Sunday, March 17, 2019

Lent 3C Readings & Commentaries

Our first reading is the well-known story of the burning bush.  It catches Moses’ eye while he is tending his father-in-law’s flock.  God calls to him out of the bush and identifies himself as the Hebrews’ God. 

1st Reading:  Exodus 3:1-15
Our first reading is the well-known story of the burning bush.  It catches Moses’ eye while he is tending his father-in-law’s flock.  God calls to him out of the bush and identifies himself as the Hebrews’ God.  He has heard the cry of his people and has determined to deliver them!  Moses is to go back to Egypt.  He protests like all good prophets, but God has made up his mind.  Who is this God?  Scholars have never quite known how to translate what is said.  The name of this God is mystery, four Hebrew characters:  YHWH.  Jews traditionally have never attempted to pronounce this “name.”  It appears in the English translation of the Hebrew Scriptures as Lord.

3:1 Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3 Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” 4 When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. 7 Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9 The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” 13 But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am Who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.”

Psalm 63:1-8
This psalm is a prayer of deliverance from one’s enemies, recognizing God as the only true help. It is a practical psalm, but one that has mystical qualities. The love between God and the psalmist is intensely emotional, a love that rivals all other loves. The name YHWH does not appear in this psalm.
1 O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; *
my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you,
as in a barren and dry land where there is no water.
2 Therefore I have gazed upon you in your holy place, *
that I might behold your power and your glory.
3 For your loving-kindness is better than life itself; *
my lips shall give you praise.
4 So will I bless you as long as I live *
and lift up my hands in your Name.
5 My soul is content, as with marrow and fatness, *
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips,
6 When I remember you upon my bed, *
and meditate on you in the night watches.
7 For you have been my helper, *
and under the shadow of your wings I will rejoice.
8 My soul clings to you; *
your right hand holds me fast.

2nd Reading:  1 Corinthians 10:1-13
In this portion of 1 Corinthians 10, Paul uses incidents in the book of Numbers to teach about times of testing and the dangers of falling into idolatry.  Paul’s interpretation is consistent with Jewish midrash, a method that freely uses biblical texts to form new interpretations.  Passages from Numbers referred to include (in order), 11:6-9 &20:1-13 (v. 3-4); 26:65 & 14:19-20 (v.5); 11:4, 34-35 (v. 6); Exodus 32:6 (v.7); Numbers 25:1-2 (v.8), 21:5-6 (v.9); 14:2 (v.10).

10:1 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness. 6 Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. 7 Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.” 8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. 10 And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11 These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. 12 So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. 13 No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

Gospel Reading:  Luke 13:1-9
This passage (unique to Luke) foreshadows Jesus’ rejection in Jerusalem, to which he is traveling.  Jesus responds first to Pilate’s murder of Galileans in or near the Temple and then the collapse of a tower in Jerusalem killing eighteen people.  Both may be interpreted as punishment for sin.  Jesus says those killed were not more or less sinful they anybody else. But, he says, “unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” He probably means to emphasize the necessity of repentance in the face of death which could come at any time.  The parable that follows softens this urgency of repentance, by suggesting the forbearance of God.

13:1 At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” 6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7 So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ 8 He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

The readings are taken from The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible © 1989 by The Division of Christian Education of The National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.  The translation of the Psalm is from The Book of Common Prayer. Commentary on the readings is copyright © 2019, Epiphany Esources, 67 E Main St, Hornell, NY 14843, All rights reserved. Permission granted to copy for group study. Bulletin inserts are available. Go to our website for more information.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Lent 2C Readings & Commentaries

Our Gospel reading begins with a warning from the Pharisees, who are generally seen in a more positive light in Luke’s Gospel.

1st Reading:  Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
By now God’s promise to Abram has become old and stale.  This brings up the frequently perceived distance between God’s promises and what we human beings experience. God responds to Abram’s lament by reiterating the promise—and Abram believes (again)! Then there is a strange covenant ceremony, the origin of which we do not know.  It may have something to do with the fact that the Hebrew word for “make a covenant” literally means “cut a covenant.”  Verse 6, “He believed the Lord, and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness,” is a critical moment both in the Abraham story, but for biblical faith as a whole.

15:1 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4 But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5 He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness. 7 Then he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.” 8 But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” 9 He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. 12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. 17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.

Psalm 27
Psalm 27 (attributed to David) begins as a song of trust, then in verse seven becomes a cry for help, but ends with an expression of confidence.  This echoes the reality dealt with in the first reading of our need to trust in the promise in spite of present circumstances.

1 The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? *
         the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?
2 When evildoers came upon me to eat up my flesh, *
         it was they, my foes and my adversaries, who stumbled and fell.
3 Though an army should encamp against me, *
         yet my heart shall not be afraid;
4 And though war should rise up against me, *
         yet will I put my trust in him.
5 One thing have I asked of the Lord; one thing I seek; *
         that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life;
6 To behold the fair beauty of the Lord *
         and to seek him in his temple.
7 For in the day of trouble he shall keep me safe in his shelter; *
         he shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling
         and set me high upon a rock.
8 Even now he lifts up my head *
         above my enemies round about me.
9 Therefore I will offer in his dwelling an oblation
   with sounds of great gladness; *
         I will sing and make music to the Lord.
10 Hearken to my voice, O Lord, when I call; *
         have mercy on me and answer me.
11 You speak in my heart and say, “Seek my face.” *
         Your face, Lord, will I seek.
12 Hide not your face from me, *
         nor turn away your servant in displeasure.
13 You have been my helper; cast me not away; *
         do not forsake me, O God of my salvation.
14 Though my father and my mother forsake me, *
         the Lord will sustain me.
15 Show me your way, O Lord; *
         lead me on a level path, because of my enemies.
16 Deliver me not into the hand of my adversaries, *
         for false witnesses have risen up against me,
         and also those who speak malice.
17 What if I had not believed
     that I should see the goodness of the Lord *
         in the land of the living!
18 O tarry and await the Lord’s pleasure;
     be strong, and he shall comfort your heart; *
         wait patiently for the Lord.

2nd Reading:  Philippians 3:17—4:1
Paul begins this passage by setting himself up against the “enemies of the cross of Christ.”  We do not know who these people are. “Their God is the belly” is too vague to tell us much.  Their minds, Paul says are “set on earthly things.”  The church’s identity is in heaven, i.e., it lives by a vision outside of itself.  This is not, however, to say only heaven matters. Quite the contrary, Paul is stating emphatically that it is our vision of the future that enables our lives in the present.

3:17 Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. 18 For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. 19 Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21 He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. 4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

Gospel Reading:  Luke 13:31-35
Our Gospel reading begins with a warning from the Pharisees, who are generally seen in a more positive light in Luke’s Gospel. Yet Jesus dismisses their warning, saying “I am headed for Jerusalem.” There, he implies, he will meet his death. He then laments over the city, citing Psalm 118:26, which the crowds will shout as he enters the city on Palm Sunday. Note Jesus’ use of feminine imagery in describing his work.
13:31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

The readings are taken from The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible © 1989 by The Division of Christian Education of The National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.  The translation of the Psalm is from The Book of Common Prayer. Commentary on the readings is copyright © 2019, Epiphany Esources, 67 E Main St, Hornell, NY 14843, All rights reserved. Permission granted to copy for group study. Bulletin inserts are available. For information go to our website.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Lent 1C Readings & Commentaries

The account of Jesus’ forty days of trial and temptation in the wilderness is always the Gospel reading on the 1st Sunday in Lent. The Spirit is the director of the action, 

1st Reading:  Deuteronomy 26:1-11
The readings from the Hebrew Scriptures this Lent are a tour through the history of ancient Israel.  This morning’s reading is a creedal summary of the events leading up to the Exodus, meant to be a reminder to Israel of what God had done for them.  The creed at its most basic is “I was nothing…I was delivered…I was given abundance.” Their remembrance was to be made tangible through on offering of “first fruits.”  Secondary generosity is seen as a symptom of amnesia and faithlessness.

26:1 When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, 2 you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. 3 You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, “Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” 4 When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, 5 you shall make this response before the Lord your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. 6 When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, 7 we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. 8 The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; 9 and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. 11 Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
Our psalm this morning is used by Luke in his description of the temptation of Jesus (Luke 4:10-11). It may have been an important text from the Hebrew Scriptures among the early followers of Jesus attempting to understand his ministry. The first two verses are an exhortation to trust. What follows are promises of the results of that trust. The promises are comforting, but also unsettling to anyone whose faithfulness has not been rewarded in these ways. Yet just as God has an ideal dream for the creation (which sometimes falls short), so humankind has an ideal dream for God (which sometimes falls short). The dream, nevertheless, lives on, is held deeply, and its fulfillment is expected when the reign of God is complete.

1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, *
         abides under the shadow of the Almighty.
2 He shall say to the Lord,
   “You are my refuge and my stronghold, *
         my God in whom I put my trust.”
9 Because you have made the Lord your refuge, *
         and the Most High your habitation,
10 There shall no evil happen to you, *
         neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.
11 For he shall give his angels charge over you, *
         to keep you in all your ways.
12 They shall bear you in their hands, *
         lest you dash your foot against a stone.
13 You shall tread upon the lion and adder; *
         you shall trample the young lion and the serpent under your feet.
14 Because he is bound to me in love, therefore will I deliver him; *
         I will protect him, because he knows my Name.
15 He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; *
         I am with him in trouble;
         I will rescue him and bring him to honor.
16 With long life will I satisfy him, *
         and show him my salvation.

2nd Reading:  Romans 10:8b-13
Our second reading today begins with a quote from Deuteronomy (30:14), which Paul uses in his argument (an argument which has been going on for some time in this letter) that it is the righteousness of faith that saves us, not the righteousness received from following the law.  This reading is a concise statement of Paul’s understanding of salvation, including the universality of its scope.  The final quote is Joel 2:32.

8b “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11 The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13 For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Gospel Reading:  Luke 4:1-13
The account of Jesus’ forty days of trial and temptation in the wilderness is always the Gospel reading on the 1st Sunday in Lent. The Spirit is the director of the action, as it is throughout Luke’s Gospel. The devil figure in the story can in many ways be seen as the “anti-Spirit.” Jesus reaches back to Deuteronomy for each of his retorts (8:3, 10:20, 6:16). The devil uses this morning’s psalm (91:11-12) as well as Deuteronomy (6:13).  There is an appropriate and inappropriate use of Scripture.  Overall, the story wants us to be clear about the reality of evil.  As one commentator says, “In whatever images or concepts the power of evil may be presented, it is the testimony of experience as well as Scripture that there is in the world opposition to love, health, wholeness, and peace” (Fred Craddock, et al., Preaching through the Christian Year C, 1994, p. 140).

1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” 5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ 11 and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

The readings are taken from The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible © 1989 by The Division of Christian Education of The National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.  The translation of the Psalm is from The Book of Common Prayer. Commentary on the readings is copyright © 2019, Epiphany Esources, 67 E Main St, Hornell, NY 14843, All rights reserved. Permission granted to copy for group study with this notice. Bulletin inserts are available. Visit our website for more information.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Ash Wednesday Readings & Commentaries

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

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 should result in:  the practice of justice and a turning away from oppression.

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 as a whole is the greatest expression in the psalms of trust in the compassion and mercy of God.  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,” [hesed] an important concept in the Hebrew Scriptures.

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).

5:20bSo 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. 6:1As 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?  The skipped portion of chapter six is the teaching of what we call the Lord’s Prayer.

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 readings are taken from The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible © 1989 by The Division of Christian Education of The National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.  The Collect of the Day and the translation of the Psalm are from The Book of Common Prayer. Commentary on the readings is copyright © 2019, Epiphany Esources, All rights reserved. Permission granted to copy for congregational use with subscription.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Last Epiphany C Readings & Commentaries

Luke’s story of the Transfiguration contains one detail that Matthew and Mark lack.  We are told about what Jesus, Moses, and Elijah are speaking: “his [Jesus’] departure, which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem.” 

1st Reading:  Exodus 34:29-35
This section of the Book of Exodus (chs. 32-34) is the account of the renewal of the covenant after the rebellion of the people and the smashing of the first tablets (chs. 19-24).  Our reading today is the account of Moses returning from the mountain the second time with the two tablets containing the Ten Commandments. Moses’ face shone because he had been in the presence of God.  The people were afraid and so Moses used a veil.  This apparently continued as Moses went in and out of the Tabernacle to speak with God.

34:29 Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. 32 Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. 33 When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; 34 but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

Psalm 99
Psalm 99 proclaims God as King and is part of the “enthronement psalms” (Psalms 93, 95-99).  Their purpose is to proclaim that God still reigns despite the failure of the Davidic covenant, including the loss of land, temple, and monarchy.  The references here are back to “origins,” to Moses and Aaron and (most significantly) Samuel, who opposed the establishment of the monarchy on the grounds that only God could be Israel’s king.

1     The Lord is king;
       let the people tremble; *
            he is enthroned upon the cherubim;
            let the earth shake.
2     The Lord is great in Zion; *
            he is high above all peoples.
3     Let them confess his Name, which is great and awesome; *
            he is the Holy One.
4     “O mighty King, lover of justice,
       you have established equity; *
            you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.”
5     Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
       and fall down before his footstool; *
            he is the Holy One.
6     Moses and Aaron among his priests,
       and Samuel among those who call upon his Name. *
            they called upon the Lord, and he answered them.
7     He spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud; *
            they kept his testimonies and the decree that he gave them.
8     O Lord our God, you answered them indeed; *
            you were a God who forgave them,
            yet punished them for their evil deeds.
9     Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
       and worship him upon his holy hill; *
            for the Lord our God is the Holy One.

2nd Reading: 2 Corinthians 3:12—4:2
Our second reading is Paul’s midrash (a form of Jewish biblical interpretation in which the interpreter is often fairly free with the original text) on our first reading from Exodus.  He speaks of the veil over Moses’ face as akin to the veil over the minds and hearts of the people of Israel so that they could not understand the message.  It is a veil, he says, that only Christ can set aside.  This is a difficult passage for those of us who have great respect for our Jewish brothers and sisters.  Paul is making exclusivist claims about his own faith against that of his fellow Jews.  Yet the passage ends well: we are being changed from one degree of glory to another and we do not lose heart.

3:12 Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, 13 not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. 14 But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. 15 Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; 16 but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. 4:1 Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.

Gospel Reading: Luke 9:28-43
Luke’s story of the Transfiguration contains one detail that Matthew and Mark lack.  We are told about what Jesus, Moses, and Elijah are speaking: “his [Jesus’] departure, which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem.”  Indeed near the end of the chapter (v. 51) there will be a sudden transition:  “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”  Peter assumes/hopes the experience will last longer but they are sent quickly away with the same voice from Jesus’ baptism: “This is my Son, my Chosen,” with the added “Listen to him!”  Having returned from the mountain Jesus is dismayed to find the rest of the disciples powerless to help a child in need.

9:28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. 37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39 Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. 40 I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41 Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42 While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43 And all were astounded at the greatness of God.

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, E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, , copyright © 2018.  All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study with this attribution.  Bulletin inserts are available. Go to our website for more information.