Monday, February 17, 2020

Last Sun after Epiphany A Readings & Commentaries


The Transfiguration of Jesus

The Collect of the Day
O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain:  Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; though Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

1st Reading:  Exodus 24:12-18
In our first reading, Moses is summoned up the mountain to receive “the tablets of stone,” presumably the ten commandments. (This is clearly a separate tradition of the reception of the commandments from that found in Exodus 20). On the seventh day Moses has a theophany, a vision of God’s glory. Moses enters into that theophany and remains there forty days. Forty is a frequent number in the Bible used for a time of trial (there are at least 15 such biblical instances).

24:12 The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” 13 So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. 14 To the elders he had said, “Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.” 15 Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. 17 Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18 Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.

Psalm 2
Psalm 2 is a royal psalm which proclaims the king as God’s son and anointed (messiah). The latter title is always used in the Old Testament of the present ruler, not a future one.

1  Why are the nations in an uproar? *
              Why do the people mutter empty threats?
2  Why do the kings rise up in revolt,
    and the princes plot together, *
              against the Lord and against his Anointed?
3  “Let us break their yoke,” they say; *
              “let us cast off their bonds from us.”
4  He whose throne is in heaven is laughing; *
              the Lord has them in derision.
5  Then he speaks to them in his wrath, *
              and his rage fills them with terror.
6  “I myself have set my king *
              upon my holy hill of Zion.”
7  Let me announce the decree of the Lord: *
              he said to me, “You are my Son;
              this day have I begotten you.
8  Ask of me, and I will give you the nations for
                                          your inheritance *
              and the ends of the earth for your possession.
9  You shall crush them with an iron rod *
              and shatter them like a piece of pottery.”
10  And now, you kings, be wise; *
              be warned, you rulers of the earth.
11  Submit to the Lord with fear, *
              and with trembling bow before him;
12  Lest he be angry and you perish; *
              for his wrath is quickly kindled.
13  Happy are they all *
              who take refuge in him!

Or this

Psalm 99
This psalm is an obvious one for Transfiguration Sunday.  It is a vision of the majesty of God, involving Moses, a mountain, and a cloud, all invoking a mysterious vision.
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 Peter 1:16-21
Our second reading references the story of the Transfiguration. It is the only place outside the Gospels which does so. The writer uses his witness of that incident to prove his trustworthiness in regard to the second coming of Christ. The prophetic witness is reliable. Scripture (the writer would have been referring to the Hebrew Scriptures) is not a matter of individual initiative or interpretation. Both rely on the Holy Spirit, working through the community of those who follow Jesus, understood in these early days of the church as the primary subject of the Hebrew Scriptures.

1:16 We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 17:1-9
Our Gospel reading is Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration. On the mountain with his inner circle, Jesus’ whole being undergoes transformation. The story follows some of the details of Exodus 24, but also echoes the story of Jesus’ baptism. The presence of Moses and Elijah testify to Jesus’ inheritance of the Hebrew tradition (the law and the prophets). Peter’s desire to build booths recalls the Feast of Booths, when Israel celebrated being led by God through the desert. “Tell no one until…” indicates that Jesus understands what has just happened in terms of what he expects to happen in Jerusalem.

17:1 Six days [after Peter had acknowledged Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God], Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.  All rights reserved.  The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2020, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, www.epiphanyesources.com. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study. Bulletin inserts are a available. Go to our website for more information.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Epiphany 6A Readings & Commentaries

Leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.

The Collect of the Day
O God, the strength of all who put their trust in you:  Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

1st Reading:  Sirach 15:15-20
Sirach (traditionally known as “Ecclesiasticus”) is a book of the Apocrypha, a set of books not considered Scripture by Jews, but included in the Old Testament by Roman Catholics. Anglicans read them “for example of life and instruction of manners,” yet not to be used in the establishment of any doctrine. Our passage today emphasizes human responsibility in obeying the commandments.  God does not cause sin.

15:15 If you choose, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice. 16 He has placed before you fire and water; stretch out your hand for whichever you choose. 17 Before each person are life and death, and whichever one chooses will be given. 18 For great is the wisdom of the Lord; he is mighty in power and sees everything; 19 his eyes are on those who fear him, and he knows every human action. 20 He has not commanded anyone to be wicked, and he has not given anyone permission to sin.

Or this

1st Reading:  Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Chapters 29 & 30 of Deuteronomy are part of a covenant ceremony, wherein Moses is calling upon the people to commit themselves to the way of life about which he has expounded throughout the book. His final message is that living outside this covenant can only lead to death. The Israelites will need constantly to choose life by their obedience.

30:15 See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Psalm 119:1-8
Psalm 119 is the longest of the psalms at 176 verses. It is an acrostic poem in which every eight verses begin with a subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet (see how the psalm is laid out in The Book of Common Prayer, beginning on page 763). It is a psalm in the wisdom tradition, extolling the happiness of life lived under the law. Indeed, one characteristic of the psalm is that some synonym of the law is used in every verse.

1 Happy are they whose way is blameless, *
who walk in the law of the Lord!
2 Happy are they who observe his decrees *
and seek him with all their hearts!
3 Who never do any wrong, *
but always walk in his ways.
4 You laid down your commandments, *
that we should fully keep them.
5 Oh, that my ways were made so direct *
that I might keep your statutes!
6 Then I should not be put to shame, *
when I regard all your commandments.
7 I will thank you with an unfeigned heart, *
when I have learned your righteous judgments.
8 I will keep your statutes; *
do not utterly forsake me.

2nd Reading:  1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Paul is writing to a divided and conflicted community. The divisions have partially to do with factions loyal to one of their two early teachers, Paul and Apollos. Paul tells them the quarrel is a symptom of their immaturity in the faith. It is simply a matter of one person’s ministry following on another within the purposes of God.

3:1 And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? 4 For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human? 5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. 9 For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 5:21-37
The Sermon on the Mount continues. Jesus has just declared that he has come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it.  Verses 21-48 then offer six examples of that fulfillment (we have four today). In some cases (murder and adultery), Jesus demands we go deeper into the desires of our hearts. In others (divorce, oaths) he does away with provisions that made some allowances. In bringing these sayings together, Matthew is trying to show that Jesus is the authoritative interpreter of the law. The exhortation to remove body parts that offend was never meant to be taken literally, but is Jesus’ use of hyperbole to make a point.

5:21 Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. 27 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell. 31 It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. 33 Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”

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 Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2020, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, www.epiphanyesources.com. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study.  Bulletin inserts are available. Go to our website for more information.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Epiphany 5A Readings & Commentaries


Let your light shine before others.

The Collect of the Day
Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

1st Reading:  Isaiah 58:1-9a, (9b-12)
This reading is from the third section of the Book of Isaiah (56-66), usually dated from the years soon after the return of the exiles from Babylon.  All was not well in the reconstituted community (see also Haggai 2 and Zechariah 7).  There is a back and forth in the reading. The people complain that their acts of piety are not answered (v. 3), but God desires a different kind of fast—one from injustice, servitude, oppression and poverty.

58:1 Shout 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. 2 Yet 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. 4 Look, 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. 5 Is 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? 6 Is 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? 7 Is 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? 8 Then 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. 9 Then 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, 10 if 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. 11 The 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. 12 Your 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 112:1-9, (10)
Psalm 112 is a sequel to Psalm 111. Both are acrostic poems. Psalm 111 praises God, and Psalm 112 turns that praise into a description of wise and faithful living. God is to be praised for his faithfulness and justice (Ps. 111), and we are led to live just such a way of life.

1 Hallelujah!
   Happy are they who fear the Lord *
and have great delight in his commandments!
2 Their descendants will be mighty in the land; *
the generation of the upright will be blessed.
3 Wealth and riches will be in their house, *
and their righteousness will last for ever.
4 Light shines in the darkness for the upright; *
the righteous are merciful and full of compassion.
5 It is good for them to be generous in lending *
and to manage their affairs with justice.
6 For they will never be shaken; *
the righteous will be kept in everlasting remembrance.
7 They will not be afraid of any evil rumors; *
their heart is right; they put their trust in the Lord.
8 Their heart is established and will not shrink, *
until they see their desire upon their enemies.
9 They have given freely to the poor, *
and their righteousness stands fast for ever;
they will hold up their head with honor.
[10 The wicked will see it and be angry;
       they will gnash their teeth and pine away; *
              the desires of the wicked will perish.]

2nd Reading:  1 Corinthians 2:1-12, (13-16)
Paul begins this passage by recalling his first visit to Corinth.  He then goes on to the wisdom he speaks to the mature, a wisdom from God, which is a mystery, revealed only through the Spirit.  The quote in verse 9 is from Isaiah 64:4; that in verse 16 from Isaiah 40:13.

2:1 When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3 And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4 My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God. 6 Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. 7 But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”—10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.
[13 And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual. 14 Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny. 16 “For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.]

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 5:13-20
The Sermon on the Mount continues with two distinct sections.  The first speaks of discipleship using two metaphors: light and salt.  Light is a metaphor common to many religious systems. Salt figured in Israel’s covenants with God (Leviticus 2:13, Numbers 18:19) and in the purification of sacrifices (Exodus 30:35).  The second section may be the heart of the Sermon on the Mount, with its desire to make it clear that Jesus did not come to do away with the law.  For Matthew, Jesus is the law fulfilled.

5:13 Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. 14 You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. 17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

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 Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2020, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, www.epiphanyesources.com. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for congregational use.