first disciples, who were of course all Jews, did not think of spreading the gospel beyond Israel. That is, until they were redirected. In last week’s first lesson, the Holy Spirit led Philip to the Ethiopian Eunuch. In this story, God gives Peter a vision which is repeated three times for emphasis and confirmation that it is from God. Then Peter takes a couple Jewish friend with him when sent to a Roman centurion’s house. (There is no way God wants the gospel of Jesus spread to Roman soldiers, right?) The centurion gathers his whole household, kin and slaves, to hear Peter speak. The trepidation Peter felt entering the house of a goya (non-Jew) oppressor was heightened as Peter began to explain how Jesus was the savior of all creation. But trepidation gave way to shock when the Holy Spirit suddenly came upon the whole Roman household just as it did the disciples on Pentecost! As stated in the text above, the whole household began to speak in tongues and praise God. Peter was so astounded that he wondered aloud, “What reason do we have for not baptizing these goyim? I know they are not circumcised, nor do they know Jewish Law, but the Holy Spirit has filled them! What do we do here?!” Then, Peter and his companions actually ate and slept in this home of the uncircumcised!

Psalm 98

O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.

2Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.

3Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples.

4For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered above all gods.

5For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.

6Honor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

7Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

8Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts.

9Worship the Lord in holy splendor; tremble before him, all the earth.

10Say among the nations, “The Lord is king! The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved. He will judge the peoples with equity.”

11Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it;

12let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy

13before the Lord; for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.

New Song – Not an old song that recalls what happened in the past, but a new song that praises God for what is happening right now! This new song is to praise God for the saving God is doing right now, new people are recognizing God’s love for them. We are to thank God for these new people, this new blood infusing our old ways.

“All the gods of the people are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.” – Many of the pagan gods were anthropomorphisms of the sun, the moon, the oceans, the miracles of fertility. The psalmist reminds his/her audience that God, Yahweh, made all of that! Why worship the creation as little gods when you can worship the Creator as The God?!

All creation should celebrate because its creator will judge, setting everything right.

1 John 5:1-6

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. 2By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, 4for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. 5Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

6This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth.

At first glance, this text smacks of works righteousness; that is that we work our own way into heaven by obeying God’s law. However, that is not what the writer of John is trying to convey. This writer is trying to answer some basic questions about how a person is to know if he/she is doing what God wants. Remember, the people who were reading this epistle were living in the first 100 years after Jesus, without the benefit of a structured church with Sunday school teachers and catechisms, much less formally trained pastors. There was little coherence of beliefs between the various little congregations of Christians throughout the Roman world and beyond. Therefore, very basic questions of how to follow Jesus were important and valid.

How do you become “born of God” or a “child of God?” By believing in Jesus.

How do I know if I am a child of God? Well, how are you acting? Are you striving to live within God’s commandments?

I have heard I am suppose to have God’s love within me. How does that work? You will see God’s love working in you when you obey God’s commandments.

I am just one person, and yet I am told I am to be able to move mountain with great faith. How does that work? Believing in Jesus, living within his commandments brings God’s love to bear on the world, and God’s love conquers all that is evil in the world.

“Water and blood” – This coupling could refer to many things: the separated blood that flowed from Jesus’ side when he was speared between his ribs after he died but still hung on the cross, the water of Jesus’ baptism and the blood of his death, or the water of our own baptism and the blood of Jesus’ death.

John 15:9-17

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you.15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

Once again, if read a certain way, this could sound like Jesus is suggesting works righteousness, or possibly even conditional love. Rather, Jesus is explaining things are they are. Abide – to act in accordance with, as in “abide by the rules of the game”. Jesus is here explaining that God’s love, which is also Jesus’ love, looks and acts a certain way. In order to live within that love, your thoughts and behaviors stay in concert with that love. This is not to say that when you sin, you fall out of God’s love. St. Paul writes, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is ours in Christ Jesus.” But it is to say that when we sin, especially if we chose to perpetuate ways of sin, such as habitual lying, habitual gossiping, embezzling, grudge holding, etc., we make it harder for ourselves to feel and to trust God’s love. We do not feel or trust God’s joy in us either, nor is God’s joy in us complete, because we are withholding certain portions of our lives from God, from the light of God.

We are Jesus’ friends, his coworkers, when we strive to live and work within the rules, the parameters, God in Jesus has set. When we fail to do so, we are acting as babes in the Kingdom, not as coworkers. Because we are sinful, and are forever vacillating between our own ends and God’s invitation out of them, this is not a ladder of “abiding with God” to be climbed. Rather, our life with God is one of living, loving, succeeding, failing, and marveling at the Holy Spirit bringing about the kingdom of God through all of it.