Sunday, February 18, 2018

Lent 2B Readings & Commentaries


1st Reading:  Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Our first reading is the third promise of children to Abram and Sarai, who are now in advanced age. At this point there has been much “water under the bridge” in the story and God has failed to deliver. The promise remains, however, and God ups the ante by changing their names—a sign of their radical dependence on God. Our names represent who we are at the deepest level. The change of name by God (which is frequent in the Bible) shows that God knows us and has the power to form us at this deep level.

17:1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. 2 And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you:  You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 15 God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.’

Psalm 22:22-30
Our psalm is a psalm of lament, a cry for God to make things the way they ought to be.  It is framed by statements of trust that, at the end of the psalm, God is implored not to forget.

22   Praise the Lord, you that fear him; *
stand in awe of him, O offspring of Israel;
all you of Jacob’s line, give glory.
23   For he does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty;
       neither does he hide his face from them; *
but when they cry to him he hears them.
24   My praise is of him in the great assembly; *
I will perform my vows in the presence of those who
                            worship him.
25   The poor shall eat and be satisfied,
       and those who seek the Lord shall praise him: *
“May your heart live for ever!”
26   All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, *
and all the families of the nations shall bow before him.
27   For kingship belongs to the Lord; *
he rules over the nations.
28   To him alone all who sleep in the earth bow down in worship; *
all who go down to the dust fall before him.
29   My soul shall live for him;
       my descendants shall serve him; *
they shall be known as the Lord’s for ever.
30   They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn *
              the saving deeds that he has done.

2nd Reading:  Romans 4:13-25
Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome (a place he had never been), in part, to lessen the tension between Jewish and Gentile Christians. Here he uses the story of Abraham to preach a radical equality. All are equal inheritors of Abraham’s promise through their faith. He is using here a method of interpretation of the Scriptures called “midrash,” which allows for re-interpretation of any original meaning to fit current circumstances.

4:13 The promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. 16 For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18 Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20 No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 23 Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.

Gospel Reading:  Mark 8:31-38
Jesus has just asked the disciples who they believe he is and Peter has replied, “You are the Christ (Messiah).” But now it is clear that at least Peter and Jesus have very different understandings of what that means. Jesus’ rebuke is strong. “Satan” means “the adversary.” Jesus will die and his followers must be prepared to do the same. After two more predictions of his death, Jesus will give them images of what he means by their “death”—they must be as children and servants.

8:31 Then Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Psalm translation is from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2018, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, www.epiphanyesources.com. All rights reserved.  Permission given to copy for group use.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Lent 1B Readings & Commentaries


The account of Jesus’ forty days of trial and temptation in the wilderness is our Gospel reading always on the first Sunday in Lent.  Mark’s version is short and without the details of Matthew and Luke (the familiar description of the temptations).

1st Reading:  Genesis 9:8-17
Our first reading is the end of the story of the Flood.  Once the flood is over, and Noah and his family and their animal companions are back on dry land, God makes a covenant with them (note the covenant is with “all flesh that is on the earth”).  God will never again destroy the earth.  The sign of this covenant will be the rainbow.  It is significant that among Israel’s primordial stories is not only a flood story (which parallels stories in other ancient cultures), but the promise of God:  “never again.”

9:8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations:  13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

Psalm 25:1-10
Our psalm is a psalm of lament, a cry for God to make things the way they ought to be.  It is framed by statements of trust that, at the end of the psalm, God is implored not to forget.

1     To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul;
       my God, I put my trust in you; *
              let me not be humiliated,
              nor let my enemies triumph over me.
2     Let none who look to you be put to shame; *
              let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.
3     Show me your ways, O Lord, *
              and teach me your paths.
4     Lead me in your truth and teach me, *
              for you are the God of my salvation;
              in you have I trusted all the day long.
5     Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love, *
              for they are from everlasting.
6     Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; *
              remember me according to your love
              and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.
7     Gracious and upright is the Lord; *
              therefore he teaches sinners in his way.
8     He guides the humble in doing right *
              and teaches his way to the lowly.
9     All the paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness *
              to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.
10   For your Name’s sake, O Lord, *
              forgive my sin, for it is great.

2nd Reading:  1 Peter 3:18-22
In our second reading, Peter uses the story of the flood to make a point about the depths to which God has gone to save us.  Many were concerned in the early Church about the status of those who had died prior to the cross and resurrection.  Were they also saved by Jesus’ action?  Peter replies that this was precisely the work Jesus did while he was in death.  He “descended to the dead” (as we say in the Apostles’ Creed) to bring the good news “to the spirits in prison.” Orthodox icons of the resurrection reflect this belief. Jesus is seen atop the gates of Hell, which have been broken.  With one arm he lifts Adam and the other Eve to new life.  If this is the depth to which Jesus has gone, the writer of this letter is saying, how much more are we saved through our Baptism, which the Flood prefigured.

3:18 Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20 who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 21 And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

Gospel Reading:  Mark 1:9-15
The account of Jesus’ forty days of trial and temptation in the wilderness is our Gospel reading always on the first Sunday in Lent.  Mark’s version is short and without the details of Matthew and Luke (the familiar description of the temptations).  Mark tells the story in a single sentence, begun with one of his favorite words, “immediately” and then the strong word “drove.”  Jesus’ message of repentance strikes a familiar Lenten theme.  The Greek word is metanoia, which means literally “to turn around” or “to change one’s mind.”

1:9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 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. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. 14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Psalm translation is from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2018, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, www.epiphanyesources.com. All rights reserved.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Ash Wednesday Readings & Commentaries


Our Gospel today is a portion of the Sermon on the Mount.  The purpose of this teaching on almsgiving, prayer and fasting is to bring together in a vital connection those spiritual practices and the conversion of the heart. 

1st Reading:  Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
Joel is one of the later prophets in history, active after the return of the Babylonian exiles and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its Temple. The purpose of his prophecy is to discern God’s will in a huge storm of locusts which has ravaged crops.  He takes it as a call to the people to lament, a ritual expression of grief.  In chapter two the shofar sounds the alarm.  The Day of the Lord is coming like that plague of locusts.  The people’s grief must turn to repentance, and Joel lists some common practices of repentance in his day, yet he is also clear that those practices must be outward signs of an inward commitment.  The final sentence is an appeal to God’s sense of honor and duty.

2:1Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near—2a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come. 12Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. 14Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God? 15Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. 17Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep. Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”

Or this

1st Reading:  Isaiah 58:1-12
The prophet is told to reveal to the people the incongruity between their lifestyle and the values they express in their worship.  The scene is a liturgical one, announced with the shofar.  After pointing out this incongruity, the Lord reveals what genuine fasting (and other spiritual practices) should result in:  the practice of justice and a turning away from oppression.  As we begin Lent, it is not only a good idea to deny one’s self something as an act of devotion, but to take on a practice of kingdom-building as well.

58:1Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. 2Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God. 3“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. 4Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. 5Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? 6Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? 8Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. 9Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

Psalm 103:8-14
Psalm 103 is a great expression trust of the compassion and mercy of God among the psalms.  God’s mercy covers not only the forgiveness of sins, but also the healing of infirmities. The psalm also recognizes the constant need of humanity, using an image from Genesis (2:7) that we are but dust.  God knows this better than we do ourselves, but his response is not condemnation, it is “steadfast love.”

8 The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, *
slow to anger and of great kindness.
9 He will not always accuse us, *
nor will he keep his anger for ever.
10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins, *
nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.
11 For as the heavens are high above the earth, *
so is his mercy great upon those who fear him.
12 As far as the east is from the west, *
so far has he removed our sins from us.
13 As a father cares for his children, *
so does the Lord care for those who fear him.
14 For he himself knows whereof we are made; *
he remembers that we are but dust.

2nd Reading:  2 Corinthians 5:20b—6:10
In its context this passage is a summary of Paul’s defense of himself as an apostle.  This defense has been going on since the beginning of the letter.  Someone has challenged his authority and, more importantly, the content of his teaching.  He claims for himself, and all those who would follow Jesus, the ministry of reconciliation.  We are called to this ministry in all the suffering and the joy of our lives.  The catechism of The Book of Common Prayer, teaches that this ministry of reconciliation is the primary ministry of the church: “The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ” (p. 855).

20bSo we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 6:1bAs we work together with Christ, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 22For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! 3We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, 7truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Our Gospel today is a portion of the Sermon on the Mount.  The purpose of this teaching on almsgiving, prayer and fasting is to bring together in a vital connection those spiritual practices and the conversion of the heart.  Our motivation (a result of that conversion) is very important to Jesus.  We do these things not to be seen and to be thought well of.  This sharply contrasts in his own day, the Roman custom of philanthropy as a public display.  The passage ends with the question for our hearts:  Where is your treasure?

1Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 5And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 16And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 19Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2016, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, www.epiphanyesources.com. All rights reserved.  Permission is given to copy for congregational use, with attribution.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Epiphany Last Readings & Commentaries


1st Reading:  2 Kings 2:1-12

Our first reading is the story of the prophet Elijah’s ascent into heaven and the testing and succession of his protégé, Elisha. The lead-up to Elijah’s ascension is somewhat comical, showing the persistence of Elisha, and his boldness in asking for a double share. The story makes Elijah the greatest of Israel’s prophets—he does not die, but is bodily assumed.  Because of this story, there was an expectation in Israel that he would one-day return.  The same was thought by some of Moses, hence their appearance in our Gospel reading.

2:1 Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2 Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. 3 The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.” 4 Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. 5 The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be silent.” 6 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. 7 Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. 8 Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground. 9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” 10 He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” 11 As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. 12 Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

Psalm 50:1-6
Our psalm is a vision of God’s glory.

1 The Lord, the God of gods, has spoken; *
he has called the earth from the rising of the sun to
                            its setting.
2 Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty, *
God reveals himself in glory.
3 Our God will come and will not keep silence; *
before him there is a consuming flame,
and round about him a raging storm.
4 He calls the heavens and the earth from above *
to witness the judgment of his people.
5 “Gather before me my loyal followers, *
those who have made a covenant with me
and sealed it with sacrifice.”
6 Let the heavens declare the rightness of his cause; *
              for God himself is judge.

2nd Reading:  2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Two references to “the glory of Christ” make this reading a good choice to pair with the story of the Transfiguration. Paul desires that the Corinthians “pierce the veil” to find the glory shining in their hearts—the glory of God as shone forth in Jesus Christ.

4:3 If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6 For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Gospel Reading:  Mark 9:2-9
As throughout his Gospel, Mark tells the story of Jesus’ transfiguration simply but vividly. “Such as no one on earth could bleach them,” is a detail that is his alone among the Gospel writers. The transfiguration culminates and affirms Jesus’ ministry. He is the prophet both like Moses and like the great Elijah.  But Jesus knows this moment is just for them for now—it will not be understood correctly without his subsequent death and resurrection.  It is those events from which his glory truly comes.

9:2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Psalm translation is from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are by Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, www.epiphanyesources.com , copyright © 2018.  All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for congregational use, with attribution.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Epiphany 5B Readings & Commentaries


Have you not known? Have you not heard?

1st Reading:  Isaiah 40:21-31
With chapter 40, “Second Isaiah” begins with a message of renewed trust and hope to the Jewish exiles in Babylon.  Our passage today seeks to stir up the memory of these exiles. Memory is essential for faith. It leads to the confidence proclaimed at the end of the passage. If they remember, the exiles can hope again. God has plans for them beyond exile.

40:21 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? 22 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; 23 who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing. 24 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. 25 To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One. 26 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. 27 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?” 28 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. 29 He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. 30 Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; 31 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.

Psalm 147:1-12, 21c
Our psalm is a song of praise of the God who is creator and healer, the One who “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Given verse 2, it is clear this psalm comes from the same period as Second Isaiah.

1   Hallelujah!
     How good it is to sing praises to our God! *
           how pleasant it is to honor him with praise!
2   The Lord rebuilds Jerusalem; *
           he gathers the exiles of Israel.
3   He heals the brokenhearted *
           and binds up their wounds.
4   He counts the number of the stars *
           and calls them all by their names.
5   Great is our Lord and mighty in power; *
           there is no limit to his wisdom.
6   The Lord lifts up the lowly, *
           but casts the wicked to the ground.
7   Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; *
           make music to our God upon the harp.
8   He covers the heavens with clouds *
           and prepares rain for the earth;
9   He makes grass to grow upon the mountains *
           and green plants to serve mankind.
10 He provides food for flocks and herds *
           and for the young ravens when they cry.
11 He is not impressed by the might of a horse; *
           he has no pleasure in the strength of a man;
12 But the Lord has pleasure in those who fear him, *
           in those who await his gracious favor. [21c] Hallelujah!

2nd Reading:  1 Corinthians 9:16-23
In the beginning of chapter 9, Paul has agreed with the Corinthians that he is free, just as they are.  This truth even has the authority of Scripture (vv. 8-12). But in our passage, he declares that this freedom must not be used to the detriment of the spread of the gospel. We must be willing to set aside our freedom for the sake of others, particularly the weak in faith.  We are free, but we are also responsible to and for one another.

9:16 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! 17 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. 18 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. 19 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. 20 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. 21 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. 22 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. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

Gospel Reading:  Mark 1:29-39
Healing stories are central to Mark’s Gospel. His Gospel is the shortest, but he tells more healing stories than the others. For Mark, Jesus’ proclamation of the message of the Kingdom of God is enacted in healing. When the kingdom is at hand people are freed from the forces that oppress them.

1:29 When Jesus and his disciples left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. 32 That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 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. 35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 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.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Psalm translation is from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are by Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, www.epiphanyesources.com , copyright © 2018.  All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for congregational use, with attribution.