Monday, November 19, 2018

Last Sunday after Pentecost B Readings & Commentaries


We close our liturgical year with Pilate’s encounter with Jesus in the Gospel of John.  Pilate questions Jesus as if he were a threat to the order of the Roman Empire.  Does this man claim to be a king?  Jesus never answers directly but talks about a kingdom not from this world. 

1st Reading (Track 1):  2 Samuel 23:1-7
The last words of King David before his death (at 1 Kings 2:10) are in the form of a psalm praising God for his faithfulness to David’s house.  It is significant that David claims that God speaks directly to and through him.  Among his descendants this claim will gradually disappear.

23:1 Now these are the last words of David:  The oracle of David, son of Jesse, the oracle of the man whom God exalted, the anointed of the God of Jacob, the favorite of the Strong One of Israel:  2 The spirit of the Lord speaks through me, his word is upon my tongue. 3 The God of Israel has spoken, the Rock of Israel has said to me: One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, 4 is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land. 5 Is not my house like this with God? For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure. Will he not cause to prosper all my help and my desire? 6 But the godless are all like thorns that are thrown away; for they cannot be picked up with the hand; 7 to touch them one uses an iron bar or the shaft of a spear. And they are entirely consumed in fire on the spot.

Psalm 132:1-13 [14-19] (Track 1)
Psalm 132 is a hymn celebrating God’s founding of the Davidic dynasty and the choice of Zion/Jerusalem as the center of Jewish life and government.  It may have been part of a liturgy, re-enacting the discovery of the ark of the covenant by David and the grand procession he made in bringing it to Jerusalem.

1     Lord, remember David, *
              and all the hardships she endured;
2     How we swore an oath to the Lord *
              and vowed a vow to the Mighty One of Jacob:
3     “I will not come under the roof of my house, *
              nor climb up into my bed;
4     I will not allow my eyes to sleep, *
              nor let my eyelids slumber;
5     Until I find a place for the Lord, *
              a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.”
6     “The ark! We heard it was in Ephratah; *
              we found it in the fields of Jearim.
7     Let us go to God’s dwelling place; *
              let us fall upon our knees before his footstool.”
8     Arise, O Lord, into your resting-place, *
              you and the ark of your strength.
9     Let your priests be clothed with righteousness; *
              let your faithful people sing with joy.
10   For your servant David’s sake, *
              do not turn away the face of your Anointed.
11   The Lord has sworn an oath to David; *
              in truth, he will not break it:
12   “A son, the fruit of your body, *
              will I set upon your throne.
13   If your children keep my covenant
       and my testimonies that I shall teach them, *
              their children will sit upon your throne for evermore.”
[14 For the Lord has chosen Zion; *
              he has desired her for his habitation:
15   “This shall be my resting-place for ever; *
              here will I dwell for I delight in her.
16   I will surely bless her provisions, *
              and satisfy her poor with bread.
17   I will clothe her priests with salvation, *
              and her faithful people will rejoice and sing.
18   There will I make the horn of David flourish; *
              I have prepared a lamp for my Anointed.
19   As for his enemies, I will clothe them with shame; *
              but as for him, his crown will shine.”]

1st Reading (Track 2):  Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
The Book of Daniel was most likely written during the Maccabean revolt against the Greek ruler Antiochus Epiphanes IV (167-164 b.c.e.).  This was a time of enormous stress for the Jewish community, a time ripe for apocalyptic writing like Daniel.  Our passage this morning is a portion of one of the visions of Daniel.  The parts missing envision a great and terrible judgment on “the beast,” which is clearly symbolic of the Greek empire.  The portion we do read clearly foretells that God will ultimately reign in justice.  The identity of “one like a human being” has long been debated. Christians have tended to identify him as Jesus.

7:9 As I watched, thrones were set in place, and an Ancient One took his throne, his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, and its wheels were burning fire. 10 A stream of fire issued and flowed out from his presence. A thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him. The court sat in judgment, and the books were opened. 13 As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. 14 To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.

The Word of the Lord.             Thanks be to God.


Psalm 93 (Track 2)
Psalm 93 begins a section of the psalter devoted to the kingly rule of God in Israel.  Recall that it was God’s intention from the beginning to be Israel’s King. It was the people who demanded an earthly king “like the other nations.” In this psalm God’s rule is based upon God’s control over the powers of chaos, symbolized by the sea.

1     The Lord is King;
       he has put on splendid apparel; *
              the Lord has put on his apparel
              and girded himself with strength.
2     He has made the whole world so sure *
              that it cannot be moved;
3     Ever since the world began, your throne has been established; *
              you are from everlasting.
4     The waters have lifted up, O Lord,
       the waters have lifted up their voice; *
              the waters have lifted up their pounding waves.
5     Mightier than the sound of many waters,
       mightier than the breakers of the sea, *
              mightier is the Lord who dwells on high.
6     Your testimonies are very sure, *
              and holiness adorns your house, O Lord,
              for ever and for evermore.

2nd Reading:  Revelation to John 1:4b-8
As in all apocalyptic writing, the Revelation to John was written during a time of great stress—most likely one of the waves of persecution of the early Christians by the Romans (“Babylon” throughout the book is clearly symbolic of Rome).  Our passage this morning is from the introduction to the book and begins with a prayer.  Jesus is at the center of the prayer, accompanied by three powerful images. To name Jesus as “ruler of the kings of the earth” is to tell the end of the story at its beginning.  That is the significance of Jesus being “Alpha and Omega” (the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet).  Jesus is in time but stands out of time.  If it sounds like Revelation begins as a letter it is because that is its basic form.

1:4b Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 7 Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. 8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Gospel Reading:  John 18:33-37
We close our liturgical year with Pilate’s encounter with Jesus in the Gospel of John.  Pilate questions Jesus as if he were a threat to the order of the Roman Empire.  Does this man claim to be a king?  Jesus never answers directly but talks about a kingdom not from this world.  It is a kingdom unlike the kingdoms of this world in that Jesus’ followers do not fight for him.  Theirs is a non-violent movement.  Jesus’ kingdom is about truth, something about which Pilate can only be cynical, as in verse 38 he asks, “What is truth?”

18:33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

The Scripture readings (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 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 is given to copy for group study with this attribution.  Bulletin inserts are available by subscription.  Go to our website for more information.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

A Brief Introduction to the Gospel of Luke


A Short Introduction to Luke’s Gospel
The Rev. Michael W. Hopkins

The First Sunday of Advent begins a new church year, and that means a change in our Sunday morning readings.  This Advent we begin Year C, the year of Luke’s Gospel.

People often remark about the great difference between John’s Gospel and the other three (Matthew, Mark & Luke, the so-called “synoptic “Gospels), but Luke has a distinctiveness as well.  There is so much unique material in Luke, that Christianity would be very different without it.

Imagine Christianity without the birth stories of both John and Jesus, and the rich material about Jesus’ mother, Mary, in the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel.  Imagine it also without the great parables of the Good Samaritan (10:29-37), the Prodigal Son, (15:11-32), the Dishonest Manager (16:1-13), and the Rich Man and Lazarus (16:19-31).  Then there is the story of the two thieves crucified with Jesus and the post-Easter story of Jesus on the Road to Emmaus (24:13-35).

Luke is also distinct in that it was not written to a community and its circumstances, as Matthew, Mark, and John all seem to be.  Luke writes to an individual, “Theophilus,” although the name, meaning “friend of God” may be a stand-in for the generic audience to which he writes.  If the latter is the case, Luke seems to be written to the community of Christians dispersed throughout the Roman Empire, and part of his agenda seems to be both helping those people find their place in the Empire, and as an apology for the Christian movement to the Empire itself.

Luke is also distinct because he writes a second volume, which we know as the Acts of the Apostles.

Five other characteristics to watch for in Luke:

   Luke is sometimes called the “Gospel of the Holy Spirit,” because the Spirit shows up many times, especially in the first two chapters.  The Holy Spirit is mentioned more times in Luke’s Gospel than the other three Gospels combined.

   Women have a special place in Luke’s Gospel.  Both Elizabeth and Mary have major roles in the first two chapters, and then Luke has a habit of telling parallel parables, one with a male and one with a female character.  Luke is also the only Gospel writer to speak of the women who followed Jesus and who helped fund his mission (8:1-3).

   Luke believes that Jesus is the one who interprets the Scriptures for us, from the story of the young Jesus in the Temple (2:41-52) to his “inaugural sermon” (4:14-30) to the Road to Emmaus story.

     There is a universalism in Luke’s Gospel, certainly more so than the others.  Jesus is the savior of the whole world.  His emphasis is on the mercy of God, and he downplays the notion of Jesus’ death as a “sacrifice.”  Jesus is rather the defeater of death who continues his presence with us in the breaking of the bread.

     The message of Jesus is one that “turns the world upside down,” explicitly at Acts 17:6, but this fundamental characteristic can be found in such places as Mary’s Song (1:46-55), his version of the beatitudes (6:20-26), and many of the parables.  This aspect of the message of Jesus is sometimes called “The Great Reversal.”

Who was Luke?  He was not one of the twelve disciples, nor an “eyewitness.” He says he is writing an “orderly account” of what eyewitnesses have handed down (1:1-4).  He was a companion of St. Paul’s, testified to in the Acts of the Apostles (although he is not actually named), and mentioned by name by St. Paul in three of his letters: Colossians 4:14, 2 Timothy 4:11, and Philemon 1:24.  In the Colossian reference, Paul calls him “the beloved physician.”

There is longstanding debate as to whether Luke was a Gentile or a Jew.  Argument for the latter revolves around his concern that Jesus is the fulfillment of Jewish Scripture, although he quotes the Hebrew Scriptures far less than, say, Matthew.  Yet he writes in a kind of universalism that makes one believe he is a Greek.  Perhaps he was both, i.e., a “Hellenized Jew,” either a convert or a Jew raised in the diaspora.

The Eastern Church holds Luke to be the originator of the icon, although mention of this dates only from the 8th century.

Luke does seem to have known Mark’s Gospel and uses it as a source. He also has some content in common with Matthew (from an unknown source often referred to simply as “Q”).  Most scholars date the writing of the Gospel to the latter decades of the first century.

An Outline of Luke’s Gospel

        I.           Prologue (1:1-4)
      II.           Birth of John and Jesus (1:5—4:13)
     III.           Public Ministry of Jesus in Galilee (4:14—9:50)
     IV.           The Journey to Jerusalem (9:51—19:27)
      V.           Ministry of Jesus in Jerusalem (19:28—21:38)
     VI.           Jesus’ Passion & Death (22:1—23:56)
   VII.           Resurrection & Appearances (24:1-53)

The Gospel of Luke in the Lectionary

        I.           Advent & Christmas
a.       1st Sun: The “Little Apocalypse (21:25-31)
b.      2nd/3rd Sun: John the Baptist & Jesus (3:1-18)
c.       4th Sun: Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth (1:39-56)
d.      Christmas Eve: Luke’s birth story (2:1-20)
e.      2nd Sun: Option of Jesus in the Temple (2:41-52)

      II.           Season after the Epiphany:
a.       1st Sun: Jesus’ Baptism (3:15-22)
b.      3rd to 8th Sun:  Jesus inaugural ministry (from Luke 4:14 to 6:49)
c.       Last Sun: Transfiguration story (9:28-36)

     III.           Lent, Holy Week & Easter
a.       1st Sun: Temptation of Jesus (4:1-3)
b.      2nd/3rd Sun: 13:1-9 & 31-35
c.       4th Sun: Prodigal Son (15:11-32)
d.      Palm/Passion Sunday:  19:28-40 & 22:14—23:56
e.      Easter Vigil or Day:  Luke 24:1-12
f.        Rest of Easter Year C from John’s Gospel. Note: We read Luke 24:13-35 on 3rd Sun Year A & 24:36-48 on 3rd Sun Year B.
g.       Ascension Day: 24:44-53

     IV.           Season after Pentecost (Ordinary Time)
a.       Passages from Luke 7:1—21:19 (chapter 7 may be left out if Easter is late)

Copyright © 2018, Epiphany ESources, www.epiphanyesources.com, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843.  Permission to copy for congregational use, or to include portions of the above in newsletters or bulletins, so long as this reference remains.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Proper 28B (26 Pentecost 2018) Readings & Commentaries


The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews continues to use the image of the high priesthood to speak of the work of Christ.  The contrast is made between the priest who stands day after day before God and Christ who is seated at God’s right hand, who has made the permanent offering.  

1st Reading (Track 1):  1 Samuel 1:4-20
This passage is the story of the miraculous birth of the prophet Samuel.  The Book of Judges (in time, the book prior to this) has ended in chaos.  “Everyone did what was right in their own eyes” (21:25).  Here a hopeful note sounds.  God intervenes in a hopeless situation, and Samuel is born, who will lead his people to the re-establishment of order and a kingdom.  Note the boldness of Hannah, despite the scorn she undergoes from both her co-wife and the priest.  In 1:21-22, she returns with her weaned son to the priest and gives him into the service of the Lord.  The song she sings then follows, as below.

1:4 On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; 5 but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. 6 Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. 7 So it went on year by year; as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. 8 Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?” 9 After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 10 She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. 11 She made this vow: “O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.” 12 As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk. 14 So Eli said to her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.” 15 But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. 16 Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.” 17 Then Eli answered, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” 18 And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your sight.” Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer. 19 They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. 20 In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the Lord.”

Canticle (Track 1): The Song of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10)
Hannahs’ song is the praise of one who is lifted up by God, who is a reverser of fortunes.  Mary will dip into her ancestor Hannah’s song to sing her own in Luke 1.

My heart exults in you, O God; *
       my triumph song is lifted in you.
My mouth derides my enemies, *
       for I rejoice in your salvation.
There is none holy like you, *
       nor any rock to be compared to you, our God.
Do not heap up prideful words or speak in arrogance; *
       only God is knowing and weighs all actions.
The weapons of the mighty are broken, *
       but the weak are clothed in strength.
Those once full now labor for bread; *
       those who hungered now are well fed.
The childless woman finds her life fruitful, *
       and the mother of many sits forlorn.
God destroys and brings to life, casts down and raises up; *
       gives wealth or takes it away, humbles and dignifies.
God raises the poor from the dust; *
       and lifts the needy from the ash heap
To make them sit with rulers *
       and inherit a place of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are God’s *
       on which the whole earth is founded.
God will guide the path of the faithful, *
       but the wicked will languish in darkness.
For it is not by human might *
       that any mortal will prevail.
The foes of God will be shattered; *
       the Most High will thunder through the heavens.
The Almighty will judge the earth to its ends *
       and will give strength to the ruler of God’s own choosing.

1st Reading (Track 2):  Daniel 12:1-3
Daniel 12:1-4 is the concluding paragraph of a long apocalyptic vision that begins at Daniel 10:1.  It is a vision of the future struggle of the righteous versus the faithless (a common theme of apocalyptic writing).  The background is the Maccabean revolt against the Greek ruler Antiochus Epiphanes IV, 167-164 b.c.e.  This passage is unique in that it is only one of three Old Testament texts that directly express belief in the resurrection of the dead.  Michael is one of the biblical archangels, whose name means “who is like God.”  He also appears in the Book of Revelation. (The other biblical archangels are Gabriel and Raphael).

12:1 At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise. There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. 2 Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

Psalm 16 (Track 2)
Traditionally this psalm is seen as King David speaking about himself.  The last three verses confess assurance that the writer will live and not die, a possible hint at resurrection.  “Sheol” and “the Pit” refer to the realm of the dead, where most Jews believed everyone ended up.

1     Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you; *
              I have said to the Lord, “You are my Lord,
              my good above all other.”.
2     All my delight is upon the godly who are in the land, *
              upon those who are noble among the people.
3     But those who run after other gods *
              shall have their troubles multiplied.
4     Their libations of blood I will not offer, *
              nor take the names of their gods upon my lips.
5     O Lord, you are my portion and my cup; *
              it is you who uphold my lot.
6     My boundaries enclose a pleasant land; *
              indeed, I have a goodly heritage.
7     I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel; *
              my heart teaches me, night after night.
8     I have set the Lord always before me; *
              because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.
9     My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; *
              my body also shall rest in hope.
10   For you will not abandon me to the grave, *
              nor let your holy one see the Pit.
11   You will show me the path of life; *
              in your presence there is fullness of joy,
              and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.

2nd Reading:  Hebrews 10:11-14, [15-18], 19-25
The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews continues to use the image of the high priesthood to speak of the work of Christ.  The contrast is made between the priest who stands day after day before God and Christ who is seated at God’s right hand, a symbol of the permanence of his offering.  This offering should give us confidence to approach God with a clean conscience, a hope to which we should hold fast.  At the end there is an exhortation to keep the discipline of community.

10:11 Every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,” 13 and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.” 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.
[15 And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying, 16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord:  I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,” 17 he also adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” 18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.]
19 Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Gospel Reading:  Mark 13:1-8
Mark 13 is sometimes called “the little apocalypse.” Its writing is very different from the rest of Mark. It reads more like Daniel or Revelation.  An apocalypse is a vision of the future, a glimpse behind reality to what is “really” going on.  Dramatic language and imagery are used to weave a symbolic picture.  As chapter 13 begins, Jesus is leaving the Temple for the last time and predicts its destruction (which will occur in 70 c.e.).  On the Mount of Olives, opposite the Temple, the disciples ask him when this is to happen.  He responds enigmatically, speaking about a time of crisis.  But the disciples are not to despair. The crisis is also a birth.

13:1 As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2 Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” 3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5 Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

The Scripture readings (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 Canticle translation is copyright © 2007 Church Publishing, Inc.  The Collect of the Day 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 is given to copy for congregational use with this attribution.