Sunday, January 31, 2021

Epiphany 5B Readings with Commentaries

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 40:21-31

With chapter 40, “Second Isaiah” begins with a message of renewed trust and hope to the Jewish exiles in Babylon.  Our passage today seeks to stir up the memory of these exiles. Memory is essential for faith. It leads to the confidence proclaimed at the end of the passage. If they remember, the exiles can hope again. God has plans for them beyond exile.

40:21 Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? 22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in; 23 who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing. 24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble. 25 To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One. 26 Lift up your eyes on high and see:  Who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing. 27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God?” 28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. 29 He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. 30 Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; 31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

Psalm 147:1-12, 21c

Our psalm is a song of praise of the God who is creator and healer, the One who “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Given verse 2, it is clear this psalm comes from the same period as Second Isaiah.

1 Hallelujah!
    How good it is to sing praises to our God! *
        how pleasant it is to honor him with praise!

2 The Lord rebuilds Jerusalem; *
        he gathers the exiles of Israel.

3 He heals the brokenhearted *
        and binds up their wounds.

4 He counts the number of the stars *
        and calls them all by their names.

5 Great is our Lord and mighty in power; *
        there is no limit to his wisdom.

6 The Lord lifts up the lowly, *
        but casts the wicked to the ground.

7 Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; *
        make music to our God upon the harp.

8 He covers the heavens with clouds *
        and prepares rain for the earth;

9 He makes grass to grow upon the mountains *
        and green plants to serve mankind.

10 He provides food for flocks and herds *
        and for the young ravens when they cry.

11 He is not impressed by the might of a horse; *
        he has no pleasure in the strength of a man;

12 But the Lord has pleasure in those who fear him, *
        in those who await his gracious favor. [21c] Hallelujah!

2nd Reading:  1 Corinthians 9:16-23

In the beginning of chapter 9, Paul has agreed with the Corinthians that he is free, just as they are.  This truth even has the authority of Scripture (vv. 8-12). But in our passage, he declares that this freedom must not be used to the detriment of the spread of the gospel. We must be willing to set aside our freedom for the sake of others, particularly the weak in faith.  We are free, but we are also responsible to and for one another.

9:16 If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! 17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. 18 What then is my reward? Just this:  that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel. 19 For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

Gospel Reading:  Mark 1:29-39

Healing stories are central to Mark’s Gospel. His Gospel is the shortest, but he tells more healing stories than the others. For Mark, Jesus’ proclamation of the message of the Kingdom of God is enacted in healing. When the kingdom is at hand people are freed from the forces that oppress them.

1:29 When Jesus and his disciples left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. 32 That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. 35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

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, E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, , copyright © 2021.  All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Epiphany 4B Readings with Commentaries


The Collect of the Day

Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth:  Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in out time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 1st  Reading:  Deuteronomy 18:15-20

Our first reading is the authorization of prophets in the life of Israel.  They will be “like Moses” in that they will be intermediaries, for the people cannot bear to hear the word of God directly.  Also, like Moses, they will speak words from God and about the God of Israel, which is one way to tell whether they are authentic or not. It became an expectation among Jews that God would one day send “a prophet like Moses,” which some project onto John the Baptist, and others, Jesus.

18:15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. 16 This is what you requested of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said:  “If I hear the voice of the Lord my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.” 17 Then the Lord replied to me: “They are right in what they have said. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. 19 Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. 20 But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak—that prophet shall die.”

Psalm 111

Our psalm is a song of praise to the God of the covenant who is gracious and merciful, faithful, and just.  In Hebrew it is an acrostic poem, with each succeeding line beginning with a subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

1 Hallelujah!
    I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, *
i        n the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.

2 Great are the deeds of the Lord! *
        they are studied by all who delight in them.

3 His work is full of majesty and splendor, *
        and his righteousness endures for ever.

4 He makes his marvelous works to be remembered; *
        the Lord is gracious and full of compassion.

5 He gives food to those who fear him; *
        he is ever mindful of his covenant.

6 He has shown his people the power of his works *
        in giving them the lands of the nations.

7 The works of his hands are faithfulness and justice; *
        all his commandments are sure.

8 They stand fast for ever and ever, *
        because they are done in truth and equity.

9 He sent redemption to his people;
    he commanded his covenant for ever; *
        holy and awesome is his Name.

10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
    those who act accordingly have a good understanding; *
        his praise endures for ever.

 2nd Reading:  1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Reading First Corinthians as a whole, it is clear some in that community believed they had attained a higher level of spiritual knowledge and, therefore, the right to instruct the community.  Paul quotes some of their frequent sayings.  He offers a mild rebuke and then uses the question of whether it is right for Christians to eat meat sacrificed to idols to teach about the responsibility of the individual to the community.  Freedom, yes, but it is freedom responsible in community. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper.

 8:1 Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2 Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; 3 but anyone who loves God is known by him. 4 Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5 Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords—6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. 7 It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 “Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9 But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? 11 So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. 12 But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.

 Gospel Reading:  Mark 1:21-28

We have been told a few verses earlier that Jesus’ principal message was “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” After calling some disciples, Jesus continues this teaching, which people receive as having authority (or power) unlike anything they have heard from their usual teachers.  He then enacts this power in his first exorcism/healing. The demons of oppression cannot withstand the kingdom that is at hand.

 1:21 Jesus and his disciples went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

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, E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, , copyright © 2021.  All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study with this attribution.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Epiphany 3B Readings with Commentaries

The Collect of the Day

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

1st Reading:  Jonah 3:1-5, 10

Jonah had resisted God’s first attempt to send him to Nineveh, in part because he knew God would show mercy to those who were Israel’s enemies, and he did not want to do it.  Nineveh was a great city of the Assyrian Empire.  Jonah relents the second time (after being saved from the belly of a great fish) and the city repents, and God forgives, just as Jonah had feared.  The story continues with Jonah’s bitter complaint against God.  But God’s mercy prevails, even over Jonah. 

3:1 The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2 “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” 3 So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. 4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. 10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

Psalm 62:6-14

Psalm 62 is a personal testimony of trust in God.  As a response to the first reading, the last line is interesting since God decides not to repay the Ninevites “according to their deeds.”  Perhaps the ways of God are not as simple as either Jonah or the psalmist imagines! 

6 For God alone my soul in silence waits; *
        truly, my hope in in him.

7 He alone is my rock and my salvation, *
        my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken.

8 In God is my safety and my honor; *
        God is my strong rock and my refuge.

9 Put your trust in him always, O people, *
        pour out your hearts before him,
        for God is our refuge.

10 Those of high degree are but a fleeting breath, *
        even those of low estate cannot be trusted.

11 On the scales they are lighter than a breath, *
        all of them together.

12 Put no trust in extortion;
    in robbery take no empty pride; *
        though wealth increase, set not your heart upon it.

13 God has spoken once, twice I have heard it, *
        that power belongs to God.

14 Steadfast love is your, O Lord, *
        for you repay everyone according to his deeds.

2nd Reading:  1 Corinthians 7:29-31

Paul, like most early Christians, believed that Jesus’ return in glory was imminent.  In this context, the following reading makes perfect sense. Paul exhorts the followers of Jesus to rid themselves of all distractions from focusing on the glory that is to come.  Jesus, however, would not come again soon, so what does this reading have to offer us?  There is a sense in which God calls us to a certain detachment from even those things and people we most cherish, lest we lose sight of the One who is always coming into our lives.

7:29 I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, 30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, 31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

Gospel Reading:  Mark 1:14-20

As is typical for Mark, our short Gospel reading packs in a lot of information.  After John the Baptist’s arrest, Jesus begins his public ministry with a message of (in Greek) metanoia (repent, turn around, change your mind).  The kingdom of heaven is at hand. He then calls his first disciples who all leave to follow him “immediately” (a favorite word of Mark).

1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

The Scripture quotations (except for the Psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.  All rights reserved.  The Collect and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are by Epiphany ESources, E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, , copyright © 2021.  All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Epiphany 2B Readings with Commentaries

 The Collect of the Day

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

1st Reading:  1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20]

Our first reading is the call of the prophet Samuel while he was a boy serving under the priest Eli.  Samuel’s mother Hannah had dedicated him to the Lord’s service after his miraculous birth. His first prophetic act is to deliver a harsh message to his mentor, signaling the end of Eli’s priestly line.  God is about to do a new thing in raising up a king to rule over Israel.  Samuel will become God’s “kingmaker.”

3:1 Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. 2 At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3 the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” 5 and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. 6 The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8 The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the boy. 9 Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10 Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

[11 Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. 12 On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13 For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. 14 Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.” 15 Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. 16 But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” 17 Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.” 19 As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.]

Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17

Psalm 139 is an amazing reflection on the relationship between God and the individual.  God is shown to be as much seeking relationship with us as we are with God. God’s presence is shown as deep and lasting; it is the context for both our creation and our living.

1 Lord, you have searched me out and known me; *
        you know my sitting down and my rising up;
        you discern my thoughts from afar.

2 You trace my journeys and my resting-places *
        and are acquainted with all my ways.

3 Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, *
        but you, O Lord, know it altogether.

4 You press upon me behind and before *
        and lay your hand upon me.

5 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; *
        it is so high that I cannot attain to it.

12 For you yourself created my inmost parts; *
        you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

13 I will thank you because I am marvelously made; *
        your works are wonderful, and I know it well.

14 My body was not hidden from you, *
        while I was being made in secret
        and woven in the depths of the earth.

15 Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb;
    all of them were written in your book; *
        they were fashioned day by day,
        when as yet there was none of them.

16 How deep I find your thoughts, O God! *
        how great is the sum of them!

17 If I were to count them, they would be more in number than the sand; *
        to count them all, my life span would need to be like yours.

2nd Reading:  1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Paul begins this passage with a quote that may represent the understanding of some Corinthians. There was confusion about Paul’s message of salvation by grace and not by works. Some took that to mean, “All things are lawful.” All things may be lawful, Paul says, but not all things are helpful. One’s body is to be revered as a temple of God’s Spirit, and so should not be used for “fornication.” The context suggests that this word covers any sexual act that does not intend, or is not an expression of, the unity of the partners.

6:12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,” and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, “The two shall be one flesh.” 17 But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.

Gospel Reading:  John 1:43-51

The great tragedy in John’s Gospel is “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him” (1:11).  Here the facts about Jesus do not impress Nathanael. The Hebrew Scriptures do not even mention Nazareth, so how can the Messiah come from there?  Nathanael changes his mind when he meets Jesus and Jesus reaches through his bravado for relationship.  The invitation, “Come and see,” comes before the more imperative, “Follow me.”

1:43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

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, E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, , copyright © 2021.  All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study, with attribution.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Baptism of Jesus B Readings with Commentaries

 First Sunday after Epiphany (B)

The Baptism of Jesus

The Collect of the Day

Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

1st Reading:  Genesis 1:1-5

The Bible begins with a faith statement:  “In the beginning God…”  There is nothing to prove here, just something on which to stake one’s worldview.  “Wind” and “spirit” are the same word in Hebrew, so there is a double-meaning in what is sweeping over the waters.  Notice it is water whose creation is not told.  It is the substance “before all things came to be.”  Then light is the first created thing.  Water and light are the two predominant images of this day, and, arguably, of the biblical record.

1:1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light;” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Psalm 29

Psalm 29 is a song of praise.  Its setting is a council of heavenly beings. The word “gods” in the first line is misleading.  In Hebrew the actual term is “sons of god,” and most scholars today translate it as “heavenly beings,” implying angels.  Psalm 29 shares many characteristics with a Canaanite hymn to their “storm god.”  This psalm is probably an appropriation of that hymn, but also a refutation.  Israel’s God is God alone.  The voice of God on the waters echoes our first reading, and anticipates our gospel reading.

1 Ascribe to the Lord, you gods, *
        ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his Name; *
        worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

3 The voice of the Lord is upon the waters;
    the God of glory thunders; *
        the Lord is upon the mighty waters.

4 The voice of the Lord is a powerful voice; *
        the voice of the Lord is a voice of splendor.

5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees; *
        the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon;

6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, *
        and Mount Hermon like a young wild ox.

7 The voice of the Lord splits the flames of fire;
    the voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; *
        the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

8 The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe *
        and strips the forests bare.

9 And in the temple of the Lord *
        all are crying, “Glory!”

10 The Lord sits enthroned above the flood; *
        the Lord sits enthroned as King for evermore.

11 The Lord shall give strength to his people; *
        the Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.

2nd Reading:  Acts of the Apostles 19:1-7

A follower of Jesus from Alexandria named Apollos had been preaching in Ephesus and a small community formed there.  In encouraging new believers to Baptism, he spoke only of the Baptism of John.  Soon afterward, Paul made his first trip to Ephesus and teaches them about Baptism in the Name of Jesus with the Holy Spirit, who would empower them for ministry.  Through the Spirit they would join in God’s revealing of himself to the world.

19:1 While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. 2 He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John's baptism.” 4 Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied—7 altogether there were about twelve of them.

 Gospel Reading:  Mark 1:4-11

Our Gospel reading is Mark’s version of the story of Jesus’ baptism.  It is spare, just three verses, and, unlike the accounts in Matthew and Luke, only Jesus himself sees the phenomena and hears the voice.  Mark clearly understands this event as the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, his revelation to the world.

 1:4 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.” 9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

 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, E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, , copyright © 2021.  All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study with this attribution.

Friday, January 1, 2021

The Epiphany Readings with Commentaries

 The Epiphany

The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles

 The Collect of the Day

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth:  Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 1st Reading:  Isaiah 60:1-6

Light is the primary image of this feast.  In this reading, Isaiah prophecies that the people themselves are to be a light to all the nations.  This was one of two lines of thought in post-exilic Israel.  The other, represented by the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, was to strengthen the barrier between Israel and the nations.  Isaiah imagines the nations being drawn to Israel and Israel’s God.  This reading also includes images that appear in the Gospel story, camels bringing those from far away bearing gifts.

60:1 Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. 2 For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. 3 Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. 4 Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. 5 Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. 6 A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14

Psalm 72 is a royal psalm, perhaps from the coronation liturgy.  It lays out the king’ responsibilities, i.e., justice and righteousness for all his people.  Again there is imagery of people from far away coming to bear gifts.  Note they do so because they are attracted by the king’s extraordinary treatment of those who are weak, needy, or oppressed.

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.

10   The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall pay tribute, *

          and the kings of Arabia and Saba offer gifts.

11   All kings shall bow down before him, *

          and all the nations do him service.

12   For he shall deliver the poor who cries out in distress, *

          and the oppressed who has no helper.

13   He shall have pity on the lowly and poor; *

          he shall preserve the lives of the needy.

14   He shall redeem their lives from oppression and violence,

           and dear shall their blood be in his sight.

2nd Reading:  Ephesians 3:1-12

Paul speaks eloquently of the plan of God to reveal himself to the Gentiles, the plan he believes always existed but was hidden until the coming of Christ and the mission Paul has been given.  This radical plan is that Jews and Gentiles become one.

 3:1 This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—2 for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you, 3 and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, 4 a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. 5 In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit:  6 that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 7 Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power. 8 Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, 9 and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; 10 so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 2:1-12

In Christmas pageants, elements of this story are tacked onto Luke’s birth story (2:1-20), but in reality they are very different stories and the visit of the Magi deserves to be known in all its richness.  The wise men (magoi in Greek) were likely astrologers or emissaries of foreign courts.  They were not “kings” (a notion that came from the Isaiah reading and the psalm for today).  They also were not necessarily three in number.  The text does not give them a number; we have implied it from the three gifts.  Those gifts are highly symbolic in nature:  gold for a ruler, incense for a priest, myrrh for one who is to die.  Revelation comes to people in the first two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel via dreams (1:20, 2:12, 2:13, 2:19, 2:22).  The prophecy concerning Bethlehem is from Micah 5:2. That the wise men first went to Jerusalem to consult the current king was only natural, but the “king” they seek is of a very different nature.

2:1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:  6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” 7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

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 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 or insert digitally into a service leaflet for congregational use, with attribution.