Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Nahum 1:1-14; Psalm 49; Revelation 12:1-6; Luke 11:37-52
The book of Nahum is a biblical scholar’s quandary: there are questions about who wrote it, when, where and why? Because it identified two historical events: the fall of the Egyptian city of Thebes to the Assyrians in 663 BCE and the fall of the Assyrian city of Nineveh in 612 BCE, it is assumed to have been preached by the prophet in Judah soon thereafter and later written down. An initial reading can be troubling, as it seems such an overt exultation and celebration of vengeance. It is a book of oracles against other nations, primarily Assyria, and includes woes against them. In Hebrew, it is a masterpiece of poetry. The first oracle is an acrostic, using nine of the first eleven letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and begins by warning that the Lord is a jealous and avenging God, raging against his enemies. Though slow to anger, the Lord is great in power and by no means will clear the guilty. Then the Lord is described with vivid imagery that we are accustomed to hearing in creation psalms: a whirlwind and storm. The Lord rebukes the sea—sets its limits—and dries up rivers. Mountains quake, hills melt and the earth heaves at God’s presence. Who can stand before God’s indignation, who can endure the heat of his anger that is poured out like fire? Then suddenly, in the midst of this, there comes an affirmation of God’s goodness. The Lord is good, a stronghold in a day of trouble, protecting those who take refuge in him, even in the midst of a raging flood. But he will also make a full end of his adversaries and pursue his enemies into darkness. The adversary is then addressed, and it is Nineveh: why do you plot against the Lord? God will make an end to his enemies; no adversary will rise up a second time. The Lord speaks, and it is difficult to know exactly who he is addressing, Judah or Nineveh. Some translations have made a choice and name Judah as the one who will be “afflicted no more,” while Nineveh will no longer have descendants to bear its name. Other translations think it best to leave the ambiguity in the text, since neither Nineveh nor Judah are mentioned at this point in the Hebrew text. In fact, it may be an individual leading the oppression, such as the Assyrian king. However, it could as easily be a Judean naysayer who insists that the Lord will never act on behalf of Judah.
Psalm 49 is a wisdom psalm addressed to all the inhabitants of the earth—both high and low, rich and poor—and warns against placing trust in one’s wealth, or boasting in the abundance of one’s riches. Why fear in times of trouble, when the iniquity of your persecutors surrounds you—those who trust in their wealth and trust in their riches? There is no ransom one can pay for one’s life; death comes to everyone. The rich and the poor alike, the wise and the foolish die together and leave their wealth to others. Mortals may be pompous, but like all animals, we perish, whether foolhardy or prudently pleased with ourselves. Like sheep appointed for Sheol, death is their shepherd. In the midst of all of this doom and gloom there is a surprising, even startling word—“God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.” Here is one of the unusual places in the Hebrew Scriptures that witnesses to the belief that communion with God does not end at death (see also Psalm 73:24). And now the psalm turns to comforting those who see others gaining riches while they do not. Do not be afraid; they will die and carry nothing away. Though they count themselves happy because of their riches—for those who do well for themselves are praised in this world—when they die, they will never again see light. Again, we are reminded that in spite of our pride and pomp, we are no better than the animals that perish.
A great sign appears in the heaven and we are given a six verse synopsis of what is taking place in heaven before the final judgment. This takes us behind the scenes to give us a vision of the struggle taking place throughout the cosmos, of which the church is only a part. A pregnant woman appears, clothed with the sun, the moon at her feet and a crown of twelve stars. She is crying out in birth pangs. This is the mother of the messianic community. The image reminds us of Paul writing that the whole creation is in the pangs of birth—sometimes called “messianic woes,” awaiting our adoption as the children of God (Romans 8:22). Then, another portent appears with her: a great red dragon, with seven heads (the seven hills of Rome) and ten horns (great power), and seven diadems on its heads (seven rulers). The dragon’s tail sweeps down a third of the stars, as it chases after the woman and then stands before her as she is about to give birth to her child, waiting to devour it as soon as it is born. It is the messianic child who is born to rule all the nations. But the child is snatched away and taken up to God and placed upon a throne. The woman flees into the wilderness where she has a place prepared by God where she can be nourished for one thousand two hundred sixty days—roughly equivalent to the 42 months—the time the nations will trample down the outer court of God’s temple. The portent speaks of the struggles of the messianic community until the full time of its suffering is complete, until the judgment begins on the world’s rulers and their league with the powers of evil, a judgment that has already been determined.
A Pharisee invites Jesus to dine with him. Jesus accepts the invitation and a clash of two very different views on the religious life emerges from it. The Pharisee is amazed to see that Jesus does not wash his hands before eating—the Pharisees were very strict about such rituals and actions of outward purification. Jesus knows what the Pharisee is thinking and says, “You clean the outside of the cup and the dish, while inside you are full of greed and wickedness.” Then, in some of the strongest language yet, he calls them “Fools!” It is an epitaph that is reserved in the Bible for those who resist the ways of God. Do they not know that the one who made the outside made the inside as well? Verse 41 is a significant challenge, but seems to mean true cleanliness emerges from the inside out and not the other way around. Woe to them, they tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds—the seasonings of meals, not their substance—while ignoring the justice and love of God. (The purpose of the tithe was to support not only the Levites, but also the poor of the land: the aliens, orphans and widows.) The woes continue as Jesus challenges them on their love for seats of honor in the synagogue, and their desire to be treated with the highest of respect in the marketplaces. Woe to them: they are like unmarked graves that people do not recognize and so walk over—they have so effectively worked to hide their hypocrisy that most people do not recognize it. But he does. One of them, a lawyer objects: “Teacher, when you say such things you are insulting us too.” That turns Jesus’ woes on the lawyers as well, for they load people with burdens hard to bear and do not lift a finger to ease them. They build tombs for the prophets whom their ancestors killed, and thereby witness to their own approval of that killing—“They killed them, you build their tombs.” They have killed all the prophets and apostles sent to them by God right from the foundation of the world, from the blood of Abel—the first to be murdered, to the death of the prophet Zechariah who was stoned between the altar and the sanctuary (2 Chronicles 24:20-22). Theirs is the generation that will be charged with killing the prophets. Woe to them; they have not only taken away the key to knowledge they themselves have not entered into it, but more, have hindered others from entering it as well. Is it any wonder that after this explosive encounter these religious leaders set out to do away with Jesus? This is no story-book Jesus who is meek and mild. From this point forward, he will be at violent odds with the religious authorities.
Tuesday: October 28, 2014
Jonah 3:1-4:11; Psalm 48; Revelation 11:14-19; Luke 11:27-36
Jonah has learned his lesson; or has he? Initially, it seems so; he heads to Nineveh, that great and wicked city, to proclaim God’s judgment on it: “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” Notice that there is no invitation to repent and be saved, just God’s ultimate destruction of it. The people of Nineveh don’t need an invitation. They believe God, proclaim a fast, and everyone, great and small, puts on sackcloth. Even the king sits in sackcloth and ashes, and makes a royal proclamation: all shall turn from their evil ways and the violence in their hands. “Who knows? God may relent and change his mind.” And, of course, that is precisely what God does. But, rather than rejoice in this and the success of his prophecy, Jonah falls into a prophetic pout, and even says, “See, I told you so, Lord! That is why I fled to Tarshish. I knew you are gracious and merciful; slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.” That said, Jonah pleads for God to take his life. He simply cannot stand to look upon God’s mercy expressed to others, especially those who have been wantonly evil. Having crossed the city with his proclamation, he leaves town, makes a booth and sits under its shade awaiting God’s response. The Lord causes a large bush or plant to sprout up and provide cover for Jonah, to save him for the heat, something that greatly pleases Jonah. But the next day, God appoints a worm to attack the bush so that it dies. When the sun rises, God sends a sultry east wind and the sun beats down on Jonah so that he is faint and, in his anger, pleads to die. God asks Jonah about his anger over the bush’s destruction; is it right? “Yes,” says Jonah, “angry enough to die!” The Lord reminds Jonah of the huge discrepancy of his ways: angry over a mere bush that he did not create, that came into being in one night and perished in the next, but totally unconcerned, no more—even angry enough to die because the Lord should show mercy to the Ninevites. Herein is a warning for us all: God’s love and mercy are no more limited to those of us who claim to be God’s people than to the rest of the world, regardless of how pagan. God welcomes any who turn to him. We are not “insiders,” as God’s people, but messengers of his love. We can hear that as good news and rejoice in our salvation, or hear it as bad news, and become like Jonah, so pious and heavenly minded that we are no earthly good.
Psalm 48 is a classic psalm of praise that celebrates the Lord’s greatness and presence on Mount Zion, the site of the temple, and another name for Jerusalem, the city of God and the psalmist’s joy. It is probably a pilgrims psalm: “as we have heard so have we seen,” and remembers God’s presence in the city, setting the kings of the earth to panicked flight and smashing them as the east wind drives ships against the rocks of Tarshish. Standing within the temple, the pilgrim is struck with a moment of transcendence—this is a “thin place” in life where heaven and earth overlap—and ponders God’s steadfast love, proclaiming that God’s praise reaches the very ends of the earth. Walk about Zion, go all around it. Count its towers, consider its ramparts. Go through its citadels so that you can tell of its greatness to future generations. Most of all, remind them that God is our God forever and ever, and will forever be our guide.
The second woe past and as a third is awaited, the seventh angel blows the trumpet and a loud voice from heaven announces: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.” It is not that the kingdom of the world at some time before did not belong to God, but rather a reassertion that, what has always been, is even more the case now. What has always been the case in heaven, and what we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer, is, in fact, reality. The twenty-four elders fall on their faces in worship singing a hymn of divine sovereignty that recalls all that has been said about God’s reign heretofore, while thanks is given to God who “was and is” (“are and were,” in the text) with the “is to come,” delayed for the moment, because the emphasis is on what is taking place in this immediate scene. Remember, the sacred name of God, “I am,” given to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:14), can be translated past, present or future tense, and leads to the conception of God as the One who “was, is, and is to be,” and in Revelation, sometimes named “is to come.” This book will play with that image in various configurations throughout its revelation. The emphasis here is on the past and the present. Though the nations have raged against the Lord and his Christ (Psalm 2:5), and continue to do so, God’s wrath has come, which also brings a reward for God’s servants. Judgment comes to those who destroy the earth. The “is to come” is yet to be revealed, but will be. The lesson concludes with the doors of God’s temple in heaven being opened, and lo and behold: there is the Ark of the covenant, which had been lost in the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon in 587 BCE, complete with all of the earthly marks that accompany God’s appearance.
A woman in the crowd expresses her belief in Jesus by blessing the womb that bore him and the breasts that nursed him. Jesus expands that blessing to all who hear the word of God and obey it—the theme that continues through this gospel as a cantus firmus. A new scene portrays Jesus with an even greater crowd that he tells belong to an evil generation who ask for a sign but who will receive none except the sign of Jonah. The church soon understood this as a reference to the parallel between Jonah’s three days and nights in the belly of the great fish, and Jesus’ three days in the tomb. However, the sign of Jonah is greater than that. Jonah is also a sign to Nineveh, that when it hears and sees, acts—it repents. It is one thing to listen to Jesus’ gracious words and take pleasure and comfort in them, and quite another to hear his call to repentance and do something about it in terms of how we order our lives. This is about not only hearing but also obeying. Just as the Queen of Sheba came to hear the wisdom of Solomon and responded to it, so the wisdom of God is in their midst. Will they respond? Something greater than Jonah is here! Luke then includes Jesus’ words about lighting a lamp that also appears in Matthew 5:15 and Mark 4:21: No one hides a source of light. Jesus is that prophetic light; will they let him shine? The complex comment about the eye being the lamp of the body is clearer in Matthew 6:22-23, but here relies on the conviction of Jesus’ day that the eye was the window through which the light of the soul shines forth and is revealed, and allows its light or its darkness to be visible to onlookers. The connection here is to “this evil generation,” whose eyes are not healthy or clear but rather wicked or evil (the world the NRSV translates here “unhealthy” is the same word in verse 29 that it translates “evil”). The saying can function in two ways: does your eye let the light in to illumine and change your life; or, is what shines from your eye the light of God revealed in Christ? Either way, the injunction is to be filled with Christ’s light so completely that we too become lamps shining forth his light, not only to enlighten the darkness, but also to be signs to those in search of light.
Monday, October 27, 2014
Jonah 1:17-2:10; Psalm 52; Revelation 11:1-14; Luke 11:14-26
Though Jonah did not obey God’s call, the great fish does and gives Jonah time to think over his rebellious behavior. What follows is a psalm that may, at first, seem a bit out of order as it presumes what comes at the end: the fish spewing Jonah out on dry land, and, for the moment, that has yet to happen. The psalm is, however, a classic prayer for deliverance and works out of the conviction that the Lord hears and answers our prayers, even in the darkest and most hopeless of circumstances. And, can you think of anything more hopeless than being in the belly of a great fish for three days and three nights! The psalm is actually a composite of others in the psalter calling on the Lord for deliverance; virtually every one of its lines can be found elsewhere in the psalms. However, it is also unique to Jonah’s circumstances. Notice how intentionally theological it is: it is the Lord who tossed him into the deep, not the sailors! And, as the billows pass over him and the weeds wrap around his head, Jonah goes down to the land whose bars closed upon him forever—the belly of Sheol, not the fish—the land of the dead. Verse 6 is the pivot point, as almost all psalms of lament and prayers for deliverance pivot to psalms of praise. Jonah goes down to the deep and the Lord hears and lifts him out of the pit. As his life is ebbing away, Jonah remembers and calls out to the Lord, who hears his voice—his prayer has come to the Lord’s holy temple; God’s dwelling place. After a summary condemnation of those who worship falsely, praying to vain idols, there is a promise to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving and to pay his vow. With one final affirmation of assurance in the Lord’s deliverance, the fish spews Jonah out onto the dry land.
Psalm 52 is less a prayer than a confession of confidence in God to protect us from those whose lying tongues are like razors and whose deceitful ways are filled with treachery; those who plot the destruction of the godly. They love evil more than good and love lying more than speaking the truth. But God will break them down forever, snatch them from their tents and uproot them from the land of the living. As that happens, the righteous will see and fear—even laugh!—at the evildoer, proclaiming that, those who refuse to take refuge in God, but prefer to trust in their own riches, shall be so destroyed. The psalmist then confesses to having taken refuge in God and become like a green olive tree in the courts of the Temple. (Olive trees may lose branches and limbs that wither and die, but their roots continue to produce new sprouts, giving the tree long life and making it a biblical symbol for long, abundant, even eternal life.) The psalm concludes with an expression of trust in the steadfast love of God, thanking God for what he has done and promising to proclaim God’s name, for it is good. Interestingly enough, the word for God throughout this psalm is the generic Elohim or El, rather than Yahweh. Nonetheless, it should be fair warning to the talking heads of the media world who indulge in character assassination with their invidious speech against others in the public’s view and service.
John is given a measuring rod and sent forth to calculate the dimensions of the Temple and its altar, as well as those who worship there, but not its outer court. That is to be left out because the nations will trample over it for forty-two months (a number symbolic of a limited amount of time). During this time, two witnesses will be granted authority to prophesy for 1,260 days—the end of the time of tribulation. Referred to as two olives trees amid two lampstands, it is a reference, not to two specific individuals, but to the prophetic ministry of the church, the olive trees from Zechariah 4:3, 14, and the lampstand the symbol of the churches (Rev. 1:20) meant to be sources of light. The witnesses are reminiscent of Moses, Elijah and Jeremiah and, like Jesus, are faithful martyrs. At the end of their appointed time of tribulation, the beast (power of evil) emerges from the bottomless pit to make war on them, conquer and kill them, leaving their rotting bodies in the streets. But, after three and a half days (short time), God breathes life back into them and they stand on their feet, terrifying all who see them. At that point, a loud voice from heaven calls them up in a cloud while their enemies watch. As that happens, a great earthquake occurs, destroying a tenth of the city, with seven thousand killed in the quake and the remaining so terrified that they give glory to God in heaven. The second woe is past; the third is coming soon.
Jesus continues his healing ministry, casting a mute spirit out of a man, and, when the spirit is gone, the man speaks. The majority of the crowd is astonished, but some say Jesus is doing this by the spirit of Satan: Beelzebul—“the Lord of the flies”—the ruler of demons. Others in the crowd want to continue to test him (putting to the test is, after all, Satan’s work), ironically, demanding signs from heaven, in spite of what they have just seen! Knowing what they are thinking, Jesus tells the parable of the kingdom divided against itself and asks that if Satan is so divided, and working both through Jesus and against himself, how can his house stand? Further, if Jesus is casting out demons by Satan, by whose power are their local exorcists casting out demons? What is going on is a battle between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan, and they are watching it take place—speaking of signs from heaven. The strong man has arrived who has the ability to overpower Satan, take away his armor and plunder his kingdom. Then Jesus issues a judgment: whoever is not with him is against him, and whoever does not gather with him, scatters—no one can be neutral with regard to him. The lesson ends with a final warning: having a demon cast out is not a guarantee that it will not return, and, if it does, it brings seven others with it, making the person’s life worse that it was before the first exorcism. The point is less one of exorcisms; not even that is enough to ensure protection against future evil. This is a question of allegiance. Are we following and serving the one who gathers or the one who scatters?
Sunday, October 26, 2014
Jonah 1:1-17a; Psalm 98; 1 Corinthians 10:15-24; Matthew 18:15-20
We begin today with Jonah, one of the most well-known stories in the Bible. On the other hand, it is among the least well understood. Scholars consider it an allegory, a legend, a novel, a parable, or a satire. All of those dimensions are present. What it is not is a literal account of the prophet’s life and adventure, but a work of fiction to make a point. Of the twelve minor prophets, this is the only one in which the prophecy being made is not written or spoken by the book’s name sake, but rather, by the prophets actions and responses to God’s word. The word of the Lord comes to Jonah: “Go to Nineveh, that great, evil city, and cry out against it.” Jonah immediately responds; he heads in the opposite direction! Boarding a ship for Tarshish, he seeks to sail “away from the presence of the Lord.” (Notice, the notion of God’s omnipresence is not yet understood; God is still localized to a place.) God hurls a great wind on the sea putting the ship at great risk. The mariners toss everything they can overboard in an attempt to save the ship, but to no avail. Jonah, on the other hand, is in the ship’s hold, fast asleep. When the ship’s captain discovers Jonah, he awakens him and demands that Jonah pray to his god for rescue. In the meantime, the sailors have cast lots to see who it is among them that is the object of the god’s wrath, and the lot falls on Jonah. Consequently, they interrogate Jonah in order to discover what he has done to anger his god. Jonah tells them he is a Hebrew and worships the Lord, the God of heaven and earth, who made the sea and the dry land. When they hear this, the men are even more frightened—this is the god who made the sea! They ask Jonah what they should do to him to make the sea quiet down, and Jonah tells them to throw him overboard—he is indeed the problem. They do, but only after calling out to the Lord themselves, asking that they not perish on account of Jonah, and that in tossing him into the sea that they not become guilty of innocent blood. Once Jonah is in the sea it settles down, causing another kind of fear to come over the sailors who immediately offer sacrifices to the Lord and make vows. A group of pagan sailors has been converted in the process. God has used even Jonah’s unfaithfulness for God’s purposes. But Jonah is not yet off the hook. God provides a large fish (it is not a whale, though it is “a whale of a story!”) to swallow Jonah to keep him from drowning in the sea. Jonah spends the next three days and nights in the belly of this great fish.
Psalm 98 exhorts us to “Sing to the Lord a new song!” But the imperative is about more than us; all creation is called on to sing joyfully for what the Lord has done—marvelous things! Israel is called to remember the way the Lord has gotten victory for them in the midst of the nations. In their distress, the Lord remembered his steadfast love for them and his faithfulness to them, and vindicated them in the sight of their captors. All the ends of the earth have seen God’s victory on Israel’s behalf. The earth is especially called to join in the song of praise using all the musical instruments at hand: lyre, lute, trumpets and horns. The personification of aspects of creation is rich and expressive: let the sea roar, and all who live in it; let the floods clap their hands and the hills together break into song at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming to judge the earth. And when he comes, he will judge the entire world with righteousness, and its peoples with equity. Joy to the world! Isaac Watts paraphrased this psalm into that well-known and deeply loved hymn. Though most think it was written as a Christmas carol, it is really a metrical setting of this psalm.
Paul continues to use sacramental language to help the Corinthians deal with the controversies among them, in this case, whether it is permissible to eat meat that has previously been offered to pagan gods. In the midst of that argument we hear his theology of the Lord’s Supper: the cup of blessing in the supper is actually the blood of Christ, just as the bread that they break in the supper is the body of Christ. As there is one loaf in the Eucharistic meal that they partake of, so they are one, not only with Christ, but also with one another. Their unity is a given, for it is effected in their eating the bread and drinking the cup of the Supper. Paul then uses the sacrificial practice of the Israelites to further strengthen his point. They offered sacrifices to the Lord and then ate the meat of the animal offered to God as part of the sacrifice itself, in order to make themselves partners in the sacrifice. So too, intentionally eating meat offered to a pagan god makes one a partner in that sacrifice and is forbidden. One cannot partake of the Lord at his table and also partake of the table of demons (false gods). Otherwise, they are provoking the Lord to jealousy, which will bring judgment. Though all things are lawful, not all things are beneficial. In the arguments they are having about this among themselves, they must stop seeking their own advantage and rather, seek to mutually find the truth. The function of debate in the church over issues is not for one side to win over against the other, but rather, together, through such debate and reflection, to discern God’s truth--something all too often forgotten in ecclesiastical councils and debates.
How are disputes, misunderstandings and other differences between church members to be resolved? If your brother or sister in the faith sins against you, go and point it out to them in private so the two of you can resolve it. If they listen, you have regained the one from whom you were estranged. But if they refuse to listen, then take one or two others with you so that the conversation can be witnessed in accordance with the standards of the law—at least two witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15). If the member still refuses to listen, then bring the issue before the whole faith community. And, if the member refuses to listen to the church, then treat them as you would a tax collector or Gentile—exclude them from the assembly. For what we, as the church, bind on earth will be bound in heaven and what we loose on earth will be loosed in heaven, for where two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, he is there in the midst of them. Here is one of the foundational texts for the Roman Catholic Church’s understanding of the powers of the priest to forgive sins (the other is the “keys to the kingdom” that have been given to Peter, “to lock and unlock”). For Protestants, with our conviction of the priesthood of all believers, it means we all have that power. One other thing: notice that this standard of Jesus being present when two or three are gathered in his name is, first and foremost, about church discipline, though it is also true about worship.
Saturday, October 25, 2014
Micah 7:1-7 (8-20); Psalm 32; Revelation 10:1-11; Luke 11:1-13
The prophet falls into deep lament; there are no righteous among the people of Jerusalem. As the hungry search for food in vineyards after they have been harvested, the prophet looks for someone to trust. But, as the vineyards and orchards have been stripped bare, rather than leaving some for the poor as the law requires, there is no fig to be eaten; neither is there anyone to trust. The faithful have disappeared from the land. Everyone lies in wait to ambush or trap a neighbor. Their hands are skilled at evil. Officials and judges ask for bribes, and dictate justice to fit their own desires. Even the best of them is like a thorn. Then comes the dreadful warning: put no trust in a friend, not even a loved one—not even your spouse! All will betray and rise up against you. Your enemies are members of your own household. But, for Micah, he will look to the Lord, and wait for the God of his salvation, confident that God will hear his lament. This is where our daily reading of Micah comes to an end, but note there are an additional 13 verses to the book. This last section is Jerusalem’s recognition that the judgment is not the work of her enemies, but comes from the Lord on whom she must now wait, who will ultimately “bring [her] out to the light” where she shall see her vindication. This is followed by a prophecy of restoration—the rebuilding of her walls, the extension of her boundaries, the nations once again being ashamed and themselves turning to “the dread of the Lord” and standing afar in fear of Jerusalem. The book ends with a reflection on God’s ultimate compassion and pardon. Though the Lord has tread Jerusalem’s iniquities underfoot in the time of judgment, he has also cast out her sin, thrown them into the depths of the sea, and will show faithfulness to Jacob and unswerving loyalty to Abraham, just as he swore to her ancestors of old.
Psalm 32 is a wisdom psalm in which the psalmist gives thanks for the gift of forgiveness. “Happy are those whose sin is covered.” He acknowledges that, while he kept silent about his sin, he wasted away, for the Lord’s hand was heavy upon him, and his strength was dried up as the heat of summer dries all things. But when he acknowledged his sin, when he no longer hid it but confessed it, the Lord forgave him his guilt. The psalmist then instructs all who are faithful to offer such prayers of confession, promising that in a time of distress and the rush of many waters, these will not reach or overwhelm them. Again, addressing the Lord, he confesses that God is his hiding place who preserves him from trouble and surrounds him with glad cries of deliverance. The psalm now turns to addressing others, instructing them in the way they should go: “Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near.” It concludes with one final double affirmation: “Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord. Therefore: be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.
There is an interlude between the sixth and the seventh trumpet, as an angel descends from heaven wrapped in a cloud with a little scroll open and in its hand. He places one foot on the sea and the other on land, demonstrating his sovereignty over the earth, and when he opens his mouth to speak, it is like the roar of a great lion. In response to his shout, the seven thunders sound. Whatever it is John hears in that thunderous moment, he is told not to write it down. Then, the angel raises his right hand to heaven, in oath, and swears by God’s name that there will be no more delay. With the blowing of the seventh trumpet, the mysteries of God will be fulfilled as it had been announced through the prophets. John is then instructed to go to the angel and take the open scroll from his hand. As he does, the angel tells him to eat it. (See Ezekiel 2:8-3:3) Though it will be sweet in his mouth, it will be bitter in his stomach, and, indeed, it was. He is then told that he must prophesy again as a warning to peoples, nations, languages and kings—to the whole world. Notice the continuing theme of the delay of the announced coming judgment so that people can repent, but they do not.
Luke shifts the scene and subject to prayer. Jesus is praying “in a certain place,” and, after he is finished, one of his disciples asks (notice the anonymity—the question is being asked for all of Jesus’ disciples, not just one of the twelve), “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” Jesus responds with the Luken version of the Lord’s Prayer: “Father;” it is Jesus’ favorite name for God. Just verses before (21-22), Jesus said that all things had been handed over to him by “my Father,” –the only one who really knows who Jesus is. Similarly, no one knows who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. And so, this lesson on prayer is far less about petitions for this and that, and more about how to develop an appropriate relationship with the Father. Prayer is how we do that. “Hallowed be your name;” the word means to make holy, to hold as sacred and consecrated to holy purpose, it is the name the commandments instruct us not to use in vain. Your kingdom come;” is a plea for God’s reign to be present in and to everyone, and sooner than later. “Give us each day the bread that we need for that day—and that day alone.” If God can do that for us, day by day, as God did for the Israelites in the wilderness, we will have no want. “Forgive us our sins—our transgressions against God and God’s ways—as opposed to “debts which we owe to one another, “for” we forgive everyone indebted to us.” Luke has made it clear that the expectation in the communities of Jesus is that forgiveness of sins is God’s work, and our requests for God’s forgiveness of our transgressions against him emerge out of our commitments to forgive others indebted to us. This is not a quid pro quo arrangement for us. Rather we forgive, expecting nothing in return (Luke 6:35), because of whose we are and what we know about his forgiveness of us. “And do not bring us to the time of trial.” Following Jesus brings test enough in this life; this is a plea to be excused from the ultimate test, such as Jesus himself will face in the garden. These brief instructions are followed by direction to be persistent in our prayer, as the needful neighbor is persistent with the friend who will not respond to his reasonable request, but finally gives in less he himself risks dishonor. If that neighbor knows how to finally respond, then how much more does God know how to meet our needs? Therefore, “Ask, and it will be given you, search and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” Who, if their child asks for a fish will give her a snake or a scorpion if she asks for an egg? If we, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to our children, then how much more will our heavenly Father give, not only what we ask of him, but also, much more—the Holy Spirit.
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.