Email Facebook Twitter

Blogs

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Tuesday, July 29

Judges 2:1–5, 11–23; Psalm 54; Romans 16:17–27; Matthew 27:32–44

We begin today with the book of Judges, which continues the history of Israel as it occupies the land. We have skipped the first chapter, which is essentially a chronicle of each of the tribes occupying their own land. The important thing to note there, if you read the chapter, is that the heads of the tribes often do not completely drive the Canaanites out of the land as they were commanded to do, but allow them to stay, often with the rationale that they will serve them. Doing so, they make themselves vulnerable to precisely what Joshua warned them about: the impact of foreign wives, intermarriage, and ultimately incorporating other gods and worship practices into Israel’s life, violating the covenant that God has made with them. We are told that so long as Joshua and the elders who had led with him remained alive, the people remained faithful. But, when that older generation died, a younger emerged that did not know nor remember the Lord and his work on Israel’s behalf. In Judges, there is a familiar pattern that is outlined in today’s lesson: the Israelites “do what is evil in the sight of the Lord,” a formulaic saying which means that they begin to worship the Canaanite god Baal and Astarte (goddess), as well as the Lord, sometimes abandoning the Lord altogether. The Lord’s anger is “kindled against Israel,” and God gives them over into the hands of the Canaanites who oppress them. After a period of oppression, the people cry out in repentance to the Lord, who relents and sends them a “Judge”—a military champion who delivers them out of the power of the Canaanites and leads them back into covenant faithfulness. As long as that Judge “rules,” the people remain faithful. But, once that Judge passes from the scene, the cycle returns with people falling even more deeply into apostasy. The book chronicles the period of time between entrance into the land around 1150 BCE and the people evolving from tribes into a “state” that demands a king in 1020 BCE. The book contains some of the most dramatic and heroic episodes of life as Israel transitions into the land.

Psalm 54 records a prayer of trust from David when Saul was seeking his life (1 Samuel 23:19), and offers a model of prayer for any who are in trouble. “Save me, O God, by your name, and vindicate me by your might. Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth.” The insolent have risen against him, the heartless seek his life; their disdain for God and God’s ways and judgments enables them to pursue the psalmist with such ruthlessness. Then the psalm voices its faith and trust in God—“Surely, God is my helper, the upholder of my life.” Vengeance is left to God—“Surely he will repay my enemies for their evil.” Notice that this conviction is based upon God’s faithfulness! God not only rescues; God cuts off the enemy—the deliverance is complete. The psalm ends with the promise of a freewill offering in the temple, giving thanks to the Lord, for he is good. And now, what the psalmist sought has taken place: The Lord has delivered him from every trouble. The psalmist’s eye has looked in triumph on his enemies, for deliverance is not deliverance until it includes vindication.

Paul brings his letter to a close. First he warns the Romans about the destructive power of dissensions, especially those that will emerge from people coming in and teaching in opposition to what Paul has taught. He then reaffirms the Roman’s obedience, and his joy in them, reminding them that their faithfulness is known throughout the Empire. As they remain faithful, God will “crush Satan” under their feet—they will remain victorious over these temptations. Paul then turns to naming those who are with him: Timothy, his companion on the second and third missionary journeys and others in the community. Notice that Tertius, the secretary to whom Paul is dictating this letter, inserts his own greeting, before Paul names his host and other officials in the city. The book closes with a final majestic doxology which incorporates many of the themes of the book. Scholars debate over whether this was written by Paul or was a post-Pauline addition to end the book on a theological and doxological note, rather than simply final greetings between Paul and friends. In addition, it does not appear in some of the earliest manuscripts of Romans. This final section speaks of the gospel as the revelation of the mystery of God, to “bring about the obedience of faith, through Jesus Christ,” and ends on the note of worship: “to whom be the glory forever, Amen!”

The cohort leads Jesus out to be crucified. Because Jesus no longer has the strength to carry his own cross, a man from Cyrene, named Simon, is enlisted to do so for him. They reach the public site for execution and offer Jesus wine mixed with a pain killer, but upon tasting it, he refused to drink. After crucifying him, the soldiers sit down, divide among them what is left of Jesus’ clothing and keep watch. Crucifixion was Rome’s way of intimidating the people and suppressing revolt, and so, attached to the cross above Jesus’ head is a placard listing his offense: “Jesus, King of the Jews.” Matthew includes the other two men crucified with Jesus, naming them “bandits”—today we would say “political terrorists”—and quickly turns to the crowd of Jews mocking their king. Ironically, the charges they hurl at him speak the truth: in destroying the temple of his body, he will rise up again in three days. He can save himself, but he won’t. For if he does save himself he will not save others, and the entire purpose of his life will be lost. Their faux pleas for him to entrust himself to God’s care turn out to be precisely what is taking place: he does trust God to deliver him, and God will, but in a way none—from the highest religious official, to the bandits on either side of him—could possibly imagine. For now, a righteous man dies in the midst of the unrighteous, and does so for their sake.


Posted July 29, 2014
Monday, July 28, 2014

Monday, July 28

Joshua 24:16–33; Psalm 57; Romans 16:1–16; Matthew 27:24–31

The people respond to Joshua’s warning and challenge by affirming that they will serve the Lord alone, they will put away the idols of foreign gods that they have among them, and they will remain true to the Lord and his ways. Joshua warns them a second time: they cannot serve the Lord, for he is holy and demanding and unforgiving of those who abandon him. Yet again, the people insist on their fidelity. And so, Joshua makes a covenant with them, gives them statutes and ordinances and names them witnesses against themselves. He sets up a large stone in their place of worship as a memorial to the moment. It has heard their oath and will stand as witness against them should they violate it. Joshua then sends them home, to the portion of the land that they have inherited (“their inheritance,”) and the narrator simply tells us that Joshua died. He was 110—ten years younger than Moses, who, you will note, has slipped decidedly into the background by now. It is almost as though Joshua is the law giver and God’s agent in making the covenant. The chronicler now ties up loose ends, recording the burial of Joseph’s bones in the plot that Jacob had purchased, and concludes that the people did keep the covenant throughout all the days that the elders who were Joshua’s contemporaries lived. Eleazar, Aaron’s son and Chief Priest also dies. The people are in the land as God had promised, and the transition generation is gone. The stage is set for a new era and new challenges.

Psalm 57 is a psalm of trust from someone in the midst of personal trouble. Others seek his life and he finds that his only sure refuge is the Lord. So, he lifts up and strengthens his soul by praising God. It is attributed to David when he was fleeing Saul’s murderous rage and contains lovely and classic expressions of trust and praise for God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. God is exalted as merciful, and will catch the psalmist’s enemies in their own trap. Notice how the psalm narrates the deeds of the wicked that are then interrupted by acclamations of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. Twice God is called upon to “Be exalted above the heavens” and let his glory be over all the earth. The psalmist insists upon his own steadfast heart and calls upon it to sing and make melody. He will sing with such joy that he will awake the dawn, giving thanks to God among the nations.

As Paul brings his letter to a close he sends greetings to fellow workers who are in the church in Rome, 27 by name, of which a third are women! Phoebe is listed first as she is the one who has brought the letter to Rome from Paul’s hand in Corinth. Phoebe appears to have been a woman of substance as there was a house church in her home. Several of the women are listed as deacons, and at least one—Junia—Paul speaks of as an apostle! She and her husband were “in the Lord” before Paul, and they had been fellow prisoners with him. It is quite possible that they were contemporaries of Jesus and eyewitness of his ministry, given the fact that they are spoken of as “among the apostles”. Some older English translations still include the masculine form of Junia’s name [Junias], a change made to the text by a copyist at a later date when, because the issue of women in leadership was considered scandalous by the culture, women had ceased to be in such positions. The change was probably less a cover-up than a copyist thinking he was correcting an error. Prisca and Aquila had come from the Roman church when the Jews had been exiled and worked together with Paul in Corinth and Ephesus, and had “risked their own necks” for him in the riot at Ephesus. They are to greet one another with a holy kiss—the ancient sign of Christ’s peace among early Christians, and the origins of the “passing of the peace” in modern Christian worship.

Pilate washes his hands of the whole thing; unable to control the crowd’s lust for Jesus’ blood, he will not have it on his own hands. Then he releases Barabbas, has Jesus scourged—the preparation for crucifixion—and hands him over to the soldiers for crucifixion. After the scourging, the soldiers take Jesus back to Pilate’s headquarters, and engaged in some cruel pastime to while away the hours with soldier’s games until the sun comes up. They mock this King of the Jews with scornful symbols of royalty. Note that in this time of contempt, the soldiers were clueless as to what was going on here between Jesus and the religious leaders. This was simply their way of dealing with the enemy, not unlike soldiers in other times and places that have taunted and abused their own prisoners—it is what warfare does to us. This was, after all, in their eyes, another would-be pretender to Caesar’s throne—their enemy. When they had tired of their games and the sun was up, they lead Jesus off to be crucified.


Posted July 28, 2014
Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sunday, July 27

7th Sunday after Pentecost

Joshua 24:1–15; Psalm 67; Acts 28:23–31; Mark 2:23–28

Joshua now gathers the tribes at Shechem. Located in the central hill country of the land, it was a natural center for gathering and became a place of worship and covenant-making in Israel, prior to King David. This is the first mention of it. Joshua rehearses the people’s history with the Lord, telling the story in the voice of the Lord—note that the “I” in the text is God speaking. It begins with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, accounts for Esau and his people, the Edomites living in the hill country east of the Jordan River, and continues the chronicle through the taking of the land. Interestingly enough, the account at the Red Sea speaks only of God destroying the Egyptians by bringing the sea upon them. There is no talk of the division of the sea and walking through it. And though the wandering in the wilderness is described as “for a long time,” there is no mention of the covenant at Sinai or the giving of the Law. Joshua calls the people to renew their faithfulness to the Lord, and to abandon the gods their people served “beyond the River” east of the Euphrates, as well as in Egypt. But, if they are unwilling to do this, they need to choose just who they will serve. He concludes with the iconic pledge, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Psalm 67 is a classic psalm of praise invoking God’s blessing and calling on the entire nation to praise the Lord for his blessings among them. God judges with equity among all the nations. The language here recalls the Aaronic benediction (Numbers 6:24-26) and may have been used as a priestly blessing of the people as they came to or left the Temple at various agricultural festivals. Certainly, “The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, has blessed us,” would suggest as much. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for God’s name, given to Moses at the burning bush, and rendered in English as “LORD,” is missing here. Instead, the broader term for God, Elohim, is consistently used. Central to the psalm is the conviction that the God who has blessed “us” (Israel is never mentioned but assumed), is the God of all, and “all the ends of the earth” are called upon to revere, fear, and stand in awe before him.

Paul has arrived in Rome and is now allowed to live by himself, accompanied only by a Roman guard. After getting settled, he calls together the local leaders of the Jews (not the Roman church), to explain himself to them—why he is there, what he has and has not done, and most importantly, in order to have an opportunity to share with them the gospel, which is what today’s lesson is about. As has been the case from the beginning, some are convinced and some are not, and a dispute breaks out. Frustrated by their response, Paul recalls the words God spoke to Isaiah at his call, and how the people would resist God’s word of salvation spoken through him (Isaiah 6:9-10) to the nation. So too, the Spirit now speaks the same word. “Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles. They will listen!” It is Paul’s way of putting them on notice that they are now responsible for their rejection. Paul has fulfilled his responsibility to them; the judgment is now upon them. The book concludes with Paul still in Rome at his own expense, two years later, still with his house guard, but welcoming all who come, proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about “the Lord Jesus Christ, with all boldness and without hindrance.” The expectation is that he will be going on to Spain, once his difficulties arising from his appeal to the Emperor are resolved.

Passing through a grain field on the Sabbath, Jesus’s disciples begin to pluck the heads off the plants and eat them. The Pharisees see it and protest—Jesus’ disciples are working on the Sabbath—it is not lawful. Jesus respond by recounting how David, when in dire need, violated the provision of the Law, taking the bread of the Presence, reserved only for the High Priest, and gave it to his companions to meet their need (1 Samuel 21:1-6). His point: the Law (in this case the sabbath regulations for rest), was made for humanities’ sake, not the other way around. But more important still, Jesus is master and Lord of the sabbath (and therefore the Law), something no faithful Jew would dare claim.



Posted July 27, 2014
Saturday, July 26, 2014

Saturday, July 26

Joshua 23:1–16; Psalm 56; Romans 15:25–33; Matthew 27:11–23

There is a huge gap between yesterday’s events, with God stopping the sun and the moon to conquer the five kings of the south, and today’s lesson that begins to draw the Book of Joshua to a close. Between them is the story of the continuing conquest of the land, the extraordinary battles in which the Lord is a participant, a list of the kings of cities taken, the expansion of the territory both east and west, north and south, the allotment of a portion of the land to each tribe, and the establishment of the cities of refuge. The taking of the land complete, Joshua sends the warrior from the tribe of Reuben and Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh back to their families, cattle and land east of the Jordan. As today’s lesson begins, it is many years later and Joshua is facing his own natural death. He draws the people together to remind them of their history and who it is that has won them the victory thus far. Yet, there are still unconquered people in the land who must be dealt with. The Lord will deal with them, so long as the Israelites remain steadfast to the Law of Moses. But if they “turn to the right or to the left,” if they intermarry, if they serve other gods (as well as the Lord), which will become inevitable because of intermarriage, or swear by, bow down to them, the Lord will abandon them. The Israelites must remain steadfast to the Lord or they will incur God’s anger and wrath, and they will perish quickly from the good land God has given them.

Psalm 56 is a hymn of praise and trust in God in the midst of persecution, and most helpful when one is being intentionally besieged by others. It begins with a cry for help from one afflicted on all sides. She has no one to turn to but the Lord, and does so. Asserting that having put her trust in God there is no one to fear, the psalmist continues to lament the work of those who assail her, pleading that God cast them out. Notice, that without warning, the psalm ends acknowledging deliverance. And why? So that she can continue to walk in God’s presence according to God’s life-giving light. This psalm of trust in the face of persecution is attributed to David, when he had been captured by the Philistines at Gath (1 Samuel 21:10-15). Its central theme is: “I put my trust in you, O God, whose word I praise and trust. What can flesh do to me?” Continually surrounded by enemies, the psalmist recounts the turmoil, and notes that God is watching and keeping count, so as to respond on the day when called upon. And so she exclaims, “This I know, that God is for me!” In trusting God she finds her fear removed and her soul delivered.

Paul’s work in Asia and Greece complete, he is returning to Jerusalem with the gift he has collected from the Gentile churches in Macedonia and Achaia (modern Greece from Philippi to Corinth). It is intended to bring relief to the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. The Gentile churches have seized this opportunity in gratitude, for the gospel emerged out of Jerusalem, and the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings. Therefore, it is only right that they make this gift to care for those to whom they are indebted. Once Paul has delivered the gift, he plans to set out for Spain, by way of Rome, and expects to come and be with the Romans and share together with them in the fullness of the blessing of Christ and his gospel. Saying this, Paul appeals for prayers on his behalf, for he knows that in going to Jerusalem, he will encounter not only unbelievers, but believers who see him as an enemy and his ministry a distortion of the gospel. He asks the Romans to pray that he may be rescued from them, that his ministry and gift may be acceptable to the church, and that by God’s will, he may then come to them in Rome to be refreshed by their company. In closing, he invokes God’s peace upon them.

Jesus now stands before Pilate, accused of claiming to be King of the Jews (the Messiah). It is how the religious authorities plan to do away with him, for Caesar, who was king of the empire, entertained no rivals. Pilate asks, ‘So, are you a king?” and Jesus replies. It is, as all of his answers have been thus far, illusive and can be translated several ways: “You say so!” “You have said so,” “It is as you say.” The New International Version’s, “Yes, it is as you say,” is more guided by the translator’s theology of who Jesus is than by the text itself. Textually, there is no “yes” in Jesus’ answer; it is intentionally deceptive and misleading. What is different here is that Jesus is now speaking. The chief priests and the elders continue to level charges against Jesus, and Jesus refused to respond to them; he no longer recognizes their authority. Consequently, Pilate seeks to engage Jesus further, asking him about the charges brought against him, but Jesus reverts, once again, to silence; he will not take part in this sham of a trial. Pilate is astonished at Jesus’ silence. But, something much larger than the charge of sedition is going on here, and Pilate seems to know it. Seeking a way out of the situation, Pilate invokes the Roman tradition of releasing to the Jews one of their own who has been imprisoned, in recognition and honor of the Jewish festival. (The Romans did not deny people their own religious practices, so long as they also paid obeisance to the Emperor, something the religious establishment in Jerusalem had carefully worked out in order to preserve themselves, which was one of Jesus’ charges against them.) “Whom do they want,” Pilate asks the people, “Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” As Pilate ponders what it means to be caught between the religious establishment and the man standing in front of him, his wife sends word to have nothing to do with the man or any of it. The man is righteous (innocent is too weak a word for what the Greek text says). She has learned it in a dream and has suffered much because of it. But, as Pilate has been pondering, the chief priests and the elders have been at work and have persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas. Consequently, when Pilate again asks his question, the people shout “Barabbas.” When Pilate asks them what he should do with Jesus who is called the Messiah, they shout “Let him be crucified.” Pilate objects, asking what evil Jesus has done, but the crowd refuses to answer his question and simply continues to shout, “Crucify him!”


Posted July 26, 2014
Saturday, July 26, 2014

Saturday, July 26

Joshua 23:1–16; Psalm 56; Romans 15:25–33; Matthew 27:11–23

There is a huge gap between yesterday’s events, with God stopping the sun and the moon to conquer the five kings of the south, and today’s lesson that begins to draw the Book of Joshua to a close. Between them is the story of the continuing conquest of the land, the extraordinary battles in which the Lord is a participant, a list of the kings of cities taken, the expansion of the territory both east and west, north and south, the allotment of a portion of the land to each tribe, and the establishment of the cities of refuge. The taking of the land complete, Joshua sends the warrior from the tribe of Reuben and Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh back to their families, cattle and land east of the Jordan. As today’s lesson begins, it is many years later and Joshua is facing his own natural death. He draws the people together to remind them of their history and who it is that has won them the victory thus far. Yet, there are still unconquered people in the land who must be dealt with. The Lord will deal with them, so long as the Israelites remain steadfast to the Law of Moses. But if they “turn to the right or to the left,” if they intermarry, if they serve other gods (as well as the Lord), which will become inevitable because of intermarriage, or swear by, bow down to them, the Lord will abandon them. The Israelites must remain steadfast to the Lord or they will incur God’s anger and wrath, and they will perish quickly from the good land God has given them.

Psalm 56 is a hymn of praise and trust in God in the midst of persecution, and most helpful when one is being intentionally besieged by others. It begins with a cry for help from one afflicted on all sides. She has no one to turn to but the Lord, and does so. Asserting that having put her trust in God there is no one to fear, the psalmist continues to lament the work of those who assail her, pleading that God cast them out. Notice, that without warning, the psalm ends acknowledging deliverance. And why? So that she can continue to walk in God’s presence according to God’s life-giving light. This psalm of trust in the face of persecution is attributed to David, when he had been captured by the Philistines at Gath (1 Samuel 21:10-15). Its central theme is: “I put my trust in you, O God, whose word I praise and trust. What can flesh do to me?” Continually surrounded by enemies, the psalmist recounts the turmoil, and notes that God is watching and keeping count, so as to respond on the day when called upon. And so she exclaims, “This I know, that God is for me!” In trusting God she finds her fear removed and her soul delivered.

Paul’s work in Asia and Greece complete, he is returning to Jerusalem with the gift he has collected from the Gentile churches in Macedonia and Achaia (modern Greece from Philippi to Corinth). It is intended to bring relief to the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. The Gentile churches have seized this opportunity in gratitude, for the gospel emerged out of Jerusalem, and the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings. Therefore, it is only right that they make this gift to care for those to whom they are indebted. Once Paul has delivered the gift, he plans to set out for Spain, by way of Rome, and expects to come and be with the Romans and share together with them in the fullness of the blessing of Christ and his gospel. Saying this, Paul appeals for prayers on his behalf, for he knows that in going to Jerusalem, he will encounter not only unbelievers, but believers who see him as an enemy and his ministry a distortion of the gospel. He asks the Romans to pray that he may be rescued from them, that his ministry and gift may be acceptable to the church, and that by God’s will, he may then come to them in Rome to be refreshed by their company. In closing, he invokes God’s peace upon them.

Jesus now stands before Pilate, accused of claiming to be King of the Jews (the Messiah). It is how the religious authorities plan to do away with him, for Caesar, who was king of the empire, entertained no rivals. Pilate asks, ‘So, are you a king?” and Jesus replies. It is, as all of his answers have been thus far, illusive and can be translated several ways: “You say so!” “You have said so,” “It is as you say.” The New International Version’s, “Yes, it is as you say,” is more guided by the translator’s theology of who Jesus is than by the text itself. Textually, there is no “yes” in Jesus’ answer; it is intentionally deceptive and misleading. What is different here is that Jesus is now speaking. The chief priests and the elders continue to level charges against Jesus, and Jesus refused to respond to them; he no longer recognizes their authority. Consequently, Pilate seeks to engage Jesus further, asking him about the charges brought against him, but Jesus reverts, once again, to silence; he will not take part in this sham of a trial. Pilate is astonished at Jesus’ silence. But, something much larger than the charge of sedition is going on here, and Pilate seems to know it. Seeking a way out of the situation, Pilate invokes the Roman tradition of releasing to the Jews one of their own who has been imprisoned, in recognition and honor of the Jewish festival. (The Romans did not deny people their own religious practices, so long as they also paid obeisance to the Emperor, something the religious establishment in Jerusalem had carefully worked out in order to preserve themselves, which was one of Jesus’ charges against them.) “Whom do they want,” Pilate asks the people, “Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” As Pilate ponders what it means to be caught between the religious establishment and the man standing in front of him, his wife sends word to have nothing to do with the man or any of it. The man is righteous (innocent is too weak a word for what the Greek text says). She has learned it in a dream and has suffered much because of it. But, as Pilate has been pondering, the chief priests and the elders have been at work and have persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas. Consequently, when Pilate again asks his question, the people shout “Barabbas.” When Pilate asks them what he should do with Jesus who is called the Messiah, they shout “Let him be crucified.” Pilate objects, asking what evil Jesus has done, but the crowd refuses to answer his question and simply continues to shout, “Crucify him!”


Posted July 26, 2014
The Rev. Dr.       Fred R. Anderson

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

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

© 2014