August 2021 Commentaries

 

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.

 

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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, 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.

 

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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 have 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. 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 life 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. 

 

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. 

 

Sunday on 28 August - 3 September (Proper 17)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Deuteronomy 4: 1-2 and 6-9

 

The Children of Israel are on the Plains of Moab, just east of the Jordan River, opposite Jericho. Having been forbidden by God to lead the Children of Israel into the Promised Land because of his recent disobedience to God, Moses is taking this opportunity to rehearse in the ears of the entire congregation the history of the past forty years, all of which clearly demonstrate God’s love and provision for them.

As our reading for today begins, Moses admonishes the Children of Israel carefully to listen to all of God’s rules, statutes, and commandments that he is reviewing for them. By keeping them, Moses states, people from other nations will observe how wise and discerning they are, and will give glory to God. Then Moses delivers a warning: do not forget what your eyes have seen for these past 40 years, and be diligent to teach these history lessons to your children and grandchildren.

Wisdom and discernment! It seems as if we heard these same words two weeks ago when we read a portion of King Solomon’s Proverbs. And who remembers the bottom line then? (pause) That’s right! The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Ephesians 6: 10-20

 

As St. Paul finishes his letter to the Ephesian Christians, he reminds them that they are in a war (just like one of our hymns starts out with, Onward, Christian Soldiers!) But this is not a war fought with guns, knives, grenades, or rockets, but rather with the sword of the Spirit (which is the Word of God ), and with the armor that God provides. But who are we fighting? Our foes are not earthly forces or human beings, but they are an army of spiritual beings, deposed angels (in other words, demons) who are arrayed as an organized army in the heavenlies above us, still trying to disrupt if not destroy God’s plan for His creatures. Is this science fiction or is this reality? We have only to read the book of Daniel, chapter 10, to recognize that these creatures are real, they are being fought by God’s angels, and we have a role to play in this battle. We cannot be idle bystanders as Satan battles for the hearts of nations and people. We cannot assume that Christ has done everything for us so that now all we have to do is coast to heaven. That is certainly not what the early New Testament church experienced, so we should not expect anything different. We have to learn from early church history. And we need to remember that God’s chosen people (that would be us today) were chosen not for privilege but for responsibility (See 1 Peter 2:9). The real reality is not what we can see, but what we cannot see!

St. Paul then goes on to describe the armor that we are to use daily: truth, righteousness, readiness to speak the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and immersion in the word of God, along with prayer and intercession. He advises us to keep alert spiritually, perseveres in the faith, and intercede for all the saints to have boldness in the sharing of our faith. His words of advice bear particular importance to us in this day and age.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Mark 7: 14-23

 

Our reading today continues the story from last week, where Jesus is confronted by the scribes and Pharisees because of his disciples not washing their hands ceremonially before eating. Jesus, as we recall, ignored their accusation and dealt instead with their hypocrisy. But now, in today’s reading, he explains to the people the purpose of the ceremonial cleansing that God had instituted through Moses: It was a physical action reflecting a spiritual purpose, that the person was cleansing his/her heart before God. The scribes and Pharisees had forgotten about that little detail. But then Jesus explains further: what one eats does not spiritually defile a person. In effect, then, Jesus canceled all of the Old Testament rules regarding clean and unclean foods. So what was the purpose of the original rules? Again, it was a physical representation of what was being done spiritually. Certain foods had been declared unclean, just as certain behaviors, lifestyles, and ways of worship were declared unclean. The Children of Israel were not to take into their hearts and minds the attitudes, behaviors, and worship of the heathen peoples around them. As Jesus then goes on to explain, we are not defiled (i.e., we are not sinning) by what we eat, but by what comes out of our heart: the evil of all kinds, including thoughts for sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, or foolishness. As Jesus pointed out elsewhere (Matthew 5:27), you do not have to actually commit the deed to have sinned; merely entertaining the thought constitutes the sin. 

 

Epistle Lesson: Ephesians 4: 1-16

 

As we continue reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we find him urging his readers to live up to the calling given them in Christ Jesus, which would be characterized by humility, gentleness, patience, empathy, love, unity of the Spirit, and peace. After all, there is only one body and one Spirit to which all believers are called, one baptism in the name of the Trinity, and one God and Father who poured out His grace on all believers. Then St. Paul 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 the 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.

 

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Gospel Lesson: John 6: 22-35

 

Let’s again get the overall picture. Jesus is on the east side of the Sea of Galilee, where large crowds have followed Him because of all the miracles He did in healing the sick. In His compassion, Jesus tends to the physical needs of the people. But evening then draws near, and Jesus, again in His compassion, does another miracle in order to feed 5000 men (plus women and children). Jesus then sends His disciples ahead of Him to the west coast of the Sea of Galilee, while He stays behind to commune with His Father. This is followed by Jesus walking on water to rescue the disciples caught in a sudden storm on the Sea of Galilee.

As the reading for today begins, we find the crowd still at the feeding site, now observing that neither the disciples, who had gotten into a boat, nor Jesus, were there. So they cross the Sea of Galilee to its northwest corner, where Capernaum was situated. There they start looking for Jesus. And when they find Him, Jesus lays it on the line. They were not looking for Him for the spiritual nourishment that He could provide, but for the free food. Then Jesus springs on them the crucial question: are you working for food that will feed you day by day, or for the food that will give you eternal life? When asked what kind of work Jesus was referring to, He responded by saying that the work that God wants them to do is to believe in Him (i.e., Jesus) whom the Father had sent.

Jesus must have been set back by the next question of the crowd: what sign are you going to do to show that God the Father has sent you? Don’t they remember the free meal that they ate to the full the evening before? Or all the healings he did just recently? Apparently, they thought that it was Moses who gave their fathers manna because Jesus has to correct their thinking. It was God who gave their fathers manna, and it is now God the Father who is giving them the true, real bread of Heaven, the bread of life, who is Jesus Himself. 

 

Sunday on 7 - 13 August (Proper 14)

 

Old Testament Lesson: 1 Kings 19: 1-8

 

Let’s again set the stage for today’s reading. The Northern Kingdom, or Israel, under King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, have not only promoted the worship of the golden calves made by Jeroboam I but also introduced the worship of Baal (the male god of fertility, whose worship involved burning young children and babies alive) and Asherah (the female god of fertility, represented by the Tree of Life, whose worship involved male and female prostitution).

Elijah challenged King Ahab and the people of Israel to choose between their idols versus the Lord God by having a face-off on the top of Mt. Carmel, where the god who lit a fire under the sacrifice to it would be acknowledged as the true god. Consequently, Elijah faced off against 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah. As we recall, Elijah, or rather, God, won. By the commands laid down by God through Moses, the prophets of the idols were then killed on the spot, per Deuteronomy 13:5.

But now Queen Jezebel hears about the event on Mt. Carmel, where her prophets, the ones who ate at her table (at taxpayer expense, of course), were killed. Infuriated, she sends a note to Elijah, telling him that she has put out a contract on his life: he will be dead within 24 hours. Prudently he takes off from Jezreel, in the northern part of Israel, to Beersheba, which lies in the south-central part of Judah, west of the southern tip of the Dead Sea. That was already a real hike. But here he leaves his servant and then heads off for the wilderness (that is, southeastward). After a day in this heat, he stops under a tree for shade, and in weariness (probably both physically, mentally, and spiritually) he asks God to take his life. He then falls asleep. But God sends an angel, twice!, to nourish Elijah with a freshly baked cake (perhaps a cake of figs) and water. With that nourishment, Elijah strikes out for 40 days and nights until he gets to Mt. Sinai, the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God.

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Epistle Lesson: Ephesians 4: 17 - 5: 2

 

Building on the message that we read last week, for believers to become mature Christians, St. Paul admonishes his readers to no longer live as if they were still unbelievers, whose characteristics would include indifference, hardness of heart, sensuality, impurity, deceitful desires, lying, sinning in anger (i.e., holding a grudge), stealing, filthy talk, bitterness, wrath, clamoring for something, slander, and malice. (Anybody sees themselves here?) Rather, St. Paul states that we should renew our mind (i.e., controlling our thoughts so as to be consistent with God’s values), changing into the new self that is in the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness, speaking truthfully, doing honest work so that they can help those in need, speaking those words that build up rather than put down, being kind to one another, being tenderhearted, and forgiving one another. In other words, walk in love and compassion as Christ showed us.

 

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Gospel Lesson: John 6: 35-51

 

Continuing from the point where we left off in last week’s reading, where Jesus was directing the crowd from their focus on earthly bread to spiritual bread, Jesus identifying Himself as the Bread of Life, Jesus now chides his listeners, saying that they have seen Him and the works that He does but still refuse to believe that He is the Promised Messiah, the Son of God. He then states that His Father has sent Him into the world to ensure that those who believe in Him should have everlasting life, in accordance with the will of the Father.

But when Jesus mentions that He has come down from Heaven, the Jewish leaders start grumbling, saying that Jesus is merely the son of Joseph and Mary, so how can He say that He has come down from Heaven? Jesus’ response is curious. He states that the only ones that believe in Jesus are the ones that the Father has drawn to Jesus, that is to say, those who have heard and learned from the Father, implying that the religious leaders do not believe in Jesus because they refuse to obey the voice of God the Father. Jesus notes that the Jews’ fathers, who ate the manna in the desert, died; and since they were rebellious throughout their journey, one might surmise that they would not live eternally (see 1 Corinthians 10). Similarly, Jesus states later in chapters 7 & 8 that these Jews will not go into eternal life either.

Jesus then identifies Himself as the Bread of Life, that whoever eats of that living bread (i.e., believes in Jesus) will have eternal life. Note that the way Jesus says it might cause some to interpret that Jesus is saying that people have to eat Him. However, what Jesus is doing is using physical life to illustrate a spiritual truth. So stay tuned for next week’s reading to see how this turns out. 

 

Sunday on 14 - 20 August (Proper 15)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Proverbs 9: 1-10

 

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, wisdom is pictured as a woman who has built a large house (seven pillars), has prepared a sumptuous banquet, and has sent her young women out into the world to invite anyone who wishes to have the wisdom to come to the banquet.

Then King Solomon compares the responses of a scoffer or wicked man versus a wise or righteous man: the scoffer or wicked man will attack the person offering wisdom, but the wise or righteous man will love the person who offers wisdom and will become wiser and more educated. How do you respond to those who offer wisdom to you?

Bottom Line: Real wisdom comes only to those who fear the Lord. And what is real wisdom? To know the Lord, the God who created the heavens and the earth, who loved us so much that He sent His only Son to die for us because of our iniquity.

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Alternate Old Testament Lesson: Joshua 24: 1-2a and 14-18

 

As the scene opens on today’s reading, we find that Joshua, after leading the Children of Israel in a successful campaign to conquer the Promised Land under God’s direction and involvement, and after having some years of retirement, realizes that the time of his death is imminent. He, therefore, calls all the leaders and officials to come to him and present themselves before God. He then proceeds to give them his last advice and warnings by challenging them to serve only God in the future. Why? Because the people, after experiencing deliverance from Egypt and being gifted the Promised Land by God, were still worshipping not only the idols that they brought with them from Egypt but also the idols that they still had from the days of Abraham’s family on the other side of the Euphrates River! Think about that! Despite what God has done for them over those 600 or so years, they are still carrying around their idols.

Joshua states that he and his family will serve the Lord. And of course, the people claim that they too will serve the Lord. Not included in our reading for today, but pertinent to the lesson: Joshua died shortly after this meeting concluded. And with his death, the book of Judges begins, where the people repeatedly lapse into apostasy and have to be punished by God through invading nations that enslave them for years before they come to their senses and are delivered through the leadership of a judge whom God had appointed. And the cycle repeats itself many times. Talk about not learning from history!

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Epistle Lesson: Ephesians 5: 6-21

 

As we continue reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesian Christians, we find him encouraging his readers to exercise discernment in every way, including not listening to or associating with or participating with people who want us to join them in their worldly pleasures. That is to say, we should not be foolish but wise, by understanding what God’s will is for us. Instead of becoming drunk with the wine of worldly pleasures, we should instead allow ourselves to be filled with the Holy Spirit, so that our speech and our deeds will reflect the love of God in us. In addition, we should give thanks to God for everything, and we should respect and honor others as we would Jesus Himself. 

 

Sunday on 21 - 27 August (Proper 16)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 29: 11-19

 

Isaiah was God’s messenger for over 50 years to the people of the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, surrounding the time in 720 B.C. that the Northern Kingdom was conquered and dispersed throughout Assyria. This should have been a strong message to the Southern Kingdom, but sadly it fell on deaf ears. The messages of the need for repentance from their rebellious ways, followed by God’s grace toward them and the restoration of their glory, marks the major themes of Isaiah.

Just before our reading for today begins, Isaiah is commenting about the vision that he has just seen, that of Jerusalem (probably meaning all of Judah) being attacked by foreign nations as a means of God exercising discipline upon a rebellious nation. But then God indicates that in an instant He can destroy these foreign nations when Judah turns back to Him. Unfortunately, the people of Judah have blinded themselves and have become drunk with their idolatries, so that they are too blind and drunk with their pleasures to appreciate what God is saying to them through His prophets.

So as our reading begins, we find Isaiah echoing these last thoughts, that the people have blinded themselves to God. God then comments that when the people of Judah come to the temple to worship, their mouths and lips say the words, but the people’s hearts are far from God. In fact, the people sin and think that since they did it privately or in the dark, nobody—not even God— has seen them. But God says that such men’s wisdom will perish, and men’s discernment will be darkened as God demands of these men an accounting (remember God’s questioning of Job, back in the Old Testament reading that we heard in June?).

Still, God says that restoration is just a few moments in time after repentance: the desert can be turned into a fruitful field, the deaf can hear, the blind can see, and there will be joy in the Holy One of Israel, an obvious prophecy of the work of the Promised Messiah and His message of the Kingdom of God.

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Epistle Lesson: Ephesians 5: 22-33

As St. Paul continues to teach the Ephesian Christians on the ways of God, he turns his attention to the relationship of husband and wife. He starts out by saying that, in the same way, that God expects the church to submit (to be compliant with, or obedient) to Him, so He expects the wife to submit to her husband in everything. Similarly, God expects husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave of Himself so that it would be holy and without sin. And what kind of love is this? St. Paul tells us in Romans 5:8—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us, meaning that while we were an abomination in God’s sight, Christ still died for us. In other words, God has set incredibly high the bar by which a husband is to measure his love for his wife. And a wife should respect her husband for what he can give her. St. Paul concludes this discussion with a repeat admonition: each husband should love his wife as himself, and the wife should respect (honor, hold in esteem, show consideration for, refrain from interfering with) her husband.

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Gospel Lesson: Mark 7: 1-13

 

As our reading opens for today, we find Jesus in another encounter with the scribes and Pharisees. In this case, they are accusing Jesus’ disciples of eating with unwashed hands. Now, this is not the type of washing we do today, where we scrub vigorously with anti-bacterial soap to ensure that our hands are free from bacteria and viruses that we may have picked up in our daily wanderings. No, this is rather a ceremonial washing, a sprinkling of water on the hands, a tradition made up by some religious leader in the past, which was made into a rule. But the rule was also extended to cups, pots, other copper vessels, and even dining couches, which were to be baptized similarly.

Jesus declines to address their accusation. Instead, he points out that they go through all these ceremonial motions to indicate that they are pure in God’s sight, yet it is all a show because they really are not worshipping the true God. Then he accuses them of disobeying God’s command by coming up with their own rule. They came up with a tradition that ensured that money would come into the temple (e.g., their pockets—see 2 Kings 12:4-8) by saying that a man did not have to support his needy parents if instead, he gave the money to the church. Jesus points out that this is a clear violation of the commandment to honor your father and mother (Exodus 20:12), and excuses the contempt of parents that was punishable by death (Exodus 21:17). Even St. Paul commented on this behavior in 1 Timothy 5:8—But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. In other words, God wants us to have particular compassion for the poor and feeble, especially if they are our own parents or family. 

 

Sunday on 4 - 10 September (Proper 18)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 35: 4-7a

 

As we learned two weeks ago, Isaiah was God’s messenger for over 50 years to the people of the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, as they slowly began to spiral into deeper and deeper apostasy. Isaiah’s messages from God called for repentance from rebellious ways and reminders of God’s grace and restoration to those who repented.

In the previous chapters, Isaiah delivered God’s promise to deliver them from their enemies when they repented. Today’s reading provides reassurances to those who truly seek God and continues with the signs of restoration that God will provide, all fulfilled with the coming of the Kingdom of God in Christ Jesus. These signs include the following:

—the blind will see,
—the
deaf will hear,
—the
lame will not only walk but leap (see Acts 3:1-8), —the mute will sing for joy,
—streams of
water will appear in the desert,
—the burning
sand will become a pool, and
—the thirsty
ground will become springs of water.

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Epistle Lesson: James 2: 1-10 and 14-18

 

St. James is believed to be the brother of Jesus (Matt. 13:55) who later apparently became the leader of the Church in Jerusalem (Galatians 1:19, Acts 15:13-21, Acts 21:17-18). This letter is addressed to Jewish Christians (See James 1:1), whose purpose is to help them understand how to live a Christian life. In today’s reading, St. James, first of all, addresses the issue of demonstrating partiality, that is showing more honor and respect to those who are wealthy, influential, or of star status. Of course, we today are beyond that. We never run after or suck up to the wealthy people or corporations, the politicians, the sports or movie stars, the bright lights of music, or the leaders in our church or community. If we did, St. James says, we would be sinning, because we are not loving every neighbor as ourselves. The Law, therefore, condemns that sin and convicts us.

St. James then launches into a brief discussion of the relationship between faith and works. The bottom line is that we can have works without faith, but we cannot have faith without works. That is to say, if our “faith” does not demonstrate the love of our neighbor in both what we say and how we say it, and what we do and how we interact with others, then we really do not have a living faith. Or, as St. James puts it bluntly, faith without works is dead. Faith, if it is real, would demonstrate—among other things—compassion for our fellow man which would be followed by appropriate acts.

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Gospel Lesson: Mark 7: (24-30) 31-37

 

Since our reading of last Sunday, where we heard of Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees in Capernaum about ceremonial washing of hands, St. Mark relates the episode of Jesus going to Tyre (on the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea), where he cast out a demon from a little Greek girl. As our story continues today, we find Jesus heading north from Tyre to the region of Sidon, also on the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea, before heading southeast to the east side of the Sea of Galilee and then down to the Decapolis, a large region including ten larger Greek cities east of the Jordan River. It is soon obvious that the people there have heard of Jesus, for they bring to Jesus for healing a man who is both deaf and with a speech disability. Jesus, in his compassion, does just that, so that the man can both hear and speak plainly—all to the amazement of the people gathered around. But when Jesus tells the people not to broadcast this miracle, the people all the more report the healing that Jesus had done. But why would Jesus not want the people to report this miracle? Because he wanted them to focus on their spiritual, not their physical, disabilities. Not that healing from sicknesses and disabilities is not important; it is. The issue is, what has the higher priority?

How about You? What is a higher priority for you: to know better and better the God who loved you so much that he died for you, or to pursue your perceived comforts and pleasures in this life? 

 

 

 

July 2021 Commentaries

 

St. James the Elder, Apostle (25 July)

 

First Lesson: Acts 11: 27 - 12:5

 

It has been a busy year. St. Peter has experienced a revelation after the Holy Spirit arranged to have him witness to the household of the Roman army officer Cornelius in Caesarea, resulting in God baptizing the entire household with the Holy Spirit just as the disciples were on the day of Pentecost. After Peter was called to Jerusalem for entering the house of a Gentile and baptizing them with water, the early Christian church was beginning to realize that God meant to save all people, not just the Jews, after St. James drew it to their attention. Subsequently, we find the church in Antioch growing by leaps and bounds. And when the prophet Agabus appears in their midst to predict a forthcoming worldwide famine, the Antioch church starts a collection to help the persecuted saints in Judea.

But then King Herod Agrippa I (grandson of King Herod the Great) discovers that he can please the Jews by persecuting the Christian church when he arrested St. James (the brother of St. John) and had him executed. So he followed that up by having St. Peter arrested and thrown into prison, guarded 24/7 by four squads of four soldiers each. Since Peter’s trial was scheduled after the Passover, the Christian church made earnest prayer to God for Peter’s return.

A lesson to be learned from history: When individuals and church bodies in the Christian church are experiencing persecution, the church should be making continual prayer to God for His intervention on their behalf. We cannot sit by passively, just hoping for the best.

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 8: 28-39

 

St. Paul continues his treatise on the persecuted Christian by assuring us that, if we love God and are following His will, then He will make any circumstance we face turn out for our good. After all, God has determined from the beginning of time (Ephesian 1:4) that true believers would be called for His purpose, justified by Jesus’ death and resurrection, and destined for eternal glory. But we need to remember that God the Father allowed His only Son to die for us after being falsely accused, but raised him from the dead and elevated him to the highest position in Heaven after the Father. Likewise, even though God is for us, we can expect to be falsely accused because of our witness, and even condemned.

But it is God who ultimately judges and Jesus is interceding for us. Consequently, no one or anything can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus, whether it be tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, war, demonic rulers or powers, or anything in all creation. Again, we need to love, trust and obey God, no matter the circumstances!

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Gospel Lesson: Mark 10: 35-45

 

Continuing the ministry of Jesus as recorded by St. Mark, we find in today’s reading some insight into the thinking of those first disciples. These were disciples, not of some itinerant preacher but of the Messiah Himself! Yet there was plenty of opportunities for pride and arrogance to creep in. This is shown in today’s reading by James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, asking Jesus to put the two in the most prominent positions to Him in heaven, one seated on His right and the other on His left. Jesus’ response? “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus notes that those positions are reserved for those for whom they were prepared by God the Father, and the requirements demand a sacrificial giving of oneself on behalf of the Kingdom of God.

The response of the two disciples? Oh sure, we’re good with that. Jesus observes that they will indeed sacrifice themselves for the Kingdom, but then points out that it is not He who makes that decision of who sits next to Him in the Kingdom. Of course, the rest of the disciples are incensed that James and John were making an early pitch for the most prominent seats in heaven. Jesus then lays things out for all of them. Honor in the Kingdom of Heaven is not dependent on who is the greatest, but who is the most humble servant (for example, Moses is described by God as the most humble man on earth—Numbers 12:3). One does not strive to get, but to give! 

 

St. Mary Magdalene (22 July)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Proverbs 31: 10-31

 

The Book of Proverbs was written by King Solomon, the wisest man that lived at that time. God had asked King Solomon, at the beginning of his reign, what he wanted most of all. When King Solomon responded with “discernment,” God was so pleased that he not only granted that request, but also added honor, power, fame, and wealth. That discernment gave rise to a wisdom that is staggering even today. The book of Proverbs was his way of passing on that wisdom to today’s readers.

The topic for this proverb is the characteristics of an excellent wife. What makes her a jewel? Solomon says a wife that can be trusted by her husband, who is there when she is needed and who supports and protects him throughout their marriage. In addition, she works diligently for her household, is astute in business matters, is responsive to the truly poor and needy, provides clothes and coverings for her entire family, and runs a business from home. As a consequence, she is respected by her children and husband, allowing him to achieve God’s plan for him and to be respected by friends, neighbors, and business associates.

Bottom line: charm and beauty may be great among the people of the world, but a woman who fears the Lord, and shows it in what she says and does, is truly worthy of praise.

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Second Reading: Acts 13: 26-31

 

St. Paul is on his first missionary journey, accompanied by Barnabas. Our reading finds them in the city of Antioch in Asia Minor, where they head to the synagogue to worship and to share the Good News when they are invited to share some words of encouragement. St. Paul is only too happy to oblige and starts out with a very concise history of the Children of Israel, and finishing that history with a concise history of Jesus’ ministry. He then notes that the Jewish rulers did not understand that Jesus was their Messiah and had him killed but that God had raised Jesus from the dead. St. Paul concludes that he and Barnabas were now bringing this message of salvation to them.

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Gospel Lesson: John 20: 1-2, 10-18

 

Mary Magdalene is a follower of Jesus who, during Jesus’ ministry, had seven demons cast out of her. She consequently becomes one of Jesus’ devotees and supporters, even staying with him to the end at the foot of the cross. Today’s reading finds her returning to the tomb on Sunday morning, to complete the burial process that Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea had started Friday evening. Upon arriving, she sees that the stone covering the mouth of the tomb had been moved, so she turns around to report to Peter and John her assumption that Jesus’ body had been removed. Peter and John verify that Jesus’ body is no longer there, and return to their homes. But Mary tarries, crying. And when she stoops to look through the opening to the tomb, perhaps to convince herself that Jesus’ body is no longer there, she is startled to see two angels sitting where Jesus’ body had lain. In response to their question of why she is weeping, Mary expresses her puzzlement of where Jesus’ body has gone, turns, and seeing a supposed gardener, asks him where Jesus’ body is. The supposed gardener, Jesus, simply speaks Mary’s name and she immediately recognizes him as her teacher and clings to him in joy. Noting that he still needs to ascend to the Father, Jesus asks Mary not to cling to him but rather go to his disciples to tell them the Good News, which she does. 

 

Sunday on 3 - 9 July (Proper 9)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Ezekiel 2: 1-5

 

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 are in captivity is that they had rejected God. In today’s reading, we find God calling Ezekiel to the ministry of a prophet to the people in captivity, the people who God calls rebellious, impudent, and stubborn. In contrast, Ezekiel is called the “son of man,” or more accurately, the “son of Adam,” perhaps reflecting the closeness that God felt for Ezekiel while at the same time indicating that Ezekiel was God’s humble servant to His Creator. And what is Ezekiel’s commission? To call this rebellious crowd of captives to repentance.

 

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Epistle Lesson: 2 Corinthians 12:1-10

 

Since our reading of last Sunday, St. Paul has provided more arguments to the Christians in Corinth that they should share their plenty with those of their brethren who are in poverty. Then he launches into a discussion of why he is qualified to admonish them in this way, indicating that he too is an apostle. But in today’s reading, he presents a cogent argument for being one of God’s messengers to the people of the world: he was given a vision of heaven which apparently he was not allowed to share. St. Paul admits that he would like to boast about this but then notes that he has been given a “thorn in the flesh” by God to keep him humble, that despite this weakness, God would still keep him strong. And what are these weaknesses? St. Paul lists them: insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. Through all of them, St. Paul remains strong because of God’s grace and power.

Many people have speculated about what St. Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was, suggesting that it might have been poor eyesight (for example, see Galatians 4:13-15) or some other physical ailment. We might get some insight on this when we consider other passages of Scripture that do mention something equivalent to a thorn in the flesh, including Numbers 33:55 and Joshua 23:12-13. In these latter two cases, a type of thorn in the flesh is specifically mentioned as being hassled by a group of people. Can you think of a group of people that continually hassled St. Paul throughout his ministry?

 

Gospel Lesson: Mark 6: 1-13

 

Recalling our reading from last Sunday, where Jesus had raised from the dead the daughter of Jairus, today’s reading reveals Jesus leaving the city in which Jairus lived and returning to his hometown. His disciples tagged along. As was His custom, Jesus went into the synagogue on the Sabbath to teach. But remember, Jesus is now in his hometown, where he grew up. People knew him as the carpenter’s son, Mary as his mother, and brothers James, Joses, Judas, and Simon, as well as sisters. So if Jesus grew up among them, how come He has such wisdom, and the power to do such miracles? In other words, why is He so special? They are certainly not going to be taught by this young whipper-snapper! So what do you do when you don’t understand something or don’t want to understand something? You take offense at it. Prompting Jesus to note that a prophet is welcomed everywhere but in his hometown, among his relatives, and especially by his own household. As a consequence, only a few people had enough faith in Him to be healed of their illness, prompting Jesus to marvel at the extent of the unbelief present. (Remember last week’s story?)

So Jesus went out to other villages, then sending the inner twelve disciples, two by two, ahead of Him to more villages to prepare them for His arrival. Note that He gives them authority over demons, resulting in their casting out demons but also healing many diseases as they preached the coming of the Kingdom of God, calling people to repentance. Note also that Jesus’ instructions to His disciples included making their entire mission an act of faith—depending on God to provide through the generosity of others for their food and board. 

 

Sunday on 17 - 23 July (Proper 11)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Jeremiah 23: 1-6

 

Jeremiah was God’s messenger to the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, during the forty-plus years prior to its being carried off into Babylonian Captivity. As a result, the messages are a mixture of calls to repentance for a nation sinking into worldly ways, warnings of punishment if repentance does not occur, and promises of restoration to a repentant people. Today’s reading singles out not the people but the religious leaders, or shepherds, of the people. Why? Because instead of being concerned for the spiritual life of the people, they were concerned with their own earthly lives: they were in it for the benefits, e.g. places of honor at meals and meetings, keeping the money for the upkeep of the temple for themselves (see 2 Kings 12 and 22), and for the honors, they received in public. As a consequence, the spiritual growth of the people was at least hindered if not the people being driven away into idolatry.

God, therefore, states flatly that He will deal with these shepherds appropriately. And in addition, He will bring back to the folded sheep from every nation, and find shepherds who will take care of them. Finally, God states that He will raise up a righteous king and shepherd from the house of David, who will execute justice and righteousness in the land, and will save Israel (Israel here having a double meaning: to include the Children of Israel in the Old Testament days and to include believers in Jesus the Christ in New Testament days—see Romans 2:28-29; 3:28-30; 8:14-17; 9:29-33; and Galatians 3: 6-9, 13-14, and 28-29). The name of this king and shepherd? The Lord is our righteousness, who could only be Jesus.

 

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Epistle Lesson: Ephesians 2: 11-22

As St. Paul continues his letter of encouragement to the Christians in Ephesus, he basically confirms that what God said in our Old Testament Lesson has been fulfilled. Gentiles, who had been driven away from God by the Jews who practiced a religion of exclusion instead of inclusion, have now been brought to God by the blood sacrifice of that great shepherd of the sheep, Jesus. Furthermore, since Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, Gentiles who believe in Jesus have the exact same status as Jews who believed in a coming Messiah in Old Testament days and now believe in Jesus in this New Testament period. So Jesus brought peace with God to the Jews (those who were “near”), and also to the Gentiles (those who are “far off”), making the two groups fellow citizens and legitimate children of the same household of God. In addition, with Jesus being the cornerstone, the Old Testament saints based on the foundation of the prophets, and the New Testament saints based on the foundation of the apostles, are being built into a temple, a dwelling place for God Himself.

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Gospel Lesson: Mark 6: 30-44

As we continue from two weeks ago the story of Jesus’ ministry, which involved Jesus sending out the twelve ahead of Him to prepare villages for the coming of the Kingdom of God, we find in today’s reading the twelve returning to Jesus upon the completion of their mission. But even then, Jesus and His disciples are constantly surrounded by crowds needing His teaching and healing ministries, to the point where they no longer have time to eat. Jesus advises that they go to a desolate place to recover physically and mentally. But people recognize them in the boat that they are traveling in, surmise where they are going, and get there ahead of them, so that when Jesus and His disciples land onshore, there already is a great crowd waiting for them. Jesus’ compassion kicks in, and He starts to teach them, recognizing that the crowd was like sheep without a shepherd. The hours go by, and soon it is approaching dusk, so the disciples advise Jesus to send the crowd away so that they can find food in the surrounding villages. But when Jesus tells the disciples for them to give the crowd something to eat, they respond that 200 days of wages would not be enough money to buy what was needed. Jesus still insists, telling them to see how much food is available there: just 5 hard rolls and two dried fish. So Jesus says, “Let’s go with these,” invites the crowd to sit down and instructs the disciples to distribute the rolls and fish after, of course, He has blessed it. And to the disciples’ astonishment, after all, 5000 men (plus women and children) eat to their full, there are still 12 baskets-full of left-overs. So the Great Shepherd had provided for the crowd’s spiritual and physical needs. 

 

Sunday on 10 - 16 July (Proper 10)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Amos 7: 7-15

 

Amos apparently was a shepherd who was selected by God to be His messenger to the Northern Kingdom, or Israel, for a short time during the reign of King Jeroboam II. King Jeroboam’s reign lasted over 40 years, and it was through him that the Lord restored lands taken from Israel by Syria, Moab, and Ammon, among others. The Lord did this because He had compassion for the sufferings of His people at the hands of their enemies. Consequently, a certain element of peace and prosperity existed. However, idolatry persisted throughout the Northern Kingdom, particularly the idolatry introduced by King Jeroboam I, with the making of two golden calves, one of which was located in Bethel. Also remember that King Jeroboam I also established his own priesthood for the calves, which continued for the life of Israel. As God held the surrounding nations accountable for their brutality of others, so God held Israel accountable for their idolatry and the forsaking of their covenant with Him.

This latter is the picture presented to us in today’s reading. God has given Amos a vision of a plumb line (apparently representing God’s covenant with Israel) against a wall (representing the nation of Israel), which demonstrates that the wall is so far off from vertical, or true, that it cannot help but collapse. And God confirms this by saying that Israel will be laid waste. Of course, Amos had the responsibility of conveying this vision to Israel as a dire warning of judgment if repentance did not occur post haste. Instead, Amaziah, a member of the ersatz priesthood of the golden calf at Bethel, files a complaint against Amos to King Jeroboam and also orders Amos to flee Israel and go to the Southern Kingdom, or Judah. But Amos responds that those are not God’s orders.

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Epistle Lesson: Ephesians 1: 3-14

 

It was at the beginning of St. Paul’s third missionary journey that he preached Christ to the people of Ephesus, a prominent seaport on the west coast of what is now Turkey. In fact, he eventually spent three years there, teaching them the way of Christ. But now St. Paul is in prison in Rome, and despite his imprisonment, he still wants to write a letter of encouragement to the Ephesian Christians whom he loves dearly. St Paul begins a brief history of the world:

—God blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing;
—God chose us
before He created the world as a people to be holy

(i.e., set apart) and blameless before Him;
—Because of God’s love for us, he
adopted us through the sacrifice

of Jesus;
—In Christ, we have
redemption through Christ’s blood sacrifice,

forgiveness of our sins, and the riches of God’s grace;

—Through Christ, God revealed the mystery of His will, that He

would unite in Christ all things in heaven and on earth;

—In Christ, we have gained an eternal inheritance, which God

planned for us from the very beginning;
—To those who have heard and believed the Gospel, God sealed

with the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of our inheritance until we get to Heaven.

Wow! Talk about love and planning ahead. There is a reason that St. Paul cannot help but keep praising God for all that He has done for us.

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Gospel Lesson: Mark 6: 14-29

 

Recall from our reading of last Sunday that Jesus had now sent the twelve 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 (Deut. 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 Salome performed an extremely sensual dance for King Herod at one of his parties and 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? 

 

Sunday on 24 - 30 July (Proper 12)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Genesis 9: 8-17

 

The Great Flood has just ended, and Noah and his family, as well as all the creatures that they took with them, have exited the ark. The earth is now a new place, and so God sets Noah and his family down to explain the new rules, among which is that, in addition to every green plant that God had given mankind for food previously, now every living/moving creature would be food for mankind as well. The only caveat when eating living things: they could not eat the blood.

But then God makes the first covenant with the post-flood earth: God would place a rainbow in the sky whenever (rain) clouds are brought upon the earth, as a sign that God would never again destroy all living creatures by a flood.

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Epistle Lesson: Ephesians 3: 14-21

 

As St. Paul continues his letter to the Ephesian Christians, which we began reading two weeks ago, he takes a moment to acknowledge the enormity of the creation that God has achieved and each creation of which was named by God through Adam. He then turns to bless the Ephesians by asking God to strengthen his readers with that same power, so that Christ may be thoroughly entrenched in their hearts, their faith sustained, and their love enriched. Why? So that they (and we as well!) may be able to comprehend the enormity of the love that God showered on them through Jesus Christ, recognizing that God is able to do far more than what we can either ask or imagine. Certainly to such a God as ours be glory in the present church and in eternity with Christ Jesus!

 

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Gospel Lesson: Mark 6: 45-56

 

Recall from last Sunday’s reading that, after Jesus had taught the crowds in a desolate place, he fed the 5000 men (plus women and children) with 5 hard rolls and two dried fish. Having been fed, the crowd is now dismissed, and Jesus instructs his disciples to get into their boat and head back (west) to the other side of the Sea of Galilee to Bethsaida. In the meantime, Jesus went to the top of the mountain in order to spend some serious time with His Father in prayer. As you may recall from our previous description of the nature of the Sea of Galilee five weeks ago, storms can pop up suddenly and be severe. And sure enough, the disciples are caught in the thick of it. With the wind blowing against them, they are essentially at a standstill, if not worse. Jesus, seeing this from his vantage point, walks on the Sea toward them and then starts to pass them by when the disciples see him and cry out in fear, thinking that what they were seeing was a ghost. But Jesus quickly reassures them, telling them that He is the “I am.” And as soon as Jesus steps into the boat, the storm is over. Amazingly, after seeing the miracle of the feeding of the crowd, and now the second instance of Jesus calming the storm, the disciples still do not appreciate who Jesus is. They apparently are still trying to rationalize things in human terms.

By the time the boat reaches shore after daybreak, Jesus and his disciples are immediately recognized, and the word spreads rapidly throughout the region as people bring their sick loved ones to Jesus for healing. And as Jesus travels from village to village, even people who merely touched the fringe of his garment as He passed by are healed. As Jesus noted in one of His discussions with the religious leaders (John 5:36), the works that Jesus did were a witness that He was indeed the Son of God, the Promised Messiah. 

 

Sunday on 31 July - 6 August (Proper 13)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Exodus 16: 2-15

 

Let’s get the overall picture here. God has just sprung the Children of Israel from slavery in Egypt through the working of ten miraculous plagues. In addition, God worked in the hearts of the Egyptians to allow the Children of Israel to “borrow” as much of their silver, gold, jewelry, and other goods as they wanted, to be paid for their years of slavery. Then he allowed them to pass through the Red Sea on dry ground, after which the Children of Israel watched as the waters of the Red Sea swallowed up the army of Pharaoh as they tried to follow the Children of Israel. Then, when the 2.5-million-plus people and their flocks ran out of water, and the only water they could find was bitter, God through Moses made the water sweet.

With these miracles fresh in the memories of the Children of Israel, the first thing they do when they run out of food is accused God and Moses of bringing them out into the desert to kill them, saying that their life in Egypt was better because they had their fill of meat and bread. So God responded by sending quail that covered the camp in the evening, and in the morning the dew that lay on the ground became manna, bread from heaven, demonstrating that their God was not only their deliverer but also their provider. In other words, the lack of potable water was a test.

But there was another catch. God gave specific instructions on how much manna the Children of Israel were to gather each morning, and how they were not to look for manna on the Sabbath. This was another test, to see whether the Children of Israel would obey the Lord their God, or not.

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Epistle Lesson: Ephesians 4: 1-16

 

As we continue reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we find him urging his readers to live up to the calling given them in Christ Jesus, which would be characterized by humility, gentleness, patience, empathy, love, unity of the Spirit, and peace. After all, there is only one body and one Spirit to which all believers are called, one baptism in the name of the Trinity, and one God and Father who poured out His grace on all believers. Then St. Paul 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 the 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.

 

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Gospel Lesson: John 6: 22-35

 

Let’s again get the overall picture. Jesus is on the east side of the Sea of Galilee, where large crowds have followed Him because of all the miracles He did in healing the sick. In His compassion, Jesus tends to the physical needs of the people. But evening then draws near, and Jesus, again in His compassion, does another miracle in order to feed 5000 men (plus women and children). Jesus then sends His disciples ahead of Him to the west coast of the Sea of Galilee, while He stays behind to commune with His Father. This is followed by Jesus walking on water to rescue the disciples caught in a sudden storm on the Sea of Galilee.

As the reading for today begins, we find the crowd still at the feeding site, now observing that neither the disciples, who had gotten into a boat, nor Jesus, were there. So they cross the Sea of Galilee to its northwest corner, where Capernaum was situated. There they start looking for Jesus. And when they find Him, Jesus lays it on the line. They were not looking for Him for the spiritual nourishment that He could provide, but for the free food. Then Jesus springs on them the crucial question: are you working for food that will feed you day by day, or for the food that will give you eternal life? When asked what kind of work Jesus was referring to, He responded by saying that the work that God wants them to do is to believe in Him (i.e., Jesus) whom the Father had sent.

Jesus must have been set back by the next question of the crowd: what sign are you going to do to show that God the Father has sent you? Don’t they remember the free meal that they ate to the full the evening before? Or all the healings he did just recently? Apparently, they thought that it was Moses who gave their fathers manna because Jesus has to correct their thinking. It was God who gave their fathers manna, and it is now God the Father who is giving them the true, real bread of Heaven, the bread of life, who is Jesus Himself.