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Lectionary Readings for July 2018

June 25, 2018

The Lectionary refers to these weeks as ‘Ordinary Seasons’, but we shouldn’t let that rather bland title divert us from the fact that we can use this time to enter a deeper understanding of both God’s love and God’s call in Christ.

1st July: Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wisdom of Solomon 1: 13-15, 2: 23-24, or Lamentations 3: 22-33, Psalm 30, 2 Corinthians 8: 7-15, Mark 5: 21-43

Today’s reading from Mark shows how he sometimes likes to ‘nest’ one story inside another. In this case the story of the woman in the crowd, who touches the hem of Jesus’ garment and is healed, sits in the middle of the account of the raising of Jairus’s daughter.

Both stories demonstrate not only the grace and the power of Jesus but also the courage of all the chief actors. Those who need Jesus’ help approach him in different, indeed contrasting, ways. Jairus is a public and respected figure who would be expected to retain his dignity. Despite this his despair makes him brave enough to approach Jesus in the open, falling at his feet. His need is now public knowledge. The woman, on the other hand, is private, indeed most likely ostracized. Her despair is quiet and the last thing she would dream of doing is approaching Jesus openly. Her courage is therefore all the more remarkable as she owns up to what has happened to her and what she has done. (We should note in passing that Jesus affirms and welcomes the many among us who just want to touch the hem of his garment.)

Jesus shows courage also. He takes a great risk in going to the house despite hearing the news of the girl’s death, and there he faces the ridicule of the mourners. Jairus, the unnamed woman and Jesus, who are very different from each other in so many ways, each take the risk of trusting that God is at work and discover powerful grace.

Grace is at the heart of Paul’s plea to the Corinthians in our epistle. There were probably a number of reasons for Paul to want to organize a collection for Jerusalem. He was responding to their request for help (as we find it in Galatians 2:10), he was underlining in a tangible way the deep family bonds that should now exist between Jews and Gentiles in Christ, and he may have wanted to initiate a fulfilment of Isaiah’s promise that the nations would bring their offering to Jerusalem. Whatever his motivation Paul is intent on building a community based on the grace of Christ where grace is also the defining characteristic of all that happens.

Grace and God’s gift of life itself are closely linked. Our readings from Wisdom and from Lamentations both sing of how, even when there is pressure and despair, God’s will and gift for his people is life as those who have courage, trust and patience will discover.

8th July: Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ezekiel 2: 1-5, Psalm 123, II Corinthians 12: 2-10, Mark 6: 1-13

Christian ministry, like the whole of life, has its high points and its low points. There are times when we sense great encouragement, when people come to faith or grow in faith, or when a project goes well. There are other times, when people let us down, or don’t understand, or attack us, and simply to keep going is a struggle. Today’s readings all illustrate how prophets, apostles and even Jesus himself experienced the highs and the lows.

Ezekiel, who throughout his prophecy often sought to communicate what was almost inexpressible, has the high moment of hearing God speak to him. The Spirit comes upon him and he is confirmed as God’s prophet. But he also learns that his God-given words will not always be accepted for he will be preaching to a tough congregation. Later verses speak of briers, thorns and scorpions all around him, yet he is not to fear. The Spirit of the Lord is with him.

Paul’s words in our reading from II Corinthians carry a special poignancy. There were some in Corinth who were particularly critical of him because he didn’t have the appearance of success through elegant speaking and an imposing physical presence. Paul is able to claim heavenly visions, but seems to distance himself from them so that these undoubtedly high moments don’t knock him off the course of following Jesus. Instead he speaks of his “thorn in the flesh”, and in so doing lays himself open to further ridicule from those in Corinth who would undermine him. We don’t know what this ‘thorn’ was. Quite possibly it was a physical problem of some sort. All Paul tells us is that, despite his pleading, God didn’t take it away and Paul learned a new lesson about grace.

Jesus’ visit to his own town can’t have been easy for him. Luke’s story of this incident suggests that Jesus was rejected by his own people because he challenged their nationalistic prejudices. In our set passage today Mark simply relates his frustration at their lack of openness and trust. But this doesn’t deter Jesus. Both he and his close disciples have now seen that rejection can be one of the responses to Christian ministry. Nevertheless he sends them out on mission and God’s Kingdom comes that bit closer as a result. Ezekiel, Paul and Jesus all knew that, by God’s Spirit and God’s grace, it’s possible to keep going through the high and low points.

15th July: Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Amos 7: 7-15, Psalm 85: 8-13, Ephesians 1: 3-14, Mark 6: 14-29

As Mark continues to introduce us to Jesus two questions are emerging. The first is ‘Who is this Jesus?’. In the opening verses of our reading today we begin to see some answers to this, although deeper insights still await us. The second question is ‘What does it mean to follow Jesus?’. We quickly learn from the rest of our Gospel passage that the road may not be easy.

Given that Mark, like every ancient writer, was limited in the amount of space he could use to tell his story it’s rather surprising that he goes into this much detail on the death of John the Baptist. Of course it’s a strong tale of intrigue and of Herod, the foolish powerful man, not wanting to lose face and being forced into a corner, but it also prefigures the road that Jesus will walk because he was perceived as a threat to the power and control of others.

Furthermore we can imagine that Jesus was more than a little upset by John’s fate. As well as being related to each other they were partners in ministry, as Jesus made very clear by coming to John for baptism at the outset of his travels. Perhaps this incident underlined for Jesus what his own obedience to the Father would entail. Yet he goes forward with courage.

Our reading from Amos also illustrates how God’s servants can be a threat to those in power. Amos warned the people of Israel that their comfortable but corrupt lifestyle would lead inevitably to God’s judgment, and so he was naturally unpopular, but he stood his ground. Sometimes openly, sometimes more subtly, states, presidents and governments want our unquestioning assent so that they can retain power. We can never forget that we serve another King, and belong in another Kingdom.

In our epistle we start into the letter to the Ephesians. It may be that this letter is really a circular, originally addressed to a number of churches. It sets out big principles rather than dealing with very specific issues. At any rate it starts with a majestic celebration of the King whom we serve, and expresses our rightful amazement that we are included in his good and gracious purposes.

22nd July: Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 23: 1-6, Psalm 23, Ephesians 2: 11-22, Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56

Our Gospel readings over the past two weeks have illustrated the pressures under which Jesus carried through his ministry. He was rejected in his own town, and yet sent disciples out on mission where they saw lives changed. He also knew about the death of John the Baptist, a victim to human pride, grudges and folly. It may therefore be that, in suggesting that his disciples should come with him for a rest, Jesus himself felt in sore need of refreshment. Yet the crowds continued to seek him out and, as Mark evocatively puts it, he had compassion on them for they were like sheep without a shepherd.

The image which Mark evokes can be found in our reading from Jeremiah. The people of Jerusalem and Judah were facing a deep crisis. Were they going to be over-run by their enemies? Was their temple and whole city likely to be destroyed? The voices of their leaders in government and in religion sought to reassure them that trouble would not come. Jeremiah, in stark contrast, was clear that their distance from the ways of God would bring a dreadful consequence. Thus he castigated the leaders of his people who, through their own failure, were actually taking them in the direction of destruction rather than of life. Yet his prophecy ends with the hope that God will raise up one who will lead his people to safety and right living. Jesus, at considerable cost to himself and his disciples, is such a leader.

You’ll see that we skip out a number of verses in our Gospel passage, to conclude with the account of many people coming to Jesus in their need and finding their need answered. The verses we skip over contain the account of Jesus feeding the crowds in the desert. We turn to John’s Gospel for the next few weeks to read his account of this miracle, and a much deeper reflection on what it means.

Our passage from Ephesians today is also highly significant. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, brings together the scattered flock. That includes those who have previously been separated by a dividing wall of suspicion and enmity. Jesus, the reconciler, makes us all one.

29th July: Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
2 Kings 4: 42-44, Psalm 145: 10-18, Ephesians 3: 14-21, John 6: 1-21

As noted last week we now take a break from Mark’s Gospel and turn to John chapter six. As a prelude to today’s Gospel we’re introduced to the short story in 2 Kings of how God ensured, through his prophet Elisha, that his people would have enough and to spare even though it was a time of famine. All it took was generosity from an anonymous man who brought the first fruits of his harvest and handed it over.

Likewise, in the Gospel account, an anonymous boy hands over his provisions. They are smaller than in the story of 2 Kings, and there are many more people in need. Understandably Jesus’ disciples express the same misgivings as Elisha’s servant but the people are fed and there is food left over.

As John tells us the story he suggests that Jesus’ miracle has even greater significance. Because it is near Passover time we’re reminded of God’s miracle of setting his people free through Moses, and feeding them manna in the desert. Furthermore, at Passover time the urge for freedom of the nation from Roman rule was once again stirred up, and so many people, seeing Jesus as a new saviour and law-giver like Moses, wanted to make him king. But to do so would be to misunderstand what Jesus’ kingship and salvation were all about, and so Jesus evades them.

For the disciples, despite this excitement, life is still a struggle. They end up in the dark, trying to row across the lake against a headwind and with a gathering storm. No wonder they were terrified by the sight of Jesus walking towards them. But his presence with them brings peace.

Paul’s prayer for the church in Ephesians 3 invites much more comment than can be offered here. Have a read through Charles Wesley’s hymn on this passage (Hymns and Psalms 46, Singing the Faith 436) in order to be taken a little further into its amazing richness.

The Lectionary refers to these weeks as ‘Ordinary Seasons’, but we shouldn’t let that rather bland title divert us from the fact that we can use this time to enter a deeper understanding of both God’s love and God’s call in Christ.

1st July: Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wisdom of Solomon 1: 13-15, 2: 23-24, or Lamentations 3: 22-33, Psalm 30, 2 Corinthians 8: 7-15, Mark 5: 21-43

Today’s reading from Mark shows how he sometimes likes to ‘nest’ one story inside another. In this case the story of the woman in the crowd, who touches the hem of Jesus’ garment and is healed, sits in the middle of the account of the raising of Jairus’s daughter.

Both stories demonstrate not only the grace and the power of Jesus but also the courage of all the chief actors. Those who need Jesus’ help approach him in different, indeed contrasting, ways. Jairus is a public and respected figure who would be expected to retain his dignity. Despite this his despair makes him brave enough to approach Jesus in the open, falling at his feet. His need is now public knowledge. The woman, on the other hand, is private, indeed most likely ostracized. Her despair is quiet and the last thing she would dream of doing is approaching Jesus openly. Her courage is therefore all the more remarkable as she owns up to what has happened to her and what she has done. (We should note in passing that Jesus affirms and welcomes the many among us who just want to touch the hem of his garment.)

Jesus shows courage also. He takes a great risk in going to the house despite hearing the news of the girl’s death, and there he faces the ridicule of the mourners. Jairus, the unnamed woman and Jesus, who are very different from each other in so many ways, each take the risk of trusting that God is at work and discover powerful grace.

Grace is at the heart of Paul’s plea to the Corinthians in our epistle. There were probably a number of reasons for Paul to want to organize a collection for Jerusalem. He was responding to their request for help (as we find it in Galatians 2:10), he was underlining in a tangible way the deep family bonds that should now exist between Jews and Gentiles in Christ, and he may have wanted to initiate a fulfillment of Isaiah’s promise that the nations would bring their offering to Jerusalem. Whatever his motivation Paul is intent on building a community based on the grace of Christ where grace is also the defining characteristic of all that happens.

Grace and God’s gift of life itself are closely linked. Our readings from Wisdom and from Lamentations both sing of how, even when there is pressure and despair, God’s will and gift for his people is life as those who have courage, trust and patience will discover.

8th July: Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ezekiel 2: 1-5, Psalm 123, II Corinthians 12: 2-10, Mark 6: 1-13

Christian ministry, like the whole of life, has its high points and its low points. There are times when we sense great encouragement, when people come to faith or grow in faith, or when a project goes well. There are other times, when people let us down, or don’t understand, or attack us, and simply to keep going is a struggle. Today’s readings all illustrate how prophets, apostles and even Jesus himself experienced the highs and the lows.

Ezekiel, who throughout his prophecy often sought to communicate what was almost inexpressible, has the high moment of hearing God speak to him. The Spirit comes upon him and he is confirmed as God’s prophet. But he also learns that his God-given words will not always be accepted for he will be preaching to a tough congregation. Later verses speak of briers, thorns and scorpions all around him, yet he is not to fear. The Spirit of the Lord is with him.

Paul’s words in our reading from II Corinthians carry a special poignancy. There were some in Corinth who were particularly critical of him because he didn’t have the appearance of success through elegant speaking and an imposing physical presence. Paul is able to claim heavenly visions, but seems to distance himself from them so that these undoubtedly high moments don’t knock him off the course of following Jesus. Instead he speaks of his “thorn in the flesh”, and in so doing lays himself open to further ridicule from those in Corinth who would undermine him. We don’t know what this ‘thorn’ was. Quite possibly it was a physical problem of some sort. All Paul tells us is that, despite his pleading, God didn’t take it away and Paul learned a new lesson about grace.

Jesus’ visit to his own town can’t have been easy for him. Luke’s story of this incident suggests that Jesus was rejected by his own people because he challenged their nationalistic prejudices. In our set passage today Mark simply relates his frustration at their lack of openness and trust. But this doesn’t deter Jesus. Both he and his close disciples have now seen that rejection can be one of the responses to Christian ministry. Nevertheless he sends them out on mission and God’s Kingdom comes that bit closer as a result. Ezekiel, Paul and Jesus all knew that, by God’s Spirit and God’s grace, it’s possible to keep going through the high and low points.

15th July: Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Amos 7: 7-15, Psalm 85: 8-13, Ephesians 1: 3-14, Mark 6: 14-29

As Mark continues to introduce us to Jesus two questions are emerging. The first is ‘Who is this Jesus?’. In the opening verses of our reading today we begin to see some answers to this, although deeper insights still await us. The second question is ‘What does it mean to follow Jesus?’. We quickly learn from the rest of our Gospel passage that the road may not be easy.

Given that Mark, like every ancient writer, was limited in the amount of space he could use to tell his story it’s rather surprising that he goes into this much detail on the death of John the Baptist. Of course it’s a strong tale of intrigue and of Herod, the foolish powerful man, not wanting to lose face and being forced into a corner, but it also prefigures the road that Jesus will walk because he was perceived as a threat to the power and control of others.

Furthermore we can imagine that Jesus was more than a little upset by John’s fate. As well as being related to each other they were partners in ministry, as Jesus made very clear by coming to John for baptism at the outset of his travels. Perhaps this incident underlined for Jesus what his own obedience to the Father would entail. Yet he goes forward with courage.

Our reading from Amos also illustrates how God’s servants can be a threat to those in power. Amos warned the people of Israel that their comfortable but corrupt lifestyle would lead inevitably to God’s judgment, and so he was naturally unpopular, but he stood his ground. Sometimes openly, sometimes more subtly, states, presidents and governments want our unquestioning assent so that they can retain power. We can never forget that we serve another King, and belong in another Kingdom.

In our epistle we start into the letter to the Ephesians. It may be that this letter is really a circular, originally addressed to a number of churches. It sets out big principles rather than dealing with very specific issues. At any rate it starts with a majestic celebration of the King whom we serve, and expresses our rightful amazement that we are included in his good and gracious purposes.

22nd July: Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 23: 1-6, Psalm 23, Ephesians 2: 11-22, Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56

Our Gospel readings over the past two weeks have illustrated the pressures under which Jesus carried through his ministry. He was rejected in his own town, and yet sent disciples out on mission where they saw lives changed. He also knew about the death of John the Baptist, a victim to human pride, grudges and folly. It may therefore be that, in suggesting that his disciples should come with him for a rest, Jesus himself felt in sore need of refreshment. Yet the crowds continued to seek him out and, as Mark evocatively puts it, he had compassion on them for they were like sheep without a shepherd.

The image which Mark evokes can be found in our reading from Jeremiah. The people of Jerusalem and Judah were facing a deep crisis. Were they going to be over-run by their enemies? Was their temple and whole city likely to be destroyed? The voices of their leaders in government and in religion sought to reassure them that trouble would not come. Jeremiah, in stark contrast, was clear that their distance from the ways of God would bring a dreadful consequence. Thus he castigated the leaders of his people who, through their own failure, were actually taking them in the direction of destruction rather than of life. Yet his prophecy ends with the hope that God will raise up one who will lead his people to safety and right living. Jesus, at considerable cost to himself and his disciples, is such a leader.

You’ll see that we skip out a number of verses in our Gospel passage, to conclude with the account of many people coming to Jesus in their need and finding their need answered. The verses we skip over contain the account of Jesus feeding the crowds in the desert. We turn to John’s Gospel for the next few weeks to read his account of this miracle, and a much deeper reflection on what it means.

Our passage from Ephesians today is also highly significant. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, brings together the scattered flock. That includes those who have previously been separated by a dividing wall of suspicion and enmity. Jesus, the reconciler, makes us all one.

29th July: Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
2 Kings 4: 42-44, Psalm 145: 10-18, Ephesians 3: 14-21, John 6: 1-21

As noted last week we now take a break from Mark’s Gospel and turn to John chapter six. As a prelude to today’s Gospel we’re introduced to the short story in 2 Kings of how God ensured, through his prophet Elisha, that his people would have enough and to spare even though it was a time of famine. All it took was generosity from an anonymous man who brought the first fruits of his harvest and handed it over.

Likewise, in the Gospel account, an anonymous boy hands over his provisions. They are smaller than in the story of 2 Kings, and there are many more people in need. Understandably Jesus’ disciples express the same misgivings as Elisha’s servant but the people are fed and there is food left over.

As John tells us the story he suggests that Jesus’ miracle has even greater significance. Because it is near Passover time we’re reminded of God’s miracle of setting his people free through Moses, and feeding them manna in the desert. Furthermore, at Passover time the urge for freedom of the nation from Roman rule was once again stirred up, and so many people, seeing Jesus as a new saviour and law-giver like Moses, wanted to make him king. But to do so would be to misunderstand what Jesus’ kingship and salvation were all about, and so Jesus evades them.

For the disciples, despite this excitement, life is still a struggle. They end up in the dark, trying to row across the lake against a headwind and with a gathering storm. No wonder they were terrified by the sight of Jesus walking towards them. But his presence with them brings peace.

Paul’s prayer for the church in Ephesians 3 invites much more comment than can be offered here. Have a read through Charles Wesley’s hymn on this passage (Hymns and Psalms 46, Singing the Faith 436) in order to be taken a little further into its amazing richness.

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