This blog is primarily aimed at those who preach and teach, also for those who prepare for Sunday by pondering the upcoming readings

May 5, 2011

This blog is primarily aimed at those who preach and teach. “The Gospels are the outcome of long and complicated editorial work … [S]ome references hostile to the Jews have their historical context in conflicts between the nascent Church and the Jewish community. Certain controversies reflect Christian-Jewish relations long after the time of Jesus. To establish this is of capital importance if we wish to bring out the meaning of certain Gospel texts for Christians today.” Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. “Notes,” IV, 21, A. 

Sociological studies of Christian prejudice strongly suggest that Christians learn anti-Jewish bigotry in church. Ap­parently pleas to “love the neighbor” fail to outweigh the incessant drum­’ beat of negative images of the neighbor proclaimed as the Word of God. Charles Y. Glock and Rodney Stark, Christian Beliefs and Anti-Semitism (New York: Harper & Row, 1966); Rodney Stark, Bruce D. Foster, Charles Y. Glock, and Harold E. Quinley, Wayward Shepherds: Prejudice & the Protestant Clergy (New York: Harper & Row, 1971).

Even those who trained for ministry quite recently are likely not to have been asked to consider the potential anti-Judaism lurking in New Testament texts because Christian-Jewish relations are absent from the syllabus of most seminaries. (CCJ conducts workshops at Theological Colleges and includes sessions looking at Christian antisemitism in liturgies and hymns. One student responded “(I learned)… that antisemitism, real and perceived is much more of an issue than I realised: the possibility that some CofE liturgy could still be interpreted as antisemitic!”

It would also be useful for study groups such as those who meet to study the forthcoming Sunday’s readings and for Christians and Jews studying texts together; indeed this book originated in a mixed group of the Council of Christians and Jews in Bristol, UK, led by me over three years, spanning the lectionary cycle. I am most grateful to the whole group, but especially to the Rev’d Dr. Paul Spilsbury, who offered many insights from a conservative perspective and challenged my occasionally sloppy thinking.

Barbara Brown Taylor, one of the most famous and gifted preachers in the US, wrote: ‘a man in my congregation married a Jewish woman who sometimes came with him to church. When she did, I heard the slurs in familiar passages. I tasted the razor blades in beloved hymns. Before long, she had changed my sermons even when she was not there. If what I said did not sound like good news to her, I decided, then it was not the gospel of Jesus Christ.’ quoted in Preaching without Contempt: Overcoming Unintended Anti-Judaism – M. Salmon (Fortress 2006) p. 158

‘In an essay on Mel Gibson’s movie, Rabbi Michael Lerner observed that “if Christians have not confronted anti-Judaism as effectively as they have tackled other ‘isms,’ then that is because doing so requires them to question the historical truth of their own scriptures.”’ quoted in Preaching without Contempt: Overcoming Unintended Anti-Judaism – M. Salmon (Fortress 2006) p. 132

“Repentance of the misdeeds of the past is not by itself sufficient to enable us to come to terms with our different histories. Knowledge instead of ignorance of our common origins is the essential preliminary to greater mutual understanding.” Christian origins – C. Rowland (SPCK 1985) p. 5

I have been involved with interfaith work for forty years and am an Anglican lay Reader (aka licensed lay minister). I am keen that preachers and teachers avoid unintentional anti-Judaism.

If you do not use the lectionary but want to know how to find a comment on a particular passage, see this index.


John 2:1-11 Epiphany 2/ Ordinary 2B and C

November 20, 2017

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Now standing there were six stone water-jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

How has this story been interpreted in an anti-Jewish way?

It has been suggested that the Jewish purification rites are empty and that  supercessionism (or progression?) is shown as Jesus fills them up with something better. For Jews, the Torah is seen as the water of life.

If Jesus was anti-Jewish how might be have made such a point more effectively?

He could have smashed the pots or not used them

What precedents are there for “What concern is that to you and to me?” (v. 4)

cf Judges 11:12 Then Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites and said, ‘What is there between you and me, that you have come to me to fight against my land?’

1 Kings 17:18. She then said to Elijah, ‘What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!’

Smiga says that these suggest a mild puzzlement: What is it that you really want of me?

Cf. 2 Kings 3:13 Elisha said to the king of Israel, ‘What have I to do with you? Go to your father’s prophets or to your mother’s.’ But the king of Israel said to him, ‘No; it is the Lord who has summoned us, three kings, only to be handed over to Moab.’

Hosea 14:8 O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols?

Smiga says that these are more neutral: Is this matter really my business?

‘The ambiguity of the expression is used by Jesus to suggest that the problem at hand is not simply his own to solve. John portrayed Jesus as one whose mission is received from God, rather than being self-determined.’

‘The laws regulating impurity in Leviticus 11 to 15 prescribe that a clay jar that has been used for holding water must be broken if it were to be contaminated under the prescriptions of the Law (Lev 11:29—33). Stone jars, however, do not carry this burden, for they could not be made unclean” in the same sense and were, as a result, much preferred,’ according to Mishnah, Betzah 2.3

‘The most ordinary purification of Jewish houseguests was probably indicated by the presence of these jars: the washing of feet after a journey, as well as the washing of hands before eating (cf. Mark 7:1—6).’

Why did John portray the water for purification as the stuff of Jesus’ own messianic” wine?

 Note Jesus’s command, Fill the jars with water’” ‘Up to that point in the story, at least, the jars were empty. They held nothing needing to be filled, if used at all. Jesus, then, is not transforming what is already in use at a Jewish wedding.’

Cf Esther 1:1—8. Esther Rabbah 2—4 says that ‘the surprise for all the guests is that the last day of the feast is like the first: excellent in all its food and drink, contrary to custom. For the rabbis, the idea that the last day was as good as the first was a sign of the messianic banquet, whose abundance would know no end.’ The Gospel of John Set Free: Preaching without anti-Judaism – G. Smiga (Stimulus Foundation 2008) pp. 131-132

 Cf. Isaiah 54:4-6 “Do no fear, for you will not be ashamed. . . . The disgrace of your widow-I hood you will remember no more. For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name, the Holy One of Israel is you Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. For the Lord has called you like a wife.” At stake here is the union of God and God’s people, the joining of humankind with God.

 A Galilean wedding was a rough-and-ready affair. It usually went on for eight days and included an orgy of eating and drinking and celebrating.

In those days, a father prepared himself for his daugh­ter’s wedding the day she was  born. Each year when he was fermenting his family’s batch of wine, the father would draw out an- extra barrel for his young daughter’s wedding day. As girls were usually married off at around the age of sixteen, most fathers would have had sixteen barrels of superbly aged wine stashed away in the cellar. It was the custom to bring out the wine in order of maturity so that the best wine, which had been sitting way back down in the corner of the cellar for sixteen yimrs, was brought out first. The new wine was brought out when everyone was too under the weather to notice. Jesus the Fool – M. Frost Albatross 1994) p.42f

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Colossians 1:15-28 Proper 10/Ordinary 15 Year C

October 31, 2017

An example of a wisdom hymn or saying in Judaism regarding Woman, Wisdom reads, “She is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness” (Wis. 7:26); and Wisdom herself claims, “Before the ages, in the beginning, he created me” (Sir. 24:9). Verses 15-20 of today’s reading quote a Christ hymn that was devel­oped from the Wisdom tradition of Israel in its hymns to Woman Wis­dom, Sophia. The church expressed its faith in the language of Israel’s Scriptures….

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 Second Sunday in Lent/Year A

October 25, 2017

Abraham functioned in postbiblical Jewish literature as the “first pros­elyte,” a Gentile who turned his back on idolatry in favor of worship of the one God (Jub. 11: 16-17

And he began to pray to the Creator of all things that He might save him from the errors of the children of men, and that his portion should not fall into error after uncleanness and vileness. And the seed time came for the sowing of seed upon the land, and they all went forth together to protect their seed against the ravens, and Abram went forth with those that went, and the child was a lad of fourteen years, Josephus, Ant. 1.154-57).

Sermon for Proper 19/Ordinary 24 Year A Joseph

September 17, 2017

`You intended to harm me but God intended it for good.’ –words from our first reading


In the name…..


In the days before Religious Education was multi-faith


We did Bible stories.


Joseph was fun.


We spent 40 minutes singing along with Joseph and his amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.


OFSTED would probably disapprove – spoilsports.



Then we did a chart called ‘Joseph’s Ups and Downs.


Born – dad’s favourite – up


Given special coat – up


Dreams of greatness – up


His brothers loathe him and throw him down a pit – down


He is rescued – up


Sold as a slave, he works for a high-ranking official in Egypt –up


He’s accused of rape and thrown in jail – down


He gets to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams and becomes prime minister – up




Then the kids drew a chart of the ups and downs in their own lives.


One 11-year-old told me he’d been born with a hole in his heart and would face major surgery when he was older.




Many years later I watched Songs of Praise.


Not a programme I like but this one was from Holmfirth


– home of dirty seaside postcards and where they filmed Last of the Summer Wine;


more significantly for me in the catchment of area of my first teaching post.





They interviewed a young man who spoke of how he coped with heart surgery.


He recalled had a teacher years before who did a lesson on life’s ups and downs.


He’d gone into the operation confident that this down would be followed by an up.




Being a hoarder, I still have my records.


Sure enough, 1975, his name – note that he’d told me about his heart problem.




We all reflect on our lives’ ups and downs


So this story appeals


And it’s the life we know.


No angel appears, no sea is divided, no voice of God speaks publicly.


And there’s another version:


An Egyptian papyrus from about 1225 BCE tells of a young man who was much wronged.


His name was Bata, and he worked for his elder brother,


making him clothes, herding his cattle, and harvesting his fields.


One day when both brothers were out sowing, they ran short of seed.


Bata was sent home to fetch more.


He found his brother’s wife doing her hair


and asked her to give him the seed without delay, as his brother was waiting.


‘Do not interrupt me in the middle of my hair­dressing,’ she retorted. ‘Open the bin and take what you want.’


As he loaded himself with five sacks, the woman began to speak admiringly of his strength.


Suddenly she took hold of him, pressed herself upon him and promised to make him fine clothes.


Bata resisted.


But she convinced her husband that he had attacked her and demanded he kill him.


The elder brother sharpened his spear and waited behind the stable door.


Bata looked under the door and saw the waiting feet and fled for his life.


The story continues with many marvels and mythical turns, until Bata becomes ruler of Egypt.


His elder brother is brought to him and Bata appoints him his deputy and heir. Interpreted by love – J. Eaton (BRF 1994) p.41




But the Bible’s version has symbolism:


Young Joseph had been given a special garment which was the envy of his brothers.


Later, Potiphar’s wife grabs his garment in her attempt to seduce him.


The ‘garment’ is referred to no less than five times.


Is the garment something to do with Joseph’s public image,


his armour of detachment?


Perhaps, in a limited way, some chink is made in his defences.




When Joseph is appointed to be governor ‘over all the land of Egypt’ the text describes garments in great detail


Pharaoh gives him the royal signet ring,


arrays him in ‘garments of fine linen’


and puts a gold chain around his neck.


The moment of coming before Pharaoh is perhaps a watershed in Joseph’s life,


a point at which he makes a critical decision about his future.


garments discarded ; garments put on,


symbolically confirming the break with his past.


taking on the Egyptian style of dress and identity.




But Joseph gives his sons Hebrew names.


Manasseh ‘For God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house’


and Ephraim ‘For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction’.


In the Hebrew names of his sons he expresses both his joys and his sorrows, his ups and downs.


In the midst of his determination to forget his father’s house and all his hardships, they are ever present;


Joseph has travelled far.


The untried youth of seventeen has become a great man.


but a deep affliction remains Soul Searching: Psychotheraphy & Judaism – ed. H. Cooper (SCM 1988) p.194f




God’s favour did not spare him suffering.


He had been thrown down a well and later committed to the royal dungeons.


Plenty of time for reflection then.


But he was not beyond the reach of God’s faithful love.


The prison governor came to rely on Joseph as Potiphar had done earlier and as Pharaoh would later.




Then along come his brothers, desperate for food.


And Joseph said to them, Do not fear………While you meant evil against me, God meant it for good, to ensure that many people be kept alive as they are this day.


He says it three times so they do’nt miss the point vv. 5,  7,  8




It was not you who sent me here, but God.


No doubt the brothers in their guilt must have thought, “No, we sent you here, because we hated you and we feared you.”


No doubt Joseph answered his brothers, “I thought that too. But then I became aware that a larger purpose was at work, transcending these petty quarrels, looking far into the future, and I became aware that my life was more than the sum of my little fears, my lit­tle hates, and my little loves. My life is larger than I imagined, and I decided to embrace that largeness that is God’s gift for my life. I acted differently because I acted in ways befitting God’s odd way with my life.”




A larger purpose.




It means that God sees before (pro-video),


that God knows well ahead of us and takes the lead in our lives.


I don’t mean “fate,”


Nor that God deliberately sends suffering.


Rather that he lures something good to come out of it.




And isn’t there a parallel with Jesus?

What the world intended for evil, to crucify the son of God,

God intended for good,

the salvation of many lives.

“As for you, you meant (hasab—planned) evil against me, but God meant it for good.”

The brothers’ purpose was evil, but God took their evil act and brought something good out of it

God transforms evil into good – a common theme throughout the scriptures.

The cross is the most obvious example.

Where has God been working in the ups and downs of your life?

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Sermon for Lent 3 A; Proper 21A continuous track Exodus 17:1-7 Water from the rock

August 16, 2017

porous rockThe water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life- words of Jesus in John’s gospel.


In the name…




It’s good to be back here


Since the last time, I had a stroke and spent nearly three months in hospital.


I can’t help looking back


Last time I could walk unaided.


I could sing.


Now I can’t.


My voice reduced to a growl.




Most of us in this chapel have got more years behind us than ahead of us


And I’m sure most of us look back.




The good old days.



I recently read an article lamenting how modern day life was rife with chemicals, and unsafe artificial food additives


and how much purer and cleaner it must have been 100 years ago.


They seemed to forget that the life expectancy back then was about 55


as people died from smallpox, polio,


and any number of illnesses that these evil chemicals can now cure.




In our first reading, the Israelites look back on the supposedly good old days.


If only we hadn’t left Egypt.


Like us they tended to glorify the past.


“There we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread.”


Life was much better back then.


We had all we needed to eat: meat and bread.


But they don’t mention the slave drivers who controlled their every waking moment.


They don’t mention the execution of every male child who was born to them.




The real danger with looking back on the past like this is that it poisons the possibilities of the future.


The people grumble against Moses and Aaron and say “you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”


No hope, no future, only death.




The people want water.


the book of Exodus abounds in water imagery.


Most important is the River Nile.


It flows a thousand miles from deep in the heart of Africa,


90 miles long, its delta fans out to drain into the Mediterranean across 150 miles of coastland.


Inside that area is some of the most fertile territory on earth due to the annual inundation which replenishes the soil and which made Egypt the breadbasket of antiquity.



The baby Moses is placed in water


from water he is drawn out.


Several of the plagues had their origin in water,


water turning to blood


frogs coming forth from water.


The climax is the miracle at the Red Sea


God pushes back and piles up the waters so that the children of Israel can cross safely onto dry land,


and then unleashes the watery chaos onto the army of the ancient world’s greatest superpower.




As Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote—“water, water, everywhere; but not a drop to drink”.




My father spent most of his war service in Egypt.


An engineer servicing RAF planes.


Although he was a life-long atheist he was interested in the Bible.


I have some of his black and white photos of the Sinai desert of our reading.


Including porous rocks.




He’d met a local who knew all kinds of places to find water that no one else would think of



If you look at the waves in the sand, you can detect what were rivers


With banks, and clefts in the rock for tributary streams,


and at times even rushes and shrubs fringing their course”


signs of “water, water everywhere, yet not a drop to drink.”


The desert rocks are like sponges.


The water is very rich with calcium


as the water runs over the rocks a calcium deposit forms trapping water inside.


Later when the dry season comes the stream dries up


But you can burst the deposit and the water will come forth.




Whether water from the rock was a miracle or from natural causes,


The point is that God had provided it.


He was ahead of his children and had got it all ready for them.




Jewish feminist scholar Ilona Pardes sees Exodus as a “national biography” in which Israel is born, nursed, fed and reared


in preparation for maturity in the new reality of the Promised Land.


She reads our episode as a tale of Israel beating on God’s rock-hard breast before drinking therefrom.


just as Israel had to learn absolute dependence,


so too must we.


a relationship with this God requires a movement into a zone of aridity and barrenness,


becoming absolutely dependent on the one who will meet even our most basic needs


the narrative does not flinch from the perils of that life in such an environment


moving between fountains and feasts, famine and thirst




We live in a world that promises all kinds of things to fulfil our desires, our thirsts, our needs.


But it’s a dry place when the job dries up.


It’s a dry place when your health which once flowed like a mighty stream now is just a trickle.


We are, all of us, “the thirsty ones.”




Water in the desert is very hard.


The mineral deposit in “hard water.” plays havoc with the pipes and sinks.


left unattended, the mineral deposits need to be chipped away manually or with the use of acid.


When we become hard and brittle. Christ can chip away our hardness so that we might have life and become life-giving to others.



The Israelites are presented with the sure sign of God’s presence, and they can go on for another day.


So can we.




Paul saw the rock as an allegory for Christ.1. Cor.10:4.


His rocklike strength and dependability


He gives the water that will truly satisfy, gushing up into eternal life.

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Sermon for Proper 16/Ordinary 21 year A The rock from which you were hewn

August 5, 2017


Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug – words from our first reading.

In the name…

Isaiah was speaking to a people waiting in exile. God’s salvation will come soon. Jerusalem will again be a garden, where joy and happiness abound, where songs of thanksgiving will again be sung. What has been missing will be restored. What has been lost will be found. God is attentive to what we need to achieve fullness of life. God will act accordingly and swiftly. v. 5 The time of waiting is nearly over.

In just over a week’s time we shall start a period of waiting. For a new vicar.

Maybe Isaiah’s words are for us too. Look to the rock from which you were hewn. One rock was St. Mary’s Tyndalls Park with its anglo-catholic tradition, of transcendent worship and symbolism. And St Saviour, Woolcot Park with its liberal tradition. With evangelicalism currently in the ascendant in the Church of England there is a great need for the liberal catholic stream.

Look to the rock from which you were hewn . The Hebrews learned to associate the idea of “rock” with that of security and unchangeableness. Yet the rock Isaiah was thinking of was primarily Abraham – anything but unchangeable. It was Abraham who moved off into the unknown at the call of God, who left what was safe and comfortable for a land whose name he did not even know. It was Abraham who had the courage to argue with God, who made powerful, daring intercession for the sake of the city of Sodom. It was father Abraham who was willing to risk his only son and his own future for the sake of obedience to God. Remember him and all like him in the past of this church.

Remember Sarah our mother in faith. It was Sarah in her old age who laughed in scorn at God’s promise. But she was transformed. She birthed a son in her old age, created a future, and served God’s impossibility in the world.

We stand on the shoulders of mothers and fathers who have been obedient to the gospel in ways that matter. So remember these great saints in this church, but also remember those around the edges of this church, all of whom belong to this family of risk and obedience, who I like to imagine are in the woodwork around us today.

Today’s reading from Romans has advice for us too. Be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God. Paul challenges the assumption that our understanding of truth is limited by our own perspective and experience. As part of God’s new creation, we are called to acknowledge our continual need for renewed perception by God’s Spirit, which results in a clearer understanding of God’s will for the church

Renewed perception – not nostalgic and romantic for the good old days, not seeking a new vicar who is like Fr. Nev or Paul Roberts or Richard Holroyd.

What happened to the dinosaur?  What destroyed him?  Nothing!  The climate around him changed. He didn’t. He died!”

There is a danger that we become excessively nostalgic when usually, by the good old days, we mean only about thirty years ago. The United Church of Christ in New York City was nearly defunct. Every year at strawberry time, the church had a strawberry festival. In previous years they used to fill the church basement with excitement, delight, and many people. Now only about twenty-four people came; all the others were gone. But in an act of nostalgia, they continued the pretence and set up tables for two hundred people, with many uneaten strawberries. Isaiah wrote about people so excessively in love with those wonderful past times that they have completely misunderstood the present tense.

Some congregations expect a new pastor to function exactly like the old pastor. “You can’t do that, because so and so did it this way!” It sets back the ministry of a church for several years

In our Gospel, Jesus promises that the gates of Hell will not prevail against his church. It survived Nero’s persecution in 64 CE but what about the strong churches in North Africa or many in Asia Minor after the Muslim arrival of the 7th century? Perhaps even before that event they were weakened by divisions.

The mission of this church is not finished. The work of this church is not a holding action. The future of this church is not business as usual.

And while we wait, Paul has more advice for us while we are without a priest.Paul had been a Pharisee. Pharisees were laymen. Whereas the Sadducees emphasized the priesthood, the sacrificial cult as the only redemptive activity in Jewish life, the Pharisees felt that people should please God in virtually every action of everyday life. So often maligned in the Gospels, the Pharisees wanted to transfer religion from the Temple to the home giving, in effect, every person the opportunity to serve as a priest of God.

Also, against the arrogant and haughty attitude of the Sadducees, the Pharisees offered a populist and progressive attitude toward observance of the Law. Whereas the Sadducees considered the written texts of the Hebrew Scriptures a closed book, the Pharisees con­tinued to debate and interpret the application of Scripture to everyday life. From the moment he got up to the time he went to sleep, the Pharisee sought solutions for situations that the Mosaic Laws had never anticipated: the foreign occupa­tion of Palestine’s land, the need to pay taxes to a pagan power, the necessity of dealing with Gentiles on a daily basis. They led the ongoing debate to apply the principles of the Law to changing circumstance. The Pharisees embraced the Hellenistic idea of life after death which Jesus followed. They were a minority position in their church but, because of their support among the urban elites of the country, their influence was still strong.

Paul urges us to offer ourselves as ‘living sacrifices’. Not dead animals sacrificed in the temple; not just keeping the show running here but living sacrificial lives in the world; offering our unique gifts in the service of others.

The first spiritual gift he mentions is prophecy. Prophecy is the uttering of God’s will under the impulse of the Holy Spirit: a gift of speech where the Holy Spirit communicates God’s will for His people.

Rather than blessing each community with a few people who could do it all, God bestows each individual with specific gifts. Collectively, these gifts are necessary for the Church to survive and prosper. Spiritual gift diversity is a prerequisite for the congregation’s unity and spiritual prosperity.

The key is for each Christian is to discover their particular gift and to develop it through the grace of the Holy Spirit. So, listen carefully and try to discover: What is your spiritual gift? How is God calling you to serve? How are you going to use that gift for the benefit of the spiritual community?

Finally, in our gospel, Jesus presents Peter with the keys to the kingdom. Keys can be used to either release or to lock something away: to protect or to confine. Who controls them? What is our responsibility as the key holders? Jesus’s words to Peter are a very personal challenge; one Jesus gives to all of us: ‘YOU have the keys. Now unlock the door and let me in!’

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2 Corinthians 9:6-15 Thanksgiving Day/Year A

June 6, 2017

In 9:6, Paul makes a statement whose spirit was widely shared: “The one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (see Prov. 11:24; 22:8). The word translated “bountifully” is eulogia, which was rendered “voluntary act” in 9:5: participating in the voluntary act of offering creates bountifulness in one’s life. (On the deeper resonance of sowing and harvesting, see below.) When Paul advises the congregation not to give “reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver,” he evokes Deuteronomy 15:7-11, which calls for a generous spirit toward the needy, with no hard 1 hearts or tight fists. God uses liberality as means to blessing. The people do not give to earn God’s love but to express the knowledge that they are loved. The analogy is apt: Deuteronomy gives this advice in anticipation of the seventh-year remission of debt just as the Corinthians await the apocalypse.

Recognizing the tendency toward insecurity when giving up material resources, the apostle reminds the congregation that only God provides, but God does so “with every blessing in abundance” (2 Cor. 9:8). These themes are reinforced in 9:10 with the citation of Psalm 112:9, a passage invoking the larger psalm that depicts the life of the righteous as blessed with land, descendants, and wealth. In gratitude to God and in commit­ment to the covenantal community, they deal generously with others and distribute their own goods to the poor (Ps. 112:1-9). Similarly God pro­vides for the Corinthians so they can fulfill their covenantal responsibil­ity by “sharing abundantly in every good work,” that is, be a means through whom God provides for the needy of their day.

Paul touches a deeper chord in the memory of Israel in 2 Corinthians 9:10 by using language reminiscent of that used in Genesis 8:22 regard­ing God’s covenant with the whole human family through Noah to pro­vide seedtime and harvest as long as the earth endures. The church at Corinth was composed mainly of Gentiles, and this covenant reminds them that God provided faithfully for them before they knew God as God. They can continue to count on that sustenance as they give to the Mace­donians. Moreover, because sowing and harvesting are fundamental life processes, the reader feels an intuitive resonance: as God works reliably through nature, so God provides through their life processes.

The Corinthians will find that their generosity not only provides for the needs of the saints in Jerusalem but enriches the Corinthians them­selves and also adds to the quality of God’s life by increasing the thanks­giving to God (2 Cor. 9:11-12). The latter is especially true as Gentile participation in the offering for Jerusalem signals that final manifestation of the divine realm is almost here, and with it the reunion of God’s scat­tered peoples—Jews and Gentiles (Isa. 60:4-16; 61:5-6). Preaching the Letters without dismissing the Law – R. Allen & C. Williamson (Westminster John Knox Press 2006) pp. 103-4

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1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 Proper 28 / Ordinary 33 Year A

June 6, 2017

Just when the Thessalonians think “peace and security” (eirene kai asphaleia) have come about, the apocalypse will occur (5:3). This phrase appeared on some Roman coins, but the authors warn readers not to set­tle for the Gentile life of the empire.

This document joins others in comparing the coming of the Day with a woman who is having labor pains and who cannot escape (Isa. 66:7; 2 Esd. 4:40-42 He answered me and said, “Go and ask a woman who is with child if, when her nine months have been completed, her womb can keep the child within her any longer.” And I said, “No, lord, it cannot.” And he said to me, “In Hades the chambers of the souls are like the womb.  For just as a woman who is in travail makes haste to escape the pangs of birth, so also do these places hasten to give back those things that were committed to them from the beginning).


Because the Thessalonians are in a conflict zone between the commu‑

the breastplate of faith and hope and the helmet of salvation (2:8), lan­guage used similarly by other writers (Isa. 59:17; Wis. 5:18 He shall put on righteousness as a breastplate, and true judgment instead of an helmet). Given the fervour for supporting national wars that sometimes uncritically sweeps through Christian communities, it is worth noting that the breastplate and helmet are to protect the wearer and are not instruments for killing.


Given the way that many people in North America today speak of this hope as “pie in the sky,” it is important to remember that the apocalyptic theologians regarded the apocalyptic hope as the means whereby God would set things right for people who had been denied blessing in the present evil age—for example, the poor, the enslaved, those who suffered injustice and violence. Today’s preacher may not believe that Jesus will return to gather the bereft into the air, but the preacher does need to help the congregation develop both a believable hope that God is at work to set things right and a realistic understanding of how to join God in that work.

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1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 Proper 27/Ordinary 32 Year A

June 6, 2017

The problem of the non-appearance of the Parousia manifests itself in a slightly different form in Paul’s early letters to the Thessalonians. In both letters eschatological issues are dominant concerns. In the first it is apparent that there has been a question about the death of Christians before the Parousia (4.13ff.). It would appear that the Thessalonians thought that those who died before the arrival of Christ would have been at a disadvantage and would not participate in the life of the age to come. Such a belief is consistent with Jewish eschatology where, generally speaking, only those who were alive when the Messiah came would be fortunate enough to participate in the life of the messianic kingdom (Syr. Bar 29; cf. Syr. Bar. 50.9 Paul deals with this problem by asserting that those who have died will in fact precede those left alive, in being united with the returning Christ (4.16). The advice given concerning the arrival of the kingdom in 5ff. suggests that the community was in a state of expectancy and was perplexed about its non-arrival. Christian origins – C. Rowland (SPCK 1985) pp. 287-8


Some in the community may be uncertain about what will ultimately happen to those who died before the apocalypse (4:13). The Greek de­scribes them as “sleeping,” an expression that figuratively describes what some writers believed happened at death: the self lost consciousness and awaited the resurrection. Note that the writers of this document do acknowledge that grieving is appropriate at the time of death. Expecting the apocalypse, however, they do not “grieve as those who have no hope.” Even appropriate grief, however, is a sign of the brokenness of the pre­sent age (2 Esd. 7:11-12 For I made the world for their sake, and when Adam transgressed my statutes, what had been made was judged. And so the entrances of this world were made narrow and sorrowful and toilsome; they are few and evil, full of dangers and involved in great hardships).

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1 Thessalonians 2:9-13 Proper 26 / Ordinary 31 Year A

June 6, 2017

In some texts, to be “pure” (hosios) is to be a faithful Jewish people who distance themselves from Gentile predilections (1 Macc. 7:13 The Hasideans were first among the Israelites to seek peace from them; 2 Macc. 14:6 The Jews called Hasideans, whose leader is Judas the Maccabee, maintain a warlike policy and rebel frequently, not permitting the kingdom to have peace). The term rendered “upright” is dikaios that is related to the word for “righteousness” and bespeaks relating with others (and God) in the way that God wants. Abraham, who follows God’s ways, is the paradigm of the “blameless” (amemptos; Gen. 17:5; cf. Wis. 10:5 Once when the nations were frustrated in their wicked plans, Wisdom recognized a righteous man and kept him innocent in God’s sight. She gave him strength to obey God’s command in spite of his love for his son; 18:21 For a blameless man was quick to act as their champion; he brought forward the shield of his ministry, prayer and propitiation by incense; he withstood the anger and put an end to the disaster, showing that he was thy servant).

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