Pentecost 20A

Thoughts on Sunday’s Lessons for Oct. 22, 2017

The Tribute Money

The Tribute Money (c.1516), painting by Titian (1490–1576). Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden, Germany. (Click image to enlarge.)

First Reading (Track One): Exodus 33:12-23

God’s power for good amazes us, and we follow in faith. Look for variations on this theme through Sunday’s readings. In our first reading, we have skipped over a bloody and horrifying narrative since we heard about God’s anger over the golden calf: A portion of the Hebrew people were told to kill 3,000 of their brothers and sisters who had worshiped the idol. Now Moses, worried that his fractious flock might stray again, asks that God continue to lead and guide the people. God agrees, and Moses asks one thing more: To see God in God’s glory. But it would be fatal for Moses to see God’s face, so God stations Moses in a crack in a rock, protected from danger, offering only a glimpse from behind after God passes by.

First Reading (Track Two): Isaiah 45:1-7

It may seem unusual to see the First Testament offering high praise to a Gentile king, as Isaiah does here in declaring Cyrus, king of Persia, as “God’s own anointed” (using the Hebrew word “Messiah” and, in the Pentateuch, the Greek word “Christos”!) But consider the context: The people had been in exile in Babylon for 40 years, dreaming of the city and temple that they had lost. They had failed to love their neighbor and care for the weak and needy; thus they broke the covenant with God that had earned them the Promised Land. Now, led by the wise king that history knows as Cyrus the Great, the Persians have conquered Babylon, and Cyrus sent them home, showing that even the Persian king responds to God’s command.

Psalm (Track One): Psalm 99

The Psalmist reflects the Exodus verses that we hear today. We sing praise to God’s great and awesome name, celebrating God’s justice and equity. We remember that God, leading the people in a pillar of cloud, answered their prayers but also punished them for their evil deeds, and then forgave them in the end. Proclaim the greatness of the Lord, our God!

Psalm (Track Two): Psalm 96:1-13

It is likely no coincidence that the Lectionary planners chose to follow Isaiah’s praise for Cyrus the great king with a brisk reminder that God remains king among all kings, before whom the whole Earth trembles. God created and will judge all things, fairly and with equity. Heaven and earth, thunder and lightning, all the fields and all the forest will rejoice when God comes.

Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

We now begin a five-week visit with 1 Thessalonians, a letter written by Paul around the year 50, the earliest document in the New Testament. It addresses a small community of formerly pagan Christians in Thessalonika, Northern Greece, who had been persecuted for giving up the state religion. Their faith, Paul said, had inspired many converts, who were now waiting for Jesus to rescue them “from the wrath that is coming” – their hope that Jesus would come back soon to judge the world and establish the kingdom of God on Earth.

A denarius with the image of the Roman Emperor Tiberius.

A denarius with the image of the Roman Emperor Tiberius. The inscription on the obverse reads TiCaesar Divi AvgFAvgvstvs, abbreviating “Caesar Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus.”
(Click image to enlarge.)

Gospel: Matthew 22:15-22

Jesus continues fencing with the Pharisees. In today’s familiar passage they try to trap Jesus with a trick question that they hope will force him either to anger the crowds by supporting Roman taxation, or risk treason by denying the emperor’s power. But Jesus outwits them again, and even more, prompts the temple leaders to reveal that they are carrying Caesar’s graven image on the coins in their purses. Then, in advising, “give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s,” Jesus leaves open the question of how much that might amount to … and how much of our lives we should give to God. If we consider the context of this narrative and the Gospels overall, though, that small coin alone may be Caesar’s portion. Jesus clearly points our lives’ priority toward God.

Pentecost 19A

Thoughts on Sunday’s Lessons for Oct. 15, 2017

Moses Destroying the Golden Calf

Moses Destroying the Golden Calf (1680), oil painting on canvas by Andrea Celesti (1637-1706). Venice, Doge’s Palace, Sala della Quarantia Civil Vecchia.
(Click image to enlarge.)

First Reading (Track One): Exodus 32:1-14

Even if we do terrible things, even if we wallow in sin, God finds a way to forgive us in a banquet of loving grace. Hear this promise throughout his week’s readings, beginning with the startling story we hear first: The people, afraid that Moses won’t come back down from the mountain, gather all their gold as a sacrifice, shaping it into a golden calf, jettisoning their new commandments about images and idols. A righteously outraged God threatens to destroy the people and start all over. But Moses pleads their case, and God’s abundant love flows to a people who may not deserve it, but who will be forgiven over and over again.

First Reading (Track Two): Isaiah 25:6-9

In the context of the people’s relief from foreign domination after Israel’s earlier Assyrian exile, Isaiah exalts and praises a warrior God who destroyed the enemy while protecting the poor and needy. Then the narrative turns to a beautiful song of hope: In verses that we often hear as a reading in burial liturgy. we sing of a banquet that God will prepare, “a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines … of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear.” It will be a feast for the people of all nations, united at last in a kingdom where death and tears are no more.

Psalm (Track One): Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23

The Psalmist asks forgiveness for a people who have sinned, remembering God’s mercy even when they built and worshipped the golden calf, rejecting the great gift that they had just been given. They forgot God, their Savior, who had watched over them in Egypt and brought them safely across the Red Sea and through the desert. They deserved destruction, the Psalmist sings, but Moses stood up for them and turned God’s wrath aside, revealing the Lord who is good and forever merciful.

Psalm (Track Two): Psalm 23

Is there any more beloved song of God’s deep and abundant love than the 23rd Psalm? Our Good Shepherd is always with us, comforting us and protecting us, not only in the good times when we walk in the green pastures, but all the more in those frightening times when we must walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Just as Isaiah tells us of a banquet table set for the people of God, the Psalmist, too, sees a table of comfort spread out for us in the house of the Lord.

Second Reading: Philippians 4:1-9

Paul shows his pastoral side as he addresses an issue in his flock involving two women leaders in the church at Philippi, Euodia and Syntyche, who have been quarreling. Without taking a side, he urges them to “be of the same mind in the Lord.” In beautiful language, he shows what that might look like: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” Be gentle and kind; true, honorable and just, pure, pleasing, commendable and praiseworthy, he exhorts all the church, and the God of peace will be with us.

Gospel: Matthew 22:1-14

Here is yet another challenging parable. It’s easy enough for us to grasp the king’s anger at the people who didn’t show up for his son’s lavish wedding banquet, even if destroying the people and burning their city seems a bit harsh. And then, after he invited people off the street to take their place, he angrily ties up and throws out a man who ungratefully refused to put on a wedding garment. What’s going on here? Well, first, remember that we are still in Matthew’s narrative in which Jesus uses a series of parables to lecture an angry group of Pharisees. If there’s a deeper message as well, it may be that we need to follow Jesus fully, wedding garment and all.

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 LectionaryPage.net, click here
.

Pentecost 18A

Thoughts on Sunday’s Lessons for Oct. 8, 2017

Moses Showing the Tablets of the Law to the Israelites

Moses Showing the Tablets of the Law to the Israelites (with Portraits of Members of the Panhuys Family, their Relatives and Friends), oil painting on panel (1574-75) by Maerten de Vos (1562-1603), The Museum Catharijneconvent, Utrecht.
(Click image to enlarge.)

First Reading (Track One): Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20

God commands. We the people try to obey; but it isn’t always easy. Listen for this theme in Sunday’s readings. On Mount Sinai in the desert, the people join in covenant with God, accepting the commandments that will seek to guide their lives toward righteousness in relationship with God and others. Note well the last lines of the reading, though, where Moses reminds them that through the commandments God tests our faith. Will we follow them with care?

First Reading (Track Two): Isaiah 5:1-7

In Isaiah’s poetic song God plants a vineyard and cares for it with love. But the harvest yields “wild” grapes – “stinking, worthless, sour” in the original Hebrew. What happened? The vines metaphorically stand for the people, who disappointed God by failing to be just and righteous. Now God will trample down the vines, destroying the vineyard. Early in Isaiah’s long book of prophecy he is already setting the scene for a people defeated in war, their city destroyed, sent into exile. Listen for vineyard themes through today’s Track Two readings. How do you think they relate?

Psalm (Track One): Psalm 19

God’s commandments are a wonderful gift, a gift that shows God’s glory in such a shining light that all the heavens sing: All the skies reveal the work of God’s hand! This triumphant Psalm begins with mighty praise for the beauty of all God’s creation. Then the theme turns to a hymn of praise for the commandments, God’s law and teaching. True, just and righteous, God’s commandments stand even above the earthly creation that we have just celebrated. They are sweeter than honey, more precious than gold.

Psalm (Track Two): Psalm 80:7-14

Surely the Psalmist had Isaiah’s book at hand while writing these poetic verses. Isaiah had warmed that a disappointed, angry God, loathing the sour fruit, would demolish the vineyard, tearing down its wall and hedge and ordering a drought to lay it waste. This Psalm imagines a people who brought a vine out of Egypt, made it mighty, but then neglected it and let it wither. Now we beg a compassionate God to regard and restore the bountiful vines, a hint of hope that is not found in the dark verses of our Isaiah reading.

Second Reading: Philippians 3:4b-14

The verses just preceding this reading give needed context: Since Paul left Philippi, other Christians preaching a more conservative Jewish Christianity have come in and told the people of this Macedonian church that, despite Paul’s teaching, they must follow Jewish law – including purity laws and circumcision – in order to be Christians. Paul pushes back, pointing out that he is a devout Jew himself, and a Pharisee too, observant and righteous. But now. he says, everything has changed: The old commandments mean nothing without Christ.

Gospel: Matthew 21:33-46

Picking up where last Sunday’s Gospel left off, Jesus challenges the temple authorities again with another difficult parable about a vineyard. When its owner went to another country, he hired tenants to produce the grapes for him. When he sent slaves for the produce, though, the tenants beat them up and killed them; then, remarkably, they did the same to the owner’s own son! What, Jesus asked, would the owner do? Surely he will kill the evil tenants, the priests and Pharisees respond. But Jesus turns the parable on to them: Those who work to produce the fruit will inherit the Kingdom of God. Angered, the temple leaders start plotting to arrest Jesus.

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 LectionaryPage.net, click here

Pentecost 17A

Thoughts on Sunday’s Lessons for Oct. 1, 2017

The Holy Children with a Shell

The Holy Children with a Shell (John the Baptist on the right with the child Jesus, c.1670). Painting by Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo (1617-1682). Prado Museum, Madrid.
(Click image to enlarge.)

First Reading (Track One): Exodus 17:1-7

The people in their journey through the desert continue being hard to satisfy, quarreling with Moses and doubting whether God is really watching over them. In last week’s reading we saw God responding to their hunger with daily rations of quail and manna. Now they have no water, and even if their whining seems to annoy Moses, it’s hard to blame them for grumbling in their thirst. God instructs Moses to go ahead with some of the elders to strike a rock with the rod that he had used to part the Red Sea’s waters. He complies, and when he hits the rock, water comes gushing out to slake everyone’s thirst.

First Reading (Track Two): Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32

Three weeks ago we heard the Prophet Ezekiel warning the people that although God does not want to kill them, they surely must die if they do not repent, turning back from their wicked ways. Today, we hear a similar, longer exhortation from earlier in the book, another stern warning that contains a glimpse of hope. Again Ezekiel sees repentance as the necessary response to a dangerous pattern of behavior: Fail in righteousness, refuse to be just, and you must die. But repent, turn away from wickedness, and enjoy life in the grace of God, who takes no pleasure in your death or that of your children. “Turn, then, and live.”

Psalm (Track One): Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16

Writing centuries after the ancestral story of the people’s exodus from Egypt and their journey through the wilderness to freedom, the Psalmist joyfully recalls that narrative with no hint of the quarrelsome, complaining times when the people forgot God’s blessings. In this hymn of praise that “declares the mysteries of ancient times,” these verses echo to future generations how God’s power and marvels opened the sea, led the people toward freedom, and, indeed, brought water gushing out of a cliff like a river.

Psalm (Track Two): Psalm 25:1-8

The five or six Psalms that follow immediately after the beloved 23rd Psalm also sing praise and gratitude to a loving God who cares for us and protects us from our enemies. Echoing the ideas that Ezekiel expressed, when we sing this Psalm we remember that, though we may have sinned, transgressed God’s love and hopes for us, we nevertheless trust in our loving, saving God to remember us with compassion, protect us, and guide us toward right paths in spite of our errors.

Second Reading: Philippians 2:1-13

We hear more of Paul’s beautiful letter to his dear friends, the Philippians, from his prison cell in Rome. Be encouraged and consoled by the life and love of Christ, he exhorts them. Be as humble and unselfish as Jesus, placing the needs of others before our own ambition; and in doing so, live as Jesus lived. Then he turns to the poetic phrases of an ancient Christian hymn, proclaiming that Jesus – although made in the form of God – “emptied himself” in utter humility, taking instead the form of a slave, obediently accepting death by crucifixion; and in so doing became exalted as our anointed Lord and master.

Gospel: Matthew 21:23-32

We have skipped over several chapters and a great deal of activity since last week’s Gospel. Jesus and his disciples have reached Jerusalem, entered the city with palm-waving, cheering crowds, and angrily thrown over the money changers’ tables in the temple. Now it is a new day, Jesus has come back to the temple, and the wary high priests try to trap him by asking with whose authority he teaches, heals and speaks. But Jesus traps them back with his own trick question about John the Baptist that they can’t answer either way without getting into trouble. Then Jesus moves on to a parable that, as parables do, asks a thought-provoking question: Is it better to walk the walk or talk the talk?

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 LectionaryPage.net, click here
.

Pentecost 16A

Thoughts on Sunday’s Lessons for Sept. 24, 2017

Parable of the Vineyard Laborers

Gleichnis von den Arbeitern im Weinberg (“Parable of the Vineyard Laborers”), mid-17th century oil painting by Jacob Willemsz de Wet (1632–1675). Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest. (Click image to enlarge.)

First Reading (Track One): Exodus 16:2-15

God showers us with abundant good, even when we have done nothing to deserve it: This is the gift of God’s amazing grace, and we hear of it throughout Sunday’s readings. In our first reading, the Israelites are in the wilderness. They may have been saved from the Egyptian army by God’s mighty hand at the Red Sea, but they are unhappy now, six weeks later, bitterly complaining because they have nothing to eat. They wish God had just killed them in Egypt, where at least they could eat their fill. But God provides, promising them meat in the evenings and bread in the mornings, the miraculous flaky manna that falls to the earth like dew.

First Reading (Track Two): Jonah 3:10-4:11

Jonah had fiercely resisted God’s call to prophesy to Israel’s ancient enemies in Nineveh until God sent him there, despite his refusal, via the famous giant fish. Arrived in the ancient capital of Israel’s Assyrian enemies, Jonah prophesied as ordered. Much to his surprise, the people of Nineveh changed their minds and gained God’s favor. Rather than being joyful, though, Jonah has an extended tantrum because God declined to destroy the city. “Just kill me now,” Jonah shouts. But God stands firm, choosing mercy and forgiveness to revenge on a city of 120,000 innocent people and all their animals.

Psalm (Track One): Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45

We sang the first few verses of this same Psalm just three weeks ago. This Sunday, though, after the introductory praise to God’s holy name, we jump ahead to verses that remember Israel in the desert: The cloud and fire that led them; the quail and bread that fed them, and the water that flowed from the rock. All this is placed in the context of the covenant that God made with Moses and the people at Mount Sinai: God will give the people land and wealth. The people will follow God’s teaching and laws, living lives of righteousness and justice.

Psalm (Track Two): Psalm 145:1-8

The book of Psalms, the bible’s anthology of ancient Hebrew hymns and poetry, comes to a triumphant close with the last six Psalms, joyous songs of praise for God’s great glory. Psalm 145, the first of that group, is well chosen to reinforce the message that we heard in today’s reading from Jonah: The Psalmist exults in God’s righteousness, grace, generous mercy and steadfast love. We ponder the glorious splendor of God’s majesty and all God’s marvelous works.

Second Reading: Philippians 1:21-30

After spending the past three months with Romans, we will now devote four Sundays to getting to know Paul’s letter to the people of Philippi. This early Christian community in Northern Greece was largely populated by the Gentile descendants of Roman soldiers, and his clear affection for its people shows throughout the short letter. Paul is said to have been in prison in Rome when he wrote this letter, and the possibility of his execution may have inspired its reflections on life and death. If he lives, he says, he will take joy in continuing to spread the Gospel; but he is just as willing to die, for he understands death as being with Christ forever.

Gospel: Matthew 20:1-16

The parable of the workers in the field makes us stop and think, as the parables of Jesus are supposed to do. How would we feel if we had worked all day for our pay, only to see some other people who came in late and worked for only an hour getting the same amount as we had? Unfair! If we had stood on a street corner in a day-labor market, though, waiting for someone to offer us work, we’d probably be overjoyed at the unexpected generosity of our wage. God’s ways, as we see so often in Scripture, are not our ways. We all earn God’s grace in equal measure, no matter who we are or what we have done. What God gives to others takes nothing away from God’s gifts to us. We should joyfully celebrate God’s abundance, not jealously grumble about it.

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 LectionaryPage.net, click here
.

Pentecost 15A

Thoughts on Sunday’s Lessons for Sept. 17, 2017

The Children of Israel Crossing the Red Sea

The Children of Israel Crossing the Red Sea (c.1855), oil on canvas by Frédéric Schopin (1804-1880). Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery. (Click image to enlarge.)

First Reading (Track One): Exodus 14:19-31

Themes of hope and forgiveness appear in several of Sunday’s readings. In the first reading, God sends a powerful east wind that divides the sea, allowing the Israelites to cross on dry ground. When they reach safety, the water rushes back at Moses’ command, and Pharaoh’s entire army is drowned. The people are amazed, and fear the Lord. But now begins a pattern of alternating joy and anger that will repeat itself often during the people’s journey through the wilderness: When Pharaoh’s army had them trapped at the water’s edge just before this miracle, they had been angry at Moses and at God, and demanded to be taken back to the relative safety of slavery in Egypt.

First Reading (Track Two): Genesis 50:15-21

In a reading last month, we read about Joseph’s brothers arriving in Egypt, fleeing famine but terrified that Joseph, who had risen to a position of great power as Pharaoh’s chief advisor, might seek revenge against them for the way they had threatened to kill him, then sold him into slavery. Now more years have passed. Their father Jacob (later called Israel) has died, so they are worried. Without their father’s protection, will Joseph finally turn on them? They weep and beg Joseph’s forgiveness for their crime. But Joseph, weeping as well, reassures them: God has chosen their family to be a great nation.

Psalm (Track One): Psalm 114

One of the many Psalms of praise – its ringing “Hallelujah,” literally, means “Praise the Lord” in biblical Hebrew – Psalm 114 is well chosen to read after today’s first reading: It reflects on events of the Exodus and sings out praise for God’s acting to bring the people out of slavery to the promised land. When God commands, the seas flee. Rivers turn back. Even mountains and hills skip like mighty rams and little sheep. The entire earth trembles when God appears.

Alternate to the Psalm (Track One): Exodus 15:1b-11,20-21

This ancient song of victory follows immediately after the narrative of the parting of the waters in Exodus. Imagined as a hymn of triumph sung by Moses and all the people, it praises and exalts God as a powerful military leader whose glorious strength shattered the enemy, drowning their threats of vengeance and destruction as quickly as lead sinks in water. Then, in the closing verses, the prophet Miriam leads the women in a triumphant dance of exultation with drums and tambourines.

Psalm (Track Two): Psalm 103:1-13

Just as Joseph forgave his brothers, God forgives us, heals us and redeems us. God pours out so much goodness on us, the Psalmist sings, that our youth is restored, our infirmities wiped away, and our lives brought back from the edge of the grave. Even when our sins arouse God’s anger, we are forgiven; we don’t suffer the punishment that our wickedness deserves. Instead, God showers us with mercy, loving us like a mother loves her children even when they misbehave.

Second Reading: Romans 14:1-12

Last week we heard Paul tell the Christians of Rome that the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves, as Jesus had taught, is the greatest commandment, including all the other commandments within it. Now, in the last reading from Romans that we will hear this season, Paul teaches that loving our neighbors obliges us not to judge our neighbors. Don’t be critical of our neighbors because they do things differently than we do. Even if our neighbor makes us angry, he says, we are to forgive, standing together in giving glory to God, leaving judgement to God.

Gospel: Matthew 18:21-35

Peter, perhaps thinking about Jesus’ instructions in last week’s Gospel about working out disagreements in the church, wants to know exactly how many times he must continue forgiving a person who sins against him repeatedly. Is seven times enough? No, Jesus responds, not just seven times but 77 times, and it’s reasonable to assume that he really means to continue forgiving always. Then Jesus tells of a slave who, forgiven a crushing debt, cruelly fails to forgive another slave’s smaller debt. The slave is punished, and we are left to remember how Jesus taught us to pray: Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”

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 LectionaryPage.net, click here
.

Pentecost 14A

Thoughts on Sunday’s Lessons for Sept. 10, 2017

The First Passover

The First Passover (1562), painting by Huybrecht Beuckelaer. Stichting Nederlands Kunstbezit, Maastrich, The Netherlands.
(Click image to enlarge.)

First Reading (Track One): Exodus 12:1-14

God loves us. God is faithful to us. In times of turmoil and of fear, these simple ideas that we hear through Sunday’s readings offer reassurance. In the first reading, we see the origin of Passover: Having fought hard-hearted Pharaoh through a dozen plagues with God’s help, the people are now ready to escape from slavery in Egypt. But first they must be saved – literally by the blood of the lamb – from the bloody savagery that is about to strike the children and animals of Egypt and their pagan gods. The details of this gory sacrifice may belong to a different time and culture, but they reveal the grace through which God’s people march toward freedom.

First Reading (Track Two): Ezekiel 33:7-11

Our Track Two lectionary readings continue taking us on a walk through the prophets and the ancestral stories. This week we meet Ezekiel, a prophet who tradition identifies as a priest taken to Babylon in exile after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Why did this terrible thing happen after God had made covenant with the people and given them the promised land? God is punishing them for their wickedness, the prophet cries out, carrying God’s words to the people. God has no desire to punish the people, and wishes only that they would save their lives by turning back – repenting – from their evil ways.

Psalm (Track One): Psalm 149

Sunday’s Psalm, like the first reading, celebrates warlike violence in language that reflects Bronze Age sensibility in the Ancient Near East, yet we can hear its echoes all too well in the imagery of modern warfare, shock and awe. We sing to the Lord a new song, joyously dancing and shaking tambourines to celebrate God’s gift of victory in battle, while the enemy’s kings are bound in iron chains. Before we judge too harshly, recall that the Psalms, the bible’s ancient hymnal, offer a full human range of emotion, from this warrior shout to the protective love of the Good Shepherd.

Psalm (Track Two): Psalm 119:33-40

Here we are again singing a portion of Psalm 119, the longest of the Psalms, which turns up often in our Sunday readings. The entire Psalm celebrates Torah – God’s laws and teaching, the first five books of the Bible – as a glorious gift to humankind. Consistent with the theme of God’s love and protection that infuses this week’s readings, it finds joy in knowing that the path of the commandments is the way of life.

Second Reading: Romans 13:8-14

The commandment to love one another incorporates all the commandments, Paul tells the Christians in Rome. Love, he says, in words that remind us of his beloved passage on love in 1 Corinthians, does no wrong to those around us. If we love our neighbors, we won’t hurt our neighbors. We won’t kill them, we won’t steal from them, we won’t be jealous of what they have. Love fulfills the law. Hoping that Christ would soon return – salvation grows nearer every day, he reminds them – Paul urges his flock to live honorably, not behaving badly or gratifying earthly desires, but “putting on the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20

This Gospel reminds of of Jesus’ promise that we remember with joy whenever we approach the Communion table: He will be there among us, conscious of our deepest wishes, whenever we gather in his name, in prayer and in the real presence of the Eucharist. We also get a glimpse of the way that early Christians tried to work out disagreements through small group conversations before taking the matter to the full church to be resolved only as a last resort. We’re probably relieved that we don’t sort out one another’s sins this way any more, but let’s take note of a deeper message: When we gather together, in celebration or in conflict, Jesus is with us and shows us the way.

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 LectionaryPage.net, click here
.

Pentecost 13A

Thoughts on Sunday’s Lessons for Sept. 3, 2017

Moses before the Burning Bush

Moses before the Burning Bush (1613-14). Oil painting on canvas by Domenico Fetti (1589-1623).
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. (Click image to enlarge.)

First Reading (Track One): Exodus 3:1-15

The long journey of the people from slavery in Egypt toward freedom in Canaan begins. Moses encounters God in the form of a burning bush on Mount Horeb. This is another name for Mount Sinai, where Moses will later return to receive the Ten Commandments and enter the people into covenant with God. The God of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, too powerful to view face to face, occupying holy ground, tells a somewhat reluctant Moses that he is to lead the people out of Egypt. Then Moses asks a curious question: What is God’s name? “I am who I am,” God replies. “Say to the Israelites, ‘I am’ has sent me to you.”

First Reading (Track Two): Jeremiah 15:15-21

The youthful prophet Jeremiah’s sometimes angry, frequently despondent prophecies have earned him the nickname “Weeping Prophet.” We hear a little of both emotions in today’s first reading, in which we find Jeremiah confronting God and asking him to bring down retribution on those who are persecuting him. Jeremiah spoke out on God’s behalf, even though it was hard, but the ungrateful people only insulted him. “Why,” he wails, “is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?” God responds with kindness, reassuring him: “they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you.”

Psalm (Track One): Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c

Echoing the announcement of God’s name to Moses, this Psalm of praise sings out thanksgiving and glory to God’s holy name. It, too, celebrates the people’s ancestry from Abraham, Jacob and Israel (Jacob), and recalls that they, too, sojourned as aliens and oppressed slaves in Egypt. Once the people become oppressed, God sent Moses and Aaron to bring them out. Hallelujah … praise the Lord!

Psalm (Track Two): Psalm 26:1-8

It is interesting to wonder whether Jesus had Psalm 26 in mind when he told (in Luke 18) about the Pharisee who boasted loudly of his righteousness and thanked God that he was not like the thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even tax collectors. It would be easy to read that kind of prideful piety into these verses. Let’s hear them instead in the light of Jeremiah’s woeful call for God’s grace, and envision a God whose lovingkindness inspires us to worship with thanksgiving and songful procession, loving the place where God’s glory abides.

Second Reading: Romans 12:9-21

We have read through much of Paul’s letter to the people of Rome for almost three months, since the beginning of the season after Pentecost. We have listened and learned as Paul worked out a new theology, discerning how we receive new life in God’s grace through Christ. Now we approach the end of the letter and hear a beautiful, poetic summary of Paul’s call to Rome’s Jewish and Gentile Christians to live together in love as Jesus would have done. “Hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another … Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” This is no dry, ancient admonition: As it was then, so is it today.

Gospel: Matthew 16:21-28

What a difference a day makes! In last week’s Gospel we heard Jesus praise Peter, calling him the rock upon which he will build the church. Now, in the verses that immediately follow, when Jesus tells the apostles that he must suffer, die and be raised again, Peter angrily demurs, prompting Jesus to turn and declare Peter “Satan,” ordering him to get out of his sight. The evangelist we know as Matthew, perhaps reflecting evolving Christian theology a generation or two after the crucifixion, depicts a powerful image of Jesus as Messiah, predicting his own death and resurrection as necessary steps toward the universal justice that will come with 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 LectionaryPage.net, click here
.

Pentecost 12A

Thoughts on Sunday’s Lessons for Aug. 27, 2017

Christ Giving the Keys of the Kingdom to St. Peter

Christ Giving the Keys of the Kingdom to St. Peter (1481-83). Fresco by Pietro di Cristoforo Vannucci (“Perugino,” 1450-1523), Sistine Chapel, Vatican City, Rome. (Click image to enlarge.)

First Reading (Track One): Exodus 1:8-2:10

For the rest of the season after Pentecost, we will follow the narrative of Moses and the chosen people out of slavery and through the desert for 40 years until they reach the Promised Land. Our Gospel readings will recall the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem and the cross. In the first reading, years have passed since we left Joseph and his brothers, and Pharaoh no longer knows of Joseph or the work he did to save Egypt. Now the Egyptian leaders are afraid of the Hebrews, who have grown in numbers and are now perceived as a threat. Pharaoh tries to have all the Hebrew baby boys slaughtered at birth, but the infant Moses escapes and is adopted by Pharaoh’s own daughter.

First Reading (Track Two): Isaiah 51:1-6

In a metaphor that may remind us of Jesus’ response to Peter in today’s Gospel, Isaiah reminds the people that they were hewn from rock and dug from a quarry in their descent from Abraham and Sarah and their children. God promised to bless Abraham and make his offspring as numerous as the stars, and that promise has been fulfilled. Even if they are in exile now, God will deliver them; God’s justice will be a light to the people, and their deliverance will come soon. Earth will wear out like a garment and the heavens will vanish like smoke, but God’s deliverance and salvation are forever.

Psalm (Track One): Psalm 124

Recalling the time that the people were delivered from slavery in Egypt, the Psalmist sings out a hymn of thanksgiving to the God who protected them through the fear and danger of their exodus. We remember how the Red Sea waters might have overwhelmed them in a raging torrent without God’s protection. Then, in a beautiful metaphor, we envision the people as a bird pursued by a hunter, escaping from a broken snare. In celebration we sing, “Our help is in the name of the Lord.”

Psalm (Track Two): Psalm 138

Echoing the hope for return from exile and eventual salvation that we heard from Isaiah, today’s Psalm thanks and praises God for love and faithfulness. When we called, God answered us and gave us strength. Although God is high, God cares for the lowly; God keeps us safe when we walk in the midst of trouble. The love of the Lord endures forever, and God will not abandon the works of God’s hands.

Second Reading: Romans 12:1-8

Having made his case to the Christians of Rome to live and worship together in love, Paul moves on to urge them to devote their minds and bodies as a living sacrifice in their spiritual worship, living not according to the customs of this world but discerning and follow what is good in the will of God. Working out a beautiful metaphor that we also hear in 1 Corinthians, he imagines the church, like our bodies, as an organism made of many parts. Every part has its purpose, and they all must function well together to make the body work. Some lead, some teach, some give, some learn, some listen; some offer compassion. All together we make up one body in Christ.

Gospel: Matthew 16:13-20

This key turning point in the Gospels appears in similar form in Matthew, Mark and Luke: Although the disciples have already begun wondering if Jesus is the Son of God – when they worshipped him after he walked on the water and stilled the storm, for example – this is the first point in the Gospels, just as they begin their journey toward Jerusalem, when Jesus responds and agrees with Peter’s assertion that God has revealed him as the Messiah. Jesus then declares Peter “the rock” upon which he will build the church. Then Jesus sternly commands the disciples not to tell anyone about this. His time has not yet come.

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 LectionaryPage.net, click here
.

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 LectionaryPage.net, click here
.