Engaging the Word: Readings for 11/13/16 (Proper 28)

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Isaiah 65:17-25; Canticle 9; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. This week’s readings have a sense that God’s kingdom is at hand. A new world order has already begun and we’re invited to live it now.

The Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks, c.1846. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks, c.1846. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Isaiah 65:17-25: The Book of Isaiah is a collection of prophecies that falls into three sections. Chapters 1-39 were addressed to the people of Jerusalem before the Babylonians destroyed the city, chapters 40-55 spoke to the people in exile, and chapters 56-66 contain prophesies for the Israelites who returned from exile in Babylon. Our reading this week is from the third section, which was written to encourage the people who faced the daunting task of rebuilding the temple, the city, and their faith community.

I agree with the commentary in The Life with God Bible  that our reading this week “is one of the most sweeping, eloquent, and profound in all of the Old Testament.” God promises a complete transformation: “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things will not be remembered or come to mind.” We see a glorious scene. Jerusalem will be “created as a joy, and its people as a delight.” Commentators note that chapter 21 of the Book of Revelation reaffirms the creation of a new heaven and a new earth, and a New Jerusalem. We see in both books that God’s kingdom will come into fullness through his chosen people. That’s us, and it’s our vocation to cooperate with God’s dream.

Canticle 9: We pray this canticle, The First Song of Isaiah, on Mondays after the Old Testament reading during Morning Prayer. The text is taken from Isaiah 12:2-6. The prophet celebrates the joy and praise of the people on the promised day of salvation. “Surely it is God who saves me; I will trust in him and not be afraid….Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel.”

St. Paul by Rubens. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

St. Paul by Rubens. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13: In this week’s reading, our last from 2 Thessalonians, Paul writes to address the issue of those in the Christian community who have stopped working and providing for themselves (maybe because they thought Christ was coming right away). Invoking the name of Christ, Paul warns the new Christians to “keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us.” Several commentaries point out that the translation of “idleness” is “disorderly.” Paul encourages the Thessalonians to imitate him, and support themselves. Paul makes it clear that he and his coworkers had a right to receive support, but they waived the privilege—they “worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you.” He says “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” The last sentence from our reading is a good Bible verse for us to memorize and obey: “Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.”

The Destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem by Nicolas Poussin, c. 1638. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem by Nicolas Poussin, c. 1638. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Luke 21:5-19: In this week’s reading, things are taking a darker turn. First, when some were speaking about the beauty of the temple, Jesus said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” As we know, the temple was destroyed by the Romans about 40 years later, in AD 70.

The people ask Jesus when this will happen. Jesus wanted his disciples to be ready for the difficult times to come. He warned them about false messiahs, wars and insurrections, earthquakes, famines and plagues, and signs from heaven, but said that although these things must take place, the end will not follow immediately.

But before all this happens, the disciples will be persecuted, arrested, and have charges brought against them. Jesus told them not to prepare their defense in advance, that he would give them words and wisdom. He warned them of betrayals by family and friends and death for some. We need only to read the Book of Acts to learn about the persecutions suffered by the early church. And Christians are being persecuted today in the Middle East and Asia. Yet, through all this, he encouraged and still encourages his disciples to carry on: “But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

The month of November is set apart to remember and pray for the Persecuted Church. This is an especially good time to pray daily for those who are suffering for the Christian faith, that God will protect them and grant endurance to our brothers and sisters across the ocean.

“We die only once. We might as well die for Christ.” This quotation is from Werner Groenewald, South African pastor who, along with his two children, was killed at home in Afghanistan by Taliban extremists on November 29, 2014.

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