Sunday, November 17, 2019

Reign of Christ, Proper 29C Readings & Commentaries

On this day when we celebrate Christ as “King of kings and Lord of lords,” we are reminded that it was the cross that was and is his throne.

1st Reading:  Jeremiah 23:1-6
Our passage today begins with an indictment of Israel’s kings (“shepherds”). The sheep have been scattered (into exile) because the shepherds have failed to lead and protect them. Then two promises follow. The first is that God will intervene to gather the sheep (end the exile) and raise up new shepherds. The second promise is that this new shepherd will be like David, whom God has never abandoned. Unlike the shepherds under whom Judah failed, this Davidic king will rule in righteousness. Christians experience this new rule in Jesus.

23:1 Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. 2 Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people:  It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. 3 Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. 4 I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord. 5 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: "The Lord is our righteousness."

Canticle: Song of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79)
The psalm is replaced today by a canticle from The Book of Common Prayer (#16, p. 92).  Luke 1:68-79 is the song which Zechariah sings at the naming of his son John (the Baptist). The song articulates the tradition of Israel, the promises upon which the faith of Israel is founded. It then proclaims that these promises of old will find their fulfillment in the testimony of this child. In Luke’s Gospel, John is very much the symbol of the old covenant looking forward to the new.

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; *
              he has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty savior, *
              born of the house of his servant David.
Through his holy prophets he promised of old,
that he would save us from our enemies, *
              from the hands of all who hate us.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers *
              and to remember his holy covenant.
This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham, *
              to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
Free to worship him without fear, *
              holy and righteous in his sight
              all the days of our life.
You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, *
              for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
To give his people knowledge of salvation *
              by the forgiveness of their sins.
In the tender compassion of our God *
              the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the
                            shadow of death, *
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Or this

Psalm 46
Psalm 46 is a song extolling God as king over Jerusalem, the bringer of peace and the source of the people’s strength.

1 God is our refuge and strength, *
a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved, *
and though the mountains be toppled into the
              depths of the sea;
3 Though its waters rage and foam, *
and though the mountains tremble at its tumult.
4 The Lord of hosts is with us; *
              the God of Jacob is our stronghold.
5 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, *
the holy habitation of the Most High.
6 God is in the midst of her;
   she shall not be overthrown; *
God shall help her at the break of day.
7 The nations make much ado, and the kingdoms are shaken; *
God has spoken, and the earth shall melt away.
8 The Lord of hosts is with us; *
              the God of Jacob is our stronghold.
9 Come now and look upon the works of the Lord, *
what awesome things he has done on earth.
10 It is he who makes war to cease in all the world; *
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear,
and burns the shields with fire.
11 “Be still, then, and know that I am God; *
I will be exalted among the nations;
I will be exalted in the earth.”
12 The Lord of hosts is with us; *
              the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

2nd Reading:  Colossians 1:11-20
The Letter to the Colossians was written to counter “false teaching” (2:8-23) which seems to have been the insistence on a kind of “super piety.” Paul begins his letter, after the initial greeting (1:1-10), with a prayer for the community (vv. 11-14) in which he emphasizes the simplicity of the gospel and our response to it, centering on thanksgiving. He then quotes from what was most likely an early Christian hymn (vv. 15-20). The hymn has roots in the Hebrew Wisdom tradition (see Wisdom 7:22, 26 and Proverbs 8:22-30). It is a presentation of the “cosmic Christ,” whose death has reconciled all things to God.

1:11 May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Gospel Reading:  Luke 23:33-43
On this day when we celebrate Christ as “King of kings and Lord of lords,” we are reminded that it was the cross that was and is his throne. This is a very different king than humankind generally experiences or imagines. As Luke recounts Jesus’ death, he emphasizes the power he exercises from the cross—forgiveness, forgiveness for those who have betrayed and conspired against him, and forgiveness for the common thief who reaches out to him.  Traditionally, the “good thief’s” name was Didymus. Many prison chapels are dedicated to him.

23:33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

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 Psalm and the translation of the Canticle 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.

Monday, November 11, 2019

23 Pentecost 2019, Proper 28C Readings & Commentaries

As we come to the end of the church year, the tone of our readings takes on the themes we associate with Advent.

1st Reading (Track 1); Isaiah 65:17-25
This reading comes near the end of Isaiah, echoing two passages from earlier in the book, Isaiah 25:6-10 and 11:6-9. It is a grand apocalyptic vision of a renewed creation living fully within the dream of God. This new creation hearkens back to Israel’s creation myth with people living extraordinarily long lives and all the curses of life accumulated over the years reversed (except for the serpent!) In Christian terms, this is the fully resurrected life both for humanity and the whole creation. Notice there is here no notion of “Heaven,” but instead a “new earth,” where just relations are practiced.

65:17 [Thus says the Lord God], I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. 19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. 20 No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. 21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22 They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. 23 They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord—and their descendants as well. 24 Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. 25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent—its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.

Canticle (Track 1): First Song of Isaiah (12:2-6)
The psalm is replaced today by a canticle from The Book of Common Prayer (#9, p. 86).  Isaiah 12:2-6 (referred to as “The First Song of Isaiah”) is a song of praise that concludes the first major section of the book of Isaiah.  It is a song of awaited redemption.  This hope is one with our first reading this morning.

Surely, it is God who saves me; *
I will trust in him and not be afraid.
For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, *
and he will be my Savior.
Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing *
from the springs of salvation.
And on that day you shall say, *
Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;
Make his deeds known among the peoples; *
see that they remember that his Name is exalted.
Sing the praises of the Lord, for he has done great things, *
and this is known in all the world.
Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, *
for the great one in the midst of you
is the Holy One of Israel.

2nd Reading: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
It is important in reading this passage to remember the context of this letter. Some false teachers have convinced some of the Christians in Thessalonika that the “day of the Lord” has already come. This has meant to many that their responsibilities are over, and they have become idle, perhaps in a kind of “eat, drink and be merry” kind of philosophy. Paul exhorts them otherwise. How he does this is as important as what he does:  he appeals to the teaching of the apostles (the past), his own life in imitation (the present), and to the coming of the Lord (the future).

3:6 Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, 8 and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. 9 This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. 11 For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. 12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 13 Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.

Gospel Reading: Luke 21:5-19
As we come to the end of the church year, the tone of our readings takes on the themes we associate with Advent.  In our Gospel passage this morning, Jesus speaks about the transitory nature of earthly things, even of something as grand as the Temple.  Luke is writing this passage knowing that the Temple is indeed gone (destroyed by the Romans in 70 c.e.).  In those times, Jesus says, beware of those who claim to be or say or know too much.  Our job will not be to predict or to choose up sides behind one or another leader.  Our job will be endurance—together, for the “you” in the last verses of this passage is plural.

21:5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, 6 “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” 7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8 And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them. 9 “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. 12 “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.

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 Canticle 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.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

22 Pentecost 2019, Proper 27C Readings & Commentaries

 The God of the living.

1st Reading (Track 1): Haggai 1:15b—2:9
The prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi are all prophets of the period after the return from exile. Darius I, King of Persia (522-486 b.c.e.), allowed the Jewish people to return to their homeland following the defeat of Babylon by his predecessor Cyrus II, who had first decreed that the Jews could return, and encouraged them to rebuild their temple. The first wave of return was in 586, but efforts at rebuilding stalled. A further wave followed in 522 at Darius’ urging and the temple was completed in 515. Haggai is referenced in Ezra at 5:1 and 6:14. In 520, Haggai criticized the slowness of the rebuilding (chapter 1) and urged on the work (chapter 2). He was also very concerned about the return to right worship practices. For Christians this text has always been associated with Advent, of which we are almost on the cusp.
1:15b In the second year of King Darius, 2:1 in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying: 2 Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say, 3 Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? 4 Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, 5 according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. 6 For thus says the Lord of hosts:  Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; 7 and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the Lord of hosts. 8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts. 9 The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts.

Psalm 98 (Track 1)
Psalm 98 continues a series of psalms (93-100) which praise the sovereignty of God. Psalm 98 foresees “the nations” gathered in this same praise (similar to Haggai’s vision, above), and then the entire creation.

1 Sing to the Lord a new song, *
       for he has done marvelous things.
2 With his right hand and his holy arm *
       has he won for himself the victory.
3 The Lord has made known his victory; *
       his righteousness has he openly shown in
                     the sight of the nations.
4 He remembers his mercy and faithfulness to
                     the house of Israel, *
       and all the ends of the earth have seen the
                     victory of our God.
5 Shout with joy to the Lord, all you lands; *
       lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing.
6 Sing to the Lord with the harp, *
       with the harp and the voice of song.
7 With trumpets and the sound of the horn *
       shout with joy before the King, the Lord.
8 Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it, *
       the lands and those who dwell therein.
9 Let the rivers clap their hands, *
       and let the hills ring out with joy before the Lord,
       when he comes to judge the earth.
10 In righteousness shall he judge the world *
       and the peoples with equity.

Or this

Psalm 145:1-5, 18-22 (Track 1)
Psalm 145 in its entirety is an acrostic poem, a hymn of praise for worship. Its source is probably in the renewed worship in the Temple after its rebuilding following the return of the Jews from exile in Babylon.

1 I will exalt you, O God my King, *
       and bless your Name for ever and ever.
2 Every day will I bless you *
       and praise your Name for ever and ever.
3 Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; *
       there is no end to his greatness.
4 One generation shall praise your works to another *
       and shall declare your power.
5 I will ponder the glorious splendor of your majesty *
       and all your marvelous works.
18 The Lord is righteous in all his ways *
       and loving in all his works.
19 The Lord is near to those who call upon him, *
       to all who call upon him faithfully.
20 He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; *
       he hears their cry and helps them.
21 The Lord preserves all those who love him, *
       but he destroys all the wicked.
22 My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord; *
       let all flesh bless his holy Name for ever and ever.

1st Reading (Track 2): Job 19:23-27a
This well-known text from the Book of Job is an island of positivity in a sea of complaint, although the translation is disputed. It may be an example of Christian optimism influencing translation. This text seems to support the resurrection of the dead (see today’s Gospel), but Jewish translations are quite different. In the current Jewish Publication Society translation, verse 25-26 reads, “But I know that my Vindicator lives; in the end he will testify on earth—This, after my skin has been peeled off. But I would behold God while still in my flesh.” It is a cry for God to make himself known so that Job knows he has heard his complaint.
19:23 [Job said,] “O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book! 24 O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock forever! 25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; 26 and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, 27 whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”

Psalm 17:1-9 (Track 2)
Psalm 17 is an individual’s prayer for deliverance from enemies. The writer protests his innocence and calls upon God’s sense of justice. The writer also pleads for protection. Verse 8 is well known to Episcopalians from the office of Compline (p. 132). “The shadow of your wings” may indicate that this is a psalm of the Temple, since the ark of the covenant was “protected” by the wings of the cherubim.

1 Hear my plea of innocence,
   O Lord; give heed to my cry; *
       listen to my prayer, which does not come from lying lips.
2 Let my vindication come forth from your presence; *
       let your eyes be fixed on justice.
3 Weigh my heart, summon me by night, *
       melt me down; you will find no impurity in me.
4 I give no offense with my mouth as others do; *
       I have heeded the words of your lips.
5 My footsteps hold fast to the ways of your law; *
       in your paths my feet shall not stumble.
6 I call upon you, O God, for you will answer me; *
       incline your ear to me and hear my words.
7 Show me your marvelous loving-kindness, *
       O Savior of those who take refuge at your right hand
       from those who rise up against them.
8 Keep me as the apple of your eye; *
       hide me under the shadow of your wings,
9 From the wicked who assault me, *
       from my deadly enemies who surround me.

2nd Reading: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Apparently, there has been some confusion about “the day of the Lord,” the return of Jesus. If this letter is relatively late (and written in Paul’s name), the confusion is understandable because a quick return is now out of the question. Some believed that it had already occurred. The writer is certain that is not true and expects that the return will not come until a time of “rebellion,” and “lawlessness” has taken place. It is possible that those to whom he was writing understand the specifics of his references. It is not possible for us to know. The church’s and the individual Christian’s job in the meantime is the work of “sanctification,” the Spirit’s ongoing work in us for right belief and right action.

2:1 As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, 2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. 3 Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. 4 He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. 5 Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you? 13 But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter. 16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, 17 comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.

Gospel Reading: Luke 20:27-38
Jesus has now entered Jerusalem and, as chapter 20 begins, his teaching brings him into conflict with the religious authorities. After Jesus tells a parable clearly meant to turn the tables on them (20:9-19), they attempt to trip him up, first with a question about paying taxes and second with one about the resurrection of the dead. The resurrection of the dead was not a traditional Jewish belief, but the Pharisee party had come to believe in it. The Sadducees were a more conservative party, and it is they who present an absurd (to them) proposition regarding “levirate” marriage (see Deuteronomy 25:5, heavily interpreted). Jesus knows what the real question is and, for him, gives a straightforward answer. God is always the God of the living.

20:27 Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him 28 and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; 30 then the second 31 and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. 32 Finally the woman also died. 33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.” 34 Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 35 but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 36 Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. 37 And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38 Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”

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.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

All Saints' Day Year C

Luke’s story of Jesus consistently puts forth a reversal of values, which continues on into his second volume, The Acts of the Apostles, where the followers of Jesus are known as “the people who turn the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). 

1st Reading: Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
The Book of Daniel is set in Babylon during the time when most Jews were living there in exile.  It is apocalyptic literature, which means it uses heavily symbolic language, offering visions of the turning of the world from tribulation to peace.  Daniel 7 is one of four extended visions in the book.  It is a vision of the passing away of the kingdoms of this world to make room for the kingdom of God.  The four beasts are mostly likely the Babylonians, the Medes, the Persians, and the Greeks.  This is an All Saints’ Day reading because of the last line.  Those who have remained faithful (“the holy ones”) will have authority in God’s kingdom. In fact, they are always living in the true and eternal kingdom.
7:1 In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head as he lay in bed. Then he wrote down the dream:  2 I, Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea, 3 and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another. 15 As for me, Daniel, my spirit was troubled within me, and the visions of my head terrified me. 16 I approached one of the attendants to ask him the truth concerning all this. So he said that he would disclose to me the interpretation of the matter: 17 “As for these four great beasts, four kings shall arise out of the earth. 18 But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever—forever and ever.”

Psalm 149
The final five psalms form a doxology to the entire book. The next to last psalm is a song to accompany a festive dance celebrating God’s victory and his pleasure in the people who belong to him. It praises God both for his creative power and his intervention in the history of his people. “Hallelujah” bookends each of these ending psalms, a Hebrew word that means “Praise the Lord!”

1 Hallelujah!
   Sing to the Lord a new song; *
       sing his praise in the congregation of the faithful.
2 Let Israel rejoice in his Maker; *
       let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.
3 Let them praise his Name in the dance; *
       let them sing praise to him with timbrel and harp.
4 For the Lord takes pleasure in his people *
       and adorns the poor with victory.
5 Let the faithful rejoice in triumph; *
       let them be joyful on their beds.
6 Let the praises of God be in their throat *
       and a two-edged sword in their hand;
7 To wreak vengeance on the nations *
       and punishment on the peoples;
8 To bind their kings in chains *
       and their nobles with links of iron;
9 To inflict on them the judgment decreed; *
       this is glory for all his faithful people.

2nd Reading: Ephesians 1:11-23
This reading begins with an assertion that we share in Christ’s inheritance.  This is so because of our common seal of the Holy Spirit (the baptismal imagery is quite intentional).  Those so sealed are called “saints,” hagioi in Greek, “the holy ones.”  Paul did not understand the saints to be extraordinary, but the ordinary people of God, bound together in space and time by the hope to which we are called and the body into which they are assembled (the Greek word translated church—ecclesia—literally means “assembly”). The saints and the church were synonymous for Paul.

1:11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory. 15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Gospel Reading: Luke 6:20-31
Luke’s story of Jesus consistently puts forth a reversal of values, which continues on into his second volume, The Acts of the Apostles, where the followers of Jesus are known as “the people who turn the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).  Luke’s beatitudes are very much in this tradition.  They are briefer, and less spiritualized, than the more familiar set from Matthew, and they include “woes,” which Matthew does not.  Both writers, however, mean by them to paint a picture of the reign of God.  The passage ends with “the Golden Rule,” here used not as a universal declaration, but as how one should relate to one’s enemies. This way of relating is one of the defining values of followers of Jesus.

20 Jesus looked up at his disciples and said:  “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. 24 But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. 26 Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets. 27 But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

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. For more information, go to our website.

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.