Sunday, July 14, 2019

6 Pentecost 2019 (Proper 11C) Readings & Commentaries

 This well-known story is only told by Luke. The Gospel of John knows Mary and Martha of Bethany (and their brother Lazarus), and there is a meal scene with them in that Gospel (12:1-3), but it is lacking the details in this story.

1st Reading (Track 1): Amos 8:1-12
Today’s reading from near the end of the book of Amos, is the fourth vision/image given to the prophet regarding Israel’s end. Ripe summer fruit (which will quickly spoil) speaks to the immediacy of Israel’s situation. As in last week’s reading from Amos, God’s judgment is that in a time of “prosperity,” fraudulent business practices oppress the poor. Amos announces that it is too late.  When the crisis comes (the invasion of the Assyrians), people will seek a word from God and there will be none.

8:1 This is what the Lord God showed me—a basket of summer fruit. 2 He said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the Lord said to me, “The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass them by. 3 The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,” says the Lord God; “the dead bodies shall be many, cast out in every place. Be silent!” 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. 8 Shall not the land tremble on this account, and everyone mourn who lives in it, and all of it rise like the Nile, and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt? 9 On that day, says the Lord God, I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight. 10 I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on all loins, and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it like a bitter day. 11 The time is surely coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. 12 They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.

Psalm 52 (Track 1)
Psalm 52 is testimony against wickedness. The Hebrew word translated “tyrant” is literally “Mighty One.” There is sarcasm at use here.  The introduction to the psalm put in in the context of “When Doeg the Edomite came to Saul and said to him, “David has come to the house of Ahimelech” (1 Samuel 21 & 22). If that is the case than the object of scorn here is the treacherous Doeg, whose tongue has indeed “plotted ruin” and caused many deaths.

1 You tyrant, why do you boast of wickedness *
              against the godly all day long?
2 You plot ruin; your tongue is like a sharpened razor, *
              O worker of deception.
3 You love evil more than good *
              and lying more than speaking the truth.
4 You love all words that hurt, *
              O you deceitful tongue.
5 Oh, that God would demolish you utterly, *
              topple you, and snatch you from your dwelling,
              and root you out of the land of the living!
6 The righteous shall see and tremble, *
and they shall laugh at him, saying,
7 “This is the one who did not take God for a refuge, *
              but trusted in great wealth and relied upon wickedness.”
8 But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; *
              I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.
9 I will give you thanks for what you have done *
              and declare the goodness of your Name
                            in the presence of the godly.

1st Reading (Track 2): Genesis 18:1-10a
God promised Abraham and Sarah a son (and that his heirs would become a great nation) in Genesis 12:1-4. Much has happened since that promise. The two have journeyed from their homeland to the land of Canaan, taken a side trip to Egypt, divided the land between themselves and their nephew Lot, defeated several kings, received a second iteration of the promise (ch. 15), tried having a surrogate son through Sarah’s slave-girl Hagar, and received a third iteration of the promise (ch. 17) during which they received a change to their names and received the commandment of male circumcision.  Now comes the promise again—a fourth time.  This story is a fine example of Middle Eastern hospitality. It will be chapter 21 before Sarah bears a child. There are many odd things about this reading. Are the three indeed “men” or are they angels? Why are they referred to sometimes as “they” and sometimes as “he”? Because of this inconsistency, Christians have tended to read back into the story an appearance of the Trinity.

18:1 The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. 2 He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. 3 He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. 4 Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. 5 Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” 6 And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.” 7 Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. 8 Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate. 9 They said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” And he said, “There, in the tent.” 10 Then one said, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.”

Psalm 15 (Track 2)
Psalm 15 sets forth the characteristics of a righteous person, especially as he approaches worship in the Temple.  In the time of the psalm’s writing, access to the Temple was restricted.  Certain people were not admitted (see, for example, Deuteronomy 23:1-8).  The Babylonian Talmud claims that David summarized the 613 laws of the Torah into the ten found here in verses 2—5. The structure of ten is certainly meant to tie directly to the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) tradition.

1 Lord, who may dwell in your tabernacle? *
who may abide upon your holy hill?
2 Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right, *
who speaks truth from his heart.
3 There is no guile upon his tongues;
    he does no evil to his friend; *
he does not heap contempt upon his neighbor.
4 In his sight the wicked is rejected, *
but he honors those who fear the Lord.
5 He has sworn to do no wrong *
and does not take back his word.
6 He does not give his money in hope of gain, *
nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.
7 Whoever does these things *
shall never be overthrown.

2nd Reading:  Colossians 1:15-28
The first portion of today’s reading is most likely an early hymn to Christ as “firstborn of all creation.” The reading then continues to speak of the effect of this “cosmic” Christ on the ministry of the Colossians and of Paul himself. The Christ who holds all things together, has done so with the Colossians. They are reconciled in him. Paul understands himself to be continuing Christ’s work, offering himself for the sake of the church, revealing the mystery:  Christ in you, the hope of glory.

1:15 Jesus 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. 21 And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him—23 provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel. 24 I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. 25 I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.

Gospel Reading:  Luke 10:38-42
This well-known story is only told by Luke. The Gospel of John knows Mary and Martha of Bethany (and their brother Lazarus), and there is a meal scene with them in that Gospel (12:1-3), but it is lacking the details in this story. This story highlights Jesus’ willingness to push the social and religious boundaries between men and women (particularly for a rabbi). It is easy to be critical of Martha and her busy-ness, but that is not necessarily Jesus’ point.  He has just said to the lawyer in the Good Samaritan story, “Go and do likewise.” Here he commends Mary’s passivity. The point is, perhaps, that in the life of Jesus’ followers there is a time for both ways of being. Perhaps another point centers around the words “distraction” and “worry.” It is not so much that Martha should not be about her tasks, but distracted and worried living are not helpful among Jesus’ disciples, partially because they typically lead to resentment, as they do here.

10:38 Now as Jesus and his disciples went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

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.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

5 Pentecost 2019 (Proper 10C) Readings & Commentaries

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is well known and beloved. It begins with a dialogue between Jesus and a lawyer. 

5th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10C, Track One)

1st Reading (Track 1):  Amos 7:7-17
The prophet Amos functioned during the peaceful and prosperous reign of Jeroboam II of Israel (the northern kingdom) although he himself was from Judah (the southern kingdom). Around the year 752 b.c.e., Amos witnessed to God’s displeasure that this prosperity was built on the backs of the poor. Our reading today is from the last section of the book, where the Lord’s judgment is brought to the fore and disaster predicted. Indeed, the northern kingdom was wiped from history by the Assyrians in 721 b.c.e. A “plumb line” is a simple device of a string with a weight on one end, to test true vertical for a wall, etc.

7:7 This is what he showed me:  the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. 8 And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by; 9 the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.” 10 Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. 11 For thus Amos has said, ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.’” 12 And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; 13 but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” 14 Then Amos answered Amaziah, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, 15 and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ 16 “Now therefore hear the word of the Lord. You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not preach against the house of Isaac.’ 17 Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be parceled out by line; you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.’”

Psalm 82 (Track 1)
Psalm 82 is among the more ancient of the psalms, given its assumption of a polytheistic world. It puts forward a courtroom scene where “the Most High,” the God of Israel, disputes with “the gods.” The charge is a lack of justice.

1 God takes his stand in the council of heaven; *
              he gives judgment in the midst of the gods:
2 “How long will you judge unjustly, *
              and show favor to the wicked?
3 Save the weak and the orphan; *
              defend the humble and needy;
4 Rescue the weak and the poor; *
              deliver them from the power of the wicked.
5 They do not know, neither do they understand;
   they go about in darkness; *
              all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
6 Now I say to you, ‘You are gods, *
              and all of you children of the Most High;
7 Nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, *
              and fall like any prince.’”
8 Arise, O God, and rule the earth, *
              for you shall take all nations for your own.

1st Reading (Track 2):  Deuteronomy 30:9-14
Today’s first reading is a portion of the end of a long speech of Moses “on the plains of Moab” (Dt. 29:1—30:20).  It is a curious reading in that it begins in the middle of a paragraph in the middle of a sentence.  The first half of the reading emphasizes the blessing of obedience.  The second part answers the question, “Is not the law too difficult to obey in its entirety?”

30:9 [Moses said to the people of Israel,] “The Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings, in the fruit of your body, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your soil. For the Lord will again take delight in prospering you, just as he delighted in prospering your ancestors, 10 when you obey the Lord your God by observing his commandments and decrees that are written in this book of the law, because you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 11 Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” 14 No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.”

Psalm 25:1-9 (Track 2)
Psalm 25, like a few other psalms (9/10, 34, 37, 111, 112, 119, 145) is an acrostic poem. Each verse begins with a subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet. There are a total of 22 verses in Psalm 25. It is an individual’s lament, in dialogue with perhaps a worship leader of some sort (the divisions are individual 1-7, 16-22 and leader 8-10, 12-14). Psalm 25 testifies to the possibility of confession, repentance, and forgives, as does our first reading today.

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

2nd Reading:  Colossians 1:1-14
We will read the Letter to the Colossians for the next four weeks.  Paul’s actual authorship is disputed, largely due to language and phrasing that are uncharacteristic of Paul. Putting the name of one’s teacher on a letter was not all that unusual in the Greek world of the time. This is a letter to a community that Paul neither founded nor visited.  Its apostle was Epaphras, of whom Paul speaks well.  The letter is written in response to the threat of false teaching, although it is not entirely clear what that false teaching was, although somehow the unique supremacy of Christ was being challenged.  The letter opens in the usual way, with a short greeting and a longer thanksgiving prayer for the community.

1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2 To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae:  Grace to you and peace from God our Father. 3 In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel 6 that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God. 7 This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, 8 and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit. 9 For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. 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.

Gospel Reading:  Luke 10:25-37
The Parable of the Good Samaritan is well known and beloved. It begins with a dialogue between Jesus and a lawyer. The lawyer is stuck on “understanding” and Jesus tries to move him toward “doing.” The parable ultimately does that, with its finish, “Go and do likewise.”  The Kingdom of God is not a proposition but an action.  “Who is my neighbor,” the lawyer asks.  The answer is not in a category, but in an action.  Jesus, in essence, turns “neighbor” into a verb.

10:25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

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.