Monday, October 16, 2017

Pentecost 20, 2017: Proper 24A

1st Reading (Track 1): Exodus 33:12-23
After many events around Mt. Sinai, at chapter 33, verse one, God says, “Go, leave this place…and go to the land of which I swore to Abraham…” Moses, however, has had a difficult time with the people, and he wants assurances that God will remain present with them. Perhaps he remembers the years of silence in Eqypt before God heard the cry of his people.  At first Moses asks for help, but the conversation soon turns to Moses’ own need to feel God’s presence, and, even further, to see God’s glory. God acquiesces but maintains some control:  Moses will not see his face.

33:12 Moses said to the Lord, “See, you have said to me, ‘Bring up this people’; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ 13 Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” 14 He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 15 And he said to him, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.” 17 The Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” 18 Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” 21 And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; 23 then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”

Psalm 99 (Track 1)
Psalm 99 is an enthronement hymn, complete with a refrain at verse 3b, 5b and 9b. This particular hymn emphasizes God’s justice, which is born in God’s mercy. This psalm comes near the end of a section of psalms proclaiming God’s rule over the whole creation (Pss. 95-100; Psalm 47 is one also). It is conjectured that these psalms were used as part of an annual enthronement liturgy in the Temple, celebrating God as true King of Israel.

1     The Lord is King;
       let the people tremble; *
                  he is enthroned upon the cherubim;
                  let the earth shake.
2     The Lord is great in Zion; *
                  he is high above all peoples.
3     Let them confess his Name, which is great and awesome; *
                  he is the Holy One.
4     “O mighty King, lover of justice,
       you have established equity; *
                  you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.”
5     Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
       and fall down before his footstool; *
                  he is the Holy One.
6     Moses and Aaron among his priests,
       and Samuel among those who call upon his Name, *
                  they called upon the Lord, and he answered them.
7     He spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud; *
                  they kept his testimonies
                                          and the decree that he gave them.
8     “O Lord our God, you answered them indeed; *
                  you were a God who forgave them,
                  yet punished them for their evil deeds.”
9     Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
       and worship him upon his holy hill; *
                  for the Lord our God is the Holy One.

1st Reading (Track 2):  Isaiah 45:1-7
In this remarkable passage, God calls Cyrus, king of Persia, his “anointed.” The Hebrew word is Moshiach, “Messiah.” Cyrus is being appointed by God to defeat (with God’s aid) the Babylonians, who had destroyed Jerusalem and taken a large number of Jews to exile in Babylon. The stunning announcement is that Israel will be saved by a Gentile king, who is being led by Israel’s God.

45:1 Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped to subdue nations before him and strip kings of their robes, to open doors before him—and the gates shall not be closed:  2 I will go before you and level the mountains, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, 3 I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. 4 For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I surname you, though you do not know me. 5 I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides me there is no god. I arm you, though you do not know me, 6 so that they may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is no one besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. 7 I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the Lord do all these things. 8 Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the skies rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation may spring up, and let it cause righteousness to sprout up also; I the Lord have created it.

The Word of the Lord.                     Thanks be to God.

Psalm 96:1-9, (10-13) (Track 2)
Psalm 96 is an enthronement hymn, proclaiming God’s sovereignty over the whole creation. This psalm is part of a section of enthronement psalms (Pss. 95-100; Psalm 47 is one also). It is conjectured that these psalms were used as part of an annual enthronement liturgy in the Temple, celebrating God as true King of Israel.

1   Sing to the Lord a new song; *
     sing to the Lord, all the whole earth.
2   Sing to the Lord and bless his Name; *
              proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.
3   Declare his glory among the nations *
              and his wonders among all peoples.
4   For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; *
              he is more to be feared than all gods.
5   As for all the gods of the nations, they are but idols; *
              but it is the Lord who made the heavens.
6   Oh, the majesty and magnificence of his presence! *
              Oh, the power and the splendor of his sanctuary!
7   Ascribe to the Lord, you families of the peoples; *
              ascribe to the Lord honor and power.
8   Ascribe to the Lord the honor due his Name; *
              bring offerings and come into his courts.
9   Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; *
              let the whole earth tremble before him.
[10 Tell it out among the nations: “The Lord is King! *
              he has made the world so firm that it cannot be moved;
              he will judge the peoples with equity.”
11 Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;
     let the sea thunder and all that is in it; *
              let the field be joyful and all that is therein.
12 Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy
     before the Lord when he comes, *
              when he comes to judge the earth.
13 He will judge the world with righteousness *
              and the peoples with his truth.]

2nd Reading:  1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
If scholars are correct, this letter is the earliest writing in all the New Testament. It dates from the mid to late 40’s c.e., some twenty years before the date of the first gospel. Earlier in the decade, Paul had founded the Christian community is Thessalonica, a city in Macedonia on the road to Corinth and Athens. It is, by and large, a friendly letter to a community with which Paul is pleased. In the opening thanksgiving below, Paul praises them for how their experience of the gospel has encouraged others beyond themselves.

1:1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. 2 We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly 3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4 For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. 9 For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 22:15-22
Jesus has just told a series of parables which the religious leaders took as being aimed at them (they were right!). What is the easiest way to get rid of him? Get him to say something seditious and have the Romans take care of him. So they set this little trap. Jesus deftly avoids the trap and the authorities go away unhappy (although they are not yet finished with this tactic). This story is sometimes used as proof that Jesus wanted his followers to stay out of politics. It is nothing of the sort. Jesus is not teaching here. He is demonstrating what he mean t when he told his followers to “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

22:15 The Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16 So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21 They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

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 translationa are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2017 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for congregational use with this attribution.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Pentecost 19A, 2017: Proper 23A

1st Reading (Track 1):  Exodus 32:1-14
Moses had gone up the mountain to receive instructions about worship within Israel’s covenant with God.  Ironically, the people grow impatient and design some worship of their own, including a golden calf as an idol. When asked, Aaron seems not to hesitate; he knows what to do to appease the people. Yet later on, in verse 24 he defends himself by saying, “I threw the gold into the fire and out jumped this calf!” The story would be comical if it were not so serious: this struggle to live within the covenant, God’s displeasure, and pleas for forgiveness will be the pattern for Israel’s existence for centuries to come.

32:1 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” 6 They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel. 7 The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; 8 they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” 9 The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. 10 Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.” 11 But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” 14 And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23 (Track 1)
Psalm 106 is a companion to Psalm 105, which reviewed the history of God’s salvation of the people from Egypt. Psalm 106, in a penitential mode, tells the story of Israel’s disobedience in the desert. Verses 19-23 rehearse the golden calf story above, including Moses’ “standing in the breach” on behalf of the people.

1     Hallelujah!
       Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, *
                  for his mercy endures for ever.
2     Who can declare the mighty acts of the Lord *
         or show forth all his praise?
3     Happy are those who act with justice *
                  and always do what is right!
4     Remember me, O Lord, with the favor you have
                                       for your people, *
                  and visit me with your saving help;
5     That I may see the prosperity of your elect
       and be glad with the gladness of your people, *
                  that I may glory with your inheritance.
6     We have sinned as our forebears did; *
                  we have done wrong and dealt wickedly.
19   Israel made a bull-calf at Horeb *
                  and worshiped a molten image;
20   And so they exchanged their Glory *
                  for the image of an ox that feeds on grass.
21   They forgot God their Savior, *
                  who had done great things in Egypt,
22   Wonderful deeds in the land of Ham, *
                  and fearful things at the Red Sea.
23   So he would have destroyed them,
       had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach, *
                  to turn away his wrath from consuming them.

1st Reading (Track 2):  Isaiah 25:1-9
This passage has two sections. Verses 1-5 is an example of a psalm found in the midst of a prophetic book. It rejoices that an unnamed city, a symbol of oppression, has been destroyed and those oppressed vindicated. The second section (vv. 6-9) sets the scene of the “eschatological” banquet—this is God’s dream for the culmination of his plan. All nations will come to the mountain, where death and disgrace shall be no more.  This passage will inspire the banquet parables in Matthew and Luke (see below), but also important scenes in the Book of Revelation (7:9-17 and 21:1-5).

25:1 O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you, I will praise your name; for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure. 2 For you have made the city a heap, the fortified city a ruin; the palace of aliens is a city no more, it will never be rebuilt. 3 Therefore strong peoples will glorify you; cities of ruthless nations will fear you. 4 For you have been a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress, a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat. When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm, 5 the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place, you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds; the song of the ruthless was stilled. 6 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. 7 And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; 8 he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. 9 It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

The Word of the Lord.                     Thanks be to God.

Psalm 23 (Track 2)
The most beloved of psalms is usually taken as a personal expression of God’s steadfast love and comfort for the believer, and that it is. Yet it is clear that this pastoral expression comes out of the real experience of danger, sorrow, and exclusion. It is a song of how the faithfulness of our good God turns the world upside down, as Shepherd and Host.

1     The Lord is my shepherd; *
              I shall not be in want.
2     He makes me lie down in green pastures *
              and leads me beside still waters.
3     He revives my soul *
              and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.
4     Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
                                          I shall fear no evil; *
              for you are with me;
              your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5     You spread a table before me in the presence of those
                                          who trouble me; *
       you have anointed my head with oil,
       and my cup is running over.
6     Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days
                                          of my life, *
       and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

2nd Reading:  Philippians 4:1-9
Paul finally gets to what probably was the reason for this letter. There has been quarreling between two women in the community, perhaps both the heads of house churches. The identity of “my loyal companion” is unknown, but is certainly the person whom Paul expected to mediate this conflict. Verses 4-9, summarize the principle messages of the letter:  life together following Christ.

4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. 2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. 4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 22:1-14
Having arrived in Jerusalem, Jesus is teaching using parables. The parable of the wedding feast is found in both Matthew and Luke (14:6-14), but Matthew’s has a distinctively harder edge. The parable is aimed at those who have resisted the message of the kingdom. Note the invitation, the inclusion, is first. Saying “no” is a possibility, but it has consequences. The detail of the man without a wedding garment has puzzled readers and scholars alike for generations.  It is probably a warning for being prepared (which is what the final two parables in chapter 25 are about). One possibility: is the man’s speechlessness a clue? Is he the final point of the parable, that we must claim relationship with the king (God)?

22:1 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

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 translations are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2017 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for congregational use with this attribution.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Pentecost 18, 2017: Proper 22A

1st Reading (Track 1):  Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
The Ten Commandments (or ten “words,” as the text says) form the heart of the covenant God is making with his people, as they travel from Egypt to the Promised Land. The first three speak of relationship with God, that there is one God and he cannot be controlled. The fourth is a transition—the keeping of the sabbath day of rest, which might be taken as governing Israel’s relationship with itself.  The last sixth are the outline of proper relationship with our neighbors.

20:1 Then God spoke all these words:  2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3 you shall have no other gods before me. 4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. 8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 13 You shall not murder. 14 You shall not commit adultery. 15 You shall not steal. 16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. 18 When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.”

Psalm 19 (Track 1)
The first six verses of Psalm 19 focus on God’s dealings with the creation; verses 7-14 turn to the subject of the Law.  The transition from creation to law has led some to believe this originally was two psalms, but the psalmist seems to be saying that the Law is as natural and necessary for human living as the creation is for the natural world.

1   The heavens declare the glory of God, *
and the firmament shows his handiwork.
2   One day tells its tale to another, *
and one night imparts knowledge to another.
3   Although they have no words or language, *
and their voices are not heard,
4   Their sound has gone out into all lands, *
and their message to the ends of the world.
5   In the deep has he set a pavilion for the sun; *
it comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber;
it rejoices like a champion to run its course.
6   It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens
     and runs about to the end of it again; *
nothing is hidden from its burning heat.
7   The law of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul; *
              the testimony of the Lord is sure
                                                 and gives wisdom to the innocent.
8   The statutes of the Lord are just and rejoice the heart; *
              the commandment of the Lord is clear
                                                 and gives light to the eyes.
9 The fear of the Lord  is clean and endures for ever; *
              the judgments of the Lord are true
                                                 and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
                                                 more than much fine gold, *
              sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb.
11 By them also is your servant enlightened, *
              and in keeping them there is great reward.
12 Who can tell how often he offends? *
              cleanse me from my secret faults.
13 Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins;
     let them not get dominion over me; *
              then shall I be whole and sound
              and innocent of a great offense.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my
                                                 heart be acceptable in your sight, *
              O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.

1st Reading (Track 2):  Isaiah 5:1-7
The image of “vineyard” or “vine” is used frequently for a lover (see the Song od Solomon) and, specifically, Israel as God’s love (see Psalm 80, Jeremiah 2 & 12, Ezekiel 17 and Hosea 10). It is an image that Jesus himself uses (see below and John 15). There is a double play on words in Hebrew in verse 7:  “mishpat” (justice) vs. “mishpah” (bloodshed) and “tsedaqah” (righteousness) vs. tse’aqah (a cry). This curse of the vineyard will be overturned in Isaiah 27.

5:1 Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard:  My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. 2 He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. 3 And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4 What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? 5 And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. 6 I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. 7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!

Psalm 80:7-14 (Track 2)
Psalm 80 uses the image of “vine” for Israel. As a whole, it is a community lament for the fall of Israel, the Northern Kingdom, to the Assyrians in 722 b.c.e.

7   Restore us, O God of hosts; *
           show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.
8   You have brought a vine out of Egypt; *
           you cast out the nations and planted it.
9   You prepared the ground for it; *
           it took root and filled the land.
10 The mountains were covered by its shadow *
           and the towering cedar trees by its boughs.
11 You stretched out its tendrils to the Sea *
           and its branches to the River.
12 Why have you broken down its wall, *
           so that all who pass by pluck off its grapes?
13 The wild boar of the forest has ravaged it, *
           and the beasts of the field have grazed upon it.
14 Turn now, O God of hosts, look down from heaven;
     behold and tend this vine; *
              preserve what your right hand has planted.

2nd Reading:  Philippians 3:4b-14
In chapter 2, Paul has appealed for unity and gives three examples of how what unity demands of us. The first example is Christ himself, who “emptied himself” (2:5-11). The second is Timothy and Epaphroditus (2:19-30), the latter having come “close to death for the work of Christ.” The third example is Paul himself, which is today’s reading. Paul had to set aside his status and zeal, to count them all as “rubbish.” Verses 10-14 are Paul’s understanding of what new life in Christ means.

3:4b If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more:  5 circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 21:33-46
The parable of the wicked tenants is found also in Mark (12:1-12) and Luke (20:9-19). It is a simple allegory: Jerusalem is the vineyard, God the owner, the tenants the religious authorities, the slaves the prophets, and the Son Jesus himself. It is so simple that the religious authorities immediately understand it is directed at them, and so comes the first mention of having him arrested. The quote in verse 42 is Psalm 118:22-23.

21:33 [Jesus said,] “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34 When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35 But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ 39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” 42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’? 43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. 44 The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” 45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46 They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

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 translations are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2017 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for congregational use with this attribution.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

17 Pentecost 2017: Proper 21a

The 17th Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 21A

1st Reading (Track 1):  Exodus 17:1-7
At this point in the Book of Exodus the people have fled from Egypt and successfully crossed “the sea of reeds.” They now find themselves in the vast wilderness of the Sinai and their elation changes to complaint (which actually begin in chapter 16). Moses is attacked as a leader and he, in turn, complains to God. God responds with the miracle of water at Massah and Meribah (Hebrew words that mean “test” and “find fault,” thus the place is a memorial not to the miracle, but to the people’s unfaithfulness).

17:1 From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16 (Track 1)
Psalm 78 is one of the “historical psalms” which tells the story of Israel in lines of poetry (the others are 105, 106, 135, and 136). In Psalm 78, the first eight verses are a general introduction, encouraging the people to give thanks and praise as they “recount to generations to come.” We then pick up in the middle of the psalm, re-calling the escape through the sea, and the giving of water told in today’s first reading.

1       Hear my teaching, O my people; *
                  incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
2       I will open my mouth in a parable; *
                  I will declare the mysteries of ancient times.
3       That which we have heard and known,
         and what our forefathers have told us, *
                  we will not hide from their children.
4       We will recount to generations to come
         the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the Lord, *
                  and the wonderful works he has done.
12     He worked marvels in the sight of their forefathers, *
                  in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan.
13     He split open the sea and let them pass through; *
                  he made the waters stand up like walls.
14     He led them with a cloud by day, *
                  and all the night through with a glow of fire.
15     He split the hard rocks in the wilderness *
                  and gave them drink as from the great deep.
16     He brought streams out of the cliff, *
                  and the waters gushed pout like rivers.

1st Reading (Track 2):  Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
The prophet Jeremiah tells us that the Israelites in exile in Babylon were blaming their ancestors for their current situation (Jeremiah 31:29-30). It had been the teaching that children will be punished for their parents’ sin (see, for example Exodus 20:5). Israel, however, is in a new situation, one in which accountability for their own actions is set upon the community. The invitation to repentance is open to all, an invitation the community does not seem to understand, and so they cry “unfair!” Yet God desires the life of all, and is prepared to give each a new heart and a new spirit (about which Ezekiel will say more in chapters 36 & 37.

18:1 The word of the Lord came to me:  What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die. 25 Yet you say, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? 26 When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die. 27 Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. 28 Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die. 29 Yet the house of Israel says, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” O house of Israel, are my ways unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? 30 Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, all of you according to your ways, says the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin. 31 Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live.

Psalm 25:1-8 (Track 2)
Psalm 25 is an acrostic poem (22 verses each beginning with a subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet) which is an urgent plea for God’s intervention and rescue. The speaker is ready to trust completely in God, the ground of that hope being God’s steadfast love (in verse 6, translated here as simply “love”).  In Hebrew this word is chesed, used frequently (248 times) as steadfast or loyal love.

1       To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul;
         my God, I put my trust in you; *
                  let me not be humiliated,
                  nor let my enemies triumph over me.
2       Let none who look to you be put to shame; *
                  let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.
3       Show me you ways, O Lord, *
                  and teach me your paths.
4       Lead me in your truth and teach me, *
                  for you are the God of my salvation;
                  in you have I trusted all the day long.
5       Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love, *
                  for they are from everlasting.
6       Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; *
                  remember me according to your love
                  and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.
7       Gracious and upright is the Lord; *
                  therefore he teaches sinners in his way.
8       He guides the humble in doing right *
                  and teaches his way to the lowly.

2nd Reading:  Philippians 2:1-13
Paul begins this passage with an exhortation to continued joy, unity, and humility. He then gives the example of Jesus, quoting in Verses 5-11 what was most likely an early Christian hymn. Jesus shows us how to live in his own self-emptying (kenosis in Greek) in order to fulfill God’s purpose for him. One result of this style of life is the unity in humility that Paul is proclaiming to the Christians of Philippi.  Despite his self-emptying his name is remembered and highly exalted.  One recalls his own teaching, “The first will be last and the last will be first.” It is important to know that the “your” in “Work out your own salvation…” is plural. Paul is calling the Philippians to continue in the hard work of community.

2:1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 21:23-32
When all else fails, question the troublemaker’s authority. Jesus turns the question back at the religious leaders, and they are too cautious to answer. Jesus replies, as he often does, with a parable. The message of this parable is relatively simple:  actions speak louder than words, but Jesus turns up the heat by the “prostitutes and tax collectors” are doing the right thing while the religious authorities are not. Another parable will follow, equally upsetting to the authorities, and we are told after it that they began a plan to arrest him.

21:23 When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 28 What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. 30 The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe 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 Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2017 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for congregational use with this attribution.