27 November 2018

The First Sunday in Advent, 3 December 2018

The First Sunday in Advent, 2 December 2018

Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-9
I Thessalonians 3:9-13
St. Luke 21:25-36

Background: Apocalyptic in the Gospels

In order to understand the development of apocalyptic materials in the Gospels, we need to understand the environment in the first or second century BCE. The recent readings from Daniel help us to get a feel for what these writers were up against. It helps when we hear certain commentators speak about this literature as “crisis literature”.  In having visions about making the whole of reality, the cosmos, right again. Some of this comes from the influence of Persian dualism – the forces of evil against the forces of right. Soon that actuality became quite real in the world of the Seleucid kings, and then the Romans. Jews did think that their world had been compromised and needed to be redeemed.

It is in this world understanding that Jesus arrives, and in which the literature about him was written. So, it is natural that these writers (they synoptics) and Jesus himself use apocalyptic themes and vocabulary to shape their message to the world. Our Gospel for this morning, Luke 21:25-36, is a good example of apocalyptic writing. Jesus’ comments (see also Mark 13; andMatthew 24-25). The destruction of Jerusalem which may have been evident to some of the synoptics would have added those realities to the Jesus’ sayings that they present in their gospels.

First Reading: Jeremiah 33:14-16

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: "The Lord is our righteousness."

Finally, Jeremiah is able to speak a word of hope into his difficult situation. Chapter 33 is made up of seven oracles – promises really – in which God indicates an intention to reverse the misfortunes of Judah. There are two important claims implicit in the text. First of all, it is God who speaks, and it is God’s resolve. Secondly, God’s intent is invested in the reality of Judah – its society, politics, history, and community. Our reading this morning consists of the fourth promissory oracle. You may wish to look back at what the prophet has to say earlier in 23:5-6, in which the promise is connected to the Davidic line, as it is in this text as well. But it is more than just having another Davidid king; David is connected to the virtues of justice and righteousness. It is these elements that will restore Judah, and that is why the reading ends as it does, “The Lord is our righteousness.”In spite of past difficulties with the line of David (see 22:13-18, and verses 24-30 as well). What has laid Judah low will be redeemed. This gives us a more theologically realistic vision when we talk about Jesus’ connection to the Davidic line. 

Breaking open Jeremiah:
  1. How was David a good example of kingship?
  2. How was David a bad example of kingship?
  3. What do you hope for in our rulers?

Psalm 25:1-9 Ad te, Domine, levavi

1      To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul;
my God, I put my trust in you; *
let me not be humiliated,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
2      Let none who look to you be put to shame; *
let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.
3      Show me your ways, O Lord, *
and teach me your paths.
4      Lead me in your truth and teach me, *
for you are the God of my salvation;
in you have I trusted all the day long.
5      Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love, *
for they are from everlasting.
6      Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; *
remember me according to your love
and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.
7      Gracious and upright is the Lord; *
therefore he teaches sinners in his way.
8      He guides the humble in doing right *
and teaches his way to the lowly.
9      All the paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness *
to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

This is an acrostic psalm based on the alphabet. Written so that it might be easily memorized, it may have had a liturgical usage. It begins with the profound notion of the earnestness of the writer – “I lift up my soul” that is, I lift up my very essence and being. The pleading of the psalm continues on from that understanding of the self-involved in a covenant with YHWH. Verse 2 is an excellent example of a chiasmus, a matching of concepts within a single verse: “Let none who look to you be put to shame;” – “let the treacherous be disappointed (shamed) in their schemes.” There we have the plea, and what follows is a request for instruction and wisdom. The request “to remember” is an invitation to remember compassion and love, and then a negative, “don’t remember the sins of my youth.” The final request for remembrance is that God might remember the poet, “according to your love.” 

Breaking open 132:
  1. What do you understand as your essential self?
  2. What does that self desire from God?
  3. How do you want God to remember you?

Second Reading: I Thessalonians 3:9-13

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day, we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.

Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

The close of the first section of the book expresses a desire on the part of Paul to visit with and see face-to-face the members of the Thessalonian church. Paul wants to be their pastor and guide in a closeness granted by God. These people seem to be Paul’s concern both night and day. Paul wants to be with them so that he might mend and repair what is missing in their faith. There is almost an urgency in Paul’s words and in his expectation for the Thessalonians. The final verse gives us the clue, “that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” It is the perfect Advent pericope – expectation of a Christ who comes again.

Breaking open I Thessalonians
  1. Who has been a pastor to you?
  2. What life issues did your pastor help you with?
  3. How can you pastor others?

The Gospel: St. Luke 21:25-36

Jesus said, "There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

Then he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

"Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."

We need to remember what precedes these statements by Jesus. Sitting in the temple, he and the disciples witness the gift of the poor woman in the treasury. The discussion with the disciples follows largely focused on the temple, and then Jerusalem and its environs (the fig tree) and finally brought into a reverse kind of focus on the entire cosmos – “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars.” Everything is now the subject of change and destruction. In the midst of this we see the apocalyptic figure of “The Son of Man”. This is a granular expectation extending from the fig tree and its fruit to the very stars themselves. (I hear the voice of Carl Sagan at this point).

What Jesus describes has the aspects of terror, but that is not his message. His message is one that does not pass away. The warning is practical – “be on your guard!” Our times seem to have a deleterious effect on those who live in them, and Jesus is not looked to as one who comes to redeem, but rather as one who divides and separates. Jesus hopes that we will have strength to survive our own day, and that we will have the grace to survive it not only as individuals, but as a community, his body, gathered for a purpose of God’s design. Advent stuff.

Breaking open the Gospel: 
  1. In what ways are these days threatening to you?
  2. What role does your religious life play in these times?
  3. For what do you hope Jesus will come?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday: 

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2018, Michael T. Hiller

15 November 2018

The Feast of Christ the King, The Last Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 29, 25 November 2018

II Samuel 23:1-7
Psalm 132:1-13 (14-19)


Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Psalm 93

Revelation 1:4b-8
St. John 18:33-37

Background: Kingship

Oddly enough, the kingship of Egypt and of the Mesopotamian states was far more theological in concept than tht of the Hebrews. The Egyptian Pharaoh was in a very real sense god in the person of the pharaoh, and in Mesopotamia, kings were the chosen servants of the gods. In Israel it was a matter of blood relationship from one king to the next. The cultural institutions of the Levant were derivative of Mesopotamian thought but the Sea Peoples and the Hebrews stamped those cultic and civic institutions with their own thought and originality. One of those ideas was rulership by descent, a tribal understanding. Hebrew kingship was a institution given of local initiative – and we see the arguments and process in the books of Samuel. In Babylon kingship insured the relationship of people with the divine. In Israel that choice and that relationship had been made by God long before there was any kingship. The bond amonst the peoples was first a bond of blood. The ball was very much in the tribes’ court. When the kingship following Solomon is challenged as to the continuation of the corvĂ©e, Rehoboam’s decision to continue the conscripted labor gives cause to ten of the tribes to leave his kingship behind. 

Kingship in Israel was always related to descent from David, and the Gospel writers continue in that tradition. That Israel’s kingship was a product of tribal leadership and the rule of chieftans, judges, and prophets, gives us a more heightened understanding of the notion of the messiah – not only anointed by recognized as well. The kingship of Jesus needs to be seen in this vein, anointed by God, and recognized by the people. Thus the importance of the entrance into Jerusalem, and being enthroned upon the cross. Jesus’ kingship has a majesty born of medieval models, but also has a humily born of David, the shepherd who was called from the field.

Track One:

First Reading: II Samuel 23:1-7

These are the last words of David:

The oracle of David, son of Jesse,
the oracle of the man whom God exalted,
the anointed of the God of Jacob,
the favorite of the Strong One of Israel:
The spirit of the Lord speaks through me,
his word is upon my tongue.
The God of Israel has spoken,
the Rock of Israel has said to me:
One who rules over people justly,
ruling in the fear of God,
is like the light of morning,
like the sun rising on a cloudless morning,
gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.
Is not my house like this with God?
For he has made with me an everlasting covenant,
ordered in all things and secure.
Will he not cause to prosper
all my help and my desire?
But the godless are all like thorns that are thrown away;
for they cannot be picked up with the hand;
to touch them one uses an iron bar
or the shaft of a spear.
And they are entirely consumed in fire on the spot.

As a point of comparison one might want to look at the other Davidic psalm that is recorded in the prior chapter, Chapter 22. The first of these seems more related to the psalm tradition we see so abundantly in the Book of Psalms. This other psalm seems earlier and more obscure than the one in the 22ndchapter. There is every possibility that this poem is actually the work of David. The theme is announced quite suddenly, “David…whom God exalted.” The poem is about the relationship of the God of Israel and the one who is lifted up. David is indeed the strong one of Israel, but other translations (including the King James) set this phrase as “sweet singer of Israel.” The beauty and truth lies somewhere in the middle of these two understandings. David is just king. He is not prophet nor is he priest. Yet he too is witness of God’s words – and the poem is a record of what God has to say about David. David’s rule is ubiquitous as the sun and its benefits. So the house (the king and the king’s heirs) is in relationship to God, with the last verses serving as a contrast to the faithfulness of the House of David.

Breaking open II Samuel:
  1. What is your understanding of God’s support of those who rule us?
  2. Where does that support begin, and where does it end?
  3. What does God require of you as a citizen?

Psalm 132:1-13 (14-19) Memento, Domine

     Lord, remember David, *
and all the hardships he endured;
     How he swore an oath to the Lord *
and vowed a vow to the Mighty One of Jacob:
     "I will not come under the roof of my house," *
nor climb up into my bed;
     I will not allow my eyes to sleep, *
nor let my eyelids slumber;
     Until I find a place for the Lord, *
a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob."
     "The ark! We heard it was in Ephratah; *
we found it in the fields of Jearim.
     Let us go to God's dwelling place; *
let us fall upon our knees before his footstool."
     Arise, O Lord, into your resting-place, *
you and the ark of your strength.
     Let your priests be clothed with righteousness; *
let your faithful people sing with joy.
10    For your servant David's sake, *
do not turn away the face of your Anointed.
11    The Lord has sworn an oath to David; *
in truth, he will not break it:
12    "A son, the fruit of your body *
will I set upon your throne.
13    If your children keep my covenant
and my testimonies that I shall teach them, *
their children will sit upon your throne for evermore."
14    [For the Lord has chosen Zion; *
he has desired her for his habitation:
15    "This shall be my resting-place for ever; *
here will I dwell, for I delight in her.
16    I will surely bless her provisions, *
and satisfy her poor with bread.
17    I will clothe her priests with salvation, *
and her faithful people will rejoice and sing.
18    There will I make the horn of David flourish; *
I have prepared a lamp for my Anointed.
19    As for his enemies, I will clothe them with shame; *
but as for him, his crown will shine."]

Readers may want to recount the story of the brining up of the ark to Jerusalem in II Samuel 6-7. This psalm of David’s “torments” is about his anxiety over wanting to find a home for the Ark of the Covenant. His vow of not sleeping until his goal is accomplished is unusual and not a part of the Samuel text, it is, however, known in Mesopotamian texts. Some commentators see in this psalm the remembrance of an annual rite that celebrated the translation of the Ark from where ever it was to Jerusalem. Indeed, in this psalm in verse 10, the subject of the psalm seems not to be David himself, but his successor, “your Anointed.” Thus the psalm becomes a royal psalm celebrating the House of David and the monarchy. 

There may be an ancillary theme to this psalm as well, namely David’s acquisition of the royal city in the conquest of Jerusalem. The indication is in verse 9, where the priests are clothed with righteousness (tsedeq) which may also be translated as “victory”. Other verses, noting the choice of Zion as a place of habitation and resting seem to have this theme as well. God’s visitation of Zion also allows for the blessings of kingship: provisions, bread, safety. 

Breaking open 132:
  1. Why was the ark such an important object?
  2. What object embodies your faith?
  3. Where is it in your life?


Track Two:

First Reading: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14

As I watched,
thrones were set in place,
and an Ancient One took his throne,
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames,
and its wheels were burning fire.
A stream of fire issued
and flowed out from his presence.
A thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him.
The court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened.

As I watched in the night visions,

I saw one like a human being
coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One
and was presented before him.
To him was given dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
that shall never be destroyed.

With chapter seven, we leave behind the court legends about Daniel and his friends that are recounted in the first six chapters. Now come a series of apocalyptic visions in chapters 7 – 12. The existential problems of the Diaspora are addressed in these visions that hope to interpret what is coming for the people and their cultural patrimony as they live in a foreign land. Such inquiry was lived out not only in the Persian court, but also in the lands that these peoples returned to, later living under the harsh rule of the Seleucid kings. 

The readers of Daniel are treated in the first segment to a vision of the Ancient of Days. The images are full of Persian influence, and more ancient images born of the Ancient Near East. The God of Israel is seen in Eastern splendor, the king of kings seated to render judgment. 

Then there is the appearance of a messiah figure, “one like a human being,” who comes out of heaven to the presence of the Ancient of Days. There are several candidates for this heavenly and messianic figure – perhaps Cyrus the great remembered for his deliverance of the people of Judah, or perhaps Michael, whom we met in last Sunday’s reading. He is not revealed to us – that must come later.

Breaking open Daniel:
  1. Who is the Ancient of Days?
  2. Who is the one presented to the Ancient of Days?
  3. What do you see in this vision?

Psalm 93 Dominus regnavit

     The Lord is King;
he has put on splendid apparel; *
the Lord has put on his apparel
and girded himself with strength.
     He has made the whole world so sure *
that it cannot be moved;
     Ever since the world began, your throne has been established; *
you are from everlasting.
     The waters have lifted up, O Lord,
the waters have lifted up their voice; *
the waters have lifted up their pounding waves.
     Mightier than the sound of many waters,
mightier than the breakers of the sea, *
mightier is the Lord who dwells on high.
     Your testimonies are very sure, *
and holiness adorns your house, O Lord,
for ever and for evermore.

In a celebration of God’s kingship, we have a vision that is mirrored in the Daniel vision in the first reading. The people of Israel would be familiar with the king styled in this manner either in the cultural life of those living around them, the Canaanites and others, or their own adaptation of ancient near eastern kingship to the House of David. It is a scene of triumph and strength. The poet’s eye looks back to the ancient triumphs known in creation, “he has made the whole world so sure.” It is also seen in God’s ancient triumph over the waters, “the waters have lifted up their pounding waves.” God is mightier than these ancient waters. God’s triumph is seen in the law and in the order that he provides humankind. 

Breaking open Psalm 93:
  1. What are God’s triumphs in your life?
  2. How has God made your world sure?
  3. What is God’s law for you?

Second Reading: Revelation 1:4b-8

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.

So it is to be. Amen.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

Here we have the salutation to the seven churches, the readers of The Book of Revelation to Saint John the Divine. He begins with a characterization of Jesus, who is ‘the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.”In the word “witness” we need to recognize its Greek form marturas, the one who dies, for the death is the witness that Christ brings. It also sets the theme for John’s visions, for in it he witnesses what it is that God would have the world know about time and God’s Christ. Written perhaps as a response to kingship and its treatment of those who would follow Christ, the book finds itself concerned with and interpreting the kingship of Jesus vis a vie kingship in the world. We are the kingdom as John is shown, and we await the one awaited by Daniel, “Look! He is coming with the clouds.” What has happened and what will happen are all tied up in the One who is the Alpha and the Omega. 

Breaking open Revelation:
  1. What is Jesus’ witness to you?
  2. What is Jesus’ resurrection to you?
  3. What is Jesus’ kingship to you?

The Gospel: St. John 18:33-37

Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Since the theme of this Sunday is kingship, namely Jesus’ own kingship, it is interesting to listen in on this conversation of Pilate and Jesus. As a Roman, Pilate should have found in kingship something reprehensible and to be avoided. The mockery of the Roman soldiers may have been more political than religious. The scene shifts back and forth, from outside to inside, from the Jewish authorities to Jesus. The conversation centers on kingship and kingdoms – what do these things mean in the real world? The word “king” has been applied to Jesus, but here the question is “what does that really mean”? Pilate’s concern is for the Emporer – what challenge does this Jesus represent to the Roman rule over this region of the empire? Like the disciples and others who saw in Jesus the messiah who would overthrow the rule and suasion of Gentiles, Pilate sees Jesus only in political terms. Jesus, on the other hand, struggles to describe the theological reality of his claims. The relationship with the emporer is nothing – give him his due. The kingdom is about our relationship with God, “my kingdom does not belong to this world.”Jesus’ goal is to be the martyras,the one who dies, the one who is a witness to God’s truth.

Breaking open the Gospel: 
  1. What do you understand in the word “kingdom”?
  2. What do you think Pilate is thinking?
  3. What is Jesus thinking?

Points of Comparison           Living in Poverty and Living in Wealth

Comparison One:                  With what shall we live? What is Necessary?

Comparison Two:                  How do others see our lives? What do we do to keep up appearances?

Comparison Three:                What do we put our faith in in order to live?

Comparison Four:                 How does God redeem us?          

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday: 

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2018, Michael T. Hiller