Pentecost 11A

Thoughts on Sunday’s Lessons for Aug.20, 2017

The Woman of Canaan at the Feet of Christ

La Cananéenne aux pieds de Jésus-Christ (The Woman of Canaan at the Feet of Christ, 1784), oil painting by Jean Germain Drouais (1763–1788). The Louvre, Paris.

First Reading (Track One): Genesis 45:1-15

We are approaching the midpoint of the six-month-long season of green vestments that follows Pentecost, and we see our lectionary narratives begin to turn. Our first reading marks the end of the ancestral stories of the chosen people, and our Gospel shows us Jesus and his apostles leaving Galilee on a long journey toward Jerusalem and the cross. First, Joseph: He has been through a lot since his jealous brothers sold him into slavery. He has become a chief advisor to Pharaoh, with great power over his brothers who have come to Egypt in a time of famine. In a tearful reunion, Joseph forgives them. The ancestral line that leads to the Messiah is unbroken.

First Reading (Track Two): Isaiah 56:1,6-8

Writing near the end of his long book of prophecy, when the people have returned home to Jerusalem and face the arduous task of rebuilding the city and its temple, Isaiah reminds the people that, just as they lost the land for their failure to be righteous and just, they may not keep the holy city by “maintaining justice and doing what is right.” The covenant is now for all people, for all the nations; foreigners and aliens who hold fast to the covenant will be gathered in, welcomed in the temple and made joyful.

Psalm (Track One): Psalm 133

Mirroring the joy of Joseph’s reunion with his brothers, the Psalmist celebrates the blessed state of brothers and sisters abiding together in unity. Just as Joseph’s family came back together in love, and as Paul will urge the Jewish and Pagan Christian communities in Rome to rejoin in friendship, we hear again how good and pleasant it is when families and friends live together in blessed unity.

Psalm (Track Two): Psalm 67

We hear again a Psalm that we sang this year toward the end of Eastertide, just before Pentecost. It reinforces the Isaiah reading and foreshadows Paul’s verses from Romans in its joyous call to all the nations of Earth and all their people to sing together in peace and praise. Let all the nations praise God and pray for God’s blessing, the Psalmist sings, for through God the earth gives forth its bounty, and all the earth sings out its praise.

Second Reading: Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

Paul expands on his invitation to Rome’s Jewish and Gentile Christians to resume close relationship after the Jewish Christian community returned to Rome from exile. Here Paul emphasizes his own Jewish heritage, pointing out his status as an Israelite and a direct descendant of Abraham through Benjamin, the youngest brother whom Joseph loved. God’s promises to Israel will never be revoked, Paul declares, and God’s new promises to the Gentiles just as irrevocable. Regardless of our disobedience, our sins, and our ancestry. God is merciful to us all and loves us all.

Gospel: Matthew 15:10-28

First in today’s Gospel we encounter Jesus mocking a group of Pharisees who in previous verses had criticized his disciples for ignoring the ritual requirement to wash their hands before eating. Jesus offers an earthy response: What goes into our mouths – even food from unwashed hands – does not defile us. It’s the words that come out of our mouths that show our true character. Then, in the land of Canaan, Israel’s traditional enemy, Jesus shocks us again. When a Canaanite woman seeks help for her demon-tormented daughter, Jesus first ignores her, then replies with a startling insult, likening her children to stray dogs scrounging for crumbs under the table. But the words that then come from the mother’s mouth come from her heart. Jesus is changed by the encounter. He praises her faith and heals her child.

What are “Track 1” and “Track 2”?
During the long green season after Pentecost, there are two tracks (or strands) each week for Old Testament readings. Within each track, there is a Psalm chosen to accompany the particular lesson.
The Revised Common Lectionary allows us to make use of either of these tracks, but once a track has been selected, it should be followed through to the end of the Pentecost season, rather than jumping back and forth between the two strands.
For more information from, click here

Pentecost 10A

Thoughts on Sunday’s Lessons for Aug. 13, 2017

Jesus walking on water

Jesus walking on water (1888). Oil on canvas by Ivan Aivazovsky (1817-1900). Private collection.

First Reading (Track One): Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28

Faith in the face of fear, faith as a source of strength: This idea shows up in Sunday’s readings in the stories of Joseph, threatened with death and then sold into slavery by his own brothers; and loyal Peter, confident that he can walk on Galilee’s choppy waters until his faith falls short and he starts to sink. In the first reading we follow the Old Testament’s dysfunctional first family into its fourth generation. Jacob’s son Joseph’s encounter with his brothers shows us again that even the patriarchs were flawed, broken, sometimes downright bad. Yet still God loved them, as God loves us, and all ends well.

First Reading (Track Two): 1 Kings 19:9-18

The Prophet Elijah is not in a happy place in Sunday’s reading. He is fleeing for his life from an angry Queen Jezebel, and he feels alone and angry. No one else is on his side. He despairs. But he hears the word of the Lord – an angel, a messenger – inviting him to go stand on the mountain to meet God. Soon a great wind shakes his world; then an earthquake and finally a fire shatter the scene; but God is not in any of those. It is in the silence which follows that God’s voice is finally heard. God reassures him, promising that Elijah will go on to appoint Israel’s kings and prophets.

Psalm (Track One): Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-22, 45b

Holding up Joseph as an example that God remains faithful even in hard times, the Psalm reminds us of Joseph’s life as a slave in Egypt, his feet bruised in fetters and his neck choked in a heavy iron collar. But God was faithful to Joseph, and through Joseph God saved the people. Joseph won Pharaoh’s trust and eventually rose to a place of power in the Egyptian court, master of the royal household and ruler of its possessions. God indeed does marvels that make our hearts rejoice.

Psalm (Track Two): Psalm 85:8-13

The reassurance that God gives to Elijah in his lonely fear is echoed in this beautiful Psalm segment: God has forgiven our iniquity and blotted out our sins. Heaven and earth meet in truth and righteousness; righteousness and peace share a tender kiss. God grants prosperity and a fruitful harvest, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.

Second Reading: Romans 10:5-15

We return to Romans after a week’s break for the Transfiguration, and find Paul continuing to try to persuade Rome’s Gentile Christian community and its Jewish Christians to live in harmony and love one another. Salvation comes to us all through Jesus, he writes, and there is nothing we can do to earn it; Christ has done this all for us, with no distinction between Jew and Greek (Gentile). God is God of all. The word of faith is in us, and we are called to proclaim the good news of the Gospel so all may be saved.

Gospel: Matthew 14:22-33

The striking mental image of Jesus walking on the stormy waters of the Sea of Galilee makes this one of the most familiar Gospel stories. To try seeing it in a new way, imagine the scene as the apostles might have experienced it. Jesus had sent the apostles ahead to cross the sea without him so he could take some time to pray alone. Later, when they then saw Jesus walking calmly across the water toward them, they were afraid, until Jesus assured them. Then Peter tried to run across the water to meet Jesus. He managed a few steps … until his doubt started him sinking, reaching for Jesus’ saving hand. Do you think you would have trusted Jesus enough to step out of the boat?

What are “Track 1” and “Track 2”?
During the long green season after Pentecost, there are two tracks (or strands) each week for Old Testament readings. Within each track, there is a Psalm chosen to accompany the particular lesson.
The Revised Common Lectionary allows us to make use of either of these tracks, but once a track has been selected, it should be followed through to the end of the Pentecost season, rather than jumping back and forth between the two strands.
For more information from, click here

Feast of the Transfiguration

Thoughts on Sunday’s Lessons forAug. 6, 2017

Transfiguration of Christ

Transfiguration of Christ (c.1480), oil on panel by Giovanni Bellini (c.1430-1516). Museo di Capodimonte, Naples.

First Reading: Exodus 34:29-35

We take a break from the long season of Sundays after Pentecost because the Feast of the Transfiguration, traditionally celebrated on August 6, falls on a Sunday this year and takes precedence. Our first reading, with Moses coming down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments, his face glowing like the sun, will reflect back to us in Sunday’s Gospel when we see the transfigured Jesus standing with Moses and Elijah, shining in dazzling white, revealed as the Messiah.

Psalm: Psalm 99

This mighty ancient hymn of praise envisions God as a powerful king at whose appearance the people tremble and the earth shakes. Yet, just as Moses and Aaron received God’s law and teaching with loud chants of praise, the Psalmist understands God as no petty tyrant but a mighty ruler. God demands justice and righteousness, but God is also forgiving and kind. God reveals to the people both distant might and present love.

Second Reading: 2 Peter 1:13-21

One of the latest letters in the New Testament, this was probably written by a church leader in Peter’s name more than a century after the Crucifixion. Addressing Second Century Christians who may have been worried that Jesus had not yet returned, the letter urges them to trust in God and wait for the dawn and the morning star, reminding them in Peter’s voice that he had been an eyewitness to the Transfiguration.

Gospel: Luke 9:28-36, 37-43a

Peter, John and James go with Jesus to a mountain to pray, and suddenly their mouths drop open in awe as Moses and Elijah appear and Jesus’ face and clothing are transfigured in holy light. The apostles become sleepy, but too intrigued to sleep; then they are terrified as a cloud forms around them. Then God’s mighty voice is heard, booming out the same words that God had spoken from a cloud at Jesus’ baptism by John: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”


If you’d like to keep up with the lectionary narratives from Genesis, the Psalms, Romans and Matthew that are replaced by the Transfiguration readings this week, they are:
First Reading (Track One): Genesis 32:22-31
First Reading (Track Two): Isaiah 55:1-5
Psalm (Track One): Psalm 17:1-7, 15
Psalm (Track Two): Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
Second Reading: Romans 9:1-5
Gospel: Matthew 14:13-21

Pentecost 8A

Thoughts on Sunday’s Lessons for July 30, 2017

Parable of the mustard seed. Etching by Jan Luyken in the Bowyer Bible (1795), Bolton Museum, Lancashire, England.

Parable of the mustard seed. Etching by Jan Luyken in the Bowyer Bible (1795), Bolton Museum, Lancashire, England.

First Reading (Track One): Genesis 29:15-28

The notion of “biblical marriage” gets complicated in Sunday’s first reading, in which we see tricky Jacob marrying Laban’s sisters Rachel and Leah and their two maids! Scripture inspires us, but we still need to filter the culture of the Ancient Near East through tradition and reason before we draw specific lessons for our time. The ancestral legends of the chosen people are products of their time and culture. What remains timeless is the celebration of God’s faithfulness, shown in the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their descendants who will go on to populate all nations.

First Reading (Track Two): 1 Kings 3:5-12

Known in tradition for his great wisdom, King Solomon may be most often remembered by the story – just a few verses after this one – of how he revealed the real mother in two women’s dispute over a baby by proposing to cut the infant in half. Here we meet Solomon – the son of King David and Bathsheba – as the young, new king, uncertain and uneasy. Dreaming of God asking what he would like to be given, Solomon chose not long life, riches or power, but only wisdom to govern the people well. Pleased by this choice, God grants Solomon a wise and discerning mind greater than any earlier or later king.

Psalm (Track One): Psalm 105:1-11, 45b

This ringing hymn of praise to God and God’s works celebrates God’s promise that we have seen come to pass in this season’s first readings: God made an everlasting covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – a covenant that we will later see worked out with Moses and the people at Mount Sinai. God promises that their children will inherit the Promised Land for a thousand generations, and this will be in response to their covenant to faithfully follow God’s teaching and obey God’s laws.

Alternative Psalm (Track One): Psalm 128

This short alternative Psalm echoes similar ideas without touching on the people’s ancestral covenant in so many words. Still, its quick cadences celebrate the joy and the rewards that come to those who follow in God’s way, the fruits of their labor, the happiness and prosperity that they will enjoy. Thanks to God’s blessings from Zion, they will be rewarded with secure homes and long and prosperous lives.

Psalm (Track Two): Psalm 119:129-136

The longest of all the Psalms, this celebration of love for God’s law and teaching that comprises the first five books of the Bible is repeated often in brief selections through the Lectionary year; another passage was used in Track One just two weeks ago. This week’s verses celebrate the love of Torah in almost sensuous terms of open-mouthed, breathless longing. God’s statutes are so wonderful that the Psalmist bursts into tears at the recognition that some people do not follow the law.

Second Reading: Romans 8:26-39

Our extended journey through Paul’s letter to the people of Rome reaches a high point in this passage, as his long discussion about life in the flesh versus life in the spirit reaches its conclusion in a burst of almost poetic words: If God is for us, who is against us? God’s abiding faithfulness, as we have seen in the First Reading and Psalm, was made manifest through God’s gift of God’s own son. If God gave him up for all of us, nothing in all creation, not hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword can separate us from the love of God through Jesus.

Gospel: Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

What is the kingdom of heaven like? Today we hear Jesus offering five more striking, thought-provoking concepts in a quick series of parables. It’s like a tiny mustard seed that grows into a tree! It’s like yeast that makes bread rise! What’s more, it’s like buried treasure, a proud merchant with a valuable pearl, and fishers with a full net. All this concludes with another warning that a fiery furnace, weeping and gnashing of teeth wait for evildoers. Parables don’t tell us the whole story – they only offer flashing images – but every one of them makes us think.

Pentecost 7A

Thoughts on Sunday’s Lessons for July 23, 2017

Jacob’s Dream

Jacob’s Dream (1805), pen and ink and water color drawing by William Blake (1757-1827). The British Museum, London.

First Reading (Track One): Genesis 28:10-19a

Signals of God’s abundant love as the gift of grace shine through Sunday’s readings. Consider Jacob, for example: A conniving trickster, in the verses preceding this reading he cheated his brother, his father, and his father-in-law for everything he could get. Now Jacob is on the run, fearing that his angry twin Esau is going to kill him. Sleeping in the desert on a stone pillow, Jacob has a remarkable dream of angels going up and down a celestial ladder. And then he hears God’s voice, repeating the promise given to his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac: God is with him, and his offspring will fill the Earth. Why would God reward such a sneaky cheater? God knows that no human is perfect, but God still loves and protects even such broken, troubled people.

First Reading (Track Two): Isaiah 44:6-8

This short, poetic prayer of praise within Isaiah’s prophecy assures the people that they will return home to Jerusalem from their exile in Babylon. The prophet imagines God declaring God’s own power and majesty. Despite the beliefs that their captors may hold in other gods and other prophesies, Isaiah makes clear that Israel need not fear or be afraid. God is not only the nation’s redeemer and leader, but the first and last of all creation, beside whom there is no other god.

Psalm (Track One): Psalm 139: 1-11, 22-23

If Jacob had a moment of introspection and examined his conscience, he might have lain awake on that desert night, fearing Esau’s revenge and praying something like this psalm. Even if we run from God, we cannot hide from God. In heaven or in the grave, in darkness or in light, up in the sunrise sky or down in the deepest part of the sea, no matter where we go or how we try to hide, God knows where we are and what we are thinking. Even when we are wicked, God will lead us in right paths.

Alternative to the Psalm (Track One): Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19

The Wisdom of Solomon, a short book in the Apocrypha, was written in King Solomon’s name not long before, or even possibly during or after, the time of Jesus and the evangelists. These verses seem to echo the faith of Psalm 139 in their ringing praise for a powerful, righteous God who reigns over all creation, yet judges the people mildly and with forbearance, teaching us that to be righteous requires us to be kind.

Psalm (Track Two): Psalm 86:11-17

The Psalmist is grateful for God’s abundant love shown in protection against the violence and threats of enemies. Like the people in exile in today’s reading from Isaiah, he faces difficulties – even being trapped in the “nethermost Pit” and pursued by a band of violent men. Nevertheless he turns to God with faith and trust, calling on God to respond out of grace and compassion, kindness and truth, to turn to him and have mercy, shaming his foes with a sign of God’s favor.

Second Reading: Romans 8:12-25

As we go through Paul’s letter to the Romans this summer, you’ve probably noticed that he sticks with consistent terms, repeatedly contrasting death in the flesh against life in the spirit of Christ. He emphasizes these points again in today’s reading: If we live by our own selfish desires, we die. But if we live in the Spirit through Christ, loving God and our neighbor even as we suffer with Christ, we are glorified with him and become beloved children of God.

Gospel: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Following immediately upon last week’s Gospel about the sower and the soil, we meet another sower in another of Jesus’ parables as told by Matthew. This time the soil is good, and so is the seed. The sower is planting wheat in the rich soil of his own field, only to have an enemy sneak in at night and plant weeds among the good wheat. He can’t uproot the weeds without disturbing the wheat, so they must grow together until harvest, when the weeds can finally be torn out and discarded. Jesus’ explanation may sound a bit disturbing with its talk of hellfire and damnation for the weeds; but it’s clear that those who live righteously will enjoy God’s kingdom.

What are “Track 1” and “Track 2”?
During the long green season after Pentecost, there are two tracks (or strands) each week for Old Testament readings. Within each track, there is a Psalm chosen to accompany the particular lesson.
The Revised Common Lectionary allows us to make use of either of these tracks, but once a track has been selected, it should be followed through to the end of the Pentecost season, rather than jumping back and forth between the two strands.
For more information from, click here

Pentecost 6A

Thoughts on Sunday’s Lessons for July 16, 2017

Esau and Jacob

Esau and Jacob (1695-96), Painting by Luca Giordano, Prado Museum, Madrid.

First Reading (Track One): Genesis 25:19-34

God promised that Abraham’s descendants would be as numerous as the stars of heaven. But the ancestral legends of the chosen people show us that this may not come easily. Abraham and Sarah had to wait until she was 90 years old before the miracle of Isaac’s birth. Today we learn that Isaac and Rebekah, too, prayed for 20 barren years before their twins, Esau and Jacob, were born. Jacob, who grabs his older brother’s heel at the moment of birth, grows up to be a trickster, as we see when he talks his moments-older sibling, in a moment of hunger, into giving up his rights as firstborn in trade for a bit of bread and a pot of lentil stew.

First Reading (Track Two): Isaiah 55:10-13

The people’s exile in Babylon is coming to its end, but the long journey back to Jerusalem and the arduous work of restoring the city and rebuilding the Temple lies ahead. Having assured the people that God has forgiven the failure of justice and righteousness that earned them exile, the prophet now shows God as the giver of life and sustenance and all that is good. In these brief verses, the images of God giving seed to the sower and bread for the hungry rings in our ears as we hear Jesus’ parable of the Sower in today’s Gospel.

Psalm (Track One): Psalm 119:105-112

We hear parts of Psalm 119 a dozen times during the three-year cycle of Lectionary readings, so you have probably noticed that it is the longest psalm – 176 verses – and that all those verses are devoted to a long, loving celebration of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. “Torah,” usually translated as “law,” “ordnance” or “decree” throughout this and all the psalms, may be better expressed as “teaching,” which reveals God’s loving desire for us to live in good relationship with God and each other. Even in darkness and time of trouble, the Psalmist sings, following God’s decrees brings joy.

Psalm (Track Two): Psalm 65: (1-8), 9-14

This psalm of praise and thanksgiving beautifully reflects the Prophet Isaiah’s portrayal of God as the generous creator who made the world and all that is in it, and who provides bountiful water and grain, pastures and flocks. Perhaps originally sung as a harvest thanksgiving, it chants praise for the overflowing richness of God’s abundance and for the joy it provides to those who receive it. This abundant seed has surely fallen entirely on good soil and yielded a hundredfold.

Second Reading: Romans 8:1-11

Psalm 119’s love of God’s law would have had deep meaning for Paul, a devout Pharisee and Torah scholar who counted himself as righteous and blameless under the law. But as a Jewish Christian evangelist, he developed a new understanding that we see him working out in Romans: Christ’s resurrection has freed us from the law of sin and death, not of Torah but of the world. In the world and living in the way of sinful flesh, Paul reasoned, we remain subject to sin and death. But when we turn and accept God’s Spirit through Jesus, when the Spirit dwells in us because Christ is in us, we gain life and peace.

Gospel: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

For the rest of the Pentecost season we will follow Matthew’s account of Jesus’ journey with the apostles from Galilee to Jerusalem. Many of those Gospels will take the form of parables, Jesus teaching in colorful stories that teach through metaphor. Today’s parable of the sower is the first parable in Matthew and the only one for which Jesus offers an explanation. But what does that explanation call us to do? Are we the soil, seeking to be good and receptive when we hear God’s word? Or are we to join the apostles in sowing the word of the Kingdom of God extravagantly, rejoicing when the harvest is bountiful?

What are “Track 1” and “Track 2”?
During the long green season after Pentecost, there are two tracks (or strands) each week for Old Testament readings. Within each track, there is a Psalm chosen to accompany the particular lesson.
The Revised Common Lectionary allows us to make use of either of these tracks, but once a track has been selected, it should be followed through to the end of the Pentecost season, rather than jumping back and forth between the two strands.
For more information from, click here

Pentecost 5A

Thoughts on Sunday’s Lessons for July 9, 2017

Rebekah and Eliezer at the Well

Rebekah and Eliezer at the Well (1661), oil painting on canvas by Gerbrand van den Eeckhout (1621-1674). National Gallery, London.

First Reading (Track One): Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67

Our First Readings through the remaining five months of Sundays after Pentecost will continue to follow God’s chosen people on their long road to the Promised Land, from Abraham to Isaac, Esau and Jacob, Joseph, Moses and Joshua. Occasionally among these patriarchs, we hear the story of a matriarch like Sarah, Hagar, and now Rebekah, who responds with faithful trust to God’s call. Much as Abraham did when he took family to a new land, Rebekah leaves home and family to marry Abraham’s son, Isaac, a man she has not yet met. God promised Abraham that his offspring would become “a great and mighty nation.” Rebekah hears that her children will become “thousands of myriads.” Her faith may be as great as Abraham’s.

First Reading (Track Two): Zechariah 9:9-12

The prophet Zechariah, celebrating the people’s return from exile and their hope of restoring the Temple, envisions a humble yet powerful king who will come to reign in peace and restore the nation’s prosperity, a Messianic foreshadowing that Christians can easily shift forward to Jesus. Matthew later will find Jesus so vividly foretold in these verses that he adopts the wording precisely, including the poetic repetition of Hebrew verse, “riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey,” in his portrayal of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on two animals on Palm Sunday.

Psalm (Track One): Psalm 45:11-18

Today’s psalm is a wedding blessing addressed to a princess bride of Tyre, an ancient island kingdom and occasional rival to Israel, who has come to Israel to be joined in a royal marriage. The verses chosen for today celebrate the pomp and joy of her coming wedding, and they also highlight the Psalmist’s hope that the bride will be remembered and praised in future generations, a prayer for future blessing that echoes God’s promise of myriad descendants to Abraham and Rebekah.

Alternate for the Psalm (Track One): Song of Solomon 2:8-13

The Song of Solomon, also known as Song of Songs, is a lyrical collection of ancient Hebrew love poetry. Curiously, it, along with the book of Esther, is one of the only books in the Bible that does not explicitly mention God. Rather, we are left to find the image of God in the joy of giving and caring love. These verses are understood as a rhapsodic song of springtime, but their metaphorical evocation of love in the midst of an awakening springtime Earth speaks to our hearts even during summer’s heat.

Psalm (Track Two): Psalm 145:8-15

This psalm of praise, traditionally attributed to King David, serves well to echo today’s reading from Zechariah in its vision of a humble, powerful king who reigns in peace and prosperity. This kingdom of glorious splendor is not just a kingdom for here and now, but one that is known in glory to all people, an everlasting kingdom that endures through all the ages: A kingdom of God indeed.

Second Reading: Romans 6:12-23

We have recently heard Paul’s assurances to the ancient Christians of Rome that through baptism we “die” to our old lives enslaved to sin only to be “born” to a new life freed from sin through the free gift of grace from God. In today’s reading, though, using himself as a bad example of a “wretched man,” Paul points out that it’s not necessarily easy to leave sin behind, even when we want to do the right thing. He tries, but he can’t get rid of the sin that lives within him. He can’t fight sin on his own – and neither can we – without God’s help through Jesus, who frees him from the slavery of sin.

Gospel: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Doesn’t Jesus seem frustrated and angry in the beginning verses of today’s Gospel? He compares the crowds surrounding him at Capernaum to children, and observes that the same people who called John demonic because he didn’t eat and drink now call Jesus a glutton and a drunk because he does! But then, after we skip over a few more angry verses not included in today’s reading, Jesus pauses and thanks God, turning from anger to gentle humility, and invites all who carry heavy burdens to come to him and find rest for their souls.

Would you like to browse through more of our Illuminations?
Click this link to browse the full three-year lectionary cycle, and more, of these weekly Lectionary reflections, online in our Illuminations archive.

What are “Track 1” and “Track 2”?
During the long green season after Pentecost, there are two tracks (or strands) each week for Old Testament readings. Within each track, there is a Psalm chosen to accompany the particular lesson.
The Revised Common Lectionary allows us to make use of either of these tracks, but once a track has been selected, it should be followed through to the end of the Pentecost season, rather than jumping back and forth between the two strands.
For more information from, click here

Pentecost 4A

Thoughts on Sunday’s Lessons for July 2, 2017

Sacrifice of Isaac

Sacrifice of Isaac (c. 1603), oil painting on canvas by Caravaggio (1571–1610). Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

First Reading (Track One): Genesis 22:1-14

We reflect on sacrifices as small as the gift of water to a child and as serious as the death of a child in Sunday’s readings. Having sent his son, Ishmael, into the desert with his mother to die, Abraham now hears an even more shocking command: God tells him to slay his beloved son Isaac as a sacrifice. It’s hard to imagine a God who would order such a thing, but we rejoice with Abraham when God then forbids him to kill Isaac, offering a ram to sacrifice instead. As an ancestral legend, this established in law that the people would not sacrifice humans; and it showed a compassionate God, once Abraham’s faith was tested: a God who would say “no” to death in the resurrection of his own son, Jesus Christ.

First Reading (Track Two): Jeremiah 28:5-9

To place this short reading in context, go back and read the verses just before it. Jeremiah had warned the priests and people that their exile in Babylon had a long way to go, and that any prophets who say otherwise are liars. Then the young prophet Hananiah stood up and challenged that, prophesying that God had in fact broken the yoke of the Babylonian king and would bring all the exiles home within two years. Now Jeremiah responds, agreeing that God will indeed end the exile some day, but only when peace prevails and war, pestilence and famine come to an end.

Psalm (Track One): Psalm 13
The opening verses of this short Psalm might not be well suited to bring comfort to a person who is grieving or afraid, but it gives us deep insight into the profound pain that exists at the depths of fear and loss. It would be only too human to be afraid that we have been forgotten, God’s face is turned away and hidden, leaving us defenseless and alone, victim to our enemies. But even in utter darkness, hope remains when we trust in God’s mercy. God has dealt with us fairly, and we can take joy in God’s saving help.

Psalm (Track Two): Psalm 89:1-4,15-18

In these two brief passages taken from a longer Psalm, we celebrate God’s covenant with King David, a royal lineage that God established to last forever as a sign of God’s righteousness and never-ending rule. Those who walk in God’s way and rejoice in the divine name will be full of joy, knowing that God is their ruler; the Holy One of Israel is everlasting king.

Second Reading: Romans 6:12-23

Who wants to be a slave? It is hard to imagine anyone who would willingly embrace this state, as Paul makes clear by using the idea of slavery to make a telling point: Baptism spared us from the slavery of sin, freeing us to embrace a better kind of slavery, the joyful “enslavement” of willing submission to God through Christ. In this way, Paul says, we receive the free gift of grace that brings eternal life.

Gospel: Matthew 10:40-42

This is the third and final passage from Matthew’s account of Jesus teaching his recently commissioned apostles about the challenges and rewards of discipleship. We have heard Jesus’ troubling warnings about bringing a sword and leaving friends and family behind in order to follow him. But now, turning to the rewards of following his way, Jesus – mirroring the Psalmist’s assurance that God is loving, just and fair – promises that those who practice justice in God’s name, even in such small ways as offering water to a child, will receive God’s justice.

What are “Track 1” and “Track 2”?
During the long green season after Pentecost, there are two tracks (or strands) each week for Old Testament readings. Within each track, there is a Psalm chosen to accompany the particular lesson.
The Revised Common Lectionary allows us to make use of either of these tracks, but once a track has been selected, it should be followed through to the end of the Pentecost season, rather than jumping back and forth between the two strands.
For more information from, click here

Pentecost 3A

Thoughts on Sunday’s Lessons for June 25, 2017

Christus Victor, the Warrior Christ

Christus Victor, the Warrior Christ, 6th century Roman mosaic. Basicila San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy.

First Reading (Track One): Genesis 21:8-21

We often turn to scripture for reassurance, looking for readings that bring us comfort and joy. Sunday’s readings are not quite like that. They challenge us, jolt our assumptions, and at the end, make us think about how our spirituality works. We begin with a particularly troubling story about Abraham, the patriarch of the chosen people, who followed God’s commands with exemplary faithfulness. Yet here we see Abraham doing something disturbing as he sends his slave, Hagar, and their son, Ishmael, out into the desert to die. Happily, God intervenes, saving Ishmael and promising them a bountiful future parallel to that of Abraham and Sarah’s son, Isaac. (Indeed, while Jews and Christians recognize Abraham as our patriarch through Isaac, the world’s Muslims trace their Abrahamic line through Ishmael.)

First Reading (Track Two): Jeremiah 20:7-13

The prophet Jeremiah is angry and upset. God has called him to prophesy to the people about the destruction that their failure to be righteous and just will bring upon them, but they will not listen. Worse, they laugh and deride him when he shouts about their impending peril. Anger builds up in his bones like a burning fire, and he cannot hold it in. Even his close friends wait for him to stumble. But Jeremiah knows that it is his persecutors who will stumble, for God is with him like a warrior at his side.

Psalm (Track One): Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17

Like Hagar with Ishmael in the desert, the Psalmist suffers in misery. He suffers in spite of his faith and trust in God. Recognizing that God is a God like no other, the God of all nations, who loves us even when we aren’t happy, he cries out his prayer, trusting in a good and forgiving God to answer him and make his heart glad.

Psalm (Track Two): Psalm 69: 8-11, (12-17), 18-20

This Psalm clearly serves as a foil to the Jeremiah reading. Like Jeremiah, the Psalmist spoke for God only to become the subject of scorn and reproach from his own friends and family, and even had songs sung about him by drunkards at the city gate. The Psalmist calls on God to save him from their hatred, to turn to him in compassion and save him from his enemies.

Second Reading: Romans 6:1b-11

In baptism, everything changes in our lives. This theme runs strongly throughout Paul’s letter to the Romans. Baptism unites us with Christ so that we share in his death and resurrection. In baptism we symbolically “die” to our old life enslaved by sin. In baptism we are born to a new life, freed from sin through God’s abounding grace. In baptism we become dead to sin and alive to God through Jesus.

Gospel: Matthew 10:24-39

This is surely one of the most difficult Gospel passages! It seems strange to see Jesus, the Prince of Peace, telling us that he has not come to bring peace but a sword! Family members set against each other, and we have to leave our families behind to follow him? These disturbing verses, continuing Jesus’ stern instructions to the apostles in last Sunday’s Gospel, may reflect the difficult times when the evangelist we know as Matthew was writing his Gospel: The Roman Empire had crushed a Jewish rebellion, leaving Jerusalem shattered and the Temple in ruins; and Jewish Christians were breaking away from Rabbinic Judaism amid angry rivalry. It would have been not only hard but dangerous to follow Jesus’ Way then. Even to this day, Jesus consistently calls us to give, not to take.

Pentecost 2A

Thoughts on Sunday’s Lessons for June 18, 2017

The Vocation of the Apostles

The Vocation of the Apostles (1481). Fresco by Domenico Ghirlandaio. Sistine Chapel, Vatican City, Rome.

First Reading (Track One): Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7)

Through the long stretch of Sundays after Pentecost that has now begun and continues until Advent, churches may choose to follow either of two Lectionary “tracks,” with separate First Readings and Psalms. The First Readings for Track One will take us through the Bible’s story of God’s chosen people, from the patriarch Abraham to Isaac, Esau and Jacob, Joseph, Moses and Joshua. Today we hear the very start of that narrative: God’s assurance, through three mysterious strangers, that Abraham and Sarah will have a son, and that their offspring will inherit the Promised Land. Sarah finds this hilarious because of their great age, but God’s promise is fulfilled in their son, Isaac.

First Reading (Track Two): Exodus 19:2-8a

Through the long stretch of Sundays after Pentecost that has now begun and continues until Advent, churches may choose to follow either of two Lectionary “tracks,” with separate First Readings and Psalms. In Track Two, our First Testament readings are generally chosen to have some relationship with the week’s Gospel in theme or theological point. We begin today with Moses, in a narrative from which we may hear distant echoes in today’s Gospel, taking God’s words to the elders of the people and gaining their agreement to be in lasting covenant with God.

Psalm (Track One): Psalm 116:1, 10-17

We heard this same Psalm just a few weeks ago, midway in Eastertide. It is a Psalm of thanksgiving, clearly intended as a grateful prayer thanking God for recovery from illness. In the verses just preceding, it offers a vivid image of the anguish of illness and the fear of death. We are spared those words today, though, moving directly into the verses that sing of the transforming joy that comes with recovery and resurrection. In the joy of restored life, the Psalm offers thanks to God who frees us from the snares of death.

Psalm (Track Two): Psalm 100

Does this joyful hymn sound familiar? If you’ve worshiped in Morning Prayer, you have probably joined in reciting it as the Jubilate, one of the options available in the “Invitatory and Psalter” near the beginning of the service. It draws its joyous theme from the recognition of the truth that Moses gave the elders: that we are God’s creation, God’s own people, and – using the metaphor that we know and love in Psalm 23 – the sheep of God’s pasture.

Second Reading: Romans 5:1-8

For the next three months we will be hearing excerpts from Paul’s great letter to the Romans, in which he beautifully works out his evolving theology of Christ, the Spirit and salvation. He is writing at a time when Rome’s Jewish Christians were just returning from exile, while its formerly pagan Christians had faced persecution at home. We begin with another reading that we have heard recently, during this past Lent. Paul encourages the Roman Christians to love each other and heal their differences in spite of their own suffering, reminding them that Jesus suffered and died on the Cross. He urges them to learn endurance in their own suffering, remembering that even though they are sinners, they are justified through faith and saved through the cross.

Gospel: Matthew 9:35-10:8(9-23)

Throughout this long season after Pentecost, our Sunday Gospels will take us through Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life and teaching, following Jesus to the eve of his Passion as the liturgical year ends in November and we turn to Advent and Christmastide. Today we hear Jesus, who has been teaching and healing on his own, selecting 12 apostles to help. He gives them power to heal and exorcise, and charges them to go out to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” to proclaim the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near. The rules are strict: Accept no pay. Take only the most basic possessions along. Don’t stay with those who don’t welcome you. Be prepared for persecution and hate, but know that the Son of Man is coming soon.