October 2022 Commentaries

 

Reformation Day (31 October)

 

First Lesson: Revelation 14: 6-7

 

St. John is on the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea, southwest of Ephesus, exiled there for his witnessing to the truth of Jesus the Christ. One Sunday morning, Jesus appears to him in all his glory, with the instruction to write down letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor that Jesus is now going to dictate. As we all appreciate today, one or more of those seven letters could very well have been addressed to any one of the Christian churches in existence today.

But the dictation is followed by a vision of the end times, which in reality is the New Testament period. But today’s reading focuses on what will be happening in the very last days. St. John sees and hears an angel flying over him, proclaiming to every people on earth that they should fear God and give him glory, because the creator of heaven and earth is now coming to judge the people.

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 3: 19-28

 

St. Paul is in the process of completing his third missionary journey and is now contemplating his next journey to Rome and then to Spain. Perhaps by way of introduction, he prepares this letter to the Christians in Rome, this letter being actually a brief treatise on the Christian faith. In today’s reading, St. Paul is explaining the difference between law and gospel, noting that the purpose of the law is to make us aware of our sin. He states emphatically that in no way can obedience to the law save us, because none of us is without sin.

But then St. Paul explains the purpose of the gospel. It is to show us that by having faith, or believing, in the work of Jesus Christ, we will be declared righteous in God’s eyes. That is to say, God declares in a judicial decision that we are righteous as a gift, made possible by the substitutionary death of Christ for the death that we deserved because of our sins. This thus demonstrates both God’s grace (undeserved favor) to us as well as the correct judgment that he rendered. That is to say, by accepting Jesus’ death in our place for our sins, God’s righteous judgment of punishment for sins is satisfied.

Because God did everything needed for us to have eternal life, there is no provision for good works to assist in that process. What we consider to be good works is viewed as filthy rags by God (Isaiah 64:6). Therefore no one can be declared righteous by God through good works, but only by faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ.

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Gospel Lesson: John 8: 31-36

 

Today’s reading finds Jesus in Jerusalem for the Festival of Booths, which celebrates the fall harvest. This was one of the festivals required by God which all Jewish men had to attend every year (Deuteronomy 16:16-17), because it was a means by which every family could express their thankfulness to God by sharing their bounty in a week-long celebration. But this also allowed people to get to know each other better. And wouldn’t you know that this also allowed the Pharisees and Jesus to get to know each other better. Today’s reading is one of many exchanges between the Pharisees and Jesus. The sad part about this discussion was that the Pharisees refused to listen to what Jesus was saying when he said that they needed to believe in him in order to be set free (from their sins). The Pharisees retort that, since they are descendants of Abraham, they have never been enslaved to anyone, obviously conveniently overlooking the truth that they not only were slaves in Egypt, but were slaves to many other nations, including Babylon.

But Jesus helps them to focus on the spiritual nature of what he is talking about by noting that anyone who commits a sin is automatically a slave to sin. And there is no provision for the slave to bail himself out of slavery. In a household, only the descendant of the master, or the son, is part of the household. A slave never becomes a part of the household, or an heir, unless the son sets that slave free, referring to the fact that only Jesus’ substitutionary death would enable a person to become spiritually free.

 

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Reformation Day

 

Alternate Gospel Lesson: Matthew 11: 12-19

 

Recall that Herod the Tetrarch has imprisoned John the Baptist, apparently at the insistence of his wife Herodias. The Reason: Herod had divorced his wife to marry Herodias, who had been Herod’s brother Philip’s wife; while Herodias had divorced her husband to marry Herod, which was an adulterous relationship. John the Baptist had brought this adulterous relationship to the attention of Herod and Herodias on multiple occasions, to the gross irritation of Herodias, so she wanted the messenger of God silenced. John, probably aware that his death was imminent, sent two of his disciples to Jesus to ascertain whether Jesus really was the Messiah. There may have been two reasons for this: (1) John may have wondered whether he had made a mistake in identifying Jesus as the Messiah, because he now felt abandoned by God. (2) John may still have been positive about Jesus being the Messiah, but he needed to direct his disciples to Jesus.

As John’s two disciples leave to carry Jesus’ reassurance to John, Jesus addresses the crowd around him about John, stating that John is more than just a prophet. He is the prophet identified by Malachi (Malachi 4: 5) as the forerunner of the Messiah, the “Elijah” who is to come. And John is now suffering the violence that marks the present period of time. Jesus then compares that present generation to children who always are finding something to criticize: In this case, John arrived neither eating rich foods or drinking excessively, and was accused of having a demon; but when Jesus arrived, sharing meals with tax collectors and sinners, he is accused of being a glutton and a drunkard. There just is no pleasing some people.

But Jesus’ bottom line: the wisdom of what people do will be justified by the kind of deeds they perform.

 

St. James of Jerusalem, Brother of Jesus, and Martyr (23 October)

 

First Lesson: Acts 15: 12-22a

 

Paul and Barnabus just recently have returned from that first missionary journey to Asia minor. They are now in Antioch when some men from Judea arrive on the scene to straighten them out. No, they claim, faith is not enough. Every Christian (male) must also be circumcised—implying that the covenant that God made through Moses was still in effect. That is to say, the covenant that Jesus made with us through his blood sacrifice was not sufficient. One can almost imagine the fierce discussion that must have followed as Paul and Barnabas debated with them. Finally the Antioch church decided to sent a contingent to Jerusalem, where the issue could be decided by the apostles. After their arrival in Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas must have been shocked to find that believers that still belonged to the Pharisees insisted that Christians not only must be circumcised but must keep all the laws of Moses. Then Peter got up and reminded them of what they had decided after Peter came back from that astounding episode in the household of Cornelius (Acts 10), where these uncircumcised Gentiles were baptized in the Holy Spirit just as the disciples were on the day of Pentecost.

As our reading for today begins, we find the assembly becoming silent as Paul and Barnabas recount all of the miracles and healings that Jesus had done through their hands during their missionary trip. Finally James, the brother of Jesus and regarded as the head of the church in Jerusalem, gets up and recounts a number of the passages in the Old Testament where God made it very clear that he intended salvation for all peoples, not just Jews. With that, the decision is clear that the old covenant has been replaced by the new covenant, but that the new Christians still need to observe certain things, including

—staying away from anything polluted by idols,
—abstaining from sexual immorality,
—not eating meat from strangulated animals (where the blood is still present in the meat) or the blood itself.

It was a tremendous day where the freedom we have in Christ was confirmed.

 

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Epistle Lesson: James 1: 1-12

 

St. James, often referred to as James the Just, the brother of Jesus (Matthew 13:55), and head of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15), is writing to the Jewish Christians living outside of Palestine itself. His first words are those of encouragement as they face various trials, noting that these are meant to test our faith, and such testing leads to steadfastness of faith. And for those who lack wisdom, he advises that they ask God for it, who will respond generously if they ask in faith and do not doubt. Why not doubt? Because that is the same as unbelief (remember when Jesus could do hardly any miracles in his hometown because of the people’s unbelief?—Matthew 13:58).

Then he addresses the poor and the rich, advising the poor to focus on the fact that they are now children of God; and telling the rich to become humble, because riches can fade away quickly, like a blade of grass in the midst of a desert under a scorching sun . But then he turns again to the topic of faith, noting that those who remain steadfast in the faith thru trials and tribulations will receive the crown of life that God promises to those who love him.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 13: 54-58

 

Jesus has been by the Sea of Galilee, teaching the people in parables and then explaining the parables to his disciples. When he finished, he went to his hometown of Nazareth, where he went to the synagogue, again to teach. You would think that the listeners would be pleased to see that a local boy has made good. But no! The spirit of jealousy sneaks in, and instead of the people of the synagogue being pleased to hear the Scriptures explained, they become resentful, wondering how a carpenter’s son whose mother and brothers (including James) and sisters are still here, could have gotten such wisdom and performed such mighty works. So, of course, they are offended. To which Jesus observes, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.”

And what is the consequence of such jealousy and hate? Jesus could do few miracles and healing in his hometown because of their unbelief. And that gives us something to think about. What are we missing out on because we refuse to believe and accept everything that God has made available for us?

 

St. Luke, Evangelist (18 October)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 35: 5-8

 

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.

These of course are all signs of the coming of the Messiah. But is it his first coming or his second coming, or both?

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Epistle Lesson: 2 Timothy 4: 5-18

 

Today’s lesson is a continuation of St. Paul’s second letter to Timothy. He first of all encourages Timothy

—to be sober-minded,
— to endure suffering,
—to do the work of an evangelist, and

—to fulfill his ministry.

Then he looks back on his life, noting that his departure is imminent, but knows that he will be with God in heaven because he has kept the faith. Hence he knows that a crown of righteousness awaits him.

He then laments the departure of some of his co-workers: Demas, who returned to his former way of life; and Crescens and Titus, who went to two provinces to continue their ministries there. It turned out that only Dr. Luke was still with him after he sent Tychicus to Ephesus.

He then pleads for Timothy to come to him, bringing his warm coat, some scrolls and parchments (presumably some of the Old Testament scriptures, or some of St. Paul’s writings), and Mark. Who is Mark? Mark, or John Mark, was a young Christian lad, a cousin of Barnabas, who Paul and Barnabas had brought to Antioch from Jerusalem, and who accompanied Paul and Barnabas for a short time on St. Paul’s first missionary journey. Later, when St. Paul started his second missionary journey, he took Silas along with him while Barnabas took Mark with him. Later on, when St. Paul was imprisoned, he wrote to the Colossians that Mark had provided him comfort, and he is sending him to them. (Incidentally, this is the Mark that wrote one of the four Gospels.)

Continuing his letter to Timothy, St. Paul warns him against Alexander the metalworker, who apparently opposed St. Paul and his message, possibly during his hearing in court. In addition, no one else was there to support him, so St. Paul felt abandoned at this point. Yet he expressed faith that the Lord would rescue him.

Our faith also should be as St. Paul’s when he concludes, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.”

 

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 10 :1-9

 

In chapter 9 of St. Luke’s Gospel, we read that Jesus sent out his 12 apostles to cast out demons, heal diseases, and proclaim the kingdom of God. In our lesson for today, Jesus sends out 72 others with the same instructions—in preparation for Jesus who is to follow. He notes that there is a huge number of those needing to be saved, but few people involved in that ministry. Therefore they need to pray to God that he provide laborers for this harvest of souls.

He then provides instructions on how to they are to conduct themselves: they are

—to carry no money bag, backpack, or spare sandals,
—to be
focussed

greeting/ chatting with no one on the road,

—to announce peace to any house they enter, but if the

occupant does not genuinely return the peace, to leave,
—to stay in just one house rather than moving from place to place in any one town that welcomes them,
—to eat and drink whatever is
provided, and
—to
announce that “the Kingdom of God has come near to you” to

every town that they enter.

In other words, they are to be dependent entirely on God on their journey and mission, whether it is place of ministry, or room and board. Their only concern is getting the job done. Fascinating thought!

 

St. Simon and St. Jude, Apostles (28 October)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Jeremiah 26: 1-16

 

As you may recall, God called Jeremiah to be His prophet to the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, when Jeremiah was still a youth, and he served in this capacity for over 40 years. His ministry began during the reign of King Josiah, the Southern Kingdom’s most righteous king, who attempted to undo his father’s and grandfather’s introduction of every kind of idolatry, and to stimulate a revival. Unfortunately, the succeeding four kings were all evil, and they led the nation back into idolatry from which they never recovered. This culminated in the Babylonian captivity. Jeremiah’s ministry was to support King Josiah but to rebuke and warn the nation during the reigns of the last four kings. Thus God’s messages through Jeremiah were calls to repentance from apostasy, warnings of punishment if not repentant, and promises of restoration to a repentant people. Obviously, Jeremiah’s messages did not earn him any favors from a people intent on pursuing worldly pleasures, including the pleasures sanctioned by the idol worship.

This is the situation described in our reading for today. God has told Jeremiah to go to the Temple and declare that, unless all the people repent of all their evil ways, God will make the temple and Jerusalem like Shiloh (see 1 Samuel 4:1-11 and Psalm 78:60-61). The people of Jerusalem understand fully what Jeremiah is saying, that God will remove their city as well as the temple, which they at this point regard as a talisman. But now we see the response of the people, the priests, and the prophets alike: They insist that Jeremiah deserves to die because he has spoken against their city and temple. So they grab Jeremiah and haul him before the city officials to try him. Jeremiah defends himself by saying that he is just conveying God’s message to them, calling for repentance in order to avert disaster. But if they condemn him to death, they are to know that they will be guilty of murder, the taking of innocent blood, in addition to all of their other sins.

Initially, the officials and the people say that Jeremiah does not deserve to die. But if we continue reading, we find others arguing against Jeremiah so that ultimately he barely escapes with his life.

 

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Epistle Lesson: 1 Peter 1: 3-9

 

St. Peter is addressing the Christians—mostly Gentiles—in Asia minor (modern- day Turkey), focussing on remaining faithful in the midst of trials and tribulations. First of all he praises God for his mercy by which they were born again to a heavenly inheritance through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. But he also notes that they can still rejoice in this gift, even though they may be suffering under various trials These trials are God’s way of testing how genuine their faith is, so that it will result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus returns in judgment. Thus, because they love Jesus despite not seeing him, they will obtain the outcome of their faithfulness—the salvation of their souls.

Assurances that we can cherish as we continue our walk in faith in the midst of trials and tribulations.

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Gospel Lesson: John 15: (12-16) 17-21

 

Jesus has stated that He is the vine and we are the branches, and that we can bear fruit only if we abide in Him, Jesus also noted that we need to abide in His love. And we can do that only by keeping the Father’s commandments. When that happens, Jesus’ joy will be in us.

But then Jesus gives us a command: To love one another just as He loved us, with the kind of love that makes a significant sacrifice for someone else’s benefit Then Jesus notes that we are His friends if we obey his commandments; we are no longer just servants.

When Jesus states that we did not choose Him but that He chose us in order to bear much fruit, He reminds us of that promise that whatever we ask the Father in Jesus’ name, He will give it to us in order to show that we truly do love each other and that the Father may be glorified.

But then Jesus strikes a more somber note: because the world hates Jesus, it also is going to hate us. The world would love us only if we lived like they lived. Since we are servants of Christ, the world will persecute us just as they persecuted Jesus, simply because we love Jesus.

 

All Saints’ Day

 

First Lesson: Revelation 7: 9-17

 

Recall from the book of Jesus’ Revelation to St. John, that St. John is on the island of Patmos, exiled because of his witness. But on one Sunday morning, he sees a vision of the risen Christ, followed by visions in heaven of events that had occurred, and will occur on earth and in the universe during the very last days. The first series of events that he sees are recorded in the chapter preceding today’s reading, in Revelation, chapter 6. Here we see Jesus opening seven seals on a scroll. Each opening of the first four seals results in a specific type of calamity on earth. The opening of the 6th seal is followed by devastation throughout the created universe, indicating the end of time. John’s eyes are then drawn from the universe to heaven, where he sees the saints from all time, as well as the angels, gathered around God’s throne, praising him for who he is and what he has done on behalf of his creation. One of God’s elders then tells John that these saints are the ones who have remained faithful to God despite enduring tribulation on earth, as a consequence of which, God will personally take care of them in Heaven.

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Epistle Lesson: 1 John 3: 1-3

 

In St John’s first letter to the Christian community in general, he clarifies who Christians are and what this will mean for us when we get to Heaven. In particular, in this passage, St. John states that believers are now already God’s children, and when we get to Heaven, our bodies will be like Jesus’. As a consequence, we should keep ourselves pure now, just as Jesus is pure.

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Gospel Lesson: Matthew 5: 1-12

 

Jesus begins his Sermon on the Mount with a listing of godly characteristics which we call the Beatitudes. These characteristics are

—poor in spirit, meaning those who recognize that they need God’s spiritual intervention

—those who mourn, meaning those who lament their own sins, needing God’s forgiveness

—those who are meek, meaning those who do not aggressively demand their satisfaction but instead depend on God’s favor

—those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, meaning those who recognize that they need God’s rather than man’s righteousness

—those who are merciful, meaning those who are compassionate toward others

—those who are pure in heart, meaning those whose words and actions reflect God’s righteousness in their hearts

—those who are peacemakers, meaning those who promote true world peace through the proclamation of God’s salvation through their words and actions

—those who are persecuted, meaning those who have been used and abused simply because they love and serve Jesus.

 

The words of Jesus’ on this beatitude in Luke 6:22-23 are truly noteworthy: Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.

 

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.

 

Sunday on October 9 - 15 (Proper 23)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Ruth 1: 1-19a

 

The story of Ruth is well known, but some of the context is not. So let’s deal with that first. Ephrathites are descendants of Ephraim, who was one of Joseph’s two sons who were adopted by Joseph’s father, Jacob.

Moab is a country reserved by God for the descendants of Moab, a son of Lot’s older daughter who engineered an incestuous relationship with her father. Not surprisingly, the Moabites fell into idol worship.

It was Jewish marriage custom that, if a married son died without a male descendant, the next eligible son would marry the widow so as to produce a son that would carry on the deceased son’s name. In this case, after Naomi’s two sons died, she had no other sons to give to the widows. And obviously they could not wait for Naomi to remarry and give birth to two more sons—if she were still of child-bearing age! After all, males had to establish themselves in a career and have a home before they could be married.

Finally, we note that, when Naomi’s husband died, she was not yet eligible for Social Security; and life insurance policies were non-existent except for having enough sons to support a widow in her old age. Consequently, we must appreciate the severe dilemma that now faced both Naomi as well as her two daughters-in-law. The two younger widows might still find husbands, but Naomi was destined for severe poverty.

The bottom line for this story is that Ruth, a Moabitess, chose to forsake her idolatress way of life in order to throw in her lot with Naomi, because Ruth had chosen to worship the true God. Was it for this faith of hers that God chose to have Ruth included in the genealogy of Jesus?

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Epistle Lesson: 2 Timothy 2: 1-13

 

St Paul continues the letter to Timothy that we began last week. The message is similar: Timothy is to endure in the faith despite trials and tribulations, continuing to serve as missionary to the lost around him in Ephesus. St. Paul’s exhortation must have been particularly meaningful to Timothy, since he knew that St. Paul was experiencing his second imprisonment in Rome, with his execution under Nero imminent. Thus St. Paul served as an example of a believer who endured until death.

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 17: 11-19

 

This well-known story of Jesus healing the ten lepers illustrates that faith, despite trying circumstances, is honored by God, especially if we remember to thank God for his faithfulness to us. The curious feature of this story is that only one leper came back to thank Jesus for the healing, and he was a foreigner. This prompted Jesus to ask where the other nine, presumably Children of Israel, were. Jesus noted the faith of foreigners as against his own people several times in the course of his ministry, one of the most notable being the Canaanite woman from the region of Tyre and Sidon who kept following Jesus, begging him to cure her daughter of a demon. Jesus’ response: it’s not right to give the children’s bread to the dogs, in effect saying healing was for the Children of Israel, not for foreigners. But the woman came right back with the response that even the dogs lick the crumbs that fall from the children’s table, in effect saying that she would be happy with just some crumbs of healing. The key here is the woman’s attitude: humility. She knew that she did not deserve mercy, but pleaded anyway for God’s grace.

On the other hand, getting back to our present story, the nine lepers, presumably Jesus’ countrymen, seemed to have a different attitude. Perhaps like the Pharisees (see John 8), they thought that since they were the children of Abraham and were God’s chosen people (Ex. 19:5-6), they were entitled to be healed—it was their due. Hence they would have no need to thank Jesus for the healing.

So the bottom line for this lesson might very well be the answer to these questions: How grateful are you for all the grace and mercy that God has shown to you over your lifetime? And how grateful are you for the blessings showered on you by others? And how have you demonstrated that gratitude?

 

Sunday on October 16 - 22 (Proper 24)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Genesis 32: 22-30

 

The lead character in today’s lesson is Jacob. Yes, that one, the guy who bought his brother’s birthright for a bowl of stew, and then deceived his father Issac so that he could get his brother’s blessing of the first-born son. Well, Esau, the brother, took exception to this, and planned to kill Jacob, so his father and mother, Issac and Rebekah, sent him to Rebekah’s brother Laban, in Haran (in today’s northwestern Iraq). There Uncle Laban put Jacob to work. Jacob fell in love with Uncle Laban’s younger daughter, Rachel, who is described as having beautiful features and figure. Uncle Laban and Jacob agreed that Jacob could marry her after working for free for the next seven years. But when the marriage took place, and Jacob went into the tent that night to consummate the marriage, he woke up the next morning to find not Rachel, but her sister Leah. Uncle Laban did a switcheroo, with the consequence that Jacob had to work another seven years in order to take Rachel as his second wife. But then, when Jacob wanted thereafter, as his earnings, some of the flock that he had been attending, no matter whether Uncle Laban agreed to give him the striped, spotted, speckled, or all-black animals, he always connived to keep Jacob from receiving the agreed-upon animals. But then God stepped in, and soon Uncle Laban’s flocks became smaller as Jacob’s became larger, to the point that an hostile atmosphere developed. It was then that God told Jacob to gather his wives, children, and flocks, and return to the Promised Land.

But when they got close to Israel, Jacob learned that his brother Esau was coming to meet him with 400 men. So Jacob quickly prepared for Esau a gift of sheep, goats, camels, cows, bulls, and donkeys, and sent the gift ahead of him. As our story begins today, we find Jacob sending his wives, children, and servants ahead of him also, while he tarried behind.

Suddenly, a man appeared and started to wrestle with Jacob. They wrestled all night, with neither appearing to have an advantage. Then, at the crack of dawn, the man just touched Jacob’s hip and it went out of joint, thus painfully disabling Jacob. Despite this, Jacob continued to grapple with the man and insisted that the man must bless him before he would let him go, which the man did. And so, despite 20 years of deception and abuse by his Uncle Laban, Jacob now receives a lasting blessing. But who is the man who blessed him?

 

 

Epistle Lesson: 2 Timothy 3: 14 - 4: 5

 

In this second letter to his young disciple Timothy, St. Paul exhorts him to be faithful in the performance of his ministry, encouraging him to endure despite his suffering. St. Paul emphasizes that all Scripture is God-inspired in order that all believers may become spiritually mature and others may be corrected, especially those who reject or misinterpret God’s Word in order that they may justify their own passions and lifestyle.

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 18: 1-8

 

Jesus wants to emphasize to us that God wants us to pray to him continually. Or in the words of St. Paul in 1 Thess. 5:17—Pray without ceasing. In today’s lesson, Jesus draws a parallel of a woman who continually badgered a judge in order to make him decide a case correctly, to believers praying to God for their needs and desires: we must persevere in prayer! But then Jesus adds a stinger: will we actually have the faith in God that he will answer our prayers? Or will we be among the doubters?

Do you remember St. James’ words about doubters (James 1: 6-8)? They must not assume that they will receive anything from the Lord.

 

Sunday on October 23 - 29 (Proper 25)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Genesis 4: 1-15

 

We all remember the story of Cain and Abel, the two sons of Adam and Eve who offered sacrifices to God; and because Abel’s was accepted by God and Cain’s was not, Cain murdered Abel in a fit of jealousy, even anger at God. Not identified in this story is the reason why Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable but Cain’s was not. What are some of the possibilities?

Well, Abel might have offered his sacrifice as a reflection of the bounty with which God had blessed him, while Cain’s sacrifice was stingy in its nature. For example, think of the story of the widow’s mite, in which Jesus observed some people making significant contributions to the temple, but then a widow gave only a penny. And Jesus observed, “This poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”—Mark 12:43b-44

Or maybe Abel loved the Lord so much that he was delighted to offer God a sacrifice from his blessings, while Cain made a sacrifice because it seemed to be the thing to do. In other words, it may have been an attitude problem. In this regard, we are reminded of St. Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” 2 Corinth. 9:6-7

Or perhaps Abel gave out of a thankful heart while Cain was thinking that a sacrifice would make God grateful to him; or perhaps Cain was thinking that he could buy God’s blessings. The author of Hebrews gives us the answer: By faith Abel offered a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain (Hebrews 11:4). Then he writes, “And without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Because of Cain’s lack of faith, Abel is murdered. But Cain compounds his sin by first denying that he did anything wrong. What was he thinking? Did he think that he could get away with lying to God?

Do we????

 

Epistle Lesson: 2 Timothy 4: 6-8 and 16-18

 

Today’s lesson is a continuation of St. Paul’s letter to Timothy, a portion of which we read last week. Here St. Paul looks back on his life, noting that his departure is imminent, but knows that he will be with God in heaven because he has kept the faith. He laments that apparently during his court appearance, no one but Dr. Luke was there to support him, so St. Paul felt abandoned at this point. Yet he expresses faith that the Lord will rescue him. Our faith also should be as St. Paul’s when he concludes, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.”

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 18: 9-17

 

What is the nature of our faith? What is the basis on which God approves of us? Jesus addresses these questions in today’s lesson, where he compares the attitudes of two men as they prayed, one of whose prayer was accepted, the other was not. Then he couples it with his gladly receiving children, saying that the kingdom belongs to such as these. And what is the basis of this justification? Humility before God—and before others!

 

 

Sunday on October 30 - November 5 (Proper 26)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 1: 10-18

 

Isaiah was God’s prophet to the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, during the reigns of kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. Although King Ahaz was the only through-and-through evil king in this group, still Kings Uzziah and Jotham were not fully committed to the Lord, and King Hezekiah allowed pride to overwhelm him at the end of his life. Thus God always had a reason to call Judah to repentance. This could not be more evident in today’s reading, where God makes clear that going through the motions of worshipping him not only does not impress him, but he finds it repulsive.

For example, he declares that sacrifices and burnt offerings are meaningless if one is leading a sexually immoral life. Then God notes that all the celebrations and feasts that he had asked the Children of Israel to observe, and even their prayers, were an abomination to him because of the evil that they are doing, including injustice and oppression of others, especially of the widows and orphans. Instead, God admonishes Judah to wash their hands to remove the blood of the used and abused, and cease to do evil but rather do good. Then God will wash away their sins.

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Epistle Lesson: 2 Thessalonians 1: 1-5 (6-10) 11-12

 

St. Paul established the church in Thessalonica during his second missionary journey to Asia Minor, accompanied by Silas. It is now some years later, and the church at Thessalonica had apparently come to the conclusion that Jesus’ second return had already happened. So St. Paul pens this second letter to them to address this issue.

He first of all gives thanks for them for their growing faith, their increasing love for one another, and their steadfastness of faith and endurance in the face of persecution. He then assures them that God will take vengeance on those who persecute them, and at the same time grant relief to those suffering from persecution for Jesus’ sake when Jesus returns with his angels. Then these

persecutors and unbelievers will be dispatched for eternal punishment while

the believers will be brought into Lord’s glory will all the saints.

St. Paul concludes this initial statement by noting that he and Silas continually pray for them that God will establish their work of faith so that the name of Jesus will be glorified among them.

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 19: 1-10

 

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem (for what would become the Palm Sunday event) when he starts to pass through Jericho. There happened to be a tax collector there by the name of Zacchaeus, a Jew, who evidently had become rich from his work. Now, Zacchaeus had heard of Jesus, and consequently when he learned that Jesus was in town, hastened to meet him. But Zacchaeus was short in stature and was unable to break through the crowd around Jesus. So he determined which route Jesus was taking, ran ahead, and climbed a tree so that he would be able to see Jesus. Sure enough, Jesus spots him and tells him that he wishes to stay at his house that evening. So Zacchaeus is delighted to host Jesus. On the other hand, the other Jews grumbled about Jesus because he was associating with a person that they regarded as a sinner (themselves being considered righteous, of course). But Zacchaeus had listened to Jesus, and announced that he was going to give half of his wealth to the poor, and restoring four-fold whatever he had defrauded anyone of (presumably while collecting those taxes), in accordance with the laws set up by God through Moses (Exodus 22:1 and 2 Samuel 12:6). Because of these acts of repentance, Jesus was able to say that salvation had come to Zacchaeus. Then Jesus responds to the grumbling of the Jews by noting that he came to seek and to save the lost—those who knew they needed a savior.

 

Sunday on November 6 - 12 (Proper 27)

 

Old Testament Lesson: Exodus 3: 1-15

 

Moses, as you will recall, was the baby put into a basket onto the Nile River, to be discovered and adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter. Moses was subsequently given the education and (military) training of a person of such stature, but he never forgot that he was one of the Children of Israel. And when he saw an Egyptian taskmaster beating a Hebrew, Moses intervened, causing the death of the taskmaster. Consequently, Moses had to flee for his life, ending up in Midian, now part of Saudi Arabia. There this super-educated man became a sheepherder for his father-in-law, Jethro, whose daughter he married there.
One day, while in the western part of Midian, by Mt. Horeb, he saw a bush
burning without being consumed. Naturally, his scientific education kicked into gear, and he headed over to the bush to investigate. But Moses quickly discovered that what he thought was a burning bush was actually God in disguise, who told Moses that he had heard the cries of affliction of the Hebrews in Egypt and was therefore going to take vengeance on the Egyptians for their oppressing the Hebrews while at the same time delivering the Hebrews, all through the leadership of Moses.

But Moses objects, basically saying that he is not qualified. God responds that he will be with him. Then Moses tries to weasel out by saying that the Hebrews will want to know the name of the God who is sending him (Moses) to lead them to freedom. So God tells Moses that his name is “I am who I am,” the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

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Epistle Lesson: 2 Thessalonians 2: 1-8 and 13-17

 

As St. Paul continues his letter to the Thessalonians that we started to read last week, he now turns his attention to the reason for writing the letter: to address the belief that Jesus’ second coming had already occurred. He tells them not to panic, and reassures them that Jesus will not return until after some things happen. They include the appearance of the man of lawlessness, believed to be the anti-Christ, who can be identified by the following events:

—he will oppose every other god or object of worship, declaring himself superior, and

—he will seat himself in God’s temple, declaring himself to be God.

Then St. Paul notes that the mystery of lawlessness, that is to say, the philosophies and religions meant to deceive the people, is already present, but the man of lawlessness will be revealed only after the one who is restraining him is taken out of the way. But who is restraining him? The restrainer is believed to be the archangel Michael (see Daniel 10:13 and 20-21; Daniel 12;1; and Revelation 12:7), who is considered to be the defender of the saints. Once the man of lawlessness is revealed, Jesus will dispatch him with the breath of his mouth. St. Paul then reassures the Thessalonians that God has chosen them to be saved, sanctifying them through the Holy Spirit and belief in the truth. Then he encourages them to stand firm in the faith that he had taught them.

 

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Gospel Lesson: Luke 20: 27-40

 

One has to appreciate the frustration that Jesus must have felt as he continued his ministry of the Messiah, with the Pharisees opposing him at every turn, questioning his assertion that he was indeed the Messiah. If that wasn’t enough, we find today the Sadducees coming at him. These are the ones who do not believe that there is either a resurrection or an afterlife. So they try to ridicule the idea of an afterlife by using the rule that God gave to the Children of Israel through Moses (Deuteronomy 25:5-10), that if a married brother dies, the surviving brother was obliged to marry the widow in order to continue the family line of the deceased. In this case, the Sadducees propose that one woman successively becomes the wife of seven brothers, all of whom die without providing a child. So the question is, whose wife is the woman in heaven? One can almost imagine the Sadducees chuckling to themselves, thinking that they have got Jesus trapped now.

Jesus’ response makes it clear that the Sadducees are trying to make a case out of gross ignorance. First of all, there is no marriage in heaven; instead, those who become sons of God through the resurrection to life eternal will be like the angels. Secondly, Jesus refers to the episode of Moses and the burning bush, noting that God (still) is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, meaning that he is not a god of the dead but of the living.

 

 

Reformation Day

 

First Lesson: Revelation 14: 6-7

 

St. John is on the island of Patmos, placed there by the governing authorities so that he cannot continue to be a missionary to the rest of the world for Jesus. But nothing prevents him from writing letters. And so Jesus appears to him in a vision, first of all dictating letters to the seven main churches in Asia Minor (perhaps words of wisdom to the Christian churches of all time), then giving St. John multiple visions of the very last days for all of us to read. These include a series of calamities that follow each of the openings of one of the seven seals on a scroll, culminating in a vision of an innumerable crowd around the throne of God. This is followed by another series of catastrophies that follow the blowing of seven trumpets in succession. Then we are given a visual spiritual history of the world, from Old to New Testament times, including the battle between God and Satan. That brings us to the reading for today, where St. John has another vision of the people gathered around God’s throne in heaven, with an angel giving good advice to all of us: Fear God, give glory to him, and worship him alone, because he made the heavens and the earth.

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Epistle Lesson: Romans 3: 19-28

 

In St. Paul’s writings today, we find God laying down the basis for salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, one of the capstones of Dr. Martin Luther’s discoveries in the Bible. First of all, the reason for the Law is given: to show us that our very thoughts, words, and deeds are sinful in God’s eyes. But then the basis of the Gospel is given: we receive the righteousness of God through faith in the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus for each one of us. This is called a propitiation, that is to say, mankind has been reconciled to God, or, God has been appeased, by the shed blood of Christ on behalf of humankind. Remember the words of the author of Hebrews:

“ . . . without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.” Hebrews 9:22b

“For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Hebrews 10:4

In other words, the sacrifices required by God of the Children of Israel for each sin or feeling of guilt did not take away sin, but rather was a picture of the coming sacrifice of Jesus that would take away sin. St. Paul then writes that God passed over former sins. What does that mean? Remember from the story of the rich man and Lazarus that Abraham and Lazarus were already in heaven, but Jesus had not died yet to take away their sin. So how did that work? It is sort of like a credit transaction, when you buy something with a credit card: You get what you want right away, but the bill eventually has to be paid.

So the Old Testament believers got their reward from God right away, but the payment for that reward eventually had to be made by Jesus. Note that this payment does not and cannot involve any contribution on our part. Thus St. Paul concludes that we are justified by faith apart from the works required by the Law.

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Gospel Lesson: John 8: 31-36

 

In today’s lesson, Jesus makes it clear that, because somebody is the genetic offspring of Abraham, that does not make him one of God’s chosen people who is entitled to heaven. Rather, it is a personal relationship with God and his Word that results in one hearing and doing God’s will. This first of all requires faith in the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus for our sins. It is this faith that results in our being freed from the slavery to sin. Bottom line: if you believe that Jesus, God’s son, has set you free from slavery to sin, you are free indeed.

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Alternate Gospel Lesson: Matthew 11:12-19

 

Recall that Herod the Tetrarch has imprisoned John the Baptist, apparently at the insistence of his wife Herodias. The Reason: Herod had divorced his wife to marry Herodias, who had been Herod’s brother Philip’s wife; while Herodias had divorced her husband to marry Herod, which was an adulterous relationship. John the Baptist had brought this adulterous relationship to the attention of Herod and Herodias on multiple occasions, to the gross irritation of Herodias, so she wanted the messenger of God silenced. John, probably aware that his death was imminent, sent two of his disciples to Jesus to ascertain whether Jesus really was the Messiah. There may have been two reasons for this: (1) John may have wondered whether he had made a mistake in identifying Jesus as the Messiah, because he now felt abandoned by God. (2) John may still have been positive about Jesus being the Messiah, but he needed to direct his disciples to Jesus.

As John’s two disciples leave to carry Jesus’ reassurance to John, Jesus addresses the crowd around him about John, stating that John is more than just a prophet. He is the prophet identified by Malachi (Malachi 3:1 and 4:5-6) as the forerunner of the Messiah, the “Elijah” who is to come. And John is now suffering the violence that marks the present period of time. Jesus then compares that present generation to children who always are finding something to criticize: In this case, John arrived neither eating or drinking rich foods, and was accused of having a demon; but when Jesus arrived, sharing meals with tax collectors and sinners, he is accused of being a glutton and a drunkard. There just is no pleasing some people.

But Jesus’ bottom line: the wisdom of what people do will be justified by the kind of deeds they perform.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

September 2022 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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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) wants, 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 of 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 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 !

 

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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:

 

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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?

 

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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.

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3-Year Lectionary/Series C September 25-October 1 (Proper 21)

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.