15 November 2017

The Feast of Christ the King, Proper 29, 26 November 2017

Track One:
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 100

Track Two:
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 95:1-7a

Ephesians 1:15-23
St. Matthew 25:31-46

Background: Hospitality

The hospitality amongst the ancient Hebrews was informed by their former nomadic life, in which hospitality was a necessity for living in a hostile environment. Such protection and provisions were not only available to the amiable but to the enemy as well, who enjoyed such protection for three days and thirty-six hours after having eaten with the host. As the culture urbanized, hospitality soon became almsgiving, and was a sign of righteousness. Christians continued the practice of hospitality and almsgiving among themselves. There are notable accounts of the works of deacons, or of special collections providing for the needy in their fellowship. It became a binding factor in the church, especially when the church was in the throes of persecution and oppression. Hospitality and almsgiving protected the Christian community.

Track One:

First Reading: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

Thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.

Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.

I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.

It might be helpful, in beginning a study of this pericope, to compare it to a similar oracle in Jeremiah (23:1-8). Both look forward to a restored Israel, and a new Davidic leader who will reunite the country. The tie of David and shepherding had been established for some time, and so both Jeremiah and Ezekiel use it as a central metaphor for their oracles. It may have had an almost nostalgic or comforting flavor attached to it as readers thought back to ancient and better times. What is bemoaned here is the inability of the current leaders to honor the widow and the orphan. It is a familiar charge on the part of the prophets that Israel, especially its leaders, have forgotten the ancient hospitality (see Background above). Inferred in Ezekiel’s verses is the exile of the people, “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed.” Beyond that is a remembrance of those dismissed by society and its leaders, “the fat sheep and the lean sheep.” God will become the shepherd, and the one that God calls will do likewise – lead and care for the sheep, just like David.

Breaking open Ezekiel:
1.      Who are the shepherds in this pericope?
2.      What does Ezekiel mean by “the fat sheep and the lean sheep”?
3.      What kind of shepherds are our current religious leaders?

Psalm 100 Jubilate Deo

     Be joyful in the Lord, all you lands; *
serve the Lord with gladness
and come before his presence with a song.
2      Know this: The Lord himself is God; *
he himself has made us, and we are his;
we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.
3      Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise; *
give thanks to him and call upon his Name.
4      For the Lord is good;
his mercy is everlasting; *
and his faithfulness endures from age to age.

One wonders why, since Track One and Tract Two share the same first reading that the framers of the lectionary didn’t share the psalm as well. Psalm 100, a thanksgiving psalm is centered in the Temple, and is at a bit of a remove from the more rustic scene in Ezekiel. Perhaps it is used for its obvious positive statement about our relationship with God, and there is “the sheep of his pasture” phrase.

Breaking open Psalm 100:
1.     In what ways are you connected to Creation?
2.     In what ways are you connected to the Creator?
3.    In what ways does God recreate you day by day?


Track Two:

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

Psalm 95:1-7a Venite, exultemus

     Come, let us sing to the Lord; *
let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation.
2      Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving *
and raise a loud shout to him with psalms.
3      For the Lord is a great God, *
and a great King above all gods.
4      In his hand are the caverns of the earth, *
and the heights of the hills are his also.
5      The sea is his, for he made it, *
and his hands have molded the dry land.
6      Come, let us bow down, and bend the knee, *
and kneel before the Lord our Maker.
7      For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.

Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and Episcopalians will recall this psalm with a fondness springing from its use in Matins or Morning Prayer.  This is a hymn of the community, and it harks back to a time when YHWH was seen as one of several gods, but “a great king above all gods.” It centers on the beauty and reality of creation and on going care of the created by the Creator. Thus the psalm is a response to the reality of life and living – a song of thanksgiving in the Temple.

Breaking open Psalm 95:
1.     What are the gods of your time?
2.     Where does your God stand in that company?
3.    For what do you owe praise to God?

Second Reading: Ephesians 1:15-23

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

This opening pericope of Thanksgiving and Prayer sets a mood for the letter that Paul writes to the people of Ephesus. In the previous pericope, Paul has enumerated the several blessings that the Ephesians have experiences. Thus it is natural that a thanksgiving should follow the blessings. There is a distinct liturgical sense in both of these sections.  The gifts continue, especially as Paul sees them in the “spirit of wisdom and revelation.” There is an on-going nature to being in Christ, a continuing gift of knowledge and spirit. Paul takes the story, the history, of Jesus and makes a creed of it. It may be that these verses were confessed by the Christians at Ephesus as they remembered the work of Jesus.

Breaking open Ephesians:
1.     What are the blessings of your life?
2.     What thanksgivings do you need to make?
3.    Where is there knowledge and spirit in your life?

The Gospel: St. Matthew 25:31-46

Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

There is a sense both of majesty and humanity in these verses. The initial vision of the pericope, the Son of Man in glory, the nations gathered before his throne sets a scene of beauty and then of discernment. What divides us, one from the other? It is that part of the Great Commandment that we love our neighbors as we love ourselves. As Jesus tells it we are often unaware of what we do and how we give so that others might live. It is the hiddenness of such acts that becomes a surprise for the believer and follower, and a trap for those who don’t recognize the need of others. The Kingdom of Heaven divides. Just as the bridal attendants needed wisdom and foresight, so do we as we await the bridegroom.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     In whom have you seen Jesus?
2.     Where have you helped others?
3.    What were your feelings about doing that?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday. 

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2017, Michael T. Hiller

14 November 2017

The Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 28, 19 November 2017

Track One:
Judges 4:1-7
Psalm 123

Track Two:
Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18
Psalm 90:1-8, (9-11), 12

I Thessalonians 5:1-11
St. Matthew 25:14-30

Background: Women in the Hebrew Scriptures

What may be the beginning of an on-going discussion on this blog, will not begin with the mythic women of the Creation Narratives, but rather given the Track One first reading, skip to the women who served in leadership roles in the Hebrew Scriptures. Among them we number Rebekah, Rahab, Deborah, Jael, and Esther. Some of these women ruled in the household, and others, such as Rahab, were simply courageous given the situation at the time. Esther had legal and spousal authority, and Deborah was actual a judge. Although women occupied a secondary status in the cultures of the Ancient Near East, they also enjoyed familial, financial, and religious status that has often not been understood in our time. In the case of Deborah she stood as one administering justice, and also serving as a military leader as well.

Track One:

First Reading: Judges 4:1-7

The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, after Ehud died. So the Lord sold them into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-ha-goiim. Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help; for he had nine hundred chariots of iron, and had oppressed the Israelites cruelly twenty years.

At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment. She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.’”

The hero Ehud has died (see Chapter 3) and Israel goes back to its old ways. The scene of this period is a complex combination of Israelites occupying the hill county that runs down the central mountainous ridge of the Levant, and Canaanite city-states that were located on the plateau leading down to the Mediterranean Sea. This story of Deborah casts all the characters of this difficult time. Jabin is a king, but not of Canaan, but rather of the city-state Hazor. We have Deborah who appears to us as a judge, a prophet-woman, and later as a military advisor. Like a much later prophet, Nathan, she has the courage to confront the military leader Barak. This man is troubled by the mission to which he has been called by God, and he requests the company of this powerful women to stand by him in his God-requested conquest.

Breaking open Judges:
1.      What do you think is kept from you because of your age, gender, or social status?
2.      How might God make that available to you in spite of the other?
3.      How will you use it?

Psalm 123 Ad te levavi oculos meos

     To you I lift up my eyes, *
to you enthroned in the heavens.
2      As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, *
and the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,
3      So our eyes look to the Lord our God, *
until he show us his mercy.
4      Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy, *
for we have had more than enough of contempt,
5      Too much of the scorn of the indolent rich, *
and of the derision of the proud.

The whole company of God’s people is active in this psalm as it moves from the singular in the initial verses to the plural in the later verses. The single metaphor of this psalm, the relationship of the servant to the master, speaks of the mutual dependency that we have with God. Thus, like the “the eyes of the maid to the hand of her mistress,” so we wait on God’s attention to our need. This is a poem of the poor and the oppressed who have had difficult dealings with the proud and “the indolent rich” - A poem for our own time.

Breaking open Psalm 123:
1.     Whom do you depend on most in life?
2.     How do you depend on God?
3.    Who depends on you?


Track Two:

First Reading: Zephaniah 1:7,12-18

Be silent before the Lord God!
For the day of the Lord is at hand;
the Lord has prepared a sacrifice,
he has consecrated his guests.
At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,
and I will punish the people
who rest complacently on their dregs,
those who say in their hearts,
“The Lord will not do good,
nor will he do harm.”
Their wealth shall be plundered,
and their houses laid waste.
Though they build houses,
they shall not inhabit them;
though they plant vineyards,
they shall not drink wine from them.
The great day of the Lord is near,
near and hastening fast;
the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter,
the warrior cries aloud there.
That day will be a day of wrath,
a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness,
a day of trumpet blast and battle cry
against the fortified cities
and against the lofty battlements.
I will bring such distress upon people
that they shall walk like the blind;
because they have sinned against the Lord,
their blood shall be poured out like dust,
and their flesh like dung.
Neither their silver nor their gold
will be able to save them
on the day of the Lord's wrath;
in the fire of his passion
the whole earth shall be consumed;
for a full, a terrible end
he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.

In Zephaniah we have something of a literary quilt, the gathering of sayings and oracles pieced together into a book. The materials may have been gathered in the mid to late seventh century BCE. Our reading today is a Judgment against Judah and Jerusalem. In the first pericope, the Oracle against Judah, the Words of YHWH are soon followed in verse seven with the words of the prophet. The Oracle on the Day of YHWH follows in verses 14 – 18, and once again the prophet speaks to the people. In his comments about the Day of YHWH we are reminded of Micah’s sayings (See Pentecost XXII, Proper 26) in which he and Zephaniah teach a dread of the Day of the Lord. Spoken at the time of a feast and sacrifice in the temple’s liturgical year, it was Judah who would be the sacrifice, not some other sacrificial victim.

Breaking open Zephaniah:
1.     When have you seen the darkness of God?
2.     Why?
3.    How did it become light?

Psalm 90:1-8, (9-11), 12 Domine, refugium

     Lord, you have been our refuge *
from one generation to another.
2      Before the mountains were brought forth,
or the land and the earth were born, *
from age to age you are God.
3      You turn us back to the dust and say, *
"Go back, O child of earth."
4      For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past *
and like a watch in the night.
5      You sweep us away like a dream; *
we fade away suddenly like the grass.
6      In the morning it is green and flourishes; *
in the evening it is dried up and withered.
7      For we consume away in your displeasure; *
we are afraid because of your wrathful indignation.
8      Our iniquities you have set before you, *
and our secret sins in the light of your countenance.
9      [When you are angry, all our days are gone; *
we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
10    The span of our life is seventy years,
perhaps in strength even eighty; *
yet the sum of them is but labor and sorrow,
for they pass away quickly and we are gone.
11    Who regards the power of your wrath? *
who rightly fears your indignation?]
12    So teach us to number our days *
that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.

The ascription to this psalm identifies it as a “Song of Moses”. What one might expect, a recounting of Moses’ ministry and wonders, is not what we are given. The allusion to Moses here is something else, a recalling of his mortality in spite of his heroism and courage. Thus the psalm is a meditation on the human condition and our mortality. It also reflects the relationship of immortal humankind, and the eternal God who judges us. The final verse of our reading is a good synopsis of the entirety of the psalm, wisdom for our day.

Breaking open Psalm 90:
1.     When have you meditated on your mortality?
2.     What insights were you given?
3.    How have you shared that wisdom with others?

Second Reading: I Thessalonians 5:1-11

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

Although the Second Readings function as a sort of lectio continua during Ordinary Time, this pericope is a fine match to the first reading and psalm of Track Two. Those using Track One might want to review the readings from Zephaniah and from Psalm 90. Here we again meet the day of the Lord, or as we know it in the New Testament, the Parousia. One might want to review the whole notion of the Day of the Lord, especially in the Hebrew Scriptures (Isaiah 13:6, Amos 5:18-20, and Ezekiel 13:5). It is from this viewpoint that Paul writes about the Day of the Lord, but the emphasis is not on despair and darkness but rather on salvation for the elect. Thus we are called to be watchful, waiting for the advent of the new coming. Paul alludes to the resolve of the Essenes when he uses their term, “The Children of Light and the Children of the Day.” They, having withdrawn from the turmoil of Jerusalem awaited the Day of the Lord. So Paul uses them, obliquely, as an example for Christian behavior. As we see from other sections of Paul, he does not urge us to withdraw, but rather to wait in the full context of the city and society.

Breaking open I Thessalonians:
1.     What do you expect when God comes again?
2.     What has surprised you in your life?
3.    What are your expectations of faith?

The Gospel: St. Matthew 25:14-30

Jesus said, “It is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

This parable follows immediately after last Sunday’s tale of the wise and foolish attendants to the Bridegroom. The theme is the same, foresight and persistence, but adds another, that of risk or investment. The question that the parable poses is one of utility; how will we use the gifts given us by God? This should not be a difficult lesson to explicate. Anyone who owns stock will understand the vicissitudes of risk and investment. The church then is not a haven for the fearful, but rather a challenge to the faithful.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     What talents have you been given?
2.     Which have you used well?
3.    Which have you ignored?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday. 

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2017, Michael T. Hiller