Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
1st Reading (Track 1): Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
As a whole, Isaiah includes a wide swath of the history of the kingdom of Judah (the Southern Kingdom). At least two, and quite possibly three, prophets speak in the book. Chapters 1-39 concern Isaiah of Jerusalem’s oracles under the kings of Judah in the latter half of the 8th century b.c.e. This history includes the northern kingdom’s last gasp, going to war with Judah in an attempt to save itself. The northern kingdom (Israel) fell in 722 b.c.e. during the reign of Ahaz, king of Judah, who figures greatly in the text. Isaiah opens with a speech of judgment against Judah (1:2-17) that ends with a diatribe against empty worship, worship that is deceitful, because it hides the broken relationship of the people with God. But, as often occurs in Isaiah, the judgment is followed by a new possibility. Relationship with God can be restored and relationship within the community (i.e., justice) can be restored and these restorations can lead to well-being (shalom).
1:1 The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. 10 Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! 11 What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. 12 When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; 13 bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation—I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. 14 Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. 16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. 18 Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; 20 but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24 (Track 1)
Psalm 50 speaks of the God revealed in the glory of creation, who cannot keep silent because the covenant has been broken. The courtroom language is like that of the first chapter of Isaiah, and like Isaiah 1, the psalm offers hope at its end. It is not cheap hope, however. It requires “to keep in my way.”
1 The Lord, the God of gods, has spoken; *
he has called the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.
2 Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty, *
God reveals himself in glory.
3 Our God will come and will not keep silence; *
before him there is a consuming flame,
and round about him a raging storm.
4 He calls the heavens and the earth from above *
to witness the judgment of his people.
5 “Gather before me my loyal followers, *
those who have made a covenant with me and sealed it with sacrifice.”
6 Let the heavens declare the rightness of his cause; *
for God himself is judge.
7 Hear, O my people, and I will speak:
“O Israel, I will bear witness against you; *
for I am God, your God.
8 I do not accuse you because of your sacrifices; *
your offerings are always before me.
23 Consider this well, you who forget God, *
lest I rend you and there be none to deliver you.
24 Whoever offers me the sacrifice of thanksgiving honors me; *
but to those who keep in my way will I show the salvation of God.”
1st Reading (Track 2): Genesis 15:1-6
Our first reading is the second promise of God to Abram and Sarai that they would bear a child and have descendants more than they can count. The initial promise was made in chapter 12 when God asked them to set out from their homeland. Significant time has passed. They have been to Egypt, been involved in a war between the various kings of the land of Canaan, and made offering to the mysterious King Melchizedek of Salem. After all this, one can imagine that they have begun to wonder about that promise! It is now time, however, to settle in the land to which they were sent, and so the child and the descendants are promised again. Both St. Paul and the writer to the Hebrews will make much of Abram’s response of faith and that the Lord responded by “reckoning it to him as righteousness.”
15:1 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4 But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5 He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Psalm 33:12-22 (Track 2)
Psalm 33 as a whole is a communal song of praise. The first portion (1-11) extols God as creator. Our section today praises the God who rules over the destinies of nations. There is also a strong theme of trust, which is very much in play in our first reading.
12 Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord! *
happy the people he has chosen to be his own!
13 The Lord looks down from heaven, *
and beholds all the people in the world.
14 From where he sits enthroned he turn his gaze *
on all who dwell on the earth.
15 He fashions all the hearts of them *
and understand all their works.
16 There is no king that can be saved by a mighty army; *
a strong man is not delivered by his great strength.
17 The horse is a vain hope for deliverance; *
for all its strength it cannot save.
18 Behold, the eye of Lord is upon those who fear him, *
on those who wait upon his love,
19 To pluck their lives from death, *
and to feed them in time of famine.
20 Our soul waits for the Lord; *
he is our help and our shield.
21 Indeed, our heart rejoices in him, *
for in his holy Name we put our trust.
22 Let your loving-kindness, O Lord, be upon us, *
as we have put our trust in you.
2nd Reading: Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
For the next four weeks we will read from the latter part of the Letter to the Hebrews, an anonymous letter which reads like an extended sermon. The first ten chapters dwell on the superiority of Christ as high priest of the new covenant, a high priest we can trust because he was one of us. In chapter eleven, the writing takes a turn as if someone had asked the question, “But what exactly is faith?” The author offers a definition and then provides examples from biblical history. We skip over the examples of Abel, Enoch, and Noah to arrive at Abraham and Sarah. The last four verses of our reading are poetic, a vivid description about the place of longing in faith, and the astoundingly good news that God is not ashamed to be called our God.
11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible. 8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.” 13 All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14 for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
Gospel Reading: Luke 12:32-40
Jesus’ teaching on possessions continues from last week’s reading. The heart of the passage is the saying, “Where your treasure is, your heart will be also.” Jesus is an astute observer of human nature, and this particular observation has not failed the passage of time. Encouraging the giving of alms would have been a very traditional Jewish thing to do. Both Judaism and early Christianity emphasized the community of faith’s responsibility for those in need. Finally, developing this right relationship with possessions is a key part of being prepared for when the Son of Man will come at an unexpected hour.
12:32 [Jesus said to the disciples,] “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 35 Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. 39 But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. All rights reserved. The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer. Commentaries are copyright © 2022 Epiphany ESources, 67. E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, www.EpiphanyEsources.com. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study.