July 15, 2012

Scriptures and Commentary for Week of the Sixth Sunday after Trinity

Monday after the Sixth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 39, 1 Sam. 1:12-20, Lk. 11:37
Evening - Ps. 42, 43, Dan. 2:14-24, Acts 20:17

Commentary

None of the wise men of Babylon were able to tell the king's dream; therefore, he issued an order that they should all be executed. While this may be cruel, Nebuchadnezzar has realised that they are all pretenders. In his anger he plans to rid his kingdom of their lies. Daniel, however, asks the king to wait a while before putting his plan into action (2:15&16), promising that he would tell both the dream and its interpretation.

Verses 17 and 18 show Daniel and his companions seeking God in prayer. They are asking God to give Daniel understanding that he may not be killed with the rest of the wise men. God does not always answer our prayers "yes." But He did this time. In fact, we can see that it is the providence of God that has orchestrated this whole event. It is God who gave the dream to Nebuchadnezzar, and God who kept it from the false prophets and wise men of Babylon. In this He showed the falsehood of their religions and powers. And it was God who gave the interpretation to Daniel. In this He shows that He is the One God, who sets the order of times and seasons, raises up and casts down kings and empires, and has revealed the dark and secret things of the king's heart to Daniel. It is worthy of note that Daniel had pity on the wise men of Babylon. He desired not their death, but that they might see the hand of God, and worship Him.

Tuesday after the Sixth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 45, 1 Sam. 1:21-28, 2:11, Lk. 12:1-12
Evening - Ps. 49, Dan 2:25-35, Acts 21:1-14

Commentary

The inability of the pagan magicians to know and interpret the king's dream shows the falsehood of their entire religion (2:27). Daniel's ability to know and interpret it shows that there is a God in Heaven (2:28) and it is the God worshiped by Daniel. He has revealed the dream to Nebuchadnezzar and its meaning to Daniel (2:30).

There is an implicit question in these verses; if the wise men of Babylon, through their magic and spells and gods, cannot discern this dream, which is obviously an important message from God, why consult them any more? Nebuchadnezzar had already decided not to, in fact, he intended to kill them. But what about the Jews? They had been brought low by trusting in false prophets and false religions. It was for this sin that God had allowed the Babylonians to conquer them. They needed to be shown that there is a God in Heaven, and He is the God of Israel.

It was common practice in those days for a defeated nation to believe their god had been defeated by the conqueror's god. The Jews, having been deeply influenced by pagan thought for many generations, may have thought the Babylonian gods were stronger than The God, and that, in some kind of cosmic battle, they had defeated God, and thus, were able to defeat Judah. God here shows to His people that He is still The God, The One God, The Only God. The idols of Babylon did not defeat the Jews, their own sins did.

Therefore, why not follow God? Why not turn to Him in Biblical faith and be His people and receive His blessings? This is being imprinted upon the Jewish people in this passage.

Wednesday after the Sixth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 56, 1 Sam. 2:18-26, Lk. 12:13-21
Evening - Ps. 62, 63, Dan. 2:36-45, Acts 21:15-26

Commentary

Tonight we are told the meaning of Nebuchadnezzar's dream. The great image of verse 31 represents kings and empires of the earth that will rise and fall, beginning with Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar. He is a mighty king over many kings, but his empire will not last forever, as Babylon's power fades, another empire will rise and conquer it. This empire will not be a great or extensive as Babylon (39). It, too will fall into decay and be conquered by a third, which will also fall into decline and be conquered by a fourth. This empire will be strong as iron, breaking and subduing the earth with great power and cruelty (40). But it will not be invincible, for it has feet of clay. It has a vulnerable spot, a weakness (42). It, too, shall fall.

In the days of these kings and empires, "shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever" (44). What is this Kingdom? It is the Kingdom of the Messiah. He is the stone cut out of the mountain without hands, meaning His Kingdom is not established by the might and works of man. He breaks the other empires to pieces and consumes them (45). They may appear mighty, and unassailable to themselves and to the world, but God can raise them up and break them down at will. They may think they will last forever, but another will rise and take their place, and they will become but memories. It is the Messiah's Kingdom that will last forever. He is the true King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and He shall reign forever.

We know that the first empire is Babylon and the fourth is Rome, for it is during the time of Rome that the Messiah came to earth to establish His Kingdom. There are some questions about the meaning of the other two. Some have thought the empires are Babylon, Media, Persia, Grecco-Roman. Other have thought they may be Babylon, Medio-Persia, Greece, Rome. Obviously both groupings name all the empires leading up to the birth of the Messiah, so it may not matter terribly which is "correct." It is a minor point anyway. The major point is that they will fade into oblivion and the Kingdom of the Messiah will be the only Kingdom that will last forever. Therefore, do not put your trust in human empires that wax and wane like the moon. Nor let yourself be troubled by them, as though they will last forever. Trust in the Lord and dwell in His Kingdom by faith.

This is the message being given to the captive Jews. They have followed false religions, and are now in the power of an idolatrous empire. But this empire is not almighty. It will soon begin to fade and another will take its place, and then another, and then another. But the promises of God given to Israel will endure as long as God, and will come to pass as surely as He is God Almighty. The Messiah will come, and He will come in the days of these empires. Trust in God.

Thursday after the Sixth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.65, 1 Sam. 3:1-18, Lk. 12:22-34
Evening - Ps.66, Dan. 3:1-7, Acts 21:27-36

Commentary

Daniel 2 closes with Nebuchadnezzar recognising the God of Israel, and honoring Daniel with wealth and position. Like so many "conversions," it did not last, and chapter three finds him setting up an idol to be worshiped by all in his realm. The worship was attended with great show and ceremony. A great band was gathered to call the people to worship (3:4) and the people bowed to their knees and prayed to the idol. Speeches were probably given by the religious leaders, extolling the greatness of Babylon and of Nebuchadnezzar. It is very possible that this was a new religion set up by Nebuchadnezzar to compete with the older Babylonian religions which had failed to interpret his dream. It is very likely that Nebuchadnezzar was installing himself as the head of this religion, and may even have been proclaiming himself as a messenger of the goods, or even a god himself. It is certain that he placed himself at the very center of this religion.

He did not require the people to stop worshiping other gods. He only required that they worship the idol in addition to whatever other gods they may have worshiped. This would have the effect of unifying the people around one god, and, of course, around Nebuchadnezzar. The polytheistic Babylonians would have no problem with the new religion. Even most of the Jews, long accustomed to accommodating their faith to the prevailing trends, would willingly and thoughtlessly worship the image. But three young, Jewish men, Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego, were about to face a major challenge which would show the power of the Living God to all, and encourage the Jews to return to Him in faith.

Friday after the Sixth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 69:1-22, 30-37, 1 Sam. 4:1-11, Lk. 12:35-48
Evening - Ps. 71, Dan. 3:8-18, Acts 21:37-22:16

Commentary

It is suggested to Nebuchadnezzar that Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego refused to worship the idol because they had no regard for the king (3:12). The idea presented is that they hold the king and his laws in derision, and openly refuse his laws only on the basis of their contempt for Nebuchadnezzar. The king is outraged at this, though he should have known better. He commands the men to be brought before him immediately (3:13). Perhaps the king remembers the service of these men, and that their God gave Daniel the interpretation of his dream. He offers them an opportunity to save their lives by worshiping the idol at the next service. But the king has also made his decree, and to back away from it now would make him appear weak. If people can break this law with impunity, why not others also? Of course, the only right thing for the king to do is to repent of his sin and idolatry and begin to worship the Living God. But his pride and rage will not allow this. Nebuchadnezzar has challenged God, saying He will not be able to deliver them from his hand (3:15).

The Jews' response to Nebuchadnezzar is direct. "We are not careful to answer thee in this matter" (3:16). They are simply saying they are not afraid to give a direct and honest answer to the king's question because they are not afraid of him." Their reply is essentially this: God is able to deliver anyone from anything, and He can deliver us from you. But whether He delivers us or lets us die in the furnace, we will not worship your idol or your gods (3:17-18).

There is a great lesson here for the Church in any age. Finding themselves in the midst of a pagan and unbelieving culture, these young men did not compromise with it. They did not join it, did not accept its values, did not become a part of it. They did not defile themselves with it, as we see when they refused the king's meat and ate only "kosher" food (1:8). Compromise would have been easy. Blending into the culture would have been easy. But they remained apart and separate. They remained true to God. We live in a similar situation and we are tempted to accommodate our lives and values to the prevailing culture. We cannot afford to compromise. Like Daniel, we work and live among the people of the world, and like Daniel, we seek their good and will be good citizens of the lands in which God has placed us. But our identity and culture is always that of the Church of Jesus Christ.

They also would not defile themselves with the religion of the worldly culture. Today we live in an age of accommodation and syncretism. Christians are importing doctrines and practices from other religions, and from the cultures in which we live. These Jews refused to do so and the Bible presents their refusal as pleasing to God.

Saturday after the Sixth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 72, 1 Sam.4:12, Lk. 12:49
Evening - Ps. 15, 46, Dan. 3:19, Acts 22:17-29

Commentary

The events of today's reading are well known. Not only were the men not burned, though the furnace was exceedingly hot, they were visited by Christ in the furnace (3:25), and they were exalted and promoted by the king (3:30).

In the true form of tyranny, Nebuchadnezzar, probably thinking he is doing God a favour, decrees that anyone who speaks anything amiss against God "shall be cut to pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill" (3:29). While this order served to preserve the Jews, it is not what God's people want from the world, nor does it promote God's true religion and virtue. It is the internal rule of God in the heart that truly honours God.

Sixth Sunday after Trinity Sermon

God of Loving-kindness
Psalm 85, Romans 6:3-11, Matthew 5:20-36
Sixth Sunday after Trinity
July 15, 2012

Our lives are punctuated with important events, and one of the most important is baptism. Through baptism you became a member of Christ's Church, and the promises of the Gospel of Christ were visibly sealed unto you. Through faith, water baptism is a sign and seal of that spiritual baptism which takes place in the soul, and through which you were baptized into Christ Jesus and into His death and resurrection to the "newness of life" we read about a few minutes ago in Romans 6. Our baptism into Christ applies unto us all the good things God wants to give us through Christ; all those things that are so immeasurably good they "pass man's understanding." Our baptism into Christ gives us the perfect righteousness of Christ, without spot or stain. It washes our souls clean and makes us pure so that our righteousness far exceeds that of the scribes and Phariseees. It makes us fit for the fellowship of God. Surely this is beyond our ability to fully understand, but we know that by His righteousness sealed to us, we shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven. In a sense, we are already there.

Obviously, I have been talking about the Scripture passages we read a few moments ago. The Collect for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity draws them together well. Based upon our baptism into Christ, and upon the perfect righteousness given to us by Him, we pray that we may love God above all things, and that we may receive from Him all that He has promised, which exceeds all that we can desire.

Psalm 85 is the song of people continually receiving the good things of God. Reading it we can almost see the ancient Jewish people gathered in the Temple to worship God, to implore His grace and mercy, and to hear again the great Biblical message of His blessings upon them. It begins with a thankful recognition of God's mercy.

"Lord, thou art become gracious unto thy land; thou hast turned away the captivity of Jacob. Thou hast forgiven the offense of thy people, and covered their sins. Thou hast taken away all thy displeasure, and turned from thy wrathful indignation."

We do not know the historical situation of this Psalm, therefore we do not know what "captivity" is meant in the words, "thou hast turned away the captivity of Jacob." We do know the Jews suffered many "captivities." They were captives in Egypt for more than four hundred years. In the Promised Land, they were under various "captivities" from Canaanites tribes for yet another four hundred years, and in the following centuries they found themselves under the Philistines, Syrians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes, Persians, Greeks, and Romans. Seldom independent or self governing, Israel was almost constantly under the dominion of the powerful empires that waxed and waned in the area.

We do know the identity of their greatest enemy, the one that held them in its merciless grip for most of their existence as a nation. That enemy, of course was their own sin. It was in righteous retribution for sin that God allowed their other enemies to torment and conquer them. Thus, their greatest need was never political independence or freedom from human enemies. Their greatest need was always forgiveness of sin and deliverance from their guilt and offenses to God. This is why they rejoiced so much when they prayed the words of the Psalm, "Thou hast forgiven the offense of thy people, and covered all their sins."

We also know how their forgiveness was accomplished. We know how their sins were covered. One day the Lamb of God took away their sins. God laid them upon the Lamb, and the Lamb was slaughtered. He died bearing their sins. The Lamb of God is Christ and His sacrificial death was symbolised in the Temple liturgy and fortold in the Old Testament Scriptures. It is through Christ that we, too, are forgiven and our sins are covered. We have peace with God through the blood of His cross.

The Psalm voices the people's response to their forgiveness. It is important to note that part of their response is a plea that they may always continue in that condition of penitent faith. They continue to plead that God will quicken them, meaning to give life to their souls. They continue to pray for His mercy, and salvation. Some people are confused because the Psalm opens with a declaration of the forgiveness of sins, then asks God to turn again to them and show them His mercy. What happened? Did God turn away from them? Did they lose their salvation? No, they were praying that God will continue in mercy, and they will continue in faithful obedience to Him. This is not unusual. You do it every time you worship with this Church, and every time your pray Morning or Evening Prayer at home. If you are in Christ through Biblical faith, you know that your sins are forgiven. You know you are no longer liable for them. You believe the words of Romans 8:1, "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus." They are removed from you as far as the east is from the west; as far as Heaven is above earth. Yet you still confess sin and still beseech God to have mercy on you. This is because you carry the conciousness of your sins with you. You see that you still leave undone those things which you ought to be doing, and you still do those things which you ought not to be doing. And you have, if you are truly in Christ, a sense of shame about you for your sins. You often feel moved to pray, as the prayer of confession says in our liturgy of Holy Communion, we are "heartily sorry for these our misdoings: The remembrance of them is grevious unto us; The burden of them is intolerable." And, though you know that your sins are forgiven in Christ, the Communion prayer still expresses your heart when you pray with us, "Have mercy upon us, Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; for thy Son our Lord Jesus Christs' sake, Forgive us all that is past; and grant that we may ever hereafter Serve and please thee In newness of life, To the honour and glory of thy Name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen" What are we asking for in these prayers? We are asking God to continue His blessings and mercies upon us, and we are asking Him to keep us in a condition of continuing faith and obedience uonto Him. And if we can both know the forgivenss of sins, yet still feel the need to pray for continuing faith and mercy, could not the Old Testament saints feel the same?

I think there is something else here. I am sure you have noticed that in those times when you are experiencing a deep sense of fellowship with God, when you are living in holiness and victory over temptation and in the sense of His great love, that you want more of it. That may be part of what the Psalm is expressing. The people have tasted the grace and mercy of God. They have been brought back to Him after a time of sin and sorrow. And they have tasted the love of God and they have tasted the joy of holy living, and they want more of it. That is not all that is happening in Psalm 85, but it may be part of what is happening.

So the people in the Temple sing because they know the grace of God. They know "He shall speak peace to his people." "His salvation is nigh them that fear him." "Mercy and truth are met together: righteousness and peace have kissed each other." "Yea, the Lord shall show loving -kindness; and our land shall give her increase."

And, thus, the Psalm ends where it began, with the grace of God pouring out His blessings upon His people. And, thus, we, the recipients of those blessings, pray,

"O God, who hast prepared for those who love thee such good things as pass man's understanding; Pour into our heart such love toward thee, that we, loving thee above all things, may obtain thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."