Monday, March 27, 2017

Lent 5A Readings & Commentaries

Unbind him and let him go!
The First Reading:  Ezekiel 37:1-14
Ezekiel was a prophet at the time of the kingdom of Judah’s demise and the deportation of many of the people to Babylon. In our passage this morning the prophet is speaking out of this experience of destruction and exile. What the prophet sees is a vision of the stunning power of God to bring newness to what seems lost or dead. The community will come home and be restored, but only by the sovereign power of God.

37:1 The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3 He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” 7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” 10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. 11 Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God:  I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”

Psalm 130

1  Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord;
     Lord, hear my voice; *
let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.
2  If you, Lord, were to note what is done amiss, *
O Lord, who could stand?
3  For there is forgiveness with you; *
therefore you shall be feared.
4  I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; *
in his word is my hope.
5  My soul waits for the Lord,
    more than watchmen for the morning, *
more than watchmen for the morning.
6  O Israel, wait for the Lord, *
for with the Lord there is mercy;
7  With him there is plenteous redemption, *
            and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.

The Second Reading:  Romans 8:6-11
The eighth chapter of Romans is pivotal in the letter.  It is also Paul’s most extensive treatment of the Spirit of God. The Spirit is that divine power that brings us “out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life” (Eucharistic Prayer B from The Book of Common Prayer, p. 368). This Spirit also assures as, as this chapter will proclaim at its end, that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. “The flesh” is Paul’s metaphor for everything and anything that can separate us from God.

8:6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

The Holy Gospel:  John 11:1-45
Our Gospel reading concludes the encounters of individuals with Jesus in the Gospel of John with the story of the raising of Lazarus. The encounter is really with Martha and Mary, of course, but Lazarus is the main character throughout. It is an awesome story. Jesus is clearly emotionally involved, and the story ends on an ominous note.  Great rejoicing at the raising is not what is recorded, but a kind of awestruck silence on the one hand, and a grim determination on the part of the authorities that Jesus is simply too dangerous to tolerate further (11:46).

11:1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11 After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” 17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” 28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” 38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” 45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

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 © 2017, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study with attribution.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Lent 4A Readings & Commentaries

The First Reading:  1 Samuel 16:1-13
The call of David to be King of Israel is a story meant to underscore both David’s specialness and the ability of God to see what mortals cannot. Saul, the first King of a united Israel, has been rejected by God, and, as our story begins, the prophet Samuel is still taking this rejection hard. God insists Samuel overcome both his grief and his fear to anoint a new king from the obscure town of Bethlehem. His choice is the lowliest of the sons of Jesse, although the text cannot help itself in telling us he “was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome!”

16:1 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” 2 Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” 4 Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” 5 He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. 6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord's anointed is now before the Lord.” 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 8 Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 11 Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” 12 He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

Psalm 23
The most beloved of psalms is usually taken as a personal expression of God’s steadfast love and comfort for the believer, and that it is. Yet it is clear that this pastoral expression comes out of the real experience of danger, sorrow, and, perhaps, exclusion. It is a song of how the faithfulness of our good God turns the world upside down, as Shepherd and Host.

1  The Lord is my shepherd; *
            I shall not be in want.
2  He makes me lie down in green pastures *
            and leads me beside still waters.
3  He revives my soul*
            and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.
4  Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I shall fear no evil; *
            for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5  You spread a table before me in the presence of those
                                who trouble me; *
            you have anointed my head with oil; and my cup is running over.
6  Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days
                                of my life, *
            and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

The Second Reading:  Ephesians 5:8-14
The first sentence of this reading from Ephesians might very well be the theme of the entire letter.  Paul emphasizes throughout it the “before and after” nature of Christian living.  The quote is probably from an early Christian hymn.

5:8 Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light—9 for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. 10 Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; 13 but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14 for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

The Holy Gospel:  John 9:1-41
Our Gospel reading continues the encounters of individuals with Jesus in the Gospel of John.  None is better told than the story of the unnamed blind man.  This story plays into another of John’s major themes:  light and darkness.  Notice as well at beginning and end the issue is misunderstandings about the nature of sin.  Like the Samaritan woman from last week’s Gospel, as the story progresses the blind man understands more and more who Jesus is and what the miracle means beyond himself.

9:1 As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” 13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” 18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” 24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out. 35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains."

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 © 2017, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved. Permission is granted to copy for group study purposes with attribution.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Lent 3A Readings & Commentaries

Moses Striking the Rock
Marc Chagall
The First Reading:  Exodus 17:1-7
At this point in the Book of Exodus the people have fled from Egypt and successfully crossed “the sea of reeds.” They now find themselves in the vast wilderness of the Sinai and their elation changes to complaint. Moses is attacked as a leader and he, in turn, complains to God. God responds with the miracle of water at Massah and Meribah (Hebrew words that mean “test” and “find fault,” thus the place is a memorial not to the miracle, but to the people’s unfaithfulness).

17:1 From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Psalm 95
Psalm 95 (at least verses 1-7) is known in Anglican tradition as “The Venite,” frequently used as the invitatory psalm of Morning Prayer (see BCP, p. 82). The psalm is divided into two very different parts: Verses 1-7 (or 8a) as a call to worship and 8-11 (or 8b-11) as a dire warning about keeping right relationship with God, using the story of the water at Meribah and Massah as an example of having a “hardened heart.” The two parts of the psalm serve to hold up two vital aspects of our relationship with God:  praise and obedience.

1  Come, let us sing to the Lord; *
            let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation.
2  Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving *
            and raise a loud shout to him with psalms.
3  For the Lord is a great God, *
            and a great King above all gods.
4  In his hand are the caverns of the earth, *
            and the heights of the hills are his also.
5  The sea is his, for he made it, *
            and his hands have molded the dry land.
6  Come, let us bow down, and bend the knee, *
            and kneel before the Lord our Maker.
7  For he is our God,
    and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. *
            Oh, that today you would hearken to his voice
8  Harden not your hearts,
    as your forebears did in the wilderness, *
            at Meribah, and on that day at Massah, when they tempted me.
9  They put me to the test, *
            though they had seen my works.
10  Forty years long I detested that generation and said, *
            “This people are wayward in their hearts;
            they do not know my ways.”
11  So I swore in my wrath, *
            “They shall not enter into my rest.”

The Second Reading:  Romans 5:1-11
“Boasting” here for Paul does not have the negative connotation it has for most of us, but is meant to convey an exuberant confidence. The sequence “endurance, character, hope” is important for Paul and is autobiographical in nature. He speaks from his experience. Yet it is equally important to know that these things are not works that come from within us. They do so only in that “the love of God has been poured into our hearts.”

5:1 Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. 11 But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

The Holy Gospel:  John 4:5-42
We began our Lenten journey with individuals from John’s Gospel last week with Nicodemus.  Each of these characters is faced with surprising newness from Jesus.  Here newness comes through his speaking to the woman at the well in the first place, his honesty with her, and his talk of “living water” available even to her, a Samaritan. She gradually comes to understand who Jesus is and her announcement of his dealings with her are the first public witness in John’s Gospel. In later Christian tradition (especially in the East), she is known as Photini, “enlightened.”

4:5 Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. 7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” 27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 30 They left the city and were on their way to him. 31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” 39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

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 © 2017, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved.  Permission is granted to copy for group study with attribution.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Lent 2A Readings & Commentaries

Nicodemus & Jesus
The First Reading:  Genesis 12:1-4a
The call of Abram is our first reading today. Abram and Sarai have just been introduced (11:27-32) and the simple divine command is given:  “Go.” Then follows the promise of children to the couple. Sarai had been introduced in 11:30 as “barren.” For many chapters (until Genesis 21) this promise will remain constant yet unfulfilled. Abram, however, continues to believe God and follow the command, with only one instance of wavering (Genesis 16:1-6). Thus, the story of the formation of the people of God begins with faith required despite all signs to the contrary. Lot is Abram’s nephew.

4:1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” 4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him.

Psalm 121
Our psalm today is one of the “Songs of Ascent,” more than likely songs sung by pilgrims on their way to festivals in Jerusalem.  Lifting up one’s eyes to the hills may be either an allusion to the inspiration of nature or (more likely) an observation of the places of pagan worship that would have dotted the hilltops, and declaring one’s allegiance to the God of the Jerusalem Temple.

1  I lift up my eyes to the hills; *
from where is my help to come?
2   My help comes from the Lord, *
the maker of heaven and earth.
3  He will not let your foot be moved *
and he who watches over you will not fall asleep.
4  Behold, he who keeps watch over Israel *
shall neither slumber nor sleep;
5  The Lord himself watches over you; *
the Lord is your shade at your right hand,
6  So that the sun shall not strike you by day, *
nor the moon by night.
7  The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; *
it is he who shall keep you safe.
8  The Lord shall watch over your going out and your coming in, *
from this time forth for evermore.

The Second Reading:  Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
What follows is Paul’s interpretation (or midrash) of the Abraham story. He makes much of Abraham’s decision to “go” as a decision of faith, which Genesis says “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Paul uses this to contrast “justification by works” and “justification by faith.” A “midrash” is a particularly Jewish form of interpretation, one which we might say attempts to “read between the lines” of the story.

4:1 What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. 5 But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness. 13 For 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.

The Holy Gospel:  John 3:1-17
The familiar story of Nicodemus’ meeting with Jesus begins a series of Gospel readings through the rest of Lent in Year A, of individual’s encounters with Jesus in the Gospel of John (still to come:  the Samaritan Woman at the well in John 4, the man born blind in John 9, and Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in John 11). Today’s reading makes most sense when one pays attention to the double entendres, which, unfortunately, depend on the Greek text, and cannot be easily seen in English translation:  Spirit/wind (the same word in Greek); “from above,” which can also be translated “again;” and the pairing of “lift up” and “crucify.”  The latter pair, juxtaposed as they are, leave the paradox of the cross, either as an exaltation or a humiliation.

3:1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

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 © 2017, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved.  Permission granted to copy for group study with attribution.