Sunday, November 29, 2020

Advent 2B Readings with Commentaries

 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 40:1-11

In the midst of the catastrophe and despair of the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the people in a foreign land, the voice of “Second” Isaiah comes to speak an astounding word of “good tidings” (gospel).  God is neither defeated nor dead.  God is “back” with words of comfort, hope and restoration.

40:1 Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. 3 A voice cries out:  “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” 6 A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. 7 The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. 9 Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” 10 See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

Our psalm shares the vision of Isaiah 40: a new shalom, a time of peace (wholeness) not just for Israel but for all creation.  In glorious language and imagery, the restoration is spoken into being. The nouns used in verse ten are among the most significant in biblical thought, and in Hebrew their meaning is rich:  ḥesed (mercy, steadfast love) and ‘emet (truth), ṣedāqâ (righteousness, justice) and shālôm (peace, well-being). 

1 You have been gracious to your land, O Lord, *
        you have restored the good fortunes of Jacob.

2 You have forgiven the iniquity of your people *
        and blotted out all their sins.

8 I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, *
        for he is speaking peace to his faithful people
        and to those who turn their hearts to him.

9 Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, *
        that his glory may dwell in our land.

10 Mercy and truth have met together; *
        righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

11 Truth shall spring up from the earth, *
        and righteousness shall look down from heaven.

12 The Lord will indeed grant prosperity, *
        and our land will yield its increase.

13 Righteousness shall go before him, *
        and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.

2nd Reading:  2 Peter 3:8-15a

By the time Second Peter is written, the followers of Jesus are already uncertain about Jesus’ promised return.  Why is it taking so long?  The answer begins with an illusion to Scripture:  Psalm 90:4 (“For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past”).  God’s time is not our time, and we should be grateful if it seems like there is a delay.  It is for our salvation, giving time to us for repentance and faithfulness.

3:8 Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. 9 The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed. 11 Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? 13 But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. 14 Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; 15a and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.

Gospel Reading:  Mark 1:1-8

To open his story, Mark reaches back to Second Isaiah for a word to describe it:  “gospel,” or “good news/good tidings.”  It was also a word used in Roman political propaganda of the day, announcing military victories and other political “triumphs.”  This good news is a declaration of a new state of affairs initiated by God, first announced by John the Baptist.  The quote is actually a compilation of Isaiah 40:3 with Exodus 23:20 and Malachi 3:1, thus conjuring up the first prophet, Moses, and the last, Malachi.  In addition, John is clothed as the great Elijah (2Kings 1:8).  Mark wants us to know something new and BIG is happening here!

1:1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” 4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

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 the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are by Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, , copyright © 2020.  All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study, with attribution.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Advent 1B Readings with Commentaries

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.

1st Reading:  Isaiah 64:1-9

The Book of Isaiah contains three related yet distinct voices.  First Isaiah (chs. 1-39) was written just prior to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple and the taking of many of the Jews into exile in Babylon.  Second Isaiah (chs. 40-55) is written near the end of the time of exile, announcing a homecoming.  Third Isaiah (ch. 56-66) is from the period after the return, during the re-founding of Jewish faith and society. Chapters 63—66 show signs of division within the community and a longing for unity and forward vision. The two strong metaphors at the end of this reading—“our father” and “our potter”—make clear that Israel must be totally reliant on God for their present and their future.

64:1 O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence—2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! 3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. 4 From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. 5 You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. 6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. 7 There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. 8 Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. 9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.

Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18

Our psalm today is a communal lament, calling on God as Shepherd to deliver the people from their enemies, with the plaintive refrain, “Restore us, O God of hosts….” This psalm may very well have its origins in the period of exile in Babylon.

1 Hear, O Shepherd of Israel, leading Joseph like a flock; *
        shine forth, you that are enthroned upon the cherubim.

2 In the presence of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh, *
        stir up your strength and come to help us.

3 Restore us, O God of hosts; *
        show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

4 O Lord God of hosts, *
        how long will you be angered
        despite the prayers of your people?

5 You have fed them with the bread of tears; *
        you have given them bowls of tears to drink.

6 You have made us the derision of our neighbors, *
        and our enemies laugh us to scorn.

7 Restore us, O God of hosts; *
        show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

16 Let your hand be upon the man of your right hand, *
        the son of man you have made so strong for yourself.

17 And so will we never turn away from you; *
        give us life, that we may call upon your Name.

18 Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; *
        show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

2nd Reading:  1 Corinthians 1:3-9

The first Sunday of Advent calls to renew our longing for what St. Paul calls, “the revealing of our Lord” and “the day of our Lord.”  What is necessary in the meantime is that we seek to be enriched and strengthened in our relationship with Christ, relying on God’s faithfulness, which we can best know in our fellowship with one another.  The word in Greek translated “fellowship” is one of the most important words in all of Paul’s writing:  koinonia (also translated as “communion, “participation,” or “sharing”). See also 1 Cor 10:16, Galatians 2:9, Philippians 2:1 and others.

1:3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5 for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind—6 just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you—7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8 He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Gospel Reading:  Mark 13:24-37

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 it often depicts a very simplistic picture of good vs. evil.  It typically arises in communities that are under great stress, whose identity and existence is uncertain.  Its ultimate intention is to give such communities hope.  This portion of Mark’s “Little Apocalypse” (13:1-37) includes two short parables, “the fig tree,” and “the man on a journey.”  They serve to remind us of the blessing that awaits us and our need to keep awake, be watchful, and ready.

13:24 Jesus said, “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. 28 From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

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 are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are by Epiphany ESources, E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, , copyright © 2020.  All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study with attribution.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Last Sunday after Pentecost (Christ the King) Readings with Commentaries

The Collect of the Day

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords:  Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

1st Reading: (Tracks 1 & 2)  Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

After criticizing Israel’s shepherds (kings) in 34:1-10, God proclaims himself as the good shepherd who will re-gather a flock that has been scattered and abused. Among the sheep there will be some in need of judgment. The sheep need to be “fed with justice,” meaning that they must both be re-taught just living and are in need of justice given their past abuse by the bad shepherds. Finally, in line with the theme of shepherd and sheep, there will be a ruler in David’s line to come, David being with whom the shepherd image began.

34:11 For thus says the Lord God:  I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 12 As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice. 20 Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.  21 Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, 22 I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. 23 I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.

Psalm 100 (Track 1)

Psalm 100 is the quintessential psalm of thanksgiving. It has long been a fixture in Morning Prayer in The Book of Common Prayer, where it is known as “The Jubilate” (see pp. 45, 82). Notice the metaphor of sheep, of frequent use in the Hebrew Scriptures (see especially Psalm 23 and today’s first reading).

1 Be joyful in the Lord, all you lands; *
        serve the Lord with gladness
        and come before his presence with a song.

2 Know this: The Lord himself is God; *
        he himself has made us, and we are his;
        we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.

3 Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
    go into his courts with praise; *
        give thanks to him and call upon his Name.

4 For the Lord is good;
    his mercy is everlasting; *
        and his faithfulness endures from age to age.

Psalm 95:1-7 (Track 2)

Psalm 95 is one of a series psalms (Beginning with Psalm 93) praising God in his role as Creator and King. It has long been a fixture in Morning Prayer in The Book of Common Prayer, where it is known as “The Venite” (see pp. 44, 82).

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!

 2nd Reading:  Ephesians 1:15-25

This passage may reflect an early Christian hymn proclaiming the exaltation of Christ over the whole creation, including the Church.  Like in our first reading, at the end is emphasized that we remain his Body on earth.  In us lies the mission: God’s purpose to “fill all in all,” that is, as the Catechism of The Book of Common Prayer says, “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ” (p. 855).

1:15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 25:31-46

The last of the parables in Matthew’s Gospel, often called the parable of the sheep and the goats, might be better termed, “The Judgment of the Nations.” That alone is an important detail of the story. It is “the nations” that are being judged, not individuals. There is also the implication that this parable is intended for the Gentiles (whereas the previous parable was meant for the Jews, or at least their leaders). “The nations” is the same word that will end this Gospel (the disciples being sent to “the nations,” 28:19). The main point, however, will certainly be for all Jesus’ followers: our treatment of one another is our treatment of Jesus himself.  This is part of the core of our Christian life, as we promise at Baptism:  We will seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves; and, We will strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being (BCP, p. 305).

25:31 [Jesus said,] “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

The Scripture quotations (except for the Psalms) 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 Psalms are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2020 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study with this attribution.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

24 Pentecost 2020, Proper 28A Readings with Commentaries

 The 24th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 28A)

 The Collect of the Day

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 1st Reading (Track 1):  Judges 4:1-7

This is our only reading in the lectionary from the Book of Judges. Judges covers the time between the death of Joshua (the successor of Moses) and the birth of Samuel the prophet, the last judge of Israel. Those who served as “judge” were, in essence, the earthly rulers of Israel, who had only one King, the Lord. The overall story told in Judges is the gradual decline of Israel into civil and religious chaos. Today we have mention of a woman serving as Judge, Deborah. She was one of six major judges, the others being Othniel, Ehud, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson. Women played a significant role in the early stories of Judges, but their role declines over time and mostly disappears by the time of Samson.

4:1 The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, after [the judge] Ehud died. 2 So the Lord sold them into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-ha-goiim. 3 Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help; for he had nine hundred chariots of iron, and had oppressed the Israelites cruelly twenty years. 4 At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. 5 She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment. 6 She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. 7 I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.’”

Psalm 123 (Track 1)

Psalm 123 is one of the “Songs of Ascent” (Psalms 120 to 133) which were songs sung while on pilgrimage to Jerusalem for major festival celebrations in the Temple.  This brief song is a plea for mercy, which in this case is as much “favor” or “blessing” as forgiveness. It is a psalm that easily echoes down from the past: “God, show us the way to a better place.”

1 To you I lift up my eyes, *
        to you enthroned in the heavens.

2 As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, *
        and the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,

3 So our eyes look to the Lord our God, *
        until he show us his mercy.

4 Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy, *
        for we have had more than enough of contempt,

5 Too much of the scorn of the indolent rich, *
        and of the derision of the proud.

1st Reading (Track 2):  Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18

Zephaniah was active as a prophet in the 7th century b.c.e., during the reign of Josiah (640-609). He appears to have been a native of Jerusalem and perhaps of royal blood. Zephaniah preached about the coming “Day of the Lord,” brought on by the worship of other gods. His preaching may have led to the reforms of Josiah in 621 b.c.e. (2 Kings 23). The Day of the Lord will be disaster for all, for Israel and all the nations. Late in the book (3:9-20) the possibility of repentance and salvation soften somewhat this otherwise harsh prophet.

1:7 Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is at hand; the Lord has prepared a sacrifice, he has consecrated his guests. 12 At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the people who rest complacently on their dregs, those who say in their hearts, “The Lord will not do good, nor will he do harm.” 13 Their wealth shall be plundered, and their houses laid waste. Though they build houses, they shall not inhabit them; though they plant vineyards, they shall not drink wine from them. 14 The great day of the Lord is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter, the warrior cries aloud there. 15 That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, 16 a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements. 17 I will bring such distress upon people that they shall walk like the blind; because they have sinned against the Lord, their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung. 18 Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the Lord’s wrath; in the fire of his passion the whole earth shall be consumed; for a full, a terrible end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.

Psalm 90:1-8, (9-11), 12 (Track 2)

Psalm 90 is a wisdom hymn comparing the everlasting nature of God and the brevity of human life. There are echoes of Genesis in the psalm, “Dust you are and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 2:7, 3:19).  Psalm 90 is the only psalm attributed to Moses.


1 Lord, you have been our refuge *
        from one generation to another.

2 Before the mountains were brought forth,
    or the land and the earth were born, *
        from age to age you are God.

3 You turn us back to the dust and say, *
    “Go back, O child of earth.”

4 For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past *
        and like a watch in the night.

5 You sweep us away like a dream; *
        we fade away suddenly like the grass.

6 In the morning it is green and flourishes; *
        in the evening it is dried up and withered.

7 For we consume away in your displeasure; *
        we are afraid because of your wrathful indignation.

8 Our iniquities you have set before you, *
        and our secret sins in the light of your countenance.

[9 When you are angry, all our days are gone; *
        we bring our years to an end like a sigh.

10 The span of our life is seventy years, 
    perhaps in strength even eighty; *
        yet the sum of them is but labor and sorrow,
        for they pass away quickly and we are gone.

11 Who regards the power of your wrath? *
        who rightly fears your indignation?]

12 So teach us to number our days *
        that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.

2nd Reading:  1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

The chief concern of the Christians in Thessalonica seems to have been the promised coming again of the Lord Jesus. Even Jesus himself seems to have thought it would be quickly, but the Thessalonians are beginning to question whether or not this is true. In the previous chapter Paul has assured them that those who have died will be taken care of. Now he speaks of how Christians should live, i.e., always in anticipation, never allowing one’s senses to dull. We may not know “the times and the seasons,” but we can always be ready.  And then he uses the same phrase he used at the end of the previous section:  “encourage one another.” This is his theme for the letter, and it is a communal one. Encouragement cannot come from myself; it takes a community for encouragement to flourish.

5:1 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! 4 But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; 5 for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. 6 So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; 7 for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 25:14-30

The middle of the three great parables of Matthew 25, unlike the first and third, also appears in Luke’s Gospel (19:12-27). It has a harsh tone; one can easily imagine being the slave with one talent who dared not lose it and there be nothing left. You can hear an echo of the story of “the fall” from Genesis 3:8-13, when the first man and woman hide themselves from God because they are afraid. As that story goes, it is fear that is as much the cause of the breakdown in relationship with God than the sin of eating the fruit. This parable has a simple message and it is not about investing wisely. It is that fear is the great enemy of the Gospel and life in the Kingdom of God.

25:14 Jesus said, “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

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 Psalm are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2020 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study with this attribution.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

23 Pentecost 2020, Proper 27A Readings with Commentaries


The Collect of the Day

O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life:  Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

1st Reading (Track 1):  Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25

The book of Joshua is the story of Israel’s conquering of the promised land. Joshua was the divinely chosen leader of Israel after the death of Moses.  At the end of the book, the question is whether or not Israel will remain faithful as God has been faithful to it. Shechem was an important early center of Israelite life. There Joshua rehearses the story and warns the people that they must choose which God they will serve. Joshua knows their fickleness. He senses that they will not be able to serve only God, but the people insist and the covenant is renewed. As the story continues, Israel will continue to wrestle with this decision and its consequences.

24:1 Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. 2 And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel:  Long ago your ancestors—Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor—lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. 3a Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many. 14 Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” 16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; 17 for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; 18 and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” 19 But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.” 21 And the people said to Joshua, “No, we will serve the Lord!” 22 Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” 23 He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” 24 The people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey." 25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem.

Psalm 78:1-7 (Track 1)

Psalm 78 is one of the historical psalms that rehearse God’s relationship with God’s people.  Psalm 78 has a total of 72 verses. Today we have just the introduction, which sets up the importance of passing the story on to future generations.

1 Hear my teaching, O my people; *
        incline your ears to the words of my mouth.

2 I will open my mouth in a parable; *
        I will declare the mysteries of ancient times.

3 That which we have heard and known,
    and what our forefathers have told us, *
        we will not hide from their children.

4 We will recount to generations to come 
    the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the Lord, *
        and the wonderful works he has done.

5 He gave his decrees to Jacob
    and established a law for Israel, *
        which he commanded them to teach their children;

6 That the generations to come might know,
    and the children yet unborn; *
        that they in their turn might tell it to their children;

7 So that they might put their trust in God, *
    and not forget the deeds of God,
        but keep his commandments;

1st Reading (Track 2):  Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16

The Book of Wisdom is ascribed to King Solomon, but is actually from a much later date, closer to the time of Jesus. The writer takes many aspects of Greek culture and appropriates them for Jewish use. The figure of Sophia/Wisdom developed as the personification of God’s creative and sustaining power. She is found mostly in the apocryphal books (such as this one), but also in Proverbs (in chapters 3 and 8). Her diligence matches well Jesus’ desire for his followers always to be prepared.

6:12 Wisdom is radiant and unfading, and she is easily discerned by those who love her, and is found by those who seek her. 13 She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her. 14 One who rises early to seek her will have no difficulty, for she will be found sitting at the gate. 15 To fix one’s thought on her is perfect understanding, and one who is vigilant on her account will soon be free from care, 16 because she goes about seeking those worthy of her, and she graciously appears to them in their paths, and meets them in every thought.

Canticle (Track 2): A Song of the Love of Wisdom (Wisdom 6:17-20)

In place of a psalm we have a canticle from the Wisdom of Solomon, a book of the Apocrypha.

he beginning of wisdom *
    is the true desire to receive teaching,

And a longing to be taught *
    comes from a love of her;

The one who loves her *
    will keep her laws.

Observing the laws of wisdom *
    assures immortality,

And immortality brings one *
    nearer still to God.

So the desire for wisdom *
    leads to the authority of one who rules.

Or this

1st Reading (Track 2):  Amos 5:18-24

The prophet Amos was active in the Northern Kingdom (Israel) during the reign of Jeroboam II (788-747 b.c.e.), although he was a native of Tekoa in the Southern Kingdom (Judah). It was a time of peace and prosperity for Israel, but only for some, and Amos prophesied against a society where the “haves” lived on the backs of the “have-nots”. In particular, he despised worship that had no effect on people’s living. Worship in the Temple that does not lead to justice on the Streets is an abomination.

5:18 Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord! Why do you want the day of the Lord? It is darkness, not light; 19 as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake. 20 Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it? 21 I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. 23 Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. 24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Psalm 70 (Track 2)

Psalm 70 is a short prayer for deliverance from enemies. Its first verse is the source for the opening versicle and response at Evening Prayer and Compline (BCP, pp. 117 & 128).

1 Be pleased, O God, to deliver me; *
        O Lord, make haste to help me.

2 Let those who seek my life be ashamed and altogether dismayed; *
        let those who take pleasure in my misfortune
        draw back and be disgraced.

3 Let those who say to me “Aha!” and gloat over me turn back, *
        because they are ashamed.

4 Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; *
        let those who love your salvation say for ever, “Great is the Lord!”

5 But as for me, I am poor and needy; *
        come to me speedily, O God.

6 You are my helper and my deliverer; *
        O Lord, do not tarry.

2nd Reading:  1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

In chapter four of this letter, Paul answers questions he must have received from the Christians in Thessalonica. As the first generation of Christians died, there was concern over their fate, and all the more so because it was becoming evident that Jesus’ return would not be as quick as had been anticipated. What follows is Paul’s pastoral response, with the operative word being “encourage,” literally “give courage to one another.” 

4:13 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. 15 For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. 16 For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 25:1-13

Matthew chapter 25 contains three parables, the first and third unique to Matthew, the middle one shared with Luke. Each of them has a note of judgment, and even harshness. The principle point of all three is the necessity of keeping alert, always being prepared to live the Gospel, to recognize what kingdom-living looks like. This story of the bridesmaids has a simple message: be ready or you will miss me, not only at the end of time, but in your daily living (represented by the oil, which was such an important substance in Jesus’ day, both for giving light and for eating).

25:1 Jesus said, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

The Scripture quotations (except for the Psalm and 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 of the Day and Psalm are from The Book of Common Prayer.  The translation of the Canticle is copyright © 2007 by Church Publishing Incorporated. Commentaries are copyright © 2020 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study with this attribution.