Monday, June 26, 2023

July 2, 2023 -- 5th Sunday after Pentecost

                                                       Biblical Words                                                    [834] 

Genesis 22:1-14Psalm 13Romans 6:12-23Matthew 10:40-42.
The life of faith leads to sacrifices – sometimes beyond belief, but finally as God provides. 

Genesis 22:1-14.  

The Torah reading is the famous, or infamous, narrative of the sacrifice of Isaac. 
The opening phrase, “after these things,” marks a new beginning in the Abraham cycle.  This phrase last occurred at Genesis 15:1, where it introduced the topic of getting Abraham a son of his own.  That topic was completed in its fully developed form in Genesis 21, where Isaac was born to Abraham from Sarah and the other son, Ishmael, had been sent away.  The promise of the heir was fulfilled! 
Now, the whole heir-promise is jeopardized by a command from God (it is “God,” not Yahweh, until verse 11).  This divine command is to sacrifice the heir – to bind him, cut his throat, bleed him, and burn his body on a mountain-top altar.  The specialness of the son is emphasized.  “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…” (verse 2, NRSV).  
The story then draws out the details of Abraham’s actions, to build suspense.  He “rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him… he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him” (verse 3).  Abraham speaks to others as if they are simply carrying out a standard act of worship to God (verse 5). 
Isaac is a dutiful son, carrying the wood on his back while Abraham carries the fire and the knife.  The son asks innocently where the sacrificial animal is, which they will need to complete the worship.  Abraham says that God will provide the lamb.  After they get there, build the altar, and arrange the wood, it becomes obvious to Isaac how God is providing the lamb.  It is he himself who gets “bound” with ropes (the traditional Jewish name of this passage is “the binding,” the ‘aqedah) and placed on top of the pile of wood.  As Abraham is about to cut his throat, the messenger of the Lord (Yahweh, not God) intervenes.  
What the messenger says shows that all this has been a test of Abraham’s faith.  “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (verse 12). 
This is a powerful story, told remarkably well.  However, it is an ancient story, not a modern one.  The story is so well told that it constantly seduces the modern reader into projecting Abraham’s or Isaac’s thoughts during the action – though the story itself, in the usual style of Hebrew narratives, keeps us strictly out of the heads of the characters.  
The story, nevertheless, has been modernized, psychologized, theologized, and apologized in a myriad ways, almost always to its loss as an ancient story.  
Its one sheer, stark point, however, is the threat of the loss of all meaning to one’s earthly pilgrimage.  What would it be like to lose all that you have held worthwhile?  Or at least the key to the future on which you have staked your whole life work?  And not only to lose it, but to destroy it with your own hand – because God asked for it.  
That is the horror.  That is the despair.  That is the ultimate temptation to apostasy – better no God than a God like this!  
This text stands as an awesome model of Jesus’ saying, as given in the peroration of his Mission speech:  “whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37).  
To the great perplexity of the ages, Abraham proved worthy of the God who gave the one beloved heir.  

Psalm 13.  

Hebrew narrators do not take us inside peoples' minds.  Psalmists, however, have no hesitation about showing us peoples' most intense feelings! 
Reading this psalm after hearing the story of the sacrifice of Isaac invites us to hear two praying voices, those of Abraham and of Isaac.  
First Abraham, his interior dialogue despairing at what is about to become an empty and abandoned life.  
How long, O Lord?  Will you forget me forever? 
      How long will you hide your face from me?  
How long must I bear pain in my soul, 
      And have sorrow in my heart all day long?  (Verses 1-2, NRSV) 

And Isaac’s voice as he awaits his fate.  

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God! 
      Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, 
and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”; 
      my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.  (Verses 3-4.) 

The final word of the psalm, however, is Abraham’s, after the release, after the “unbinding” of Isaac.  
But I trusted in your steadfast love; 
      my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.  
I will sing to the Lord, 
      because he has dealt bountifully with me.  (Verses 5-6) 

Romans 6:12-23.  

The reading from the Epistle follows the profound passage about dying and rising with Christ:  “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (6:4, NRSV).  
Today’s reading, accordingly, presents the life of the new believer as dead to the bondage of past sin and now living as the creature of God, a creature belonging wholly to righteousness.  The life of dying and rising with Christ is a life of becoming a living sacrifice.  
“For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification” (verse 19).  As in the past you presented your bodies to evil things for evil, so now present your bodies as sacrifices of righteousness.  The verb “presented” is the one also used in Romans 12:1, “I appeal to you… to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”  
The life of the one raised to “newness of life” (6:4) is one of living as a continuing offering of righteousness in whatever places the Spirit leads one.  This is the new life opened up by the new sacrifice, greater even than the sacrifice of Isaac, the sacrifice of Christ, “who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25).  

Matthew 10:40-42.  

The Gospel reading is the very last word of Jesus’ Mission speech, the discourse in which the disciples of Jesus were sent out as apostles to Israel, and in time to all the nations (chapter 10).  
This conclusion is a warrant from Jesus that the work of the apostles is the work of Jesus, and of the One who sent Jesus.  As the disciples go through the towns and homes of the people, they are in fact the coming of God to test those who wait for righteousness.  “Whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of [that is, simply as] a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous” (verse 41, NRSV).  
This entire discourse about the mission among the needy, among the hospitable and the persecutors, among those who war among themselves – all this enterprise concludes with a soft and gentle touch that is remarkable:  “whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of [simply as] a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward” (verse 42).  
What a quiet note on which to end!  After vast challenges, trials, and sufferings anticipated for the faithful workers, a cool drink at the end of the day from a kindly stranger – the work of the gospel includes that also!  

Monday, June 19, 2023

June 25, 2023 -- 4th Sunday after Pentecost

                                                            Biblical Words                                                      [833]

Genesis 21:8-21Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17Romans 6:1b-11Matthew 10:24-39. 
Great separations come about, for petty or profound reasons.  Yet God goes with the separated.  
The theme uniting the readings for this Sunday is separation.  There are separations between tribal clans (Ishmael and Isaac) and faith traditions (Judaism and Islam), separation from the former self now dead (Romans 6), and separation of lesser things from the one supreme value (conflict within families). 

Genesis 21:8-21.  

The Torah reading is the separation of Ishmael, Abraham’s first son, from Isaac, the later and more favored son.  The thrust of the passage is that Ishmael, too, will have a blessing and will be the father of a mighty people.  Abraham’s sons do not go without God’s blessing. 
The destiny of nations may be worked out through petty human motivations.  In our story it is Sarah’s jealousy and envy of the slave woman’s son that leads to the separation and the need for a special blessing from God for Ishmael.  Sarah sees the boys playing together and she wants none of this mixing.  “So she said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.’” (Verse 10, NRSV.)  
Abraham is upset by this, but he receives assurance from God that this separation is OK, because the first son too will have his destiny.  Abraham goes to Hagar, Ishmael’s mother, loads her with supplies and sends her out into the wilderness.  
The rest of the story is hers.  (The basic Hagar-in-the-wilderness story is used twice in Genesis, in chapter 16 as well as here.  The story in both places assumes that Ishmael is a small child, not a young adolescent male as the chronology of chapters 17 to 21 makes him.)  When the water is exhausted, she despairs, casts the boy under a bush and waits desperately for the end.  God hears the crying of the child and intervenes to show Hagar where there is water.  He assures her that the boy will be saved because “I will make a great nation of him” (verse 18). 
Ishmael is the father of the Arabic peoples, and when they become a great people they will receive the prophet Muhammad and become muslims (those who submit [to the only God]). 
This story of the separation of Ishmael and Isaac is the ancestral link between Judaism and Islam.  In the Qur’an Abraham and Ishmael rehabilitate the holy place in Mecca and anticipate Islam as the service of the true God.  
We [Allah] enjoined Abraham and Isma’il [saying]:  “Purify My House for those who circle it, for those who retreat there for meditation, and for those who kneel and prostrate themselves.”  And [remember] when Abraham said:  “My Lord, make this a secure city and feed with fruits those of its inhabitants who believe in Allah and the Last Day.” (Qur’an, 2:125-126, trans. Majid Fakhry, An Interpretation of the Qur’anNew York University Press, 2002, p. 23.) 
And while Abraham and Isma‘il raised the foundations of the House, [they prayed]:  “Our Lord, accept [this] from us.  Surely You are the All-Hearing, the Omniscient.  Our Lord, cause us to submit to You [i.e., become muslims], and make of our posterity a nation that submits to You.  Show us our sacred rites, and pardon us.  You are, indeed, the Pardoner, the Merciful.  Our Lord, send them a Messenger from among themselves who will recite to them Your Revelations, to teach them the Book and the wisdom, and to purify them.  You are truly the Mighty, the Wise.”  (Qur’an, 2:127-129, ibid., p. 24.)  

Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17.  

The Psalm reading invites us to hear the cry of the boy Ishmael as he is on the verge of death in the desert. 
Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, 
      for I am poor and needy.  
Preserve my life, for I am devoted to you; 
      save your servant who trusts in you. …
Turn to me and be gracious to me; 
      give your strength to your servant; 
      save the child of your serving girl.  (verses 1-2, 16, NRSV
There is even a hint of the themes that will dominate Islam.  
There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, 
      nor are there any works like yours.  
All the nations you have made shall come 
      and bow down before you, O Lord, 
      and shall glorify your name.  
For you are great and do wondrous things; 
      you alone are God.  (verses 8-10, NRSV
The brothers Ishmael and Isaac may be separated, but they have a common voice in the prayer of the needy before God.  

Romans 6:1b-11.  

The reading from the letter of Paul to the Romans is about the believer’s death to the old life of sin.  
There is a separation from the old that is complete.  In this teaching the Christian ritual of baptism re-enacts the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The old self dies as one submerges below the water.  The person who emerges from the water rises “to walk in newness of life” (verse 4, NRSV). 
What one is separated from in this passage is Sin.  Here, especially, Sin represents a cosmic power that binds and enslaves a person beyond all capacity to master it – until its power is broken by an intervention from the outside.  
The power of Sin here is like that of addiction, as many recovering people have come to know addictive bondage in their lives.  Some have come to hear this passage in such terms as these, substituting their addiction for the word “sin.”  
We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of our addiction might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to our addiction.  For whoever has died is freed from the addiction.  But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.  We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death [from the addiction] no longer has dominion over him.  The death he died, he died to the addiction, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.  So you also must consider yourselves dead to the addiction and alive to God in Christ Jesus.  (Verses 6-11, NRSV adapted.)  

Matthew 10:24-39.  

The Gospel reading is most of the later part of Jesus’ discourse on the sending out of the disciples.  The disciples are to take the good news and the good works of God to the needy folks of Israel – and later, as understood by the end of the Gospel, to all the nations.  This section of the discourse emphasizes the costs of discipleship, the separation of the disciple from the conventional values of the society.  
(This passage has close parallels in Luke.  See my essay on Luke 12, the section entitled “Seven Sayings in Twelve Verses.”  Use the Blog Archive for 2019, November.) 
The first point is what to fear and not fear.  Do not fear the persecutors (described in the previous passage, verses 16-25), because they can only imprison you, beat you up, and take your life.  Fear the one who can not only kill your body but cast your soul into hell -- destroying your inner integrity and the eternal value of your life (verses 26-31).  
The second point is the eternal value of what you stand for.  Who (or what) you proclaim and confess in the public realm will determine how you will be registered in the annals of heavenly renown and glory, what your life truly represents for the ages (verses 32-33).  
Not peace but a sword.  Finally, one of the hardest sayings in all of scripture is the declaration by Jesus that he came not to bring peace but a sword – a sword which cuts apart and separates.  This passage (verses 35-39) insists that the ultimate issues of life do create conflict, and the emphasis here is on conflict within the most intimate groups, the family.  
Put most sharply, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (verse 37).  This is nothing less than a totalitarian claim that must be an absolute scandal to those who place “family values” above all else.  This apocalyptic mission of Jesus pulls persons out of their natural social matrix and makes them absolute instruments of God’s service.  (It makes them an apocalyptic commune, as in Luke 12.)  The image is similar to the Elijah and Elisha roles in the days of old Israel.  The commitment is for life or death.  
The disciples addressed in this passage had to expect intense division within their society.  They are told at the beginning to go only to the “lost sheep” of the house of Israel, not to the nations or the Samaritans (10:5-6).  The conflicts within families are conflicts among Judean people, conflicts precipitated by the claim that Jesus was the Anointed One (the Messiah), who had already come and had now received heavenly authority to call all nations to be baptized and learn his teaching (28:16-20). 
The Gospel According to Matthew was dictated in a Syrian world in which Judeans and Christians were separating They were beginning seriously to go their own ways, at the cost of intense and agonizing separations – separations of family members, and of two great religious traditions of the Western world.  

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

June 18, 2023 -- 3rd Sunday after Pentecost

                                                    Biblical Words                                              [832]

Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7); Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8, (9-23). 

Awesome Visitors and Traveling Apostles bring good news to the faithful and humble.  

Lectionary Comment 

During “Common Time,” following Pentecost, the Revised Common Lectionary in year A begins selected readings from major Biblical books in sequence.  Between now and Advent, the readings include most of Genesis and Exodus; the Pauline letters of Romans, Philippians, and I Thessalonians; and most of the Gospel According to Matthew.  How early or late Easter comes each year determines where the readings in each Biblical book now pick up. 
·        In Genesis we skip the Flood story and go to the call and covenant with Abraham and then his visit to Abraham at Hebron.  
·        In Romans we skip the sinfulness of all (chs 1-3), Abraham’s righteousness (ch 4), and start with the corollaries of justification by faith in chapter 5.  
·        In Matthew we are past the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew’s Call and some healing miracles, and pick up with Jesus sending the disciples to proclaim good news to Israel.  
The readings now pick up, more or less assuming that we are familiar with all those preceding materials. 
Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7).  
The Torah reading carries forward Abraham’s story of getting a true heir with his wife, Sarah.  
This episode is the visitation by the mysterious figures who announce that Sarah – long past menopause in this story – is going to conceive a son from Abraham within the year.  This announcement of a miraculous birth in the Abraham story corresponds to the announcement of the virgin conception in the Jesus story (Luke 1).  Peoples of traditional cultures seek such divinely guided birth events for the destiny-making figures of their tribes, kingdoms, or world eons.  New turns in human events are marked by divine signs – the meanings of which are known to keepers of tradition and to the scriptures.  
The first half of the reading – the narrative of Abraham’s eager and fastidious hospitality – is one of the most anthropomorphic presentations of the God of Israel in the scriptures.  It therefore gave rise over the ages to Rabbinic homilies about these human features of God, about Abraham’s hospitality to the Almighty, and Sarah’s mixture of mockery and praise at the promise of a son.  
On their part, the early Christian theologians emphasized the fact that this passage presents three divine figures as if they were one, revealing God’s triune character. (Thus, “the Lord appeared [singular] to Abraham,” verse 1, but “three men” show up; Abraham addresses them as “my Lord” [’adonai], singular, followed by singular pronouns, verse 3; when the deity speaks there is first a plural verb, “They said to him…,” verse 8, followed by God’s solemn speech in the singular, “I will surely return to you…,” verse 9.)  These clues were sufficient to convince Christian theologians that here the Triune God appeared to Abraham!  
The story’s ending has a word-play that explains Isaac’s name (yitsḥaq).  The name is built from the root TS-Ḥ-Q, which has a range of meanings from “laughing” to “joking” to “making fun of” to sexual “play” (used to describe Isaac “fondling” his wife Rebecca in Genesis 26:8).  The verb is first used here in verse 12, “And Sarah laughed to herself…”  This laughter would prove to be both mocking – hardly in my old age – and secretly hopeful and joyful.  It later became openly joyful when Isaac was born and named in 21:1-7, with Sarah’s laughter elaborated in 21:6.  
The matrix of hoary antiquity, divine power, sexuality, and laughter in this passage has led some subtle interpreters to learn from it profound secrets about the deep psychic worlds of Abraham or of the whole of Jewish culture.  (I give no references here, but some very bizarre things have been claimed.)  
What we really have here is, in fact, an idyllic tribal picture of the patriarch and matriarch entertaining angels – not so unawares – and receiving the gift of a destiny-making son of their own.  
Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19.  
The Psalm reading is from a psalm of thanksgiving.  In general terms the speaker insists that God has answered past pleas for help.  Now there is liturgical celebration at the sanctuary where the speaker lifts a toast to the God who saves (verse 13) and declares that all past vows – uttered in times of distress – will now be fulfilled.  This is good news to the poor of the land, who get their periodic feasts from such thanksgiving banquets of the well-to-do. 
The whole psalm is designed to be spoken by a king, here declaring himself to be a servant of God, the son of a queen-mother, God’s “serving girl” (verse 16).  The conduct and attitude of the king, however, sets a pattern for all the worthies in his realm, and the faithful will learn from it as they do from the model of Abraham’s hospitality to God.  
Romans 5:1-8.  
[The Lectionary has readings from Romans for the next several weeks.  You can find an Introduction to Romans on my Study Bibles blog (  Use the “Blog Archive” to find a posting in 2019, April.] 
The Epistle reading is a kind of summary and transition passage.  The transition is between the view just developed that believers are “justified” before God by God’s own grace (chapters 3-4) and the elaboration, yet to come, of the life lived by those who have received God’s grace (chapters 6-8).  
The summary declares, “we have peace with God” (verse 1, following the NRSV reading).  This peace makes possible a totally different attitude toward sufferings.  Because of this peace with God, “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (verses 3-4).  We have an orientation, a profound sense of direction, because God’s love has been given to us through the Holy Spirit (verse 5).  This last part will be fully developed in chapters 6 through 8.  
This new condition is only possible, however, because of the death of Christ.  
Paul pauses to ponder the gravity of this.  
“Rarely will anyone die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.  But … while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (verses 7-8). 
This dying is itself the expression of the love of God for us, and we shall see how the dying is the key to our transformation as we read chapter 6 in the next two weeks.  
Matthew 9:35-10:8, (9-23).  
The Gospel reading introduces the second great body of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel According to Matthew.   
[There is a long introduction to Matthew, “MATTHEW – Gospel for a Teaching Church” in my Study Bibles blog.  See the Blog Archive for a posting in December 2019, Matthew.] 
The Sermon on the Mount had elaborated the blessings and the challenges of those included in the newly arriving Kingdom of Heaven (chapters 5-7).  After a series of miracles and sayings about discipleship (chapters 8 and 9), Jesus presents a full range of instructions for those who will be sent out and will live as apostles.  This full discourse on the Apostolic Mission (chapter 10) will occupy the Gospel readings for the next three weeks.  
Actually, the preferred term in Matthew is “disciples” rather than apostles.  Elsewhere Matthew describes how five of the disciples were called by Jesus (Peter, Andrew, James, and John in 4:18-22, and Matthew in 9:9).  Here (in 10:2-4) the disciples are twelve in number, and their names are given, though nothing further is known of most of them.  (Essentially the same list of twelve is given in Mark 3:16-19, in Luke 6:13-16, and in Acts 1:13.)  
The word “apostles” is used only once in Matthew, and that is in the heading of this list of the twelve names (10:2).  The term probably belongs to that list as Matthew received it and chose not to change it.  Otherwise, his term is “disciples.”  It is the eleven “disciples” who receive the final commission to the world in 28:16.  In the later history of the Church, however, it is the mission and status of the “apostles” that is very important.  
The reading shows strong compassion on Jesus’ part for the neglected folks of Israel.  “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (9:36NRSV).  The literal meaning of “harassed” is “skinned, flayed” as of animals, and the literal meaning of “helpless” is “cast down, prostrate,” as those who have been beaten and knocked down.  Jesus’ compassion is for those who have been skinned and stomped, quite literally the downtrodden.  
The first word of Jesus’ instruction to those going on mission is to go to Israel only.  The opening words literally are, “Do not take any road of the nations, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans” (10:5b, my translation).  The mission is to be strictly confined to Galilee.  Within the Gospel According to Matthew, this is a limitation applying to Jesus’ time only.  Later the apostles will go far and wide, well beyond Galilee.  
But confined to Galilee, the disciples are to proclaim the arrival of the Kingdom in the same terms used by John the Baptist and by Jesus earlier (Matthew 10:7, compared to 3:2 and 4:17).  The power of the coming Kingdom has already begun to work.  That is why the disciples, like Jesus earlier, can heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out the powers of evil, the demons (verse 8).  The mission of the apostles is a healing ministry, which will bear its own testimony to the coming of the Kingdom.  
Included in the optional reading (10:9-23) are many details of how the apostles should conduct themselves during their mission work.  They are to be itinerants, staying no place very long, and without possessions – no traveling bag, no extra suit, no dress shoes, and no cane for walking or protection (verses 9-10).  They will live off the people they visit and serve.  This may seem hazardous for the missionaries, but it was also subject to abuse.  
Such traveling ministers were well known in the rural churches of Syria just a few years after the Gospel of Matthew was completed in that area.  The Didache gives the following instructions.  
Now about the apostles and prophets:  Act in line with the gospel precept.  Welcome every apostle on arriving, as if he were the Lord.  But he must not stay beyond one day.  In case of necessity, however, the next day too.  If he stays three days, he is a false prophet.  On departing, an apostle must not accept anything save sufficient food to carry him till his next lodging.  If he asks for money, he is a false prophet.  (Didache 11:3-6, trans. Cyril C. Richardson, Early Christian Fathers, Westminster Press, 1953, p. 176.)  
Jesus’ compassion was for the needy and the downtrodden, and his disciples were to heal and help, not become an additional burden upon their flocks.  They were to live by faith and bring the good works of God that were the present reality of the kingdom of heaven.   

Friday, June 9, 2023

June 11, 2023 -- 2nd Sunday after Pentecost

                                              Biblical Words                                                  [831]
Genesis 12:1-9Psalm 33:1-12; Romans 4:13-25; Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26.  
The Promise to Abraham is the Beginning of God's Project. 

Saturday, June 3, 2023

June 4, 2023 -- Trinity Sunday

                                                            Biblical Words                                      [830]

Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8; II Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20
The Fullness of God unfolds as Creator, exalted Humanity, and Spirit sanctifying space and time. 
Christian tradition calls the first Sunday after Pentecost Trinity Sunday.  After the coming of the Spirit launched the age of the church the revelation was complete:  the full being of God as creator Parent, servant but exalted Son, and dynamic communing Spirit is now experienced as three aspects of a single ultimate reality.  
The readings from the Hebrew scriptures emphasize the elevation of humankind to partnership – image-sharing – with the creating God. 

Genesis 1:1-2:4a. 

The Torah reading is the beginning of the Bible, Jewish and Christian. 
Jewish tradition reads this story of creation at Sabbath services beginning shortly after the High Holy Days in early autumn.  (Their annual reading of the whole Torah begins at that time.)  The Christian Revised Common Lectionary reads this story now because it is the beginning of the Bible.  The Lectionary now enters “common time,” the time in the year not included in the long sacred seasons of Advent-to-Epiphany and Lent-to-Pentecost.  

During this “common” time, readings are selected in sequence through various Biblical books.  (Year A will read from Genesis to Judges in this period; Year B will read the historical and wisdom books; and Year C will read the Prophets.) It is a time for Christian hearers to get general exposure to the Scriptures in their Sunday readings.  For such Christians, this is the beginning of many weeks of hearing selections from the book of Genesis. 
Genesis 1 presents the universe as a sacred structure, created within sacred time. 
The dominant mood is creation by deliberate act, and the outcome is a rational, orderly edifice in which the human is central and reflects the divine character in “image” and in the exercise of dominion.  No conflict goes on in this presentation.  Creation is not the outcome of a violent struggle between chaos and creator god.  It is the outcome of calm pronouncements which immediately become reality.  
The overarching message is that the entire universe was created in a way to sanction observance of the Sabbath rest.  Those who are in harmony with the Creator observe that rest.  The commandment in Exodus to observe the Sabbath will appeal to this creation story (Exodus 20:11), and the actions in Genesis 1 show that everything that is needed in the creation of the world is accomplished in six days of God’s own time, leaving the seventh as the special day of rest.  
To show that the creation is complete in six days the narrator has to double up some of the days’ actions.  For there are eight actions of creation which have to be placed within six days.  This is accomplished by putting two actions each into the third and the sixth days.  Also, there is a symmetry between the actions of the first three days and the actions of the second three days of creation.  The whole arrangement, then, is as follows.  
First Day                                                          Fourth Day
      (1) Light [heavenly action only]                         (5) Lights (sun, moon, stars) 

Second Day                                                     Fifth Day 
      (2) Dome [vertical separation]                           (6) Creatures of water and air 

Third Day                                                         Sixth Day 
      (3) Dry Land [horizontal separation]                  (7) Creatures of the dry land 
      (4) Vegetation                                                    (8) Humans 

                                                Seventh Day – the Divine Rest 
In its treatment of the creation of humans, the narrative makes clear that God the Creator has a special interest – even intimacy (considering the possible implications of “image”) – in the human being.  Other than the emphasis on the Sabbath, the pronouncement about the human is the climax of the eight acts of creation.  
So God created humankind in his image, 
      in the image of God he created them;
      male and female he created them.  
God blessed them, and God said to them, 
“Be fruitful and multiply, 
      and fill the earth and subdue it…” (Genesis 1:27-28, NRSV.) 
In this sophisticated narrative (compared to the earthier creation story in Genesis 2), humankind is created from the beginning as one species with two sexes and receives a divine command to multiply and to subdue the earth.  In this activity, stated as a kind of pristine ideal, the human is an integral part of God’s entire purpose as a creating being.  
The ideal Human exercising this role is anticipated in the Psalm reading.  

Psalm 8. 

This psalm is framed, beginning and end, by an exclamation that God’s “Name” is majestic throughout the earth.  
The speaker then declares that God’s glory is set “above the heavens” – beyond the visible dome of the sky, in the heights of God’s own dwelling with the heavenly beings.  By contrast, at an opposite extreme in the vertical dimension, there is a “bulwark [of praise]” that comes from the babbling mouths of nursing babies and helpless infants – a bulwark that protects the innocent and defenseless from the “enemy and the avenger” (verse 2, NRSV).  God is praised within the mystery of the supreme height in heaven but also at the mysterious depths of the helpless child who cannot yet utter human speech.  
Between those extremes, other signs of God’s majesty are provided by the visible heavenly bodies.  “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers / the moon and the stars that you have established…” (verse 3).  These created wonders of the visible heavens force mere humans to gaze upward in complete awe.  And, having gazed up for some time, one then looks down to the other extreme:  “…what are human beings that you are mindful of them, / mortals that you care for them?”  (verse 4.  The NRSV uses plurals in place of the Hebrew enosh, poetic humankind, and ben adam, son of human / son of Adam.  The singular means the archetypal Human, the original and ultimate Human, and this will be important in early Christian citations of this verse.)  
Within this extreme between great heavens and mere mortals, a divine elevation is proclaimed.  
Yet you have made him little less than a god, 
you have crowned him with glory and beauty, 
made him lord of the works of your hands, 
put all things under his feet,… 
      (Verses 5-6, New Jerusalem Bible translation, avoiding the plurals.)  
Within the glory of the visible world, the Human has been exalted to near divine status, and that is the supreme expression of the majesty of God’s Name throughout the earth.  
In the rhetoric of the Israelite psalmist this is a magnification of the generic human species on the earth, though expressed as the elevation of a single ideal Human.  In the language of the early Jesus followers, this is God’s exaltation of the suffering servant to his destined supreme place for all creation.  (Psalm 8 is specifically quoted in this way in I Corinthians 15:27; Ephesians 1:22; and Hebrews 2:5-9.)  
In that perspective, the Human is the Lord who came to save the lost and has been elevated to rule over all powers and realms of heaven and earth.  That elevation of the Christ as the archetypal Human was anticipated in the praise of the psalmist.  
The human, vulnerable and mortal creature, is also included in God’s own being.  Thus the early believers learned to know the threeness of God, whose praise they included in their doxologies.  

II Corinthians 13:11-13. 

The Epistle reading contains such a doxology.  
The last few words of the letter from the apostle show how early Christians expressed their best wishes to each other.  Here, these seem hurried, almost jumbled – a few bullets in a memo.  
Put things in order.
Listen to my appeal.
Agree with one another.  
Live in peace – and the God of love and peace will be with you.  
Greet one another with a holy kiss.  
All the saints greet you.  (Verses 11-12, NRSV.) 
And then the benediction, blessing with words that express the threeness of God as these believers have come to experience it.  
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.  

Matthew 28:16-20.  

And in the Gospel reading – the closing words of the Gospel According to Matthew – we have one of the greatest expressions of the threeness of God that comes from the early believers.  
Matthew here presents an appearance of the risen Jesus to the disciples in Galilee, rather than in Jerusalem, as in Luke, Acts, and John (except in chapter 21).  It is in Galilee, on “the mountain to which Jesus had directed them” that the final commission to the disciples is given (Matthew 28:16, NRSV).  Besides this passage in Matthew, Mark also shows that originally Jesus would appear only in Galilee to the disciples (Mark 14:28 and 16:7).  For Mark and Matthew, Jerusalem is the place to go and die; Galilee is the place to go and live again.  
In any case, in Matthew the Jesus story ends with Jesus sending the disciples to “make disciples of all nations.”  (“Nations,” ta ethne, we may recall, is mistakenly rendered in English as “Gentiles,” its Latin translation.)  “The nations” certainly includes all the Judeans gathered from other countries at Pentecost (Acts 2:9-11) as well as the non-Judean people among them!  The apostles are to go, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey every thing that I have commanded you” (verses 19-20). 
This teaching (the Gospel According to Matthew) begins with John the Baptist, only now it is a baptism in the name of the three-fold character of God.  After this baptism, the peoples of the nations will continue by learning the Sermon on the Mount and then the other blocks of teaching material in Matthew’s Gospel.  
This sequence of teachings, in the name of the three-persona God, is what the Lectionary Gospel readings in Matthew will lead us through in the next few months.