Proper 26A (OT 31)

"The Ark Passes Over the Jordan" By James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836 - 1902) (French) Details of artist on  Google Art Project [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

"The Ark Passes Over the Jordan" By James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836 - 1902) (French) Details of artist on Google Art Project [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


244: November 5, 2017

  1. 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

  2. Matthew 23:1-12

  3. Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37

  4. Joshua 3:7-17

voice in the WILDERNESS: Sarah Renfro

Featured Musician: Christopher Grundy


 Tasty Wafer: 

  • Advent through Christmas Season sermon series by United Methodist General Board of Discipleship
  • Coming Home

87: November 2, 2014

  1. 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
  2. Matthew 23:1-12

Featured Musician - THE STEEL WHEELS

Exegetical Notes

Matthew 23:1-12

Initial Thoughts

  • “Prayer bands on their arms” refers to a phylactery.  

  • “Tassels for their clothes” refers to the Tzitzit, which is explained here.

  • Both were part of the Torah.  Notice Jesus does not condemn the wearing of the Tzitzit or the phylactery.  It is the audaciousness that he condemns.  As so often is the case with Jesus, especially in Matthew, he has no problem with the law itself, it is the motivation behind such things that truly matters.   

Bible Study

  • Literary Context

    • Immediately after the Pharisees and Sadducees tried to trap Jesus with questions about taxes, resurrection, and the law.  First they bring Herodians to trap him with question about taxes.  The Sadducees asked him about the resurrection, then the Pharisees came back with a question about the law.  Jesus responds with a strange question about David and the Messiah, presumably to show how incorrect their literalist interpretation of Scripture is.  Then he “spoke to the crowds and the disciples…”

    • After this, he comes down even harder “How terrible it will be for you legal experts and Pharisees! Hypocrites!”  The lectionary leaves out these harsh condemnation of the religious experts.

  • Evidence of infighting between Matthean community and Pharisees after the destruction of the Temple.  

    • “The confrontation represented here seems, then, to be the increasingly bitter conflict between the Jewish "congregation" (synagogue) of Matthew's city and the small group of those "called out" (ekklesia) as Matthew's church. Theirs was a family fight, and the name-calling and harsh rhetoric flourished. “ (Sharon Ringe, Working Preacher)

    • Much of the dangerous rhetoric aimed toward Pharisees could be seen as a family fight that took place as much after Jesus’ time than it did during his ministry.  The teachings of the Pharisees and Jesus were not that far off from each other.  

  • V. 1-3 Not yet a total condemnation of the Pharisees.  Can we hear remnants of “You have heard it said... but I say to you…”  It is not so much that the Pharisees are wrong in their teaching, it is in their application of the teaching where they fall short.

    • Admonition for leaders who might teach well, but cannot live up to their teaching.

    • Those that teach are not so much held to a higher standard, but are held to at least the standard to which they claim.

  • Four criticisms

    • They do not practice what they preach.

    • They tie together heavy packs that they do not try and lift.

      • As opposed to Jesus, who provided an easy burden and a light yoke. (Matthew 11:28-30)

    • Everything they do, they do to be noticed by others.

      • Closely related to the Sermon on the Mount, as found in Matthew 6:1-13, and Jesus’ prohibition of public piety.  “Don’t pray like the hypocrites…”

    • The love to sit in places of honor and to be called “Rabbi”

      • Reminiscent of Luke 14:7 where Jesus notices how the guests picked the places of honor.

      • “Possibly, verse 9 alludes to the practice of some Jewish Christians of appealing to Jewish authorities on certain matters such as Sabbath observance instead of depending wholly on Christ who had interpreted for them the will of their Father in heaven.”  (Douglas Hare, Interpretation: Matthew, p. 267)

      • “Rabbi: A Hebrew term that means ‘my great one’ or ‘master,’ used as a title of honor for legal experts.  Father: sometimes used as a title of honor for great teachers. Jesus directs his followers and the crowds not to use such titles for each other, since they are all siblings, no one with more status than the other.  In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is called ‘Rabbi’ only twice, both times by Judas, his betrayer (Mt. 26:25, 49)”  (Common English Study Bible notes, p. 50 in the NT)

Preaching Thoughts

  • Remember, he had just summed up the whole law as “Love God, and love others as yourself.”  If the tassels and fringes are meant to express love and devotion to God, there is no problem.  When, however, they become about setting yourself over and above others, that is the problem.  What do we do with clerical clothes?  Is the collar appropriate?  What about the robe, cassock, or stole?  What is the motivation behind such things?  Should non-ordained wear stoles?

    • “This passage is perennially relevant.  It is not a mortal sin for clergy to be addressed as “Reverend, “Father,” “Doctor,” or “Pastor.”  The eagerness of laypeople to exalt ordained persons by the honorific titles, however, intensifies the minister’s responsibility to work diligently at breaking down the barrier between clergy and laity.” (Douglas Hare, Interpretation: Matthew, p. 267)  

  • Where is the line between an easy burden and cheap grace?  It is not the substance of the Pharisees teaching that Jesus takes issue with, it is the way that they apply it.  It is hard to imagine a heavier burden than the cross (Matthew 16:24).  But the cross is not a burden that Jesus was unwilling to take up himself.

Joshua 3:7-17

Initial Thoughts

  • Joshua 3-4 has puzzled interpreters for generations. The crossing of the Jordan happens at least twice.

  • According to Hayyim Angel, in his article in the Jewish Biblical Quarterly, There is a rabbinic axiom “There is no chronological order in the Torah”

  • This is an incredibly important event, “The act of crossing brings Israel from promise to fulfillment and changes Israel from a wandering people to a landed nation.” (Wesley Study Bible, notes on Joshua 3:1-4:24 p. 266).

  • John Beck’s article in the Quarterly Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

    • “Some analysts have concluded that this "doubling back and forth across the river" illustrates how these particular chapters are a literary mess, a jumble of chronology, geography, and point of view that is the product of a complex and disrupted literary history”

    • “Our conclusion is that the repetition of the word "Jordan" is designed to simulate a portion of the actual event for the reader. Just as the Israelites were brought to the edge of the Jordan River and remained there for three days (Josh 3:2), so the reader is required to linger beside the Jordan River via this literary convention. By creating this parallel experience of lingering by the river, the original event and narrated event can lead to the same outcome—a greater respect for Joshua as general and a deeper respect for the Lord their God “

Bible Study

  • Literary Context

    • At the end of the Torah, there are two problems.

      • There is a great nation, but they are not in the land. It ends just on the other side of the Jordan.

      • There are people already there.

    • Joshua 1-2 includes Joshua taking control as leader, as ordained by God, and preparations for the invasion, including sending spies into Jericho, the first great city across the river.

    • In 3:1-6, there is instruction for the priests to carry the ark of the covenant before the people, and a warning to the people to stay away. The people also leave Shittim and go to the banks of the river in preparation.

      • “Though the lectionary begins with verse 7, the first six verses provide a geographical and theological setting. Joshua and the people leave Shittim and camp at the Jordan River, before they cross over. Geographically, Shittim is only about six miles away from the river, if Abel Shittim is the site.  But theologically, there is a more dramatic distance between the two. Shittim is where the Israelites were in Numbers 25, when so many of them worshiped the foreign god Baal of Peor. At the end of the book of Joshua, the people will make a covenant to only worship the Lord, and leaving Shittim is a start.” (Sara Koenig, Working Preacher)
  • Joshua’s leadership unquestioned.

    • There is danger in the power vacuum of Moses’s death.

    • God is going to “exalt [Joshua] in the sight of all Israel, so they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses.”

  • Crossing over

    • The ark of the covenant - the singular presence of God - leads the way.

    • Carried by one representative from each of the 12 tribes. And the priests are leading the way

      • Both the priests and the people are a part of this crossing over. There is a need for the priestly leadership, but all the people are represented as well. In ch. 4, there are 12 stones placed so that they can be a permanent reminder.

    • It is pointed out that the river was particularly high.

    • The priests bearing the ark go first, but “the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan.” v. 17.

    • The ark leads the way, but the people pass by the ark as well.

Preaching Thoughts

  • This story is an important transition, one that is full of hope and dread. There is so much hope and good news in the fact that the Lord has led the people out of slavery. The period of wandering is over. The Lord stopped the waters (again) so that the people could pass over on dry ground (again). This ritual is an act of remembrance and renewal. The crossing over on dry land is a reminder that this is how the journey began. The crossing of the Sea of Reeds (or Red Sea) was the initial saving act for the people, and this is the fulfillment of the promise. It is also an act fraught with trouble, as they are crossing over into a land that is already occupied. War is coming. This cannot be ignored.

  • Walter Brueggemann in a recent Pulpit Fiction interview: “God is recovering from violence.” God used violence in the occupation of the land - this cannot be avoided - but God recovers from the use of violence over the course of the Biblical story. This idea of God changing, growing, and adapting, is a troubling idea for some. Blasphemy for some, but a faithful reading of the text reveals that God, and especially the way in which God reveals God’s power, changes. If we are to be faithful to the text, we cannot ignore the conquest is a part of this story.

    • Also be mindful of the laws that were already put forth in the Torah about how to treat the alien and the immigrant. Always, God reminds the people to treat them with justice because “you were once immigrants.” The story of the people coming into an occupied land remained an important part of the story of the people - and should remain so today.

1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

Initial Thoughts

  • Pairs well with Gospel

  • Awkward and contextual

  • Might focus on the last verse 13: “We also thank God constantly for this: when you accepted God's word that you heard from us, you welcomed it for what it truly is. Instead of accepting it as a human message, you accepted it as God's message, and it continues to work in you who are believers.”

Bible Study

  • God’s Good news

    • A rare phrase- only used by Paul three times in all his other letters and it is used three time sin this chapter

    • P, S and T are serving the for the sake of the Gospel, not the church, not their own fame or glory or edification.

    • Not simply passed along like a material good, but “they themselves are involved in passing it along, and as a result they become vulnerable and profoundly connected to the people. They give the gospel as well as themselves.” (Grace J I-Sun Kim)

    • Grace Kim - Interesting implications for post-colonial and post-imperial Christianity. Neither require vulnerability- true gospel sharing requires one to be as vulnerable as Christ

  • Pre verse 13 - Paul’s Defense

    • Accused of preaching only for his own gain - like a false prophet

      • Paul is defensive - working day and night, defending himself, Sylvanus and Timothy against unspoken accusations

      • Corinthians rebuked Paul for working

      • A good verse for bi-vocational preachers (like Paul was)

    • Pure, upright and blameless

      • “pure” or “holy” notes appropriate relationship with God- a call back to Paul’s Pharisaic roots?;

      • “Upright” notes appropriate social relationship

      • “Blameless” is not about being sin-free but free of false charge/ innocent

    • A warning against pastor worship or pastors who regard themselves as above the laity

  • Thanksgiving - Verse 13 (Holly Hearon,

    • How to differentiate the word of God from humans? Hermeneutics

      • The lens by which you see or the filter through which you hear determines what is Godly and what is not

      • They are NOT claiming Paul (S &T) are gods.

    • Word of God - words and actions that are filled with God’s Spirit

  • God at work in the church- about community

    • God calls (not called) God is working currently, living, now, present in the community

    • There is no difference between those called and those sent - there is one body and one community in Christ and God is at work in and through the community (Susan Marie Smith, Feasting on the Word)

    • We can no longer ask “Who am I?” but “Who are we?”

Preaching Thoughts

  • Is your church proclaiming the gospel of God or the Gospel of a particular denomination/ local pastor/ church/ political ideal?

  • What does it mean to work for God? How can we explore working for God outside the clergy? This is a great laity Sunday or bivocational Sunday text


Thanks to our Psalms correspondent, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan (,@pomopsalmist). Thank you to Scott Fletcher for our voice bumpers, Dick Dale and the Del Tones for our Theme music (“Misirlou”), Nicolai Heidlas (“Sunday Morning”,"Real Ride"and“Summertime”) and Paul and Storm for our closing music (“Oh No”).