Wednesday: October 22
Micah 3:9—4:5; Psalm 119:25-48; Revelation 8:1-13; Luke 10:17-24
Repeating his indictment against the rulers and the priests in Jerusalem, Micah reminds them that they are deceiving themselves when they say, “the Lord is in our midst,” simply because the temple is on Mt. Zion. The judgment is that because of their corruption, Jerusalem will be plowed as a field and become a heap of ruins, its mountain (the temple mount), a wooded height. But in the midst of all that condemnation comes a word of hope: “in the days to come,” more often translated “in the last days” (KJV or, “in the latter days,”—turning this into prophecy about consummation—the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains). All the nations will come saying, “let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob that we may learn his ways and walk in his paths.” From this comes the conviction that, in the end, all nations shall recognize Israel’s God is the only God, and shall come to them to learn the Lord’s ways. It is why Judaism has never been invested in evangelism or proselytizing. The deep conviction remains that ultimately all people will see the truth in Zion. Then, words appear in verses one through three that are also on the lips of Isaiah of Jerusalem: “The Lord shall judge between the nations. They shall beat their swords into plow shares and their spears into pruning hooks.” War shall cease, with all of its calamity. None shall be afraid. Each shall enjoy the work of one’s hands and the fruit of one’s own vines. The curious phrase, “for all people shall walk in the name of its god while Israel walks in the name of the Lord forever,” is a recognition that this time has not yet come and still lies on the distant horizon. For now, only Jerusalem will walk in the way of the Lord, but it shall be forever.
Psalm 119:25-48 is the second portion of this, the longest psalm in the Bible, a wisdom psalm composed using the acrostic pattern. Verse 25 begins with the letter D (dalet) with the theme of “the way” of the Lord, praying, “Teach me your statutes. Make me understand the way of your precepts.” As the psalmist’s soul melts away in sorrow, she pleads for God’s word to strengthen her and put “false ways” far away from her. She speaks of clinging to God’s decrees lest she be put to shame. The psalm is filled with rich liturgical language: “Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I will observe it to the end.” This theme is repeated in various expressions using verbs like “lead,” “turn,” “confirm,” culminating in the psalmist reminding God that she has longed for his precepts and is pleading, “in your righteousness give me life.” The psalm then turns to letter W (Vav) and two new themes emerge: God’s steadfast love comes through the keeping of God’s law, and, rather than restrict, the law brings full life. Its statutes create liberty, delight and reverence, and, so, she meditates on them continually.
The seventh seal is broken, and all falls silent in heaven for about thirty minutes. Seven angels stand before God’s throne and are given seven trumpets. There is in this book a series of “sevens”—the complete number, in which one expects the culmination with the seventh event, such as the breaking of the seventh seal. But, rather than seeing the culmination, it folds into another series of sevens, as the seventh seal folds into seven trumpets. It is the book’s way of saying the culmination is near, but not yet here. In the silence, prayers are being offered by the saints, symbolized by the abundant smoke of incense rising before God’s throne from the golden altar. The silence is broken by the blowing of the first four trumpets (four being the earth number), revealing the troubles on the earth: fire consuming a third of the trees and vegetation, great mountains burning (volcanos?) exploding and dissolving into the sea, stars falling from heaven drying up rivers and streams, and a third of the cosmic lights being extinguished. These seven trumpets are announcing and unleashing seven plagues. As God used plagues to free the children of Israel from Egyptian slavery, these plagues are God’s forerunner to the redemption of the world. At the end of the four, there is a brief interlude as an eagle (symbol of wisdom and high intelligence), flies to and fro crying, “Woe, woe, woe” (the number three being the heavenly number, making this a heavenly warning), to the inhabitants of the earth for what is to come as the three angels blow their trumpets.
The seventy return, rejoicing in what has been happening through them in Jesus’ name. Even the demons submit to them! Jesus responds that, as they did their work, he watched Satan fall from heaven, marking the beginning of the decisive defeat of him and all of his forces of evil. Satan no longer stands in God’s presence making accusations against humankind. The limitation of his power in Jesus’ name has already been demonstrated in his own healing work, and now in their own. Jesus then explicates the authority he has given over to them. However, they are not to rejoice in this power, but rather, that their names are written in heaven. And now, Jesus himself turns to rejoicing, offering a prayer of thanksgiving to his Father, that what has heretofore been hidden from human eyes—especially the wise and the intelligent—has now been revealed to infants—such is God’s gracious will. All that is the Father’s has been handed to the Son, and no one knows the Son except the Father or the Father except those the Son chooses to know him. Concluding his thanksgiving, Jesus turns to the disciples and blesses them, telling them many prophets and kings have longed to see what they are now seeing and hearing.
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Micah 3:1-8; Psalm 28; Revelation 7:9-17; Luke 10:1-16
Micah turns his judgment against the rulers, nobles, prophets and priests of Jerusalem for their corrupt ways. Those who are responsible for maintaining justice actually hate the good and love the evil, and devour the very people they are to be caring for. When the time comes for them to cry out to the Lord, he will not listen. The prophets lead the people astray, giving their prophecies for hire, promising peace to those who give them something to eat, even where there is no peace, and declaring war on those who have little and therefore cannot put food in the prophets’ mouths. The prophets’ vision shall fail; all will be darkness and night, without any revelation or word from God. On other hand, Micah is filled with power and the spirit of the Lord and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgressions.
Psalm 28 lament’s God’s silence, as the petitioner prays, “Listen Lord, listen, lest I be like those who go down to the pit! Hear the voice of my supplication when I cry to you for help, when I lift my hands toward your most holy sanctuary.” The prayer then turns to reflect on the wicked, pleading, “Do not drag me away with them!” It then calls on God to repay them for their evil work as well as the fact that they do not regard the works of the Lord. God’s judgment is invoked: “Break them down and build them up no more.” Then the psalm makes a shift and blesses the Lord, for he has heard the sound of the psalmist’s pleading (note the tense shift). Therefore, the Lord is blessed as a strength and shield in whom the psalmist’s heart trusts. Helped and given an exultant heart, the psalmist sings songs of thanks and hints at the fact that he may be the king. The final hymn of praise ends with a call for God to save his people, bless his heritage and be their shepherd forever.
The sealing of the 144,000 of Israel is followed by seeing a crowd so large it is innumerable, from all the nations, peoples, tribes and languages of the earth standing before God’s throne, singing a hymn of salvation. Both Israel and the church are now united into one people of God, and together with the angels, elders, and four living creatures, they fall on their faces to worship God. The hymn is a seven-fold blessing: “Glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honor, power and might be to our God forever and ever.” As John stands on looking at the scene, one of the elders approaches him saying, “Who are these robed in white and where have they come from?” When John asks for the answer the elder replies, “These are those who have come out of the great ordeal,” (tribulation in the KJV). They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. This is the only place the “tribulation” is mentioned, and it is clearly a reference to the persecution and martyrdom being experienced in the Roman Empire because of believers’ loyalty to Jesus. These are now before the throne worshiping God day and night under the shelter of his presence. Never again will they know hunger, thirst, nor the heat of the sun. The Lamb is in the center of them as their shepherd, who will guide them to the springs of the waters of life (picking up the image of Jesus in the temple, offering living water to all who seek it [John 7:38], as well as his conversation with the woman at the well, [John 4:10-11]). Not only will they drink this living water and never thirst again, God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
As Jesus had sent forth the twelve, he now commissions seventy, or, is it seventy-two? Ancient manuscripts carry two numbers, the latter being what was believed to be the number of nations in the world. The number, seventy-two, witnesses to the fact that the gospel is being sent to every tribe and nation on the earth. The disciples are sent out in pairs to every town and place where Jesus himself intends to go as he makes his way to Jerusalem, or, does Luke mean something far larger than the number seventy-two would imply? The travel instructions are the same as for the twelve (Luke 9:1-5), but now there is the warning and judgment: they are being sent out like lambs among wolves, though those who resist them will meet the same fate as Sodom. This is followed by a series of woes against cities that did not receive them, cities where they had ministered in Galilee but had been rejected. Notice that it includes Capernaum, the center from which Jesus’ Galilean ministry emerged. The section ends with a promise: whoever listens to them listens to Jesus; whoever rejects them rejects Jesus, and whoever rejects Jesus rejects the one who sent him. They are his presence and voice wherever they go.
Monday, October 20, 2014
Micah 2:1-13; Psalm 9; Revelation 7:1-8; Luke 9:51-62
Having “seen” the judgment against Israel for its worship of the Baal and its alliances with Assyria, Micah trains his eye on Judah (Southern Kingdom) and especially its capital Jerusalem, for those within it who are greedy for gain and exploit the financial weakness of neighbors. This is a warning against any who would exploit another’s hardship, especially those who “rob” their property, covet fields and seize houses. The “therefore” in verse 3 introduces God’s judgment: they will be utterly ruined. The property they have seized from the vulnerable among them will be taken from them as they took it from the weak, and be given to foreigners. It is not a good word for those whose business is buying distressed properties, driving the price down, and then restructuring it financially to gain profit—which is profit at other’s expense. Not only will their profit be given to others, they will lose their place in the assembly of the Lord. The people in Jerusalem do not like what they hear and say to Micah, “Do not preach such things here.” Stick to spiritual things, preacher, not politics or business which you do not understand! Micah responds, these are spiritual things; “Is the Lord’s patience exhausted? Are not my words good to those who walk uprightly?” On the other hand, the people in Jerusalem have become an enemy to the people, stripping the robes from the peaceful, driving out women from their homes. Micah is not a false prophet, but speaks the truth. They, on the other hand, want a preacher whose soft words will bring them assurance and peace—someone to preach to them of wine and strong drink. The oracle ends with a word of hope, not to the greedy, but to their victims. The Lord will gather them as he will gather the survivors of Israel and set them in a shepherd’s fold to care for them. The one who breaks out—the Lord—will do so like a king leading them to victory. Scholars puzzle over these last two verses, wondering what they are doing here, and if they are really Micah’s words or those added by another at a later time, perhaps after all of the doom, gloom and judgment of this book have actually come for both Israel and Judah, the former in captivity to Assyria, the later some 250 years later with Judah in captivity in Babylon. Either way, the word is a word of hope, not to the oppressors, but to the oppressed and an expression of the fact that the Lord does not abandon those in need or those who are the victims of economic as well as political oppression.
This acrostic psalm gives thanks to the Lord for continuing protection and salvation. Though it might appear a royal psalm, the enemies being other nations, we never hear the voice of the prayer identified as the king, as it would be in a royal psalm. Rather, it simply focuses on God’s ability to respond, whether “present” or afar, to scatter the wicked and maintain the just person’s cause. The text moves from thanksgiving for God’s wonderful deeds to thanks for deliverance from particular enemies, to praise for the rebuke of other nations and the wicked, to the affirmation that the Lord is enthroned forever and his throne is a throne of judgment. Then, it affirms that the Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed who seek him. These he will not forsake. After calling for praise in Zion, the psalmist turns to personal intercession and deliverance from those who hate him. Again, there is recollection of God’s judgment on the nations who have been caught in their own net. The wicked are consigned to Sheol, while the needy shall “not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the poor taken away,” one of the high and memorial phrases from this psalm. Finally, God is called upon to “Rise Up” and judge the nations and put them in their place—they are only human. “Se’lah,”is a word that calls upon a musical chorus of praise, whether instrumental or vocal, from the temple musicians. Because this is an acrostic psalm, beginning each successive section with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the flow of ideas can seem a bit jumbled. It can seem two psalms that have been joined into one: the first a psalm of thanksgiving, the second a petition for help. And, because psalm 10 has no introductory material, some believe Psalm 9 and Psalm 10 were originally one. In fact, they appear as one in both the Greek Septuagint and the Roman Catholic Vulgate Bibles.
We have suddenly jumped into the Book of Revelation. Though we have read earlier portions of it prior to now, those readings have been episodic. Consequently, it will be good to review what has happened before today’s reading. The opening chapters witness to Christ’s presence in and among the churches, speaking to them messages of hope as well as correction. Chapter 4 introduces God’s judgment on “the Great city,” (Rome), which will continue through the emergence of the “Holy City,” (the New Jerusalem) in chapter 21. So, we are squarely in the middle of the judgment section. We have been party to the worship that takes place in heaven: praise to God as creator of all, praise to the Lamb as the redeemer of all, and the opening of the seven-sealed scroll by the Lion of Judah, the lamb that was slaughtered but now lives and has all power (seven horns) and all sight. Six of the seven seals have been opened, each unveiling their horror and introducing the four horsemen and their judgments: conquest, war, famine and death by plague—the wages of warfare. The fifth seal reveals the martyrs beneath the throne of God crying out “How long, O Lord, before you judge and avenge our blood?” They are each given a white robe (symbol of triumph rather than purity). The sixth seal represents the beginning of the end as the earth, and its cosmic partners begin to disintegrate, and the cosmic order turns to chaos. Today’s lesson gives us an interlude in the destruction as the church is sealed (an ancient term for Christian baptism) and Christians are marked with the gift of endurances. The number of those sealed is symbolic: twelve tribes of Israel multiplied by the twelve apostles times 1000—the apocalyptic number for absolute fullness. As Paul has written in Romans, all Israel is to be redeemed (Romans 11:26).
As the time draws near for Jesus to be “taken up,” he sets his face toward Jerusalem where he knows he must die. Jesus sends messengers ahead of them, to make preparation for their hospitable welcome in the towns and villages along the way. The Samaritans, when they learn that he is headed for Jerusalem (capital of their ancient enemy), rather than Samaria, refuse to receive him. James and John are outraged and want to call down fire from heaven to consume them, but Jesus rebukes them. Notice that, at this point, a portion of the text lies in the footnotes, which seem to be a later theological correction to judgment on the Samaritans, and Jesus’ disclaimer of violence against them. As they make their way to Jerusalem, others want to join him, providing the opportunity for Jesus to talk about the demands of discipleship. Those who offer to follow him need to know that he has no permanent place here to rest, neither will they. When Jesus calls another to follow, he asks permission to first bury his father, to which Jesus says, “This is more important.” “Let the dead bury the dead. As for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another is ready to follow but wants to go back and first bid farewell to his family. Jesus responds that no one looking back to old ties is fit for the kingdom of God—even family ties. These are extraordinarily harsh responses. In all probability they were included here by Luke to speak to the church for which his gospel is written. Is it warning about the cost of discipleship, or is it confirmation that the very hardships they are experiencing as Jesus’ disciples have, in fact, been foretold by Jesus, and give witness and confirmation to the fact that they are truly Jesus’ disciples? Probably both!
Sunday, October 19, 2014
Micah 1:1-9; Psalm 149; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Matthew 16:13-20
Today we begin reading the prophet Micah, who with Isaiah of Jerusalem, Amos and Hosea is one of the first of the “writing prophets.” Micah’s preaching can be dated by the three king mentioned in the introduction verse: Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, who reigned in Jerusalem, sequentially, from about 742 to 686 BCE. Micah’s initial preaching is during the last days of the northern kingdom, before it fell in 722 BCE and became a province of Assyria. Thereafter, Micah’s preaching is to the Southern Kingdom—Judah. The book begins with an editorial introduction in verse one, telling us that Micah came from Moresheth, a village in the Judean foothills south of Jerusalem. Notice that it is the things he “saw” that are written down. Then, he begins an oracle of judgment against Israel delivered from Judah, warning that the Lord is coming from his temple in Jerusalem to tread down the high places of worship in Israel. The mountains will melt before him like wax before a fire and the valleys will burst open like water running down a steep place. All of this is because of the transgressions of Jacob. Notice the Hebrew parallelism—the pattern of making a statement, then following it with a second, similar statement. Micah follows “the transgressions of Jacob,” with “the sins of the house of Israel.” Both phrases say the same thing, as Jacob’s name was ultimately changed to Israel after wrestling with God. The transgressions are identified as those of Samaria—the very same that Hosea was denouncing. This is the only oracle that Micah delivers against Samaria. Scholars think that someone other than Micah later added to it the words about Jerusalem, since it was the capital of Judah where Micah did most of his preaching. Samaria will be destroyed and become a heap, fit only for planting vineyards. The reference to pouring down stones into the valley has to do with the king’s stone palace built in Samaria thought to be invincible. It will tumble down into the valley with its walls razed to their foundations. The idols they use in worship will be destroyed. The wages of a prostitute is a reference to the tribute Israel paid to Assyria and, earlier, Egypt. Finally, Micah calls on the people of Jerusalem to join him in lament and wailing. The biblical prophets often enacted their prophecy and, so Micah promises to go barefoot and naked as a sign of what will happen to Israel. Her wound is not only incurable, it has spread to the gates of Judah.
This is another “Hallelujah” psalm that calls on the assembly to “sing to the Lord a new song.” Employing Hebrew parallelism, Israel is called to be glad in its maker, and the children of Zion to rejoice in their king, making melody with tambourine and lyre, and praising him with dancing. The Lord takes pleasure in his people, adorning the humble with victory. Let the high praises of God be in their throats as the two-edged battle sword is in their hands, executing vengeance against their enemies, binding the defeated king in fetters and his nobles in chains. In other words, remember that this victory is not their doing, but the Lord’s, a judgment decreed by the Lord. It is glory for all of God’s faithful. The psalm ends as it begins, with a Hallelujah—“Praise the Lord!”
Paul employs sacramental imagery linked to stories of the Children of Israel’s wilderness wanderings to warn the Corinthians that, just as their forbearers were baptized with Moses in the passing through the sea and ate the spiritual food of the wilderness (an allusion both to the manna and to the bread of the Lord’s Supper) and drank from the spiritual rock of Christ (the cup of Christ in the Supper), nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them and struck them down, a reference to Numbers 14;16. Paul says these things were allowed to occur so that they could become examples to the Corinthians, so that they might not desire the same evil that the children of Israel did in the wilderness. Those people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to revel in sexual immorality. The result was God’s judgment, in which twenty-three thousand fell in one day (Numbers 25:1-9). So, do not put Christ to the test by your grumblings and complaints, as those in the wilderness did who were struck by serpents (Numbers 21:4-9). Do not complain as some of them did and were destroyed by the destroyer (God’s avenging angel, Exodus 12:23; 2 Samuel 24:16). All of this happened to serve as an example to those who followed. So, Paul warns the Corinthians about the temptations they are facing in their worship meal gatherings that run the risk of sliding into Greek Symposia, with the drunkenness and sexual exploits that were common in such Hellenistic gatherings. On the other hand, Paul reminds them that they are not left to themselves. No testing has overtaken them that is not common to everyone. Remember, God is faithful, and will not let us be tested beyond our strength, and with every testing will also provide a way out so that we may be able to endure it.
We hear the event of Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, told through the eyes and words of Matthew. The site is named, Caesarea Philippi (a site in the north at the base of Mt Hermon and headwaters of the Jordan, not the Caesarea that was home to the royal summer palace on the Mediterranean Sea). In Matthew, Peter is blessed for his confession rather than warned—he has not come to this by himself but has been granted it by Jesus’ Father in heaven. And so, another blessing is bestowed: his name is changed from Simon to Petros, which mean “boulder” or large rock. And upon this rock Jesus will build his church. The gates of hell will not prevail against it. In addition, Peter is given the keys to the kingdom and the power to bind and loose sins. (It is from this text that the Roman Catholic Church traces the authority of the Pope.) Only after this does Jesus warn the disciples not to tell anyone that he is the Christ. It is a very different account than we read in Mark or Luke, written for a different church in which Peter is clearly the leader.
Saturday, October 18, 2014
Hosea 14:1-9; Psalm 21; Acts 28:17-31; Luke 9:37-50
After all of the horrible and ghastly threats, the Book of Hosea ends with God pleading with Israel to return. God promises to forgive all their disloyalty and again love them freely—God’s anger has turned away from him. The imagery of abundance and fruitfulness is used to speak of the blessings upon their return: they shall flourish like a garden and blossom like the vine, words that play off against the false promises of Baal. The oracles of judgment, after all, have been issued to warn more than condemn, and to appeal to Israel to return to the Lord. That means not only rejection of Baal, its sexual and idol worship, but also their alliance with Assyria. The final two verses point the reader to God’s righteousness and assert God’s justice, and may have been added later for, indeed, Israel did not harken to these words of Hosea, and Samaria was ultimately destroyed in 722 BCE by Assyria as it turned Israel into a province.
Psalm 21 is a royal psalm that offers praise and thanksgiving to the Lord for the strength and victory he has given to the king. God has given the king his heart’s desire, met him with rich blessing, and set a crown of gold on his head. He asked for and has been given length of days, and his glory, majesty and splendor are great because of what God has done for him. The king trusts in the Lord whose steadfast love shall establish him forever. The psalm then turns to the king’s enemies, invoking God’s wrath on them and upon their children, who he asks be put to flight. The psalm ends with an affirmation and prayer that the Lord will be exalted and victorious in all that is coming, with a promise to sing God’s praises and praise God’s power.
This final portion of the Book of Acts has Paul in Rome. Three days after his arrival, Paul calls together the local leaders of the Jews to explain his circumstances in Jerusalem and Caesarea and how it is that he was forced to appeal to the emperor—even through there were no charges against him. The Jewish leaders reply that they have received no letters from Judea about Paul and none coming from Jerusalem that have reported or spoken any evil against Paul. That said, they would like to hear from Paul, especially, what he thinks about “this sect we know that everywhere is spoken against.” They set a day for them to come and again meet with Paul at his lodging. On that day, when they return in great numbers, Paul spends the day explaining the gospel to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the prophets. Some are convinced, while others refuse to believe. In disagreement, they leave Paul, and, as they do, Paul makes one final statement to them, quoting Isaiah 6:9-10. Then, once again, he repeats the formula he has used in synagogue after synagogue: “Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” The book concludes telling us that Paul continued to live in Rome at his own expense, two more years, welcoming all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. The book closes with Paul preaching the gospel at the very center of the Roman Empire.
As Jesus and the three disciples come down off the mountain, they encounter a great crowd that has come out to meet him, including a man who has come to beg Jesus to look at his son who is possessed by what looks very much like epilepsy. He has begged the disciples to cast it out, but they could not. Jesus speaks deridingly of a faithless and perverse generation, wondering how much longer he must be with them and bear them. Is he speaking to the crowd, or is he speaking of his followers who have not been able to exorcise the spirit? Probably both! Jesus asks to see the boy and, as he is being brought to him, the demon dashes the boy to the ground in convulsions. Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit, heals the boy and gives him back to his father, and all watching are astounded. Turning to his disciples he says, “Let these words sink in—‘The son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands.’” But again, they do not understand. Luke defends the disciples’ ignorance by saying the meaning of this was concealed from them, so that they could not perceive it, and that the disciples were afraid to ask Jesus what it meant. This is followed by the argument among the disciples about which one of them is the greatest. Jesus, aware of what is going on, puts a little child among them and says, “Whoever welcomes this child welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest—a slightly different tack than Mark has taken with this incident. John responds that they have seen someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name and they tried to stop him because he is not among them as one of Jesus’ followers. Jesus tells them not to stop him, for “whoever is not against you is for you.” The disciples are still struggling with the shift in world view that Jesus requires of his followers. They are still locked into conceptions of hierarchy, power, honor and shame that the world operates out of and have yet to grasp what the kingdom of God is really all about. This brings to a conclusion Jesus’ ministry in Galilee.
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.