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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Thursday, February 19, 2014
Deuteronomy 7:6-11; Psalm 27; Titus 1:1-16; John 1:29-34

Why has God chosen Israel as his special people, his “treasured possession”? Not because of their size, for they were the smallest of the nations. God chose them because God loves them. The Lord brought them out of slavery in Egypt, keeping an oath made to their ancestors. They are a people “holy to the Lord”—the word “holy” here bears the connotation of set aside, separate, or consecrated to the Lord, rather than a special, saintly quality of purity. Know that the Lord is a faithful God, who maintains covenant loyalty with those who love him and keep his commandments from generation to generation—forever—but who swiftly repays, each in their own person, those who reject him. Therefore, they are to observe diligently the commandments Moses sets before them.

Psalm 27 expresses confidence in the presence of the Lord and does so in triumphal language. “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom then shall I fear?” (Sorry, that’s the way I memorized it, and this should be memorized, right after Psalm 23!) The Lord is the strength and stronghold of my life, of whom should I be afraid? Enemies range from “evildoers,” adversaries and foes—all shall stumble and fall because of the Lord’s care. “Even though an army encamps against me, yet, my heart shall not fear.” The imagery of a fearful heart is so true to life when anxiety hits. After one more expression of confidence, the psalm turns more reflective: “One thing have I asked of the Lord and that will I seek after: to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” This is precisely the same sentiment with which Psalm 23 ends. It goes on to affirm (and perhaps even recall) God sheltering care in the day of trouble. The double action of “conceal me in his tent,” and “set me high on a rock” covers the span from shelter when on the run to ultimate triumph over those who pursue. And now, the psalm turns victorious and exultant with promises of sacrifice, shouts of joy and songs (psalms) and melodies to the Lord (remember, they were often accompanied by or sung to melodies; not just recited). There is the request for God to hear when he cries, and to answer. Immediately, his heart says to him, “Come, seek his face,” and he replies, “Your face Lord, do I seek; do not hide it from me.” Notice the kind of face-to-face intimacy of relationship that is being sought as the psalm pleads not to be turned aside, cast away or forsaken. And then there is the extraordinary confession, “Though my mother and father forsake me, the Lord will not, but will take me up.” There follows the request to be taught the Lord’s ways and to be led on a level path (who of us does not want life without its ups and downs?), and to be kept out of the hands of his adversaries, for false witnesses have arisen against him and are breathing threats of violence. The psalm ends with the wonderful affirmation, “I believe I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living,” and then “wait for the Lord, be strong, let your heart take courage. Wait for the Lord.” This last phrase, in one or another form, appears some fourteen times in the Old Testament, better than a third of them in the Psalter. The faith of the Psalter, if not all of Scripture, can be summed up as “Waiting for the Lord.” Seeing the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living along with the previous, “the Lord will take me up,” was later seen as a reference to life after death in heaven. Here, in its original setting, it simply means goodness of life lived with and out of the strength of the Lord now, here, in the land of the living.

The Letter to Titus is one of those letters that scholars debate over its authorship. Was it Paul or one of Paul’s younger assistants writing at a later date, after Paul’s death, (some of the vocabulary seems “un-Pauline”). None of Paul’s undisputed letters ever mention Crete. Further, it is dealing with “pastoral” matters—setting things in order, appointing elders and bishops and correcting a leadership that has strayed back toward Jewish practice, as in Galatia. It is addressed to Titus, who was one of Paul’s companions, and who intervened for him with the Corinthian community when Paul was having his difficulties with them. The introduction is classic, though Paul introduces himself “as servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ,” rather than his more common, “servant of Jesus Christ,” as in Romans, Galatians and Philippians. Further, we have no evidence that Paul was ever in Crete except as a prisoner on his way to Rome (Acts 27:7-13), and in that account there is no mention of Titus. Still, that does not satisfactorily answer the question. We best take the text at face value—an older apostle giving pastoral advice to a younger associate. As the lesson says today, Paul left Titus behind in Crete so that he could put in order what needed to be done there. In telling him to appoint elders, we are given the earliest requirements for spiritual leadership in the young church. Notice that the word “elder” and “bishop” are used interchangeably; we are talking about those individuals who were charged with pastoral oversight of the house church(es) within a town. Beyond the ethical qualifications, he must have “a firm grasp of the word that is trustworthy in accordance with the teaching,” not only so that he may preach with sound doctrine (a continuing concern of this letter, but a word Paul only uses twice, and that in Romans), but also so that he may refute those who are contradicting it. The churches in Crete are filled with “many rebellious people,” whose behavior is identified and includes circumcision. Have the Jewish missionaries from the church in Jerusalem been in Crete preaching the necessity of circumcision as they were in Galatia? Further, it appears that beyond upsetting “whole families,” they are teaching for financial gain what it is not right to teach. The author then employs a racial-ethnic slur against the Cretans that seems to have been a well-accepted truism of the day: Cretans were regarded as “liars, vicious brutes, and lazy gluttons.” Affirming that to be true, Titus is told not to drive them out, as we might expect, but rather, to rebuke them sharply so that they may become sound in the faith, and disregard the “Jewish myths” or the commandments of those that reject the truth. “To the pure all things are pure,” sounds like Paul or even Jesus rebuking the Jewish purity laws that, obviously, those teachers that Titus is to rebuke are teaching as “sound doctrine.” Such teachers are “unfit for any good work.” They profess to know God, but deny him by their actions (and teachings).

Having heard John’s denial that he, himself, is the Messiah, and word that “one is coming after [him],” today we hear John identify Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Continuing to refute those who thought John Jesus’ equal (and remember, at the time this gospel was written, there was a large religious community rivaling the church, who believed John was the long-promised “prophet” ), John confesses that this one who “comes after me, ranks ahead of me, because he is before me.” John himself does not know who he is. For John's part, he has come baptizing with water in order that the “coming one” might be revealed to Israel. John then confesses that he saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove and it remained on Jesus. Notice that John does not say he baptized Jesus, but only that he saw the Spirit descending upon him; again, a means of seeking to insure that Jesus is never portrayed as subservient to John. Rather, John insists that he did not know him. However, the One who sent John to baptize with water said, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And now John himself confesses that “this is the Son of God."

Posted February 19, 2015
Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Wednesday, February 18, 2015, Ash Wednesday
Jonah 3:1-4:11; Psalm 147:1-11; Hebrews 12:1-14; Luke 18:9-14

Jonah responds to God’s word and goes to Nineveh, that great and wicked city, and proclaims what God has told him to say: Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” Astonishingly, the people listen, believe God and proclaim a fast, and, from great to small, they all put on sackcloth—the garments of mourning and repentance. Even the king does so, donning ashes as well. He commands a fast, and that all—including the animals!—be covered with sackcloth and cry out to God. All are to turn from their evil ways and from their violence. “Who knows? God may relent and change his mind.” When God sees what they have done, he does change his mind. All of this is most displeasing to Jonah who, after his hardship, at least hoped he would see Nineveh destroyed, if only for his final obedience to God’s word. And so, he falls into a prophetic pout, complaining to God: “See, this is why I did not initially come here, but fled to Tarshish. I knew you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. (Here, by the way, is the central message of Jonah—God’s love is not limited to the Jews, but is extended to all people who are willing to abandon their wicked and violent ways—especially people so lost within life that they do not “know their right hand from their left.”) And so, Jonah, in a fit of pique, asks that his life be taken from him; it is better that he die. Though the Lord questions his anger, Jonah goes outside the city, makes a booth for himself and sits under its shade, waiting to see what will become of Nineveh. While he sits in the heat, the Lord appoints a bush to spring up and provide Jonah shade, to save him from the discomfort of the heat—it is not just Nineveh that is the object of God’s concern! Jonah is pleased with the bush. But the next morning, the Lord appoints a worm to attack the bush and it withers and dies. As the sun rises, God sends a sultry east wind along with heat beating down on Jonah’s head, so much so that Jonah becomes faint and again asks to die. Thereupon, God quizzes Jonah about the bush and his anger; is it justified? “Absolutely,” says Jonah, angry enough to die at the injustice of it. The Lord then asks, “How is it you can be angry over a bush that you did not plant or labor to grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night—how can you have pity on that? If you have such concern over that, should I not also have pity on Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who, like young children, do not know their right hand from their left, as well as many animals?” This story was written and told to remind us that, if we accept God’s mercy and grace for ourselves, we had best be prepared to accept it for others as well. It turns out that God’s graciousness and mercy are triggered less by human repentance under pressure than simply God’s pity for us—a most welcome word as we enter into this season of Lent.

Psalm 147:1-11 is a Hallel Psalm; it begins, as each of them does with Hallelujah—“Praise the Lord!” The psalm celebrates God’s graciousness and calls for a fitting song of praise to be sung. The reason for praise is the Lord’s ability and willingness to forgive and restore, to build up and heal. The Lord builds up Jerusalem, gathers the outcasts of Israel, heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. The one who made the stars, lifts up the down-trodden and casts the wicked to the ground, and delights, not in the strength of the horse or the speed of the runner, but in those who fear him and hope in his steadfast love.

In light of the cloud of faithful witnesses that has just been recited in the previous chapter, let us lay aside the sin that clings to us and run with perseverance the race of faith that lies before us, looking always to Jesus, the author, founder and perfecter of our faith. Knowing the joy that lay ahead of him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has now taken his place of ultimate honor at God’s right hand. Let him be our example so that we do not lose heart in our own struggles in life. After all, none of us have resisted to the point of shedding our blood. Such struggles are the discipline of the Lord at work in our lives, intended to make us holy. Endure your trials as a means of discipline being dispensed in your lives for the sake of strengthening you in holiness and preparing you for what lies ahead. What loving father does not discipline his child, lest the child be ill prepared for life? Does the child like the discipline as it is unfolding? Absolutely not! But the day comes when children recognize it was for their own good and are thankful. This discipline is in order that we may share in God’s holiness. Therefore, “lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees and walk in straight paths,” so that what is weak may be strengthened, and what is sick may be healed. Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness, without which, no one will see God.

Jesus tells the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.” These two men went up to the temple to pray. The Pharisee, impressed with his own righteousness, stood apart from others, and, in his prayer, reminded God of his upright credentials. Unlike others: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even “this tax collector,” he fasts twice a week, gives a tenth of his income, etc., etc., etc. The tax collector, on the other hand, stood far off because he knew himself despised by the crowd, especially the Pharisee! Beating himself on the chest in penance, he is not even able to look heavenward, but simply prays, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” Jesus tells us that this is the one who left the temple justified, and adds, “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted. And so, we begin the season of Lent, as we examine our lives and take on disciplines that are intended not only to demonstrate lives of repentance, but also to strengthen us in faith and holiness.

Posted February 18, 2015
Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Deuteronomy 6:16-25; Psalm 42; Hebrews 2:1-10; John 1:19-28

How does one stay in the right with this God whose name is “The Lord?” Do not put him to the test. Rather, diligently obey the statutes and ordinances that he has given in order that it may go well with you and in order that you may go in and occupy the good land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors. They are told to “thrust out all your enemies from before you,” as the Lord has promised. (But, they did not, which led to their downfall.) When their children grow weary with the commands and ask “Why are we doing this; what is the meaning of all of this?” they are to remind their children that they were at one time, Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt, but the Lord brought them out with a mighty hand, displaying before their eyes great and awesome signs and wonders against Egypt and against Pharaoh’s household. The Lord brought them from Egypt to this land of promise, keeping his oath to their ancestors. He has commanded that they observe all these statutes and fear him for their own lasting good, to keep them alive. If they diligently observe the entire commandments before him, as he has commanded them to do, they will be righteous—in the right with the Lord. This book, put in its final form after the disastrous events of the fall of Jerusalem and Babylonian exile (587—538 BCE), reflects the conviction that had the Israelites kept the law as it was delivered to them, the exile would not have occurred. Consequently, there is a great emphasis here on keeping those statues and ordinances, and rejecting any form of idolatry as essential to remaining “righteous”—in a right relationship with God who has the power to preserve or destroy them.

Psalm 42 opens the second of five sections of the Psalter that scholars generally view as a collection of psalms composed to instruct the community on how to live as it faces exile in Babylon after 587 BCE. Its plaintive longing for contact with God (note, the divine name “the Lord” is absent throughout this collection, and instead the Hebrew word for God, Elohim, and variations of it are used). God’s presence is sought and remembered, and God’s absence lamented. Has God forgotten the psalmist? Has God forgotten the people in Babylon? Why do his enemies persist with their taunts: “Where is your God?” What is the psalmist to say? Throughout the prayer, the persistent question is asked, “Why are you cast down, O my soul,” as if to keep himself from falling into despair, “and why are you disquieted within me?” In answer to his own question, the psalmist offers this refrain: “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.” Troubles come and go, and within them, God may seem distant. But remembering God’s acts and support in the past, and hoping in God for the future, draws us near to God in the present through the conversation of prayer, and reveals that God is not only present, but a rock who is unchanging—present even when seeming absent—and worthy of our trust and praise.

Following an exhortation to “pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it,” the readers—second generation Christians—are reminded that the Law that was declared through angels, was valid. Consequently, every generation that transgressed it received a just penalty. That being the case, how then can they now escape punishment if they neglect the great salvation revealed in Jesus Christ? The message was declared first through Christ himself, then attested “to us by those who heard him” (again, witness to the fact that this writer is not an eye-witness but a second generation believer). In addition, God added his own testimony to its truth through signs and wonders, various miracles and the gift of the Holy Spirit, distributed “according to his will” in the infant church. Now the subject turns to Jesus’ humanity, which it was being argued, made his message inferior to that of the Law which had been mediated to Moses through angels. Quite the opposite, God did not subject the coming world to angels. Why? Remember Psalm 8—and here, it needs to be read in a non-inclusive translation to catch the subtle way the author makes his point. It should read, “What is man (singular masculine) that you are mindful of him (not plural), and the Son of Man (direct reference to Jesus and his favorite term for himself), that you should care for him (again, singular, not plural). For a little while you made him lower than the angels, but now you have crowned him (not them), with glory and honor, subjecting all things under his (not their) feet.” The NRSV, in its laudable attempt to be inclusive, has badly obscured this text. This is about the superiority of Jesus and his gospel to that of Moses. Even though Jesus was fully human, God subjected all things “under his feet”—an image of sovereignty, leaving nothing outside of his control. And though, for the moment, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him (again, singular masculine third person rather than “them”), we do see Jesus, “who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor—exalted in the heavens as Lord. But if he was so exalted, why was he subject to death? It was the grace of God that subjected him to tasting the humiliation of death, because it was for everyone. It was fitting, therefore, that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing forth many children to glory, should make the founder and leader of their salvation perfect through this suffering.

John’s role as witness to Jesus comes center-stage in today’s lesson. The Jewish religious leadership has sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to John, who is baptizing in the Jordan at Bethany. They ask John, “Who are you?” Are you the Messiah; are you Elijah or another prophet? To each of these John answers “No.” He is but a voice crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord,” as the prophet Isaiah had said. He is witness to the coming one who stands among them as one yet unknown. John is baptizing with water. But the one coming after him, is such that John is not even worthy to perform the most mundane of a servant’s tasks—to loosen the thong of his sandal.

Posted February 17, 2015
Monday, February 16, 2015

Monday, February 16, 2015
Deuteronomy 6:1-15; Psalm 5; Hebrews 1:1-14; John 1:1-18

The word “Deuteronomy” means “second law,” and contains, under the form of Moses addressing the people before they enter the land of promise, a second recitation of the Law. Moses is repeating this so that they and their children and their children’s children may fear the Lord their God all the days of their lives, keep his decrees, and have long life in the land God is giving them. Listen, and it will go well with them and they will multiply greatly in this land of milk and honey that the Lord promised to their ancestor Abraham. Ignore this word they are to hear and they will fall into ruin and destruction. Verse four introduces the “Shema”—the great oral confession that, to this day, faithful Jews recite three times a day, bind to the post of their door and gates, and bind on the right hand (and arm) and forehead: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone.” After Christianity emerged with its doctrine of the Trinity, the word echod began to be translated “one.” It is, of course, a conviction that orthodox Trinitarian doctrine also confesses. The point Moses is making is that they are entering into a land filled with people who worship other gods, and the Lord, and only the Lord is Israel’s God. They are not to worship another, even alongside the Lord, as tragically, they all too often did. Consequently, Moses continues, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” Keep these words in your heart, recite them to your children, talk about them when at home and away, and when you lie down and when you rise. More, when you occupy the land that the Lord is bringing you into, a land filled with large cities you did not build, houses filled with goods you did not fill, cisterns you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—when you have eaten your fill, take care that you do not forget the Lord who brought you out of Egypt and its slavery. It is the Lord your God that you are alone to fear and serve. By his name only are you to swear. Do not follow any other god, especially the gods of the people around you, for the Lord, who is present with you, is a jealous God. His anger would be kindled against you and he would destroy you from the face of the earth.

Psalm 5, traditionally used in Morning Prayer, pleads for God’s protection and care against his 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 he bows down toward the temple in awe. His enemies are full of lies and deceit and their rebellion is really rebellion against God. Let them bear the fruit of their guilt, and fall by their own counsel. On the other hand, let all who take refuge in the Lord rejoice. Let them sing forever. Pleading for the Lord to spread his protection over all who take refuge in him, the psalmist ends as he begins, expressing joyful confidence in the Lord’s blessings and care for those who are righteous (in a right relationship with God and one another). Cover them with divine favor as a shield.

As God spoke to his people in the past through prophets, now God has spoken to us through a Son, the heir of all things, through whom God created the world. For those who think a fully developed doctrine of the divinity of Christ is a late Hellenistic influence, this document, written sometime before the fall of the Temple in 70 CE challenges that notion as it makes the astonishing confession that the Son is “the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and sustains all things by his powerful word.” That is about as fully developed a Christology as one can find in the New Testament. After making purification for sins (note that this is not a penal, vicarious theory of atonement but a purging of sin in general, the way sacrifices in the temple purged the area of sin so that God’s presence could remain), he sat down at the right hand of “the Majesty on High”—a pious Jew’s way of naming God without having to use the name. The Son is superior to all angels, just as the name he has inherited (Christ) is more excellent than theirs (messengers). There follows a series of biblical quotations: Psalm 2:7 followed by 2 Samuel 7:14—both promises made to David—followed by Deuteronomy 32:43, followed by Psalm 104:4; then Psalm 45:6-7 where the king is addressed as “God.” This is followed by Psalm 102:25-26 and concludes with the seventh quotation from Psalm 110:1. To which of the angels did God ever say, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet?” Finally, the purpose of angels is revealed: they are spirits in divine service, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.

The prologue to John’s gospel is a hymn of praise to the divine Word (logos). It may well have been, or very soon became, a confessional statement used in the community for which this gospel was written. It sings of the Divine Logos who is the One through whom God created all things. In Greek logos means “word,” but the Logos in Greek thought of the day was also the ordering principle behind the universe. This is consistent with the thought in Colossians 1:17, that in Christ, “all things hold together.” He is not only the ordering principle, but the one who insures that creation does not fall back into chaos. He was life and the light of all people, a light shining in the darkness that the darkness is not able to overcome. After a brief reference to John, we are told that the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. Jesus’ life, resistance and rejection by his own people are cited, followed by a promise that to all who do receive him and believe in his name, he gives power to become children of God—children born not through the biological process but by God’s own will. This Word (when capitalized, it is always a reference to Jesus Christ), became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth, enabling us to see not only his own glory but the glory of the Father’s only Son. John testified to him. John is never called “the Baptist” in this gospel because the emphasis here is upon John as a witness to who Jesus is. From Jesus’ fullness we have received grace upon grace. Moses gave us the law, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. Finally, no one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is in the Father’s bosom—one with him—who has made God known. This One through whom God made all things, existed in God before anything came into existence. In God’s own time, in a particular time and place, this One took on human flesh to become one of us so that in him, we too could become one with God—children of God. He is the one who most fully reveals God because he is part of God come to us in a form we can comprehend.

Posted February 16, 2015
Sunday, February 15, 2015

Feast of the Transfiguration
Sunday, February 15, 2015
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; Psalm 103; 2 Corinthians 3:1-9; John 12:27-36a

Daniel has a dream in which one like “a son of man” appears. The phase itself in the Old Testament simply means “male member of the human race,” and appears constantly in Ezekiel, as it is the term God uses when addressing the prophet. Daniel’s vision is filled with apocalyptic imagery of four beasts, each of which represents four pagan kings that are devouring humankind, their horns representing their power. Our lesson opens as God appears and takes his place on the throne to sit in judgment. The imagery of a fiery throne, a river of fire and thousands upon thousands in attendance is drawn from various biblical texts. The “books are opened,” which is an apocalyptic image of divine record-keeping that will now serve as evidence in the trial. The voice of the most arrogant of the kings, Antiochus IV, who took the title “Epiphanes,” and who reigned the most ruthlessly over the Jews, desecrating the temple and persecuting and slaughtering many, is put to death and thrown into the fire. The dominion of the other beasts is taken away as the Greek empire is destroyed. Then, “one like a human being” (in the Aramaic this is written as “son of man”), comes with the clouds of heaven and is presented before God, who gives him dominion, glory and sovereignty over all peoples and nations. It is an everlasting dominion that shall never be destroyed. “Son of man” was Jesus’ preferred way of speaking of himself in a way that alluded to who he was and what his mission was. There is great scholarly debate over whether the term had messianic connotations among Jews in Jesus’ day. However, as the theology of Jesus’ two natures developed in the church, “Son of Man” came to speak of his authentic humanity, just as “Son of God” came to speak of his divine nature. Modern scholars see the son of man in this text either referring to a faithful Jew or to an angelic being that looked human.

Psalm 103 is a meditation on God’s goodness and steadfast love that is forgiving and everlasting. It starts with the psalmist calling upon himself to “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless God’s holy name. Bless the Lord O my soul, and forget not all God’s benefits.” The psalmist then lists the many ways God is good, merciful, gracious and generous: forgiving iniquity, healing all our diseases, redeeming our lives from the Pit, crowning us with steadfast love and mercy, and satisfying us with good things as long as we live, so that our strength is renewed like that we had as a youth. The psalm then turns to address the entire community, reflecting on the Lord’s merciful and gracious nature. The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, removing our sin from us as far as the east is from the west. In spite of the fleeting nature of human life, God’s knows that we are dust and our days short in the span of divine time. Yet, the Lords’ steadfast love endures forever—from everlasting to everlasting. The psalm ends, calling on all in heaven—God’s angels and heavenly hosts--to join in this song of blessing. 

Paul writes to the Corinthians to validate his own ministry among them, something that has come under question in Corinth in his absence. It appears that someone is asking for a letter of recommendation for Paul, and he responds that they are his letters of recommendation. Without him, they would not be in Christ. He is the one who first brought the gospel to them. They are letters written on human hearts rather than tablets of stone. The tablets of stone image then causes him to reflect on the superior nature of the gospel to the law. First, as he often does, he backs up from what could be interpreted as boasting, and makes the point that all of this has come, not from him, but through him from God, who made Paul and his companions “ministers of a new covenant. The word “minister” here is the same one that can be translated “servant,” or “deacon,” as in a person who serves tables. The new covenant is not about letters but of the spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now back to the law, it is a ministry of death, chiseled on stone tables, but came to Israel in glory through Moses, whose face shone so brightly that the Israelites could not look upon it, even though it continued to fade. Then Paul employs the “How much more” argument asserting that the ministry of the Spirit comes in much greater glory. For if there was glory associated with the coming of the law—the “ministry of condemnation”—then how much more the ministry of justification abounds in glory, a glory which is permanent.

Some Greeks have just come to Jerusalem during the festival looking for Jesus. When he is told, it signals to him that his ultimate “hour” is upon him. Does that trouble him? Why would it not, given what he must go through? Yet, will he ask to be saved from it? Absolutely not; it was for this that he came. And so he says, “Father, glorify your name.” God speaks from heaven, “I have glorified it [in him], and will glorify it again [at his resurrection.]” The crowd near Jesus hears it and some think it thunder while others think an angel has spoken to him. Jesus tells them the voice has come for their sake and not his, and then announces the judgment of the world, when the ruler of the world will be driven out. As for him, when he is lifted up (the third time he has spoken of this), he will draw all people to himself. His mission is not simply for the Jews, but for all humanity. The people around him seem to understand what he means by being “lifted up,” and ask, “if the law says that the Messiah is forever, how can he speak in this way, saying ‘the son of man must be lifted up’—who is the son of man?” Rather than answer that question, Jesus simply says, “The light is with you a little longer; walk in it, so that darkness does not overtake you. If you walk in darkness, you don’t know where you are going. But, while you have the light [of his presence], believe in the light”—an image he has used previously about himself as the light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5)—so that they may become children of light.

Posted February 15, 2015
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.

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