Tag Archives: Isaiah

All We Like Sheep

Perhaps I should have listened to or better even, sung George Fredrick Handle’s Messiah before writing my sermon this week.

On Sunday evening we heard the Florida Orchestra and Master Choral of Tampa Bay sing this amazing oratorio. Before the concert guest conductor, David Lockington, and the tenor soloist, Colin Balzer, answered a few questions about the performance.

Among their fascinating remarks Colin Balzer noted how the audience nearly dances in their seats while the choir sings: “All we like sheep have gone astray.” But he noted that if we attend to the meaning of the words, we should not be pleased that we “have gone astray and have led everyone from his own way.” This is not an affirmation that we like to eat mutton or wear wool, but a condemnation that we are no better than animals. This condemnation comes clear in the last few measures of this section when Handel abruptly changes the mood and tempo as the chorus intones: “and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”

Click below to hear this section performed by a different choir and orchestra.

Have you experienced the euphoria of temptation and the joy of bringing others along on our adventures? Only later do we experience the price paid for our misadventures.

As much as we might frolic with “All we like sheep” Handel offers his grandest music when substitutionary atonement gives way to resurrection in his Hallelujah Chorus and his final chorus “Blessing and honour, glory and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever. Amen.” Each of which readily draw people to their feet.

 So to might we offer our grandest praise during this Christmas to bringing our praises of honor and glory to the everlasting Christ who sits upon the throne of God.

Fast from Bitterness

English: A cropped version of Antonio Ciseri's...
From Antonio Ciseri’s depiction of Pontius Pilate presenting a scourged Christ to the people. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jesus had every reason to be bitter and angry when he stood before Pilate. He had been betrayed and denied by his own disciples. The Jewish leaders had him arrested on trumped up charges. The people had preferred that Pilate release a murderer. The guards mocked him, placing a wreath of thorns on his head, before spitting on him. Yet Mark portrays him as calm and detached.

The guards expected bitterness and anger. Such a response might have eased their gruesome task: nailing him to a cross.

Anger can be a dangerous emotion. One that unleashes harsh words that can’t be recalled. Words that can have an impact that lasts far beyond their usefulness.

The Prophet Isaiah provides an alternative response:

The Lord God will help me and prove I am innocent.
My accusers will wear out like moth-eaten clothes.
— Isaiah 50:9 (CEV)

Fasting from bitterness and anger requires learning to take time to think through how I might respond, using my advanced human brain, rather than my animal instincts. Daily meditative prayer allows me to practice letting stray thoughts amble through my mind, without dwelling on any one thought. So that when circumstances might evoke a strong emotional response, I might allow those thoughts to amble through, I might be able to give God time to help me and prove my innocence, to wear out my accusers.

Fasting from bitterness can lead to forgiving others. Not letting them off the hook, ignoring the pain that they have caused in harming, but letting go of the string that binds us together, giving me time to heal. Forgiveness need not deny guilt, merely responsibility for retribution, allowing me to separate from the incident lest my bitterness eat in to my spiritual health.

When have you forgiven someone who hurt you?

What Lasts?

English: 8-inch, 5,25-inch, and 3,5-inch flopp...
English: 8-inch, 5.25-inch, and 3.5-inch floppy disks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently I found two stacks of 3 1/2″ floppy disks I had used to back up a computer I no longer have. They reminded me of a presentation on preserving church documents from that same. The presenter held in one hand an 8 inch floppy disk and asked if anyone in the audience had equipment to read the files on that disk in his other hand he held a microfiche of the original minutes of the first assembly of the Presbyterian Church held in Philadelphia in 1717. He assured us that the church also had the original paper minutes as well. That paper would last 300 years surprised few in our audience as scholars have access to biblical and other manuscripts nearly 2000 years old.

Fifteen years ago each of those stacks of twenty-five floppy disks contained a compressed version of the data on my hard drive. Additional disks would have held back ups of the programs. These disks were a great improvement over the 5.25-inch floppies from earlier computers, holding nearly six times as much data.

Eventually I upgraded to CD-ROMs each of which could hold twelve times as much data as both stacks of floppy disks combined and they had a better shelf-life. Probably not 300 years, but longer than floppy disks that dust or magnets can degrade.

While sorting and organizing I also purged many of those CD-ROM backups as DVDs have replaced them and more recently cloud storage has taken on that function. But I doubt these will be accessible in a few hundred years. Already I have trouble opening some of the files created less than 20 years ago due to software incompatibilities.

Stone writings (pictured below) although they last for hundreds of years have different problems. The people who made these writings disappeared before Columbus arrived in 1492. Did these markings have religious significance? Do they tell about events of their community? Or are they ancient graffiti; doodles by people with time to waste? Although their writings have lasted hundreds of years, their meanings have vanished with the people who wrote them.

Writings on stone
Petroglyphs seen at the Petrified Forest National Park believed to be between 650 to 2000 years old. (Photo by R. Shaw 2009.)

How will we preserve images and stories for our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and …? And if they last, will future generations understand them?

The grass withers, the flower fades,
    when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
    surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
    but the word of our God will stand forever.
— Isaiah 40:7-8 (NRSV)

 

March 24th: “Worship Takes Courage”

To worship God requires courage! When have you stood up for your faith?

This Week’s Passage:Isaiah 50:4-9a

I. Establish the text

C. Other texts for Year C for 6th Sunday in Lent, Palm/Passion Sunday

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

4a – – A preacher’s prayer: Give me the word that the people need to hear to sustain themselves.

4b – – Scripture readings speak to life each day.

5 – – Could following God be our prayer? Or do we merely wish God’s path would stay beneath our feet?

6 – – c.f. Abba Abram on check turning.

7-8 – With God we can endure any adversary!

9 – – With God our adversary’s weaken.

10-11 – Verse 11 interprets verse 10 in reverse order. Thus if we walk in darkness yet trust, we have kindling to light firebrands, but if we obey out of fear, torment?

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • Most commentaries consider 50:4-11 a complete song.
  • The lectionary lops of vv 10-11 as they are grammatically difficult to follow diverting modern listeners from the central message. They may be an emendation to the Servant Song, and verses 1-3 provide the context for this song.

II. Literary Study.

A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?

Written by a follower of Isaiah during the Babylonian exile.

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

Third of four servant songs.

III. Question the text.

B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?

The identity of the servant is ambiguous. Israel? An individual? Cyrus? Jesus? The hearer?

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity: Deep abiding faith strengthens those who trust God to withstand false charges and assault.
  • Emotional Center: God is near and vindicates!
  • Music: “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • The source of the conflict, Israel’s transgressions, is provided in verse 1.

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Wolfgang Roth (Knox Preaching Guides: Isaiah. John Knox Press, 1988.) considers 50:1-3 as closing to the theme started with 49:14-26. He counts no fewer than five instances of words or phrases being doubled, thus demonstrating the intensity of the prophet’s words. “A sermon will have to deal with the sobering insight that the Scriptures tell of fierce hostility between persons and groups of different religious persuasions, and that many a biblical text is born of religious zeal and polemic. It is doubly puzzling when – as is the case here – the latter are generated by by a servant’s obedient listening to the divine voice and the words of comfort which flow from it.”

Perry Biddle (Editor, Preaching the Lectionary. WJKP 1991.) summarizes that the servant testifies to three things: (1) personal pupil-teacher relationship with God, (2) loyalty to God while experiencing persecution, and (3) not distracted from God’s mission even by violent persecution. He suggests preachers anticipate the suffering and mocking Jesus received during trial and extending the sufferings to what all Christians occasionally experience.

Walter Brueggemann et al (Texts for Preaching: Year B. WJKP, 1993.) rejects the rendering of verse 4 in the NRSV and prefers “the lord God, taught my tongue.”

Christopher Seitz (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Book of Isaiah 40-66.” Abingdon, 2001) interprets verses 10-11 as a response added by the prophet’s community to theologically interpret his death. The Servant Song, verses 4-9, answer the question raised in verse 2, where God asks the children of the exiles why they did not answer the LORD. He reflects: “It is crucial to remember that, as tragedies go, the crucifixion of Jesus was neither the worst nor was even remotely a singular event in its time; many were such executions in his day. What set it apart was that God had opened Jesus’ ears as to its larger significance, allowing him the measure of confidence that did not remove the anguish but made it bearable. [Behind the crucifixion] was the voice of the one who sent him, who opened his ears and taught him and helped him, even against forces of death … That voice kept Good Friday good and not another tragedy. It enabled that particular servant to empower and inspire other servants, who would follow his lead and take up the cross God sets aside for them as well.”

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

To worship God requires courage!

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

To recognize that God stands with us in our struggles.

March 3rd, “Worship as Nourishment”

Does your spirit hunger and thirst? God’s market is open, even when your wallet stays closed.

This Week’s Passage: Isaiah 55:1-9

I. Establish the text

C. Other texts for Year C for 3rd Sunday in Lent

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

1-2 – – “Buy and eat.” Not free food, but free market.

3-5 – – God’s covenant attracts others.

6-9 – – Repentance defined

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • The remaining section of the chapter compares the word of the LORD to rain that freely waters the earth before returning to heaven.

III. Question the text.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity: Repentance satisfies and God nourishes.

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • God offers mercy freely, unlike the street vendor who expects compensation for his food purchased.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

W. Eugene March (“Seek the Lord,” The Presbyterian Outlook, p. 20, December 17th, 2001.) places this passage at the end of Second Isaiah, who wrote to exiles in Babylon about 539 BC. He notes the contrast between the vendor’s call –“Come, buy, eat!”– and God’s abundant and unlimited gracious care. He interprets verses 6-9 as boldly asserting God’s abundant pardon, “the door through which all may enter into the forgiving mercy of the Lord God.” He asks: “How does the good news about God’s capacity and willingness to pardon affect your outlook on life and your understanding of th message the church has to proclaim?”

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

People cannot buy God’s pardon, it is abundantly available to all who would return to God’s ways.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Return to God with rejoicing!

January 6th: “Shine for All to See”

The glory of the LORD amplifies our light, reconciling people to God’s future.

This Week’s Passage: Isaiah 60:1-6

I. Establish the text

C. Other texts for Epiphany, Year C

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

I do this early, before researching the passage influences my questions.

1 — In the context of John’s Gospel which identifies Christ as the light of the world, we see this passage as shining because Christ has come into the world. How did Israel interpret this light?

2 — What are darkness covers people today? Loss of hope. Future beyond the daily grind.

3 — Whose light do nations and kings come? Does this refer to the light of God? Or to God’s light shining among us and reflected by us?

4 — We might deny recognition by those around us, but if we pay attention, we will see that the world does appreciate the light of God shining from the Church and that people do come here for reconciliation.

5 — But they do not bring this to us, but to the light of God, shining in our midst. The Magi did not bring gifts to a baby, but to the promise that shone through the baby.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • This is the beginning of a long prophecy that continues and expands upon this theme.

II. Literary Study.

A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?

Often attributed to Third Isaiah, student(s) of the prophet who wrote to those who had returned to their now shattered homelands.

III. Question the text.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of gravity: The glory of the LORD amplifies the light of his people.
  • Emotional Center: Family will be restored as people seek this light.
  • Image: Lighted arrow guiding people to look and return.

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • This is a picture of restoration and what might be.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Walter Bruggemann, “Off By Nine Miles” (http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=2103 ) “Matthew is not the first one to imagine three rich wise guys from the East coming to Jerusalem. His story line and plot come from Isaiah 60, a poem recited to Jews in Jerusalem about 580 B.C.E. These Jews had been in exile in Iraq for a couple of generations and had come back to the bombed-out city of Jerusalem. They were in despair. Who wants to live in a city where the towers are torn down and the economy has failed, and nobody knows what to do about it? … The poet anticipates that Jerusalem will become a beehive of productivity and prosperity, a new center of international trade.”

Bill Long, “Blinded by the … Darkness” (http://www.drbilllong.com/LectionaryIV/Is60.html) recounts how the darkness of current events (attempted assassination of Benazir Bhutto) can blind us from the light. He concludes: “We always look at this passage as a promise of light and the glory of the things coming from light, but the only verb used in a future tense in the first 1 1/2 verses relates to darkness. The light has already come. Thus arise. But, darkness will come.”

John Shearman, Kir Shalom (http://www.rockies.net/~spirit/sermons/c-epip-js.php) This passage from the unknown prophet of the Babylonian exile, styled as “the Second Isaiah,” is almost certainly the source for Matthew’s story of the visit of the Magi bearing gifts for Israel’s new born king. Many modern depictions of that event and the carol, “We Three Kings of Orient Are,” also take their basic elements from this passage. As it stands, however, it presents a clear description of Yahweh’s activity within human history interpreted metaphorically as giving light where darkness has previously prevailed. This, of course, recalls the first act of creation in Genesis 1: the creation of light where there had been only chaos and darkness. It also reiterates the theme of the first poem in the collection of Second Isaiah (40:5): “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed..”
The phrase “the glory of the Lord” in vs.1 (Heb. *kabhodh*) appears extensively in Isaiah and elsewhere in the OT. It is a central word for divine self-revelation or epiphany. The Christian festival and the liturgical season of Epiphany have this fundamental meaning. It refers not only to the revelation of Christ to Gentiles, but the self-revelation of God in Christ to the whole world.

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

Restoration to prosperity from living under the light of the LORD.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Hope in the face of darkness.

April 1st: “Christ: God’s Forgiveness”

This Week’s Passage:

Highlights:

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: First Reading Isaiah 50:4-9a

C. Other texts for Palm/Passion Sunday, Year B

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

4a This is the preacher prayer: Give me the word that the people need to hear to sustain themselves.

4b Daily Scripture readings speak to life.

5 Could following God be our prayer? Or do we merely wish we would stay on God’s path?

6 See Abba Abram on check turning.

7 – 8 With God we can endure any adversary!

9 With God our adversary’s weaken.

10 The middle clause if false if the former or later are true.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • Most commentaries consider 50:4-11 a complete song.
  • The lectionary lops of vv 10-11 as they are grammatically difficult to follow diverting modern listeners from the central message. They may be an emendation to the Servant Song, and verses 1-3 provide the context for this song.

II. Literary Study.

A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?

  • Written by a follower of Isaiah during the Babylonian exile.

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

  • Third of four servant songs.

III. Question the text.

B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?

The identity of the servant is ambiguous. Israel? An individual? Cyrus? Jesus? The hearer?

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity: Deep abiding faith strengthens those who trust God to withstand false charges and assault.
  • Emotional Center: God is near and vindicates!
  • Music: “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • The source of the conflict, Israel’s transgressions, is provided in verse 1.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Wolfgang Roth (Knox Preaching Guides: Isaiah. John Knox Press, 1988.) considers 50:1-3 as closing to the theme started with 49:14-26. He counts no fewer than five instances of words or phrases being doubled, thus demonstrating the intensity of the prophet’s words. “A sermon will have to deal with the sobering insight that the Scriptures tell of fierce hostility between persons and groups of different religious persuasions, and that many a biblical text is born of religious zeal and polemic. It is doubly puzzling when – as is the case here – the latter are generated by by a servant’s obedient listening to the divine voice and the words of comfort which flow from it.”

Perry Biddle (Editor, Preaching the Lectionary: A Workbook for Year A. WJKP 1991.) summarizes that the servant testifies to three things: (1) personal pupil-teacher relationship with God, (2) loyalty to God while experiencing persecution, and (3) not distracted from God’s mission even by violent persecution. He suggests preachers anticipate the suffering and mocking Jesus receives during trial and extending the sufferings to what all Christians occasionally experience.

Walter Brueggemann et al (Texts for Preaching: Year B. WJKP, 1993.) rejects the rendering of verse 4 in the NRSV and prefers “the lord God, taught my tongue.”

Christopher Seitz (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Book of Isaiah 40-66.” Abingdon, 2001) interprets verses 10-11 as a response added by the prophet’s community to theologically interpret his death. The Servant Song, verses 4-9, answer the question raised in verse 2, where God asks the children of the exiles why they did not answer the LORD. He reflects: “It is crucial to remember that, as tragedies go, the crucifixion of Jesus was neither the worst nor was even remotely the a singular event in its time; many were such executions in his day. What set it apart was that God had opened Jesus’ ears as to its larger significance, allowing him the measure of confidence that did not remove the anguish but made it bearable. [Behind the crucifixion] was the voice of the one who sent him, who opened his ears and taught him and helped him, even against forces of death … That voice kept Good Friday good and not another tragedy. It enabled that particular servant to empower and inspire other servants, who would follow his lead and take up the cross God sets aside for them as well.”

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Celebrating the Lord’s Supper in Easter 2012

Bread and cup“Teach the congregation about the depth of meaning in the Lord’s Supper, not just with words, but also with how we celebrate Communion,” the Elders on Session challenged. In addition to serving communion every Sunday in Easter, they wanted more. Thus we are now scheduled serve communion eleven times in ten weeks (including Maundy Thursday and the first Sundays of April and June).

Worship Plans for Easter 2012

These worship plans are tentative and subject to revision. Suggestions will be carefully considered.

Date

Theme

Implementation

April 1
Passion Sunday
Isaiah 50:4-9a – Christ: God’s Forgiveness
Remembrance of God’s grace, Christ’s sacrifice, and work of the Spirit.
Communion as Atonement
Small cups & wafers served to participants in pews
Christ’s Body given & Blood shed for us.
April 5
Maundy Thursday
Sin as slavery; Orderly plan of freedom.
Institution of the Lord’s Supper
Passover Meal: Unleavened bread, wine
April 8
Resurrection
Mark 16:1-8 – You are looking for Jesus
Gift of God through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit
High formality. Sung responses.
Child delivers elements gift wrapped.
Participants come forward to receive bread and small cups.
April 15
Easter 2
Acts 4:32-35 – Everything in Common
Reconciling community
Sit in a circle, minister to one another.
Intinction with one loaf
April 22
Easter 3
Youth Group skit
The resurrection has implications today.
Youth serve with modernized setting: Bread sticks in a pizza box, Grape Kool-Aid in plastic cups
April 29
Easter 4
John 10:11-18 – Good Shepherd
Eucharist is our great sacrifice of praise to God.
Each family presents a slice of bread during the offering. Those slices are shared during communion.
May 6
Easter 5
John 15:1-8 – On Christ’s Vine
Incorporation
One loaf divided and shared with cups in pews. Elder and Deacons immediately leave worship to offer communion to those unable to attend.
May 13
Easter 6
John 15:9-17 – Love one another
Spirit filled symbol of God’s Love
Women of the Church
Heart shaped pieces of bread
May 20
Easter 7
John 17:6-19 – Christ glorified in disciples
Sanctification
Wedding Feast: Invitations sent with a “robe”
Wedding runner & Unity Candle
Table filled with food: Fish, milk, wine, honey, salt, …, braided bread.
May 27
Pentecost
Acts 2:1-21 – God pours out the Holy Spirit
Confirmation
Give all members a red stole
Confirmands get white stoles
Give red stoles after confirmation
June 3
Trinity Sunday
John 3:1-17 – Born of water and spirit.
Rebirth
Flour and oil dedicated as a sin offering after assurance of pardon. Children shape flour into pastry and bake it during sermon to be served for communion.

Other Notes:

  1. Commend using the unison prayer after communion as a prayer before meals.
  2. Add explanatory notices in bulletin beginning in Lent, March Newsletter, and email March 21 – May 23.
  3. Families invited to bring bread for one of Sunday.

January 1st: “Dedication”

In Luke 2:22-40 the infant Jesus is recognized as the continuation of God’s salving work.

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Luke 2:22-40

C. Other texts for Year B for 2nd Sunday in Christmas

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

22-24 Is it “their purification” or Mary’s? How long is the rite of purification? [40 days after the birth of a male child, 80 days after the birth of a female child.] How did this relate to circumcision? [8th day. Jesus circumcision was reported in the immediately preceding verses] What does this paraphrase? [Lev. 12:1-8] A pair of doves was the pauper’s offering as opposed to a lamb. [Luke probably combined Jesus’ dedication in the Temple as the first-born son with Mary’s purification. Exo. 13:2 & 12-16 proscribes a ritual of redemption for each male offspring, whether of livestock or child, to commemorate the sacrifice of the first-born males so that Israel might be redeemed of slavery in Egypt. Analogously, Christ as God’s first (and only) born son by his sacrifice becomes the redemption of all of God’s people from slavery to sin.

25 What is the meaning of the name Simeon? [One who hears.] Does this say that he was deeply spiritual and by the Spirit he was aware of God’s will?

26 Where is the phrase about not tasting death until the Lord comes again?

27 Things do not happen by chance. God acts through all things providentially. [For Simeon, rather than seeing is believing, believing is seeing God in ordinary things.]

28 Here is the leap of faith. Seeing God’s power through a helpless infant.

29 Is Simeon saying that his whole life was for the saying of these two sentences and that his work on earth was completed? What is my succinct purpose in life? While we are told that Anna was “of great age,” we know nothing of Simeon’s age or health for doing additional work for the building of God’s kingdom on earth.

30 Simeon recognizes Jesus as God’s salvation and not Israel’s. How does God’s salvation differ from our salvation?

31 Jesus did not appear from the clouds, as in Greek/Roman mythologies, but came from among the people in an ordinary way, exemplifying how God works through ordinary events to bring about the Everlasting Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

34 And Christ has continued to be a sign for the rising and falling of many of those who “Wrestle with God” and continues to be opposed. [Craddock: “Anyone who turns on a light, creates shadows.]

36 What are the meanings of Anna [Hebrew: Hannah => Grace], Phanuel [Hebrew: Face of God], and Asher [Happy]? This means she was probably widowed at in her twenties, as women would have married in their early teens.

37 Eighty-four while common today, was about two lifetimes as recently as 1900.

38 Even at her advanced age, she still advances the kingdom in meaningful ways.

39 What about the flight into Egypt? [not in Luke but only in Matthew]

40 In this passage the baby is only destined for divine favor, and is not God incarnate as in John’s Gospel.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • Picks up 8 days after Jesus birth.
  • In the next passage Jesus is twelve years old.

II. Literary Study.

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

  • The dedication of Jesus in the Temple is not recorded in the other Gospels.
  • Dedication of Samuel in the Temple at which Hannah his mother prophecies that Samuel will be the LORD’s savior of the people.

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

  • Although Anna’s speech is not recorded, parallels with Simeon’s prophecy allow the reader to imagine verbal similarities.

III. Question the text.

A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.

The pronouncements of Simeon and Anna are public events. Simeon and Anna do not hesitate to offer the spiritual blessings they perceive Jesus and his parents need. Similarly today the youth need the spiritual lessons of the value of ritual that only the older generation can give. [from PresbyNet: GOSPEL NOTES FOR NEXT SUNDAY note 3464 by CAROLINE ENGELBRECHT on Dec. 20, 1999]

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Mary and Joseph strictly followed the Jewish law and custom for the dedication of Jesus.
  • Spiritually oriented people were able to see the greatness into which Jesus had been destined from his birth.

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • This text parallels the experience of many couples on showing a new baby to friends and family, and modern ritual of baptism. In some congregations, when a child is baptized, the pastor presents the child to the congregation, walking up and down the aisles, during which many will reach out and touch the child, silently adding their blessing.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Fred B. Craddock (Interpretation: Luke, John Knox Press, 1990) notes “the importance for Luke of the continuity between the two Testaments, between Judaism to Christianity, between synagogue and church.” Thus the obedient purification of Mary and redemption of Jesus fulfills Old Testament law and signals New Testament purification redemption.

R. Alan Culpepper (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Gospel of Luke,” Abingdon, 1995) notes parallels with Simeon’s prophecy with passages in Isaiah. He notes that just as the Holy Spirit promised that Simeon would not see death before witnessing the arrival of the Messiah, so to does Jesus foretell that some of his disciples would not taste death before witnessing the kingdom of God. In the Reflections section, Culpepper notes the use of ritual in modern life and its waning in daily prayer and study in most households as compared with a generation ago. He challenges the modern Christian “to find effective rituals for celebrating the presence of God in the ordinary.”

James J. H. Price (The Presbyterian Outlook, December 4-11, 2000, “Presented in the Temple”) asks: “Do we really think that all flesh has seen the salvation of God? Does Simeon’s robust confidence in the arrival of God’s purposes of wholeness and renewal for the world connect with the world which knows the terrorist bombings of the USS Cole and other acts of violence?” He concludes: “The fulfillment of God’s promises within history are not always visible.”

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

Jesus was/is a continuation of the Old Testament, a continuation of God’s saving work.

B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.

Change questions of “What are we looking for and waiting for God to provide?” into recognizing God’s continuing action among us and offering that to our neighbors.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Hearers of this passage are called to listen to the Holy Spirit like Simeon and offer the saving grace of Christ like Anna.

December 11th: “Expect Joy”

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope: Isaiah 61:1-11

C. Other texts for Year B for 3rd Sunday in Advent

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

1a The first time I preached, I imagined I was like a little league batter holding the bat fearfully, but with the coach’s firm arms around me, his hands over mine, helping me to steady the bat, reminding me to watch the ball all the way until it hit the bat, then at the exact instance he commands into my ear: “SWING!” Thus my prayer is that God will speak into my ear for the sake of hitting a home run for the Gospel!

1b-3a The definitive statement of what to preach!

3b-4 This is the hoped for change in the hearers of the Word of God. (NB: see quote at end from Rabbi Diamond.)

5 While others will share our work, it also means that others will control our possessions. If we bring others into the church, it also means that our church family will change.

5 Change of subject from 3rd to 2nd person.

6 These are the rewards that a growing church can claim!

7 Change of subject back to 3rd person and of speaker from the prophet’s presenting of the Word of God to the very words of God.

7 THE REASON FOR THE SEASON!

8 Justice is not forgotten in the making a new covenant with God.

10 Shift of speaker back to the prophet.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • I am at a loss as to why the RCL omits vv 5-7.
  • The opening words “The spirit of the Lord LORD is upon me” suggest the beginning of a new prophecy.
  • Chapter 62 follows from 61:10 with more exhortations for praise. The tone shifts sharply in Chapter 63 towards the laying of guilt before Israel, while continuing the theme of salvation.

F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?

3 BHS notes that /L’BLY TsUN/ “mourner of Zion” is “probably added”. However, all the translations on my self, except the REB, include these words.

II. Literary Study.

A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?

  • Written by post exilic scholars of the Isaiah’s school. Often referred to as Third Isaiah. If so, it may have been written to celebrate return from exile.
  • In canonical form, it appears as having been written at the time of exile. Thus it calls out to the people to rejoice in the face of the tribulations of captivity.

B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?

1-2 Luke uses a paraphrase of this as Jesus’ self-identification when teaching. In that context, Jesus is the ONE upon whom is the spirit of God. But Isaiah permits a broader usage.

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

1 /RUC/ Spirit/breath. This is the same word used in Gen 1:2 for the breath/wind of God that hovered over the face of the waters. When used as “breath” it often means gusty breathing. It conveys “speech” that come with breath. When used as “wind”, this word suggests a ‘breath of heaven’. When used as “spirit”, it stems from recognition that breath is essential for the life of flesh. (BDB p. 924a) Thus “spirit” in the sense of that which is divinely animating.

1 NIV uses “Sovereign LORD” for /’aDoNaY YHVH/, which may be preferable to the NRSV “Lord GOD”.

1 Hebrew reads: to proclaim to captives: “freedom” and to prisoners: “release from darkness.” Emphasizing what is proclaimed.

1 /PQC-QUC/ “Release;” Lit. “Opening of eyes” NIV: “release from darkness.”

7 NIV, TEV, & NJB interpret this like: “because of shame … will receive double” NRSV, REB, NAB: “Because having received double shame.”

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

  • This is usually indented as poetry. But may be more similar to modern liturgical writings.

III. Question the text.

B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?

11 Here it is the earth or a garden that causes roots and stems to put forth. Elsewhere is this not attributed to God?

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • COG: To proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor!
  • Music: “All Hail the Power of Jesus Name!” Tune: CORONATION

D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.

  • This text calls the people to rejoice for the coming of the salvation and vindication of the LORD, even though this is not yet at hand.

F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?

  • A Christian congregation will hear this as the words of the eternal Christ spoken through the prophet Isaiah. Yet it is a song of one who has received the garment of salvation, rather than that of the one who bestows it.
  • I will need to connect this passage to the hurtings of the congregation, so that they may rejoice with Isaiah for the promise of redemption in the Lord.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

Henry Sloan Coffin, “The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40-66: Exposition”; The Interpreter’s Bible (Abingdon, 1956). “The contrast between ‘the year of the LORD’s favor’ and ‘the day of [his] vengeance’ is important: grace is God’s constant attitude toward [people]; vengeance is an occasional judgment necessary to remove obstacles to his grace.” “Such rejoicing in God alters the spiritual climate, clears the atmosphere so that his face is more plain, and restores morale.”

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?

God’s promise of salvation is always before us, yet we must rejoice today because we look to the future with assurance of God’s justice and redemption.

B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.

Although we may be afflicted, brokenhearted, and bound to circumstances, although we see ruins of what was around us, God calls us to rejoice in the promise of the year of his favor, for in worshiping the Lord we can see new possibilities.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

To learn to sing God’s praises in the face of adversity.