Archive for the ‘1 Corinthians 1’ Tag

Devotion for the First Sunday of Advent, Year B (ILCW Lectionary)   1 comment

Above:  Icon of the Second Coming of Jesus

Image in the Public Domain

Faithfulness, Divine and Human

DECEMBER 3, 2023


According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)


Isaiah 63:16b-17; 64:1-8

Psalm 80:1-7 (LBW) or Psalm 98 (LW)

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Mark 13:33-37 or Mark 11:1-10


Stir up your power, O Lord, and come.

Protect us by your strength and

save us from the threatening dangers of our sins,

for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,

now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 13


Stir up, we implore you, your power, O Lord, 

and come that by your protection

we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins

and be saved by your mighty deliverance;

for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 10


These assigned readings, taken together, portray God as being faithful and fearful–not a warm fuzzy.  Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance.

  1. Isaiah 63:16b-17 and 64:1-8 come from Third Isaiah, from the time in which Jewish Exiles had begun to return to their ancestral homeland.  The text indicates great disillusionment as well as the confession that Judea did not live up to long-held expectations of a verdant, fertile paradise.  Yet consider, O reader, that God had ended the Babylonian Exile.
  2. Psalms 80 and 98 have different tones.  Psalm 80 fits tonally with the lesson from Isaiah.  Yet Psalm 98 has a triumphant, celebratory tone.
  3. The pleasant tone of the introduction of St. Paul the Apostle’s First (really Second) Epistle to the Corinthians belies the corrective tone that commences in 1:10. The focus on the faithfulness of God in the introduction meshes with the other readings.
  4. Assigning the account of the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on the First Sunday of Advent is a tradition in lectionaries of the Lutheran and Moravian churches.  The faithfulness of God exists in the flesh in the reading.
  5. Mark 13:33-37 reminds us that God is faithful, so we need to be faithful, too.

I do not fixate on the Second Coming of Jesus, for I know too much about the tradition of failed expectations and specific dates to play that game.  Also, I affirm that God will attend to all matters of the Second Coming.  Meanwhile, feeding hungry people and working for righteousness/social justice is a better use of time than attending any prophecy conference or reading any book about prophecy.  Besides, much of the content to the interpretation of prophecy is dubious, as the passage of time proves.  And righteousness is right relationship with God, self, others, and all creation.  Biblically, righteousness and justice are interchangeable.  Certainly, working for righteousness is more important than guessing the identity of the Antichrist.

The early part of Advent is about the Second Coming of Jesus.  The latter part is about the First Coming of Jesus.  Much of the challenge of Advent is not to become distracted by the busyness of December, with all its shopping, advertising, materialism, and parties.  These distract–or can distract–one from simple, quiet faithfulness to God, who is faithful.  God may not always act according to our expectations.  That is our problem, not God’s.











Link to the corresponding post at BLOGA THEOLOGICA



Devotion for the Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany, Year A (ILCW Lectionary)   1 comment

Above:  Icon of the Beatitudes

Image in the Public Domain

Mutuality in God

JANUARY 29, 2023


According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)


Micah 6:1-8

Psalm 1

1 Corinthians 1:26-31

Matthew 5:1-12


O God, you know that we cannot withstand

the dangers which surround us. 

Strengthen us in body and spirit so that, with your help,

we may be able to overcome the weakness

that our sin has brought upon us;

through Jesus Christ, your Son our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 16


Almighty God,

you know that we are set among so many and great dangers

that by reason of the weakness of our fallen nature

we cannot always stand upright;

grant us your strength and protection to support us in all dangers

and carry us through all temptations;

through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 25


Sacred ritual is part of the Law of Moses.  So are moral mandates regarding how people ought to treat each other.  A sacred ritual is not a talisman.  To treat it as such is to make a mockery of it.

“The man” of Psalm 1:1 is a student of the Torah.  He, in the original cultural setting and in the Hebrew text, is a man.  In my cultural setting, that role is no longer gender-specific, for the better.  Certain details change, according to physical and temporal setting.  Others remain constant, though, for better or worse.  For example, “the man” of Psalm 1:1 is stable.  The language of positions in Psalm 1:1 is interesting.  “The man” contrasts with the impious, who are in motion–walking, following, and standing–before finally sitting down in the seat of scoffers.  True stability exists in God alone.

The readings from the New Testament tell us that divine values differ from dominant human values.  Conventional wisdom may get some details right.  After all, a broken clock is right twice a day.  Yet conventional wisdom tends to be foolishness.  The ethics of the Beatitudes, for example, look like folly to “the world.”

Micah 6 contrasts with what God has done with what people have done, collectively.  The Bible frequently concerns itself with collective actions and inactions.  My Western culture, with its individualistic emphasis, does not know how to comprehend collective guilt, sin, and repentance.  Yet the Bible does.  Mutuality, not individualism, is a Biblical virtue.  Remember, O reader, that in three of the four readings for this Sunday, the emphasis is on “we,” not “me.”  Furthermore, “we” and “me” coexist in Psalm 1.

The emphasis on “we” terrifies me.  I may try to follow God daily, to practice the Golden Rule, et cetera.  Yet I also belong to a community, a culture, a society, a nation-state, and a species.  The sins of others may cause me to suffer because of my group memberships–community, culture, society, nation-state, and species.  Recall, O reader, that the population in Micah 6 addressed included pious people.  Remember, O reader, that not all Christians in Corinth were querulous jerks.

Ponder, O reader, how we–the “we” of wherever you live–can improve relative to Micah 6:8.  How can “we” do justice, love goodness, and walk modestly with God?





Link to the corresponding post at BLOGA THEOLOGICA


Devotion for the Third Sunday After the Epiphany, Year A (ILCW Lectionary)   1 comment

Above:  King Hezekiah of Judah

Image in the Public Domain

Judgment and Mercy

JANUARY 22, 2023


According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)


Isaiah 9:1b-5 (LBW) or Isaiah 9:1-4 (LW) or Amos 3:1-8 (LBW, LW)

Psalm 27:1-9

1 Corinthians 1:10-17

Matthew 4:12-23


Almighty God, you sent your Son to proclaim your kingdom

and to teach with authority. 

Anoint us with the power of your Spirit, that we, too,

may bring good news to the afflicted,

bind up the brokenhearted,

and proclaim liberty to the captive;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 15


O Lord God Almighty, because you have always supplied your servants

with the special gifts which come from your Holy Spirit alone,

leave also us not destitute of your manifold gifts nor of grace

to use them always to your honor and glory and the good of others;

through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 24


Divine judgment and mercy exist in balance throughout the Old and New Testaments.

Isaiah 9 opens on a note of mercy.  The verb tenses in Hebrew throughout Isaiah 9:1-6 are vague.  My historical methodology makes me biased toward interpreting this text as a reference to King Hezekiah of Judah.  Yet millennia of Christian interpretation bypasses Hezekiah and makes the text about Jesus.  Anyhow, Isaiah 9:1-6 is about the divine deliverance of the Kingdom of Judah from the perils of the Syro-Ephraimite War.

Divine judgment of the (northern) Kingdom of Israel opens Amos 3.  Or divine judgment of the Jewish people (in general) opens Amos 3.  References to Israel in the Book of Amos are vague sometimes.  The status of being God’s chosen people–grace, if ever I heard of it–means that the people (collectively) should have known better than they do or seem to know, we read.  They brought judgment upon themselves.

Psalm 27 is a pious Jew’s expression of confidence in God.  This text fits well with Isaiah 9 and stands as a counterpoint to Amos 3.

The Corinthian Christians should have known better than they did.  That church, still a group of problematic house churches long after the time of St. Paul the Apostle (see 1 Clement, circa 100), compromised its witness by being, among other things, petty and fractious.  They brought judgment upon themselves.

Matthew 4:12-23, quoting Isaiah 9:1-2, tells of Christ’s first cousins, Sts. James and John, sons of Zebedee, leaving the family fishing business and following him, after two other brothers, Sts. Andrew and Simon Peter, had done the same.

God sends nobody to Hell.  God seeks everyone to follow Him.  All those in Hell sent themselves.  C. S. Lewis wrote that the doors to Hell are locked from the inside.

Judgment need not necessarily lead to damnation, though.  It may function instead as a catalyst for repentance.  Some of the Hebrew prophetic books, with their layers of authorship over generations, contradict themselves regarding the time for repentance has passed.  That time seems to have passed, according to an earlier stratum.  Yet according to a subsequent layer, there is still time to repent.

Anyway, while the time to repent remains, may we–collectively and individually–do so.










Link to the corresponding post at BLOGA THEOLOGICA


Devotion for the Second Sunday After the Epiphany, Year A (ILCW Lectionary)   1 comment

Above:  Icon of Sts. Simon Peter and Michael the Archangel

Image in the Public Domain

Trust in God

JANUARY 15, 2023


According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)


Isaiah 49:1-6

Psalm 40:1-12 (LBW) or Psalm 92:1-5 (LW)

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

John 1:29-41


Lord God, you showed your glory and

led many to faith by the works of your Son. 

As he brought gladness and healing to his people,

grant us these same gifts and lead us also to perfect faith in him,

Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 15


Almighty and eternal God,

Governor of all things in heaven and on earth,

mercifully hear the prayers of your people,

and grant us your peace in our days;

through Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 22


We can trust God because of what God has done.  In Hebrew theology, God is like what God has done.  Consider many texts of the Hebrew Bible, O reader; they recount what God has done then they encourage people to trust God.

What has God done in these readings?

  1. God has arranged for the Babylonian Exile to end.
  2. God has protected the people of Israel during that exile.
  3. God has made the people of Israel a light to the nations.
  4. God has healed the author of Psalm 40 from a serious illness.
  5. God has made the author of Psalm 92 happy with His work.
  6. God has enriched the lives of the Corinthian Christians whom St. Paul the Apostle began to criticize in 1 Corinthians 1:10.
  7. God has sent the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth.

What items will you, O reader, add to the list of what God has done?








Link to the corresponding post at BLOGA THEOLOGICA


Devotion for the First Sunday of Advent, Year B (Humes)   3 comments

Above:   The Dream of Nebuchadnezzar

Image in the Public Domain

Exile, Liberation, and Lamentation

DECEMBER 3, 2023


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


Isaiah 64:1-9

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Mark 13:14-37


There is good news and there is bad news.

The readings from the Hebrew Bible hail from different times.  Psalm 80 is a national lament from the final days of the northern Kingdom of Israel.  One may recall that the theology written into much of the Old Testament regarding the Assyrian and Babylonian Exiles was that persistent, collective sin had brought them on.  Isaiah 64 comes from the Third Isaiah portion of the Book of Isaiah, after return from the Babylonian Exile.  The text, which one understands better if one reads Isaiah 63 first, indicates collective disappointment with the shambles the ancestral homeland had become.

Good news follows bad news in Mark 13.  In a passage that obviously invokes the descent of “one like a Son of Man” in Daniel 7, Jesus will return.  Yet one also reads a note of caution (“Keep awake.”) in the context of language to which one can correctly add,

or else.

St. Paul the Apostle anticipated that day was he wrote to the argumentative congregation in Corinth.  Before he pointed out their faults he remined them that God had granted them awareness of the truth regarding God and Jesus Christ, as well as the means to speak of that truth.

The two great themes of the Hebrew Bible are exodus and exile.  When exile ends, we may find that we have new problems.  Yet we can rely on God, who continues to perform loving, mighty acts.  Will we accept divine liberation, or will we exile ourselves?






Devotion for Tuesday and Wednesday After the Second Sunday After the Epiphany, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Ruins of Corinth

Above:  Ruins of Corinth

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-00671

Fidelity and Factions

JANUARY 18 and 19, 2022


The Collect:

Lord God, source of every blessing,

you showed forth your glory and led many to faith by the works of your Son,

who brought gladness and salvation to his people.

Transform us by the Spirit of his love,

that we may find our life together in him,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 22


The Assigned Readings:

Song of Songs 4:1-8 (Tuesday)

Song of Songs 4:9-5:1 (Wednesday)

Psalm 145 (Both Days)

1 Corinthians 1:3-17 (Tuesday)

Luke 5:33-39 (Wednesday)


The Lord draws near to all who summon him,,

to all who summon him in sincerity.

For his worshippers he does all they could wish for,

he hears their cry for help and saves them.

–Psalm 145:18-19, The Psalms Introduced and Newly Translated for Today’s Readers (1989), by Harry Mowvley


They should, therefore, dwell in unity and mutual respect, I suppose, but the opposite is true much of the time.

Two of the three readings contain references to disputes.  (The lovers in the Song of Songs are in harmony with each other.)  The question of fasting–that some people do it and others do not–arises in Luke 5.  And in 1 Corinthians, that community’s notorious factionalism is at issue.  Such divisiveness probably arose from well-intentioned attempts to discern and to act in accordance with the will of God and to hold to correct theology; that is my most charitable guess.  However, again and again we human beings have proven ourselves capable of fouling up while trying to do the right thing.  Then opinions become tribal boundaries.  The result is an unholy mess.

The truth is, of course, that there is such a thing as objective reality, and that each of us is right about some details of it and wrong about others.  Laying competing fundamentalisms aside and acknowledging a proper degree of ambiguity (in what Calvinist theology labels matters indifferent) is a fine strategy for working toward peace and faithful community.








Devotion for Thursday Before the First Sunday After the Epiphany, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Paul Writing His Epistles, by Valentin de Boulogne

Above:  Paul Writing His Epistles, by Valentin de Boulogne

Image in the Public Domain

Human Folly and Divine Wisdom

JANUARY 6, 2022


The Collect:

Almighty God, you anointed Jesus at his baptism with the Holy Spirit

and revealed him as your beloved Son.

Keep all who are born of water and the Spirit faithful in your service,

that we may rejoice to be called children of God,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 22


The Assigned Readings:

Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

Psalm 29

1 Corinthians 1:18-31


Bow down to the LORD in his holy splendour.

–Psalm 29:2, The Psalms Introduced and Newly Translated for Today’s Readers (1989), by Harry Mowvley


The author of Ecclesiastes was a realist.  I, as a student and teacher of history, recognize the truth of 1:10-11 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures, 1985):

Sometimes there is a new phenomenon of which they say, “Look, this one is new!”–it occurred long since, in ages that went by before us.  The earlier ones are not remembered; so too those that will occur later will no more be remembered than those that will occur at the very end.

If all is “futility” (to quote TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures) and “vanity” (to quote The New Revised Standard Version), to whom should we cling?  Is life a morass of postmodern uncertainty or do we have access to a ground for sound theological epistomology?  The author of Ecclesiastes advised trusting in God.

St. Paul the Apostle agreed with Koheleth.  Human wisdom and power are nothing compared to God, St. Paul wrote.  The power of God is saving those who are not perishing.  The only proper boast is in God, whose wisdom is foolishness to many people and whose foolishness is wiser than human wisdom.  God is reliable.  As Martin Luther counseled, may we rely on the faithfulness of God.

This ethos contradicts much “received wisdom” in the United States of America, where rugged individualism is a perceived virtue.  Reality belies rugged individualism, however.  We rely on each other in society.  For example, I drive my car to work.  I rely on mechanics to keep my car in working order.  (Fortunately, the vehicle is reliable, needing mostly routine maintenance.)  I also rely on those who maintain the roads on which I drive to work.  Beyond that concrete example, the social ethos of the Law of Moses is to acknowledge our total dependence on God, our responsibilities for each other, and our duties to each other.  This ethos precludes exploiting any person.

Only God can inaugurate such a society, but we mere mortals can labor to approach it.  We, after all, are society.  If we were to take more seriously our duties to God, to each other, and for each other, I wonder how much better society would be.  Such visions are not futile, if enough people, trusting in God, act faithfully.






First Day of Advent: First Sunday of Advent, Year B   35 comments

Above:  Saint Joseph with the Infant Jesus, by Guido Reni, Circa 1635

Expectations Versus Reality

DECEMBER 3, 2023


Isaiah 64:1-9 (New Revised Standard Version):

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,

so that the mountains would quake at your presence–

as when fire kindles brushwood

and the fire causes water to boil–

to make your name known to your adversaries,

so that the nations might tremble at your presence!

When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,

you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.

From ages past no one has heard,

no ear has perceived,

no eye has seen any God besides you,

who works for those who wait for him.

You meet those who gladly do right,

those who remember you in your ways.

But you were angry, and we sinned;

because you hid yourself we transgressed.

We have all become like one who is unclean,

and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.

We all fade like a leaf,

and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

There is no one who calls on your name,

or attempts to take hold of you;

for you have hidden your face from us,

and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.

Yet, O LORD, you are our Father;

we are the clay, and you are our potter;

we are all the work of your hand.

Do not be exceedingly angry, O LORD,

and do not remember iniquity forever.

Now consider, we are your people.

Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  Hear, O Shepherd of Israel, leading Joseph like a flock;

shine forth, you that are enthroned upon the cherubim.

2  In the presence of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh,

stir up your strength and come to help us.

3  Restore us, O God of hosts;

show us the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

4  O LORD God of hosts,

how long will you be angered

despite the prayers of your people?

5  You have fed them with the bread of tears;

you have given them bowls of tears to drink.

6 You have made us the derision of our neighbors,

and our enemies laugh us to scorn.

7  Restore us, O God of hosts;

show us the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

16  Let your hand be upon the man of your right hand,

the son of man you have made so strong for yourself.

17  And so will we never turn away from you;

give us life, that we may call upon your Name.

18  Restore us, O LORD God of hosts;

show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

1 Corinthians 1:3-9 (New Revised Standard Version):

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God for you because of the grace of God that has been given to you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind–just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you–so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Mark 13:24-37 (New Revised Standard Version):

Jesus said to his disciples,

In those days, after that suffering,

the sun will be darkened,

and the moon will not give its light,

and the stars will be falling from heaven,

and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake– for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.

The Collect:

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.


Many science fiction movies and television shows depict human-like aliens who, oddly enough, speak Earth languages fluently.  This is, of course, a conceit made necessary for a long time due to limited special effects technology and budgets, the fact that actors are humans, and that many audience members dislike reading subtitles.  This also reflects the fact of our frame of reference when pondering extraterrestrial life; we seek life as we know it.  But what if life as we know it is rare and life as we do not know it is more plentiful?

Let us apply that principle to Messianic expectations.  It is natural to seek a spectacular display of divine power and presence, especially when one lives under foreign occupation or when the troubles of life seem too difficult to bear.  But what did we get?  The picture I placed at the top of this post says it all:  a baby.  He grew up, died, and rose again.  In fact, I write this post on the Feast of the Ascension in 2011.  With that departure came the promise of a Second Coming, but when?

Many of the earliest Christians, including St. Paul, thought that the Second Coming was soon.  That was, of course, nearly two thousand years ago.  After Paul, the canonical Gospels, written after the First Jewish War, reflected expectations that Jesus would be back any day now.  That was nearly two thousand years ago.  Over a century and a half ago, William Miller predicted more than one date for the Second Coming.  He was mistaken.  More recently, Colin Hoyle Deal, writing in the late 1970s, thought that Jesus would return by 1988.  He had 101 reasons for this.  (I have a copy of his book.)  Hal Lindsey, also writing in the 1970s, thought that Jesus would come back before 2000.  And Harold Camping has issued more than one faulty date for the end of times.

Jesus has not kept the schedules some people have calculated for him.

God will tend to the details of time quite well without our predictions; may we tend to our earthly vocations and not waste time getting in over our heads.  We are called to be agents of God and faces of Christ to those to whom God sends us.  This is our reality.  So I ask you, O reader, some questions:  Whom has God sent to you?  To whom has God sent you?  And how often did any of this not match your expectations?  What lessons have you learned from the discrepancy between your expectations and your reality?




Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A   23 comments

Above:  The Prophet Micah (Russian Orthodox Icon)

What God Requires of Us

JANUARY 29, 2023


Micah 6:1-8 (New Revised Standard Version):

Hear what the LORD says:

Rise, plead your case before the mountains,

and let the hills hear your voice.

Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the LORD,

and you enduring foundations of the earth;

for the LORD has a controversy with his people,

and he will contend with Israel.

“O my people, what have I done to you?

In what have I wearied you?  Answer me!

For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,

and redeemed you from the house of slavery;

and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.

O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised,

what Balaam son of Beor answered him,

and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,

that you may know the saving acts of the LORD.”

“With what shall I come before the LORD,

and bow myself before God on high?

Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,

with calves a year old?

Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,

with ten thousands of rivers of oil?

Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,

the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

He has told you, O mortal, what is good,

and what does the LORD require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?”

Psalm 15 (New Revised Standard Version):

O LORD, who may abide in your tent?

Who may dwell on your holy hill?

Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,

and speak the truth from their heart;

who do not slander with their tongue,

and do no evil to their friends,

nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;

in whose eyes the wicked are despised,

but who honor those who fear the LORD;

who stand by their oath even to their hurt;

who do not lend money at interest,

and do not take a bribe against the innocent.

Those who do these things shall never be moved.

1 Corinthians 1:18-37 (New Revised Standard Version):

The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,

and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written,

Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.

Matthew 5:1-12 (New Revised Standard Version):

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


The readings for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A, are counter-cultural in the best possible way.  They point to a divine order distinct from the human status quo.  If you have doubts, read the psalm again and ponder the economic order in much of the world.

The Matthew version of the Beatitudes (distinct from the Luke version) fit neatly with the God-centered counter-culture depicted in Psalm 15.  They depict a great reversal of fortune–a world in which those who grieve receive comfort, the meek inherit the earth, and those who are persecuted have reason to rejoice.  Perhaps the traditional, King James rendering of the first Beatitude obscures its meaning.  What does it mean to be poor in spirit?  The late J. B. Phillips, in the second edition of his New Testament in Modern English (1972), got it right:

How happy are those who know their need for God, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs!

Likewise the second edition of the New Living Translation (2004) has Jesus say,

God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

All of this is consistent with the excerpt from 1 Corinthians, which reminds us that human standards do not bind God.

The reading from Micah is perhaps most famous for the glorious 6:8, but some references in previous verses require explanation.  God had delivered the people of Israel and led them through the wilderness to the promised land with the cooperation of human leaders.  Shittim was the location of the last camp before the Israelites crossed the Jordan River into Canaan; Gilgal was where they camped first after crossing the Jordan.  King Balak had plotted to have Balaam, a prophet-for-hire, curse his (Balak’s) enemies; God made sure that Balaam spoke the truth, regardless of what Balak thought about it.  The capstone of the reading from Micah is 6:8, which contains a brief summary of holiness:  “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly” with God.

So we need to recognize our need for God, cease exploiting each other, and to extend kindness to each other.  This ethic negates much of the economic orders of the world.  As I write these words there is an ongoing corporate competition to decrease wages (and therefore the standard of living) due to lower wages elsewhere on the planet.  Then people cannot afford to keep the economy healthy or to purchase quality items, which have become too expensive for diminished budgets.  U.S. President William McKinley, in office  (whom I quote favorably rarely) stated correctly:

Cheap goods make for cheap men; and cheap men make for a cheap country.

(Historical note:  President McKinley was in office 1897-1901, assassinated early into his second term.)

I have learned of bail bondsmen in communities across the United States making deals with local judges to send non-violent accused to people to jail (not release them, bypassing jail and trusting them to keep their court dates), so that the bail bondsmen can bail these individuals out.  This, of course, is good business for the bail bondsmen, but what about the accused who are poor?  The wealthy accused can afford bail.  And this packing of local jails increases the public costs of incarceration, which is bad for communities.

Much of politics has relied for a very long time on impulses which run contrary to kindness.  Indeed, the great indifference, aversion, or even hostility to objective reality, hence leading to a “don’t confuse me with the facts” mentality proves destructive to the community and the nation.  And what would 24-hour alleged news channels do if they had to report only hard news–you know, the kind rooted in confirmed facts?  Kindness would kill their business model of stirring up the reptilian brain within their viewers–and facts be damned.  What matters most to these purveyors of punditry is a good mad.

Acting kindly can prevent many unnecessary problems for others.  This is not “rocket science;” much of this falls into the Lutheran category of “civic righteousness,” or good deeds we have the power to undertake on our own strength yet which cannot save us from our sins, or ourselves.  We can go far toward making the vision of Micah 6:8 reality, if only we will do so.  Selfishness is not a predetermined condition, for we can be altruistic.  Indeed, there is an evolutionary advantage inherent in altruism; it serves the common good, increasing the odds of the survival of the species.  (I like to listen to science programming on the radio via the Internet.)  So self-interest can take us far.  The missing piece is the one only God can provide.  Then, by grace, we can have a beloved community marked by true justice.


Written on June 16, 2010

Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A   20 comments

Above:  Cloud in Sunlight

A Little Bit of Light Makes a Big Difference

JANUARY 22, 2023


Isaiah 9:1-4 (New Revised Standard Version):

But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish.  In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulon and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people who have walked in darkness

have seen a great light;

those who lived in a land of deep darkness–

on them light has shined.

You have multiplied the nation,

you have increased its joy;

they rejoice before you

as with joy at the harvest,

as people exult when dividing plunder.

For the yoke of their burden,

and the bar across their shoulders,

the rod of their oppressor,

you have broken as on the day of Midian.

Psalm 27:1, 4-9 (New Revised Standard Version):

The LORD is my light and my salvation;

whom shall I fear?

The LORD is the stronghold of my life;

of whom shall I be afraid?

One thing I asked of the LORD,

that will I seek after:

to live in the house of the LORD

all the days of my life,

to behold the beauty of the LORD,

and to inquire in his temple.

For he will hide me in his shelter

in the day of trouble;

he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;

he will set me high on a rock.

Now my head is lifted up

above my enemies all around me,

and I will offer in his tent

sacrifices with shouts of joy;

I will sing and make melody to the LORD.

Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud,

be gracious to me and answer me!


my heart says,

seek his face!

Your face, LORD, do I seek.

Do not hide your face from me.

Do not turn your servant away in anger,

you who have been my help.

Do not cast me off, do not forsake me,

O God of my salvation!

1 Corinthians 1:10-18 (New Revised Standard Version):

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says,

I belong to Paul,


I belong to Apollos,


I belong to Cephas,


I belong to Christ.

Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Matthew 4:12-23 (New Revised Standard Version):

When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

Land of Zebulon, land of Naphtali,

on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles–

the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,

and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.

From that time Jesus began to proclaim,

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea– for they were fishermen. And he said to them,

Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.

Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

The Collect:

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


The central theme in the Sundays after the Epiphany is the spread of the Christian message to the Gentiles.  This reminds us that message of Jesus is for all people, that God seeks to draw all people around the heavenly throne.  St. Peter came to understand this lesson, that God shows no partiality, but that all who follow God please God, regardless of who they are or from where they come.

You, O reader, might notice that the readings for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany fit neatly with those for the Second Sunday.  This demonstrates the beauty and utility of a lectionary.  Thus my next remarks fit well with those for the previous Sunday.

Everyone has a calling from God to be a positive influence and a light.  The nature of light in darkness is such that even a little light makes a great difference; it can be the difference between standing in the pitch dark and having one’s bearings, knowing where one is and identifying the route one needs to take.  This light is for the common good, as are the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  So to use the light for selfish, self-aggrandizing ends is sinful and destructive to the faith community.  Actually, the faith community is at its peak when it permits everyone’s light to shine to its full potential.  Human divisions–such as politics, economics, gender, race, and ethnicity–are irrelevant to the potential of one’s light from God.


Written on June 15, 2010