The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (firstname.lastname@example.org) of the United Church of Canada. John has structured his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'
INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE
Ordinary 9 - Proper 4 - Year A
[NOTE: Throughout the Season after Pentecost the RCL
provides a set of alternate lessons which some
denominations prefer. A summary of these readings is
also included below.]
GENESIS 6:9-22; 7:24; 8:14-19 Recent research has raised the
intriguing possibility that behind the stories of a great flood in many
cultures lay a terrifying event. The breaking through of the Black Sea
into the Mediterranean Sea may have destroyed a living civilization on the
shores of what we now know as northern Turkey. The biblical story is told
from a Jewish religious point of view about God’s anger at human sin and
God’s promise never again to destroy all creation in one totally
PSALM 46 This psalm lifts up the twin themes of
the sovereignty of God over creation and human history. It also envisions
a place of refuge where God is exalted.
DEUTERONOMY 11:18-21, 26-28 [Alternate] The Deuteronomic formula
for faithfulness to Israel’s covenant with God finds its clearest
expression in these two excerpts. The Law Moses had received from God had
been set before the people of Israel for only one purpose: to provide them
with straightforward rules for maintaining their relationship with God.
Obeying the law would bring them divine blessing; disobedience would bring
them a divine curse.
PSALM 31:1-5, 19-24 [Alternate] This prayer states very
clearly be blessings of faithfulness. God is a refuge and a saviour even
in the most desperate circumstances. God gives joy and all necessary help
to those who trust and love God above all.
ROMANS 1:16-17; 3:22b-31 This selective reading of Paul’s most
difficult letter reveals Paul’s passion for righteous living based on
faith in Jesus Christ. It sums up his message proclaimed consistently in
all his letters: All have sinned; but God’s solution to the problem of our
sin is found in the sacrifice of Jesus. Because of this God now regards
the sinful as righteous when we believe in what God has done for us
through Christ. With this faith that our relationship with God has been
restored, we can life as God desires.
MATTHEW 7:21-29 It is probable that the short bits and
pieces of the Sermon on the Mount were spoken by Jesus at different times
and in different places. This ending to the “sermon” challenges us to live
what we believe, rather than just go through the routines of devotion.
Above all else, Jesus spurned those whose behaviour revealed their
hypocrisy because their actions did not correspond with their pious words.
At the same time, his vivid parable of the two houses, one built on rock,
the other on sand, revealed how destructive hypocritical living can be for
those who choose that way. Even a child can understand this.
A MORE COMPLETE ANALYSIS
GENESIS 6:9-22; 7:24; 8:14-19 Since the story of Noah’s Flood was last
in the cycle of RCL lessons, a dramatic new theory has been proposed and
promising archeological research has begun to confirm the evidence behind
the theory. The following review from the National Geographic Magazine
website briefly outlines what this research has discovered.
Two American geologists William Ryan and Walter Pitman theorize that the
origin of the many legends in widely separated cultures lay in the melting
of Ice Age from several thousands of years ago. During the Ice Age, the
Black Sea was an isolated freshwater lake surrounded by farmland. About
12,000 years ago, toward the end of the Ice Age, as Earth began growing
warmer, glaciers in the Northern Hemisphere began to melt. Oceans and
seas grew deeper as a result. About 7,000 years ago the Mediterranean Sea
seawater pushed northward, slicing through what is now Turkey. Funneled
through the narrow Bosporus Straight, the water flooded into the Black Sea
with 200 times the force of Niagara Falls. The Black Sea rose, flooding
coastal farm land. Seared into the memories of terrified survivors, the
tale of the flood was passed down through the generations and eventually
became in Hebrew scripture, among numerous similar legends from other
cultures, the Noah story of Genesis 6-9.
Subsequent underwater research by Robert Ballard has turned up evidence of
an ancient shoreline of the Black Sea, some interesting artifacts and the
remains of human habitation that pre-date anything previously discovered.
Radiocarbon dating of shells from freshwater and saltwater mollusk species
also support the theory of a freshwater lake inundated by the Black Sea
some 7,000 years ago. [© 1999 National Geographic Society.]
The scant evidence and a hypothetical theory do not yet warrant conclusive
scientific proof. But all legends are based some often undecipherable
human experience as well as vivid poetic imagination. This source of the
flood story does seem at least plausible and warrant further
The story as we now have in Genesis 6-9 is told from a theological point
of view. Israel’s experience of Yahweh as a God of justice demanded an
explanation of how Yahweh regards the sinfulness of humanity. The flood
story, Noah’s salvation through obedience to divine command, and Yahweh’s
subsequent covenant with Noah and his descendants is without question a
legend woven into Israel’s faith-history from the prehistoric period of
the ancient Middle East. OT scholars find the actual text to be a
conflation of three different documents – the Yahwist from the 10th century
BCE, the Priestly, from the 6th century BCE and a later recension of the
Priestly document. The Gilgamesh Epic of Babylonian culture lay behind
the Israelite versions of the story.
Undoubtedly the experience of Israel’s exile in Babylon figured largely in
the development of the story as it now stands. The final Priestly
recension presents us with the essential truth learned during the
suffering of exile: God created the world for goodness, yet evil is
rampant wherever humans interact with each other and with God. Human
wickedness, revolting against the divine purpose in creation brings
retribution. Our generation of the human race may still read this lesson
with meaningful interpretation and apply it to our own experience in our
PSALM 46 This psalm lifts up twin themes always prevalent in Hebrew
thought and especially in the Psalter: the sovereignty of Yahweh over
creation and over human history. It also envisions the temple as a place
of refuge where Yahweh is exalted. Few psalms combine these themes of the
power and presence of Yahweh as does this one.
Because of it repeated refrain voicing reassurance of the divine presence
in the most troubling times, some scholars believe it may have arisen out
of some unidentifiable historical event. Subsequently it may have been
adapted for liturgical use in some great festival like that celebrating
the New Year when the main emphasis was placed on divine sovereignty.
Another noteworthy emphasis of the psalm should not be overlooked – that
of the prophetic spirit and the vision of the later prophets of a warless
world under Yahweh’s dominion. This would seem to place the origin of the
psalm in the late post-exilic period.
The two references to nature, one evil and one good – an earthquake and
“the river whose streams make glad the city of God” – may have only
symbolic meaning. Earthquakes are relatively common in the Holy Land.
There are records of at least seventeen major earthquakes during the past
two thousand years. In earlier times without any knowledge of the
geological structures and volcanic activity, it was inevitable that such
events would be attributed to the deity. They were to be interpreted
theologically as one of many divine means of revelation. In this
instance, volcanic tremors so severe that mountains shook and seas roiled
and foamed, could only point to a specially significant revelation. Fear
being the natural human reaction to a severe earthquake, the psalmist
instinctively saw the event as a sign of Yahweh’s protective presence.
The river watering the Holy City may have referred to an active spring
such as or even a stream flowing down the Kidron Valley. From ancient
times in a land where water is a very scarce resource, flowing water was
thought to be a divine gift and the habitation of spirits. A flowing
spring would have been particularly important during one of the many
sieges Jerusalem endured. One of the gates of Jerusalem restored by
Nehemiah was known as the Fountain Gate (Neh. 2:14; 3:15; 12:37 cf. 2
Kings 25:4; Jer. 39:4; 52:7) One can easily imagine a water source of such
significance being celebrated by a psalmist-poet of that era.
DEUTERONOMY 11:18-21, 26-28 [Alternate] The Deuteronomic formula for
faithfulness to Israel’s covenant with God finds its clearest expression
in these two excerpts. The Law Moses had received from God had been set
before the people of Israel for only one purpose: to provide them with
straightforward choices for maintaining their relationship with God.
Obeying the law would bring them divine blessing; disobedience would bring
them a divine curse.
Also imbedded in the first of these passages we find instructions for
Jewish parents to guide their children in keeping the faith and in
publicly witnessing to their faith with specific symbols. These
instructions had considerable significance for Jewish parents because most
religious education took place in the home until very recent times.
In our time, only the most orthodox Jews follow explicitly all the
directions for the symbols of their faith detailed here. Mezuzahs can
still be seen on the doorposts of some Jewish homes. These are small
containers of parchment with religious texts written on them. Also, when
some orthodox Jews prepare to pray, one sees them attach phylacteries or
small cubicle boxes to their foreheads just below the hairline which also
contain parchments bearing sacred texts. The wearing of a yarmulka or
kuppa to cover the head, more commonly seen in public today, developed
only in Talmudic Judaism of the 2nd to 6th centuries CE. It represents the
recognition that God is above us, acceptance of the 613 mitzvot
(commandments), and identification with the Jewish people. Wearing a
cross as a piece of jewelry represents similar demonstration of faith for
PSALM 31:1-5, 19-24 [Alternate] This prayer states very clearly be
blessings of faithfulness. God is a refuge and a saviour even in the most
desperate circumstances. God gives joy and all necessary help to those
who trust and love God above all.
As it stands now the psalm has a very complex structure. It may have been
meant to serve as a set of prayers for a troubled soul pouring out his/her
complaint to God (vss. 1-8; 9-12; 13-18) which later became a series of
three laments for congregational use. Typically, the laments end with
thanksgiving to God for God’s gracious response. In this excerpt we have
only part of the first lament and the concluding thanksgiving. The
psalmists use of material drawn from other psalms suggests a late post-
The first segment of the reading pleads for help in some unstated and
still impending trouble. The psalmist bases his petition on his trust is
God’s protection. The prayer must have been so widely used in Jewish
liturgies that vs. 5 became one of the “seven words from the cross”, first
quoted in Luke 23:36 and much celebrated in Stainer’s oratorio
*Crucifixion* and other similar musical works of the 19th century. The
concluding hymn of thanksgiving conveys a convincing witness to
faithfulness under duress.
ROMANS 1:16-17; 3:22b-31 At first, one may wonder why the two excerpts
have been pieced together in the one reading. A second look helps one
realize that the theme of both selections is one and the same: the linkage
between faith and righteousness. This selective reading of Paul’s most
difficult letter reveals Paul’s passion for righteous living based
entirely on one’s relationship with God through Jesus Christ. After
Jesus’ death and resurrection, this relationship can only exist through
faith. The two selections sum up Paul’s message consistently proclaimed
in all his letters: All have sinned and have isolated ourselves from God.
But God’s solution to the problem is found in the sacrifice of Jesus.
Because of this God now regards the sinful as righteous when we believe in
what God has done for us through Christ. With this faith that our
relationship with God has been restored, we can life as God desires.
When Paul thought of atonement through the sacrifice of Jesus’ blood, he
had in mind the whole Jewish liturgy for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
The liturgy provided for the shedding of the blood of innocent animal
victims, one whose blood was sprinkled symbolically on both the altar and
on the people and one driven away into the wilderness bearing the sins of
the people away. (See Leviticus 16 for the details.) This annual
celebration provided Jews with an awareness of God’s forgiveness and a
renewed consciousness of their worthiness to regard themselves as the
covenant people having a special relationship with God. By this liturgy
their special relationship had once more been established with the God who
had faithfully preserved them and God’s chosen people through the ages.
Since their God could only be regarded as holy, their covenanted
relationship with God restored them as God’s holy people.
One of Paul’s great insights into the nature of this holy relationship was
that this special status depended not on the performance of rituals or the
faithful performance of numerous laws. Rather it depended on the faith
that God has acted in Jesus’ vicarious sacrifice to restore all those who
believed in him.
Another important aspect of Paul’s complex view of atonement posited the
astonishing possibility that the sacrifice of Christ was not for Jews
alone. The atonement liturgy of the Jews like himself had been
exclusively for Jews by birth and circumcision and those others who had
chosen to become Jews through the symbolic covenanting act of male
circumcision. Now however, the atoning sacrifice of Christ had made it
possible for all people, Jews and Gentiles alike, to be forgiven of their
sins and restored once and for all time to the same special holy
relationship with God that Jews believed they enjoyed.
This, then, is the significance of Paul’s claim in these two selections
that not only have all sinned, but that all have also been restored to a
right relationship with God. He reiterates again and again that all have
been justified only because God did it through the vicarious sacrifice of
Jesus on the cross.
MATTHEW 7:21-29 It is probable that the short bits and pieces of the
Sermon on the Mount were spoken by Jesus at different times and in
different places. This ending to the “sermon” challenges us to live what
we believe, rather than just go through the routines of devotion. Above
all else, Jesus spurned those whose behaviour revealed their hypocrisy
because their actions did not correspond with their pious words. At the
same time, the vivid parable of the two houses, one built on rock, the
other on sand, revealed how destructive hypocritical living can be for
those who choose that way. Even a child can understand this.
One frequently repeated phrase in the Hebrew scriptures is “to call on the
name of the Lord.” To use this phrase meant to invoke the saving help of
God in desperate situations. Yet it was more than just a cry for help.
It expressed a trust in the revealed nature and character of God. God may
be invisible and transcendent, but God is also immanent and ever-present.
God acts in every situation where faith exists and God is trusted to
achieve God’s will and purpose through all our very human actions.
The nature of religious experience leads to the conclusion that everyone
who believes wants to be in God’s presence, “to enter the kingdom of
heaven.” But not every religious person wants God to do God’s will in
every circumstance, especially when we must make sacrifices or face
personal loss. It is just such situations that may well lie behind these
contrasting quotations from the Sermon on the Mount. In the first
excerpt, the words attributed to Jesus were directed to those who desire a
perfect relationship with God but lack a complete trust in and obedience
to God’s holy will.
The second excerpt states unequivocally that what we do matters more than
what we say. The key words are not “hear these words,” but “acts on them.”
The authority of Jesus rested on the authenticity of his actions, not
merely the words he uttered.
In 1986, I was privileged as a Commissioner to The General Council of The
United Church of Canada to participate in expressing a sincere apology to
the Native People of Canada for depriving them of their lands, languages,
cultures and religious traditions over the past several centuries. The
apology was spoken by our Moderator, Rt. Rev. Robert Smith, during an
impressive late night ceremony around a sacred native campfire on the
grounds of Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario. This was the first
time that any Canadian institution has taken such a step.
The next morning, elders of the Native Peoples from across Canada dressed
in full native regalia came to the General Council assembled in an
official session to give their reply. In a very few words, the speaker of
the Native Peoples told more than 400 Commissioners representing the whole
church, “We accept your apology. Now what are you going to do about it?”
For the past seventeen years, we have been struggling at great cost to
respond to that challenge as we have delved deeper and deeper into our
past relationships with Native People and have seen what our blind
prejudices, aggression and brutal abuse has done to them. The end of the
story has not yet been told nor the total cost calculated. What we have
learned from this experience is the same as the lesson of this passage
from Matthew’s Gospel: “Behaviour matters.”
copyright - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006
please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.