Monday, October 29, 2018

All Saints' B Readings & Commentaries

Who are these like stars appearing, these, before God's throne who stand?

1st Reading:  Isaiah 25:6-9
This passage from Isaiah is one of a series of three visions of the last days (i.e., the eschaton), when all people will be drawn to “this mountain,” which is probably Mount Zion.  Compassion will be the order of the day, including the removal of all disgrace.  This vision will inspire Luke 14:15-24 and the reading from the Revelation to John, below.

25:6 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.


1st Reading:  Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9
The Wisdom of Solomon is a book of the Apocrypha, a collection of books that we do not consider Scripture, but still read as edifying. (Roman Catholics do consider them Scripture and most Protestants do not use them at all).  This text dates from the first century b.c.e., probably from the great Hellenistic center of learning, Alexandria, Egypt.  Our reading this morning is a reflection on death, the soul and the afterlife.  It marks a development in Jewish thinking, which previously was dominated by the notion that all souls went to the same place, called “Sheol,” where they awaited judgment.  This writer clearly believes it is possible to bypass that process.

3:1 The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace. For though in the sight of others they were punished, their hope is full of immortality. Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good, because God tested them and found them worthy of himself; like gold in the furnace he tried them, and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them. In the time of their visitation they will shine forth, and will run like sparks through the stubble. They will govern nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord will reign over them forever. Those who trust in him will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with him in love, because grace and mercy are upon his holy ones, and he watches over his elect.

Psalm 24
Psalm 24 may have been a liturgy to enter the sanctuary, or for a procession of the ark of the covenant, complete with versicles and responses.  The Lord is praised as creator, and the temple as a place where only the clean are admitted.  The final verses may have been sung by a choir upon the re-entrance of the ark into the tent or the temple.

1     The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, *
                  the world and all who dwell therein.
2     For it is he who founded it upon the seas *
                  and made it firm upon the rivers of the deep.
3     “Who can ascend the hill of the Lord? *
                  and can stand in his holy place?”
4     “Those who have clean hands and a pure heart, *
                  who have not pledged themselves to falsehood,
                  nor sworn by what is a fraud.
5     They shall receive a blessing from the Lord *
                  and a just reward from the God of their salvation.”
6     Such is the generation of those who seek him, *
                  of those who seek your face, O God of Jacob.
7     Lift up your heads, O gates;
       lift them high, O everlasting doors; *
                  and the King of glory shall come in.
8     “Who is this King of glory?” *
                  “The Lord strong and mighty,
                  the Lord, mighty in battle.”
9     Lift up your heads, O gates;
       lift them high, O everlasting doors; *
                  and the King of glory shall come in.
10   “Who is this King of glory?” *
                  “The Lord of hosts,
                  he is the King of glory.

2nd Reading:  Revelation to John 21:1-6a
The last vision in the Book of Revelation is one of great hope.  The holy city comes from heaven; a new heaven and a new earth are created.  This vision echoes several passages from the prophet Isaiah, and uses imagery found throughout the Book of Revelation. The passage ends as the Book of Revelation began, with God’s declaration “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end” (alpha and omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet).

21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”

Gospel Reading:  John 11:32-44
Our Gospel reading is the latter portion of the story of the raising of Lazarus.  Jesus has earlier received the news of Lazarus’ illness and chosen to wait before he leaves to investigate.  His disciples warn him that traveling to the outskirts of Jerusalem will be dangerous for him and them. As he nears the town he encounters one of Lazarus’ sisters, Martha, who declares that her brother would not have died if Jesus had been there.  As he arrives, Mary, Lazarus’ other sister, greets him and has a similar encounter as her sister.  The story continues below.

11:32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” 38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”  40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

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 © 2018, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved. Permission to copy for group study with attribution.  Bulletin inserts are available by subscription. Go to our website for further information.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Proper 25B (23 Pentecost 2018) Readings & Commentaries

Jesus and his disciples are on their way to Jerusalem.  The incident in this story is the last time in Mark’s Gospel that Jesus performs a healing.  It must be significant that the subject of the healing is named. 

1st Reading (Track 1):  Job 42:1-6, 10-17
The Book of Job ends with a capitulation on Job’s part:  he admits that he has been talking without the deeper knowledge of God.  He repents, which he had rested doing through all the long speeches of his friend.  There is a disconnect here, because earlier God had rebuked his friends.  Some scholars believe this last chapter is an attempt by a later editor to “tidy things up,” or that the original story included only chapters 1-2 and 42, since they seem to come out of a worldview that is different from the chapters in-between.

42:1 Then Job answered the Lord:  2 “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. 3 ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 4 ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.’ 5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; 6 therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
[10 And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. 11 Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house; they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a gold ring. 12 The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. 13 He also had seven sons and three daughters. 14 He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. 15 In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers. 16 After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations. 17 And Job died, old and full of days.]

Psalm 34:1-8, [19-22] (Track 1)
Psalm 34 is an acrostic poem (in its entirety) in the wisdom tradition.  It begins with the praise of God, rejoicing in God’s role of deliverer from fear and evil.  The optional verses sing the praise of God who can be trusted to deliver the righteous and punish the evil.

1     I will bless the Lord at all times; *
              his praise shall ever be in my mouth.
2     I will glory in the Lord; *
              let the humble hear and rejoice.
3     Proclaim with me the greatness of the Lord; *
              let us exalt his Name together.
4     I sought the Lord and he answered me *
              and delivered me out of all my terror.
5     Look upon him and be radiant, *
              and let not your faces be ashamed.
6     I called in my affliction and the Lord heard me *
              and saved me from all my troubles.
7     The angel of the Lord encompasses those who fear him, *
              and he will deliver them.
8     Taste and see that the Lord is good; *
              happy are they who trust in him!
[19 Many are the troubles of the righteous, *
              but the Lord will deliver him out of them all.
20   He will keep safe all his bones; *
              not one of them shall be broken.
21   Evil shall slay the wicked, *
              and those who hate the righteous will be punished.
22   The Lord ransoms the life of his servants, *
              and none will be punished who trust in him.]

1st Reading (Track 2):  Jeremiah 31:7-9
Our first reading is a vision of the return from exile.  It comes from the brief section of Jeremiah called “the Book of Consolations.”  Unlike the rest of Jeremiah, which is predominantly gloomy and judgmental, chapters 30-33 speak words of hope to the people.  The return will be inclusive: those who live in struggle and those who live in joy; they will make “a great company.”

31:7 Thus says the Lord:  Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, “Save, O Lord, your people, the remnant of Israel.” 8 See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here. 9 With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble; for I have become a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.

Psalm 126 (Track 2)
Psalm 126 is one of “Songs of Ascents,” pilgrim songs for the journey to Jerusalem for the major festivals (Psalms 120-134 have this title in the Hebrew text).  Psalm 126 is a prayer for deliverance for the nation.  It begins with a glad memory of Israel’s restoration from exile.  The image of weeping at sowing time, and joyfully bringing home the harvest seems to come from an ancient proverb:  “You must not laugh when you sow, lest you weep when you harvest.”

1     When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, *
              then were we like those who dream.
2     Then was our mouth filled with laughter, *
              and our tongues with shouts of joy.
3     Then they said among the nations, *
              “the Lord has done great things for them.”
4     The Lord has done great things for us, *
              and we are glad indeed.
5     Restore our fortunes, O Lord, *
              like the watercourses of the Negev.
6     Those who sowed with tears *
              will reap with songs of joy.
7     Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, *
              will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.

2nd Reading:  Hebrews 7:23-28
In our second reading, the writer makes two arguments as to why Jesus’ priesthood is superior to that of the priesthood of Aaron or the Levites.  First, Jesus’ priesthood is permanent, eternal. Second, it is better given Jesus’ character and his status as the Son of God.  Jesus’ ministry of constant intercession for us is a significant theme of Hebrews.  The phrase “separated from sinners” is problematic, given Jesus continued statements that he came to call not the righteous but sinners (see, for example, Mark 2:17).

7:23 Furthermore, the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. 26 For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.

Gospel Reading:  Mark 10:46-52
Jesus and his disciples are on their way to Jerusalem.  The incident in this story is the last time in Mark’s Gospel that Jesus performs a healing.  It must be significant that the subject of the healing is named.  That has not been true in any of the prior stories.  Perhaps it is because Bartimaeus becomes a disciple, following Jesus “on the way.”  This is unique in Mark’s Gospel as well.  There is a contrast with Jesus’ previous healing of a blind man (8:22-26) where Jesus makes mud from spittle and rubs it on the man’s eyes.  Here there is a simple word.

10:46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

The Scripture readings (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 © 2018 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study with this attribution.  Bulletin inserts are available by subscription. For more information go to our website.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Proper 24B (22 Pentecost 2018) Readings & Commentaries

Jesus has just taught the disciples that “the first will be last and the last will be first.” Clearly at least James and John did not understand him, as they ask rather brazenly for the right to sit at his right and left hand. 

The 22nd Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 24B)

1st Reading (Track 1):  Job 38:1-7, [35-41]
After 35 chapters of back and forth dialogue between Job and his friends, and a stranger named Elihu, Job gets his answer from God.  It is not an answer about the cause of his suffering, but a reminder that the world God has created is bigger than any one individual life.  Some see this response as being directly related to Job’s curse of his birth in chapter 3.  Others see it as God defending the mystery of life.  If the latter is correct, there is no answer to Job’s question, just the freedom of creation and the God who made it.

38:1 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:  2 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 3 Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. 4 Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. 5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? 6 On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone 7 when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
[35 Can you send forth lightnings, so that they may go and say to you, ‘Here we are’? 36 Who has put wisdom in the inward parts, or given understanding to the mind? 37 Who has the wisdom to number the clouds? Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens, 38 when the dust runs into a mass and the clods cling together? 39 Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, 40 when they crouch in their dens, or lie in wait in their covert? 41 Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food?]

Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37b (Track 1)
Psalm 104 is a hymn of creation, praising God as its sole creator.  There is a sense of a storm in these opening verses of the psalm, similar to the opening of our reading from Job today.  Verses 5-9 extol God’s mastery of the waters of chaos, with an echo of the story of the Flood from Genesis.

1     Bless the Lord, O my soul; *
              O Lord my God, how excellent is your greatness!
              you are clothed with majesty and splendor.
2     You wrap yourself with light as with a cloak *
              and spread out the heavens like a curtain.
3     You lay the beams of your chambers in the waters above; *
              you make the clouds your chariot;
              you ride on the wings of the wind.
4     You make the winds your messengers *
              and flames of fire your servants.
5     You have set the earth upon its foundations; *
              so that it never shall move at any time.
6     You covered it with the Deep as with a mantle; *
              the waters stood higher than the mountains.
7     At your rebuke they fled; *
              at the voice of your thunder they hastened away.
8     They went up into the hills and down to the valleys beneath, *
              to the places you had appointed for them.
9     You set the limits that they should not pass; *
              they shall not again cover the earth.
25   O Lord, how manifold are your works! *
              in wisdom you have made them all;
              the earth is full of your creatures.
37b       Hallelujah!

1st Reading (Track 2):  Isaiah 53:4-12
Our first reading is from one of the Songs of the Suffering Servant from the latter portion of the Book of Isaiah.  The last line of today’s Gospel is more or less a quote of 53:11.  Without the necessity of taking this passage as a word-for-word understanding of how the death and resurrection of Jesus saves us, Mark is saying that Jesus’ witness can be understood through the lens of the Suffering Servant, who offers his life as an atonement for the sins of others and is exalted by God.

53:4 Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8 By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. 9 They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the Lord shall prosper. 11 Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Psalm 91:9-16 (Track 2)
Psalm 91 is a prayer of great confidence by one who has faith in God.  It promises ultimate security for one who trusts in “the Most High.”  Like many of the psalms it is idealistic.  God’s people do suffer, and Christians follow One who suffered in solidarity with us, as both the Old Testament reading and Gospel reading for today testify.

9     Because you have made the Lord your refuge, *
              and the Most High your habitation,
10   There shall no evil happen to you *
              neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.
11   For he shall give his angels charge of you, *
              to keep you in all your ways.
12   They shall bear you in their hands, *
              lest you dash your foot against a stone.
13   You shall tread upon the lion and the adder; *
              you shall trample the young lion and the serpent
                                          under your feet.
14   Because he is bound to me in love,
       therefore will I deliver him; *
              I will protect him, because he knows my Name.
15   He shall call upon me, and I shall answer him; *
              I am with him in trouble;
              I will rescue him and bring him to honor.
16   With long life will I satisfy him, *
              and show him my salvation.

2nd Reading:  Hebrews 5:1-10
Hebrews 5 continues the image of Jesus as our eternal high priest, designated by God, who is able to relate to us because he shared our life and our death.  Verses 5 and 6 first quote Psalm 2:7 and then Psalm 110:4.  Melchizedek is a mysterious figure who appears in Genesis 14:17-20.  The author of Hebrews uses this figure, who comes out of nowhere in the Abraham story, and who is given no story, i.e., no beginning and no end, to pre-figure the priesthood of Christ, which is greater than the priesthood of Aaron because it is eternal.

5:1 Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; 3 and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. 4 And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was. 5 So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you;” 6 as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” 7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9 and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10 having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Gospel Reading:  Mark 10:35-45
Jesus has just taught the disciples that “the first will be last and the last will be first.” Clearly at least James and John did not understand him, as they ask rather brazenly for the right to sit at his right and left hand.  Despite their bravado that they “are able” to bear what Jesus will bear, they still do not understand that he is talking about his suffering and death.  The rest of the disciples are angry at their presumption, but Jesus uses the occasion to make even plainer his understanding that in the Kingdom of God the rules of power are upside down.

10:35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39 They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

The Scripture readings (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 © 2018 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study with this attribution. Bulletin inserts are available by subscription. Visit our website for more information.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Proper 23B (21 Pentecost 2018) Readings & Commentaries

In our Gospel reading Jesus is asked a sincere question and gives a forthright answer.  If the questioner is to follow Jesus, he must give up control over his wealth.  He proves unable to do so.  The disciples are amazed because they assume wealth as a sign of God’s favor.

1st Reading (Track 1):  Job 23:1-9, 16-17
Job has been in a dialogue with three friends—Bildad, Zophar, and Eliphaz—since the beginning of chapter 3.  They have tried to convince him that he has done something wrong, something to deserve the disaster that has come upon him.  Job continues his lament. In today’s passage, Job brings his complaint to God, whom he knows he cannot see.  But he trusts that if he could bring his case to God, he would be vindicated.  Yet God remains hidden, and in despair Job wishes he could disappear also.

23:1 Job answered: 2 Today also my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy despite my groaning. 3 Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling! 4 I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. 5 I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me. 6 Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; but he would give heed to me. 7 There an upright person could reason with him, and I should be acquitted forever by my judge. 8 If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; 9 on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him. 16 God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me; 17 If only I could vanish in darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face!

Psalm 22:1-15 (Track 1)
Psalm 22 is the quintessential psalm of lament.  The writer is blunt:  God, you have forgotten me.  He cites reasons why he should trust, but finally declares himself “a worm and no man,” forgotten, despised.  The psalms of lament and/or complaint are important because they speak to the human experience of a God hidden in mystery.  They validate being honest with God; God can take our complaints.

1     My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? *
              and are so far from my cry
              and from the words of my distress?
2     O my God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not answer; *
              by night as well, but I find no rest.
3     Yet you are the Holy One, *
              enthroned upon the praises of Israel.
4     Our forebears put their trust in you; *
              they trusted, and you delivered them.
5     They cried out to you and were delivered; *
              they trusted in you and were not put to shame.
6     But as for me, I am a worm and no man, *
              scorned by all and despised by the people.
7     All who see me laugh me to scorn; *
              they curl their lips and wag their heads, saying,
8     “He trusted in the Lord; let him deliver him; *
              let him rescue him, if he delights in him.”
9     Yet you are he who took me out of the womb, *
              and kept me safe upon my mother’s breast.
10   I have been entrusted to you ever since I was born; *
              you were my God when I was still in my mother’s womb.
11   Be not far from me, for trouble is near, *
              and there is none to help.
12   Many young bulls encircle me; *
              strong bulls of Bashan surround me.
13   They open wide their jaws at me, *
              like a ravening and a roaring lion.
14   I am poured out like water;
       all my bones are out of joint; *
              my heart within my breast is melting wax.
15   My mouth is dried out like a pot-sherd;
       my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; *
              and you have laid me in the dust of the grave.

1st Reading (Track 2):  Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
The prophet Amos was active during the long and peaceful reign of Jeroboam II of Israel (i.e., the Northern Kingdom). The people were no doubt satisfied that they were pleasing God because of their military dominance and prosperity. Amos is sent from his little village, Tekoa, where he was a shepherd. He is sent to speak harsh words in this prosperous season. The prosperity is built on the backs of the poor. There is no justice. This message brought Amos into conflict with the religious authorities and he was expelled from the royal sanctuary at Bethel.

5:6 Seek the Lord and live, or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire, and it will devour Bethel, with no one to quench it. 7 Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood, and bring righteousness to the ground! 10 They hate the one who reproves in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks the truth. 11 Therefore because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. 12 For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins—you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate. 13 Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time; for it is an evil time. 14 Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said. 15 Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

Psalm 90:12-17 (Track 2)
Psalm 90 is said to be a Prayer of Moses.  It is a prayer that Israel may be delivered out of its difficulties and that God would reveal himself as the One who makes Israel prosper.

12   So teach us to number our days *
              that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.
13   Return, O Lord; how long will you tarry? *
              be gracious to your servants.
14   Satisfy us by your loving-kindness in the morning; *
              so shall we rejoice and be glad all the days of our life.
15   Make us glad by the measure of the days you afflicted us *
              and the years in which we suffered adversity.
16   Show your servants your works *
              and your splendor to their children.
17   May the graciousness of the Lord our God be upon us; *
              prosper the work of our hands;
              prosper our handiwork.

2nd Reading:  Hebrews 4:12-16
Our passage today begins with a reminder in vivid language that God sees all: “to whom all hearts are open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hid.”  Given that we are “laid bare” it is significant that we have a great high priest who has been tested as we are tested, laid bare as we have been laid bare.  We can approach the throne of this high priest with confidence that we will receive mercy and grace in time of need. The image of Jesus as our eternal high priest is a major image in this letter.

4:12 The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account. 14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Gospel Reading:  Mark 10:17-31
In our Gospel reading Jesus is asked a sincere question and gives a forthright answer.  If the questioner is to follow Jesus, he must give up control over his wealth.  He proves unable to do so.  The disciples are amazed because they assume wealth as a sign of God’s favor. On the contrary, Jesus is saying: it is an obstacle to the Kingdom, as great as the obstacle of the eye of a needle to a camel.  Yet all things are possible for God.  It is also, however, a defining characteristic of the Kingdom of God that “the first will be last and the last will be first.”

10:17 As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. 23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

The Scripture readings (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 © 2018 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for congregational use with this attribution.  Bulletin inserts are available by subscription. For information and to sign up, go to our website.