Lectionary 18 B

Settle in for all the citations! Especially if you're doing the semicontinuous readings. Either way, this week gives us sinfulness, ecclesiology, and faith. There are quite a few intersections possible.

Semicontinuous First Reading: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a

David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
-- 2 Samuel 12:13a

Chapter 12, verse 13 is quoted in Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 12: Repentance (AP 12.48) connecting David's confession with Paul's letter to the Colossians showing that there is a claim the law has against David, which David himself here recognizes. This same quote, "I have sinned against the Lord," is cited later in the same article (AP 12.56) to show that these words are also evidence of David's contrition. The same quote is both the voice of the law and the voice of sorrow for breaking the law.

Semicontinuous Psalm: Psalm 51:1-12

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
-- Psalm 51:3

Verse 3 is cited in a footnote in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 1: Original Sin (SD 1.52, n. 42) sending us to where Luther reflects on the corruption caused by sin. If you want to check it out, it's in Luther's Works, volume 14, page 169.

Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgment.
-- Psalm 51:4

Verse 4 is quoted in Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 12: Repentance (AP 12.108) as part of the argument that the enumeration of particular sins in confession is not necessary because no one can successfully name all of their sins. Rather, the point of confession is to recognize that we have angered God and seek reconciliation through God's mercy.

Melanchthon offers an interesting rephrasing of verse 4 that might be localized by congregations in place of the general order of confession and absolution, but please use significant pastoral discretion in discerning if this is appropriate in your context:

"I confess that I am a sinner and deserve eternal wrath. I cannot set my righteousness or my merits against your wrath. Accordingly, I declare that you are just in condemning and punishing us. I declare you to be in the right, although hypocrites judge you to be unjust in punishing them or in condemning those who deserve it. Indeed, we cannot set our merits against your judgement, but we shall be justified only when you justify us, one you regard us as righteous through your mercy."
(AP 12.108)
Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.
-- Psalm 51:5

Verse 5 is cited in Smalcald Articles, Part 3, Article 1: Concerning Sin (SA 3.1.3) along with several other scriptural citations to show that we need scripture and enlightenment from the Holy Spirit to see how sinful we are. Indeed, without such aid, we cannot see our own sinfulness.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
-- Psalm 51:10

Verse 10 is cited in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 2: Free Will (SD 2.26) along with several other passages in a long argument with many citations. Verse 10 is part of the argument that we cannot live in a way pleasing to God without the gift and presence of the Holy Spirit, who gives us new hearts.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.
-- Psalm 51:12

Verse 12 is cited twice in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article 2: Free Will, both times as an insight into what actions the clean heart and new spirit of verse 10 might lead. First in a long section of biblical citations (SD 2.26) to show that our free will cannot lead us to want to do God's will, as this new birth is only possible through the work of the Spirit. The second citation (SD 2.60) names the conversion of the person through faith given by the Spirit "crating a new heart," and cites this verse.

Ephesians 4:1-16

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
-- Ephesians 4:4-6

Verse 4 thru 6 are quoted, but differently, in The Augsburg Confession, Article 7: The Church. Verses 4 and 5 are quoted in the German version (AC 7.4), while verses 5 and 6 are quoted in the Latin version (AC 7.4). Both make the same point, however, that the unity of the true church is in the oneness we have from God through the Spirit.

Therefore it is said,
“When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
he gave gifts to his people.”
-- Ephesians 4:8

Verse 8, along with verses 11 and 12 below, are quoted by Luther in Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope (Tr 67) to show that churches can ordain people without bishops. Since the gifts continue to be given, churches can still recognize them and set people apart for service to the gospel and the church.

He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.
-- Ephesians 4:10

Verse 10 is quoted in Formula of Concord, Epitome, Article 8: The Person of Christ, Affirmative Thesis 11 (Ep 8.16) to make clear that the risen and ascended Jesus is omnipresent and omnipotent in his human nature. This point is driven home and expanded in Solid Declaration, Article 8: The Person of Christ (SD 8.27).

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers...
-- Ephesians 4:11

Verse 11 is twice cited in Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope. First (Tr 26) to show that God's outpouring of gifts supersedes the human structures of the Church, so churches are free to create structures on their own without any other need for authority. Luther applies this directly to ordination without a bishop present a little later (Tr 67, see verse 8 above).

...to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ...
-- Ephesians 4:12

Verse 12, along with verses 8 and 11 above, are quoted by Luther in Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope (Tr 67) to show that churches can ordain people without bishops. Since the gifts continue to be given, churches can still recognize them and set people apart for service to the gospel and the church. (That's the third time for this argument. Hopefully you get it.)

But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ...
-- Ephesians 4:15

Verse 15 is cited in a footnote to Smalcald Articles, Part 2, Article 4 (SA 2.4.1, n. 52) along with several other citations from Ephesians and one from Colossians that together make clear that the head of the Church is Christ and can never be the pope.

John 6:24-35

Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
-- John 6:29

Verse 29 is one of the slew of biblical quotes in Formula of ConcordSolid Declaration, Article 2: Free Will (SD 2.26) that show God is the one who "effects" faith in us. We do not and cannot have faith on our own or as a result of our free will. Faith comes only from God.

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."
-- John 6:35

Verse 35 is quoted in a quote from Ambrose's Exposition of Psalm 118 in Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 24: The Mass (AP 24.75). Melanchthon quotes Ambrose quoting John here to show that faith is needed for communion to be efficacious. It is not possible, Melanchthon argues, to get a benefit from communion without faith, nor is it possible to transfer what you receive from communion to another. Receiving communion faithfully, however, gives Jesus' promises.


It can be easy to conflate the human structures of the church with the work of God in Christ, but there is a difference. As King David finally realizes, human authority, even if coming from God, cannot stand against God's authority, which holds even kings and popes accountable for their sin. And yet we have a tendency to see the structures themselves as salvific. This is such a strong tendency that it actually has a name: morphological fundamentalism. Luther and the reformers who followed him consistently called the church back from this tendency to focus on the necessity of faith, which itself is a gift from God.

The human structures of the church are not necessarily evil. In fact, I would suggest that they are a gift from God and part of the good order that comes from the Law. But confusing the saving faith with any human structure of the church is evil because faith then looks to the structure for certainty about salvation rather than to God's promises in Jesus.

This can become a real challenge to our established ways of doing church when we ask questions of worthiness. Who is worthy to receive communion? Who is worthy to be baptized? Who is worthy of forgiveness? When we stop and ponder these questions, it becomes clear how little control the human structures of the church have.