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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Daily Readings for Saturday, April 19

Holy Saturday/Great Vigil of Easter

Lamentations 3:37–58; Psalm 43; Hebrews 4:1–16; Rom. 8:1–11

Today is a day of mourning in the church, a day for silence, for what can be said? Some traditions ever require absolute silence this day, to be broken only by tomorrow’s explosive salutation of the good news. For now, the Lord lies in the tomb, and our lesson offers a backdrop in which to contemplate these great three days. The lamentation gives expression to the theological conviction of God’s sovereignty in all things, even the dispatch of good and bad, and that when bad things come; it is God’s punishment for sin. Who then should complain—they deserve it! That said, the theology here reminds them that in such straights, they are to test and examine their ways and return to the Lord with uplifted hands and heartfelt prayers confessing their transgressions and rebellion, which God has not forgiven. The implication is that God’s wrath does not endure forever, and that he will forgive. But for now, God has wrapped himself with anger, pursuing and killing without pity. God has wrapped a cloud about him to block out their prayers. God has made them filth and rubbish among the peoples—their neighbors. Enemies speak against them, panic and pitfall, devastation and destruction are their lot. The lamenter’s eyes flow rivers of tears, and will do so until the Lord looks down and sees. What the lamenter sees concerning the young women of the city causes him grief. Those who are her enemies, “without cause,” hunt her like a bird. They have flung her into a pit to stone her and, in hurling stones, the waters of death close over her and she says, “I am lost.” In the depths of deepest despair, from the pit, she calls on the name of the Lord and the Lord hears her plea that God not close his ears to her cry for help and relief. The lament now turns a corner, and almost all laments in scripture do, for the Lord hears and says, “Do not fear!” The lesson for the day ends with the confession, “You have taken up my cause, O Lord; you have redeemed my life.”

One might expect Psalm 130 to be appointed for this day; the lament that says, “Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord.” Instead, we read Psalm 43, a petition for God’s help in times of trouble, asking for God’s vindication against the ungodly ones who have behaved in deceitful and unjust ways against her. Affirming her trust in God, she asks why this has happened: “Why have you cast me off?” Then she prays, “Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me! Isn’t that what we most need when besieged by deceit and injustice? Once led through the treachery of injustice, let God’s light and truth bring her to God’s holy hill in Jerusalem and to God’s dwelling there, the temple. There, she will worship God with exceeding joy and praise him with the harp. After reaffirming her commitments to God, the psalmist turns reflective and asks herself, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?” Her counsel is that universal word that continues to resound throughout scripture: “Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.” Yes, this is a difficult time, but God is present within it as her help and will be triumphant. There will come a time beyond this when she will again be filled with joy and praise.

Hebrews, having warned against the dangers of unbelief and its consequences, turns to the promise of entering God’s rest for those who believe. Recalling the Jews’ history, the reader is reminded that the good news came to their ancestors, but it did not benefit them because they were not “united by faith with those who listened.” On the other hand, “we who have believed enter that rest.” Notice that the verb is first person plural, present tense, meaning that we who believe have already entered it, but, it is a continuing reality. The quotation of Psalm 95:11, in which God, in anger swore, “They shall not enter my rest,” is not only a word of reminder about the past, but also recognition that God’s rest that he took up on the seventh day of creation is still available, though some enter it and others do not. Since it does remain open for some to enter, so too, “today” it is open as Psalm 95:7 confesses in its plea for people to return to the Lord. Had the rest that came to them upon entering the land of promise under Joshua’s leadership been sufficient, David (the psalm), would not have needed to speak of a “today” in which to enter. So, the sabbath rest still remains for the people of God, and those who enter it cease from their labors in order to rest in Gods security, peace and life. Again, the author exhorts his readers to make every effort to enter into God’s rest, so that none fall through disobedience. The writer now makes a statement that has been memorized by countless, but largely misunderstood. “The word of God,” that is living, active, sharper than any two-edged sword that pierces until it divides what seems undividable, and is able to judge our thoughts and intentions, is not the Bible. It is the living Word, Jesus Christ. Before him no creature is hidden, but all are laid naked and bare to the eyes of him to whom each must render an account. The Word of God is the judge at the end of history. That said; let us remember that he is also our great high priest who has entered through the heavens into the presence of the Father. So hold fast to our confession, for he sits there at the Father’s right hand as one who has been tested in every regard as we are, yet without sin. He is not unsympathetic to our plight. Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace (notice it is grace and not judgment) with boldness, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. This last phrase is often used as a call to prayer in Reformed liturgies, especially prayers of confession.

We are at the high water mark of Paul’s theology in the letter to the Romans: there is no condemnation for those who are joined to Christ Jesus, because God has done in Christ what the law, weakened by human flesh, could not do for us. By sending his son in the flesh, Christ dealt with sin, and condemned it in his own flesh, so that what the law was designed to produce might be fulfilled in any who walk, not by the flesh but by the Spirit. It is then, a matter of mindset! Set the mind on the flesh (sin and its ways) and the result is always death. Set the mind on the Spirit (God and God’s ways) and the result is life and peace. The former is hostile to God; it cannot possibly submit to the law, much less keep it, and, therefore, simply cannot please God. But in Christ, we are not of the flesh but of the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in us. And though our bodies are dead because of sin and still susceptible to its power, the Spirit is alive in us because of God’s righteousness. Then Paul says, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit which dwells in you.” It is not just a promise about the future beyond death; it is a promise for life now. God is doing in us what you and I cannot do for ourselves, in and through Jesus Christ.

Posted April 19, 2014
Friday, April 18, 20`4

Daily Readings for Friday, April 18

Good Friday

Lamentations 3:1–9, 19–33; Psalm 22; 1 Peter 1:10–20; John 13:36–38 or John 19:38–42

In the previous lament, the focus has been upon the women of Zion and their suffering. Now, the focus is upon a man (though the NRSV’s commitment to inclusive language obscures this fact.) Is the man Jeremiah, speaking out of his own suffering, another prophet or king, or is this man simply the personification of the entire community, as were the women in the previous chapter? This is God’s wrath at work; it is the Lord who has driven him into darkness without any light and has turned the divine hand against him, again and again—all day long! The language of lament is familiar: his flesh and skin waste away and his bones are broken. God has “besieged and enveloped [him] with bitterness and tribulation,” making him sit in darkness. God has walled him about, encompassed him so that he cannot escape, and has put heavy chains upon him. And though he calls and cries for help, God shuts out his prayers. God has blocked his way with hewn stones and made his path crooked. The lament continues with traditional language of bitter complaint about his affliction and homelessness—it is wormwood and gall! His soul can think of no other thing and is bowed down within him. But this he calls to mind, and herein he finds hope. And like so many of the laments in the psalms, the poet now focuses upon the steadfast love of the Lord, which never ceases, whose mercies never end. “Great is [God’s] faithfulness,” words that form the foundation of the famous hymn, “Great is Thy faithfulness.” Confessing that the Lord is his portion, he finds hope in him. What follows is a confession of the goodness of the Lord for those who wait on him and for his salvation. More, it is good to bear the yoke of burden in one’s youth, to sit alone in silence, when that silence is imposed by the Lord, to put one’s mouth to the dust in penance, and to give one’s cheek to those who smite and insult him (an image that will be incorporated into the passion narrative). And why; because the Lord will not reject forever. Although the Lord causes grief, he also has compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love. The Lord does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone. The message to a lamenting Jerusalem is clear: wait on the Lord, he will come with salvation.

Psalm 22 is the best known lament in the Psalter, primarily because it contains the words that are on the lips of Jesus hanging on the cross and is all but prophetic concerning what takes place there. It is a lengthy plea for help that describes the psalmist’s troubles. Day and night he calls for help with no answer. Yet, God is the Holy One enthroned on the praises of Israel; the One his ancestors trusted and he delivered them. But the psalmist does not ask on the basis of his own righteousness. He is but a worm, not human, and scorned by others who despise and mock him. “Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver,” is repeated in the passion (Matthew 27:43 ) with the chief priests, scribes and Pharisees using these words to mock Jesus in his dying. In the midst of suffering, the psalmist remembers that God has cared for him since his birth and, from that time, the Lord has been his God. Again he pleads, “Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.” Vivid language follows to describe the psalmist’s condition: surrounded by strong and destructive bulls, poured out like water, a heart melted like wax, bones out of joint, mouth dried like a potsherd, and his tongue cleaving to his jaw. The psalmist understands this as God’s judgment against him: “you lay me in the dust of death,” circled by dogs ready to devour his flesh. His enemies likewise stare and gloat over his suffering and divide his clothing among them by casting lots—another image Matthew includes at the cross. After one final plea for the Lord’s presence and aid to save him from the power of the dog and the mouth of the lion, suddenly, there is a shift in the second half of verse 22: “From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.” God has acted. The rest of the psalm is one of praise to God for not hiding his face, for answering and for coming to the psalmist in his distress. The psalm is exultant and filled with promises to testify to the Lord’s goodness among his brothers and sisters in the midst of the congregation. His rescue is such that “all the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship him.” For, dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations. Even those yet unborn will be told about the Lord and proclaim him. It is easy to see why the infant church found in this psalm prophetic witness to Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection and eternal rule, and how its influence found its way into the passion narratives.

The theological cantus firmus of 1 Peter is that God has graciously acted through the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ, to bring about a salvation that is being kept in heaven for those to whom Peter writes, those being protected by the power of God through their faith and trust in him. The author of 1 Peter reads the entire Old Testament through a Christological lens, so that all of it is understood as preparation for and in service to the Gospel revealed in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Having said that, he presses his readers to live lives of holiness, worthy of the grace and salvation Christ will bring when he reappears. Notice that their ultimate salvation still lies in the future. Consequently, they are to abandon the ways they formerly lived as ignorant children, and become holy as God is holy! If they are going to claim to belong to God in Christ, they must live lives that look like it, for they have been redeemed from their former ways, in the sense of “ransomed,” not by perishable things like silver or gold, but “with the precious blood of Christ.” None of this has been an afterthought on God’s part, but was destined by God before the foundation of the world and revealed at “the end of the ages” for their sake. It affirms that before creation, God knew its future ways of becoming captive to sin, and determined, even before bringing creation into being, the means for its redemption.

This reading from John comes in the midst of the upper room meal Jesus has with his disciples, when after washing their feet, he tells them that he is about to be betrayed by one of them, and gives them the new commandment to love one another as he has loved them, for he is about to leave them, and where he is going, they cannot come. Peter asks, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus again reminds him that where he is going, Peter cannot now come, but will follow afterward. Peter presses Jesus, asking why, if he can come afterward, he cannot follow him now, and promises to lay down his life for Jesus. Jesus responds, “Really; you will lay down your life for me?” Not so; rather, before the cock crows announcing the coming sunlight, Peter will have denied him three times.

Posted April 18, 2014
Thursday, April 17, 2014

Daily Readings for Thursday, April 17,

Maundy Thursday

Lamentations 2:10–18; Psalm 126; 1 Corinthians. 10:14–17; 11:27–32; Mark 14:12–25

The elders of Jerusalem sit on the ground in silence, dust on their heads and adorned in sackcloth, as the young girls of Jerusalem bow their heads to the ground, but this penance is too late; the judgment has been enacted. The poet is spent with weeping, his stomach churns and then he regurgitates, so sick is he over his people and their destruction. Infants and babes faint in the street from hunger and cry out to their mothers for food, finally dying on their mothers’ breasts. What then can he say about Jerusalem and to what can he compare her; how can he comfort her, for vast is her ruin, all because her prophets have seen falsely and have reported deceptive visions. Rather than expose the people’s iniquity, they have spoken false oracles and misled the people. Consequently, all who pass by clap their hands in satisfaction; they hiss and wag their heads saying, “Is this the city that was called the perfection of beauty and the joy of the earth?” Jerusalem’s enemies have devoured her and now celebrate the day they have longed for, saying, “At last we have seen it!” But it is not her enemies that lie behind this, but the Lord, who has done what he purposed and carried out his threats. Long ago this was ordained, and now, he has demolished her without pity and made her enemies rejoice over her fall. The poet turns to the people of Jerusalem and exhorts them to “Cry aloud to the Lord!” Let their tears flow down in a torrent, day and night, giving themselves no rest as they appeal on behalf of their children.

Psalm 126 is a pilgrim song, sung to the song of ascents, as worshippers make their way to the temple. It remembers the initial joy experienced by the people upon their return home to Jerusalem from the Babylonian exile. They were like those who dream: their mouths were filled with laughter, their tongues with shouts of joy. As the Lord had promised, the nations said among themselves, “The Lord has done great things for them.” In affirmation, they declare it themselves: the Lord has done great things for us,” and in them they rejoiced. They have been saved. But now home, there are new challenges. The second half of the psalm falls into a petition for God to bless them, to come and restore their fortunes, like water rushes through the watercourses in the Negeb. When the rain comes, those flat, dry riverbeds suddenly become awash with torrents of water. May the restoration come as suddenly, so that those who sow in tears—planting season in the Ancient Near East was associated with sorrow for many reasons, not the least being that the summer drought was drawing near and threatened to destroy the seed—will reap with shouts of joy because the crop has been abundant beyond belief.

Paul warns the Corinthians to flee from the worship of idols. He then calls upon them as “sensible people,” to judge for themselves. Paul again refers to the Supper with words that are today incorporated in Eucharistic liturgies: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ; the bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” Stepping over Paul’s answer to their questions about head coverings, their abuses at the supper, and Paul’s handing on the tradition of Jesus’ words of institution of the Lord’s Supper, the reading continues with the theme of the consequences of participating in the worship meal in “an unworthy manner.” They will be answerable for the Lord’s death. Rather, they are to examine themselves and their behavior with one another before eating the bread and drinking the cup. For, to eat and drink without “discerning the body,” is to do so in a manner that will bring judgment upon them. This is why many of them are weak and some have died. But, and here, Paul includes himself, “If we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, as is taking place among them, it is the Lord’s discipline, so that they may not be condemned along with the rest of the world. Paul’s words about “discerning the body” in the supper have a long history of abuse in the church in its debate over the presence of Christ in the Eucharist and questions about who is and who is not able to receive the sacrament. Transubstantiationists have insisted that Paul is saying that, unless one “discerns” Christ present in the bread and the wine, one cannot commune, for doing so would be to one’s own judgment. When read in isolation from Paul’s larger argument, it can be read thus. But, when read in the larger context of Paul challenging the Corinthians over their behavior with one another at the supper, “the body” he is demanding they discern is not Christ’s body present in the bread and wine, but the body gathered about the Eucharist. They must discern Christ present in one another and, thus, behave accordingly. Whatever Christ’s relationship to the bread and wine, they must understand he is present in and among them in the Eucharist. They cannot abuse or disregard one another in their assemblies and then come to the table to receive Christ in bread and wine. Rather, until they can perceive Christ in one another, they are not to come to the table, lest they receive Christ in an unworthy manner and, therefore, bring judgment upon themselves.

While the Festival of Unleavened Bread is unfolding and Judas is making his traitor’s bargain, the other disciples ask Jesus where it is they want him to make preparations for the Seder. He sends two of them into Jerusalem with instructions to search for a man carrying a jar of water, who will meet them. They are to follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, “The Teacher asks, ‘Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’” He will show them a large room, upstairs, furnished and ready. It is there they are to make preparations for the Seder. The disciples set out for the city and find it just as Jesus has told them they would. As a historical note, there are very few places in that day where a man would be found doing what is women’s work—carrying water—the only place being where there are no women. It has caused scholars to ask if this might be an Essene monastery or guest house, as not all Essenes had abandoned Jerusalem for Qumran.  But, it has also recently been discovered that not all Essenes were celibate monks.  Another tradition is that it is a guest house that belonged to John Mark’s mother. When evening comes, Judas has returned and the twelve sit with Jesus at table eating. As they do, Jesus tells them that one of them will soon betray him. In distress, the disciples look at one another, each denying it, but Jesus tells them that even now the betrayer is dipping bread into the bowl with him. Jesus then affirms again that the “Son of Man goes as it is written of him,”—this is not an accident of history but God’s providence in action—but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed; it would have been better had he not been born. Mark now gives us his version of Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper. Remember, however, by the time this account is written, the meal has been firmly established within worshipping communities, and the account given by Paul (1 Corinthians 11:23-26), in which he tells us he “received of the Lord,” has been in practice for some time. Notice that in Mark, it is in the midst of the Passover meal that Jesus does this, not at its beginning. Jesus takes a loaf of bread and after blessing it, breaks it, gives it to the twelve and says, “Take; this is my body.” Notice there is neither, “given” nor “broken” for you—that will come with other accounts of this event. In Mark, this is simply Jesus naming the bread as the means of his presence in and among them. Taking a cup, he gives thanks and says, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” The phrase “blood of the covenant” has rich history in Israel’s life. It begins with posting blood on the door posts to be a sign that identifies them as the Lord’s people, so the angel of death will pass over them, and continues at the conclusion of Moses reading the law in Exodus 24 when he sprinkles blood on the people, ratifying the covenant. Whatever else this will come to mean for the twelve and the church that will emerge from them, for now, Jesus is tying God’s redemptive actions in the past to what is unfolding now with them in and through Jesus. To make that even more clear Jesus tells them that he will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when he drinks it anew in the kingdom of God. Within those words is the assurance that the kingdom, which Jesus has regularly said “is at hand,” will soon break in and come in increasing fullness. Until then, he will not drink of the fruit of the vine. Thereafter, he will, which is an affirmation to those reading this gospel in the context of the Eucharistic meal that he is indeed present, eating and drinking with them as a part of God’s new kingdom people. Mark does not need to repeat for them the words of their Eucharistic liturgy, so much as remind them that this meal is a promise of Jesus’ risen presence among them now as he eats and drinks with them in the kingdom present in him and at his table.

Posted April 17, 2014
Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Daily Readings for Wednesday, April 16

Wednesday of Holy Week

Lamentations 2:1–9; Psalm 5; 2 Corinthians 1:23–2:11; Mark 12:1–11

The poet’s lamentation over the destruction of Jerusalem focuses on the fact that this is not Babylon’s doing, but the Lord’s, who in righteous anger has judged the city and its people. Verse by verse, the lament comments on various aspects of life that were central to Israel’s identity. In his anger, the Lord has humiliated his daughter Zion and thrown down her splendor; she is no longer his footstool. Dwellings have been destroyed without mercy as have her strongholds. The kingdom and its ruler have been “brought down to the ground in dishonor” and the Lord has withdrawn his right hand from Israel’s might as they have faced the enemy. Like a burning flame he has consumed Jacob and all those around him. It is the Lord who has been behind the actions of their enemy, bending their bows, killing those in whom he once took pride. It is the Lord who has become their enemy, destroying palaces and laying in ruin her strongholds. More, he has broken down “his booth like a garden and destroyed his tabernacle,”—a reference to the temple’s destruction. Religious festivals, including the sabbath have been abolished, and in anger the Lord has spurned both king and priest. Disowning his sanctuary, the Lord has given it into the hand of the enemy; its walls fell in a clamor like that which had earlier only sounded there on festival days. The Lord has determined to lay ruin to Zion, her walls, her ramparts, her gates and their bars. Her king and princes have been disbursed among the nations—there is no political leadership—and her prophets no longer obtain vision.

Psalm 5 is traditionally used in the service of Morning Prayer as it pleads for God’s protection and care against one’s enemies. Knowing that God abhors wickedness and the boastful, the psalmist expresses the certainty that because of God’s steadfast love, he will again be able to enter God’s house to worship, even as now, he bows down toward the temple in awe. His enemies are full of lies and deceit, and have rebelled against God. He ends as he begins, expressing joyful confidence in the Lord’s blessings and care.

Paul calls on God as his witness; it was to spare the Corinthians additional pain that caused Paul not to come to them as he had initially planned. He had caused them pain on the earlier visit. Why would he want to do that to them again? After all, they are his reason for joy. No, instead he wrote to them. And, he wrote to them as he did, out of much distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause them pain, but to let them know the abundance of Paul’s love for them. But if someone in Corinth has caused Paul pain, in fact, that one has caused it to the entire Corinthian community because of the breech that it has caused. It seems that the majority in Corinth have risen up and punished that person for his actions. That is enough, says Paul. Rather now they should forgive and console him so that he is not overwhelmed by excessive discipline and sorrow. Let them reaffirm their love them for him. Paul now returns to the letter; he wrote it, in part, to test them, to know whether they are obedient in all things. Those they forgive, Paul forgives. And what Paul has forgiven, if it is anything, is for their sake in the presence of Christ. Why do Christians do this? So as not to be “outwitted by Satan” who uses such controversies and divisions in the church to Satan’s own ends. Paul and his companions are not ignorant of this nor exempt from it--no church is!

Jesus has just refused to tell the religious leaders who have challenged him about his authority, from whence it comes. Turning from the religious leaders, yet in their presence and full hearing, Jesus tells a parable about wicked tenants. A man planted a vineyard, fully equipped it and leased it to tenants while he went away to another country. When harvest season came, the owner sent his slave to collect the revenue and his share of the produce, but the tenants seized the slave, beat him and sent him back to his master empty-handed. The owner sent another slave, but the tenants beat and insulted him; so too, with many others that the owner sent, some of whom they even killed. Finally, the owner sent his beloved son, saying, “Surely, they will respect my son.” But when the tenants recognize the heir, they say to themselves, “let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.” The tenants do, throwing the son’s dead body out of the vineyard. Jesus asks the crowd what the owner will do in response to all of this. Answering his own question he says, “He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others,” adding a quotation from Psalm 118:22-23: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this is the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes.” Notice that in Jesus’ telling of the parable he has answered the religious leaders’ question about his authority.  However, stinging under the rebuke inherent in the parable they know he is addressing to them, they either miss or ignore his answer. Their only concern now is to arrest him before he creates more trouble. But again, the crowd stands in their way. And so, the religious leaders retreat until a more opportune time.

Posted April 16, 2014
Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Daily Readings for Tuesday, April 15

Tuesday of Holy Week

Lamentations 1:17–22; Psalm 34; 2 Cor. 1:8–22; Mark 11:27–33

Jerusalem continues its lament over its condition, now personified as it speaks, lamenting that she has stretched out her hands to her neighbors for comfort, but there are none to do so because the Lord has commanded that Jacob’s neighbors should become his foes. The lament turns to confession, acknowledging that “Jerusalem has become a filthy thing among them.” The Lord is right, and now the city speaks in the first person saying, “for I have rebelled against his word.” That said, the city speaks to its neighbors calling on them to behold her suffering: her young men and women have gone into captivity. The confession continues, acknowledging that Jerusalem called upon its lovers, but they deceived her and did not respond. Her priest and elders have perished in the city while seeking food. Now the Lord is addressed, calling upon him to see Jerusalem’s distress: her stomach churns, her heart is wrung. Because she has been very rebellious, the sword takes its bereaving toll in the street and the house is like death. Her neighbors heard how she was groaning, but rather than comfort her, they have delighted in her distress. And now the poet, speaking through the voice of Jerusalem, calls on God to bring on the day of destruction and let the neighbors become as Jerusalem. Let all of their evil come before the Lord and be dealt with the way the Lord has dealt with Jerusalem because of its transgressions. The lament concludes, “my groans are many and my heart is faint.”

Psalm 34 is attributed to David, when he feigned madness before king Abimelech so that the king drove David out, allowing David to escape. It is a wisdom psalm built on an acrostic pattern, each new section beginning with a word that begins with the successive letter of the alphabet and focuses on God’s goodness. It uses a number of Hebrew parallelisms, the first phrase making a statement that the second phrase repeats with different language: “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall be continually in my mouth.” “O magnified the Lord with me, and let us exalt in his name together.” “Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.” These, of course, have been solidly incorporated in the liturgical language of the church as the Psalter was its first prayerbook. The psalm is testimonial through and through: “I sought the Lord, and he answered me…, look to him and be radiant. …. This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord.” The young are then summoned to listen and learn the fear of the Lord and what it means for their lives. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in sprit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord rescues them from them all. …. The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

Having spoken of affliction and consolation in Christ, Paul now describes their afflictions in Asia as their being “utterly, unbearably crushed so that they despaired of life itself.” It was as though they had been sentenced to death so that they would rely, not on themselves, but solely on God who raises the dead. God, who rescued them from so deadly a peril (never defined), will continue to rescue them; on this they have set their hope. God will rescue them again as the Corinthians join in helping Paul and Timothy with their prayers. Paul reminds the Corinthians that he and his companions have acted in the world with frankness and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom, but the grace of God, and all the more to them. They have written nothing to the Corinthians that they cannot understand, and he hopes they will continue to understand it to the end. On the day of the Lord Jesus, the Corinthians will be their boast, and Paul and his companions the Corinthians’ boast. And now Paul addresses why he did not come to them as first planned. Initially, he had hoped to visit Corinth on his way to Macedonia and again on his return from it, and then have the Corinthians send him on his way to Judea. Was Paul vacillating when he wanted to do this? Does he make his plans according to ordinary human standards, ready to say “yes” and “no” at the same time? As surely as God is faithful, that has not been the case. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom they proclaimed was not “yes and no”; but in him it is always “Yes.” In him, every one of God’s promises is “Yes.” That is why, through him, we say “Amen,” to the glory of God. It is God who establishes Paul and his companions, as well as the Corinthians, in Christ and has anointed Paul and his fellow-workers with the seal of his Spirit in their hearts as the first installment on the promise.

It is now Tuesday, and again, Jesus and his disciples are in the temple. The chief priests, scribes and the elders confront Jesus, demanding to know by what authority he is doing the things he is doing. Jesus tells them that if they answer one question for him, he will tell them about his authority: “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” The religious leaders ponder the question and fall into argument, knowing that if they say from heaven, Jesus will ask why they did not believe John, and if they say from human origin, they will be in trouble with the people—the people consider John a prophet. Consequently, the religious leaders tell Jesus that they do not know. Neither then will Jesus tell them about the source of his own authority.

Posted April 15, 2014
The Rev. Dr.       Fred R. Anderson

Author: The Rev. Dr.       Fred R. Anderson
Created: June 21, 2012

The Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson, Pastor of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, offers thoughts on today’s lectionary readings.

© 2014