Fifth Sunday of Easter – April 29, 2018

Texts for the Day

Vine and Branches

This is the second week in the stewardship series. Earth Day is on April 22. In celebration of Earth Day, let us study the use of agricultural imagery in Scripture. Such images appear frequently in the Bible and often seem foreign in our urbanized culture. Next Sunday, we see one of the most fruitful (sorry!) of these images, the vine.

Read Isaiah 5:1-7, the Song of the Vineyard. Jesus did not invent the idea of a vineyard. Here, hundreds of years earlier, Isaiah vividly compares Israel to a vineyard that did not produce fruit. God declares God’s loving care for the vineyard, but now God has no choice but to clear the vineyard away and replace it. With this background, let us now take a look at the use of vineyard imagery in the New Testament.

Now read Matthew 21:33-46, the Parable of the Wicked Tenants. Matthew, even more than the other Gospels, relies heavily on references to the Old Testament. Note the parallel imagery of wall, watchtower, and winepress that make the reference unmistakable. Yet there are differences, too, with Jesus specifically singling out failed leadership as the source of the vineyard’s problems.

Now read Sunday’s passage, John 15:1-8. Like in the Matthew passage, Jesus is drawing on this same Old Testament imagery of the vine. Except now Jesus himself is the vine, giving life to use, the branches. The judgment language of the previous two passages is still present, but within a message of hope. If we abide in Jesus, Jesus abides in us, and we will be fruitful.

Fourth Sunday of Easter – April 22, 2018

Texts for the Day

Stewardship

This week, we begin a series on stewardship. The readings this week focus on shepherd imagery. In most cases, a shepherd is a royal image in the Bible. The loving care that a shepherd shows to sheep is compared to the expectation of how a good king will rule. In addition to the assigned readings for the day, here are some passages to read and think about.

1 Samuel 16:1-13 –  It is no accident that David, the future king, is depicted as a shepherd here. Psalm 23 is attributed to David, so what does it mean when the former shepherd, now king, sings, “The Lord is my shepherd?”

Ezekiel 34 – This is one of the longest shepherd passages we have in the Old Testament. God denounces the kings of Israel and Judah for being bad shepherds and taking care of themselves rather than their flocks. Furthermore, God declares that God will be the new shepherd or king and will rule justly.

All of this is in the background when Jesus says in John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd.” While much commentary on these words centers around the image of shepherd itself, Jesus is also making a royal claim. Jesus is the descendant of David. By saying he is the good shepherd, he is claiming not only kingship, but also answering David’s assertion in Psalm 23.

What does this have to do with stewardship? A steward is a servant who has been entrusted with the care of particular possessions or tasks. As servants of the King of Kings, the world has been entrusted to us. What has been entrusted specifically to you? How can you carry out the work of the Good Shepherd in your own life?

Third Sunday of Easter – April 15, 2018

Texts for the Day

Textual Criticism

Today’s Gospel reading is a portion of the resurrection narrative from Luke. What about Mark? In the year of Mark, we only get Mark’s resurrection story once in the lectionary and only part of it at that. The reason may be that the ending of the Gospel of Mark is disputed by scholars and there is disagreement on how much of it was genuinely written by Mark.

First, read Mark 16:1-20 in its entirety.  Contemporary scholars generally agree that verses 9-20 were a later addition and were not written by Mark. However, there is nothing that prevents us from reading it as a whole and accepting what has come to us as scripture. What do you think of this story? It describes a progression from fear, through disbelief, and finally to carrying out the Great Commission. Is there anything you can identify with in this path?

Now read Mark 16:1-8. There is consensus that these verses were written by Mark. Whether there is an additional ending that is now lost remains a mystery. What do you think of this ending? It ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, with the disciples running from the tomb in fear. Is this annoying? Or do you see this as an invitation to complete the story?

Besides these two options, there are additional variants such as the “Shorter Ending” and the “Freer Logion.” These can be found online or in the notes to a study Bible. Why do you think the setters of the lectionary have avoided passages such as Mark 16:9-20 that are part of the Bible, but have a disputed textual history? Is something lost by not reading these passages in church?

March 18, 2018 – Holy Week

Holy Week is coming up.  There are many services, each with texts in the lectionary, and the typical churchgoer never hears them all.  In preparation this week, select one or more of the texts that you hardly ever get to hear and study it.  I have added a few notes along the way.

Liturgy of the Palms

Liturgy of the Passion

  • Isaiah 50:4-9a – This is from the third of the “servant songs” in the book of Isaiah, which Christians interpret as referring to Jesus.  The others are Isaiah 42:1-4, Isaiah 49:1-6, and Isaiah 52:13-53:12.
  • Psalm 31:9-16
  • Philippians 2:5-11 – This is the famous “Christ Hymn.”  Scholars agree that Paul is quoting here, from a poem that has existed since the very earliest days of Christianity.
  • Mark 14:1-15:47

Maundy Thursday

Good Friday

Fifth Sunday in Lent – March 18, 2018

Texts for the Day

The New Covenant

This week is a bit different.  This fifth and final covenant does not refer to a particular point in the history of ancient Israel.  Instead, it refers to the promise of a future, new covenant.  In order to set some context, read Jeremiah 30:1 – 31:34.  These words are written to the survivors of the fall of Jerusalem and speak of the restoration of covenants that had seemingly been broken.

Can you identify the five elements of a covenant?  This text does not have the form of a covenant in quite the same way as our previous readings, so there is more than one way to do this.

  • Suzerain: God
  • Vassal: Israel and Judah
  • Provision: I will be their God, and they will be my people
  • Stipulations: None necessary
  • Sign: Law written upon people’s hearts

The promise of a new covenant is interpreted in the New Testament as being fulfilled.  See, among many examples, Luke 22:19-23 and Hebrews 9:15.  At this point, allow me to introduce a provocative question.  Is this correct?  That is, is the New Testament interpreting the Old Testament correctly?  Some things to think about as we explore these questions.

  • What did Jeremiah think the new covenant was referring to? Would he have been surprised to see claims that it was fulfilled in Jesus?
  • When we say that the Bible is inspired, what does this mean? Do we have to accept New Testament claims about the new covenant at face value or is there room for debate?

Fourth Sunday in Lent – March 11, 2018

Texts for the Day

The Davidic Covenant

This week, we will depart from the lectionary readings and study the Davidic covenant. Read 2 Samuel 7:1-17. Can you identify the five elements of a covenant that we have been studying before?

  • Suzerain – God
  • Vassal – David and his descendants
  • Provisions – Everlasting kingdom
  • Stipulations – Faithfulness to God
  • Sign – None specified

Questions for reflection:

  • The promise that David’s dynasty would last forever was not kept. It came to an end in 586 BCE when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and took the king into exile. What does this mean? How should we interpret God’s promises in light of this event?
  • There are several schools of thought that attempt to show that this promise was in fact kept. Here are two of them.
    • As with several of these covenants, it is impossible to consider the Davidic covenant without acknowledging its use in modern-day Zionist claims about the state of Israel. What do you think of this? Is this how scripture is intended to be used?
    • Since New Testament times, Christians have claimed that Jesus, as the descendent of David, is the fulfillment of these promises. What does this mean?