Sunday, October 20, 2019

20 Pentecost 2019, Proper 25C Readings & Commentaries

Today we have another parable unique to Luke’s Gospel.  It follows on last week’s (the persistent widow before the unjust judge) because they both answer questions regarding prayer:

1st Reading (Track 1): Joel 2:23-32
We know nothing about the prophet Joel and his context. What we have today is the turning point in the book from unrelenting judgment on “the day of the Lord” (a phrase repeated three times—1:15, 2:1, and 2:11). A plague of locusts serves as metaphor for God’s sovereignty intervening in the life of Israel. As today’s reading begins the proclamation turns to a promise of mercy. The land will again produce and the people be safe. At verse 2:28 the tone shifts to apocalyptic. The scene is now an “afterward” (v. 28), a future that is coming. 2:28-32 is part of the apostle Peter’s reaction to the Pentecost event in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:17-21). The Spirit’s outpouring on all flesh is an assertion of God into history. It is a turning point in which (as Acts later says) “turns the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).

2:23 O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the Lord your God; for he has given the early rain for your vindication, he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the later rain, as before. 24 The threshing floors shall be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. 25 I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent against you. 26 You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. 27 You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other. And my people shall never again be put to shame. 28 Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. 29 Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit. 30 I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. 31 The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. 32 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.

Psalm 65 (Track 1)
Psalm 65 gives praise to God the redeemer (vv. 1-4) and creator (vv. 5-14), two aspects of God’s providence that cannot be separated. There is no part of life that is not an extravagant gift from God.

1 You are to be praised, O God, in Zion; *
              to you shall vows be performed in Jerusalem.
2 To you that hear prayer shall all flesh come, *
              because of their transgressions.
3 Our sins are stronger than we are, *
              but you will blot them out.
4 Happy are they whom you choose
   and draw to your courts to dwell there! *
              they will be satisfied by the beauty of your house,
              by the holiness of your temple.
5 Awesome things will you show us in your righteousness,
   O God of our salvation, *
              O Hope of all the ends of the earth
              and of the seas that are far away.
6 You make fast the mountains by your power; *
              they are girded about with might.
7 You still the roaring of the seas, *
              the roaring of their waves, and the clamor of the peoples. 8 Those who dwell at the ends of the earth
                            will tremble at your marvelous signs; *
              you make the dawn and the dusk to sing for joy.
9 You visit the earth and water it abundantly;
   you make it very plenteous; *
              the river of God is full of water.
10 You prepare the grain, *
              for so you provide for the earth.
11 I You drench the furrows and smooth out the ridges; *
              with heavy rain you soften the ground
                            and bless its increase.
12 You crown the year with your goodness, *
              and your paths overflow with plenty.
13 May the fields of the wilderness be rich for grazing, *
              and the hills be clothed with joy.
14 May the meadows cover themselves with flocks,
     and the valleys cloak themselves with grain; *
              let them shout for joy and sing.

The First Reading (Track 2):    Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22
Jeremiah 14:1-10 is a lament reacting to a time of severe drought (verses 1-6 make this context clear). Where is God? Do not forsake us.  Verse 10 is God’s harsh answer to the complaint.  It is an indictment of the people’s have abandoned God, not vice versa.  Your problems will be greater than a drought if you do not return.  Israel fires back in verse 19, although it is clear the larger problem is being addressed.  The doxology of verse 22 rings hollow.  The problem is not yet solved.

14:7 Although our iniquities testify against us, act, O Lord, for your name’s sake; our apostasies indeed are many, and we have sinned against you. 8 O hope of Israel, its savior in time of trouble, why should you be like a stranger in the land, like a traveler turning aside for the night? 9 Why should you be like someone confused, like a mighty warrior who cannot give help? Yet you, O Lord, are in the midst of us, and we are called by your name; do not forsake us! 10 Thus says the Lord concerning this people:  Truly they have loved to wander, they have not restrained their feet; therefore the Lord does not accept them, now he will remember their iniquity and punish their sins. 19 Have you completely rejected Judah? Does your heart loathe Zion? Why have you struck us down so that there is no healing for us? We look for peace, but find no good; for a time of healing, but there is terror instead. 20 We acknowledge our wickedness, O Lord, the iniquity of our ancestors, for we have sinned against you. 21 Do not spurn us, for your name’s sake; do not dishonor your glorious throne; remember and do not break your covenant with us. 22 Can any idols of the nations bring rain? Or can the heavens give showers? Is it not you, O Lord our God? We set our hope on you, for it is you who do all this.

Or this

1st Reading (Track 2): Sirach 35:12-17
The Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach (commonly called “Ecclesiasticus”) is a book of the Apocrypha, a collection of books not included in the official Scriptures by Anglicans but printed with them as edifying. Sirach was written in the 2nd century b.c.e. while the Greeks ruled Palestine, by a wisdom teacher passing his teaching on to future generations. Our passage this morning is part of a larger unit concerning worship. In this short passage, the link between right worship, generosity and social justice is made clear.

35:12 Give to the Most High as he has given to you, and as generously as you can afford. 13 For the Lord is the one who repays, and he will repay you sevenfold. 14 Do not offer him a bribe, for he will not accept it; 15 and do not rely on a dishonest sacrifice; for the Lord is the judge, and with him there is no partiality. 16 He will not show partiality to the poor; but he will listen to the prayer of one who is wronged. 17 He will not ignore the supplication of the orphan, or the widow when she pours out her complaint.

Psalm 84:1-6 (Track 2)
Psalm 84 may well have been sung as a song of pilgrims on their way to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem (Zion).  Verses 2 and 3 employ strong metaphors that give expression to the depth of feeling that worship in the Temple gave to these pilgrims.

1 How dear to me is your dwelling, O Lord of hosts! *
              My soul has a desire and longing
for the courts of the Lord;
              my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.
2 The sparrow has found her a house
    and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young; *
              by the side of your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.
3 Happy are they who dwell in your house! *
they will always be praising you.
4 Happy are the people whose strength is in you! *
whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way.
5 Those who go through the desolate valley will find
                            it a place of springs, *
for the early rains have covered it with pools of water.
6 They will climb from height to height, *
              and the God of gods will reveal himself in Zion.

2nd Reading: 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
The Second Letter of Timothy at times reads like St. Paul’s last will and testament.  In the first section of this morning’s reading, he reflects on his life and impending death. Although there is no record of Paul’s death in the New Testament, tradition says he was beheaded in Rome during the rule of Emperor Nero (54-68 c.e.).  In the verses skipped, Paul speaks about those who have deserted him (“only Luke is with me”).  However, his experience of abandonment has only heightened his experience of the Lord’s presence.

4:6 As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.16 At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! 17 But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Gospel Reading: Luke 18:9-14
Today we have another parable unique to Luke’s Gospel.  It follows on last week’s (the persistent widow before the unjust judge) because they both answer questions regarding prayer:  the first to those who wonder how long they should pray and, perhaps, why God does not hear; the second to warn of the foolishness of self-righteousness.  Both are part of Luke’s ongoing themes of a world turned upside down.  The poor widow and the sinful tax collector are justified by God.  The Pharisee in the second parable is a “righteous” man, but his righteousness comes from his own self-regard, not God’s.

18:9 Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

The Scripture quotations 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. The translation of the Psalm is from The Book of Common Prayer. Commentaries are copyright © 2019 Epiphany Esources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved.  Permission is given to copy for group study.  Bulletin inserts are available. Go to our website for more information.

Monday, October 14, 2019

19 Pentecost 2019, Proper 24C Readings & Commentaries

One of the more humorous of Jesus’ parables has the very serious message of persistence in prayer, and the admonition not to lose heart.

1st Reading (Track 1):  Jeremiah 31:27-34
Jeremiah 30:1—33:26 is often called the “Book of Consolation” (or “Comfort”).  Its primary purpose is stated in 30:2-3:  “Write in a book…the days are surely coming…when I will restore the fortunes of my people…”  Note that the verbs used in verse 28 correspond to those used at the beginning of the book (1:10), with the addition “bring evil.” They are brought up again to say that the negative promises have come to pass; it is now time for the positive:  to build and to plant. Jeremiah cites what must have been a popular saying about multi-generational responsibility. It is declared false. Verses 31-34 have a history in Christian usage, identifying the “new covenant of Jesus” with the new covenant spoken of here. The text itself seeks to proclaim a renewed relationship with the people of God brought about by their homecoming, and the forgiveness of the Lord.

31:27 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals. 28 And just as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord. 29 In those days they shall no longer say: “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” 30 But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge. 31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Psalm 119:97-104 (Track 1)
Psalm 119, by far the longest of the psalms, is an acrostic poem with every subsequent eight verses begun by a subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It is a masterful meditation on the law, in the spirit of Jeremiah’s “new covenant.” This is the law as relationship with God. We have the section whose lines begin with the letter ס, Mem. Verse 103 recalls Psalm 19:10, whose latter part could perhaps be considered the short version of Psalm 119.

97 Oh, how I love your law! *
              all the day long it is in my mind.
98 Your commandment has made me wiser than my enemies, *
              and it is always with me.
99 I have more understanding than all my teachers, *
              for your decrees are my study.
100 I am wiser than the elders, *
              because I observe your commandments.
101 I restrain my feet from every evil way, *
              that I may keep your word.
102 I do not shrink from your judgments, *
              because you yourself have taught me.
103 How sweet are your words to my taste! *
              they are sweeter than honey to my mouth.
104 Through your commandments I gain understanding; *
              therefore I hate every lying way.

1st Reading (Track 2):  Genesis 32:22-31
Jacob had tricked his twin brother Esau out of his birthright as the firstborn and then cheated him out of his father Isaac’s blessing, all with the help of his mother Rebekah. He fled Esau’s wrath and stayed with his uncle Laban, and married his daughters, Leah and Rachel. After twenty years he decided to return, although he still feared his brother. Chapter 32 begins with Jacob calculating how he might return and win his brother’s acceptance. The night before he anticipates meeting Esau is the night of the following story. Jacob wrestles with a divine being (which, in the end, he interprets to have been God himself). Jacob would have won, except the cheater was cheated! As he returns to the land sworn to his ancestors, this incident changes his name from Jacob (“Supplanter”) to Israel (“the one who strives with God”). This will become the name of the people who grow from his family.

32:22 Jacob got up at night and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 24 Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” 31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

Psalm 121 (Track 2)
Psalm 121 is one of the “Songs of Ascent” (Psalms 120—134), thought to have been the songs of pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem to celebrate the major festivals.  “The hills” is probably a reference to the “high places” around Jerusalem where the baals, the local fertility gods, were still worshiped.

1 I lift up my eyes to the hills; *
from where is my help to come?
2 My help comes from the Lord, *
the maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot be moved *
and he who watches over you will not fall asleep.
4 Behold, he who keeps watch over Israel *
shall neither slumber nor sleep;
5 The Lord himself watches over you; *
the Lord is your shade at your right hand,
6 So that the sun shall not strike you by day, *
              nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; *
it is he who shall keep you safe.
8 The Lord shall watch over your going out and your coming in, *
              from this time forth for evermore.

2nd Reading:  2 Timothy 3:14—4:5
At the end of Paul’s second letter to his protégé Timothy, he turns to instructions for Timothy himself.  In the first sentence of this passage, Paul is not only talking about himself as Timothy’s teacher.  The “from whom” in Greek is plural (something impossible to pull off easily in English).  Paul’s words concerning the inspiration of Scripture are well known but interpreted in widely different ways.  The Greek is properly translated “inspired” and not “written.”  Paul was not a literalist, although he clearly took Scripture (which for him were the Hebrew Scriptures) very seriously.  Paul is not concerned hear with the “origin” of Scripture but its proper use in the community.

3:14 As for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15 and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. 4:1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: 2 proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. 5 As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.

Gospel Reading:  Luke 18:1-8
One of the more humorous of Jesus’ parables has the very serious message of persistence in prayer, and the admonition not to lose heart.  Jesus clearly knew the power of prayer (and his praying is emphasized in Luke’s Gospel), but he also knew the times of crisis and despair that often test us.  Clearly he would not feel the need to teach us to not lose heart if he did not know from his own experience how easy that is from time to time.  Like Paul’s encouragement to Timothy about proclaiming the message, Jesus encourages to pray “whether the time is favorable or unfavorable” (“in season or out of season”), here, “day and night.”

18:1 Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

The Scripture quotations 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. The translation of the Psalm are from The Book of Common Prayer. Commentaries are copyright © 2019 Epiphany Esources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved.  Permission is given to copy for group study.  Bulletin inserts are available. Go to our website for more information.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

18 Pentecost 2019, Proper 23C Readings & Commentaries

 Lepers tended to live in groups, avoiding contact with the general populace, but close enough to them to receive alms. 

1st Reading (Track 1): Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
The prophet Jeremiah, in chapters 24 and 29, speaks a pastoral word to the Jews in exile in Babylon, after the first deportation in 598 b.c.e. It is obvious at this point that they are in for a long haul (see chapters 27 & 28). Jeremiah has two important words for them. The first is contained in the short portion of a communication he makes in the reading below. You must embrace your reality, and continue to live in obedience to God, even in exile. Verse 7 is a remarkable statement—work for the well-being (shalom) of Babylon, even as you live there in exile. Israel has a mission, even among its oppressors.

29:1 These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 4 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Psalm 66:1-11 (Track 1)
Psalm 66 (which totals 20 verses) is, in many ways, a typical psalm of thanks and praise. Its uniqueness (and the reason it makes a good response to the Jeremiah reading) is its consistent use of “all lands,” and “all peoples.” This is an inclusive vision of Israel’s mission, taken up also by the prophet Isaiah, who sees Israel’s vocation to be a “light to the nations” (see, for example, Isaiah 42:6).

1 Be joyful in God, all you lands; *
              sing the glory of his Name; sing the glory of his praise.
2 Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! *
              because of your great strength
                            your enemies cringe before you.
3 All the earth bows down before you, *
              sings to you, sings out your Name.”
4 Come now and see the works of God, *
              how wonderful he is in his doing toward all people.
5 He turned the sea into dry land,
   so that they went through the water on foot, *
              and there we rejoiced in him.
6 In his might he rules for ever;
   his eyes keep watch over the nations; *
              let no rebel rise up against him.
7 Bless our God, you peoples; *
              make the voice of his praise to be heard;
8 Who holds our souls in life, *
              and will not allow our feet to slip.
9 For you, O God, have proved us; *
              you have tried us just as silver is tried.
10 You brought us into the snare; *
              you laid heavy burdens upon our backs.
11 You let enemies ride over our heads;
      we went through fire and water; *
              but you brought us out into a place of refreshment.

1st Reading (Track 2): 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c
Leprosy was a notorious disease in the ancient world.  The term referred to any malformation of the skin, and also to such things as mold and mildew on walls.  All of these manifestations were connected to social and ritual uncleanness and resulted in separation and ostracism.  The story of Naaman the Syrian (Aramean) is set in the context of a number of stories highlighting the power of the prophet Elisha.  In this particular story there is also the element of the one in need being a foreigner, and even an enemy.  This shows up in Naaman’s arrogance and the King of Israel’s fear. While much of the Hebrew Scriptures define a very firm boundary between Jew and Gentile, this story is part of a “minority report” that shows that Israel’s faith can reach beyond boundaries. Jesus will use this story in Luke 4.

5:1 Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. 2 Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” 7 When the king of Israel read the letter [from the King of Aram concerning Naaman], he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.” 8 But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.” 9 So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” 11 But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage. 13 But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 14 So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean. 15 Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel.”

Psalm 111 (Track 2)
Psalm 111 is an acrostic poem, each line beginning with a subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It is a hymn of praise recalling the mighty acts of God and commitment to the covenant. The Lord has been faithful and requires faithfulness from the people.

1 Hallelujah!  I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, *
              in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.
2 Great are the deeds of the Lord! *
they are studied by all who delight in them.
3 His work is full of majesty and splendor, *
and his righteousness endures for ever.
4 He makes his marvelous works to be remembered; *
the Lord is gracious and full of compassion.
5 He gives food to those who fear him; *
he is ever mindful of his covenant.
6 He has shown his people the power of his works *
in giving them the lands of the nations.
7 The works of his hands are faithfulness and justice; *
all his commandments are sure.
8 They stand fast for ever and ever, *
because they are done in truth and equity.
9 He sent redemption to his people;
   he commanded his covenant for ever; *
holy and awesome is his Name.
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; *
those who act accordingly have a good understanding;
              his praise endures for ever.

2nd Reading: 2 Timothy 2:8-15
Paul continues his plea to Timothy to remain steadfast to the tradition he has received (think of the promise of our own Baptismal Covenant that we will “continue in the apostles’ teaching”).  There is evidence that Paul quotes from an ancient Christian hymn in verses 11-13, “If we have died with him….for he cannot deny himself.”  Paul urges Timothy to remain true to the heart of his teaching and not get caught up in semantic disputes.  Keep to the basics:  “Jesus Christ raised from the dead.”

2:8 Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel, 9 for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. 11 The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; 13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself. 14 Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.

Gospel Reading: Luke 17:11-19
As this passage begins, Luke reminds us that Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem (a journey that began at 9:51).  This story is found only in Luke’s Gospel.  The story is realistic. Lepers tended to live in groups, avoiding contact with the general populace, but close enough to them to receive alms.  Jesus tells them to do what the law requires for them to be declared clean—show yourselves to the priests.  The fact that the Samaritan returned may have primarily to do with the fact that showing himself to the priests would have done him no good.  As a Samaritan, he could never be made clean. Jesus is clear, however that not only can he be made clean, he is made clean.

17:11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

The Scripture quotations 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. The translation of the Psalm is from The Book of Common Prayer. Commentaries are copyright © 2019 Epiphany Esources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved.  Permission is given to copy for group study. Bulletin inserts are available. Visit our website for more details. And like us on Facebook!

Sunday, September 29, 2019

17 Pentecost, Proper 22C Readings & Commentaries

Our passage today is an example of how the different Gospel writers piece together sayings of Jesus to emphasize different things.  

1st Reading (Track 1): Lamentations 1:1-6
The Book of Lamentations consists of five poems lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem (Zion) in 586 b.c.e. The first four poems are acrostic, that is, each verse begins with a subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet (in the third of the poems the letter lasts for three verses). The poems articulate the grief and sense of abandonment experienced by the people. Notice the descriptors used just in these six verses: the city weeps bitterly, has no one to comfort her, has gone into exile, her gates are desolate, her children have gone away, all her majesty has departed. The impact is even more strongly felt if one reads Lamentations alongside the “Songs of Zion” in the psalms:  46, 48, 76, 84, 87.

1:1 How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations! She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal. 2 She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has no one to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies. 3 Judah has gone into exile with suffering and hard servitude; she lives now among the nations, and finds no resting place; her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress. 4 The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to the festivals; all her gates are desolate, her priests groan; her young girls grieve, and her lot is bitter. 5 Her foes have become the masters, her enemies prosper, because the Lord has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions; her children have gone away, captives before the foe. 6 From daughter Zion has departed all her majesty. Her princes have become like stags that find no pasture; they fled without strength before the pursuer.

Canticle (Track 1): A Song of Waiting            (Lamentations 3:19-26)
In place of a psalm we have a section of the third poem of Lamentations, liturgically adapted. It is perhaps the greatest moment of consolation in the book. The “this” of the third stanza refers to what follows, not what comes before (“when” is often translated “but”). It is important to remember that it is only honesty about the disaster that can produce any kind of real hope, and that the book goes on to challenge this hope in the strongest of terms.

The thought of my trouble and my homelessness *
              is as bitter as wormwood and gall.
My mind dwells on it continually; *
              my soul is weighed down within me.
When I remember this, I have hope: *
              by God’s kindness, we will not be destroyed;
For God’s mercies are never-ending *
              and are new every morning.
How great is your faithfulness, O God! *
              “You are my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I hope in you.”
You are good to those who wait with patience, *
              to every soul that seeks you.
It is good to wait, even in silence, *
              for the salvation of the Lord.

Or this

Psalm 137:1-6 (Track 1)
Psalm 137 is the quintessential psalm of lament concerning the exile in Babylon. “Zion,” a word whose origin is obscure, is generally synonymous with Jerusalem, in particular the Temple mount. With Zion destroyed, says this psalm, so is the people’s ability to praise. The psalm includes three more verses which take an angry and vengeful turn. This is the raw voice of the powerless.

1 By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, *
              when we remembered you, O Zion.
2 As for our harps, we hung them up *
              on the trees in the midst of that land.
3 For those who led us away captive asked us for a song,
   and our oppressors called for mirth: *
              “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”
4 How shall we sing the Lord’s song *
              upon an alien soil?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, *
              let my right hand forget its skill.
6 Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth
                            if I do not remember you, *
              if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.

1st Reading (Track 2): Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Nothing is known about the prophet Habakkuk, although he seems to have prophesied sometime between the death of King Josiah (609 bce) and the beginning of the exile in Babylon (597 bce).  Habakkuk begins with a dialogue between the prophet and God, in which the prophet laments the injustice of his day.  In the portion of the passage we do not read (1:5-13), God explains that the Babylonians will be his instruments of judgment.  The prophet does not like this any better!  Is it justice, he asks, if the wicked swallow the righteous!  The answer is the second part of our reading this morning. God asks for patience and a single-mindedness about his promise for the future.  In essence he is saying, “Keep your eyes on the prize.”
1:1 The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw. 2 O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? 3 Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. 4 So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous—therefore judgment comes forth perverted. 2:1 I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint. 2 Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. 3 For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. 4 Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.

Psalm 37:1-10 (Track 2)
Psalm 37 (which contains a total of 40 verses) is an acrostic wisdom poem which reads very much like sections of the Book of Proverbs.  In the face of the observation that the wicked prosper, it promises that the they will not ultimately prevail and that “the righteous shall possess the land.”

1 Do not fret yourself because of evildoers; *
              do not be jealous of those who do wrong.
2 For they shall soon wither like the grass, *
              and like the green grass fade away.
3 Put your trust in the Lord and do good; *
              dwell in the land and feed on its riches.
4 Take delight in the Lord, *
              and he shall give you your heart’s desire.
5 Commit your way to the Lord and put your trust in him, *
              and he will bring it to pass.
6 He will make your righteousness as clear as the light *
              and your just dealing as the noonday.
7 Be still before the Lord *
              and wait patiently for him.
8 Do not fret yourself over the one who prospers, *
              the one who succeeds in evil schemes.
9 Refrain from anger, leave rage alone; *
              do not fret yourself; it leads only to evil.
10 For evildoers shall be cut off, *
              but those who wait upon the Lord shall possess the land.

2nd Reading: 2 Timothy 1:1-14
The Second Letter to Timothy is a highly personal letter from mentor to protégé.  It appears that Timothy has endured a time of trial and is struggling with his calling, if not also his faith.  Paul reminds him of the faith of his mother and grandmother, and also of his own situation—Paul has endured suffering and shame as an apostle. Ultimately, Paul says, the power to overcome these trials lives within us—the Holy Spirit, alive as God’s greatest gift.

1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, 2 To Timothy, my beloved child:  Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. 3 I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. 5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. 6 For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7 for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. 8 Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, 12 and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. 13 Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

Gospel Reading: Luke 17:5-10
Our passage today is an example of how the different Gospel writers piece together sayings of Jesus to emphasize different things.  In Matthew’s Gospel, the saying about the Mustard Seed is in the context of the disciples’ unsuccessful attempt to cast out a demon (17:19-21).  Here Luke uses the saying in the context of the necessity of forgiveness (see verses 3-4).  The passage also highlights Jesus’ frequent use of hyperbole to make a point.  The example of the duty of “worthless slaves” is unique to Luke and is difficult, but it is an example of hyperbole.  The simple point of the whole passage is that forgiveness is a fundamental practice of the followers of Jesus and, no matter how difficult, it must be done, even if there is no reward.

17:5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. 7 Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8 Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”

The Scripture quotations 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. The translation of the Psalm are from The Book of Common Prayer. The Canticle translation is copyright © 2007 by Church Publishing, Inc.  Commentaries are copyright © 2019 Epiphany Esources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved.  Permission is given to copy for group study. Bulletin inserts are available for parishes. Go to our website for more information.  And like us on Facebook!