Tuesday, August 20, 2019

11 Pentecost 2019, Proper 11C Readings & Commentaries


11th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16C)

1st Reading (Track 1):  Jeremiah 1:4-10
In the first three verses of chapter one, Jeremiah is said to be the son of Hilkiah, a priest at Anathoth. As such, he was probably a descendent of the priest Abiathar, who King Solomon banished to Anathoth (1 Kings 2:26,27). Anathoth may represent an alternative priestly and prophetic voice to that of Jerusalem, i.e., Jeremiah is an outsider to the political and religious establishment. He was a witness to the rise of the Babylonian empire and the attempt by the Kingdom of Judah to play off Babylon and Egypt against one another, which ultimately failed. An “alliance” was made with Babylon in 598 b.c.e. which led to a “puppet kingdom.” Judah ceased to exist in 586, and significant portions of its population taken into exile, an event which overshadows the whole book of Jeremiah. Our reading this morning is the story of Jeremiah’s call to a ministry which involves that fate of Judah, through the word of the Lord who speaks through the prophet.

1:4 Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, 5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” 6 Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” 7 But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” 9 Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Psalm 71:1-6 (Track 1)
Psalm 71 as a whole is the prayer of an elderly person, pursued by enemies and in urgent need of hope. This contrasts with the “youth” Jeremiah claims in the above reading, although one can easily hear this psalm on the lips of an elder Jeremiah. Verse 6 uses the imagery of a midwife, stating clearly that the writer has known and trusted the Lord from the day of his birth.

1 In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; *
              let me never be ashamed.
2 In your righteousness, deliver me and set me free; *
              incline your ear to me and save me.
3 Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe; *
              you are my crag and my stronghold.
4 Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, *
              from the clutches of the evildoer and the oppressor.
5 For you are my hope, O Lord God, *
              my confidence since I was young.
6 I have been sustained by you ever since I was born;
   from my mother’s womb you have been my strength; *
              my praise shall be always of you.

1st Reading (Track 2):  Isaiah 58:9b-14
In 58:1-14, the prophet Isaiah speaks to the newly returned exiles about the requirements for rebuilding holy community. This can only happen when worship and the practice of daily living are in sync with one another. Those who worship the just God must live the just life. The crown jewel of living the just life is the practice of sabbath. Sabbath is not just about setting aside a day for worship and rest. To practice sabbath is to practice an alternative way of life, one in which the anxiety of acquiring things and the drive to control life by our own strength and for our own self-gain are rejected in favor of living in true community, where all may delight in the abundance of creation.

58:9b If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10 if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11 The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. 13 If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; 14 then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Psalm 103:1-8 (Track 2)
Psalm 103 is a psalm of praise for God’s salvation, the forgiveness of sins and the healing of infirmities, the vindication of human life and the doing of justice. Verse six is translated in the New Revised Standard Version, “The Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed.”

1 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.
2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.
3 He forgives all your sins
and heals all your infirmities;
4 He redeems your life from the grave
and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness;
5 He satisfies you with good things,
and your youth is renewed like an eagle’s.
6 The Lord executes righteousness
and judgment for all who are oppressed.
7 He made his ways known to Moses
and his works to the children of Israel.
8 The Lord is full of compassion and mercy,
slow to anger and of great kindness.

2nd Reading:  Hebrews 12:18-29
Throughout the Letter to the Hebrews, the writer contrasts the “old” covenant with the “new.”  Our passage this morning comes from near the end of the letter and is a kind of climax of this contrast, using the images of Mount Sinai (where the old covenant was formed) with Mount Zion (which is the vision of the new covenant fulfilled).  The old covenant was received in terror such that even the great Moses trembled with fear (the quote regarding touching the mountain is from Exodus 19:12-13).  In contrast, the approach of Mount Zion is summed up in a long list of vivid images which speak of eager anticipation rather than dread.  Yet there is a warning:  do not refuse this new vision, and remember "our God is a consuming fire,” which is to say that the graciousness of God requires the offering of our whole lives just as much as the terror of God did. The quote in verse 26 is from the prophet Haggai (2:6).

12:18 You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, 19 and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. 20 (For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”) 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. 25 See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! 26 At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; 29 for indeed our God is a consuming fire.

Gospel Reading: Luke 13:10-17
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus continues a pattern in Luke’s Gospel establishing that the care of our fellow human beings takes priority over all ritual requirements and social “standards.” The practice of such things as sabbath was not intended to be a means of social control, but an enabling of social justice. Another way of putting this is to say that sabbath, or any other religious practice, must never be used as a means of burdening people, but of freeing them, as the woman in this story is given freedom from her physical burden. An almost identical sabbath healing occurs in 14:1-6. The reference for the synagogue leader’s protest in verse 14 is Exodus 20:9-10. The reference to “Satan” binding the woman in verse 16 was simply an acknowledgement that this state of affairs for the woman is evil, meaning that it does not come from God, which many of her contemporaries surely believed.

13:10 Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

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, www.EpiphanyEsources.com. All rights reserved.  Permission is given to copy for group study.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

9 Pentecost 2019, Proper 14C Readings & Commentaries


Jesus’ teaching on possessions continues from last week’s reading.  The heart of the passage is surely the saying, “Where your treasure is, your heart will be also.

1st Reading (Track 1):  Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
As a whole, Isaiah interprets a wide swath of the history of the kingdom of Judah (the Southern Kingdom). This includes two, possibly three, prophetic figures. Chapters 1-39 concern Isaiah of Jerusalem’s interaction with life under the kings of Judah in the latter half of the 8th century b.c.e. This history includes the northern kingdom’s last gasp, going to war with Judah in an attempt to save itself. The northern kingdom (Israel) fell in 722 b.c.e. during the reign of Ahaz, king of Judah, who figures greatly in the text of Isaiah. Isaiah opens with a speech of judgment against Judah (1:2-17) that ends with a diatribe against empty worship, worship that is deceitful, because it hides the broken relationship of the people with God. But, as often occurs in Isaiah, the judgment is followed by a new possibility. Relationship with God can be restored and relationship within the community (i.e., justice) can be restored and these restorations can lead to well-being (shalom).

1:1 The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. 10 Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! 11 What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. 12 When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; 13 bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation—I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. 14 Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. 16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. 18 Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; 20 but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24 (Track 1)
Psalm 50 speaks of the God revealed in the glory of creation, who cannot keep silent because the covenant has been broken. The courtroom language is like that of the first chapter of Isaiah, and like Isaiah 1, the psalm offers hope at its end. It is not cheap hope, however, it requires “to keep in my way.”

1 The Lord, the God of gods, has spoken; *
              he has called the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.
2 Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty, *
              God reveals himself in glory.
3 Our God will come and will not keep silence; *
              before him there is a consuming flame,
              and round about him a raging storm.
4 He calls the heavens and the earth from above *
              to witness the judgment of his people.
5 “Gather before me my loyal followers, *
              those who have made a covenant with me
              and sealed it with sacrifice.”
6 Let the heavens declare the rightness of his cause; *
              for God himself is judge.
7 Hear, O my people, and I will speak:
              “O Israel, I will bear witness against you; *
              for I am God, your God.
8 I do not accuse you because of your sacrifices; *
              your offerings are always before me.
23 Consider this well, you who forget God, *
              lest I rend you and there be none to deliver you.
24 Whoever offers me the sacrifice of thanksgiving honors me; *
              but to those who keep in my way will I show
                            the salvation of God.”

1st Reading (Track 2):  Genesis 15:1-6
Our first reading is the second promise of God to Abram and Sarai that they would bear a child and, in fact, have descendants more than they can count. The initial promise was made in chapter 12 when God asked them to set out from their homeland. Significant time has passed. They have been to Egypt, been involved in a war between the various kings of the land of Canaan, and made offering to the mysterious King Melchizedek of Salem.  After all this, one can imagine that they have begun to wonder about that promise!  It is now time, however, to settle in the land that was promised, and so the child and the descendants are promised again. Both St. Paul and the writer to the Hebrews will make much of Abram’s response of faith and that the Lord responded by “reckoning it to him as righteousness.”

15:1 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4 But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5 He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Psalm 33:12-22 (Track 2)
Psalm 33 as a whole is a communal song of praise.  The first portion (1-11) extols God as creator.  Our section this morning praises the God who rules over the destinies of nations. There is also a strong theme of trust, which is very much in play in our first reading.

12 Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord! *
happy the people he has chosen to be his own!
13 The Lord looks down from heaven, *
and beholds all the people in the world.
14 From where he sits enthroned he turn his gaze *
on all who dwell on the earth.
15 He fashions all the hearts of them *
and understand all their works.
16 There is no king that can be saved by a mighty army; *
a strong man is not delivered by his great strength.
17 The horse is a vain hope for deliverance; *
for all its strength it cannot save.
18 Behold, the eye of Lord is upon those who fear him, *
on those who wait upon his love,
19 To pluck their lives from death, *
and to feed them in time of famine.
20 Our soul waits for the Lord; *
he is our help and our shield.
21 Indeed, our heart rejoices in him, *
for in his holy Name we put our trust.
22 Let your loving-kindness, O Lord, be upon us, *
              as we have put our trust in you.

2nd Reading:  Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
For the next four weeks we will read from the latter part of the Letter to the Hebrews, an anonymous letter which reads like an extended sermon. Its simple purpose is to bolster the faith of its readers.  The first ten chapters dwell on the superiority of Christ, especially as high priest of the new covenant, a high priest we can trust because he was one of us. In chapter eleven, the writing takes a turn as if someone had asked the question, “But what exactly is faith?”  The author offers a definition and then provides examples from biblical history.  We skip over the examples of Abel, Enoch, and Noah to arrive at Abraham and Sarah.  The last four verses of our reading are poetic, a vivid description about the place of longing in faith, and the astoundingly good news that God is not ashamed to be called our God.

11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible. 8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.” 13 All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14 for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

Gospel Reading:  Luke 12:32-40
Jesus’ teaching on possessions continues from last week’s reading.  The heart of the passage is surely the saying, “Where your treasure is, your heart will be also.”  Jesus is an astute observer of human nature, and this particular observation has not failed the passage of time.  Encouraging the giving of alms would have been a very traditional Jewish thing to do.  Both Judaism and early Christianity emphasized the community of faith’s responsibility for those in need.  Finally, developing this right relationship with possessions is a key part of being prepared for when the Son of Man will come at an unexpected hour.

12:32 [Jesus said to the disciples,] “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 35 Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. 39 But know this:  if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

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, www.EpiphanyEsources.com. All rights reserved.  Permission is given to copy for group study.  Bulletin inserts are available. Go to our website for more information.  Like us on Facebook!