July 29, 2012

Scripture and Commentary for Eighth Week after Trinity

Monday after the Eighth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.104, 1 Sam.11:1-13, Lk. 15:1-10
Evening - Ps. 116, Dan 6:1-8, Acts, 26:1-23

Commentary, Daniel 6:1-8

Belshazzar was killed the very night Daniel told him the meaning of the writing on the wall. Darius the Mede became the new ruler. He, naturally wanted to secure his position, so he appointed governors and heads over his kingdom, and named three chief governors, or presidents. Of all these rulers and advisors, Daniel was the chief.

Daniel served Darius with the same faithfulness he gave to Nebuchadnezzar. It is an honorable thing to serve our employers well. They may not be Christians, or, even honourable people. But our service to them should be outstanding simply because it is part of the way we serve God. Our service to employers, however, does not require us to break the law of God to please our boss. Just as Daniel served Darius faithfully, he also refused to pray to him as a god. Instead, he continued to worship God openly and faithfully, just as he always had.

It is evident from the story that Darius has been manipulated by the leaders he appointed, and that their motive was envy of Daniel. Their desire was to get him deposed, and they decreed to accomplish by making a law Daniel could not possibly obey; a law that requires him to choose between God and the king.

Tuesday after the Eighth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 111, 114, 1 Sam. 11:14-12:5, Lk. 15:11
Evening - Ps. 118, Dan. 6:9-15, Acts 26:24-27:8

Commentary, Daniel 6:9-15

Daniel does as his enemies knew he would, going to his house and praying the liturgical prayers, which the Jews offered several times each day. Now they are ready to report him to the king, who will have no choice but to throw Daniel to the lions. Thus, we see that a foolish law, so easily and ignorantly signed into existence by Darius, is a tremendous danger to the lives and security of people the king should be protecting.

Those in civil government should learn from Darius' mistake. The laws that govern any land should be enacted only after extremely careful deliberation and examination of all possible effects on the people on whom they will be enforced. A foolish law, enacted in haste and ignorance under pressure from those who would use it to advance their own agenda and prosperity, can cause suffering and loss that is almost beyond comprehension. Those who urge and pass such laws have betrayed their people and dishonoured their positions.

Darius has a moral meltdown. When his enemies charge Daniel with breaking the law, Darius finally realises they are also his enemies, and that they had used him to accomplish their own, evil purposes. How sad that these trusted leaders had no concern for the security and prosperity of their homeland. How sad that their only concern was for their own private prosperity and egos, and that they were willing to sacrifice thousands of people, risk the security of their land, and betray the confidence of their king and fellow citizens to gain their own selfish ends. Yet, does it not seem, looking at the world today, that the names and faces have changed, but the game remains the same?

What should Darius do? He should publicly and humbly recant his foolish law. Then he should remove these wicked men from their positions, and replace them with people who truly have the good of the people, at heart. But Darius does not have the courage to do this. Again we learn a lesson from the Scripture, that we save ourselves much agony of the soul if we simply confess our mistakes and sins, rather than hide or ignore them. Rather than correct an evil law, Darius labours to find a way to keep Daniel out of the lions' den (6:14). He seems to try everything but the right thing.

Wednesday after the Eighth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 119:81-96, 1 Sam. 12:19, Lk. 16:1-18
Evening - Ps. 119:97-117, Dan. 6:16-27, Acts 27:9-26

Commentary, Daniel 6:16-27

Darius moves from signing an immoral and wicked law, to actually enforcing it. He commands Daniel to be thrown to the lions. When he made the law he was guilty of gross negligence, idolatry, arrogance, and abuse of power. Now, enforcing the law, he becomes guilty of attempted murder. If Daniel dies in the lions' den, Darius is guilty of actual murder. His remark that God will deliver Daniel (6:16) does not absolve him of guilt.

Darius must have known about the death of Belshazzar, so his sleepless night was probably as much about his own fear of God as it was about concern for Daniel. Belshazzar was struck down for abusing objects from the House of God. What would God do to a man who killed a prophet of God? The king may have faced danger and death if he had withstood his enemies. They may have been able to dethrone him, and even execute him. But that would have been better than the reason for his sleepless night while Daniel remained in danger. It is no wonder he passed the night in fasting, and his sleep went from him (6:18).

Like Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar, Darius recognises the reality of the God of Daniel, yet he is a long way from being a convert to Biblical faith. Calling Daniel the servant of the Living God (6:20) is more of a question than a statement. Even his decree in 6:26 is not a conversion to the religion of God, but merely adding Him to the other gods of the empire. It is very easy to seek God because one is moved by guilt or other external circumstances. But crisis conversions are not always true conversions. It is those who remain steadfast to the end who will be saved.

Once again we see God intervening in history to work His will on earth. Had Daniel died in the lions' den, an empire wide persecution of all praying Jews would have practically wiped Biblical faith of the face of the earth. But God is able to deliver His people individually and as a nation. One of the major points of the book of Daniel is that God preserves His people to return them to Jerusalem and continue as His Covenant people. Through them the Saviour will come into the world, enabling the purpose of God to be accomplished on earth.

Thursday after the Eighth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 128, 129, 1 Sam. 15:1-9, Lk 16:19
Evening - Ps. 132, 134, Esther 2:5-23, Acts 27:27

Commentary, Esther 2:5-8, 17-23

Tonight's commentary turns to the second chapter of Esther. As we saw in Nehemiah and Ezra, not all Jews returned to Jerusalem when Cyrus released them in 536. Mordecai and his wife, in the year 519 B.C., still reside in Shushan, and other Jews live throughout the empire. But it was not God's purpose for Jews to live in foreign lands. They were called to live as the people of God, keeping His Covenant and worshiping Him according to His law, in the land He had given them. In Genesis 12:1 we read "Get thee out of thy country... unto a land that I will shew thee." And in Genesis 1:7, "Unto thy seed will I give this land." In Exodus the same promise is reiterated, "I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God... And I will bring you unto the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for an heritage" (Ex. 6:7-8). Jews who did not return to Jerusalem were forsaking their calling and their God. Yet God did not forsake them. The book of Esther recounts His providential care of Jews outside of Judea. Truly He is the Father of all mercies.

In chapter 2, Ahasureus, king of Persia, has banished the queen; essentially divorcing and dethroning her for not appearing at his drunken pagan festival in chapter 1. He willingly accepts the advice to have beautiful virgins from throughout the empire brought to him so he can choose one to become the new queen (1:4) and add the others to his harem (2:14).

Mordecai or Esther, due to their accomodating the pagan culture they chose over Jerusalem, view Esther as another candidate for the king's harem. Naturally, the pagan people they live among also regard Esther as a candidate. Their compromise with the world allows the world to think of them as being "of the world," and the world treats them as such. Compromise never works for the Church because the world always demands more, but the world never compromises itself. Its goal is not to live in peace with the Church; it is to eradicate it. So, while the Jews in Jerusalem attempt to separate themselves from the world by sending away pagan women they had married, Esther becomes a concubine to the king of Persia.

Friday after the Eighth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 139, 1 Sam 15:10-23, Lk. 17:1-10
Evening - Ps. 138, 146, Esther 3:1-12, Acts 28:1-15

Commentary, Esther 3:1-12

As we enter the third chapter of the book of Esther we find her in a new role as queen to Ahasuerus (2:17). She is well favoured, partly because she saved the king's life by warning him of a plot against him (2:21-23). Things look good for her. Maybe this compromise of faith will work out. Not so, for Haman is rising to power. He will attempt to destroy the Jews, and Esther will be forced to make a choice for or against God. Haman was a very proud man who liked the way everyone bowed to him and gave him reverence; everyone except Mordecai (3:2).

Why did Mordecai not bow to Haman? Because he was a Jew (3:4). Perhaps Mordecai knew that it was because he did not live in Jerusalem that Esther was now married to a Gentile idolater instead of living as a believing Jew. Perhaps he was under a growing understanding that he was a transgressor of the law of God, and had put his own comforts and desires above God all of his life. Perhaps he was beginning to realise that to bow to Haman was to validate his culture and religion, and to give them more honour than he has given God. Perhaps he was beginning to think he had compromised the Faith long enough, and was trying to finally take a stand. We cannot be sure what he was thinking, but we do know that it had something to do with the Old Testament faith.

How much can a person compromise? Once one begins to compromise, where does one stop? If one doctrine of Scripture can be compromised, why can't they all? If one doctrine can be given up, why should anyone bother with the others? Does not one compromise actually forfeit the entire faith? The world understands this. The world knows that getting ministers to deny the deity of Christ, or the resurrection of Christ, or any of the doctrines of the Christian faith, leads people to deny the entire Christian religion. They may still attend church, and have nice choirs and pretty buildings, but they have no Biblical faith. They have only a moral or philosophical system. They claim Divine sanction for their system, but why should anyone believe in it if the book from which they derive it is wrong about the very important issues of the being and nature and work of Christ?

1 Kings 18 records the famous spiritual battle between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Actually the clash was between the God of Israel and the idol Baal. Many Israelites, including the king and queen, Ahab and Jezebel, openly worshiped Baal. In verse 21 Elijah asks, "How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him." This is the very issue Mordecai faces in the book of Esther. He has been halting between two opinions all his life. He is unwilling to go to Jerusalem and live as a Jew, but he is also unwilling to give himself completely to the pagan culture of Persia. His compromise is not working. In fact, it is not working for any Jews in Persia. They are all targeted in the accusation of Haman (3:6-12). They face an ominous choice they never expected to face; fully join the culture, or die.

Saturday after the Eighth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps 145, 1 Sam. 15:24-34, Lk. 17:11-19
Evening - Ps. 147, Esther 4:1-17, Acts 28:16

Commentary, Esther 4:1-17

A terrible time of mourning has overcome the Jews. In their distress they have forsaken their food for fasting, and given up their beds to lie in sack cloth and ashes. The reason for their sorrow is the decree of Ahasuerus, passed, at the urging of Haman, that went into all the provinces of Persia. The decree; destroy, kill, and to cause to perish, all Jews, "both young and old, little children and women." (3:13). Every Jew was to die, and their property was to be confiscated. Even the date of this mass execution was set, "the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar." We often read Scripture too quickly and without involvement. The more familiar we are with a passage, the more likely we are to read its words, yet be unmoved by the needs or suffering or faith it expresses. But let the decree of Ahasuerus sink into your being for a moment. Understand that it orders the execution of every Jew in the empire. Understand this will require gathering the Jews into concentration camps, where, in one day, they will all be killed. Imagine the fear and suffering this will cause; the blood, screaming children, and weeping mothers.

Understand also that, had these Jews returned to Jerusalem when they had the chance, they would not be facing this tragedy. They would be safe in Judea, the strongest military force in the area, and under the protection of the Persian Empire. Think of what it would have meant to those who returned, who rebuilt the walls of the city, and rebuilt the Temple of God, to have their presence and their help. But they chose to remain in Persia where life was easier and more peaceful. They had learned to love their new homes and lands instead of Jerusalem, and their loyalties lay with their new country, not with Israel; until now. Now they found it not a land of rest and peace, but a land of sorrow, suffering, and death. If only they had returned to Jerusalem when they had the chance. Mathew Henry wrote a telling comment on this passage, saying; "Those who for want of confidence in God, and affection to their own land, had staid in the land of their captivity, when Cyrus had given them liberty to be gone, now perhaps repented of their folly, and wished, when it was too late, that they had complied with the call of God." It will not be difficult to find parallels and applications of this passage to our own situation and lives.

Esther has not been living as a Jew. She has been assimilated into the Persian culture and enjoying her status a queen. Unlike Vashti, who would not come to the king's pagan festival, Esther must have participated fully in them, for she retained her position. Mordecai, has openly declared himself a Jew, and urges Esther to do the same. Our reading tonight includes what are probably the two best known verses in Esther. Verse 14 is Mordecai's plea for Esther to intercede for the Jews: "who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" Verse 16 is Esther's decision to act on behalf of the Jews, "if I perish, I perish."

Eighth Sunday after Trinity Sermon

God, Builder of Lives
Psalm 127, Romans 8:12-17, Matthew 7:15-21
Eighth Sunday after Trinity
July 29, 2012

"Grant, O Lord, that by thy holy Word read and preached in this place, and by thy Holy Spirit grafting it inwardly in the heart, the hearers thereof may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and may have power and strength to fulfill the same."
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

I think Evan Daniel's history of the Prayer Book, expressed the meaning of today's reading from Romans well when he wrote that it "teaches us that to put away all things hurtful to us we must through the Spirit 'mortify the deeds of the body.'" "We cannot live after the flesh and at the same time live after the spirit. Life according to the one involves death according to the other."

He also captured the essence of our reading from Matthew, saying; "The Gospel... teaches us that the fruits of our lives will be hurtful or profitable, according as we regard or disregard the will of our Father who is in heaven. Thus, while we recognize a never-failing Providence, we also recognize the indispensability of bringing our wills into accord with God's will."

Psalm 127 reiterates these lessons. It tells us that the most hurtful, harmful, self-destructive thing we can do to ourselves, our families, our churches, or our nations, is to attempt to build them according to our own plans, ideas, and values, rather than upon God's. If God does not build the house, "their labour is but lost that build it."

Moses learned this the hard way. In Exodus 2:11 he killed the Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew, "one of his brethren." Acts 7:25 tells us Moses thought his action would show the Hebrews that God was going to use him to deliver them from their slavery, "but they understood not." Moses didn't understand either. Moses was brought up in the palace and educated in the ways of the Egyptians. His education included training in warfare, for leading the army was expected of the house of Pharaoh, and the Pharaoh himself led the army in pursuit of the Hebrews (Ex. 14:8). Moses probably thought God was going to have him organise the Hebrews into an army to rise up against Egypt and gain their freedom in battle. Moses was trying to build the house of Israel according to his own plan, but that was not the way God intended to do it. Moses' labour was lost.

Let's go further back than Moses. Let's go back toAbraham and Sarah, when their names were still Abram and Sarai, when they decided God wasn't moving fast enough in His promise to make a great nation out of their descendants. They decided Abram should beget a child with Sarai's slave, Hagar. Through that unholy union Ismael was born, and immediately began to make trouble for Abram and Sarai. And the descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Ishmael have been at odds ever since. Abram was trying to build the house of Israel according to his own plan, but that was not the way God intended to do it. Abram's labour was lost.

Let's go back a little further. Let's go back to Abraham's nephew Lot. Lot is a significant person in the Bible because Lot wasn't trying to serve God or build a nation for God. Lot was only concerned about Lot. You remember that the shepherds of the flocks of Abraham and Lot argued over the water and grazing resources of the land, so Abraham, trying to make peace, suggested they separate, and he told Lot, "if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will depart to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left" (Gen. 13:9). And Lot chose the land of the plains of Jordan, for Lot wanted the bright lights and night life of the cities. So he settled in Soddom and Gomorah, and with his wealth, he probably became a big hit on the party circuit. He forgot all about God. He settled into the pagan culture and built his life upon it. And it nearly killed him and his family because they barely escaped with their lives. When God destroyed the cities, they were miraculously saved because Abraham interceded for them with God. But Lot's wife died because of her disobedience to God, and Lot's daughters were never able to rid themselves of the pagan ways they learned in Sodom and Gomorah. Lot was trying to build his house Lot's way, but Lot's way wasn't God's way. Lot's labout was lost.

Let's go back even further into history. Let's go back to the beginning, to Adam and Eve. Here were people who literally owned paradise. They had everything, and they threw it all away because it didn't fit their idea of what paradise should be. To them, paradise meant they were in control. They would decide what was good and what was evil. They would decide what was right and what was wrong. They would decide what was beautiful and what was ugly, and what was true and false, and what was valuable and what was worthless. And the result of their sins and their choices and their values was the loss of paradise. Strife became a part of human relationships. Adam and Eve became estranged from each other. Within one generation, probably less than twenty years after the Fall, the children of Adam and Eve were at odds with each other, and their son, Cain, murdered his brother, Abel. Adam and Ever were trying to build their house their way, but their labour was lost.

The lesson to us today is quite obvious, if God does not build the Church, the family, the nation, and our very lives, our labour to build them is lost. We labour in vain. In other words, if we build by the ideas and values of the world, if we build by our own passing whims and desires, or upon whatever ideas and life-styles are the current fad or politically correct, whatever we build will fall apart like the foolish man's house that was built upon the sand.

So how does God build? He builds upon the foundation of Jesus Christ who died to redeem His people and to establish His Kingdom. In Him we have the forgiveness of sin, which we receive by faith. That is the first principle of the way God builds. The second principle is that God uses His own tools when He builds. He builds with the Church, public and private worship, the reading and preaching of the Bible, the sacraments, and holy, Biblical living. That's how God builds His people and His Kingdom.

And so, if you want your life to be able to stand the tests of time and eternity, it must be built by God using His tools. Thus we pray according to the Collect for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity:

"O God, whose never failing providence ordereth all things both in heaven and earth; We humbly beseech thee to put away from us all hurtful things, and to give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

July 22, 2012

Monday after the Seventh Sunday after Trinity

Morning - Ps.75, 76, 1 Sam. 8:4, Lk. 13:1-9
Evening - Ps. 73, Dan. 4:4-18, Acts 22:30-23:11

Commentary, Daniel 4:4-18

Nebuchadnezzar has had another dream. Like his first, this is not an ordinary dream, and he believes it is a divine message. As with his first dream, the leaders of the religions of Babylon are unable to discern the meaning of the dream. This is a critically important point leading to two possibilities. First, maybe the dream is not a message from the divine, although, if that were true the astrologers and wise men should have been able to tell the king so. Second, maybe it is a message from the divine, but the Babylonian religious leaders are not being told what it means. This leads to the conclusion that they are not sufficiently connected to the divine to understand what is being said in the dream. In other words, their religions are not really just different ways of worshiping the same God; they are about completely different gods, and those gods are not there. Thus, they are completely disconnected from the Living God. It is very important to realise that we are not free to change God in order to make Him more acceptable to us, or to confuse Him with the gods invented by human imagination. We must take God on His own terms. It is we who must conform to Him, not He who must conform to us (see Jn. 14:6).

In verse 8, Daniel comes to the king, and is immediately welcomed into his presence, for the king knows Daniel is profoundly connected to the divine. I am using the word "divine" because the king, while recognising the reality of the God of Daniel, does not recognise Him as the only God, nor does he believe He is the only God who inspires Daniel (4:8). He probably believes his dream has come from Bel, high god of the Babylonian religion, and assumes the God of Daniel is subservient to Bel. Thus, he calls Daniel according to the name of his (Nebuchadnezzar's) god, Belteshazzar, and the reference to the high god in Daniel 4:2-3 probably refers to Bel rather than God. It seems apparent also that Nebuchadnezzar considers Daniel one of the prophets of Bel (4:9).

Though Nebuchadnezzar recognised the reality of the God of Israel (Dan. 2:47) he never forsook the idolatry of Babylon, so his references to Bel are not surprising. His brief recognition of God serves as a warning to all who take faith in God lightly. Many persons, seemingly converted in the warmth of a strong sermon or church service, are found among the unbelievers again in short order. Many church members, whose faith appears strong while they are under the influence of a caring church, family, or minister, fades back into the world when that influence is removed. Many who once appeared to be faithful student of the Bible are now found among its critics and skeptics.

Tonight's reading ends with the king's order to Daniel, as a prophet of Bel, to interpret the dream. Daniel obeys, but it is not a prophet of Bel who gives the meaning of the dream. It is Daniel, whose name means, "God will Judge," who addresses the king in the name of God.

Tuesday after the Seventh Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.77, 1 Sam. 9:1-10, Lk. 13:10-21
Evening - Ps. 74, Dan. 4:19-27, Acts 23:12-24

Commentary, Daniel 4:19-27

Nebuchadnezzar is a tyrant. He has built an empire on violence and bloodshed. He rules it with ruthless efficiency, killing those who cross or displease him (Dan. 2:12-13). He enriches himself at the expense of conquered peoples, and credits an idol with granting him success and prosperity. In Nebuchadnezzar's defense, most of the conquered people would have gladly done the same to him, for then, just as now, people were not good at making peace through voluntary alliances. They were much better at conquering neighbors and forcing them into slavery, thus, carving out for themselves brief eras of peace and security at the expense of others. In Daniel's time, Nebuchadnezzar was better at this than anyone else around him, so he was able to build and maintain an empire.

For an unexplained reason, God is giving Nebuchadnezzar a chance to repent. His dream, easily explained by Daniel, tells of a time when he will be removed from his throne and his kingdom given to another. God raised him up for His own purposes, and God will cast him down at will. The watcher in verse 23 is an angel who begins the judgment of God on Nebuchadnezzar (25-26).

But the same God, who sent the dream to warn the king of his impending doom, also sent Daniel to invite him to repent. It is important to see the great invitation in this dream. It gives Nebuchadnezzar the chance to repent. It gives him the chance to turn to God. Nebuchadnezzar had the opportunity to leave his idolatry and turn to God. This is one of the most important aspects of this entire dream.

The entreaty of verse 27 invites the king to begin to rule the empire in righteousness and justice. It invites him to uphold the rights of the people, especially the poor, which would be the people of conquered nations as well as the poor of Babylon. It is an admonition to stop ruling according to his own whims, which have become corrupted by power, and to start ruling by the principles of justice, truth, and integrity; not to benefit himself and the ruling class, but to benefit all people.

Imagine how different the world would be if Nebuchadnezzar had turned to God. Unfortunately this is yet another example of a great gift of God thrown away by human sin.

Wednesday after the Seventh Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 80, 1 Sam. 9:11-21, Lk. 13:22
Evening - Ps. 81, Dan. 4:28, Acts 23:25-24:9

Commentary, Daniel 4:28

Nebuchadnezzar did not repent. If anything, he became even more arrogant. "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?" (4:30). Remember that, in the dream, God told Nebuchadnezzar that it was God who raised him up and gave him the empire of Babylon. It was not Bel who did this for him, and it was certainly not the accomplishment of Nebuchadnezzar alone. By sending this message to him, God gave Nebuchadnezzar an extraordinary opportunity to, as we would say in New Testament language, "be saved." Very, very few people receive special dreams from God. Fewer still are visited by a prophet to interpret them. We are accustomed to reading about such things in the Old Testament, and we may think they were common occurrences. Not so. They were very rare. That's one of the factors that made them noteworthy, and it is one of the reasons why they were recorded in the Bible. So Nebuchadnezzar was the recipient of a very rare gift from God, and he threw it away.

Before we criticise Nebuchadnezzar, perhaps we should ask ourselves how great our opportunities have been, and what use we have made of them. He had a dream, but we have the Bible, which records many dreams. He had a prophet, but we have the Bible, which contains the words of many prophets. We have the New Testament, which records the life and teaching of Christ. We have the Holy Spirit. We have the Church, the Sacraments, and all the means of grace at our disposal. Many reading this commentary have hours of leisure time each day and live in lands where we can own and read the Bible freely. By all accounts we should be the most informed, most Biblically literate, most Godly-minded people in the history of the world. What have we done with our opportunities? To leave "undone those things which we ought to have done" is just as sinful as doing "those things which we ought not to have done."

To whom much is given, much will be required, so, as Nebuchadnezzar had a great opportunity, his loss for rejecting it was also great. The dream came true in every detail (33). It is possible that this happened in the last years of Nebuchadnezzar's life, and that he died soon after the events recorded in verses 34-37. Whether this is so or not, Nebuchadnezzar leaves the pages of the book of Daniel in verse 37, but not before his sanity is returned and he is allowed to return to his throne (36). He also proclaims great faith in the God of Daniel, whom he calls the King of Heaven in verse 37. Was his conversion genuine? Did he truly turn to God? Or did he merely acknowledge Him as the greatest among all gods? We cannot know this until we walk the streets of Heaven ourselves and find him present or absent. We can know whether our conversion is real or not, and what we have done with our own opportunities.

Thursday after the Seventh Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 85, 1 Sam.9:22, Lk. 14:1-14
Evening - Ps. 89:1-9, Dan. 5:1-9, Acts 24:10-23

Commentary, Daniel 5:1-9

Whether the faith of Nebuchadnezzar was real or not, all traces of it have dissipated by the time Belshazzar became king. Belshazzar (not Belteshazzar, Daniel's Babylonian name) whose name means "Bel protects the king," is the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar. Verse 2 refers to Nebuchadnezzar as his father in the same sense the Jews refer to Abraham as their "father." In tonight's reading he is throwing a pagan festival, which is basically a drunken orgy. Under the influence of much wine, he calls for the vessels stolen from the Temple in Jerusalem when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem in 586 B.C. His intent is to insult the vessels, and the God they represent, by using them as containers from which to drink wine in honour of Babylonian idols (5:4). It is easy to see that this action is an intentional affront to God. They are using sacred vessels to toast all manner of things that stand against everything that God is.

This is not at all unusual. Even people who call themselves by the name of Christ do the very same thing today. Denying the doctrines of Scripture and blessing ungodliness in the name of God, their actions are no less insulting to God than those of Belshazzar.

Truly the handwriting is on the wall, for a hand appears to the Babylonians and writes upon the wall of the hall in which they revel in ungodliness (5:5). Belshazzar knew his actions were wrong, and he knew that his grandfather held the God of Daniel in high esteem. He knew the story of God's dealing with Nebuchadnezzar (5:22), yet he committed this terrible insult against God. This is why his countenance was changed and his body trembled so much that his knees knocked together (5:6). Yes, the appearance of the hand was frightening, but the knowledge that it wrote a message from the God of Israel, whom he insulted in high contempt, was even more frightening.

The handwriting is on the wall for all to see. God has given all people a witness to His existence and will (Acts 14:17, Rom1:19-20). Man's problem is not that he does not know God; it is that he refuses to act on his knowledge. People hold the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). Therefore, they are without excuse (Rom. 2:1) and under the wrath of God (Rom 1:18).

Again the wise men of Babylon are unable to interpret the message. The "wise men" of our own time have the same problem. The prophets of the religion of secular humanism, for example, often express a desire for justice, clearly borrowed from the Bible. But they deny the existence of God and insist that man can create a just world by his own abilities. Modern theistic humanists believe in God, but think they find Him/her/it/they inside themselves, and believe only what their "hearts" tell them about God. Their religion also often expresses a desire for justice, but it is justice according to their own personal definitions. Both forms of humanism have rejected the one foundation upon which justice may be built, the revelation of God in the Holy Bible. Without this revelation, man can never agree on what constitutes peace and justice. Without a revelation from God, the only arbiter of truth and morality is the individual person, and every person's truth and morality is different. The revelation from God is available to modern day "wise men," but they reject and distort it. Like the prophets of Babylon, the handwriting is on the wall, but it is meaningless to them.

Friday after the Seventh Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 86, 1 Sam. 10:1-11, Lk. 14:15-24
Evening - Ps. 91, Dan 5:10-16, Acts 24:24-25:12

Commentary, Daniel 5:10-16

The queen is not Belshazzar's wife. They are all present at the festival (5:2). The queen is his mother or grandmother. She is wise enough to shun the wicked party assembled by Belshazzar, and realises that Daniel is able to interpret the message which the Babylonian prophets cannot (5:12). She even calls Daniel by his Jewish name, which means, "God will Judge," rather than by his Babylonian name which has to do with the pagan idol, Bel (5:12). As the wife or daughter in law of Nebuchadnezzar, she remembers the favour of God on him, and the God-given abilities of Daniel. She still retains her belief in other gods (5:11), however, and cannot be considered a convert to true, Biblical faith.

King Belshazzar calls for Daniel, also addressing him by his Jewish name (5:13). Perhaps the Spirit of God is moving in this profane and wicked man's heart. Certainly, as with Nebuchadnezzar, this warning to Belshazzar is also an invitation to repent of his sin and turn to God. Belshazzar is almost scared enough to do it, but not quite. It is a good thing to have a certain amount of fear of God. The Bible says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but fear without faith is not enough. A person may stop doing something because he is afraid of going to hell, but that is not the same as repenting of sin and loving Christ as Lord and Saviour. True faith is a turning of the entire being toward God. It is to embrace him as God and King, and to trust Him to cover your sins with His grace. Belshazzar's fear fell far short of this.

Daniel's response (5:17) was not a rejection of the king's offer; it was a statement that he would speak the truth of God regardless of the result. The king may offer money and honours now, but when he hears the meaning of the writing, he may order Daniel's death. Neither possibility sways Daniel's intent to tell the truth. He will remain true to God at all costs.

A little imagination will find many ways to apply Daniel's faithfulness to our situation today. Many have deserted the Bible for the sake of financial and social gain. Ministers, congregations, even whole denominations have cast Scripture behind them to gain members and keep the money coming in. Feelings and convenience, rather than Biblical faith is often the deciding factor in the choice of churches, and many parents are more concerned that a church have a gymnasium than the Gospel. On the other hand, many in authority have punished those who attempted to stand for truth. The "church" has killed far more faithful Christians than the world.

Saturday after the Seventh Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 90, 1 Sam. 10:17, Lk. 14:25
Evening - Ps. 96, 98, Dan. 5:17-30, Acts 25:13

Commentary, Daniel 5:17-30

Tonight's reading allows us to witness a great cosmic war. The battleground is the city of Babylon. The contestants are God and Bel, the idol of Babylon. The battle is fought through two men, Belshazzar, whose name means, "Bel protects the king," and Daniel, whose name means "God will judge." We are going to find out which name expresses the truth. If the prophecy written on the wall comes true, then God has judged Belshazzar and proven that He is God and there is no other. If the prophecy does not come true, then Bel has protected the king and proven that he is the Most High God.

This clash of the Gods takes place at a crucial time in Jewish history. The Jews will return to Jerusalem soon, and the events we studied recently in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah are about to occur. So the Jews need to know their God lives and reigns. They need to know He raises kings and empires up, and casts them down as He sees fit. More importantly, they need to know He rules in the life of His people, His word is true, and His will is accomplished infallibly upon the earth. This will show the Jews they can trust Him when the time comes to return to Jerusalem and do the hard work and sacrificing required to rebuild the city and Temple. Most importantly, it will encourage the Jews, infected with pagan idolatry and a diluted Jewish faith, to throw down their idols and return to God as His covenant people again.

Like the Jews, we are called to follow God and keep His Covenant, even in difficult and dangerous times. We need to know that God will judge all and Bel will protect no one. Then we can follow God with confidence.

Sermon, Seventh Sunday after Trinity

God of Unity
Psalm 133, Romans 6:19-33, Mark 8:1-9
Seventh Sunday after Trinity
July 22, 2012

"Grant, O Lord, that by thy holy Word read and preached in this place, and by thy Holy Spirit grafting it inwardly in the heart, the hearers thereof may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and may have power and strength to fulfill the same." In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Trinity is the season of Christian living. That doesn't mean we don't live the Christian life at other times; it means that the subject of the sermons and Scripture readings during Trinity is the Christian life. On the Seventh Sunday after Trinity we pause to remember again that even the Christian life is a gift from God. Thus, we beseech God to form within our souls, the love of His Name, the increase of true religion, and all goodness, and to keep us in these things throughout our earthy lives.

The reading from Romans 6 reminds us that the wages of sin is death, but we, being freed from sin, are to bear the fruit of holiness. The reading from Mark 8 shows Christ, the author and giver of all good things, supplying the needs of His people. As He fed the multitude in the wilderness, we can trust Him to "give us this day our daily bread," especially the Bread of everlasting life. Psalm 133 is about one of the greatest gifts of God to His people, the gift of unity in His Church.

In the Apostles' time, the Church was one body, spiritually and organisationally. It was one organisation with Christ as its Head accomplishing His teaching and government through the Apostles and other ministers. The Apostles taught and ordained bishops and ministers, who were to teach others what they had learned. Thus, Christ, the Word of God, called the Apostles to learn His teachings (Jn. 1:14-18, Lk. 24:27). He then commissioned the Apostles to make disciples of others by teaching them what Christ had taught them (Mt. 28:19-20). These men were to teach others, who would teach others (1 Tim. 2:2), and so it will continue until the Lord's Return.

All of the teacher/ministers answered to the Apostles. The Apostles sent letters and instructions to them, and even sent delegations to their churches with authority to correct problems in doctrine and practice. The Apostle Paul excommunicated Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Tim. 1:20) and placed Titus in Crete to establish churches and to appoint and ordain bishops and ministers as Paul had appointed and ordained him (Titus 1:5). Even Peter was called to give an account of his activities to the other Apostles (Acts 11:1-18). So the Church was one connected body. There were no independent local congregations. Local churches were part of the larger Church, teaching the Apostles' doctrine and under the supervision of bishops, who were under the Apostles' supervision. That is why the picture of the Church as the Body of Christ is so accurate. No part of the Body is independent of the others. Each is dependent and organically connected to the whole Body, under the direction of the Head. The Bible also illustrates this with the analogy of a Kingdom or Empire. The Church is the Empire of Christ. He is the Emperor, and His Empire is divided into provinces and counties, but no province or county is independent. Each province is part of the Empire, and each is connected to the others

Writing about the unity of the Church, the Apostle Paul gives the foundation of our unity in Ephesians 4:1-6, and, especially in the well beloved words of verses 4, 5, and 6:

"There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye were called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all."

We have already looked at the meaning of "one body," but we should note here that one Spirit, the Holy Spirit, animates the Body. The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church. The calling is our invitation to be a part of the Body. It is the Divine Invitation to be partakers of all the blessings of God in Christ; the forgiveness of sins, the communion of saints, the indwelling Spirit, the means of grace, holiness of life, and the hope of glory are all part of these blessings. There is much more to your calling, but I will have to talk about that another time. We are one in Christ, and in His blood. In other words, we are all sinners saved by grace. He died for our sins, and we are united in the fact that we are forgiven and made whole by His one offering of Himself on the cross. Of course our unity is based on the One Lord. There is one Lord, so there is also one body. There is one Saviour, therefore there is one Church.

We are united in one faith. That means we are united in the Apostles' doctrine, the doctrinal content of Christianity, which we looked at earlier in the sermon. But faith is also belief and trust. So we are united in our belief in the doctrines, and also one in our trust in Christ as our Lord and Saviour. We are one because we have partaken of one baptism, that is, our baptism into Christ, our spiritual baptism, accomplished by the Holy Spirit, by which we were placed in Christ, and Christ was placed in us, and of which our water baptism is a sign and seal.

I apologise for the quickness of this discussion of the basis of our unity. I thought it necessary to mention it, but it is not the point of this sermon. The point of the sermon is the point of Psalm 133, that it is a good and joyful thing for the people of God to dwell together in unity. The Psalm does not give the details of the good and joyful benefits of Christian unity. It does what poetry often does, giving images and word pictures rather than concrete examples. It poetically compares unity to the oil that consecrates the high priest in the line of Aaron. The oil was costly, and purfumed with sweet and exotic spices. It was pleasant to see and smell, and it was poured in abundance over the head of the High Priest so that it ran down to his beard and some even dripped onto his robe. In that semi-arid climate, the oil reminded the people of the soothing and healing effect oil had on their chapped, dry hands and skin.

Keeping the dry climate of the area in mind, picture the wonder and appreciation the people would have for the pleasant climate of Mount Hermon. With an elevation over nine-thousand feet, it is often snow capped through mid summer, and its melting snow and abundant rain are major sources of the waters of the Jordan River. Nights can be cold there, even in July and August. The mountain is a cool and refreshing retreat in an otherwise hot, dry area. The point, of course is that the fellowship, the belonging, the love, the acceptance, the unity of God's people is a cool, refreshing refuge from the dessert wilderness of the world.

This unity is both a gift to the people of God, and the responsibility of the people of God. It is a major part of our calling to preserve the unity of the Church, especially in our local congregation. Next to ensuring that we have our unity in the Apostolic faith recorded in Scripture, being sources of encouragement and edification rather than strife and sorrow may be our most important task as Christians. Remember that the world will know we are Christ's people because we love one another, and our growth in Christ is tied to our belonging to His Body. So it is imperative that we are able to say from experience, "Behold, how good and joyful a thing it is for brethren to dwell together in unity."

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."

July 7, 2012

Scripture and Commentary for Week of Fifth Sunday after Trinity

Monday after the Fifth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 11, 12, Ruth 2:1-13, Lk. 9:46
Evening - Ps. 8, 19, Acts 18:1-11

Commentary, Ruth 2:1-13

Naomi may have returned to Israel empty, but God had much good in store for her. By his providence He works all things to good for His people, and He will bring good to Naomi in spite of her sin and lukewarm faith. By His providence He brings Naomi into contact with her wealthy brother in law, Boaz. It was not Naomi who made plans to glean the fields of Boaz, it was Ruth (2:2). Ruth even dared to hope Boaz would be favourably disposed toward her. By God's grace, he was. It was not chance that brought him from Bethlehem. It was not chance that caused him to see this unknown woman gleaning in his field. It was not chance that he felt kindly toward her and gave her far more than simply the leftovers of the crop. It was Providence. God caused Boaz to learn of Ruth's faithfulness to Naomi, and of her leaving the land of Moab to join herself to Israel (2:11). He desired God to bless her, and intended to be an instrument of His good will toward her (2:12-13).

There is much to learn of God's grace in this passage. We, like Naomi have sinned and strayed from God like lost sheep. We have dwelt among the heathen and neglected our duties to God. Our rebellion has been costly, for we have reaped what we have sown and we have found ourselves empty in our souls. But God is rich in mercy. In His Providence He has brought us to our Kinsman Redeemer and into His house and home. He has given us all that He has, as an adoring husband to his loving wife. We came to God empty, but He has made us full.

Tuesday after the Fifth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 17, Ruth 2:14, Lk. 10:1-24
Evening - Ps. 3, 14, Acts 18:12-23

Commentary, Ruth 2:14

The heart of today's reading in Ruth is found in verse 20. Naomi is suffering through the dark night of the soul. She seems to have had an exceptionally close and happy relationship with her family. Now her beloved husband is dead, along with her two dear sons. The people who made her life worth living have been ripped from hear heart, and her grief at this loss must have been almost unbearable. Added to this grief is the loss of her home and income, so that she is plunged into poverty so deep she becomes a beggar who has to rely on charity for even her food. She knows that, if her neighbors are not charitable, or if food is scarce, she and her daughter in law will face death by slow starvation in the coming winter.

It is difficult for us to imagine the deep, deep sorrow, anger, and despair that grips Naomi's heart, though we can see how it would be compounded by her nominal faith. But a spark of Godly hope is ignited within her when she sees the food brought to her by Ruth. Ruth has brought not only grain, but also a significant portion of the meal given to her earlier that day (2:14 & 18)-19). She bears the good tidings that Boaz has provided an abundant supply of food for them (2:15-16, 21-23). But verse 20 is the real turning point in Naomi's life. Learning that Ruth has gleaned in the fields of Boaz, Naomi realises that it is the Providence and Grace of God that took Ruth to the fields this day. Her words, "Blessed be he of the Lord, who hath not left off His kindness to the living and to the dead," show that Naomi realises God intends to heal her wounded soul and restore her heritage in Israel. Boaz is required by Covenant Law to marry Ruth and provide children to inherit the property of her husband's father. He also has the wealth and power to redeem the property and return it to Ruth, and to Naomi. Naomi's words express her conversion. In these words, she confesses her faith in God, and takes her rightful place as a daughter of the Covenant.

In a very real sense, Boaz is a picture our Redeemer-Kinsman, our Lord Christ. He has power and the will to provide for the needs of life and to redeem us from the poverty of our sin. As God, though the kindness and faithfulness of Boaz, healed Naomi of the wounds in her soul and made her a child of the Covenant, Christ heals our souls and makes us children of grace. As Boaz had the power to redeem the property of Elimelech and make Naomi, Ruth, and her children heirs of land in Israel, Christ has power to redeem our souls and make us heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven. Naomi realises God is working out the redemption of her property and her soul. Thus she gives thanks to God for His kindness to her, the living, and to her husband and sons, the dead. Their heritage in Israel will continue.

Wednesday after the Fifth Sunday in Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 20, 21:1-6, Ruth 3:1-13, Lk. 10:25-37
Evening - Ps. 27, Acts 18:24-19:7

Commentary, Ruth 13:1-13

The events of the third chapter of Ruth seem strange to modern Christians. To put them in chronological order we see that the harvest is over and the time to thresh the grain has come. Boaz has dealt kindly with Naomi and Ruth, and it is due to him that the women have been able to gather enough food to keep them well supplied until the next year's harvest. Boaz, who lives in Bethlehem, has come to one of his threshing houses to winnow the barely, meaning to separate the grain from the hull and bits of leaves and stalks, called, "chaff." That part seems plain and normal to us, but what is this sneaking around in the dark and uncovering Boaz's feet? It is simply this; Ruth is asking Boaz to marry her and to redeem the property of her husband, now under lease to someone else, due to Naomi's poverty (4:3).

According to Old Testament law, the brother of a man who died without children was to marry his brother's widow, and father a child who would inherit the land and property of the deceased man. This was done so that the name of the deceased would continue in Israel, and that his family would always possess his portion of the land. According to Old Testament law, the land of Israel was given as a heritage to the people. Therefore, it could not be sold, but could be leased out until the year of Jubilee, when it reverted back to the original owner or his heirs. An Israelite usually only leased his property out because of severe financial problems, so there was a provision that a near kinsman could buy back the lease and return the property to its rightful owners. This was called "redeeming" the land.

When Ruth went to Boaz at night, she did nothing immoral. She simply asked Boaz to marry her. That is the meaning of verse 9. Had Boaz spread his "skirt," or, blanket over her, he would have been asking her to lie beside him as his wife, and they would be considered married. Boaz specifically did not invite her, but rather turned her away telling her that a nearer kinsman had the duty to marry her, but he would certainly do so if the other man consented.

It is significant that the Hebrew word for kinsman can also mean "redeemer." To marry his brother's widow a man would also redeem his property for his heirs if it had been leased to another. Thus, Boaz is addressed by Ruth as her near kinsman and redeemer. We see here a picture of the love of Christ for His Church. He is her redeemer who purchases her place in the Kingdom of God. He is also her husband who loves her for eternity.

Thursday after the Fifth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 25, Ruth 4:1-8, Lk. 10:28-11:13
Evening - Ps. 30, 31:1-6, Acts 19:8-20

Commentary, Ruth 4:1-8

Boaz went to the gate of Bethlehem and found the man who was a closer kinsman than himself. This man was willing to redeem the property of Naomi until he learned he would also have to marry Ruth. Marrying her would mean the property would not belong to him, but to Ruth's children. He would, therefore, be buying the property for Naomi, Ruth, and Ruth's children. This was the intent of this custom. It served to keep widows and children out of poverty, not provide extra land to those who could afford it. This man was willing to redeem the land when it appeared it would profit him. When he saw it would not, he passed it on to Boaz. Thus, Boaz receives the right to marry Ruth and provide for the prosperity of Naomi and Ruth.

This is very important for it secures the place of Naomi and Ruth in the Covenant people of God. They have a share in the heritage of Israel, which symbolises that they have a "share" in God. They are truly now part of Israel, the redeemed of God.

Friday after the Fifth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 26, Ruth 4:9-22, Lk. 11:14-28
Evening - Ps. 32, 36:5, Daniel 1:1-21, Acts 19:21

Commentary, Ruth 4:9-22

This morning brings us to the close of the book of Ruth. It is very tempting to spend time on the details of the events in today's reading, but we will instead go right to the major points of the passage.

First, the conversion of Ruth is complete. In the beginning of the book she was a pagan citizen of one of the bitterest enemies of Israel, Moab. In today's reading she is the mother of a child who inherits the property of Elimelech and Naomi, and of their sons. In the beginning she was an alien to the people of God, and to the promises of God given to Israel. Now she is a full citizen and participant in them. She is fully a daughter of the Covenant. So here is a woman, who grew up outside of the Church and without instruction in the Scriptures, who is welcomed into the Church by the grace of God. Thus, it is faith, not background that makes one a child of God. A person who has never yet been in Church is as welcome as those who have been raised in it. They, like Ruth, may freely come to God.

Second, the conversion of Naomi is complete. Naomi is back in the Covenant people, with a grandchild who will carry on the family name in Israel. More than this, she is reconciled to God. At the beginning of the book she was in sin and unbelief. Now her faith is as real as her place among the Covenant people. She, too, is a true daughter of the Covenant and child of God. Naomi was raised in Israel, with all the blessings and opportunities to know God and learn the Scriptures that the Hebrew people enjoyed. Yet she gave only lip service to God, preferring to follow the ways of the world. Many today, having the same opportunities, throw them away as Naomi did. Raised in the Church with countless opportunities to learn the Scripture and know Christ, they fritter away their opportunities in youth, and, in adulthood, and form the habit of neglecting the Word and House of God. They may retain a nominal belief in God. They may even try to live moral lives and have great respect for the Bible. But their hearts are not in it. When Christ commands them, "Follow Me," they draw back and ask, "How far?" Naomi was such a person, but in today's reading she has turned to God in true faith. All who have followed Naomi's example away from God may also follow her example back to Him. Those who do will find God as willing to welcome them as He was to welcome Naomi. Draw nigh unto Him and He will draw nigh unto you.

Third, God chose Ruth to be a direct ancestor of Israel's greatest king, David. She was David's Great Grandmother. One of the main points of the book of Ruth is to show the life of the immediate forbearers of David, and to serve as an introduction to the call and life of David as king of Israel.

Fourth, the guiding hand of God is always upon His people. The time in which Naomi and Ruth lived was a chaotic time of rampant sin and open rejection of God. Some Israelites, like Elimelech and Naomi, left Israel to dwell among the pagans. Others simply incorporated pagan ideas and values into the Old Testament faith. Both actions were wrong, and their practitioners paid dearly. But God did not desert Israel, nor did He allow their sins to stop His plan to bring all things together in Christ. He brought David into the world by His providence and grace, and through David's line, the Saviour was born, in "the fulness of the time."

Saturday after the Fifth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 28, 1 Sam. 1:1-11, Lk. 11:29-36
Evening - Ps. 47, 48, Dan. 2:1-13, Acts 20:1-16

Commentary, Daniel 2:1-13

We began reading in Daniel last night, and will be in it until mid August. It is a story of people holding fast to the faith when all the props have been removed and the general direction of the surrounding culture is hostile to you. The story takes place in Babylon after Nebuchadnezzar had conquered Jerusalem and deported the Jews to captivity in Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar had some of the Jewish boys selected to be instructed in the learning of the Chaldeans (Babylonians). These were to be descendants of the king and nobility of Judah, without defect, and showing promise of intellectual ability. Nebuchadnezzar wanted to make Babylonians of them, and use them to influence the Jews to accept Babylonian rule. Children from other nations readily agreed to live in the palace and learn of Babylon, but the Jewish children did not. They retained their Jewish identity, including eating only "Kosher" food. And "God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams" (1:17).

It would be very difficult for anyone to resist the gentle brainwashing of the Babylonians. Separated from their parents, told they are the best and brightest children in all the land, promised privilege and prosperity, it would have been nearly impossible for an adult to remain true to God. Yet these young men did. In the days ahead we will read their stories and see the hand of Providence guiding God's people, even in this dark and dangerous hour.

Tonight's reading takes us to the dream of Nebuchadnezzar. He knew his dream was important, and needed someone to tell him what it meant. But the seers and astrologers often lied to kings to protect themselves. They told kings what they wanted to hear instead of the truth, and Nebuchadnezzar wanted the truth. So he decreed that the wise men, the astrologers and seers, would be required to tell him the content of his dream and its meaning. Those who could not, were considered useless pretenders and would be executed by being cut to pieces and their property taken and turned into dumps (2:5 &12).

July 2, 2012

Scripture and Commentary for Fourth Week after Trinity

Monday after the Fourth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.119:49-64, Judges 13:1-24, Lk. 8:16-25
Evening - Ps. 119:65-80, Acts. 15:36-16:5

Commentary, Judges 13

The morning readings over the past two weeks have brought us to the beginning of the life and work of one of the Bible's most famous people, Samson. Samson was one of the judges of Israel. These were not courtroom judges trying cases. They were military leaders who organised the tribes of Israel into forces that were able to fend off the attacks of the Canaanites. You may remember that Israel was told to drive the Canaanites out of the land when they returned from the Egyptian bondage. They failed to accomplish this. They did defeat the Canaanites enough to minimise them as a military threat, but rather than completely driving them out of Israel, the Hebrews settled down among them and began the process of building homes and farms and shops and enjoying the Promised Land. At first this appears harmless enough, but the Hebrews began to build relationships with the Canaanites. This involved a certain amount of cultural give-and-take, meaning the Hebrews began to adopt Canaanite ways of talking, dressing, thinking, and living. Worst of all, they began to adopt Canaanite religion. At first these compromises were small, almost imperceptible. But over time they grew, and, after a few generations, there was practically no difference between the people of God and the pagan Canaanites. There is much for the Church to learn from this, for compromise usually leads to more compromise. The Church, or Christian, who begins to adapt to the pop culture around them, may find that they have become that culture. God has ordained that an obvious difference exists between His people and the people of the world. It must be so because the world's values are reflected in its culture, just as our values are reflected in ours. And the two cultures are at war, for one is based on Godliness while the other is based on ungodliness. One is Light the other is darkness, and they cannot occupy the same space in peace. Nor can the Church build a City of Light using the tools of darkness.

The Hebrews in Judges 13 have been compromising with the Canaanites for generations. But compromise has not resulted in peace between the Hebrews and the Canaanites. Just the opposite; the Canaanites have fought against Israel, and, in many cases, have subdued the people of God under cruel domination. Suffering under Gentile rule, the Hebrews sometimes repented of their sin, and God, who is rich in mercy, raised up a deliverer to lead Israel in battle and freedom. The Hebrews followed God faithfully for a while after their deliverance, but soon began again the sequence of compromise, leading to subjection and domination by the Canaanites.

During one of the periods of sin and domination, the Angel of the Lord appeared to a Hebrew woman and revealed that she would give birth to a son who would be a Nazarite from the moment of conception. A Nazarite was supposed to be entirely dedicated to God, thus, while carrying the child, even the woman was to keep the strict customs of the Nazarites. The meaning is obvious; deliverance will come through religious revival led by a man completely devoted to God. Unfortunately, the people do not live up to the high demands of God. Instead, the leader is flawed and sinful, and the revival is half-hearted at best. Yet we see something important here. We see that true deliverance requires a leader that is stronger, greater, and more righteous than any mere human can possibly be. All of the judge/redeemers of Israel were tragically flawed, so a real revival, one that will really turn the hearts of people to God and produce the fruits of everlasting righteousness, must be led by someone greater the Samson. It must be led by God himself.

Tuesday after the Fourth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.123, 124, Judges 16:1-14, Lk. 8:26-39
Evening - Ps. 126, 127, 130, Acts 16:6-15

Commentary, Judges 16:1-14

Samson lives a life of total wantonness. He does not have the habit of Godliness. He does not seek God, confess sin, or try to fulfill his calling. He breaks his Nazarite vows and rejects the Covenant of God without remorse and without repentance. There is no great revival of covenant keeping under his leadership, only continued moral decay. Consequently, there is no deliverance from the Philistines. Samson himself attacks them and prevents them from completely overtaking the Hebrews, but even Samson is no great threat to them without an army, and he will not give himself to his calling long enough to rally the Hebrews. Instead of rallying around him, the Israelites attempt to hand him over to the Philistines in hope that his death will cause the Philistines to go easier on Israel (15:12). But Samson escapes from the Philistines and, singlehandedly, inflicts a terrible slaughter on them (15:15).

Thus we come to tonight's reading of Samson and Delilah. The Philistines desperately want to destroy Samson. He not only killed many of their people (see also 15:8) and destroyed many of their crops (15:4-6), he has destabilised the area. As long as Samson is alive there is a possibility of a Hebrew revolt and victory. So they laid plans to destroy his strength and capture him. Samson walks into their trap willingly.

Wednesday after the Forth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 125, 138, Judges 16:15-22, Lk. 8:40
Evening - Ps.132, 134, Acts 16:16-24

Commentary, Judges 16:15-22

Samson seems to have trouble identifying the enemy. He married an enemy; a Philistine woman (14:15) at a time when the Philistines had dominion over Israel (14:4). And the Philistines threatened to burn her and her family if she did not help them against Samson.

Delilah was no better. Some think she may also have been a Philistine, though that is not known for sure. It is known that she cooperated with them against Samson, and, each time Samson told her something will take his strength away, she tried it on him. Did he think she would not try cutting his hair? How could he not know she was an enemy, not a friend?

Samson had another problem, he did not realise the true source of his strength. It came from God, not hair. His hair was but a symbol that he belonged to God. He may not have been very faithful, but he belonged to God and wore the symbol of his calling. To allow someone to cut his hair was to allow someone to remove the symbol of his calling, which is the same as rejecting that calling. So, in this passage, Samson takes the final step in a long journey away from God, and when that happens, he looses his strength.

Let us learn from Samson. Let us learn from his habit of disobedience and his attraction to the ways of sin. Samson identified with the enemies of God and His people, and he moved toward them and away from God. Finally, he took the decisive step. But, as those who follow worldliness learn too late, he found not friendship among the Philistines, but cruel slavery.

Thursday after the Fourth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 136, Judges 16:23, Lk. 9:1-17
Evening - Ps. 144, Acts 16:25

Commentary, Judges 16:23

In Old Testament times a person could set aside the normal occupations of life to dedicate himself to God. This was done for a specific period of time on a voluntary basis (Num.6:1-21). Presumably people took Nazarite vows in order to devote themselves to a time of prayer, fasting, and study, with possibly a time of service to the poor or helping in the Temple. Samson was somewhat different, for he was born to be a Nazarite, and his time of separation was life from conception to the grave. His calling was to be dedicated to God and lead Israel to repent of sin and win back her freedom from her Philistine oppressors. But Samson was an utter failure. Rebellious from the start, many infractions of his vows and the Law of God are recorded. Others probably did not make it into the Bible. Instead of Godliness, we see in Samson a worldly, self-indulgent life-style. Samson's real god was Samson, and his real purpose in life was to indulge his own desires and comforts. Self-control was unknown to him. The idea that he should give up his own comforts and amusements to please God seems to have be completely foreign to his mind. Thus, instead of a man who forgoes the pleasures of the flesh to find the pleasures of God, Samson was a man who disdained the things of God to bask in the pleasures of the flesh.

In last night's reading we saw Samson take the final step away from God. In tonight's reading we see the terrible result. Finding that his strength was truly gone, the Philistines bound Samson and took him captive. It was a festive day for the Philistines when they brought their once powerful enemy into Gaza. One of the things they did to mock and cause pain to him, was to burn out his eyes. They made a slave of him, forcing him to grind grain for other prisoners of the Philistines. At a festival gathering they brought him before the crowd to taunt him, maybe even to kill him. His strength was returned long enough to enable him to collapse the building in which they were gathered, but his action brought no real victory to the Hebrew people, nor did it deliver Israel from Philistine domination.

The Nazarite vow shows that the practice of setting time aside to seek and grow in God is good and helpful. We are so pressed with busyness these days we hardly take Sunday mornings for worship and reflection. We should. Sundays should be a time to turn aside from the world and be still before the Lord. They should be a day for worship and meditation upon God and the things of God. They should be times of quiet stillness rather than incessant sound and motion. Other days, while not replacing the Lord's Day, may also be spent in meditative stillness with God. When did you last devote a day to reading Scripture and pondering its meaning and application? When did you last put aside your own pursuits and pleasures to spend Sunday morning with God's people in Church? When is the last time you denied yourself some worldly trinket and devoted that money to God's house instead? I truly fear that many in the Church stand as near the door as possible looking for an opportune time to do as Samson; leave it all behind and throw themselves into the world and its pleasures. The ancient prayer for the week of the Fourth Sunday after Trinity reminds us to hold to God instead of the world:

"O God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy; Increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal. Grant this, O heavenly Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

Friday after the Fourth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 142, 143, Ruth 1:1-14, Lk. 9:18-27
Evening - Ps. 145, Acts 17:1-15

Commentary, Ruth 1:1-14

The book of Ruth is beloved for its literary beauty, but few understand its theology. It begins in the turbulent time of the Judges; the time of people like Deborah and Samson, during which the Hebrews, deep in sin and unbelief, were being attacked by the Canaanite tribes, and starved by famine. It was a famine in Israel that caused Elimelech and Naomi to leave Israel and travel to Moab.

Remember that Israel was called by God to be His people and to love and serve Him in the land He gave unto them. It was sin for Israelites to desert their homes and people to live among the Gentiles, and it was sin for them to marry their sons to Gentile women. It is the sin of unbelief, of not trusting God to keep His promises, of not trusting Him enough to keep the Covenant and leave the rest to Him. As in so many things, the names and places have changed, but the story remains the same.

We see here a gradual and intentional move away from the Covenant of God toward the pagan views and lifestyle of the Gentiles. Elimelech and Naomi may not have rejected God entirely, but they were comfortable being part of an idolatrous people and having idolatry in their home and family. In spite of their move, Elimelech and his sons died in the famine, leaving the three women to cope alone.

When Naomi hears there is food in Israel she determines to go home. This is not a return to God, against whom she is very angry (13). It is simply a move to find food. Knowing her Moabite sojourn would be a hindrance to some of the Israelites, Naomi conveniently becomes a Hebrew again and tells her daughters in law to leave her. This is difficult, for there is obviously great love between them. It is partly due to her love that Naomi tells the wives to return to their own people. They are young and will be able to find husbands in Moab, but taking financial obligations to support a wife and her mother in law might not be the first choice of a young Moabite man.

So the story of Ruth begins with sin and its complications in the lives of these people. It also begins with Naomi's decision to return to Israel, but we need to understand this is not a desire to return to God and His Covenant, merely a decision to go where she might find food.

Saturday after the Fourth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 147, Ruth 1:15, Lk. 9:2-45
Evening - Ps. 148, 150, Acts 17:16

Commentary

Naomi's homecoming is not a happy one. She says to those who greet her that she "went out full." She means she left Israel with a husband and children, and, most likely enough money to buy property and start life over again in Moab. In Moab she found two loving daughters in law. She had family, love, and hope. Now that is all gone. She has returned hungry, widowed, grieving the loss of her sons, and so poor she has to beg and glean the fields for food. She laments, "I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty" (1:21) Thus she tells the people not to call her Naomi, meaning, "happy" or "pleasant", but Mara, meaning "bitter" or "angry" (1:20). Why is she angry? Because the Lord has dealt very bitterly with her (1:20). Or has He? It was Elimelch and Naomi who left the Covenant people to dwell among the heathen. It was they who left the benefits of the sacrifices, the Covenant, and the worship of God. It was they who married their sons to Moabite women. It was they who turned away from God, not God who turned away from them. God simply allowed them to have what they wanted. He often does the same with us today. "Christians" want to live like pagans, so God gives us what we want. Only, like Elimelech and Naomi, we find Moab isn't so great after all. We go out full, but come back empty. What else should we expect? How can we expect to be at peace with God when our hearts are set on the world?

What Naomi does not see is that the hand of God is heavy upon her for grace. It is heavy upon her because it is calling her back God. It is calling her back to the Covenant. God is saying to her, "I will be your God and you will be my beloved daughter. I will bless you and protect you, and I will give you better things than you can even imagine (see Eph. 3:20). Come back to Me. Let Me love you. Let Me bless you." It is as though God is saying to her;

"Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded, be afflicted and mourn and weep, let your laughter [your desire for selfish pleasures] be turned to mourning [repentance] and your joy [pleasure in sin] to heaviness [grief in the soul over sin]. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up."
James 4:8-10

Both Ruth and James call for the same kind of faith, a faith that turns from sin to God; a faith that removes us from the throne of our lives and enthrones God as King and God. This kind of faith is not a single event; it is a pattern of life. It is a habit of the mind and soul. It is a call to continuously draw nigh to God, cleanse your hands, purify your heart, and live in the spirit of James 4:8-10. Make it your habitual way of life. This is the call of God to Naomi, and to us.

Ruth 1:16-17 is one of the most beautiful and moving passages in all of Scripture, and it ought to be treasured by every child of God. In it we see the conversion of Ruth. She has been an idolater. She has been an alien and a stranger to God. Her life and values were shaped by the culture of paganism, and they were the habit of her life. But here she lays that life down and takes up a new life as a child of God. She joins the Covenant people, she moves to the Promised Land. She enthrones God as her God, and she intends to make this the habit of her life.

Thus our reading for today has brought us face to face with the major themes of the Book of Ruth. We have seen the Providence of God in His care for His people and working out His plan and purpose for this world. We have seen the Grace of God calling Naomi back to His people and Himself. We have seen Repentance, for God's call to Naomi is to return to Him and turn away from her sin. And we have seen Conversion, as Ruth has come to God and become a child of grace. All of these themes will be developed further in the coming chapters of Ruth.