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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Wednesday: Hosea 13:1-3; Psalm 13; Acts 27:9-26 Luke 9:1-17

Ephraim (the Northern Kingdom) grew to such prominence that when its king spoke, the people trembled. He was exalted in all Israel. But the guilt he incurred through Baal worship brought his death. Yet, the people kept sinning, making graven images and bowing down to them. The NRSV translation has a footnote at the end of verse two that is more in keeping with the original Hebrew text, and is better translated “they who sacrifice people speak to the idols,” which suggests human sacrifice as a part of Israel’s worship. Kissing calves refers to the worship of the golden calves used in Baal worship. “Therefore,” draws the section to a close with four images of what will happen to Israel because of its apostasy: they will disappear like morning mist, like dew that evaporates in the sun, like chaff that is swept away from the threshing floor, and like smoke from a fire escaping the room through a window.

This short but powerful individual lament asks the classic question of all who suffer injustice, or who wait on the Lord for healing: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” Expressions of abandonment dominate the psalm: “How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul and sorrow in my heart? Then the lament turns to a demand: “Consider and answer me!” Do not let my enemies exalt over me and my reliance on you. (Often, laments put God on notice that others are watching and God’s reputation is at stake.) Now notice the shift in tense: “I trusted in your steadfast love (past tense), my heart shall rejoice in your salvation (future tense).” God has acted! “I will sing to the Lord because he has dealt bountifully with me.” The problem that was the focus of the lament has been resolved.

On the voyage from Caesarea to Rome, much time has been lost in the port of Fair Havens. Even the fast for Yom Kippur is behind them. By now, Paul has had a vision and can see that the future voyage is going to be plagued with storms to the point that the cargo and the ship will need to be abandoned to save their lives. But the centurion listens to the owner of the ship rather than to Paul, and since the harbor is not suitable for spending the winter, they put out to sea from there, hoping to reach Phoenix, at the western end of Crete, which has a harbor suitable for wintering. With a moderate south wind they creep along the southern shore of the Island as they sail west toward Phoenix. But suddenly, a violent “northeaster” (it is not an American expression, but much older!) rushes down on them from Crete and pushes them out to sea, driving them deeper south and away from their destination. Fearing they will run aground on Syrtis, a reef on the north coast of Africa, they let out the sea anchor and begin to batten down the ship. As the storm continues, they throw the cargo overboard. By the third day, they are also throwing over the ship’s tackle. Without it, they drift, and go days without seeing the sun or the stars (their means of navigation as well as plotting their location). Soon, they abandon hope of being saved. Having gone without food for some time, Paul encourages them to eat and addresses them, in an “I told you so; you should have listened to me,” speech, but then urges them to keep up their courage. Paul has had a vision. An angel of the God he serves has appeared to him and said, “do not be afraid, Paul, you must stand before the emperor. God has granted safety to all those who are sailing with you.” There will be no loss of life among them; only the ship. But to survive they will have to run aground on some Island.”

Today’s reading is a jumble of things: it begins with Jesus gathering the twelve and giving them power and authority over all the demons to cure diseases. Until now, the twelve have been little more than bystanders; now they take up ministry. Jesus sends them forth as extensions of his own work—to proclaim the kingdom and to heal. Their travel instructions make the point that they are to rely upon God’s providence and the generosity of God’s people. Where that is lacking, they are to shake the dust off their feet as a testimony against them. And so they go through the villages, bringing the good news everywhere and curing everyone. We then have a strange interlude about Herod hearing about Jesus through the talk of the people who think Jesus is John the Baptist back from the dead or Elijah, or another of the ancient prophets arisen from the dead. We are told that Herod tries to see Jesus, but not how or why. The twelve return, now named “apostles”—those who are sent with a mission—and they tell Jesus what has happened, and he takes them away privately to Bethsaida, on the north east tip of the Sea of Galilee. When the crowd learns of it, they follow him. When they arrive, Jesus welcomes them, and speaks to them about the kingdom of God and heals those who need to be cured. As the day draws to a close, we have Luke’s version of the feeding of the 5,000 with five loaves and two fish. What is unique in Luke’s telling of this event is the Eucharistic symbolism: taking the loaves, Jesus looks up to heaven, blesses and brakes the bread and the fish, and gives it to them,” the very words incorporated into the early Eucharistic liturgy of the church, later incorporated into the “words of institution.” All eat and are filled, and enough is left over to fill twelve baskets—one for each tribe of Israel, one for each apostle and the churches that will emerge from their ministries.


Posted October 17, 2012

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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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