Monday, November 19, 2007

A Pass at This Sunday's Bible Lessons

[Each week, I take at least one "pass" at the Bible lessons that will be read during worship at the congregation I serve as pastor, Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio. The passes are designed to help the people--and me--prepare for worship. Hopefully, others will find them helpful too, as we use the Church Year-related lectionary appointed for congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), which is similar to the lectionaries of most other Christian traditions.]

The Bible Lessons:
Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 46
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43

General Comments:
1. November 25 brings us to Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the Church Year. For an overview of the meaning and uses of the Church Year, you can go here.

2. The first lesson was written by the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah. He was active as a prophet around 627 to 586 B.C., during the period when the last five kings of Judah were on their thrones.

Last week, we mentioned that the Old Testament lesson from Malachi was written after the Babylonian Exile. Jeremiah was written before that traumatic event. (In the Babylonian Captivity, thousands of citizens of Judah were forced into slavery in Babylon, the capital city of the Chaldeans, a nation that overran Judah. The captivity would only definitively end in about 538 B.C., when the Persians would conquer the Chaldeans.)

3. Some background that might help in understanding Jeremiah: Judah, also known as Judea, was what remained of the nation of Israel in the time of its first three kings: Saul, David, and Solomon. Solomon, David's son, was the most powerful of Israel's kings, expanding the country's economic and military might. But Solomon also began the process of perverting Israel's religious life. He countenanced the worship of many foreign deities, splintering Israel's loyalty to God, usually for the sake of getting along with neighboring nations with whom Solomon formed economic and military alliances. This process of syncretism led to Israel's undoing.

Solomon died in 970 B.C. Israel split in two in 930 B.C. The Northern Kingdom, which took the name of Israel, broke away from the rest of the former nation, seating its own king and centering its worship life in Samaria. (Samaritans still existed, as you know from reading the New Testament, in Jesus' day. Samaritans were hated by the residents of the Southern Kingdom.)

The Southern Kingdom, called Judah or Judea, strove to maintain the Davidic line for its kings, and was headquartered in Jerusalem, the site of the temple built on God's orders. It was in Bethlehem, David's hometown, then about five miles from Jerusalem, that the Old Testament said, the Messiah would be born.

The Northern Kingdom fell in 722 B.C. Prophets in both the north and the south were certain that the fall resulted from the nation's faithlessness.

Jeremiah believed that the Southern Kingdom was filled with a faithlessness that would eventually lead to that nation's downfall, a foreign king who worshiped a foreign god would be the instrument of the one God of the universe to bring judgment on God's people.

3. As was true of last week's Old Testament lesson from Malachi, Jeremiah's presentation in this passage doesn't end with judgment. He also holds out the possibility of restoration. In the preceding chapters, he presents condemnations of Judah's last five kings, the nation's civil rulers. At 23:1, he turns his attention to the religious leaders, shepherds who, he says, have led Judah away from God. But the main theme of these verses is Jeremiah's foretelling of the coming of Judah's last king, the Messiah.

4. In v. 6, the title given to the Messiah, “the Lord is our righteousness,” could as eaily be, "the Lord is our justice-bringer." This relates as much to the way in which the Messiah will save sinners from condemnation for their sin, bringing forgiveness to sinners justified by God, as it does to justice. As The Jerome Bible Commentary points out, "Isaiah had given a similar name to this future king--i.e., 'imannu 'el, 'God is with us.'"

More on the other lessons for this Sunday tomorrow, I hope.

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