Archive for the '1 Kings' Category

For August 10, 2014: Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 14, Year A

The Reading            1 Kings 19:9-18

1 Kings 19 opens with Queen Jezebel of Israel promising to kill the prophet Elijah for having trounced and slain 450 priests of Baal. Elijah flees for his life. On Mount Horeb (Sinai), the Lord orders Elijah to go home to anoint new kings of Aram (Syria) and Israel—while the kings still live!—and Elisha as his own successor.

The Response            Psalm 85:8-13

In the difficult days after Israel’s exile, Psalm 85:8-13 paints an extraordinary picture of God’s: salvation and prosperity are coming for God’s people, because the truth and righteousness that condemn us are not merely in the same neighborhood but happily working hand in hand with God’s mercy and peace for our good.

The Epistle            Romans 10:5-15

The beautiful vision in Psalm 85—“Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other”—is echoed in Romans 10. Righteousness comes through faith and God’s gift, and it is not just for the Jews. Let us heed the call to proclaim Jesus Christ to all the children that God yearns to bring home.

The Gospel            Matthew 14:22-33

Matthew 14 follows the story of the feeding of the multitude with the account of Jesus at the crack of dawn walking on the water of the turbulent Sea of Galilee. Seas and lakes are water in chaos and an unsurprising source of evil spirits—but Jesus controls even these.

 

Further thoughts

Expectations are subverted again and again in the readings for Proper 14. Elijah expects to meet God in the cataclysms of nature—wind, earthquake, fire—but instead the voice of God comes in the stillness. The command to return and anoint new kings is an order to participate in overthrowing those kings, in violation of ordinary civil and religious law. For the disciples struggling all night in the little boat, the Sea of Galilee fulfills the expectation that water unconstrained partakes of chaos, the primordial chaos that it took God to wrestle into ordered Creation. And of course no human being walks on the slippery willful stuff: little wonder that the disciples at first took Jesus to be something unholy!

In the psalm and the epistle, the subversion is happier. It stands to reason—human reason—that striving after righteousness is how we earn grace: given the grubbily sinful mess that is the natural truth of me, mercy surely cannot stand to be in the same room. But the psalm tells us that mercy and truth, righteousness and peace are not merely together by God’s will but cuddled up together on the sofa and beaming at me. And the epistle underscores the point that righteousness is right here, right now and always, by the will and gift of God, and for absolutely everyone irrespective of birth or means.

Like Peter, of course, I vacillate between calm certainty that I can trust God’s grace to cover my unbelief and the terrified conviction that my not-goodness means it’s all too good to be true. O Lord, save me from myself!

Whether following Jesus means literal walking on water, I hesitate to say. But what if it means extending to every one of God’s children the mercy and saving hand that I hope Jesus extends to me?

For July 27, 2014: Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 12

The Reading            1 Kings 3:5-12

Solomon was not King David’s oldest son, but his mother Bathsheba and the prophet Nathan prevailed on David to name Solomon his successor. The dream at Gibeon, one of the two most holy places before the Temple was built, confirms the correctness of the choice, as does Solomon’s request for wisdom with which to govern.

The Response            Psalm 119:129-136

Solomon responded to God’s invitation to asking for wisdom. Psalm 119:129-136 celebrates God’s decrees, word, commandments, and law and the understanding that they give.

The Epistle            Romans 8:26-39

Solomon, in asking for wisdom, compared himself to an ignorant child before God. The letter to the Romans begins by assuring us of the Spirit’s aid in our weakness before supplying a magnificent catalogue of perils and powers that God simply will not permit to come between us and God’s love.

The Gospel            Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Chapter 13 of the gospel of Matthew continues with a series of short parables that compare the kingdom of heaven to a large weed from a small seed, yeast, hidden treasure, and a net full of fish, followed by a parable of knowing the value of both new and old.

 

Further thoughts

The religions originating in the strife-ravaged Middle East, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, agree in revering Solomon son of David: he was very wise, wise enough to choose wisdom as his coronation gift from God rather than more ostentatious trappings of kingship. Psalm 119 praises God’s Word as a way to avoid iniquity—but the Bible tells us that even Solomon, for all his wisdom, made choices that led him into sin, and both his descendants and his realm paid the price.

On the one hand, this is sobering. If even Solomon’s storied insight could not keep him pure, what hope is there for me? On the other hand, Solomon never stopped being a favorite with God, and the epistle presses home the point that, Jesus having borne the price for me on purpose to make me right with God, what hope isn’t there for me? Not even my own choices can make God stop loving me. How astonishing!

That the kingdom of God is a dizzying array of astonishments is underscored by Jesus’ parables. He likens the kingdom to a tiny seed that grows into a bushy mustard plant—that his hearers, like my neighbors in Southern California, would have judged an invasive weed. He likens the kingdom to yeast in flour; the word that our translation renders as “mixed in with” is Greek ἐνέκρυψεν, which is more like ‘hid in’—but the yeast of everyday bread spoils the unleavened bread of Passover. He likens the kingdom to treasure and a fine haul of fish, unsurprisingly—but surely treasure found and rehidden in a field rightly belongs to the original owner, and the merchant who hangs on to The Best Pearl Of All is out of business, and Jesus flat out tells us that the job of sorting good from bad—do we covet issuing such judgments?—is for God’s angels at the end of the age.

Parables, clearly, have their limits. But what if the point of these parables is that, in more ways than we can count, the kingdom of God is much more willing to tolerate messiness and divergence, surprises, and saints that look like sinners, than we ourselves are?

For June 9, 2013: Proper 5, Year C

The Reading            1 Kings 17:8-24

The first and second books of Kings tell the stories of the rulers of Israel, most of whom are not very faithful to God, and the prophets in those times, most of whom are faithful and often suffer for it. In today’s reading, the prophet Elijah goes outside of Israel and imposes on a widow who has fallen on very hard times that then get worse. Through his faithfulness and his compassion, God’s servant works a miracle.

Lection 1 pronunciation notes: “Zarephath” is ZARE-uh-fath; “Sidon” is SIGH-don

The Response            Psalm 146

“Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth, for there is no help in them.”

The Epistle            Galatians 1:11-24

The church at Galatia was a mix of Gentiles and converted Jews; this could cause friction when the Jews expected the Gentiles to follow Judaic practice. In today’s reading, the apostle Paul sets out his biography for the Galatians with the goal of establishing both his background as a really good Jew and the insignificance of his background when it comes to salvation, which is strictly God’s to give.

Lection 2 pronunciation notes: “Galatia” is gah-LAY-shah; “zealous” is ZELL-us; “Cephas” is SEE-fuss; “Cilicia” is sill-ISH-uh

The Gospel            Luke 7:11-17

“When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’”

Further thoughts

A thread that binds today’s readings together is of things not going according to plan.

The mourners in Nain know exactly where they are going and why and what will happen afterward: their friend and relative has died, so it is their duty to go get him properly buried, and then his mother is going to be destitute because that’s the way the world works. But other plans are in God’s works, and a fairly standard funeral procession turns into a unique celebration.

Saul of Tarsus knows exactly where he is going and why and what will happen afterward: he is going to save God’s people from the threat posed by people who keep preaching Jesus in spite of persecution; he will be a good guy in God’s eyes and a hero to Israel, because that’s the way the world should work. But other plans are in God’s works; the persecutor is turned around by the grace of God, and the proof that this is from God is that, though the message of grace is largely the same, Paul has absolutely not learned it from any human.

The widow of Zarephath knows exactly what she is doing and where it will end: she has no hope of protecting her son from dying of starvation, because that’s the way the world works, but she can at least feed him one last time before they starve together. But other plans are in God’s works, so the prophet from Israel says, and indeed he and they eat and live.

Elijah himself might be less certain. Zarephath, the first reading tells us, “belongs to Sidon”: it is not Israelite territory, and one senses that Elijah goes there only under orders. There, what he has heard from God comes to pass. So far, so good—but suddenly his hostess’s son sickens and dies. This is not in the script! Elijah seems in shock. He cries out at the injustice, then he does whatever comes into his head, and then he implores God… and, miraculously, the boy begins to breathe again, and grief and anger and self-blame give way to wonder.

That is precisely the message of Paul. Though my frailties and my losses bear down on me like the hand of grief on the mourners of Nain, like the hand of hunger on the widow of Zarephath, Jesus the merciful is ready to stop the bier with a touch, not because I deserve it but simply because, wherever I go and with whatever plans, I cannot help but be his.

For June 2, 2013: Proper 4, Year C

The Reading            1 Kings 18:20-21, 30-39

This summer’s Old Testament readings begin with Israel’s history after David and Solomon. When later kings strayed from God’s way, God sent mighty prophets to get them back on track. As today’s reading opens, Elijah has challenged the priests of Baal to a competition before God’s people to see whose God is great enough to send down fire on a sacrifice. The priests’ entreaties and self-mutilation fail to produce so much as a spark. Then, before he takes his turn, Elijah has the wood and the sacrifice drenched. Now watch the fireworks!

The Response            Psalm 96

“Tell it out among the nations: ‘The Lord is king!… He will judge the peoples with equity.’”

The Epistle            Galatians 1:1-12

For centuries before and after Jesus, the plain of Anatolia in modern Turkey was part of the Greek-speaking world. In the third century BC, several tribes of Gauls or Celts from Europe conquered the central region that came to be called Galatia after them. These Galatians were among Paul’s first and most enthusiastic converts to the gospel of grace—but the beginning of the letter to the Galatians, which we read today, suggests their susceptibility to other influences with which Paul is not at all pleased.

The Gospel            Luke 7:1-10

“‘For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, “Go”, and he goes.’”

 

Further thoughts

Today’s readings tell of speaking with authority, and of three responses.

In the material left out of the Old Testament reading, the priests of Baal seek to make their god set the sacrifice afire by screaming and crying for hours and gashing themselves till the blood flows. Their god doesn’t come through, and Elijah mocks them. The Lord of Israel, however, sends down fire at Elijah’s request. This vividly establishes Elijah’s authority, and reinforces God’s, in the eyes of the assembled people of Israel. I am one of the people of Israel: given a sign, I cry, “The Lord indeed is God!”—but so often I then go away wondering how to make a sign happen again, and wondering what’s wrong when it doesn’t. Sometimes I am also a priest of Baal, desperate to make God do our bidding because, well, don’t I deserve it? (Well, no: I don’t.)

The epistle may be one of Paul’s very earliest. The people of Galatia, neighbors but not kin to Paul’s native city of Tarsus, are thoroughly and Celtically enraptured by the word that salvation is in reach for them, too. In their zeal to follow Christ really well, however, they then buy the line that grace depends on this discipline or that practice, first. Paul is having none of it: as he puts it, even were an angel to announce such preconditions, that’s not the gospel. But I am such a Galatian: captivated by the gift, yet simultaneously looking for the strings that, in my human experience, are surely attached and therefore must and should be pulled.

What of the centurion? He, the outsider or the sell-out—we don’t know whether he was sent from Rome or recruited locally—should have been the one to stand on rank, the one to order a a platoon out for Jesus, the one to grasp and yank any string within reach. Instead, he cares for his servant; he is friends with the Jewish elders, who are willing to go for this Roman outsider to Jesus the Galilean outsider; and finally it is he who recognizes in Jesus the authority of One who will not be forced but who is ready when asked to do the unimaginable. I am not the centurion: it is beyond my grasp—except, of course, through God’s grace.

For Nov. 11, 2012: Proper 27, Year B

The Reading            1 Kings 17:8-16

The first and second books of Kings catalogue the rulers of Israel and Judah after David by their wickednesses and tell stories of the prophets who called them to account. After the prophet Elijah announces a punishing drought to King Ahab and his pagan queen Jezebel of Sidon, the Lord sends Elijah away for his own safety. In far-off Sidon Elijah meets a widow with whose cooperation he brings about one of God’s miracles of feeding.

The Response            Psalm 127

The Epistle            Hebrews 9:24-28

The book of Hebrews demonstrates how and why Jesus is the Messiah. The verses before today’s reading describe the Day of Atonement, the one day each year on which the high priest alone would bring animals’ blood for forgiveness to the holiest place in the temple. In contrast, Jesus who lives brings his own shed blood to heaven itself so we humans can enter the presence of God.

The Gospel            Mark 12:38-44

 

Further thoughts

That the reading from the book of Isaiah is one of the lectionary selections in the month of November is no surprise: this is stewardship season, after all, in which we are called to give of the abundance that we have been given. This is a problematic call, however, when we humans sense our abundance threatened or ebbing.

The ladies of the Old Testament lesson and the Gospel had been wives, each of them, with households to manage and husbands to look after. Then the worst possible societal disaster struck: each was widowed, bereft not only of husband but of financial support given the lack of reputable jobs for women outside the home.

The widow of Zarephath is down to her last meal, literally—or, worse, her son’s—when along comes Elijah, the foreign man of Israel’s God, to demand the little she has left. She protests. Then Elijah announces that God will not let her flour and oil run out until the rains come, if she gives what she has to Elijah first. She elects to trust Elijah and the God who sent him, and it is as Elijah promised: he and she and her household all have enough. Elijah’s prophecy gives her the hope with which to trust.

As for the widow at the Temple, we know that the law of Moses specified offerings for various purposes. Though one could bring actual turtledoves or grain or wood or oxen, it was easier for all concerned to bring the price of the sacrificial item for the Temple to buy and sacrifice in quantity, and so the Temple treasury featured both thirteen or fourteen different trumpet-shaped chests to collect the money and the means to make sure that each worshiper paid the right amount. Then as now, two little copper coins will not buy much—but two little copper coins are all that this widow has, and in front of everybody that is what she deposits. Is she one of the widows devoured by the scribes? Does she put in everything she has out of love of God, or because she will be barred from worship at the Temple otherwise, or perhaps because, like the other widow before Elijah’s prophecy, she has lost all hope? Is she a good steward in giving up this money, if it means that her child starves?

Is it in fact always good stewardship to give up one’s life except when the need is extraordinary?

As the reading from Hebrews tells us, Jesus gave his life to save the world God made—but he gave so great a gift of his own free will and only once. And he yielded neither his Godhead nor his soul.

For August 19, 2012: Proper 15, Year B

The Reading            1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14

Today’s reading begins with the accession of Solomon to the throne of King David. Solomon’s dream can be taken as political packaging—of course the anointed king should have a confirmatory dream from God—but Solomon’s request for wisdom with which to govern is one that we can hope all leaders in all places will emulate.

 

The Response            Psalm 111

 

The Epistle            Ephesians 5:15-20

The good advice for the people of Ephesus continues to be good advice for us: at all times and in everything, give thanks to God.

 

The Gospel            John 6:51-58

 

Further thoughts

What a set of contrasts in today’s reading! Wisdom is opposed to… cannibalism?

On the one hand, there’s the dream in which, to launch Solomon’s reign, God offers a divine blank check and Solomon surprises not only the chronicler but us in bypassing power, honor, and long life in favor of wisdom. There’s the psalm’s commendation of the glory of God and of the wisdom of holding God in awe. There’s the advice in the book of Ephesians to life wisely in this world while giving thanks for everything.

On the other hand, there’s “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53). This verse is difficult for those of us in the 21st century with a taste for a nice rare steak. A first-century Jewish audience would have found it downright indigestible. The word in the Greek for “flesh” is σαρχ sarx (as in sarcophagus ‘flesh-eater’), so it is either ‘raw meat’ or ‘dead meat’; the Law expressly forbade Jews to consume raw meat and blood and to touch dead bodies, so Jesus has given orders to perform acts of eating and drinking that are about as ritually impure as it is possible to be. Jesus uses two verbs for ‘eat’ in this passage; one of them just means ‘eat’, but the one in John 6:53, τρώγω trogo, has been glossed as ‘chew’ or ‘gnaw’ (Davis) or ‘chomp’ (Ewart): vivid words for messy eating, and therefore claimed to be very literal.

It is important not to make the Good News less shocking than it really is. The fact is, however, that, in most languages, words for eating are commonly used metaphorically as words for learning and thinking: to ruminate, from Latin rumen ‘cow’s stomach’ is literally ‘to chew one’s cud’. A slightly different reading of trogo may be justified, along the lines of ‘chew really thoroughly, so as not to lose a single bit of the goodness’.

Think about a really enjoyable meal with some delightful surprises for the mouth, in the best of company, and with time and space to savor them and to be refreshed by each other’s time and attention. It is simple wisdom to eat, drink, and commune mindfully, noticing what one is taking in. In such a meal, everything comes together to satisfy needs of body and of spirit, needs one may not even have known that one had, and in it we catch the slight but unmistakable whiff—a foretaste, if you will—of how Jesus feeds us.

And what if—minus the matter of salvation, of course—we are similarly called to do what we can to feed each other?

 

D. Mark Davis, “From ‘Bread of Heaven’ to ‘Gnawing on Flesh’”, Left Behind and Loving it, http://www.leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.com/2012/08/from-bread-of-heaven-to-gnawing-on-flesh_14.html.

David Ewart, http://www.holytextures.com/2009/07/john-6-51-58-year-b-pentecost-august-14-august-20-sermon.html.


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