September Commentaries

 

Holy Cross Day (14 September)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Numbers 21: 4-9


It has been over 39 years since God led the Children of Israel out of Egypt.
They are now located just west of Edom, which is just
south-west of the bottom of the Dead Sea. They need to move to the east-southeast side of the Dead Sea in order to enter the Promised Land at its most strategic site. Standing in the way is Edom, the land allotted by God to the descendants of Esau, who refuse to let them pass through their territory. The only option is to head south, down to the Red Sea (not too far from where they crossed the Red Sea 39 years ago), and then head north-northeast to scoot around Edom and get to the Plains of Moab across the Jordan River from Jericho.

But just as the horse starts picking up speed when it sees the barn, so too the Children of Israel start getting impatient. Their outlet, as usual, is to complain to Moses that he and God have led them out of Egypt to let them die in the desert. And despite God having provided food and water for them every day of their journey (that includes at least 2.5 million people, in addition to their flocks and herds), they state that they loathe this worthless food (i.e., the manna, the bread from heaven). From its description, the closest thing that we might have to manna is either Danish, or maybe Hawaiian bread. Don’t you love both? But would you love either if you had it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day for the last 39 years? Do you understand where the Children of Israel were coming from? Would you have done better?

But the point was that they received this and water for free all during this time by God’s grace, and by complaining to Moses and God about it, they were showing their serious ingratitude for God’s provision. God punishes the Children of Israel for this sin by sending venomous snakes among them, as a result of which many die. The Children of Israel then appeal to Moses to pray to God for them, which he does. God, in His mercy and compassion, instructs Moses to make a bronze snake and put it on a pole (a cross), so that whoever is bitten may look at the snake, believing God’s promise, and live rather than die. ——————————————————————————————

 

Epistle Lesson: 1 Corinthians 1: 18-25


In today’s lesson, St. Paul continues to develop the thought that the simplicity of the Gospel message can be taken as foolishness by some, but to others it is the power and grace of God to save us from our own foolishness. He then provides examples of where God’s foolishness is wiser than the wisdom of man:

—we are saved through faith, not through man’s wisdom and understanding, —God’s provides a crucified Christ for salvation, whereas Jews demand some

kind of sign while Gentiles depend on their own knowledge,
—man looks to the professors of knowledge and wisdom to achieve utopia

whereas God provides the preaching of a simple message,
—man lauds those who are
strong, while God honors the weak
—man looks up to the elite, rich and famous for pearls of wisdom while God

honors the politically incorrect for their faith.

Why? So that man’s salvation is not dependent on anything that man can do, but depends solely on what God gives to us by grace through faith. That faith in God gives us his wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, so that the only boasting that man can do is to boast about what God has done for us. ——————————————————————————————

 

Gospel Lesson: John 12: 20-33

 

Jesus has had a very eventful series of weeks, marked by the raising of Lazarus from the dead with the subsequent decision by the Jewish religious leaders to kill Jesus because they feared for their jobs with the Romans; the anointing of Jesus’ feet by Mary, the sister of Lazarus; and the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. It is at this point that our reading for today begins. Some Greeks (in other words, Gentiles) who had come for the Passover wanted to see Jesus, causing Jesus to exclaim that, like a seed when planted dies to become something greater and more fruitful, so his dying would result in a fruitful life for many others. Similarly, Jesus notes, whoever wants to serve him must be willing to lose his life, because by losing his life he will receive greater life.

When Jesus asks the Father to glorify his name, the Father responds by speaking from heaven. Jesus explains that this indicates that the hour is at hand when the current ruler of the world will be deposed as Jesus is lifted up on the cross

 

 

St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist (21 September)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Ezekiel 2: 8 - 3:11

 

As we know, Ezekiel was God’s prophet to the people of Judah, the Southern Kingdom, as they languished in Babylonian captivity. The reason they were in captivity was because they had rejected God. In the book of Ezekiel, we find God calling Ezekiel to the ministry as prophet to the people in captivity, the people who God calls rebellious, impudent, and stubborn, to call this rebellious crowd of captives to repentance.

As our reading for today begins, we hear what God had planned for these rebellious people:
—destruction of the protective wall that he had placed around them,
—the reduction of its king, influential people, prophets, and leaders to common

folk,
—women, children and infants languishing in the streets.

Ezekiel then asks how he can comfort those who rejected God’s warnings and listened to the false prophets? They are now captives, not only despised by everyone, but also gloated over. Ezekiel then observes that what God warned would happen if they did not repent is what they are experiencing now, and he again advises them to repent and to cry out to God.

Then Ezekiel laments that he is suffering the same thing that the rebellious people of Judah are, even seemingly having his prayers unheard. ——————————————————————————————

 

Epistle Lesson: Ephesians 4: 7-16

 

In St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we find him urging his readers to live up to the calling given them in Christ Jesus. He then comments on what Jesus did when He ascended into Heaven:
— He led a host of
captives, apparently referring to the demonic hordes, and —He gave gifts to men.

What are these gifts? Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. 

And what is the purpose of these gifts? To equip every believer for the work of the ministry (i.e., to make disciples, someone just as capable as him or her), and to build up the body of Christ in faith and in knowledge of Jesus Christ so that each believer matures, allowing the body of Christ as a whole to grow in love, no longer individually snookered by the devil with false doctrine or beliefs, or temptations into worldly ways and habits, as would immature and gullible children be. ——————————————————————————————

 

Gospel Lesson: Matthew 9: 9-13

 

Today’s reading finds Jesus in Capernaum, where he has just healed a man who was paralyzed. As he continues on his way, he sees a man called Matthew, who is a tax collector. Now, in those days, people really despised tax collectors, so much so that they were automatically considered one of the worst of sinners. So why would Jesus extend an invitation to Matthew to follow him? As it turns out, Matthew accepts Jesus’ invitation, and to show his delight in being called to be Jesus’ disciple, he arranges a banquet at his home, to which he also invites his tax collector co-workers as well as other people who were considered “sinners” by the Jewish elite.

Well, it didn’t take long for the Pharisees to see this and criticize Jesus, saying that he is consorting with tax collectors and sinners. But Jesus sets them straight. People go to a physician because they know they need medical care; but people who do not realize that they are sick do not go to a physician, with sometimes disastrous results down the road. Similarly, Jesus is there for those who realize that they are sinners and need a savior, but those who consider themselves righteous will not benefit from God’s forgiveness. Then Jesus recalls some words from the Old Testament (Hosea 6: 6): God is not interested in our “sacrifices,” but rather on demonstrating the love of God to our neighbor. 

 

 

St. Michael and All Angels (29 Sep)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Daniel 10: 10-14, 12:1-3

 

Daniel, apparently a teenager of noble descent, was taken to Babylon around 605 B.C. Because of his God-endowed wisdom, he was appointed to the King’s court of advisors, serving the kings of Babylon and subsequently the kings of the Medes and Persians until around 536 B.C., virtually the entire 70 years of Babylonian captivity. Daniel was not only an interpreter of dreams and visions for his captors, but he was also granted special visions by God of future events.

In today’s reading, we find that Daniel has been praying and fasting for three weeks when he sees an angel in all its glory, who tells Daniel that he was sent by God three weeks ago in response to Daniel’s prayers to God. Why did the angel take so long to get to Daniel? Because he was way-laid by the “prince of the kingdom of Persia.” What? An angel of God can be stopped by a human? No, not at all. In this case, we are talking about spiritual forces in heavenly places. Remember what St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians?

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12.

So this angel of God required the help of Michael, an archangel, to escape his imprisonment by the devil’s forces, before he could get to Daniel to deliver God’s vision of the future. That is why it is so important for us to be God’s prayer warriors, interceding not only for God’s people on earth but also his angels battling the forces of Satan in the heavenliness. As the hymn reminds us, we are Christian soldiers!

The reading concludes with the angel telling Daniel that in the last days, Michael, the angel in charge of all of God’s believers, will appear to deliver all believers from an unusual time of trouble, followed by a resurrection of all peoples, some to everlasting life, others to everlasting punishment.

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Epistle Lesson: Revelation 12: 7-12

 

St. John, exiled to the island of Patmos, off the south-west coast of present-day Turkey, because of his witness to Christ, has been privileged to see the glorified Jesus, who first of all dictates letters to the seven principal churches of Asia minor, and then brings him up to heaven, where he sees vision after vision. Just before our reading for today begins, St. John sees a woman (probably representing the Old Testament church) giving birth to a boy (Jesus), whom a huge fiery red serpent (Satan) tries to destroy. But the child is snatched by God to heaven, indicating that the child’s redeeming work has been accomplished.

Then St. John sees a war breaking out in heaven: Michael and his angels are fighting the fiery red serpent and his angels. The devil and his angels are defeated and thrown down to earth, where they focus their fierce anger against God’s people still living on earth. Demons against humans? How can God’s people win? But wait! What do we read? God’s people have victory over them because of the sacrifice of Jesus and the word of their testimony (as demonstrated by their words and deeds).

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 18: 1-11

 

As is often the case with humans, Jesus’ disciples are concerned about who will be greatest in the kingdom of heaven. To illustrate the answer, Jesus shows them a little child and says that the greatest will be like a child, i.e., being believing, trusting and obedient. Then Jesus cautions his disciples and all people not to do anything that would cause a child, or any child of God, to lose faith in Him, because the eternal consequences would be severe. Then Jesus comments that it would be better to lose a body part than to lose faith. Recognizing that body parts do what the heart (or mind) want, Jesus is cautioning us to watch what we think and want, because it is better to lose something we think we need than lose something (our soul) for all eternity. Jesus then observes that every child of God has angels watching over him/her and reporting directly to God the Father.

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Alternate Gospel Lesson: Luke 10: 17-20

At the beginning of this chapter, we find that Jesus has sent out 70 disciples ahead to him to cities that he planned to visit, telling them to heal the sick and preach the imminent coming of the Kingdom of God. As our reading begins, we find those disciples returning from their mission, rejoicing that by using the name of Jesus, even demons had to obey them. Jesus responds by noting that he has watched Satan being thrown out of heaven, and now he has given his believers the authority over demons and to destroy their power. Important as this is, however, Jesus notes that it is even more important that believers’ names be written in the Book of Life

 

 

Sunday on August 28 - September 3 (Proper 17)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Proverbs 25: 2-10

 

King Solomon, the author of Proverbs, was gifted by God with a special capability for discernment, along with many other gifts. His father, King David, exhibited special gifts of discernment and wisdom, especially as he interacted with King Saul, and as he interacted with the people of Judah as he continually had to flee from the murderous intent of King Saul. Solomon undoubtedly observed his father’s human interactions as he grew up in the court, and he had plenty of opportunity to exercise discernment and wisdom as he built both the temple and the palace complex during his first 24 years as king.

In today’s reading, Solomon advises on how people should respect and interact with governmental officials, and how governmental officials should interact with their people. To appreciate what he is saying, we might in our minds substitute “president” wherever he says “king.” The emphasis, however, appears to be on our adopting an attitude of humility, the same attitude that Christ exhibited (Philippians 2:5-8). In particular, the decision that a high government official makes should not be criticized on the basis of comments made in the media or internet, because they do not have access to all the data used in making that decision.

Consequently, Solomon cautions us about reporting to authorities what we think we saw as unlawful conduct—especially before we ascertain exactly what it was that we saw. The advice is reminiscent of the advice Jesus gave in Matthew 18 when we want to accuse somebody of a sin.

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Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 13: 1-17

 

In previous Sundays, we read about the heroes of faith of the Old Testament period in chapter 11 of Hebrews, and in chapter 12 the respect that we should have for God as he disciplines us for our good. Here, in chapter 13, the author of Hebrews goes through a list of things that constitute appropriate behavior on our part and which also constitute a godly loving attitude on our part. That list includes the following:

—show hospitality to strangers
—remember those in
prison (not only in word but in deed)
—honor your marriage by
not cheating on your spouse, again in either

word or deed
—beware of the love of money, but rather trusting only in God and being

content with what you have
—honor and imitate your Christian
leaders
—be a faithful student of the Bible, so that you can identify false teachings —be prepared to suffer for your faith, just as Jesus did
—remember that we are
pilgrims on earth, and that our home country is

with God in heaven
—offer
praise to God, no matter our circumstance —share what we have, even if at times it is sacrificial —obey your Christian leaders.

The theme again appears to be that of a humble attitude, being grateful to God for

whatever he has given you, materially or in circumstance
—your
spouse, honoring him/her in word and deed
—your Christian
leaders, obeying them and imitating their behavior and study of God’s word.————————————————————————————————


 

Gospel Lesson: Luke 14: 1-14

 

Jesus addresses three issues in today’s lesson. The first is whether it is legal to heal somebody on the Sabbath. The Pharisees had their own rules governing what or what not could be done on the Sabbath, and healing someone apparently was not on their list. Jesus quickly demonstrates that, as far as God is concerned, compassion trumps rules and laws, and then points out to the Pharisees that even they demonstrate more compassion to animals than they do to humans. Sound familiar?

Next Jesus reiterates the lesson from today’s Old Testament lesson, that we need to show proper respect and humility in the presence of high-ranking government officials. In particular, we should not have an inflated view of ourselves.

Finally, Jesus advises that, as far as God is concerned, it is better to show compassion to those who cannot repay us in any way than to lavish our hospitality on those whom we can count on to return the favor. By blessing those who cannot return a blessing, we allow God to return the blessing instead. So Jesus is in fact advising us to be practical here. Which is the better deal: to have the poor, crippled, lame, or blind to somehow return a great favor, or to let God return that favor for them? Seriously, folks, we need to get real! 

 

 

Sunday on September 4 - 10 (Proper 18)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Deuteronomy 30: 15-20

 

During the last 40 years, Moses has been leading the Children of Israel around the Arabian Peninsula and the upper Sinai Peninsula. They are now on the Plains of Moab, east of the banks of the Jordan River, and across from Jericho. Because Moses had disobeyed God just recently, God had told him that he would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land. Moses understands that he is about to die, but before he does, he gives a farewell speech to the ones surviving the trek in the desert. That speech, consisting of the Book of Deuteronomy, summarizes the previous 40 years, and supplements that with additional details in places, but ends with Moses confronting the Children of Israel with the words of this lesson: God is giving you a choice—either to obey him and enjoy the blessings of God, or to disobey him and experience his discipline. Moses ends with his admonition to choose God and therefore to choose life.

Those words of Moses are still relevant to us today: We can either choose God by loving him with all of our heart, soul, strength, and mind; and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Or we can choose ourselves, thinking that we can procure our happiness, wants, and securities by our own manipulations of God, and use and abuse of our neighbor or family members. Moses would encourage us to examine ourselves critically before we claim to have made the right choice. After all, in the end, self-righteousness will not cut it.

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Epistle Lesson: Philemon 1-21

 

Let’s introduce the cast of characters in this letter of St. Paul’s.

Philemon: now a wealthy Christian living in Colossae, who had become a Christian during St. Paul’s 3-year ministry in nearby Ephesus, and who now sponsors a church in his home.

Onesimus: a slave of Philemon’s, who had run away from Philemon to Rome, encountered imprisoned St. Paul, and consequently became a Christian himself. Subsequently, he stayed with the imprisoned St. Paul, ministering to his needs. St. Paul’s letter seems to suggest that Onesiumus may also have stolen some of Philemon’s property or money. Consequently, punishment for Onesimus could be severe.

Situation: St. Paul feels compelled to have Onesimus return to his owner, even though he was benefitting tremendously from Onesimus’ service.

Purpose of the Letter: St. Paul first of all compliments Philemon on his Christian conduct, but he also wants to emphasize to Philemon that he was returning Onesimus to him not as a slave (although he remained that) but as a brother in Christ. And that if Onesimus owned Philemon anything, St. Paul would personally be responsible for it. But then St. Paul reminds Philemon that, since he became a Christian under St. Paul’s teaching, Philemon owned St. Paul his very soul.

Lessons for us:

—Becoming reconciled with God also means that we should be reconciled with our neighbor—especially our fellow believers, and especially with our own family members

—If we say that we love God, we should also love our neighbor—and especially our own family members! (1 John 4:21).

Christian employers cannot conduct their business the way the world does, but must recognize that their responsibility, especially to their fellow believers, must transcend worldly ways and greed and self- interest.

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 14: 25-35

 

 

In today’s lesson, we find Jesus turning to the crowds that followed him—and who apparently thought it was to their worldly benefit if they were recognized as followers of Jesus—to warn them that being one of his followers came with consequences. In other words, this means “bearing a cross.” A Christian life is not a bed of roses. Rather, Jesus says, one should count the cost of being one of his followers to see whether this fits in with what you want out of life. After all, one has to change his direction in life from self-satisfaction to giving up all that in order to be able to minister to those who need it. In other words, as in the previous lessons, we have to make a choice: do we devote our lives and our substance for the benefit of the Kingdom of God, or do we pursue it and keep it for our own benefit?

What choice have you made? If it was not the right choice, you still have a limited amount of time to make a correction! 

 

 

Sunday on September 11 - 17 (Proper 19)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Ezekiel 34: 11-24

 

Ezekiel had an approximately 20-year ministry centered around the year 585 B.C., the year that the Southern Kingdom (or Judah) was taken away into Babylonian captivity. During the previous 150 years, the Southern Kingdom spiraled into deeper apostasy, forsaking God in order to pursue their own pleasures and lifestyles. Ezekiel, in today’s reading, emphasizes one aspect of that spiral, that of neglecting the very reason that God had chosen then. To appreciate this better, let us recall two familiar passages:

1 Peter 2:9—But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Exodus 19:5-6a—Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

Did you notice how the two descriptions of the Children of Israel and of Christians are essentially the same? And do you remember that the Children of Israel and Christians have the same covenant: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and your neighbor as yourself? But what was stated explicitly in 1 Peter and implied in Exodus was that being chosen did not mean that God was making you privileged above all others, but that you were being chosen for responsibility—to bring the message of salvation and the forgiveness of sins to all nations and peoples. The people of the Southern Kingdom had forgotten their responsibility. More than that, they showed disdain for all the other peoples of the world—regarding them as unclean, as animals

Thus God, through Ezekiel, castigates the Children of Israel for depriving the rest of the world of the spiritual food and water that God wanted to give them. Then God prophecies that he himself (in other words, through the Messiah) will reach out to all the other peoples of the world, becoming their shepherd, taking care of their needs for food and water. And he will judge the previous shepherds for fattening and enriching themselves at the expense of the rest of the world.

 

 

Epistle Lesson: 1 Timothy 1: (5-11) 12-17

 

St. Paul had visited Ephesus briefly during the end of his second missionary journey, and then for approximately three years during his third missionary journey. He apparently left Timothy behind to help shepherd this rather large church body that was beset with teachers teaching false doctrine and believers in general occupying their time with myths and genealogies. St. Paul pens this first letter to Timothy to encourage him to hold fast to the faith, emphasizing proper behavior during a worship service, and setting up guidelines for the selection of pastors and deacons.

In today’s lesson, St. Paul provides Timothy with a brief history of his background, from the time that he persecuted the church to the time that Jesus appointed him as an apostle. He first of all identifies himself with the Children of Israel in Ezekiel’s day: a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. This, of course, was also a reflection of the beliefs of the Jews of his day. But then he acknowledges the incredible grace that God extended to him by Jesus personally bringing him to repentance and making him an apostle to the Gentiles, i.e., the rest of the world. Citing the grace and love that God showered on him, he acknowledges that he is the foremost of sinners, but Jesus died for all sinners, in gratitude for which he gives honor and glory to Jesus forever.

To which we can all say: Amen ! ————————————————————————————————

 

 

Gospel Lesson: Luke 15: 1-10

 

Today’s reading finds Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners, drawing the ire of the scribes and Pharisees. Thus the prophecy of Ezekiel, just read, is fulfilled:

—The scribes and Pharisees deem themselves superior to the people attracted to Jesus,

—it is the Messiah who is drawing to himself and feeding with the bread of life all those previously thought to have been rejected by God, and

—we now can appreciate that not only God but also the angels rejoice over even one soul who is saved.

To illustrate, Jesus relates two stories that demonstrate that God is concerned over every sinner, and wants each one to be saved. First of all, he relates the parable of a man who has lost one of his 100 sheep. His concern over that lost sheep is so great that he leaves the remaining 99 alone in the open country in order to seek and find that one lost sheep. And when he finds it, he rejoices over it with his friends. Similarly, when someone loses a single coin, that coin is still so valuable that he/she searches through the entire house until it is found, and again rejoices with friends because that lost coin was found.

In like manner, then, God is so concerned over every lost person that he makes a special effort to find them and make them part of his household. And when that person is in the household, God invites the angels to rejoice with him. 

 

 

Sunday on September 18 - 24 (Proper 20)

 

The three readings for today all address the same age-old conflict of love of God versus love of money—and what one can do with it. Each reading offers some different perspectives, so let’s take a look at the Old Testament lesson first.

 

Old Testament Lesson: Amos 8: 4-7

 

Here we find God speaking to the people of the Northern Kingdom, or Israel, through the shepherd Amos. And in this passage, God is addressing himself to the leading citizens of this kingdom. To help us understand what God is saying, let’s put the situations described in this passage into modern-day language.

“trample on the needy, bring the poor to an end” means the poor and needy are being financially abused

“sell after the new moon and after the Sabbath” means
“why can’t we have our shops and stores open on
holidays and religious festivals?”

“make the ephah small and the shekel great” means
let’s manipulate the
financial markets to enrich ourselves

at the expense of everyone else, or
let’s control
financial means so that the rich get richer

and the poor get poorer.

“false balances” means
putting
less product in the same-sized package, or

vastly inflating the price of common goods.

“buying the poor or needy, selling chaff instead of wheat” means
everyone else will be reduced to practically
mortgaging themselves to buy even chaff for food.

If we will recall the parable that Jesus told of the man giving talents (5 to the first, 2 to the second, and 1 to the third) to three of his servants to manage it fruitfully until he returns from his trip, the servants who doubled the wealth were told by their master, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” Will God say the same thing to these leading citizens? Let’s listen: ——————————————————————————————

 

 

Epistle Lesson: 1 Timothy 2: 1-15

 

In the Epistle Lesson, St. Paul urges us to pray for all of the leading citizens mentioned in the preceding lesson, not only for our benefit but also that these people might be saved. Then he encourages believing men to pray with each other, but without quarreling—in other words, being submissive and loving to each other. Then he turns to how a believing woman should dress in public, and how believing women should relate to believing men. St. Paul then gives the basis for this statement. Is the reason relative only to his generation, or is it pertinent to all generations? ———————————————————————————————

 

Gospel Lesson: Luke 16: 1-15

 

 

In this final look at the God-vs-money conflict, Jesus relates the story of a dishonest manger who, when he learns that he is going to be fired, becomes even more dishonest as he ingratiates himself to his master’s debtors by secretly canceling some of their debt. But what could Jesus mean when he says, “Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth” so that these friends can receive you into eternal dwellings? It would seem that whatever wealth God gives us is to be managed for the benefit—as much as possible—of God’s kingdom, meaning for the saving of the souls of others. It would be these souls who would then happily receive us when we arrive at the heavenly gates. But then Jesus raises that age-old question: who or what are you serving?

That seems to be addressed by Jesus in the last few verses of this reading: those who are found faithful in little things can be trusted to be faithful in greater things. Contrariwise, those who are found dishonest in small things can be expected to be dishonest in big things. And if someone is found dishonest or unfaithful in little things, why should he/she expect God to entrust him/her with heavenly things.

Per Jesus, the Bottom Line: No one can serve both God and money. 

 

 

 

Sunday on September 25 - October 1 (Proper 21)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Amos 6: 1-7

 

Last week, you will recall, God issued through Amos a warning to the merchants and financial wizards of the Northern Kingdom for their abuse of and lack of compassion for the poor and needy. In today’s lesson, God issues a warning to another group of citizens in the Northern Kingdom: the rich and privileged. From the description that God provides, he seems to be addressing the top 1%, and those whom everyone else would like to emulate. Today we might call them the rich and famous. And what is the problem? They are so arrogant as to assume that their planning and provisions will allow them to escape the judgment that God had wreaked on those in other nations in similar circumstances. What are these circumstances? As the very elite of politics, finance, and entertainment, they can relax in their mansions or yachts, eating, drinking, and being merry. And what is their sin? Not having compassion for all the others in their nation who are either poor or needy, or are facing trials and tribulations that threaten their health or financial security. In other words, they are poor stewards of God’s wealth. God’s judgment? They will be the first to go into exile.

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Timothy 3: 1-13

 

Today we again find St. Paul writing to Timothy, now instructing him on how to evaluate individuals for the offices of overseer (or pastor) and deacon (or church worker)—in other words, those who will be viewed as mentors and examples for the remainder of the church. In keeping with last week’s theme, St. Paul lists as one qualification that of not being a lover of money. What is also interesting is that St. Paul also includes the wives of proposed pastors and deacons, indicating that their behavior, in word and deed, has a direct impact on the ability of their husbands to serve as leaders in the church. In other words, if the family is in turmoil or the wife is not submitted to her husband, that issue needs to be addressed first before that family can be held up as an example for the church.

 

By extrapolation, we could infer that the same qualifications listed for church leadership might be used to evaluate individuals for political or governmental leadership. Some believers already do so in deciding on how they will vote. Do you?

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Alternate Epistle Lesson: 1 Timothy 6: 6-19

 

In this reading, St. Paul advises Timothy on what the true Christian should and should not be pursuing. First of all, he comments that being content with one’s state that God has put us in as we pursue godliness actually amounts to great gain, noting the obvious that we came into this world with nothing, and we will leave the same way, materially. Therefore, being content with adequate food and clothing should be our characteristic. On the other hand, if we strive to be rich, that goal and accompanying attitude can not only lead one into temptations, but also desires that end up to our ruin and perhaps even eternal destruction because we made money our god. And that idolatry is the root of all kinds of evil. We need only remember the end of some elite, and the robbery, assaults, and murders associated with some evil desires that feed on large amounts of money. St. Paul’s advice to Timothy: Flee such desires.

On the other hand, St. Paul advices Timothy to pursue instead righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness, which are godly characteristics. In particular, St. Paul charges Timothy to keep the commandment. Which commandment? To love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and to love your neighbor as yourself, certainly. But perhaps more importantly, to keep the faith by confessing it even when faced with certain death.

But how should Timothy deal with those who are rich and in the community of believers? To charge them not to become proud in their riches or to trust in their riches. Rather, they are to regard their riches as affording them the opportunity to become truly rich by doing good works, being generous, and sharing what they have. In this way they will be gaining true eternal riches.

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 16: 19-31

 

Jesus here relates that well-known story of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man enjoyed his comforts and rich food every day, while destitute Lazarus had to manage on the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. This description suggests that the rich man was fully aware of Lazarus’ condition every day, but was so lacking in compassion that he did nothing to help Lazarus. This lack of compassion means that he has no love of God, so it is no surprise then that the rich man finds himself in torment in Hell when he dies. On the other hand, Lazarus is enjoying the comforts of God in Heaven for an eternity.

The story implies that those in Hell will be able to see what they are missing in Heaven—for eternity! That should be scary enough to cause everyone to evaluate how compassionate they are toward the poor and needy. Or their fellow man. Or their spouse. 

 

 

Sunday on October 2 - 8 (Proper 22)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Habakkuk 1: 1-4 and 2: 1-4

 

The prophet Habakkuk is believed to have served God during the times of Jeremiah and Daniel, but before the Babylonian invasion, being a prophet for perhaps only 10 years. Consequently his is a voice perhaps not unlike Lot’s (in 2 Peter 2, Peter describes Lot as one who was greatly distressed by the sensual wickedness of those living in Sodom). In the case of Habakkuk, we see him looking around and seeing only violence, iniquity of every kind, destruction, strife, contention, lawlessness, and injustice, to the extent that the righteous are surrounded by perverted justice. And what is Habakkuk’s cry to God? How long will you delay in doing something to help your people?

God’s response? Have patience; justice and judgment are coming. But in the meantime, the righteous will have to live by faith, trusting God no matter the circumstances.

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Epistle Lesson: 2 Timothy 1: 1-14

 

Today’s reading is the beginning of St. Paul’s second letter to Timothy. It is not clear what kind of circumstance Timothy finds himself in—was it Timothy’s compassion for the imprisoned St. Paul? But St. Paul does remember Timothy’s tears and therefore reminds him to let his faith blossom so that fear would be dispelled, and power, love and self-control would manifest itself. What might be Timothy’s fear? Perhaps it was the fear of suffering for the gospel, of being imprisoned like St. Paul. Whatever the case, St. Paul urges Timothy to trust God to preserve him under trying circumstances, and to let the Holy Spirit dwell fully in him.

Those words of advice hold true for us, as well. We may very well be finding ourselves in circumstances like that off Habakkuk’s, and we also in faith need to endure to the end.

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 17: 1-10

 

In the parallel passage in Matthew, we learn that just before Jesus’ words here, he had addressed a question from his disciples as to who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus’ answer? Those who humble themselves like a child. It is in this context that he warns against causing children to sin. But in the next breath, Jesus admonishes his disciples to forgive whoever sins against them—when they repent, even if it is many times in one day. Incredulous, the disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith so that they can do that. Jesus’ response? If one needs only a tiny amount of faith to order a tree to be planted in the sea, then surely they have enough faith to forgive one another. Then Jesus concludes that forgiving others is our duty as his servants. 

 

 

 

 

August Commentaries            Series C

 

Sunday on July 31 - August 6 (Proper 13)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Ecclesiastes 1: 2 and 12-14; and Ecclesiastes 2: 18-26

Don’t you just envy those folks who have a big house, or a luxury new car every year, or those who go on weeks-long vacations every season? It has been said that, for Americans, one never has enough income to do what you want to do, no matter what your income level is. Another wag said it slightly differently: expenses rise to exceed income.

The Preacher, the author of Ecclesiastes, comments on this from a different perspective: why should one work like crazy to earn enough income to do all the things you want to do or buy the things you want to have, when your life will be cut short by heart disease or stroke, and someone else will get to spend all that you have earned? After all, what does one get from all that work besides grief and stressKing Solomon, who is the “Preacher” in this case, was given incredible discernment and wisdom by God and accomplished much. But his conclusion, after all his labors, was that we should content ourselves with whatever God has blessed us, and forget about striving after the wind.

Then again, Jesus gives us still a different perspective when he relates the story of the talents: God rewards us according to what we have done with what he has given us, not what he hasn’t given us (Matthew 25: 14-30). The issue, in other words, is our attitude toward what we have or don’t have, and what we do with what we do have.

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Epistle Lesson: Colossians 3: 1-11

In our epistle lesson, St. Paul addresses our attitude toward earthly things in a rather blunt way. As Christians, we are to be focused on furthering God’s kingdom rather than seeking earthly pleasures and treasures, which St. Paul identifies as covetousness—in other words, idolatry! St. Paul even goes on to say that common human failures, like anger, slander, obscene talk, and even lying, must no longer be a part of our life because we are now being renewed into the image of our Creator.

So St. Paul is admonishing us to examine our attitudes much more carefully to ensure that we have indeed put off our old self and replaced it with our new self in Christ.

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 12: 13-21

Today’s Gospel lesson finds Jesus being asked to arbitrate an inheritance.
Jesus calls it as it is: 
covetousness, and warns that the bottom line for one’s life is not how many toys one has when he dies, but rather how much treasure he has stored away in heaven by focusing on the furthering of God’s kingdom while he is alive. To illustrate his message, Jesus then tells the parable of a rich man who prospered so much in his profession that he built a larger home, made more investments, arranged for a line of liquid assets, bought an island, built a magnificent beach house, and bought a gorgeous yacht. What else was there to do but eat, drink, and enjoy life with his many new friends. But God called him a fool. Why?

Because after all this planning and work, God was going to require his soul at the appointed time, which was now. He was not going to eat, drink and be merry for even a day

 

 

Sunday on August 7 - 13 (Proper 14)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Genesis 15: 1-6

Some years prior to today’s discussion of God with Abram, God had called Abram out of a family that worshipped idols. Even though there is no evidence that Abram had had an encounter with God previously, he nevertheless answered God’s call to pack up his family and all their goods, and go to a land which God would eventually show him. It is amazing that Abram responded positively to a call from a God he did not know. But this prepares us for the promise that God makes to Abram today: Abram again simply believes God, in this case, that God will give him as many descendants as the stars in the heavens that he can count. Little did Abram realize that there were as many as 400 billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy alone. But more importantly, it is that simple faith in God’s word that allows God to declare Abram righteous, and to include him in the record in Hebrews chapter 11 as one of the giants of the faith.

Incidentally, do not forget that, since you believe God today by accepting Jesus as your personal savior from sin, you are included in the stars that Abraham was looking at.

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Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 11: 1-16

The lesson for today is merely a portion of the great men-and-women-of-faith chapter, Hebrews chapter 11. Suffice it to say that it would be most instructive to not only read the entire chapter when we get home but also to read those chapters in the Old Testament that describe in greater detail the actions and faith of these Old Testament believers that led God to include them in this chapter. The bottom line is that people of faith believe God. And this faith begins with believing that God created the universe out of nothing; he spoke it into being! And then the listing of the men and women of faith begins: first Abel for offering a pleasing sacrifice (he had the right attitude), then Enoch because he pleased God (wouldn’t you like God to say that about you?), then Noah trusting and obeying God, and then Abraham and Sarah—again for simply believing God. And all of them had this faith that believed that God was calling them to another country, a heavenly one. They all acknowledged that they were simply strangers, exiles, and pilgrims on this earth, individuals representing God’s kingdom. We are thus reminded of last week’s lessons, which warned us against lusting for earthly pleasures and treasures but rather admonished us to focus on representing God’s kingdom in word and deed.

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 12: 22-34 (35-40)

Jesus is in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount when he decides to address the propensity of people to worry about their earthly needs. Today’s Gospel Lesson thus continues the thoughts from last week, namely that we are not to concern ourselves with earthly, material things, but rather to lay up treasures in heaven by focussing on and furthering God’s kingdom. God then can assure us that, just as he takes care of the birds in the air and the plants in the field, so the can take care of usif we are willing to let him.

But then Jesus issues a warning: we are to be ready for Jesus’ arrival at any time, whether it is on the day we die or when Jesus comes for the second time. And how are we to be ready? By busying ourselves with the work of the Kingdom that God has given us to do, rather than striving to serve ourselves by running after the things and pleasures of this world. And like the rich man in last week’s gospel lesson, Jesus may require our soul at a time that we do not expect. 

 

Sunday on August 14 - 20 (Proper 15)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Jeremiah 23: 16-29

The Northern Kingdom, created around 930 B.C., shortly after the death of King Solomon, from its inception worshipped only idols—initially the two golden calves made by its first king, Jeroboam, but later also the Caananite idols Baal and Asherah. Many prophets (including Elijah and Elisha) were sent by God to call the people to repentance, but with no response, leading ultimately to the demise of the Northern Kingdom and the dispersion of its people throughout the Gentile world around 722 B.C.

The Southern Kingdom, or Judahvacillated between righteous and unrighteous kings during this same period, but then spiraled into a continuum of idolatress kings (with the single exception of Josiah) until the people were taken captive to Babylon around 585 B.C. During the last 40 years or so of its existence, God sent the prophet Jeremiah in an attempt to call Judah to repentance. Unfortunately, Judah had many others who called themselves prophets of God, claiming to speak for God. It goes without saying that these prophets encouraged the kings to go their own way, and supported the kings and the people in whatever way they wanted to live. Perhaps St. Paul had this in mind when he penned to Timothy, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” 2 Timothy 4:3-4

In today’s lesson, God through Jeremiah confronts these idolatress prophets, noting that since they have never heard God’s voice, how could they be speaking God’s words? God then notes that these prophets and the people will be judged because God is fully aware of not only their lies but also their deeds.

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Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 11: 17-31 (32-40) and 12: 1-3

For those of you who have not had the opportunity to read the remainder of Hebrews, chapter 11, as was suggested last week, I have good news for you! We are going to read the remainder of the chapter today. This chapter, dealing

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3-Year Lectionary/Series C August 14-20 (Proper 15)

with the giants of faith, continues with the story of Abraham, how he trusted and obeyed God when asked to sacrifice his only son Issac because he knew that God had already promised that it would be through Issac that Abraham would have as many descendants as the stars in the sky. The chapter continues with the naming of Moses’ parents, Moses himself, Rahab in Jericho, and many others, who believed and obeyed God in spite of their circumstances. Finally, the author of Hebrews notes that even Jesus endured mocking, shame, and crucifixion in order to do with joy God’s will. So if all of these people can trust and obey God during trials, temptations, and persecution, surely we can lay aside our recurring sins and not grow weary of being a Christian, enduring the circumstances that we find ourselves in.

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 12: 49-53 (54-56)

As Jesus continues his Sermon on the Mount, he notes the trials and tribulations that he will ultimately have to endure, calling it a baptism. But then he notes that his coming will not bring peace to the inhabitants of the earth but instead division. This division, or baptism, experienced in order that all people might be saved, would divide people into those who believe and those who do not, even within the same household, in effect separating the gold from the dross like a refiner’s fire.

But then he chastises the crowd, noting that they can tell what the weather is going to be by looking at the clouds and verifying the direction of the wind, but cannot recognize the spiritual implications of the events happening around them.

Come to think of it, do we do any better? 

 

 

Sunday on August 21 - 27 (Proper 16)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 66: 18-23

Last Sunday we learned that the prophet Jeremiah, appointed by God when he was a teenager, was God’s voice to the kings and people of Judah in a time when they were spiraling deeper into apostasy. We should be aware that God was reaching out to the kings and people of Judah long before the time of Jeremiah. In fact, God sent the prophet Isaiah to them just as the apostasy began, over 110 years before Jeremiah was called. The previous readings from the book of the prophet Isaiah—read 9 and 7 weeks ago—dealt with God going out of his way to call the kings and people of Judah back to him, virtually pleading with them.

In this last part of the last chapter of Isaiah that we will read for today’s lesson, we find God looking to the New Testament period, noting that it is now time to bring into the Kingdom of God peoples of all nations. God also notes that, in contrast to the people of Judah, the peoples of other nations will respond to his call made by the survivors of the children of Israel, probably referring to the believers in the early New Testament church. And that some of these new believers of other nations will also become priests and Levites (in other words, ministers and church workers), echoing the statement made by St. Peter earlier in 1 Peter 2:9—But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

To better understand the extent to which God is calling other nations, we need to look at the 5 groups of peoples mentioned in this text.

Tarshish: generally considered to be Southern Spain, but may refer to all of Europe and perhaps even nations west of Spain (meaning the Americas).

Pul: this may refer to Libya or the region between Egypt and Ethiopia, but could also refer to all of Africa.

Lud: generally considered to be Asia Minor, but some think it may be western Africa.

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3-Year Lectionary/Series C August 21-27 (Proper 16)

Tubal: generally considered to be the area of modern-day Turkey, but some include the area ranging between Albania and Georgia (Russia).

Javan: thought to be the region between Great Britain and Greece.

In other words, these terms may represent the known world at that time, therefore meaning “all nations.” God concludes his observations with a reference to the new heavens and the new earth, now free from any stain of sin. ——————————————————————————————

 

Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 12: 4-24 (25-29)

As we read today’s lesson, it is important to note that the 12th chapter of Hebrews follows the 11th chapter. (pause) Perhaps obvious, but we need to remember that chapter 11—a portion of which was read two weeks ago— is a litany of the giants of the faith during the Old Testament period—those who believed and obeyed God, some at the cost of their lives. So in chapter 12, the author of Hebrews asks us why we are complaining about our trials and tribulations in the light of the men and women of faith just discussed in chapter 11, who endured without complaining. He then likens our trials and tribulations to times of discipline, noting that if our earthly fathers disciplined us in order to make us better children, then certainly we should not be surprised that God uses trials and tribulations to discipline us so that our behavior will be more pleasing to him. That is to say, our parents, and God, discipline us because they love us.

He then gives us examples of things that we should and that we should not be doing as good children of God, and concludes with an admonition to have respect for God and what he is trying to do in and through us by contrasting two scenes: one is the time when the children of Israel gathered with Moses at the foot of Mt. Sinai, where God appeared as a blazing fire, darkness, gloom, a tempest, blasts of a trumpet, and a voice that caused the people to plead with Moses not to force them to continue to see and hear all this, because they were petrified! Instead, the author writes, we are standing before a scene that is even more awe inspiring, meaning that we have even more reason to respect God for who he is, what he has done, and what he is now doing. After all, God is going to do more shaking, but this time of both earth and the heavens.

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 13: 22-30

As Jesus continued his ministry while headed toward Jerusalem, someone asked him a question that prompts a warning from Jesus. The question was, how many will be saved? Jesus’ answer was that only those fully committed to their faith—as demonstrated by their actions, and then only if they respond to the call when the call is given. Jesus then draws a picture of a master of a house closing the door on some who thought they were his children because they had previously shared a meal and been taught in his house (or, putting it in today’s picture, people believing that they are saved simply because they show up in church on a regular basis, or at least 3 times a year, and come to the Lord’s Supper on occasion). Jesus then implies that the Jews of that day were actually evil doers and would therefore be excluded from God’s kingdom, instead seeing people from other nations, despised by the Jews, banqueting with God.

One cannot but help being reminded of Jesus’ warning in his Sermon on the Mount: Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Matthew 7:21. 

 

 

 

St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord (15 August)

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 61: 7-11

Isaiah was one of God’s messengers to the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, at the time (around 720 B.C.) that the Northern Kingdom was spiraling into obscurity. This was a time when Judah also had fallen into apostasy, especially during the reign of King Ahaz, who had brought every form of idolatry and evil into the Southern Kingdom as King Ahab had done for the Northern Kingdom some 130 years earlier. The messages of God at this time included those of a call to repentance, warnings of justice to follow if they continued in sin, and promises of grace when they repented. This was especially significant at this time since God’s bestowing of so much privilege upon the Children of Israel from their release from slavery in Egypt till the present time, some 800 years later, had been rewarded with arrogance, pride, and ingratitude.

Today’s reading, however, focuses on God’s grace as He promises everlasting joy , justice, and recompense for wrongs experienced, and recognition that they are God’s children. Consequently, God’s children will rejoice in the Lord for the salvation and righteousness given them, making them like a bride with jewels in God’s eyes. Thus God will cause righteousness, and praise to God , arise out of all nations. That this was God speaking through Isaiah to all peoples was confirmed when, over 700 years later, Jesus the Messiah identified himself as the speaker of this passage in Isaiah as he stood up in a synagogue in Nazareth, read this passage, and declared that today this Scripture was fulfilled in their hearing (Luke 4:16-21).

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Epistle Lesson: Galatians 4: 4-7

One of the main themes of St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians is that God did everything to accomplish our salvation. We only need to believe God (that is to say, have faith in God and what he has done for us). There is no righteous deed that will enable or enhance our own salvation. Here, in today’s lesson, St. Paul explains how this salvation was realized. At just the right time in history, God’s son became a human being by being born of a woman, to redeem us who were

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Feasts & Festivals St Mary-Mother of our Lord

unable to keep God’s laws ourselves. When we understand that, to redeem means to “buy back,” we can appreciate why St. Paul uses the term “adoption.” When we were born, we were not God’s children initially, because of sin, but by buying us back by the shedding of Christ’s blood, God has adopted us as his children, making us brothers and sisters of Jesus, and enabling us to not only call God our Father, but also to share in the inheritance with Jesus of all of God’s goodness.

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 1: (39-45) 46-55

In the first part of Luke, chapter one, we have the recounting of the story of the angel Gabriel appearing to the priest Zechariah to announce the coming pregnancy of Zechariah’s previously barren wife, Elizabeth, who would bear the forerunner of the Christ, John the Baptist. Then we have the recounting of the angel Gabriel, six months later, appearing to Mary to announce that she will be the bearer of the Messiah, which assignment she humbly and obediently accepts. As our reading begins today, we find Mary setting out into the mountains to share this good news with her relative Elizabeth. What is truly amazing is that, as soon as Mary enters the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth, John the Baptist, as a six-month old fetus, recognizes the presence of Jesus in the now pregnant Mary, and leaps for joy in the womb of Elizabeth. Immediately Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit, enabling her to recognize that Mary is pregnant with the Messiah, the Son of God. Elizabeth then praises Mary for believing what the angel told her, and notes that Mary will be blessed for participating in the fulfillment of a prophecy made at the time of Adam and Eve.

Mary responds to these words with a song of praise which we know as the Magnificat, in which she praises and rejoices in God who chose her, a humble girl. She then continues to praise God by recognizing his holiness, his mercy, his strength, his justice in humbling the proud but exalting the humble, his providing for the poor and hungry but denying the rich, and his faithfulness in remembering the promise of a messiah that he had made to the fathers, including Abraham and his offspring. 

 

 

 

Sunday on August 28 - September 3 (Proper 17)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Proverbs 25: 2-10

King Solomon, the author of Proverbs, was gifted by God with a special capability for discernment, along with many other gifts. His father, King David, exhibited special gifts of discernment and wisdom, especially as he interacted with King Saul, and as he interacted with the people of Judah as he continually had to flee from the murderous intent of King Saul. Solomon undoubtedly observed his father’s human interactions as he grew up in the court, and he had plenty of opportunities to exercise discernment and wisdom as he built both the temple and the palace complex during his first 24 years as king.

In today’s reading, Solomon advises on how people should respect and interact with governmental officials, and how governmental officials should interact with their people. To appreciate what he is saying, we might in our minds substitute “president” wherever he says “king.” The emphasis, however, appears to be on our adopting an attitude of humility, the same attitude that Christ exhibited (Philippians 2:5-8). In particular, the decision that a high government official makes should not be criticized on the basis of comments made in the media or internet, because they do not have access to all the data used in making that decision.

Consequently, Solomon cautions us about reporting to authorities what we think we saw as unlawful conduct—especially before we ascertain exactly what it was that we saw. The advice is reminiscent of the advice Jesus gave in Matthew 18 when we want to accuse somebody of a sin.

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Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 13: 1-17

 

In previous Sundays, we read about the heroes of faith of the Old Testament period in chapter 11 of Hebrews, and in chapter 12 the respect that we should have for God as he disciplines us for our good. Here, in chapter 13, the author of Hebrews goes through a list of things that constitute appropriate behavior on our part and which also constitute a godly loving attitude on our part. That list includes the following:

—show hospitality to strangers
—remember those in
prison (not only in word but indeed)
—honor your marriage by
not cheating on your spouse, again in either

word or deed
—beware of the love of money, but rather trusting only in God and being

content with what you have
—honor and imitate your Christian
leaders
—be a faithful student of the Bible, so that you can identify false teachings —be prepared to suffer for your faith, just as Jesus did
—remember that we are
pilgrims on earth, and that our home country is with God in heaven

—offer praise to God, no matter our circumstance —share what we have, even if at times it is sacrificial —obey your Christian leaders.

The theme again appears to be that of a humble attitude, being grateful to God for

whatever he has given you, materially or in circumstance
—your
spouse, honoring him/her in word and deed
—your Christian
leaders, obeying them and imitating their behavior and study of God’s word

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 14: 1-14

Jesus addresses three issues in today’s lesson. The first is whether it is legal to heal somebody on the Sabbath. The Pharisees had their own rules governing what or what not could be done on the Sabbath, and healing someone apparently was not on their list. Jesus quickly demonstrates that, as far as God is concerned, compassion trumps rules and laws, and then points out to the Pharisees that even they demonstrate more compassion to animals than they do to humans. Sound familiar?

Next Jesus reiterates the lesson from today’s Old Testament lesson, that we need to show proper respect and humility in the presence of high-ranking government officials. In particular, we should not have an inflated view of ourselves.

Finally, Jesus advises that, as far as God is concerned, it is better to show compassion to those who cannot repay us in any way than to lavish our hospitality on those whom we can count on to return the favor. By blessing those who cannot return a blessing, we allow God to return the blessing instead. So Jesus is in fact advising us to be practical here. Which is the better deal: to have the poor, crippled, lame, or blind to somehow return a great favor, or to let God return that favor for them? Seriously, folks, we need to get real! 

 

 

St. Bartholomew, Apostle (24 August)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Proverbs 3: 1-8

King Solomon, the author of the book of Proverbs, when asked by God at the beginning of his reign, what he wanted God to do for him, requested discernment so that he could judge God’s people correctly. God was so pleased with King Solomon’s answer that He gave him not only discernment (i.e, a wise, insightful, and understanding heart), but also riches and honor. The book of Proverbs represents key elements of King Solomon’s accumulated wisdom, which center around one simple fact: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

In today’s reading, King Solomon advises the reader/listener always to keep God’s commandments, never forgetting them, and never forsaking love and faithfulness to God. When we do that, God will reward us with favor, success, and peace. Then he advises us to trust God, never relying on our own understanding because then God can make our path in life continue toward his goal for us. Finally, avoiding pride and evil but instead fearing the Lord will result in God’s peace and welfare permeating our mind and body.

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Epistle Lesson: 2 Corinthians 4: 7-10

St. Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthian Christians, again emphasizes the compassion that God had for the Gentiles by letting the light of the glory of God in the form of Christ Jesus be made known to them as well. As messengers of God to the Gentiles, the apostles carried this treasure of knowing Jesus in their human bodies, or clay vessels, which were subject to the trials and tribulations of those who commit their lives to God. In particular, he notes that they are

—afflicted but not crushed, —perplexed but not driven to despair, —persecuted but not forsaken, and —struck down but not destroyed,

because the message they carried was that, by the death of Jesus, life was given to those who believe.

 

 

Gospel Lesson: Luke 22: 24-30

It is Maundy Thursday (as we know it today), or, Passover at the time of Jesus. Judas has already made an agreement with the chief priests to betray Jesus, so he is looking for the opportunity. Jesus has sent Peter and John into the city to engage a room and prepare the Passover feast. At the celebration itself, Jesus announces that he will not be celebrating this feast again until the kingdom of God has come. He then institutes what we know as the Lord’s Supper, and indicates that one of his disciples will betray him. Oddly enough, this prompts the disciples to start arguing among themselves as to which one is the greatest. Jesus ends the argument by noting that in God’s Kingdom, the greatest will be the one who is the most humble servant. Jesus observes that, in the world, people who are in authority claim to be benefactors. But in God’s kingdom, the one who serves is considered the greatest. Then Jesus points out that he is their teacher and master, but it is he who is serving them.

But then Jesus observes that they have stuck with him through his trials; consequently, when they all get to his kingdom, he will assign them a kingdom and give them thrones upon which to sit as they judge the twelve tribes of Israel.

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Alternate Gospel Lesson: John 1: 43-51

As our reading begins today, we find Jesus continuing to call disciples. Having just called Peter and his brother Andrew, Jesus now heads to Galilee, where he calls Philip. Philip, who apparently then listened to Jesus’ teaching, quickly finds his brother Nathanael and brings him to Jesus also. During this process, it becomes quite evident that Jesus, the sinless Son of Man, knows more about people that He has never met than they expect. The reading concludes with Jesus testifying to His deity by telling His disciples that they eventually will see heaven open with angels ascending and descending on Himself.

Take Away: As soon as Jesus chose someone to be his disciple, that new disciple demonstrated his belief in Jesus as the Messiah by calling someone else.

 

 

The Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist (29 August)

 

First Lesson: Revelation 6: 9-11

St. John has been exiled to the island of Patmos, just off the southwest coast of present-day Turkey, when he has a vision of the resurrected Christ. Jesus first dictates letters for John to send to the seven churches of Asia minor. Then he gives John a vision of the New Testament period, from that moment to the last days of time. This first vision centers around a scroll sealed with seven seals, and after it is determined that only Jesus is entitled to break the seals and open the scroll, he does so, one by one. The first four seals reveal four horsemen, each representing a unique calamity, apparently each a foretaste of the end of days.

Then, as our reading begins, the opening of the fifth seal reveals the many souls of those who had been slaughtered because of their testimony to God’s Word. They were crying out to God, how long will it be before you return in judgment and take revenge on those who have slaughtered us? God’s response was to give each of them a white robe and to tell them that they need to wait a little while longer until the other Christians would be killed as they had been.

Thus the expectation of a Christian who lives for Jesus should be as the Psalmist (Psalm 44:22) and St. Paul (Romans 8:36) describe:

Indeed, we are being killed all day long because of you.

We are thought of as sheep to be slaughtered. ——————————————————————————————

 

Epistle Lesson: Romans 6: 1-5

St. Paul apparently noticed something in the Roman Christians’ behavior that prompted him to pose the question: if our sin is covered by God’s grace, then can we increase God’s grace by sinning more? Some people might call that concept a convenient falsehood. To help the Roman Christians understand this, St. Paul embarks on an explanation of what really happens when a person experiences water baptism into Christ Jesus.

First, that person is buried with Christ into His death (remember that Jesus’ death was the payment for all sin). Then, when Christ was raised from the dead,

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Feasts & Festivals Martyrdom of St John the Baptist

the baptized person is also raised into a new life. Picture this, then: if we have died with Christ, then as far as sin is concerned, we are dead to further sin. Instead, since we have been raised with Christ who lives for God, so we too have been raised with Christ to live for God. Instead of choosing to sin again, we have the power to choose righteousness. And this should not be a burden, as St. John tells us (1 John 5:3-5) because our faith overcomes the world. So we need to adjust our mindset: I choose to forego sin in order to walk in the way of godliness. ——————————————————————————————

 

Gospel Lesson: Mark 6: 14-29

Jesus has sent the twelve disciples ahead of him to preach repentance, to heal the sick, and to cast out demons. Apparently, the stories of what Jesus and his disciples are doing has gotten back to King Herod. This is King Herod Antipas, one of the sons of King Herod the Great (the baby killer). King Herod Antipas married his step-niece, Herodias, who had previously been married to his still-living step-brother Herod Philip. It was this marriage that John the Baptist railed against since it was a violation of the marriage laws of God given through Moses (Lev. 18:16 and Lev. 20:21).

In fact, many people were speculating about who Jesus might be. Some thought that he was John the Baptist raised from the dead, others that he was the promised Elijah (Malachi 4:5), or possibly the promised prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15). But King Herod, racked with guilt over his beheading of John the Baptist, is fearful that it is John the Baptist returning from the dead. The whole episode can be traced back to vindictive Herodias, who wanted to kill John the Baptist because of his condemnation of her marriage (if you love somebody and want to be happy, isn’t it OK to marry him/her?). So Herodias first conned King Herod into imprisoning John the Baptist, which at least silenced his voice. But she was not satisfied. When her daughter performed an extremely sensual dance for King Herod at one of his parties, and King Herod promised Salome up to half of his kingdom, Salome consulted her mother and ended up asking for the head of John the Baptist. So King Herod was faced with the choice of murdering John the Baptist or going back on his word. So he chose to save face by beheading John.

King Herod had been warned by God to repent. Instead, he killed the messenger. And isn’t that the way the world goes today? 

 

 

St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord (15 August)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 61: 7-11

Isaiah was one of God’s messengers to the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, at the time (around 720 B.C.) that the Northern Kingdom was spiraling into obscurity. This was a time when Judah also had fallen into apostasy, especially during the reign of King Ahaz, who had brought every form of idolatry and evil into the Southern Kingdom as King Ahab had done for the Northern Kingdom some 130 years earlier. The messages of God at this time included those of a call to repentance, warnings of justice to follow if they continued in sin, and promises of grace when they repented. This was especially significant at this time since God’s bestowing of so much privilege upon the Children of Israel from their release from slavery in Egypt till the present time, some 800 years later, had been rewarded with arrogance, pride, and ingratitude.

Today’s reading, however, focuses on God’s grace as He promises everlasting joy, justice, and recompense for wrongs experienced, and recognition that they are God’s children. Consequently, God’s children will rejoice in the Lord for the salvation and righteousness given them, making them like a bride with jewels in God’s eyes. Thus God will cause righteousness, and praise to God, arise out of all nations. That this was God speaking through Isaiah to all peoples was confirmed when, over 700 years later, Jesus the Messiah identified himself as the speaker of this passage in Isaiah as he stood up in a synagogue in Nazareth, read this passage, and declared that today this Scripture was fulfilled in their hearing (Luke 4:16-21).

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Epistle Lesson: Galatians 4: 4-7

One of the main themes of St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians is that God did everything to accomplish our salvation. We only need to believe God (that is to say, have faith in God and what he has done for us). There is no righteous deed that will enable or enhance our own salvation. Here, in today’s lesson, St. Paul explains how this salvation was realized. At just the right time in history, God’s Son became a human being by being born of a woman, to redeem us who were unable to keep God’s laws ourselves. When we understand that, to redeem means to “buy back,” we can appreciate why St. Paul uses the term “adoption.” When we were born, we were not God’s children initially, because of sin, but by buying us back by the shedding of Christ’s blood, God has adopted us as his children, making us brothers and sisters of Jesus, and enabling us to not only call God our Father but also to share in the inheritance with Jesus of all of God’s goodness.

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 1: (39-45) 46-55

In the first part of Luke, chapter one, we have the recounting of the story of the angel Gabriel appearing to the priest Zechariah to announce the coming pregnancy of Zechariah’s previously barren wife, Elizabeth, who would bear the forerunner of the Christ, John the Baptist. Then we have the recounting of the angel Gabriel, six months later, appearing to Mary to announce that she will be the bearer of the Messiah, which assignment she humbly and obediently accepts. As our reading begins today, we find Mary setting out into the mountains to share this good news with her relative Elizabeth. What is truly amazing is that, as soon as Mary enters the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth, John the Baptist, as a six-month-old fetus, recognizes the presence of Jesus in the now pregnant Mary, and leaps for joy in the womb of Elizabeth. Immediately Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit, enabling her to recognize that Mary is pregnant with the Messiah, the Son of God. Elizabeth then praises Mary for believing what the angel told her, and notes that Mary will be blessed for participating in the fulfillment of a prophecy made at the time of Adam and Eve.

Mary responds to these words with a song of praise which we know as the Magnificat, in which she praises and rejoices in God who chose her, a humble girl. She then continues to praise God by recognizing his holiness, his mercy, his strength, his justice in humbling the proud but exalting the humble, his providing for the poor and hungry but denying the rich, and his faithfulness in remembering the promise of a messiah that he had made to the fathers, including Abraham and his offspring.