Lesson: Isaiah 64:1-9
1 O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence —
2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil — to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
4 From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.
5 You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself, we transgressed.
6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.
We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
7 There is no one who calls on your name or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.
8 Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.
9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O LORD, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.
The Book of Isaiah is a composite of writings from three distinct periods in Ancient Israel’s history. The writings were compiled from about 700 BCE to about 300 BCE.
Chapters 1-39 are called “First Isaiah” and are the words of a prophet (one who speaks for YHWH – translated as “LORD” in all capital letters in the NRSV) who called for Jerusalem to repent in the 30 years before Jerusalem came under siege by the Assyrians in 701 BCE. “Second Isaiah” is Chapters 40 to 55. In these chapters, a prophet brought hope to the Judeans during the Exile in Babylon (587 to 539 BCE) by telling them they had suffered enough and would return to Jerusalem. “Third Isaiah” is Chapters 56 to 66 in which a prophet gave encouragement to the Judeans who had returned to Jerusalem (which was largely destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BCE) after the Exile had ended.
Today’s reading is from the chapters called “Third Isaiah” and the ideas expressed in these verses indicate that they were composed before the Temple was rebuilt in the period from 516 to 505 BCE. This is also shown by the two verses immediately preceding today’s reading (63:18-19) and the two verses following it (vv. 10-11), all of which refer to the destruction of Jerusalem.
The reading itself is a lament and prayer to the LORD/YHWH (vv. 8-9). It confessed the sinfulness of the Judeans (vv. 5b-7) and is one of the Bible’s most poignant expressions of their perception of YHWH’s hiddenness (v.7) from them. The concluding verses appealed to YHWH as a father and as a potter who molded the people (v.8). Jeremiah also used the image of a potter to describe YHWH who molded the people (Jer. 18:6).
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 1:3-9
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5 for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind — 6 just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you – 7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8 He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Corinth, a large port city in Greece, was among the early Jesus Follower communities that Paul founded. Its culture was diverse and Hellenistic. Corinthians emphasized reason and secular wisdom. In addition to Paul, other Jesus Followers taught in Corinth, sometimes in ways inconsistent with Paul’s understandings of what it meant to be a Jesus Follower.
Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was written in the 50’s (CE) and presented his views on many issues that were controversial in this Jesus Follower Community.
Today’s reading from the opening chapter of the letter is a salutation customary in ancient Greek letters (vv. 1-3) followed by a thanksgiving for the grace of God given to the Jesus Followers in Corinth through Christ Jesus (vv.4-7). Using irony as a rhetorical device, Paul praised the Corinthians for their speech and knowledge (v.5) and spiritual gifts (v.7) as a prelude to discussing these qualities more critically in the body of the letter. He told them that the Lord Jesus Christ will strengthen them so they will be blameless at the time of judgment and fulfillment – the “day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 8). In a call for unity, Paul reminded them that they were called into “the fellowship of the Son” (v.9).
Having praised the Corinthians and reminded them of the gifts they had received from God, then Paul launched into his arguments in the verses that follow today’s reading, and appealed that “there be no divisions among you” (v.10).
Gospel: Mark 13:24-37
24 Jesus said, “In those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,
25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
32“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”