25 March 2019

The Fourth Sunday in Lent, 31 March 2019

TheFourth Sunday in Lent, 31 March 2019

Joshua 5:9-12
Psalm 32
II Corinthians 5:16-21
St. Luke 15:1-1, 11b-32

Background: Repentance

Martin Luther took a phrase from Augustine of Hippo to use as a description of sin – incurvatus in se. It is an image of one literally turned in upon oneself – a kind of selfishness that does not see God or the other. This image is useful as we begin to talk about repentance, which is really a description of the opposite kind of direction. The Greek word describes it perfectly – metanoia. This word, a compound, has two elements: meta –after, and noia – thinking, perceiving, observing, thus a “change of mind” a turning from one thing to another. There is something of the same feel in the Hebrew, where two words represent the notion: shuv – to return, and nacham– to feel sorrow. These two ideas are represented in the Confessio Augustana (The Augsburg Confession – Lutheran confessional document) when it describes repentance as having two aspects. The first is contrition – understanding the consequences of sin, and the second is faith resulting in the absolution of sin, a gift from God to the returning sinner. Repentance in the Hebrew Scriptures is most often expounded upon by the prophets, calling upon Israel to turn from the worship of the gods and once again honoring YHWH, the God of Israel. John the Baptist operates very much in that tradition in his sermons at the Jordan where he beseeches the people to repent and be baptized. The Gospel for today will give you a glimpse of Jesus’ take on repentance.

First Reading: Joshua 5:9-12

The Lord said to Joshua, "Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt." And so that place is called Gilgal to this day.

While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the Passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. On the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.

The English translation does not preserve for us a pun evident in the Hebrew. The verb to roll in Hebrew is galoti, and serves as a pun on Gilgal, the place where the Israelites keep the Passover. It is a turning point in many ways. Now it is possible for the men to be circumcised – the sign of their covenant with YHWH. It is also the beginning of a new kind of subsistence – here on the fruits of the land rather than on the manna provided by God in the wilderness. The reading shows us a repentant Israel, turning from old relationships and ways to a new life in the land of promise. Once slaves, the people are now free to worship the God of their fathers and mothers.

Breaking open Joshua:
  1. When was your life turned around?
  2. What did you escape from?
  3. What is your promised land?


Psalm 32 Beati quorum

1      Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, *
and whose sin is put away!
2      Happy are they to whom the Lord imputes no guilt, *
and in whose spirit there is no guile!
3      While I held my tongue, my bones withered away, *
because of my groaning all day long.
4      For your hand was heavy upon me day and night; *
my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.
5      Then I acknowledged my sin to you, *
and did not conceal my guilt.
6      I said," I will confess my transgressions to the Lord." *
Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.
7      Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in time of trouble; *
when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them.
8      You are my hiding-place;
you preserve me from trouble; *
you surround me with shouts of deliverance.
9      "I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go; *
I will guide you with my eye.
10    Do not be like horse or mule, which have no understanding; *
who must be fitted with bit and bridle,
or else they will not stay near you."
11    Great are the tribulations of the wicked; *
but mercy embraces those who trust in the Lord.
12    Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord; *
shout for joy, all who are true of heart.

Two elements are described in this psalm. The first is the element of thankfulness for the forgiveness that has followed a confession. The second element is that of Wisdom, especially form the ninth verse onward. The Robert Alter translation of the initial verse is especially helpful in describing this element.

 “Happy, of sin forgiven, absolved of offense.”[1]

The words are personal and experienced. The personal and intimate aspects of the confession and forgiveness that have been experience are further evidenced in verse 3 of the text. There is a physicality to the business of confession which is also set in a place of trouble, “my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.” What follows are observations of protection – the threatening waters do not reach (this may have been added to the psalm from another source), God is a hiding place, God surrounds and preserves. The wisdom that is provided is an understanding of what separates wickedness from trusting in God. The final verse gives us a suggestion as to what a forgiven people are bound to offer in thanksgiving – rejoicing.

Breaking open Psalm 32:
  1. What have you been forgiven of?
  2. Whom have you forgiven?
  3. What was your response to either?


Second Reading: IICorinthians 5:16-21

From now on, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So, we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Paul thinks on a question, “How do I know Christ, how do we know Christ?” There is something beyond the usual knowledge of Christ so that we no longer can see him, as our translation puts it, “from a human point of view.” What other point of view is there? For Paul there was the knowledge of Jesus, but from a distance, prior to his conversion. What followed was a new and different experience of Jesus. Paul looks to a new creation that happens with those who are “in Christ.” It is not just this relationship that is revealed to us in a new way – but all things are made new when living in Christ. The difference is the situation that obtains when one has been forgiven. The first verse of today’s psalm (see commentary above) makes it quite plain – there is a new experience of both God and self. What follows from that is what the psalmist does, rejoicing in the forgiveness given him, and what Paul expects from the Corinthians and himself. “So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us.” We know Christ as righteousness, and now we must begin to know ourselves in that same light. It is good news to share.

Breaking open II Corinthians:
  1. Has your faith made you see anything new?
  2. Whom have you seen in a new way?
  3. Whom do you talk about in a new way?

The Gospel: St. Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."

So, Jesus told them this parable:

"There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.' So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So, he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands."' So, he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly, bring out a robe--the best one--and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate.

"Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.' Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, 'Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!' Then the father said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'"

There are three parables here. The first, “The Shepherd and the Lost Sheep” (15:4-7) describes the man who leave behind the majority of his flock to find the one lost. The second parable is “The Woman and the Lost Coin” (15:8-10). Both have been elided from the liturgical text, but it might be good to read through them as a preamble to “The Parable of the Two Sons”.

Here Jesus responds to the accusations regarding his relationship with tax collectors and sinners. There are similar themes to the two prior parables – a) a recovered loss, and b) the celebration that follows. This parable is set deeply in life. In it we encounter issues around sibling rivalry, inheritance, and jealousy, all elements we recognize from daily life. Jesus draws his critics into his story by making its elements recognizable in their own lives. The story unfolds in three distinct phases, each of which has grist for the preacher’s mill. In the first part of the story, the young man asks for his share of the inheritance. It is a situation with which Jesus is familiar. In Chapter 12:13someone in the crowd asks Jesus to intervene in such a conflict between brothers. Jesus demurs, preferring to speak on the evidence of greed. Here it offered as a life situation, a context against which we will see both father and son, and brother. The situation of inheritance drives the son into a difficult scene. First careless and lavish in his approach to life he is soon cast to the opposite extreme.

The second story makes an abrupt turn, with the son repenting and returning home. He now makes another request – that he be restored in some manner to his father’s household. Here the story is of repentance, forgiveness, and acceptance. It is the heart of the Gospel. There are actions in this story that signal the good news. One is weakened in our translation. “So, he set off and went to his father.” What is missing is the image that the verb intends – “rising” along with the participle anastas, noting to us the “Easter-like” quality to the young man’s repentance. The father receives the son with love and grace. The prodigality of the son is matched by that of his father.

The final story may be aimed by Luke at those who found it difficult to accept the Gentiles who were attracted to the Gospel. Here the faithful brother, the brother who stayed to attend to his father while the other one left, her that brother finds the gracious reception of his brother as something not to be borne. The older brother is the son of the inheritance, just as Israel was the people of God’s own choosing. For those hearing this part of the story, Jesus makes a claim on the appropriateness of those with whom he chooses to visit and to dine. For the readers of the Gospel of Luke, Luke accentuates his honoring of the “little ones”, the poor, the orphaned, the Gentiles, who will be lifted up in his Gospel.

Breaking open the Gospel: 
  1. When have you been the younger son?
  2. When have you been the father?
  3. When have you been the older son?

General Idea:              Finding a reason to be prodigious

1stDevelopment:         What have we demanded from others? (The Younger Brother part one)

2ndDevelopment:        What have we demanded of God? (The Younger Brother part two)

3rdDevelopment:        What in God’s grace has offended us? (The Older Brother)

4thDevelopment:        Having a new perception (The Second Reading)

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

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2019, Michael T. Hiller

[1]       Alter, R. (2019), The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary. W. W. Norton & Company, New York, Kindle Edition, Location 76729.

19 March 2019

The Third Sunday in Lent, 24 March 2019

TheThird Sunday in Lent, 24 March 2019

Exodus 3:1-15
Psalm 63:1-8
I Corinthians 10:1-13
St. Luke 13:1-9

Background: The Name of God 

In Hebrew, God is primarily known in one of two ways. References are to “El” or sometimes to a plural form “Elohim”, suggesting strength or power. Actually, the short version as probably a borrowing from Canaanite neighbors. The distinctive name that the Hebrews used was the unpronounceable YHWH, “I am that I am”, or “Ehyeh – Asher – Ehyeh” (I-Will-Be-Who-I-Will-Be).[1]When encountered in the text of the scriptures, the reader would not pronounce the name but would rather substitute “Adonai” or “Lord”. Even to this day, readers or those speaking of G-d may use the word “HaShem” or “the Name.” For an example of this usage, see Leviticus 24:11, “And the son of the Israelite woman invoked the Name, vilifying it.”[2]

First Reading: Exodus 3:1-15

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, "I must turn aside and look at this great sight and see why the bush is not burned up." When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here I am." Then he said, "Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." He said further, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Then the Lord said, "I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt." But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" He said, "I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain."

But Moses said to God, "If I come to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" God said to Moses, "I am who I am." He said further, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'I am has sent me to you.'" God also said to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you':

This is my name forever,
and this my title for all generations.”

What should capture the emotion of the reader or the preacher? Is it the wonder of the bush that burns and is not consumed? Or is it the awe of encountering both God, and the name of God? I opt for the latter. Some interesting features about other names also capture our attention. Moses is at “Horeb” the name by which the Elohist identifies “Sinai” (the Jahwist’s term). Oddly enough the word for bush is “Seneh,” a nice pun on the name of Sinai. What begins with this sign is a series of signs and wonders that will accompany Moses as he attempts to persuade Pharaoh to free the Israelites. The question soon becomes evident and it is a question of authority. Who is this man who demands freedom and who is the God that has sent him? The role of Moses is quite clear here. He is a prophet, and that is suggested in his statement of unworthiness,“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” It is a question that accompanied the call to Jeremiah, Isaiah, and other prophets. God, who we later realize is “I-Am-Who-I-Am” is the one who will be with Moses on this journey. Moses, however, needs to know more. He anticipates the question that Israel in turn will ask of him – “Who is this God?” The name suggests the God, the entity, that brings things into being. Thus, this God, with this name, will bring into reality a people and their freedom.

Breaking open Exodus:
  1. Has your day ever been interrupted by God?
  2. What were you asked to do?
  3. How did you accomplish it?


Psalm 63:1-8 Deus, Deus meus

     O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; *
my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you,
as in a barren and dry land where there is no water.
     Therefore I have gazed upon you in your holy place, *
that I might behold your power and your glory.
     For your loving-kindness is better than life itself; *
my lips shall give you praise.
     So will I bless you as long as I live *
and lift up my hands in your Name.
     My soul is content, as with marrow and fatness, *
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips,
     When I remember you upon my bed, *
and meditate on you in the night watches.
     For you have been my helper, *
and under the shadow of your wings I will rejoice.
     My soul clings to you; *
your right hand holds me fast.

The elided ascription to this psalm is “A David psalm, when he was in the wilderness of Judea. There was a period of time when David was hiding from Saul in this region. The relation of David to God is intense, as seen in verse 1b, “my soul (flesh or life) thirsts for you.” That this phrase should be used in a water-less wilderness intensifies the emotion behind it. What the holy place that is alluded to in verse 2 is problematic. If it is the temple, then the author of this psalm is someone other than David. If it is the tabernacle or some other holy place, then it might indeed be David. In verse three we first see the intent of the psalm – thanksgiving, “my lips shall give you praise.” What follows are images of abundance that the author feels in his soul, “marrow and fatness,” literally suet and rich food. There is an abundance of remembrance as well, for God has been present continuously in the author’s life. All of this is in contrast to the dry and arid wilderness.

Breaking open Psalm 63:
  1. What abundance in your life leads to thanksgiving?
  2. Where had David experienced abundance?
  3. Why does David long for God?


Second Reading: I Corinthians 10:1-13

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.

Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play." We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. And do not complain as some of them did and were destroyed by the destroyer. These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So, if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

This pericope comes from a section of First Corinthians that deals with the problems surrounding foods offered to idols, and idol worship. The import in this pericope seems to be two-fold: 1) sacramental, and 2) historic examples. The first paragraph is suffused with eucharistic and baptismal images – the cloud, the sea, spiritual food, spiritual drink. These images are all rooted in the history of Israel which is outlined more fully in the second paragraph. There we see stories from the worship of the golden bull, the serpents that attacked the people when they continued their complaints about food and drink in the wilderness. Paul reminds the Corinthians of these tests that came to those who waiver. Perhaps there is more to this than the spiritual, however. Perhaps the politics and social problems of the times are looked at by Paul as “tests”. With this reality he promises that God will not test more we are able.

Breaking open I Corinthians:
  1. What nourishes your faith? 
  2. What does Israel’s history teach you?
  3. How do you survive life’s tests?

The Gospel: St. Luke 13:1-9

At that very time there were some present who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way, they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them--do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did."

Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So, he said to the gardener, 'See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?' He replied, 'Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'"

Luke relates a similar theme as Paul does as he recalls Jesus’ comments to those who wanted to connect the execution of Galileans with probable sin, perhaps greater than the sin of other Galileans. You might find it helpful to read the previous chapter, especially 12:35f. There you will see Jesus advising that those who follow him need to be aware of the times, and to read the signs of the times. The question to Jesus is one of justification – did these people deserve their punishment. Jesus turns their attention not to deserts, but rather to repentance. As he will point out on other occasions, Jesus does not see accidents, health, or other human issues be connected with sin (see John 9:3ff.).Repentance, however, is the necessary response when God’s will is thwarted. 

What follows is the parable of the fig tree. Three years of expectation about fruit from the tree leads to disappointment with a fruitless tree. The three years could be seen as a time of mercy and patience, which indeed they are. There comes a time when the owner of the field must act. “Cut it down!”But it is the gardener who applies even more mercy – an image of God, and an example of how we ought to live with our neighbor. Rather than blaming him or her, repent and give them mercy.

Breaking open the Gospel: 
  1. Whom do you blame for various things?
  2. How can you be led to forgive them?
  3. What if they don’t repent?

Central Idea:               Turning away from (repenting) the sins of others.

Example 1:                  Moses attempts to turn away from God’s mission (Exodus)

Example 2:                  David runs away from the sins of Saul (Psalm)

Example 3:                  Examples of sin and repentance in Israel (I Corinthians)

Example 4:                  Jesus’ call to repentance rather than blame.

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

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2019, Michael T. Hiller

[1]       Alter, R. (2019) The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary,W. W. Norton & Company, New York, Kindle Edition, location 7771.
[2]       Ibid, location 14682.