Monday, July 31, 2017

The Transfiguration: Sunday August 6

The First Reading:  Exodus 34:29-35
This section of the Book of Exodus (chs. 32-34) is the account of the renewal of the covenant after the rebellion of the people and the smashing of the first tablets (chs. 19-24).  Our reading this morning is the account of Moses returning from the mountain the second time with the two tablets containing the Ten Commandments. Moses’ face shines because he has been in the presence of God.  The people were afraid and so Moses used a veil.  This apparently continued as Moses went in and out of the Tabernacle to speak with God.

29 Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. 32 Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. 33 When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; 34 but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

Psalm 99:5-9
Psalm 99 is a psalm proclaiming God as King and is a part of the “enthronement psalms” (Psalms 93, 95-99).  Part of their purpose is to proclaim that despite the failure of the Davidic covenant, including the loss of land, temple and monarchy, God still reigns.  So the references here are back to “origins,” to Moses and Aaron and (most significantly) Samuel, who opposed the establishment of the monarchy on the grounds that only God could be Israel’s king.

5     Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
       and fall down before his footstool; *
              he is the Holy One.
6     Moses and Aaron among his priests,
       and Samuel among those who call upon his Name, *
              they called upon the Lord, and he answered them.
7     He spoke to them out of a pillar of cloud; *
              they kept his testimonies and the decree that he gave them.
8     O Lord our God, you answered them indeed; *
              you were a God who forgave them,
              yet punished them for their evil deeds.
9     Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
       and worship him upon hos holy hill; *
              for the Lord our God is the Holy One.

The Second Reading:  2 Peter 1:13-21
Our second reading references the story of the Transfiguration, the only place outside the Gospels which does so. The writer uses his witness of that incident to prove his trustworthiness in regards to the second coming of Christ. The prophetic witness is reliable. Scripture (the writer would have been referring to the Hebrew Scriptures) is not a matter of individual initiative or interpretation. Both rely on the Holy Spirit, working through the community of those who follow Jesus, understood in these early days of the church as the primary subject of the Hebrew Scriptures.

13 I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to refresh your memory, 14 since I know that my death will come soon, as indeed our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things. 16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

The Holy Gospel:  Luke 9:28-36
“After these sayings” refers to a prediction by Jesus of his death, and of the need of the disciples to take up their cross. This context is important because Luke’s story of the Transfiguration contains one detail that Matthew and Mark lack.  We are told about what Jesus, Moses, and Elijah are speaking: “his [Jesus’] departure, which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem.”  Indeed near the end of the chapter (v. 51) there will be a sudden transition:  “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”  Peter assumes/hopes the experience will last longer but they are sent quickly away with the same voice from Jesus’ baptism: “This is my Son, my Chosen,” with the added “Listen to him!”

28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

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 © 2017, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved. Permission to copy and edit for church services is given, provided this attribution remains.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Proper 12A: 8 Pentecost 2017

MAFA: Search for Treasure
1st Reading (Track 1):  Genesis 29:15-28
Jacob has fled his home due to the wrath of his brother brought on by his and his mother’s trickery. He settles with his uncle Laban (the brother of Rebekkah). Chapter 29:1-14 is the story of their meeting. As the story continues, Jacob agrees to serve Laban seven years for the hand of his daughter Rachel. The trickster, however, is himself tricked. It is Leah who is his first wife! He agrees to serve another seven years for Rachel, and takes her as his second wife, although, the text goes on to say, his favorite.

29:15 Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” 16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. 18 Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” 19 Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.” 20 So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her. 21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.” 22 So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast. 23 But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. 24 (Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.) 25 When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” 26 Laban said, “This is not done in our country—giving the younger before the firstborn. 27 Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.” 28 Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife.

Psalm 105:1-11, 45b (Track 1)
Psalm 105 is one of the historical psalms, which recite Israel’s past (the others are 78, 106, 135, and 136). They seek to portray the history of Israel as the history of the Lord’s relationship with his chosen people. This portion of Psalm 105 includes commentary on the story of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

1       Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name; *
                  make known his deeds among the peoples.
2       Sing to him, sing praises to him, *
                  and speak of all his marvelous works.
3       Glory in his holy Name; *
                  let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
4       Search for the Lord and his strength; *
                  continually seek his face.
5       Remember the marvels he has done, *
                  his wonders and the judgments of his mouth.
6       O offspring of Abraham his servant, *
                  O children of Jacob his chosen.
7       He is the Lord our God; *
                  his judgments prevail in all the world.
8       He has always been mindful of his covenant, *
                  the promise he made for a thousand generations:
9       The covenant he made with Abraham, *
                  the oath that he swore to Isaac,
10     Which he established as a statute for Jacob, *
                  an everlasting covenant for Israel,
11     Saying, “To you will I give the land of Canaan *
                  to be your allotted inheritance.”
45b  Hallelujah!

Or this

Psalm 128
Psalm 128 is one of the “Songs of Ascent,” most likely pilgrim songs for those traveling to the Temple for festivals. Each of the songs mentions Jerusalem (or “Zion”) and the blessing of peace. Psalm 128 connects the blessing of God to daily life. It is in patriarchal terms, no doubt. A note about “fear of the Lord:” biblical fear is not about being intimidated; it is about approaching God with awe, reverence, and humility.

1       Happy are they all who fear the Lord, *
                  and who follow in his ways!
2       You shall eat the fruit of your labor; *
                  happiness and prosperity shall be yours.
3       Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine within your house, *
                  your children like olive shoots round about your table.
4       The man who fears the Lord *
                  shall thus indeed be blessed.
5       The Lord bless you from Zion, *
                  and may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all
                                          the days of your life..
6       May you live to see your children’s children; *
                  may peace be upon Israel.

1st First Reading (Track 2):  1 Kings 3:5-12
Our first reading is the “origin story” of King Solomon’s storied wisdom, here given as “an understanding mind,” which could also be translated, “an obedient heart.” His desire is to follow his father David, both in David’s faithfulness to the Lord, and in the Lord’s faithfulness to David. Solomon begins his reign with significant acts of piety, although he will later become entangled with other religious traditions, and maintaining power will come to trump wisdom.

3:5 At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” 6 And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. 7 And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. 9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?” 10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11 God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12 I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.

Psalm 119:129-136 (Track 2)
Psalm 119 is the longest of the psalms at 176 verses and is a masterful acrostic poem with every eight verses beginning with subsequent letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Today, for instance, each verse in Hebrew begins with the letter “Pe”. The psalm is a hymn extolling the law, with some synonym of “law” appearing in almost every verse.

129  Your decrees are wonderful; *
                  therefore I obey them with all my heart.
130  When your word goes forth it gives light; *
                  it gives understanding to the simple.
131  I open my mouth and pant; *
                  I long for your commandments.
132  Turn to me in mercy, *
                  as you always do to those who love your Name.
133  Steady my footsteps in your word; *
                  let no iniquity have dominion over me.
134  Rescue me from those who would oppress me, *
                  and I will keep your commandments.
135  Let your countenance shine upon your servant *
                  and teach me your statutes.
136  My eyes shed streams of tears, *
                  because people do not keep your law.

2nd Reading:  Romans 8:26-39
The end of the eighth chapter of Romans (particularly verses 38 & 39) is well known, but there is an important progression of thought here. First (26 & 27), the Spirit’s intimacy with a human being is an intimacy to our very depths. Second (28-30), God’s intention for humankind is good, his purpose is to create a large family with Jesus as its first-born. Third (31-36), Paul asks a serious of rhetorical questions, proclaiming that the one who judges us is also the one who prays for us and has died for us. Finally (37-39), Paul exuberantly proclaims the love from which no one or thing can separate us.

8:26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified. 31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Five short parables of the kingdom make up our Gospel reading. In each one the kingdom is something hidden, mysterious, that becomes known and after which one must seek. The final parable of the net is also a parable of judgment, but note that “every kind” is brought in, and it is the fisherman (clearly Jesus) who does the sorting, not us. The sentence at the end of the passage is an important one in Matthew’s Gospel, a summary of one of his main points. In his predominantly Jewish community, discernment about the usefulness of things old and/or new is vitally important, as it ever has been and ever will be in the Church.

13:31 Jesus put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” 33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened. 44 The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. 47 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 51 Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

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 translations of the Psalms are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2017 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for congregational use with this attribution.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Proper 11A: 7 Pentecost 2017

1st Reading (Track 1):  Genesis 28:10-19a
Jacob, with the help of his mother Rebecca, has tricked his brother Esau out of his birthright and with duplicity maneuvered his father Isaac into giving him the blessing that should have gone to the eldest Esau. Jacob is now fleeing the wrath of his brother. He is a fugitive on the run. He dreams, and the dream serves to reveal that God has been a part of all this trickery and deceit. He himself wishes to bless Jacob, and he delivers the same promise to him that he gave to his grandfather Abraham, with an addition (v. 15) that Jacob will be safe “wherever he goes,” and he will bring him home, which at the present moment must seem an impossibility to Jacob. “Beth-el” means literally, “House of God,” and will long be seen as Israel’s second most sacred city.

28:10 Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. 11 He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. 12 And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; 14 and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. 15 Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16 Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” 17 And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” 18 So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel.

Canticle (Track 1): A Song of God’s Strength in Mercy (Wisdom 12:13, 16-19)
The Wisdom of Solomon is a book of the Apocrypha, a collection of books not considered Scripture, but nevertheless are useful “for instruction” (BCP, p. 868). Wisdom is attributed to King Solomon but dates from much later. This canticle extols the restraint and mercy of God as the source of God’s true strength.

Your care, O God, encompasses all creation! *
      Nor is there any god besides you.
To whom do you need to prove *
      that your judgments are just?
For your righteousness comes from your strength, *
      and your dominion makes way for your mercy;
for you show your might when mortals doubt your sovereignty; *
      you rebuke those who treat it with contempt.
Although you rule in boundless power, *
      you administer justice with mildness;
you govern us with great forbearance *
      though you are free to act without constraint.
You have taught your people by such deeds *
      that all who would be righteous must be kind.
You have filled your children with good hope *
      by stirring them to repent for their sins.

Or this

Psalm 139:1-11, 22-23
Psalm 139 as a whole includes some harsh words about enemies (vv. 18-21), such that the first portion of the psalm is a reminder to God of the petitioner’s innocence and steadfast devotion to God. Such innocence should result in justice against one’s enemies. The writer experiences God’s complete presence. There is nowhere one can avoid it. The writer prays that this truth will be as much for his enemies as it is for himself.

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.
6    Where can I go then from your Spirit? *
            where can I flee from your presence?
7    If I climb up to heaven, you are there; *
            if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.
8    If I take the wings of the morning *
            and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
9    Even there your hand will lead me *
            and your right hand hold me fast.
10 If I say, “Surely the darkness will cover me, *
            and the light around me turn to night,”
11 Darkness is not dark to you;
      the night is as bright as the day; *
          darkness and light to you are both alike.
22 Search me out, O God, and know my heart; *
            try me and know my restless thoughts.
23 Look well whether there be any wickedness in me *
          and lead me in the way that is everlasting.

1st Reading (Track 2):  Isaiah 44:6-8
“Second Isaiah” (which begins with chapter 40) is written in exile in Babylon, but prophesying the return of the people to Jerusalem and Judea. Several passages in its early chapters proclaim the preeminence of Israel’s God, who, to many, had seemed to have abandoned his people or even been defeated. The image of God as “the first and the last” originates with Second Isaiah. Its first occurrence was at 41:4, and it will be repeated at 48:12.

44:6 Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. 7 Who is like me? Let them proclaim it, let them declare and set it forth before me. Who has announced from of old the things to come? Let them tell us what is yet to be. 8 Do not fear, or be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? You are my witnesses! Is there any god besides me? There is no other rock; I know not one.

Psalm 86:11-17 (Track 2)
Psalm 86 skillfully weaves metaphors and language from elsewhere in the Hebrew Scriptures to form what overall is a prayer for deliverance from enemies. Two examples from our passage today are in verse 15 (Exodus 34:6, et al) and verse 16 (Numbers 6:25).  “The Pit” (sometimes left as the Hebrew Sheol) was simply the realm of the dead.  Belief in an afterlife came late to Judaism, not long before the time of Jesus (and even then not accepted by all).

11  Teach me your way, O Lord,
      and I will walk in your truth; *
            knit my heart to you that I may fear your Name.
12  I will thank you, O Lord my God, with all my heart, *
            and glorify your Name for evermore.
13  For great is your love toward me; *
            you have delivered me from the nethermost Pit.
14  The arrogant rise up against me, O God,
      and a band of violent men seeks my life; *
            they have not set you before their eyes.
15  But you, O Lord, are gracious and full of compassion, *
            slow to anger, and full of kindness and truth.
16  Turn to me and have mercy upon me; *
            give your strength to your servant;
            and save the child of your handmaid.
17  Show me a sign of your favor,
      so that those who hate me may see it and be ashamed; *
            because you, O Lord , have helped me and
                                    comforted me.

2nd Reading:  Romans 8:12-25
This reading continues Paul’s juxtaposition of the Spirit and “the flesh.” The latter is more than physicality. “the flesh” is anything that draws us away from the love of God. He then switches metaphors: “live by the flesh” becomes “a spirit of slavery to fear,” while life in the Spirit becomes “a spirit of adoption,” in which we are literally made one of the divine family. Paul then goes on the speak very important words about the whole creation, implying that its salvation is wrapped up with our own. Whatever heaven is, Paul understands it to be a renewed creation as well as a renewed humanity.

8:12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—13 for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. 18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Jesus follows the more familiar parable of the sower (13:3-9, 18-23) with another sowing parable, usually referred to as the parable of the weeds among the wheat (which s unique to Matthew’s Gospel). There was, apparently, in Matthew’s community, the very human inclination to judge between the good and the evil and to take action to cleanse the group. Here Jesus clearly teaches not to engage in such behavior. Note the farmer outwits the “enemies” who have sown the weeds, by finding a positive use for them.

The Holy Gospel … according to Matthew.            Glory to you, Lord Christ.

13:24 Jesus put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28 He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” 36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

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 translations are from The Book of Common Prayer.  The translation of the Canticle is copyright © 2007, Church Publishing, Inc. Commentaries are copyright © 2017 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for congregational use with this attribution.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Proper 10A: 6th Sunday after Pentecost, 2017

The Sower (Van Gogh, 1888)
1st Reading (Track 1):  Genesis 25:19-34
The next generation is born, although not without God’s intervention. In actuality, the priority of God’s mysterious purposes dominates this reading. The inheritance right of the first-born son was an established practice in ancient Near Eastern society (and continued, until quite recently the dominant worldwide practice). But the God of Abraham is no respecter of our social conventions. We are not told why God preferred Jacob, and, as far as the text goes, we do not need to know. Yet this choice of “the younger” will be a frequent occurrence throughout the Bible.

25:19 These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. 21 Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. 22 The children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. 23 And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.” 24 When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. 25 The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them. 27 When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. 28 Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob. 29 Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. 30 Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” (Therefore he was called Edom.) 31 Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” 32 Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” 33 Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

Psalm 119:105-112 (Track 1)
Psalm 119 is the longest of the psalms at 176 total verses. It is an acrostic poem with every eight verses beginning with subsequent letters of the Hebrew alphabet It is a psalm from the wisdom tradition, extolling wise obedience to the law (which is named in some way in every verse).

105   Your word is a lantern to my feet *
                    and a light upon my path.
106   I have sworn and am determined *
                    to keep your righteous judgments.
107   I am deeply troubled; *
                    preserve my life, O Lord, according to your word.
108   Accept, O Lord, the willing tribute of my lips, *
                    and teach me your judgments.
109   My life is always in my hand, *
                    yet I do not forget your law.
110   The wicked have set a trap for me, *
                    but I have not strayed from your commandments.
111   Your decrees are my inheritance for ever; *
                    truly, they are the joy of my heart.
112   I have applied my heart to fulfill your statutes *
                    for ever and to the end.

1st Reading (Track 2):  Isaiah 55:10-13
This passage from Isaiah places “the word” in the extravagance of creation. The first part of this chapter has made the claim that the purposes of God are both free from and sovereign over the purposes of humankind. Now the whole creation testifies to the wondrous purposes and promises of God. The promise is a joyous homecoming to those who seem stuck in exile.

55:10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. 12 For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

Psalm 65:(1-8), 9-14 (Track 2)
Psalm 65 extols God as both creator and redeemer, here in reverse order. Verses 1-5 praise God as redeemer, and 6-14 as creator. It is God alone who provides both so extravagantly, which is so evident in this psalm.

[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.

2nd Reading:  Romans 8:1-11
The first verse of this chapter is a climax to Paul’s argument in the first seven chapters. The “therefore” looms large; it is a proclamation of freedom for those who embrace the “Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” Chapter 8 is Paul’s most significant proclamation of the life of the Spirit. “The flesh” for Paul is not so much our literal bodies as it is a metaphor of our tendency to sin. One way of understanding “flesh vs. Spirit” in this passage is to equate it with “slavery vs. freedom.”

8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law—indeed it cannot, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
The parable of the sower seems easy to understand (particularly since Jesus “explains” it), but we are probably too quick to see it as instruction on how we are to sow the seed of the Gospel. Rather, it is a story about how God sows the word, or, we might say, plants the kingdom. Our job is not so much to do the sowing as it is to find the seed that has already been sown with the following realities: the seed is sown everywhere, indiscriminately; the seed is, well, seed, in that it is not easy to find; yet it also does its work, even in difficult situations; it requires our response in order to bear fruit.

13:1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 Let anyone with ears listen! 18 Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

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 © 2017 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for congregational use with this attribution.