Sunday, September 29, 2019

17 Pentecost, Proper 22C Readings & Commentaries

Our passage today is an example of how the different Gospel writers piece together sayings of Jesus to emphasize different things.  

1st Reading (Track 1): Lamentations 1:1-6
The Book of Lamentations consists of five poems lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem (Zion) in 586 b.c.e. The first four poems are acrostic, that is, each verse begins with a subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet (in the third of the poems the letter lasts for three verses). The poems articulate the grief and sense of abandonment experienced by the people. Notice the descriptors used just in these six verses: the city weeps bitterly, has no one to comfort her, has gone into exile, her gates are desolate, her children have gone away, all her majesty has departed. The impact is even more strongly felt if one reads Lamentations alongside the “Songs of Zion” in the psalms:  46, 48, 76, 84, 87.

1:1 How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations! She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal. 2 She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has no one to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies. 3 Judah has gone into exile with suffering and hard servitude; she lives now among the nations, and finds no resting place; her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress. 4 The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to the festivals; all her gates are desolate, her priests groan; her young girls grieve, and her lot is bitter. 5 Her foes have become the masters, her enemies prosper, because the Lord has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions; her children have gone away, captives before the foe. 6 From daughter Zion has departed all her majesty. Her princes have become like stags that find no pasture; they fled without strength before the pursuer.

Canticle (Track 1): A Song of Waiting            (Lamentations 3:19-26)
In place of a psalm we have a section of the third poem of Lamentations, liturgically adapted. It is perhaps the greatest moment of consolation in the book. The “this” of the third stanza refers to what follows, not what comes before (“when” is often translated “but”). It is important to remember that it is only honesty about the disaster that can produce any kind of real hope, and that the book goes on to challenge this hope in the strongest of terms.

The thought of my trouble and my homelessness *
              is as bitter as wormwood and gall.
My mind dwells on it continually; *
              my soul is weighed down within me.
When I remember this, I have hope: *
              by God’s kindness, we will not be destroyed;
For God’s mercies are never-ending *
              and are new every morning.
How great is your faithfulness, O God! *
              “You are my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I hope in you.”
You are good to those who wait with patience, *
              to every soul that seeks you.
It is good to wait, even in silence, *
              for the salvation of the Lord.

Or this

Psalm 137:1-6 (Track 1)
Psalm 137 is the quintessential psalm of lament concerning the exile in Babylon. “Zion,” a word whose origin is obscure, is generally synonymous with Jerusalem, in particular the Temple mount. With Zion destroyed, says this psalm, so is the people’s ability to praise. The psalm includes three more verses which take an angry and vengeful turn. This is the raw voice of the powerless.

1 By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, *
              when we remembered you, O Zion.
2 As for our harps, we hung them up *
              on the trees in the midst of that land.
3 For those who led us away captive asked us for a song,
   and our oppressors called for mirth: *
              “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”
4 How shall we sing the Lord’s song *
              upon an alien soil?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, *
              let my right hand forget its skill.
6 Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth
                            if I do not remember you, *
              if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.

1st Reading (Track 2): Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Nothing is known about the prophet Habakkuk, although he seems to have prophesied sometime between the death of King Josiah (609 bce) and the beginning of the exile in Babylon (597 bce).  Habakkuk begins with a dialogue between the prophet and God, in which the prophet laments the injustice of his day.  In the portion of the passage we do not read (1:5-13), God explains that the Babylonians will be his instruments of judgment.  The prophet does not like this any better!  Is it justice, he asks, if the wicked swallow the righteous!  The answer is the second part of our reading this morning. God asks for patience and a single-mindedness about his promise for the future.  In essence he is saying, “Keep your eyes on the prize.”
1:1 The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw. 2 O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? 3 Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. 4 So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous—therefore judgment comes forth perverted. 2:1 I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint. 2 Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. 3 For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. 4 Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.

Psalm 37:1-10 (Track 2)
Psalm 37 (which contains a total of 40 verses) is an acrostic wisdom poem which reads very much like sections of the Book of Proverbs.  In the face of the observation that the wicked prosper, it promises that the they will not ultimately prevail and that “the righteous shall possess the land.”

1 Do not fret yourself because of evildoers; *
              do not be jealous of those who do wrong.
2 For they shall soon wither like the grass, *
              and like the green grass fade away.
3 Put your trust in the Lord and do good; *
              dwell in the land and feed on its riches.
4 Take delight in the Lord, *
              and he shall give you your heart’s desire.
5 Commit your way to the Lord and put your trust in him, *
              and he will bring it to pass.
6 He will make your righteousness as clear as the light *
              and your just dealing as the noonday.
7 Be still before the Lord *
              and wait patiently for him.
8 Do not fret yourself over the one who prospers, *
              the one who succeeds in evil schemes.
9 Refrain from anger, leave rage alone; *
              do not fret yourself; it leads only to evil.
10 For evildoers shall be cut off, *
              but those who wait upon the Lord shall possess the land.

2nd Reading: 2 Timothy 1:1-14
The Second Letter to Timothy is a highly personal letter from mentor to protégé.  It appears that Timothy has endured a time of trial and is struggling with his calling, if not also his faith.  Paul reminds him of the faith of his mother and grandmother, and also of his own situation—Paul has endured suffering and shame as an apostle. Ultimately, Paul says, the power to overcome these trials lives within us—the Holy Spirit, alive as God’s greatest gift.

1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, 2 To Timothy, my beloved child:  Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. 3 I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. 5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. 6 For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7 for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. 8 Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, 12 and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. 13 Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

Gospel Reading: Luke 17:5-10
Our passage today is an example of how the different Gospel writers piece together sayings of Jesus to emphasize different things.  In Matthew’s Gospel, the saying about the Mustard Seed is in the context of the disciples’ unsuccessful attempt to cast out a demon (17:19-21).  Here Luke uses the saying in the context of the necessity of forgiveness (see verses 3-4).  The passage also highlights Jesus’ frequent use of hyperbole to make a point.  The example of the duty of “worthless slaves” is unique to Luke and is difficult, but it is an example of hyperbole.  The simple point of the whole passage is that forgiveness is a fundamental practice of the followers of Jesus and, no matter how difficult, it must be done, even if there is no reward.

17:5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. 7 Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8 Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”

The Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. The translation of the Psalm are from The Book of Common Prayer. The Canticle translation is copyright © 2007 by Church Publishing, Inc.  Commentaries are copyright © 2019 Epiphany Esources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved.  Permission is given to copy for group study. Bulletin inserts are available for parishes. Go to our website for more information.  And like us on Facebook!

Monday, September 23, 2019

16 Pentecost 2019, Proper 21C Readings & Commentaries

The parable today a story about the great reversal of which Mary sang back in chapter 1.

1st Reading (Track 1):  Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
The book of Jeremiah contains sections of interpreted history, around the time of the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the people of Judah into Babylon. Our reading today takes place during the reign of Zedekiah (597—586 b.c.e.). Zedekiah was a puppet king of the Babylonians, although his attempted revolt in 586 led to the final destruction of Jerusalem. Jeremiah was under house arrest under Zedekiah. The story of Jeremiah’s purchase of his cousin’s property in his hometown of Anathoth may seem to be an odd piece of private history stuck into the biblical text. Its purpose, however, is to witness that the land will always belong to Israel. This story is a word of hope in the midst of disaster.

32:1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, 3a where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him. Jeremiah said, The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.” Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.: Then I knew that this was the word of the LordAnd I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. 10 I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. 11 Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; 12 and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. 13 In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, 14 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel:  Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. 15 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel:  Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.

Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16 (Track 1)
Psalm 91 is a psalm of trust in God, a plea for protection from deadly foes. Verses 14-16, at the end of the psalm, are a response from God to the writer. Note the seven first person singular verbs:  I will…deliver… with in trouble…rescue…
bring honor…satisfy and show.

1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, *
              abides under the shadow of the Almighty.
2 He shall say to the Lord, “You are my refuge and my stronghold, *
              my God in whom I put my trust.”
3 He shall deliver you from the snare of the hunter *
              and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He shall cover you with his pinions,
   and you shall find refuge under his wings; *
              his faithfulness shall be a shield and buckler.
5 You shall not be afraid of any terror by night, *
              nor of the arrow that flies by day;
6 Of the plague that stalks in the darkness, *
              nor of the sickness that lays waste at mid-day.
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 will 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.

1st Reading (Track 2):  Amos 6:1a, 4-7
Amos prophesied during the long and peaceful reign in Israel (the northern kingdom) of Jeroboam II (786-746 b.c.e.). He was not a professional prophet, but a shepherd from the small village of Tekoa. He was called from that agrarian vocation to deliver harsh words in a time of plenty. The time of plenty, however, was only for some and they ignored the plight of the poor. Disaster (including exile) would indeed come upon the northern kingdom soon with the arrival of the Assyrians (720 b.c.e.). The northern kingdom would be utterly destroyed, never to rise again, and those taken into captivity would become the “lost tribes” of the House of Israel.

6:1a Alas for those who are at ease in Zion! Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall; who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and like David improvise on instruments of music; who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile, and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.

Psalm 146 (Track 2)
Psalm 146 begins the concluding section of the psalms (146-150). This psalm praises God who is the creator of his people and their savior from oppression and hunger. The allusion is to the Exodus story, but it is also an excellent response to our first reading.

1 Hallelujah! Praise the Lord, O my soul! *
       I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
2 Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth, *
for there is no help in them.
3 When they breathe their last, they return to earth, *
and in that day their thoughts perish.
4 Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help! *
whose hope is in the Lord their God;
5 Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them; *
who keeps his promise for ever;
6 Who gives justice to those who are oppressed, *
and food to those who hunger.
7 The Lord sets the prisoners free;
    the Lord opens the eyes of the blind; *
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
8 The Lord loves the righteous;
    the Lord cares for the stranger; *
he sustains the orphan and widow,
but frustrates the way of the wicked.
9 The Lord shall reign for ever, *
your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.

2nd Reading:  1 Timothy 6:6-19
The writer of 1 Timothy has just condemned teachers of the faith who anticipate financial gain from their teaching. Now he moves on to the larger problem of wealth for the Christian. Desiring wealth, he indicates, is folly. Wealth is an extraordinary test of faith; those who have it tend to think of it as their salvation. He then speaks to Timothy directly and offers a positive challenge. Finally, he offers hope for the rich:  this is how to do good if you have wealth.

6:6 Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. 11 But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will bring about at the right time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. 16 It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. 17 As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, 19 thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

Gospel Reading:  Luke 16:19-31
Jesus has said (16:13) that you cannot serve God and wealth. He then tells us (16:14) that the Pharisees ridiculed him for saying this. He accuses them of seeking to justify themselves in the sight of others (16:15) and warns them that God knows their hearts. Then comes the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The teaching is clear and has been throughout Luke’s Gospel. This is a story about the great reversal of which Mary sang back in chapter 1: “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (1:52-53).

16:19 [Jesus said to the Pharisees,] “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house—28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

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

Sunday, September 15, 2019

15 Pentecost 2019, Proper 20C Readings & Commentaries

Parable of the Unjust Steward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

14 Pentecost 2019, Proper 19C Readings & Commentaries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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