Sermons  SSLR  Illustrations  Lenten Resources  News  Devos  Newsletter  Clergy.net  Churchmail  Children  Bulletins  Search


kirshalom.gif united-on.gif

Sermon & Lectionary Resources           Year A   Year B   Year C   Occasional   Seasonal


Join our FREE Illustrations Newsletter: Privacy Policy
Introduction To The Scripture For The Third Sunday in Lent - Year C
Isaiah 55:1-9; Psalm 63:1-8; I Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) 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	
The Third Sunday In Lent - Year C
     

ISAIAH 55:1-9            Gracious, merciful acceptance by God for all who
seek such a relationship stands out as the theme of these magnificently
poetic lines.  But God does not ignore human sin.  God seeks human
repentance, a meaningful change in one's behaviour for this relationship to
be effective. This is necessary, the prophet emphasizes, because of the
distinction between our human ways and God's ways. 


PSALM 63:1-8             The longing of the human heart for a relationship
with God gives this psalm an intense feeling personal devotion.  It
expresses an abiding trust and confidence in God fully dependent on God's
constant love and protection.

1 CORINTHIANS 10:1-13    Paul draws on the story of the Israelites in the
wilderness breaking their covenant with God to challenge the Corinthians to
live differently than the morally and spiritually corrupt society in which
they lived.  The great benefit of the Christian life, he states in vs.13,
is not that they will be tested by their circumstances, but that God will
not let them be tested beyond their strength to endure.


LUKE 13:1-9              The Roman governor, Pontius Pilate who later
condemned Jesus to death, had murdered a group of worshippers as they
offered sacrifices in the temple.  Another group had been killed by a
falling tower.  As Messiah, Jesus used these incidents to call his fellow
Jews to repent and believe in him.  The parable of the fig tree confronted
them with the prospect that there could be a limit to God's forbearance.

**********

ISAIAH 55:1-9   If one wishes to know where Paul obtained his basic
theological conception of the grace of God brought to its fullest
expression in Jesus of Nazareth, one need look no further than this poem.
Scholars generally agree that here Deutero-Isaiah's superb prophecies (chs.
40-55) come to a natural close.  All the themes identified in the opening
poem in 40:1-11 as well as the major emphases of all subsequent oracles
echo through this composition. 

Here is the consolation of Israel: forgiveness for individuals and
community, Israel's mission of reconciliation through suffering, a vision
of universal salvation, a new exodus in the return of the exiles, the
redemption of creation - all accomplished because Israel's God Yahweh wills
it so and will make it possible.  Yahweh's covenant promise is the vehicle
through which this will be done.

Gracious, merciful acceptance by Yahweh for all who seek such a covenant
relationship stands out in these magnificent lines.  But Yahweh does not
ignore human sin.  Yahweh seeks sincere human repentance, a meaningful
change in human behavior, for this relationship to be effective.  This is
necessary, the prophet emphasizes, because of the distinction between our
human ways and Yahweh's ways. 
                                    
Of special note is the emphasis placed upon listening intently for the word
of Yahweh.  Throughout the OT and particularly in the prophets, "the word
of the Lord" is the medium of revelation.  In vss.2-3 Yahweh bids Israel
listen so that they may live.  By this means Yahweh made known Yahweh's
will and purpose, especially for Israel as the chosen people.  The content
of the revelation Yahweh desires Israel to hear is the everlasting
covenant.  Beyond the mere hearing of the word, however, is the reason for
the revelation and the covenant.  Israel is to be a witness to the peoples
of all nations.  Despite many transgressions and failures to be what they
had been called to be, Yahweh had not given up on them.  Yahweh's purpose
would be accomplished even as the rain and snow make the soil fertile for a
productive harvest (vs.10-11) and the renewal of all creation (vs. 12-13).

For the authors of the NT and for Christians ever since, Jesus is the word
come from God. (John 1:1-18; Hebrews 1:1-4)  As one Roman Catholic
commentator on this passage said, "He did not return to God void but
achieved the end for which he was sent: to give expression to God's
infinite love and compassion, to enter into our humanity, to show us how to
live, to bring hope and salvation to all who walk in darkness."

What God intended for Israel, to be a witness to all peoples, God is now
accomplishing through us still.  "Each of us is a word of God, spoken only
once at our creation, to give continuing expression to God's love and
compassion. What a blessing!  What a challenge!  We must achieve the end
for which we were sent.  We will not return to God void.  Yet with his
word, Jesus, God has given us all that we need to achieve the end for which
we were sent --- if we but ask." ( From Maxine Shock, OP, *Lenten Seeds*
Heartland Center For Spirituality.)


PSALM 63:1-8   The longing of the human heart for a relationship with
Yahweh gives this psalm an intense feeling  personal devotion.  It
expresses an abiding trust and confidence in Yahweh fully dependent on
Yahweh's constant love and protection.  Even as it now stands in our
English versions, it has been highly valued by countless generations. 

Yet there are problems occasioned by a possible confusion in the order of
the verses as they now stand.  Scholarly examination of the original text
suggests that vv.6-8 should follow vv.1-2.  This transposition creates a
typical lament.  Distressed by hostile enemies, the devout soul seeks
Yahweh's presence in the sanctuary.  There finding the spiritual resources
for courage and confidence in Yahweh, the psalmist makes a vow to sing
praises to God all his life.  Initial despair leads to devotion which
enriches faith and ends in praise.

While not included in this reading, vss.9-11 seem to have little to do with
the rest of the psalm and could have been added by another hand.  Yet there
is some reason to believe that the outburst of vindictiveness expressed in
vs.10 reflects the intensity of the psalmist's spiritual struggle. 

It may be helpful to read a modern paraphrase of the psalm like that by Jim
Taylor in his *Everyday Psalms.* (Wood Lake Books, 1994). Jim entitles his
paraphrase with the title "Holy Presence" and a question and answer: "Why
do we need downtown churches?  Because a few people still come there to
seek sanctuary."  He then gives a moving testimony of someone seeking
respite from the meaningless scurry of the contemporary rat race. In his
*Psalms/Now,* Leslie F. Brandt depicts a thirsty child reaching for a drink
as a metaphor of this psalmist reaching for and finding God. 


1 CORINTHIANS 10:1-13   It is possible that Paul was a much younger
contemporary of Jesus, but did not meet him until his unique resurrection
appearance to Paul on the Damascus Road.  As a well-educated Pharisee of
the Hellenistic Diaspora rather than a peasant Galilean, Paul may well have
read the Hebrew scriptures in Greek and interpreted them within the context
of his own generation and culture.  Because Paul died before the
destruction of the temple ending the first Jewish Revolt of 66-70 CE, it
would be interesting to speculate how Paul might have dealt with that event
and the subsequent triumph of the Pharisees in Judaism.  We may well have
one such reaction by a Christian leader in the unknown author of the Letter
to the Hebrews.

One of the characteristics of early Christian preaching and teaching,
including that of Paul, was to use OT passages not merely as illustrations,
but as the very basis for their instruction in the new faith tradition and
the Christian way of life.  In this passage Paul drew on the story of the
Israelites in the wilderness breaking their covenant with God to challenge
the Corinthians to live differently than the morally and spiritually
corrupt society in which they lived.  But Paul was both honouring and
condemning his ancestral traditions as he wrote to a predominantly Gentile
Christian audience.  He also likened the events of the Exodus led by Moses
to the Christians' experience of baptism and the eucharist.  In vss.3-4 he
even identified the manna and the rock which Moses struck to obtain water
with the spiritual food and drink of the sacraments. 

But what was Paul really saying to his Corinthian friends?  That receiving
the Christian sacraments will not save them as the Exodus and the
wilderness experience in themselves did not save the Israelites?  The words
"as some of them did" sound like a drumbeat through this passage.  Because
of the Israelites' idolatry, he claimed, most of those who fled Egypt died
in the wilderness long before the remnant straggled into the Promised Land.
Their wandering away  from the way mandated by Yahweh, they met their doom. 
Adherence to ritual is no guarantee of being in right relationship with
God. 

Or was Paul confronting some other issue in Corinth?  As a devout and
learned Jew, Paul knew full well the traditional link between idolatry and
sexual immorality which so frequently enticed his ancestors in the
wilderness.  Witness the brutal treatment of those who married Moabites and
adopted the fertility god Baal of Peor described in Numbers 25:1-9.  Paul
sternly warned the Corinthians that their sexual behavior could well have
the same result, if for no other reason than that it is a common human
failing (vss.7-8,11-12).  The seaport city of Corinth was notorious for
sexual promiscuity and licentious living.  The Corinthians had something to
learn from the experience of the Israelites.

At the same time, Paul did not leave them without a word of encouragement.
The great benefit of the Christian life, he stated in vs. 13, is not that
they will be tested by their circumstances, but that God will not let them
be tested beyond their strength to endure.  Here, as always in Paul's
declaration of the Christian way, the grace of God was operative, not
simply human moral effort.  One has to wonder if Paul would preach or write
in a similar vein to our North American culture.


LUKE 13:1-9   Luke gives us a glimpse of the violent and hostile world in
which Jesus lived.  Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who later condemned
Jesus to death, had murdered a group of worshipers as they slaughtered
their sacrifices for the temple.  Strangely, there is no other ancient
record of this atrocity.  Another group had been killed by a falling tower,
part of Jerusalem's fortifications near the important water source, the
pool of Siloam and its reservoir.  Such tragedies would naturally produce
great fear among common people.  In the simplistic conventions of the
times, these incidents would have been used by religious leaders to warn
the general populace that such events resulted from sin on the part of the
victims. 

Jesus explicitly refuted this simplistic traditional belief.  Calamity can
happen to anyone, sinner or righteous alike.  As Messiah, Jesus used these
incidents to call his fellow Jews to repent and believe in him.  He foresaw
disaster ahead for his people.  Their only hope was to accept him for who
he was and fulfill their historic mission of making God known to the world.
In saying this, he clearly challenged the traditional view that the Jews
held of their election as God's covenant people.  All Jews regarded this
divine favor with great pride.  They looked for a Messiah who would rout
their oppressors and establish Israel's worldly dominance.  As the true
Messiah come from God, Jesus had a quite different mission.  The parable of
the fig tree confronted them with a last chance to recognize him and to
respond to God's mercy, or find that there is a limit to God's forbearance.

What seems puzzling is why Luke inserted these teachings at this point in
his narrative written for a Gentile audience.  There is every likelihood
that Luke was reporting an oral tradition of words Jesus' actually spoke.
The parable of the fig tree has the sense of Jesus' Galilean origins and
his preference for little rural vignettes like this.  Or could Luke be
interpreting for his audience 50 years later certain historical events of
which they already knew well?

Pilate was recalled from his post in 36 CE after a similarly murderous act
against Samaritans.  The fall of Jerusalem to Titus in 70 CE would still
have been fresh in everyone's mind when Luke wrote about 75-85 CE.  As Paul
did in his letter to the Corinthians, could Luke have been calling his
audience to repentance and pleading with them to change their ways lest a
similar fate befall them?  To reject Jesus' way was to put themselves in
the same danger as the many victims of Roman oppression so extremely
exemplified in the sacking of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple.  It
was unnecessary for Luke to remind his audience that Jesus himself was a
victim of Roman injustice.

In a fascinating little book drawn from a series of BBC radio broadcasts in
1946, historian Herbert Butterfield, of Cambridge University, made a case
for his conviction that God allows humanity the freedom to commit enormous
sins such as the two world wars and holocausts of the early 20th century.
Yet there is a sense, he claimed, that these great atrocities are also the
very acts by means of which Providence resets the course of history.  One
can certainly read the OT stories of the Exodus and the Exile in Babylon in
this light.  The life, death and resurrection of Jesus can also be
accounted for in this manner.  Indeed, it was Butterfield's faith as a
liberal Christian which motivated his study of the modern era as
"providential."  From this approach, he drew the conclusion that the
purpose of history is, from the personal point of view at least, to engage
in doing what is right and good following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. 
He ended his broadcasts with these words:

     "The hardest strokes of heaven fall in history upon those who
     imagine that they can control things in a sovereign manner, as
     though they were kings of the earth, playing Providence not only
     for themselves but for the far future....  And it is a defect in
     such enthusiasts that they seem unwilling to leave everything to
     Providence, unwilling even to leave the future flexible, as one
     must do....  It is agreeable to all the processes of history,
     therefore, that each of us should rather do the good that is
     straight under our noses.  Those people work most wisely who seek
     to achieve good in their own small corner of the world and then
     leave the leaven to leaven the lump, than those who are forever
     thinking that life is vain unless one can act through the central
     government, carry legislation, achieve political power and do big
     things....

     "We can do worse than remember a principle which both gives us a
     firm Rock and leaves us the maximum elasticity for our minds: the
     principle: Hold to Christ, and for the rest be totally
     uncommitted."

Today, we live in a similarly violent time when our providential God may
once again be intervening to reset the course of world history.  We have
the same opportunity to respond to God and change our ways.  Will we heed
the warning or ignore it to our sorrow?  Is the basic issue of our time
also a matter of how far we may test God's forbearance?
 
                         
copyright  - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006, 2004
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.



Further information on this ministry and the history of "Sermons & Sermon - Lectionary Resources" can be found at our Site FAQ.  This site is now associated with christianglobe.com

Spirit Networks
1045 King Crescent
Golden, British Columbia
V0A 1H2

SCRIPTURAL INDEX

sslr-sm