Sunday, December 8, 2019

Advent 3A Readings & Commentaries

The Third Sunday of Advent traditionally is called Gaudate Sunday, a name which comes from the first word of the Latin Mass introit on this Sunday:  Gaudate, “be joyful, or “rejoice.” The color is sometimes lightened to rose, signaling that we are more than halfway to Christmas.  Some people call this “Stir Up Sunday” because of the first words of the Collect of the Day.

The Collect of the Day
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

1st Reading:  Isaiah 35:1-10
Last week Isaiah’s vision (11:1-10) was of nature transformed, especially the natural enemies within the animal kingdom.  This week the land is transformed as well.  This is especially true of the wilderness, the desert, the places hostile to the people of God.  The highway of which Isaiah speaks is the way back to Israel from Babylon, where much of Israel has been in exile.  Read Psalm 137—a description of life in exile. This vision is meant to be its opposite.

35:1 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus 2 it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. 3 Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. 4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.” 5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6 then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; 7 the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. 8 A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. 9 No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. 10 And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Canticle:  The Song of Mary (Luke 1:46b-55)
In place of a psalm today, we are using Mary’s song upon hearing the greeting of her cousin Elizabeth, in the translation from The Book of Common Prayer (Canticle 15). It is commonly known as “the Magnificat” (the first word in its Latin translation). Mary rejoices in what God has done for her but sees a much larger implication:  the overturning of systems of oppression. She also sings in unity with her ancestor Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10). Her song also anticipates the words of her son in today’s Gospel reading.
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; *
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed: *
The Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him *
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm, *
he has scattered the proud in their conceit,
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
and lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise made to our fathers, *
       to Abraham and his children for ever.

Or this

Psalm 146:4-9
Psalms 146-150 are sometimes called the “Hallelujah” psalms, as they are all psalms of celebration that begin and end with “Hallelujah” (Hebrew for “Praise the Lord”). Collectively, they serve as a kind of doxology to the entire collection of psalms. Psalm 146 declares happy (or blessed) those who hope in God and then proceeds to give reasons, a description of the God of Israel.

4 Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help! *
whose hope is in the Lord their God;
5 Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them;*
who keeps his promise for ever;
6 Who gives justice to those who are oppressed, *
and food to those who hunger.
7 The Lord sets the prisoners free;
   the Lord opens the eyes of the blind; *
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
8 The Lord loves the righteous;
   the Lord cares for the stranger; *
he sustains the orphan and widow,
but frustrates the way of the wicked.
9 The Lord shall reign for ever, *
your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.

2nd Reading:  James 5:7-10
Our second reading reminds us that we are still in Advent and still pondering the mystery of the Lord’s future coming.  Patience is needed, the patience of a farmer. Strength is also needed, and the will to keep from grumbling.  All this is to protect us from anxiety and fear.  The prophets are an example to us because they suffered while they were patient, steadfastly speaking a word of hope.

5:7 Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. 9 Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! 10 As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 11:2-11
On the Third Sunday of Advent we read something about the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus. In this passage from Matthew we get a perspective from both sides. John, from prison, asks if Jesus is truly the one for whom they have been waiting. Clearly, he has some doubts, perhaps simply because he is in prison, but perhaps also because reports about Jesus’ ministry are not meeting John’s expectations of the Messiah. Jesus, on the other hand, is clear about John’s purpose and appreciative of it. John was to prepare the way, and that was a mighty task. Yet in the ultimate manifestation of this way—the kingdom of heaven—all will know this greatness, and more.

11:2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4 Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see:  5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” 7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John:  “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ 11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

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.  All rights reserved.  The Collect of the Day and the translation of the Psalm are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries copyright © 2019 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843,   All rights reserved.  Permission is given to copy for group study. Bulletin inserts are available. Go to our website for more information.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Advent 2A Readings & Commentaries

 “The stump of Jesse” refers to the dynastic line of David (Jesse was David’s father).  It has become a stump, of little worth, bordering on death. 

The Collect of the Day
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

1st Reading:  Isaiah 11:1-10
“The stump of Jesse” refers to the dynastic line of David (Jesse was David’s father).  It has become a stump, of little worth, bordering on death.  The prophet sees a shoot from the stump, however, and, perhaps more importantly, the spirit of the Lord.  They indicate a new possibility.  The shoot will yield a new king who will be an advocate of justice and a bringer of peace, even to enemies within the creation.  The new king will restore and reconcile creation itself.  Can we still trust this promise, this spirit, this vision of a new creation?  It is a significant question on our Advent journey.  Verses 2 & 3 include the traditional sevenfold gifts of the Spirit, still used in our liturgy of Baptism in the prayer over the newly baptized (BCP. P. 308).

11:1 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3 His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; 4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. 6 The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 7 The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 9 They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. 10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Psalm 72 is royal psalm ascribed to Solomon (one of only two psalms ascribed to him, the other being Psalm 127). It places the Davidic line of kings firmly into both the theology and socio-economic life of Israel. The first portion of the psalm (vv. 1-7) lays out the covenant demands on the king. The portion we do not read today lays out the divine promises to a just ruler. Verses 18 & 19 are actually an ending to the second book of the psalms (Psalms 42-72), and indeed in Hebrew the text goes on to a “verse 20”:  “The prayers of David son of Jesse are ended.”

1 Give the King your justice, O God, *
       and your righteousness to the King’s Son;
2 That he may rule your people righteously *
       and the poor with justice;
3 That the mountains may bring prosperity to the people, *
       and the little hills bring righteousness.
4 He shall defend the needy among the people; *
       he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor.
5 He shall live as long as the sun and moon endure, *
       from one generation to another.
6 He shall come down like rain upon the mown field, *
       like showers that water the earth.
7 In his time shall the righteous flourish; *
       there shall be abundance of peace till the moon shall
                     be no more.
18 Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, *
       who alone does wondrous deeds!
19 And blessed be his glorious Name for ever! *
       and may all the earth be filled with his glory. Amen. Amen.

2nd Reading:  Romans 15:4-13
At the end of his letter to the Romans, Paul gives a word of encouragement, but also an exhortation to radical welcome in the community of faith.  The welcome includes the Gentiles (non-Jews), who are now fellow heirs of God’s promises with the Jews.  All have cause to “abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  This is the good news we proclaim. The Scripture quotations are, in order: Psalm 18:49, Deuteronomy 32:43, Psalm 117:1, and Isaiah 11:10.

15:4 Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6 so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name”; 10 and again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”; 11 and again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”; 12 and again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.” 13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 3:1-12
On the 2nd & 3rd Sundays of Advent in each year of our three-year cycle of readings, we read about John the Baptist. Who was John and what was his role in the unfolding drama? John prepares the way, and it is a radical way. Everything about John is radical—his dress, his diet, his message. It is a dangerous message as well, challenging the religious elite not to be presumptuous about their relationship with God. Claiming relationship with Abraham is not enough. They (and we) must “bear fruit worthy of repentance.”  Advent suggests to us that there may be some way in which we need to “turn around” (the literal meaning of repentance) so that we can see the child in the manger for what he truly is. The Scripture quotation in verse 3 is Isaiah 40:3.

3:1 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” 4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

The Scripture quotations (except for the canticle) 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.. All rights reserved. The Collect and the translation of the Psalm are from The Book of Common Prayer. Commentaries are copyright © 2019, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843. All rights reserved.  Permission is given to copy for group study.  Bulletin inserts are available. Go to our website for more information.  And like us on Facebook!

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Advent 1A Readings & Commentaries

It’s Advent and a new Church Year begins. Today in our lectionary (cycle of readings) we begin “Year A,” the year of Matthew’s Gospel.  The First Sunday of Advent focuses on Jesus’ sayings about the end times. This is the Sunday when that line from the Creed “and he will come again” is to the fore.  Most often this has been understood as a scary time, even as a time to be dreaded: the Great Judgment Day. And yet there has always been a minority voice, often the voice of the oppressed, that has declared in word and song that this day is to be welcomed, because the Day of Judgment is also the Day of Justice, for which, in the meantime, we dream and act.

The Collect of the Day
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The First Reading:  Isaiah 2:1-5
The prophet Isaiah is our first reading every Sunday of Advent this Year A of our lectionary. Each one is from the first portion of the book (chs. 1-39) commonly attributed to Isaiah of Jerusalem, a prophet of Judah prior to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonian Empire. Our reading this week is a vision of Jerusalem beyond its present dismay (spelled out in chapter one). It shall be a city of peace to which people will stream from all the nations. This passage may have been a popular poem or hymn, as it also appears in Micah 4:2-4. Our Advent begins with a hopeful vision of peace, and an invitation, “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!”

2:1 The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. In days to come the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

Psalm 122
Psalm 122 is one of the “songs of ascent,” which are thought to have been pilgrim songs sung on the road to Jerusalem for one of the great festivals. This particular song shares the same spirit as our first reading in that it sees Jerusalem (“the city of peace”) at the center of the world.

1 I was glad when they said to me, *
       “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
2 Now our feet are standing *
       within your gates, O Jerusalem.
3 Jerusalem is built as a city *
       that is at unity with itself;
4 To which the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, *
       the assembly of Israel, to praise the Name of the Lord.
5 For there are the thrones of judgment, *
       the thrones of the house of David.
6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: *
       “May they prosper who love you.
7 Peace be within your walls *
       and quietness within your towers.
8 For my brethren and companions’ sake, *
       I pray for your prosperity.
9 Because of the house of the Lord our God, *
       I will seek to do you good.”

The Second Reading:  Romans 13:11-14
Our second reading today comes from a section of Paul’s Letter to the Romans in which he has been exhorting his readers to right ethical behavior. “Now,” he says is the time to seize God’s call.  Salvation, the day the Lord, is at hand. Right action is an imperative for us. In Paul’s writing “flesh” can never simply be equated with the physical body.  It is a metaphor for anything that would draw us from the love of God. Verse 12 was an inspiration for today’s Collect of the Day (a prayer written for the 1549 Book of Common Prayer).

13:11 You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

The Holy Gospel:  Matthew 24:36-44
In the New Testament, apocalyptic imagery is present in each of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark & Luke) as well as in the Book of Revelation. Apocalyptic writing is about the end of time. It is usually heavily symbolic and coded, and it often depicts a very simplistic picture of good vs. evil.  It typically comes out of communities that are under great stress, whose identity and existence is uncertain.  Its ultimate intention is to give such communities hope.  Given all these things, its interpretation is complex and it is easy to dismiss it.  In our passage this morning Jesus speaks about the return of “the Son of Man.” He emphasizes the suddenness of this return. No one will know when it is to happen except the Father (an admonition many Christians even today ignore as they try to predict when Jesus will return).  They only thing we can do is be ready.

24:36 Jesus said to the disciples, “About that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

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.  All rights reserved.  The Collect and Psalm translations are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are by Epiphany ESources, E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, , copyright © 2019.  All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study.  Bulletin inserts are available. Go to ur website for more information.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Reign of Christ, Proper 29C Readings & Commentaries

On this day when we celebrate Christ as “King of kings and Lord of lords,” we are reminded that it was the cross that was and is his throne.

1st Reading:  Jeremiah 23:1-6
Our passage today begins with an indictment of Israel’s kings (“shepherds”). The sheep have been scattered (into exile) because the shepherds have failed to lead and protect them. Then two promises follow. The first is that God will intervene to gather the sheep (end the exile) and raise up new shepherds. The second promise is that this new shepherd will be like David, whom God has never abandoned. Unlike the shepherds under whom Judah failed, this Davidic king will rule in righteousness. Christians experience this new rule in Jesus.

23:1 Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. 2 Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people:  It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. 3 Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. 4 I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord. 5 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: "The Lord is our righteousness."

Canticle: Song of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79)
The psalm is replaced today by a canticle from The Book of Common Prayer (#16, p. 92).  Luke 1:68-79 is the song which Zechariah sings at the naming of his son John (the Baptist). The song articulates the tradition of Israel, the promises upon which the faith of Israel is founded. It then proclaims that these promises of old will find their fulfillment in the testimony of this child. In Luke’s Gospel, John is very much the symbol of the old covenant looking forward to the new.

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; *
              he has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty savior, *
              born of the house of his servant David.
Through his holy prophets he promised of old,
that he would save us from our enemies, *
              from the hands of all who hate us.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers *
              and to remember his holy covenant.
This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham, *
              to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
Free to worship him without fear, *
              holy and righteous in his sight
              all the days of our life.
You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, *
              for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
To give his people knowledge of salvation *
              by the forgiveness of their sins.
In the tender compassion of our God *
              the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the
                            shadow of death, *
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Or this

Psalm 46
Psalm 46 is a song extolling God as king over Jerusalem, the bringer of peace and the source of the people’s strength.

1 God is our refuge and strength, *
a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved, *
and though the mountains be toppled into the
              depths of the sea;
3 Though its waters rage and foam, *
and though the mountains tremble at its tumult.
4 The Lord of hosts is with us; *
              the God of Jacob is our stronghold.
5 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, *
the holy habitation of the Most High.
6 God is in the midst of her;
   she shall not be overthrown; *
God shall help her at the break of day.
7 The nations make much ado, and the kingdoms are shaken; *
God has spoken, and the earth shall melt away.
8 The Lord of hosts is with us; *
              the God of Jacob is our stronghold.
9 Come now and look upon the works of the Lord, *
what awesome things he has done on earth.
10 It is he who makes war to cease in all the world; *
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear,
and burns the shields with fire.
11 “Be still, then, and know that I am God; *
I will be exalted among the nations;
I will be exalted in the earth.”
12 The Lord of hosts is with us; *
              the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

2nd Reading:  Colossians 1:11-20
The Letter to the Colossians was written to counter “false teaching” (2:8-23) which seems to have been the insistence on a kind of “super piety.” Paul begins his letter, after the initial greeting (1:1-10), with a prayer for the community (vv. 11-14) in which he emphasizes the simplicity of the gospel and our response to it, centering on thanksgiving. He then quotes from what was most likely an early Christian hymn (vv. 15-20). The hymn has roots in the Hebrew Wisdom tradition (see Wisdom 7:22, 26 and Proverbs 8:22-30). It is a presentation of the “cosmic Christ,” whose death has reconciled all things to God.

1:11 May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Gospel Reading:  Luke 23:33-43
On this day when we celebrate Christ as “King of kings and Lord of lords,” we are reminded that it was the cross that was and is his throne. This is a very different king than humankind generally experiences or imagines. As Luke recounts Jesus’ death, he emphasizes the power he exercises from the cross—forgiveness, forgiveness for those who have betrayed and conspired against him, and forgiveness for the common thief who reaches out to him.  Traditionally, the “good thief’s” name was Didymus. Many prison chapels are dedicated to him.

23:33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

The Scripture quotations 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. The Psalm and the translation of the Canticle are from The Book of Common Prayer. Commentaries are copyright © 2019 Epiphany Esources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved.  Permission is given to copy for group study.

Monday, November 11, 2019

23 Pentecost 2019, Proper 28C Readings & Commentaries

As we come to the end of the church year, the tone of our readings takes on the themes we associate with Advent.

1st Reading (Track 1); Isaiah 65:17-25
This reading comes near the end of Isaiah, echoing two passages from earlier in the book, Isaiah 25:6-10 and 11:6-9. It is a grand apocalyptic vision of a renewed creation living fully within the dream of God. This new creation hearkens back to Israel’s creation myth with people living extraordinarily long lives and all the curses of life accumulated over the years reversed (except for the serpent!) In Christian terms, this is the fully resurrected life both for humanity and the whole creation. Notice there is here no notion of “Heaven,” but instead a “new earth,” where just relations are practiced.

65:17 [Thus says the Lord God], I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. 19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. 20 No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. 21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22 They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. 23 They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord—and their descendants as well. 24 Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. 25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent—its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.

Canticle (Track 1): First Song of Isaiah (12:2-6)
The psalm is replaced today by a canticle from The Book of Common Prayer (#9, p. 86).  Isaiah 12:2-6 (referred to as “The First Song of Isaiah”) is a song of praise that concludes the first major section of the book of Isaiah.  It is a song of awaited redemption.  This hope is one with our first reading this morning.

Surely, it is God who saves me; *
I will trust in him and not be afraid.
For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, *
and he will be my Savior.
Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing *
from the springs of salvation.
And on that day you shall say, *
Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;
Make his deeds known among the peoples; *
see that they remember that his Name is exalted.
Sing the praises of the Lord, for he has done great things, *
and this is known in all the world.
Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, *
for the great one in the midst of you
is the Holy One of Israel.

2nd Reading: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
It is important in reading this passage to remember the context of this letter. Some false teachers have convinced some of the Christians in Thessalonika that the “day of the Lord” has already come. This has meant to many that their responsibilities are over, and they have become idle, perhaps in a kind of “eat, drink and be merry” kind of philosophy. Paul exhorts them otherwise. How he does this is as important as what he does:  he appeals to the teaching of the apostles (the past), his own life in imitation (the present), and to the coming of the Lord (the future).

3:6 Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, 8 and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. 9 This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. 11 For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. 12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 13 Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.

Gospel Reading: Luke 21:5-19
As we come to the end of the church year, the tone of our readings takes on the themes we associate with Advent.  In our Gospel passage this morning, Jesus speaks about the transitory nature of earthly things, even of something as grand as the Temple.  Luke is writing this passage knowing that the Temple is indeed gone (destroyed by the Romans in 70 c.e.).  In those times, Jesus says, beware of those who claim to be or say or know too much.  Our job will not be to predict or to choose up sides behind one or another leader.  Our job will be endurance—together, for the “you” in the last verses of this passage is plural.

21:5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, 6 “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” 7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8 And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them. 9 “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. 12 “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.

The Scripture quotations 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. The translation of the Canticle is from The Book of Common Prayer. Commentaries are copyright © 2019 Epiphany Esources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved.  Permission is given to copy for group study. Bulletin inserts are available. Go to our website for more information.