Sunday, August 4, 2019

9 Pentecost 2019, Proper 14C Readings & Commentaries


Jesus’ teaching on possessions continues from last week’s reading.  The heart of the passage is surely the saying, “Where your treasure is, your heart will be also.

1st Reading (Track 1):  Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
As a whole, Isaiah interprets a wide swath of the history of the kingdom of Judah (the Southern Kingdom). This includes two, possibly three, prophetic figures. Chapters 1-39 concern Isaiah of Jerusalem’s interaction with life under the kings of Judah in the latter half of the 8th century b.c.e. This history includes the northern kingdom’s last gasp, going to war with Judah in an attempt to save itself. The northern kingdom (Israel) fell in 722 b.c.e. during the reign of Ahaz, king of Judah, who figures greatly in the text of Isaiah. Isaiah opens with a speech of judgment against Judah (1:2-17) that ends with a diatribe against empty worship, worship that is deceitful, because it hides the broken relationship of the people with God. But, as often occurs in Isaiah, the judgment is followed by a new possibility. Relationship with God can be restored and relationship within the community (i.e., justice) can be restored and these restorations can lead to well-being (shalom).

1:1 The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. 10 Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! 11 What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. 12 When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; 13 bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation—I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. 14 Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. 16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. 18 Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; 20 but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24 (Track 1)
Psalm 50 speaks of the God revealed in the glory of creation, who cannot keep silent because the covenant has been broken. The courtroom language is like that of the first chapter of Isaiah, and like Isaiah 1, the psalm offers hope at its end. It is not cheap hope, however, it requires “to keep in my way.”

1 The Lord, the God of gods, has spoken; *
              he has called the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.
2 Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty, *
              God reveals himself in glory.
3 Our God will come and will not keep silence; *
              before him there is a consuming flame,
              and round about him a raging storm.
4 He calls the heavens and the earth from above *
              to witness the judgment of his people.
5 “Gather before me my loyal followers, *
              those who have made a covenant with me
              and sealed it with sacrifice.”
6 Let the heavens declare the rightness of his cause; *
              for God himself is judge.
7 Hear, O my people, and I will speak:
              “O Israel, I will bear witness against you; *
              for I am God, your God.
8 I do not accuse you because of your sacrifices; *
              your offerings are always before me.
23 Consider this well, you who forget God, *
              lest I rend you and there be none to deliver you.
24 Whoever offers me the sacrifice of thanksgiving honors me; *
              but to those who keep in my way will I show
                            the salvation of God.”

1st Reading (Track 2):  Genesis 15:1-6
Our first reading is the second promise of God to Abram and Sarai that they would bear a child and, in fact, have descendants more than they can count. The initial promise was made in chapter 12 when God asked them to set out from their homeland. Significant time has passed. They have been to Egypt, been involved in a war between the various kings of the land of Canaan, and made offering to the mysterious King Melchizedek of Salem.  After all this, one can imagine that they have begun to wonder about that promise!  It is now time, however, to settle in the land that was promised, and so the child and the descendants are promised again. Both St. Paul and the writer to the Hebrews will make much of Abram’s response of faith and that the Lord responded by “reckoning it to him as righteousness.”

15:1 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4 But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5 He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Psalm 33:12-22 (Track 2)
Psalm 33 as a whole is a communal song of praise.  The first portion (1-11) extols God as creator.  Our section this morning praises the God who rules over the destinies of nations. There is also a strong theme of trust, which is very much in play in our first reading.

12 Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord! *
happy the people he has chosen to be his own!
13 The Lord looks down from heaven, *
and beholds all the people in the world.
14 From where he sits enthroned he turn his gaze *
on all who dwell on the earth.
15 He fashions all the hearts of them *
and understand all their works.
16 There is no king that can be saved by a mighty army; *
a strong man is not delivered by his great strength.
17 The horse is a vain hope for deliverance; *
for all its strength it cannot save.
18 Behold, the eye of Lord is upon those who fear him, *
on those who wait upon his love,
19 To pluck their lives from death, *
and to feed them in time of famine.
20 Our soul waits for the Lord; *
he is our help and our shield.
21 Indeed, our heart rejoices in him, *
for in his holy Name we put our trust.
22 Let your loving-kindness, O Lord, be upon us, *
              as we have put our trust in you.

2nd Reading:  Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
For the next four weeks we will read from the latter part of the Letter to the Hebrews, an anonymous letter which reads like an extended sermon. Its simple purpose is to bolster the faith of its readers.  The first ten chapters dwell on the superiority of Christ, especially as high priest of the new covenant, a high priest we can trust because he was one of us. In chapter eleven, the writing takes a turn as if someone had asked the question, “But what exactly is faith?”  The author offers a definition and then provides examples from biblical history.  We skip over the examples of Abel, Enoch, and Noah to arrive at Abraham and Sarah.  The last four verses of our reading are poetic, a vivid description about the place of longing in faith, and the astoundingly good news that God is not ashamed to be called our God.

11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible. 8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.” 13 All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14 for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

Gospel Reading:  Luke 12:32-40
Jesus’ teaching on possessions continues from last week’s reading.  The heart of the passage is surely the saying, “Where your treasure is, your heart will be also.”  Jesus is an astute observer of human nature, and this particular observation has not failed the passage of time.  Encouraging the giving of alms would have been a very traditional Jewish thing to do.  Both Judaism and early Christianity emphasized the community of faith’s responsibility for those in need.  Finally, developing this right relationship with possessions is a key part of being prepared for when the Son of Man will come at an unexpected hour.

12:32 [Jesus said to the disciples,] “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 35 Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. 39 But know this:  if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Psalm translation is from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2019 Epiphany ESources, 67. E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, www.EpiphanyEsources.com. All rights reserved.  Permission is given to copy for group study.  Bulletin inserts are available. Go to our website for more information.  Like us on Facebook!

Sunday, July 28, 2019

8 Pentecost 2019, Proper 13C Readings & Commentaries


The parable of the rich fool is found only in Luke’s Gospel.  It begins a longer section on the attitude of the followers of Jesus toward possessions—an important topic for the Jesus of Luke’s Gospel. 

1st Reading (Track 1):  Hosea 11:1-10
Hosea prophesied in the Northern Kingdom of Israel (he often refers to it as “Ephraim”) in the 8th century b.c.e., prior to the Assyrians’ destruction of the kingdom in 722 b.c.e. Our reading today is an astonishing oracle. In verses 1-4, the Lord remembers his love of Israel. He raised them as his children. Verses 5-7 express his anger at their repeated alienation from him and the severe consequence which is to occur. Yet then, in verses 8-11, the Lord leaves his anger behind and returns to compassion. There will be consequences, but there will be a restoration, because God ultimately cannot sever his relationship with his people.

11:1 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. 2 The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols. 3 Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. 4 I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them. 5 They shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me. 6 The sword rages in their cities, it consumes their oracle-priests, and devours because of their schemes. 7 My people are bent on turning away from me. To the Most High they call, but he does not raise them up at all. 8 How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. 9 I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath. 10 They shall go after the Lord, who roars like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west. 11 They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria; and I will return them to their homes, says the Lord.

Psalm 107:1-9, 43 (Track 1)
Psalm 107 is a song of thanksgiving, in remembrance of God’s merciful intervention in the life of Israel. It opens with a summon to thanksgiving for mercy (v. 1-3), and then gives four instances of God’s compassion (only the first is given for our passage this morning). Verses 4-9 recall the wandering in the desert, close to death, when God provided resources for well-being. The final verse is the concluding instruction for the psalm, placing it among the wisdom literature of the Hebrew Scriptures.

1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, *
              and his mercy endures for ever.
2 Let all those whom the Lord has redeemed proclaim *
              that he redeemed them from the hand of the foe.
3 He gathered them out of the lands; *
              from the east and from the west,
              from the north and from the south.
4 Some wandered in desert wastes; *
              they found no way to a city where they might dwell.
5 They were hungry and thirsty; *
              their spirits languished within them.
6 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, *
              and he delivered them from their distress.
7 He put their feet on a straight path *
              to go to a city where they might dwell.
8 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his mercy *
              and the wonders he does for his children.
9 For he satisfies the thirsty *
              and fills the hungry with good things.
43 Whoever is wise will ponder these things, *
              and consider well the mercies of the Lord.

1st Reading (Track 2):      Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23
Ecclesiastes (Qoheleth in Hebrew) is attributed to King Solomon, although biblical scholars believe the language is from a much later period, perhaps around 300 b.c.e.  It is one of the five books of the Megilloth, the books of the Hebrew Scriptures read at major festivals: Ecclesiastes at Tabernacles (Sukkoth), Esther at Purim, Lamentations at the commemoration of the destruction of the Temple (Tisha B’av), Ruth at the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost or Shavuot) and the Song of Songs at Passover.  The keyword of Ecclesiastes is “vanity,” in Hebrew hebel, whose root word means breath or mist or vapor.  “Vanity” may not be the best translation—other English versions use “futility.” The author comes to the exact opposite conclusion as the author of Proverbs, who believes in an orderly, purposeful universe.  Ecclesiastes’ gift to the biblical record (along with the Book of Job) is to challenge the dominant wisdom teaching that all is just and purposeful.

1:2 Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. 12 I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, 13 applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. 14 I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind. 2:18 I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me 19 —and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. 20 So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labors under the sun, 21 because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. 22 What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? 23 For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.

Psalm 49:1-11 (Track 2)
Psalm 49 is written in the wisdom tradition of the Hebrew Scriptures. It reflects on the futility of riches, much like our first reading. It is better to trust in God than in the things we have managed to accumulate.

1 Hear this, all you peoples;
   hearken, all you who dwell in the world, *
you of high degree and low, rich and poor together.
2 My mouth shall speak of wisdom, *
and my heart shall meditate on understanding.
3 I will incline my ear to a proverb *
and set forth my riddle upon the harp.
4 Why should I be afraid in evil days, *
when the wickedness of those at my heels surrounds me,
5 The wickedness of those who put their trust in their goods, *
and boast of their great riches?
6 We can never ransom ourselves, *
or deliver to God the price of our life;
7 For the ransom of our life is so great, *
that we should never have enough to pay it,
8 In order to live for ever and ever, *
and never see the grave.
9 For we see that the wise die also;
   like the dull and stupid they perish *
and leave their wealth to those who come after them.
10 Their graves shall be their homes for ever,
     their dwelling places from generation to generation, *
though they call the lands after their own names.
11 Even though honored, they cannot live for ever; *
              they are like the beasts that perish.

2nd Reading:  Colossians 3:1-11
The first portion of this reading speaks poetically of who we already are in Christ. The second half lifts up what we should become as a result of our communion with him. This is our belief about Baptism.  Our Baptism says all that there is to say about us in the eyes of God. Our life on this earth then is our trying to live into the reality of what we already are. That dynamic is key to an understanding of Christianity and the Gospel. Our journey is a transformation into what we already are—created in Christ, with the end of worldly distinctions.

3:1 So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory. 5 Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. 7 These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. 8 But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10 and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 11 In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

Gospel Reading:  Luke 12:13-21
The parable of the rich fool is found only in Luke’s Gospel.  It begins a longer section on the attitude of the followers of Jesus toward possessions—an important topic for the Jesus of Luke’s Gospel. It should be carefully noted that the farmer in the story is not a criminal and, in many ways, is simply acting as any prudent farmer would. Jesus has said earlier in Luke’s Gospel (9:25), “What does it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit themselves?” In our own day this is a crucial question in a world where the acquiring of possessions takes up so much of our energy and impacts so much of our self-worth.

12:13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”


Monday, July 22, 2019

7 Pentecost 2019, Proper 12C Readings & Commentaries


In this passage the gospel writer Luke has joined together several of Jesus’ teachings on prayer. It was not an unusual practice for rabbis of Jesus’ day to give their disciples a particular form for prayer.

1st Reading (Track 1):  Hosea 1:2-10
The prophet Hosea was a contemporary of the prophet Amos, both prophesying in the waning days of the Northern Kingdom (which Hosea refers to as Israel, Ephraim, or Samaria). Hosea’s life becomes itself a metaphor for Israel’s relationship with God. Israel has prostituted itself to foreign gods (especially Baal), and, through the Assyrians, God will punish them. In the life of Hosea, his wife Gomer’s illegitimate children will result in a separation of the couple. Yet in chapter 3, the relationship is restored, promising that God’s relationship with Israel will be restored. The restoration will not be through the Northern Kingdom (which was destroyed in 722 b.c.e. and never restored), but through the Southern Kingdom of Judah.

1:2 When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” 3 So he went and took Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. 4 And the Lord said to him, “Name him Jezreel; for in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. 5 On that day I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.” 6 She conceived again and bore a daughter. Then the Lord said to him, “Name her Lo-ruhamah, for I will no longer have pity on the house of Israel or forgive them. 7 But I will have pity on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the Lord their God; I will not save them by bow, or by sword, or by war, or by horses, or by horsemen.” 8 Then she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son. 9 Then the Lord said, “Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not my people and I am not your God.” 10 Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered; and in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.”

Psalm 85 (Track 1)
Psalm 85 begins (vv. 1-3) as a remembrance of the graciousness of God, but then moves (vv. 4-7) into a lament of present day alienation from God.  Within this lament comes the question, “Will God’s anger be forever?” In verses 8 & 9, a response from God is anticipated, recognizing that in order to hear there must be a “turning.” God’s response is in verses 10-13, a vision of shalom, well-being, the dream of God for his creation in its fullness.

1 You have been gracious to your land, O Lord, *
              you have restored the good fortune of Jacob.
2 You have forgiven the iniquity of your people *
              and blotted out all their sins.
3 You have withdrawn all your fury *
              and turned yourself from your wrathful indignation.
4 Restore us then, O God our Savior; *
              let your anger depart from us.
5 Will you be displeased with us for ever? *
              will you prolong your anger from age to age?
6 Will you not give us life again, *
              that your people may rejoice in you?
7 Show us your mercy, O Lord, *
              and grant us your salvation.
8 I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, *
              for he is speaking peace to his faithful people
              and to those who turn their hearts to him.
9 Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, *
              that his glory may dwell in our land.
10 Mercy and truth have met together; *
              righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
11 Truth shall spring up from the earth, *
              and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
12 The Lord will indeed grant prosperity, *
              and our land will yield its increase.
13 Righteousness shall go before him, *
              and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.

1st Reading (Track 2):  Genesis 18:20-32
This reading continues last week’s. The three messengers who visited Abraham and Sarah set out for Sodom and Abraham accompanies them.  The Lord speaks—is this the same being as the three men, which is implied? It is impossible to tell for sure. The Lord takes Abraham into his counsel and Abraham intercedes for the people of Sodom, in a sense working a deal with him. This is a direct challenge to the (then) widely held belief in “collective guilt” and punishment. Of course, Sodom is destroyed for lack of even ten, and the violent inhospitality (the real “sin of Sodom”) the messengers of the Lord find there.

18:20 Then the Lord said, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! 21 I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.” 22 So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the Lord. 23 Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” 26 And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.” 27 Abraham answered, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. 28 Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” 29 Again he spoke to him, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” 30 Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” 31 He said, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” 32 Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” 33 And the Lord went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham; and Abraham returned to his place.

Psalm 138 (Track 2)
Psalm 138 is a psalm of thanksgiving and trust.  Note the psalm does not assume that life will be free from distress.  Trouble is a given in life, but so are God’s purposes and love. It was faith in this God that caused Abraham to risk confrontation with him in our first reading.

1 I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with my whole heart;
before the gods I will sing your praise.
2 I will bow down toward your holy temple and praise your Name,
because of your love and faithfulness;
3 For you have glorified your Name
and your word above all things.
4 When I called, you answered me;
you increased my strength within me.
5 All the rulers of the earth will praise you, O Lord,
when they have heard the words of your mouth.
6 They will sing of the ways of the Lord,
that great is the glory of the Lord.
7 Though the Lord be high, he cares for the lowly,
perceiving the haughty from afar.
8 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe;
you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies;
your right hand shall save me.
9 The Lord has a purpose for me and will make it good;
O Lord, your love endures for ever;
do not abandon the works of your hands.

2nd Reading:  Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)
The members of the Christian community in Colossae have been exposed to teaching which understand Christ to be only one member of an angelic hierarchy (typical of what was called “Gnosticism” in the early church). Paul appeals to them with his own experience and teaching: “the whole fullness of deity dwells [in him] bodily.” There is no other. You were baptized into his death and resurrection. You need nothing more. The only response that is required is to “abound in thanksgiving” (in Greek eucharistia).

2:6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. 8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; 12 when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, 14 erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.
[16  Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. 17 These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, 19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.]

Gospel Reading:  Luke 11:1-13
In this passage the gospel writer Luke has joined together several of Jesus’ teachings on prayer. It was not an unusual practice for rabbis of Jesus’ day to give their disciples a particular form for prayer. Apparently John the Baptist did so to his (although we have no record of it). Luke’s form of the Lord’s Prayer is simpler than the version in Matthew’s Gospel (6:9-13). There are two brief phrases of praise to God and three prayers for the ones praying (note the form is plural—it is a communal prayer, not a private one). The parable of the friend at midnight may have originally been about preparedness for the end time, but here it is about persistence.  In the concluding verses, Luke says we will be given “the Holy Spirit” rather than Matthew’s “good things.”  The Holy Spirit has been ever present in Luke’s Gospel, and will continue to be through the Acts of the Apostles (Luke’s second volume).

11:1 Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread. 4 And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.” 5 And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7 And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. 9 So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Psalm translation is from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2019 Epiphany ESources, 67. E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, www.EpiphanyEsources.com. All rights reserved.  Permission is given to copy for group study. Bulletin inserts are available. Go to our website for more information.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

6 Pentecost 2019 (Proper 11C) Readings & Commentaries


 This well-known story is only told by Luke. The Gospel of John knows Mary and Martha of Bethany (and their brother Lazarus), and there is a meal scene with them in that Gospel (12:1-3), but it is lacking the details in this story.

1st Reading (Track 1): Amos 8:1-12
Today’s reading from near the end of the book of Amos, is the fourth vision/image given to the prophet regarding Israel’s end. Ripe summer fruit (which will quickly spoil) speaks to the immediacy of Israel’s situation. As in last week’s reading from Amos, God’s judgment is that in a time of “prosperity,” fraudulent business practices oppress the poor. Amos announces that it is too late.  When the crisis comes (the invasion of the Assyrians), people will seek a word from God and there will be none.

8:1 This is what the Lord God showed me—a basket of summer fruit. 2 He said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the Lord said to me, “The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass them by. 3 The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,” says the Lord God; “the dead bodies shall be many, cast out in every place. Be silent!” 4 Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, 5 saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, 6 buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.” 7 The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds. 8 Shall not the land tremble on this account, and everyone mourn who lives in it, and all of it rise like the Nile, and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt? 9 On that day, says the Lord God, I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight. 10 I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on all loins, and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it like a bitter day. 11 The time is surely coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. 12 They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.

Psalm 52 (Track 1)
Psalm 52 is testimony against wickedness. The Hebrew word translated “tyrant” is literally “Mighty One.” There is sarcasm at use here.  The introduction to the psalm put in in the context of “When Doeg the Edomite came to Saul and said to him, “David has come to the house of Ahimelech” (1 Samuel 21 & 22). If that is the case than the object of scorn here is the treacherous Doeg, whose tongue has indeed “plotted ruin” and caused many deaths.

1 You tyrant, why do you boast of wickedness *
              against the godly all day long?
2 You plot ruin; your tongue is like a sharpened razor, *
              O worker of deception.
3 You love evil more than good *
              and lying more than speaking the truth.
4 You love all words that hurt, *
              O you deceitful tongue.
5 Oh, that God would demolish you utterly, *
              topple you, and snatch you from your dwelling,
              and root you out of the land of the living!
6 The righteous shall see and tremble, *
and they shall laugh at him, saying,
7 “This is the one who did not take God for a refuge, *
              but trusted in great wealth and relied upon wickedness.”
8 But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; *
              I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.
9 I will give you thanks for what you have done *
              and declare the goodness of your Name
                            in the presence of the godly.

1st Reading (Track 2): Genesis 18:1-10a
God promised Abraham and Sarah a son (and that his heirs would become a great nation) in Genesis 12:1-4. Much has happened since that promise. The two have journeyed from their homeland to the land of Canaan, taken a side trip to Egypt, divided the land between themselves and their nephew Lot, defeated several kings, received a second iteration of the promise (ch. 15), tried having a surrogate son through Sarah’s slave-girl Hagar, and received a third iteration of the promise (ch. 17) during which they received a change to their names and received the commandment of male circumcision.  Now comes the promise again—a fourth time.  This story is a fine example of Middle Eastern hospitality. It will be chapter 21 before Sarah bears a child. There are many odd things about this reading. Are the three indeed “men” or are they angels? Why are they referred to sometimes as “they” and sometimes as “he”? Because of this inconsistency, Christians have tended to read back into the story an appearance of the Trinity.

18:1 The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. 2 He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. 3 He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. 4 Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. 5 Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” 6 And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.” 7 Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. 8 Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate. 9 They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” 10 Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.”

Psalm 15 (Track 2)
Psalm 15 sets forth the characteristics of a righteous person, especially as he approaches worship in the Temple.  In the time of the psalm’s writing, access to the Temple was restricted.  Certain people were not admitted (see, for example, Deuteronomy 23:1-8).  The Babylonian Talmud claims that David summarized the 613 laws of the Torah into the ten found here in verses 2—5. The structure of ten is certainly meant to tie directly to the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) tradition.

1 Lord, who may dwell in your tabernacle? *
who may abide upon your holy hill?
2 Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right, *
who speaks truth from his heart.
3 There is no guile upon his tongues;
    he does no evil to his friend; *
he does not heap contempt upon his neighbor.
4 In his sight the wicked is rejected, *
but he honors those who fear the Lord.
5 He has sworn to do no wrong *
and does not take back his word.
6 He does not give his money in hope of gain, *
nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.
7 Whoever does these things *
shall never be overthrown.

2nd Reading:  Colossians 1:15-28
The first portion of today’s reading is most likely an early hymn to Christ as “firstborn of all creation.” The reading then continues to speak of the effect of this “cosmic” Christ on the ministry of the Colossians and of Paul himself. The Christ who holds all things together, has done so with the Colossians. They are reconciled in him. Paul understands himself to be continuing Christ’s work, offering himself for the sake of the church, revealing the mystery:  Christ in you, the hope of glory.

1:15 Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. 21 And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him—23 provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel. 24 I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. 25 I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.

Gospel Reading:  Luke 10:38-42
This well-known story is only told by Luke. The Gospel of John knows Mary and Martha of Bethany (and their brother Lazarus), and there is a meal scene with them in that Gospel (12:1-3), but it is lacking the details in this story. This story highlights Jesus’ willingness to push the social and religious boundaries between men and women (particularly for a rabbi). It is easy to be critical of Martha and her busy-ness, but that is not necessarily Jesus’ point.  He has just said to the lawyer in the Good Samaritan story, “Go and do likewise.” Here he commends Mary’s passivity. The point is, perhaps, that in the life of Jesus’ followers there is a time for both ways of being. Perhaps another point centers around the words “distraction” and “worry.” It is not so much that Martha should not be about her tasks, but distracted and worried living are not helpful among Jesus’ disciples, partially because they typically lead to resentment, as they do here.

10:38 Now as Jesus and his disciples went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”


The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Psalm translation is from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2019 Epiphany ESources, 67. E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, www.EpiphanyEsources.com. All rights reserved.  Permission is given to copy for group study. Bulletin inserts are available. Go to our website for more information.