Sunday, September 15, 2019

15 Pentecost 2019, Proper 20C Readings & Commentaries

Parable of the Unjust Steward

1st Reading (Track 1): Jeremiah 8:18—9:1
In powerful poetic verse, God (and/or the prophet) expresses deep grief over the alienation of the people, which cannot be healed. The people summon God (verses 19a & 20) in the old reliable ways, but they have been rendered impotent by their idolatry (verse 19b). That they do not understand only adds to the grief. Verses 9:1 & 2 utilize Psalm 55:6-8 to sharpen the grief. God would have it otherwise. God would have there be a balm in Gilead, but there is no medicine available to cure the abandonment of God by the people. God must judge this poor people, but he will do so with great grief.

8:18 My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick. 19 Hark, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land: “Is the Lord not in Zion? Is her King not in her?” (“Why have they provoked me to anger with their images, with their foreign idols?”) 20 “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” 21 For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. 22 Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored? 9:1 O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!”

Psalm 79:1-9 (Track 1)
Psalm 79 is a psalm of the exile. Jerusalem and the temple are no more. The loss has meant shame and even death for Israel. The poem turns on verse 5, “How long…” Ultimately it is God who has been defiled, so Israel summons and expects their God to act. Verse 8 begins the necessary process of repentance by God’s people. They must own the disaster that has befallen them. Related to the previous reading, this is a follow-up. Israel is beginning to grasp that God’s grief must become theirs, because only then can there be newness.

1 O God, the heathen have come into your inheritance;
    they have profaned your holy temple; *
              they have made Jerusalem a heap of rubble.
2 They have given the bodies of your servants as food for the
                            birds of the air, *
              and the flesh of your faithful ones to the beasts of the field.
3 They have shed their blood like water on every side
                            of Jerusalem, *
              and there was no one to bury them.
4 We have become a reproach to our neighbors, *
              an object of scorn and derision to those around us.
5 How long will you be angry, O Lord? *
              will your fury blaze like fire for ever?
6 Pour out your wrath upon the heathen who have not known you *
              and upon the kingdoms that have not called upon your Name.
7 For they have devoured Jacob *
              and made his dwelling a ruin.
8 Remember not our past sins;
    let your compassion be swift to meet us; *
              for we have been brought very low.
9 Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your Name; *
              deliver us and forgive us our sins, for your Name’s sake.

1st Reading (Track 2): Amos 8:4-7
Amos prophesied during the long and peaceful reign in Israel (the northern kingdom) of Jeroboam II (786-746 b.c.e.). Amos was not a professional prophet, but a shepherd from a small village called Tekoa. He was called from that agrarian vocation to deliver harsh words in a time of plenty.  Yet there was not plenty for everyone, and such was his primary message. The plenty had been built on the backs of the needy with dishonest practices. In the eyes of God and the prophet this was a major violation of the covenant, one for which the nation will be judged harshly.

8:4 Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, 5 saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, 6 buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.” 7 The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.

Psalm 113 (Track 2)
Psalm 113 is a song praising the Lord as the helper of the lowly.  In Jewish tradition, it begins the “Hallel” psalms, used in connection with Passover.  Psalms 113-114 are traditionally recited before the Passover meal, and psalms 115-118 afterward. The Hebrew word “Hallelujah” literally means “Praise the Lord.” “Alleluia” is the latinized form of the word.

1 Hallelujah!  Give praise, you servants of the Lord; *
praise the Name of the Lord.
2 Let the Name of the Lord be blessed, *
from this time forth for evermore.
3 From the rising of the sun to its going down *
let the Name of the Lord be praised.
4 The Lord is high above all nations, *
and his glory above the heavens.
5 Who is like the Lord our God, who sits enthroned on high *
but stoops to behold the heavens and the earth?
6 He takes up the weak out of the dust *
and lifts up the poor from the ashes.
7 He sets them with the princes, *
with the princes of his people.
8 He makes the woman of a childless house *
to be a joyful mother of children.

2nd Reading: 1 Timothy 2:1-7
A large portion of First Timothy offers instruction for Christian living.  Here we have a plea for prayer, particularly for political rulers, “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life.”  The writer then goes on to make clear what for him is “the truth,” i.e., acceptable teaching:  “One God, one mediator, himself human, who gave his life as a ransom.”  These are among the statements in the New Testament where one can begin to see the development of a creed.

2:1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. 3 This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, 6 who gave himself a ransom for all—this was attested at the right time. 7 For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

Gospel Reading: Luke 16:1-13
Many throughout the years have called this “the hardest parable.”  It raises several problems, fundamental among which is the fact that Jesus seems to commend dishonesty.  Or does he? Perhaps the master was overcharging interest and the manager is making that right? And what does Jesus mean by commending the dishonest manager’s shrewdness and criticizing his followers for their lack of it? Jesus tells us to “make friends” by means of “dishonest wealth.” Is that the opposite of putting them into debt? The last saying seems to be tacked on here by Luke since it doesn’t exactly relate to the parable.  But it is a familiar saying that delivers a strong and clear message: “You cannot serve God and wealth.”

16:1 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2 So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3 Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7 Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. 10 “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

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 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. And like us on Facebook!

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

14 Pentecost 2019, Proper 19C Readings & Commentaries

1st Reading (Track 1): Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
Jeremiah prophesies the invasion of an army (“a hot wind”) of destruction (“a wind too strong [just] to winnow or cleanse”). Verses 13-21, not read today, deliver that message in stark terms and make the claim that it is God who is intervening as a consequence of Israel’s unfaithfulness. Yet (as verses 22-28 make clear) the people are oblivious, which only assures the “desolation.” But there is a faint glimmer of hope:  “I will not make a full end.” God cannot quite let go of the people he has made and loved.

4:11 At that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem:  A hot wind comes from me out of the bare heights in the desert toward my poor people, not to winnow or cleanse—12 a wind too strong for that. Now it is I who speak in judgment against them. 22 “For my people are foolish, they do not know me; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good.” 23 I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light. 24 I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro. 25 I looked, and lo, there was no one at all, and all the birds of the air had fled. 26 I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert, and all its cities were laid in ruins before the Lord, before his fierce anger. 27 For thus says the Lord:  The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end. 28 Because of this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above grow black; for I have spoken, I have purposed; I have not relented nor will I turn back.

Psalm 14 (Track 1)
Psalm 14 is a reflection on the nature of fools to do evil as opposed to the righteous poor, for whom God is a refuge and deliverer.  If there is a refrain in the psalm it is “no…no one…none…none… one.”  Verse 4 may be the crux of the argument:  indifference toward God and social injustice go hand in hand.

1 The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” *
              All are corrupt and commit abominable acts;
              there is none who does any good.
2 The Lord looks down from heaven upon us all, *
              to see if there is any who is wise,
              if there is one who seeks after God.
3 Every one has proved faithless; all alike have turned bad; *
              there is none who does good; no, not one.
4 Have they no knowledge, all those evildoers *
              who eat up my people like bread
              and do not call upon the Lord?
5 See how they tremble with fear, *
              because God is in the company of the righteous.
6 Their aim is to confound the plans of the afflicted, *
              but the Lord is their refuge.
7 Oh, that Israel’s deliverance would come out of Zion! *
              when the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
              Jacob will rejoice and Israel be glad.

1st Reading (Track 2): Exodus 32:7-14
Moses has been on the mountain forty days and the people have grown restless. In the first six verses of chapter 32, they ask Aaron, the priest, to make them an idol to worship and he comes up with a golden calf (which will appear again in Israel’s history—see 1 Kings 12:28ff).  To say that God is upset is an understatement!  Notice how God calls Israel “your people” and Moses turns around and says the same to God.  Moses successfully negotiates with God (reminiscent of Abraham bargaining over Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18:16-33).  God changes his mind and renews the promise. As the story goes on, however, there was severe punishment. Aaron is spared though he made the calf. He shows his own weakness as a leader when he says (v. 24): “so they gave it [the gold] to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!”

32:7 The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; 8 they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” 9 The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. 10 Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.” 11 But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” 14 And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

Psalm 51 (Track 2)
Psalm 51 is a psalm of penitence and a prayer for deliverance.  Verse 8 suggests the underlying problem is illness, although the penitent feels he has been sinful from his mother’s womb.  The Hebrew introduction to the psalm ascribes it to David “when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” The first verse contains three key words of Israel’s faith in God:  mercy, loving-kindness (or steadfast love), and compassion. They are played off against three descriptive words of separation from God:  iniquity, sin, and transgression. It is Israel’s faith that the former will trump the latter.

1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness; *
in your great compassion blot out my offenses.
2 Wash me through and through from my wickedness *
and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions, *
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you only have I sinned *
and done what is evil in your sight.
5 And so you are justified when you speak *
and upright in your judgment.
6 Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth, *
a sinner from my mother’s womb.
7 For behold, you look for truth deep within me, *
and will make me understand wisdom secretly.
8 Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; *
wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.
9 Make me hear of joy and gladness, *
that the body you have broken may rejoice.
10 Hide your face from my sins *
and blot out all my iniquities.
11 Create in me a clean heart, O God, *
and renew a right spirit within me.

2nd Reading: 1 Timothy 1:12-17
We will spend six weeks reading through 1 & 2 Timothy.  They are attributed to Paul, but the great majority of biblical scholars consider them second generation.  It was not unusual for followers of someone to write in his name.  Here Paul’s story is rehearsed to make the point: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”  Timothy, of course, was Paul’s protégé and probably continued his ministry in Ephesus after Paul’s death.  The first portion of verse 15 is one of the “comfortable words” after the confession and absolution of Rite I in The Book of Common Prayer (p. 332).

1:12 I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, 13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. 16 But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Gospel Reading: Luke 15:1-10
Chapter 15 of Luke’s Gospel contains three parables answering the charge of the religious authorities:  “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  We have the first two this morning (the third is the much longer parable of the Prodigal Son, which we read in Lent).  The two parables below parallel one another almost exactly and they follow a pattern in Luke of male and female examples being held up together.  Of all the Gospel writers, Luke is not afraid to use feminine imagery in referring to God.  The point of the parables is clear: the joy of the forgiveness of sins available to all. They also bring home the message from the Sermon on the Plain, “Be merciful, just as your heavenly Father is merciful.” (6:36)

15:1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable:  4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8 Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

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 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.  And like us on Facebook!

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

13 Pentecost 2019, Proper 18C Readings & Commentaries

Onesimus, a slave of Philemon, and companion of St. Paul is honored in the Eastern Church as "Apostle."  Tradition says he followed St. Timothy as Bishop of Ephesus.

1st Reading (Track 1): Jeremiah 18:1-11
The prophet Jeremiah uses the metaphor of the potter. (The prophet Isaiah uses this metaphor as well, although spread out in four places: 29:16, 41:25, 45:9, 64:8). The point is clear:  the Lord is in utter control of his people. Yet, like all good metaphors, there is a sense in which the comparison holds true, and a sense in which it does not, for unlike the clay, Israel has a choice, and that choice can affect the Lord’s choice: (see the “if…then” clauses in verses 8 and 10). Amendment and mercy are part of how the relationship between Israel and the Lord work. However, verse 12 (which we do not read this morning) makes it clear Israel’s choice has been made: “We will follow our own plans, and…act according to the stubbornness of our evil will.”

18:1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord:  2 “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4 The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him. 5 Then the word of the Lord came to me:  6 Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. 7 At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8 but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. 9 And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it. 11 Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem:  Thus says the Lord:  Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.

Psalm 139:1-5, 13-17 (Track 1)
The first seventeen verses of Psalm 139 are among the most effective poetry in the psalter. They are a meditation on the individual’s deep relationship with the God who seeks us out and knows us. God is not only the creator of all life, but of each individual life as well.

1 Lord, you have searched me out and known me; *
              you know my sitting down and my rising up;
              you discern my thoughts from afar.
2 You trace my journeys and my resting-places *
              and are acquainted with all my ways.
3 Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, *
              but you, O Lord, know it altogether.
4 You press upon me behind and before *
              and lay your hand upon me.
5 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; *
              it is so high that I cannot attain to it.
13 I will thank you because I am marvelously made; *
              your works are wonderful, and I know it well.
14 My body was not hidden from you, *
              while I was being made in secret
              and woven in the depths of the earth.
15 Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb;
      all of them were written in your book; *
              they were fashioned day by day,
              when as yet there was none of them.
16 How deep I find your thoughts, O God! *
              how great is the sum of them!
17 If I were to count them, they would be more in number
                            than the sand; *
              to count them all, my life span would need to be like yours.

2nd Reading: Philemon 1-21
We read almost the entirety of this letter, short four verses which comprise some personal remarks.  Philemon is a reminder that reading the letters of the New Testament is literally reading someone else’s mail. You only have half the conversation in hand. It appears from this half that Onesimus, a slave of Philemon of Colossae, has run away to Paul, who is either in Ephesus or in Rome in prison. Has he literally “run away?” Or is he in trouble and needs a third-party mediator (not considered “running away” under Greek slave laws)? At any rate, Paul is asking Philemon to take him back not as a slave but as a brother in Christ, an equal. Paul is at his diplomatic best in making this request. The main point of the letter for us is that Baptism changes our status with one another. Social status among us is erased. We are all one. Why didn’t Paul take this a step further and declare that slavery is wrong? We don’t know. We can only own up to the fact, mourn, and repent that the Church also failed to take this further step for almost 1,500 years.

1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, 2 to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:  3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God 5 because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. 6 I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. 7 I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother. 8 For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, 9 yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. 10 I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. 12 I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. 13 I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. 15 Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. 17 So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. 20 Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.

Gospel Reading: Luke 14:25-33
Our Gospel reading does not comfort, it disturbs.  Jesus is probably using hyperbole (exaggeration), a common device in Semitic discourse of his day.  Jesus can’t actually mean for us to hate parents and abandon children, but he certainly means for us to be serious about our priorities, and not to be surprised when living the Gospel causes conflict even among our closest family and friends. This is a Gospel passage about making hard choices in following the way of Jesus.

14:25 Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, 26 “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

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. Go to our website.  And like us on Facebook!

Monday, August 26, 2019

17 Pentecost 2019, Proper 12C Readings & Commentaries

Chapter 13, the last chapter of the letter to the Hebrews, contains some final exhortations to the life of faith.

1st Reading (Track 1): Jeremiah 2:4-13
In chapter two of Jeremiah, the prophet delivers God’s indictment of Israel. The chapter reads like a divorce suit. Israel has abandoned its relationship with its God, unlike all other peoples from east to west. The people have forgotten the story that brought them to the promised land and sustained them there. As the story is forgotten, their right relationship with the land and with the God of their land fails. The institutions who were charged with the keeping of the story—priests, judges, rulers, prophets—have all failed. The consequence is that the keeping of a just society is lost, and with community lost, the land will be lost. It is a waste of the love and the life given to Israel as a gift.

2:4 Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. 5 Thus says the Lord: What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves? 6 They did not say, “Where is the Lord who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness, in a land of deserts and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that no one passes through, where no one lives?” 7 I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things. But when you entered you defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination. 8 The priests did not say, “Where is the Lord?” Those who handle the law did not know me; the rulers transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal, and went after things that do not profit. 9 Therefore once more I accuse you, says the Lord, and I accuse your children’s children. 10 Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look, send to Kedar and examine with care; see if there has ever been such a thing. 11 Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit. 12 Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the Lord, 13 for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.

Psalm 81:1, 10-16 (Track 1)
The ending portion of Psalm 81 (10-16) rehearses the same rejection of relationship with the Lord as the Jeremiah reading above. Yet three times God calls Israel “my people” and a pathway is given out of the broken relationship:  listen again and walk in my ways. God has not utterly rejected Israel. God’s tenderness towards “my people” remains—more than water from the rock, God would give them honey.

1 Sing with joy to God our strength *
              and raise a loud shout to the God of Jacob.
10 I am the Lord your God,
     who brought you out of the land of Egypt and said, *
              “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.”
11 And yet my people did not hear my voice, *
              and Israel would not obey me.
12 So I gave them over to the stubbornness of their hearts, *
              to follow their own devices.
13 Oh, that my people would listen to me! *
              that Israel would walk in my ways!
14 I should soon subdue their enemies *
              and turn my hand against their foes.
15 Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him, *
              and their punishment would last for ever.
16 But Israel would I feed with the finest wheat *
              and satisfy him with honey from the rock.

1st Reading (Track 2): Sirach 10:12-18
Sirach (also called Ecclesiasticus) is a book of the Apocrypha, a collection of books that Roman Catholics consider to be part of the Old Testament, Protestants do not, and Anglicans set off in a separate section calling them “edifying,” but containing nothing essential for salvation. Sirach is largely a collection of wisdom sayings. Here the principle subject is pride. It was partly based on this passage that medieval lists of the seven deadly, or “mortal” sins always had pride as number one.

10:12 The beginning of human pride is to forsake the Lord; the heart has withdrawn from its Maker. 13 For the beginning of pride is sin, and the one who clings to it pours out abominations. Therefore the Lord brings upon them unheard-of calamities, and destroys them completely. 14 The Lord overthrows the thrones of rulers, and enthrones the lowly in their place. 15 The Lord plucks up the roots of the nations, and plants the humble in their place. 16 The Lord lays waste the lands of the nations, and destroys them to the foundations of the earth. 17 He removes some of them and destroys them, and erases the memory of them from the earth. 18 Pride was not created for human beings, or violent anger for those born of women.

Or this

1st Reading (Track 2): Proverbs 25:6-7
Proverbs is a collection of teaching and wise sayings for the purpose of “gaining instruction in wise dealing, righteousness, justice, and equity; to teach shrewedness to the simple, knowledge and prudence to the young” (Proverbs 1:3-4). Humility is one of the basic components of this wisdom teaching.

25:6 Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great; 7 for it is better to be told, “Come up here,” than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.

Psalm 112 (Track 2)
Psalm 112 is an acrostic poem, like several other psalms. In this regard it is paired with Psalm 111. Together, each subsequent line of these two psalms begins with a subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This psalm is a wisdom psalm, comparing, as most wisdom literature in the Hebrew Bible does, the contrasting fate of the righteous and the wicked. If there is a predominant theme it is generosity.

1 Hallelujah!
   Happy are they who fear the Lord *
and have great delight in his commandments!
2 Their descendants will be mighty in the land; *
the generation of the upright will be blessed.
3 Wealth and riches will be in their house, *
and their righteousness will last for ever.
4 Light shines in the darkness for the upright; *
the righteous are merciful and full of compassion.
5 It is good for them to be generous in lending *
and to manage their affairs with justice.
6 For they will never be shaken; *
the righteous will be kept in everlasting remembrance.
7 They will not be afraid of any evil rumors; *
their heart is right;
they put their trust in the Lord.
8 Their heart is established and will not shrink, *
until they see their desire upon their enemies.
9 They have given freely to the poor, *
and their righteousness stands fast for ever;
they will hold up their head with honor.
10 The wicked will see it and be angry;
they will gnash their teeth and pine away;
the desires of the wicked will perish.

2nd Reading: Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Chapter 13, the last chapter of the letter to the Hebrews, contains some final exhortations to the life of faith, all that grow out of what the writer has been teaching from the beginning of the letter. The primary importance of love among the members of the community repeats what was said in 6:10 and 10:24 & 32. The most significant practice of love is hospitality, not to the known, but to the unknown. This love is also radical enough that it results in solidarity with those in prison or under torture. The marriage bond is the symbol of this love and the love of money its greatest obstacle. The quotation in verse 5 is Deut. 31:6 and in verse 6, Psalm 56:11. In Hebrews, the sacrifice of praise (and thanksgiving) has replaced the sacrifice of blood. This phrase is an important one to the Anglican tradition, appearing twenty times in our Prayer Book.

13:1 Let mutual love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. 4 Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. 5 Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” 6 So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” 7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 15 Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Gospel Reading: Luke 14:1, 7-14
Jesus’ commending humility in seeking places at the table comes from Proverbs 25:6-7. It also has a parallel in the sayings of a late 1st century Rabbi, Simeon ben Azzai. For Jesus, however, it is not only about appropriate behavior in the present. It tells us something about the future and the resurrection of the righteous (or just). This humility (and its accompanying hospitality) is not only the right thing to do, it is who God is and what the kingdom of God is like.

14:1 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. 7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

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