Monday, June 26, 2017

Proper 8A: 4th Sunday after Pentecost 2017

Artwork by Abel Pann, The Sacrifice of Isaac,
1st Reading (Track 1):  Genesis 22:1-14
This story can only be described as terrifying and repulsive. What kind of God would ask such a thing, for a parent to murder a child? Is this any kind of reasonable test of one’s obedience to God? These are questions that come down through the centuries about this text, and perhaps they are the very reason it exists. There is something of a parallel with the Flood story, with the promise that God will not do such a thing again, meaning that Israel’s God is not like the gods of the nations. Yet something odd happens in the flow of the larger story. In verse 19 it is said that Abraham and his servants returned. There is no mention of Isaac, not even in the story of the death of his mother in chapter 24.  He does not speak in the text until after the death of his father.

22:1 After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” 6 Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. 7 Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together. 9 When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

Psalm 13 (Track 1)
Psalm 13 is an individual’s lament that God has seemed to forsaken him or her.  The question, “How long?” haunts the psalm, even though it resolves into praise.

1    How long, O Lord?
      will you forget me for ever? *
                how long will you hide your face from me?
2    How long shall I have perplexity in my mind,
      and grief in my heart, day after day? *
                how long shall my enemy triumph over me?
3    Look upon me and answer me, O Lord my God; *
                give light to my eyes, lest I sleep in death;
4    Lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” *
                and my foes rejoice that I have fallen.
5    But I put my trust in your mercy; *
                my heart is joyful because of your saving help.
6    I will sing to the Lord, for he has dealt with me richly; *
                I will praise the Name of the Lord Most High.

1st Reading (Track 2):  Jeremiah 28:5-9
The prophet Jeremiah has spent chapter 27 prophesying the final exile of Israel into Babylon, in such strong terms that at one point he refers to the King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar as “God’s servant.” The rise of the empire and the exile of the people is God’s own intent. The prophet Hananiah, at the beginning of chapter 28, disputes these claims, trusting in God’s dedication to the temple and the city. Jeremiah responds in our text today. He expresses a kind of wistfulness that Hananiah be right, although his opening word, “Amen!” could be heard dripping with sarcasm. He argues that Hananiah’s optimism, however, is not in the line of the prophetic tradition, which is not to comfort, but to challenge. The proof will be, as they say, in the pudding. If there is peace, Hananiah will have been proved right (he was not).

28:5 The prophet Jeremiah spoke to the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the Lord; 6 and the prophet Jeremiah said, “Amen! May the Lord do so; may the Lord fulfill the words that you have prophesied, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the Lord, and all the exiles. 7 But listen now to this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people. 8 The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. 9 As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.”

Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18
Our psalm text this morning is from a much longer psalm. The first half of the psalm (vv. 1-18) is a hymn of praise for God’s faithfulness to his covenant with David. Verses 19-37 rehearse this covenant in poetic terms. The end of the psalm turns into a lament, asking the question, “How long will you hide yourself, O Lord?” (v. 46). God seems to have broken his covenant.  As a response to our first reading, the portion we have sounds like something that would come from the lips of the ever-optimistic Hananiah, and it seems that Jeremiah’s pessimism is what ends the psalm.

1    Your love, O Lord, for ever will I sing; *
                from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness.
2    For I am persuaded that your love is established for ever; *
                you have set your faithfulness firmly in the heavens.
3    “I have made a covenant with me chosen one; *
                I have sworn an oath to David my servant:
4    I will establish your live for ever, *
                and preserve your throne for all generations.”
15 Happy are the people who know the festal shout! *
                They walk, O Lord, in the light of your presence.
16 They rejoice daily in your Name; *
                they are jubilant in your righteousness.
17 For you are the glory of their strength, *
                and by your favor our might is exalted.
18 Truly, the Lord is our ruler; *
                the Holy One of Israel is our King.

2nd Reading:  Romans 6:12-23
In the first part of chapter six, Paul has eloquently summed up his argument that we are saved by grace, buried in baptism into Christ’s death and raised with him to new life.  The question now is, what then of sin? Is it inconsequential because it is not following the law that saves us?  No. Obedience to God is natural to those who have renounced sin. He calls it an “obedience from the heart,” one that flows from love not from fear. In Paul’s overview of the Christian life, salvation is God’s free gift, and sanctification is the journey of obedience we walk toward eternal life.

6:12 Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13 No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. 15 What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, 18 and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification. 20 When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Holy Gospel:  Matthew 10:40-42
The whole of chapter ten has consisted of instructions for disciples sent forth to teach the things that Jesus has taught and do the things he has done. These final verses focus on hospitality. Mutual welcome and support are a defining characteristic of communities of disciples. A question long asked is, who are “these little ones?” Is Jesus talking about the disciples themselves, or, perhaps in the context of Matthew’s community, new disciples? Or is it a reference to the vulnerable who are often not welcomed easily in society, Matthew’s or ours?  They are good questions with which to wrestle. The important point is the juxtaposition of hospitality and righteousness.

10:40 Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42 and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

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.

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