20 June 2016

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 8, 26 June 2016

Track One:
II Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20
Track 2
I Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
Psalm 16

Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Saint Luke 9:51-62

Background: Elijah and Elisha

Since both tracks are focused on the prophetic work or one or the other of these men, it might be good to point out an excellent study of their prophetic work seen in the context of what is viewed as a historic review of the Kings of Judah and Israel. That these background characters, with certain legendary elements to them, gives us a screen through which to see the sacred history of kings, and the attempt to tie their history to the worship of YHWH. In the context of king and prophet the prophet is always striving for the God of Israel and providing context, history, and interpretation to the acts of the kings. Such commentary and pronouncements on their part, however, to do not reveal a static understanding of the state of the religion. One can see movements out of nationalism into a more universal understanding of God. It has been my goal lately to recommend commentaries and works that help us in our endeavor to either understand so that we might read, or preach, or simply meditate. Robert Alter’s Ancient Israel: The Former Prophets is an excellent resource.  Here is the tantalizing quote:

“Elijah does not die but ascends in a chariot of fire to the heavens. In the actual miracle-count, Elisha somewhat surpasses his master Elijah, but it is Elijah who is embraced by later tradition, singled out at the end of Malachi as the man who will announce the coming of the redeemer; serving as a model for the Gospel writers in their stories of the miraculous acts performed by Jesus; and becoming a cherished folk-hero in later Jewish tradition.”[1]

Track One:

First Reading: 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14

When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, "Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel." But Elisha said, "As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So they went down to Bethel.

Then Elijah said to him, "Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan." But he said, "As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you." Elisha said, "Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit." He responded, "You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not." As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, "Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, "Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?" When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.

If we are in doubts as to who Elisha is or will become (even though we have met him earlier (see Track Two First Reading below), all misgivings or suspicions are laid aside in this encounter. We meet other “sons of the prophets” (or as Alter calls them, “acolyte prophets)[2] in this reading, but it is Elisha who is the true son. He requests and is given several things that point to his election or adoption: his mere presence at this important event, one that Elijah seems to want to experience on his own. Elisha prevails, and has the boldness to ask for a double-measure of Elijah’s spirit. The mantle and a bit of the tunic are Elisha’s as well, all signs of his continuation of the prophet’s ministry. It is the vision, however, that is the most convincing – for the event is not like any other in the Hebrew Scriptures. We do have the story of Enoch (Genesis 5:24), but it is not as concrete as this reference to an avoidance of death, and the common descent to the Pit. Truly we are witnesses to a great transformation, and transfer of power and vision. And just to prove that it was all meant to be, Elisha replicates the miracle of Moses at the Red Sea.

Breaking open II Kings:
  1. Why do you think does Elisha desire this task and mission?
  2. Who have been compelling teachers under whom you have studied?
  3. How do you mentor others?

Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20 Voce mea ad Dominum

     I will cry aloud to God; *
I will cry aloud, and he will hear me.
2      In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord; *
my hands were stretched out by night and did not tire;
I refused to be comforted.
11    I will remember the works of the Lord, *
and call to mind your wonders of old time.
12    I will meditate on all your acts *
and ponder your mighty deeds.
13    Your way, O God, is holy; *
who is so great a god as our God?
14    You are the God who works wonders *
and have declared your power among the peoples.
15    By your strength you have redeemed your people, *
the children of Jacob and Joseph.
16    The waters saw you, O God;
the waters saw you and trembled; *
the very depths were shaken.
17    The clouds poured out water;
the skies thundered; *
your arrows flashed to and fro;
18    The sound of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
your lightnings lit up the world; *
the earth trembled and shook.
19    Your way was in the sea,
and your paths in the great waters, *
yet your footsteps were not seen.
20    You led your people like a flock *
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

This is a psalm that begins as an individual’s prayer, but the bulk of our reading appears as a remembrance of the great events of Salvation History, specifically the Red Sea. With verse eleven we begin these remembrances and while our translation records it as “the Lord”, the writer in Hebrew remembers the acts of “Yah”, a form of the divine tetragrammaton, YHWH. With that introduction, we are invited by the psalmist to ponder the acts of God. Verse 15 underscores the theme of this section, “By your strength you have redeemed your people.” The psalmist continues with a poetic eye, recalling the waters, the thunder in the skies, What our translation renders as “The sound of your thunder was in the whirlwind” is rendered by Alter as “Your thunder’s sound under the wheel”,[3] a reference to the heavenly chariot, perhaps a borrowing from Canaanite literature. Here it seems to function, in the lectionary, as a connection to Elijah’s fiery vehicle.

Breaking open Psalm 77:
  1. What wonders have you seen God perform?
  2. What are the wonders in your life?
  3. How do you thank God for them?


Track Two:

First Reading: I Kings 19:15-16,19-21

The Lord said to Elijah, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place."

So he set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, "Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you." Then Elijah said to him, "Go back again; for what have I done to you?" He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.

Here we are introduced to Elisha who will become the great student of Elijah. You might be interested to read Track One’s First Reading and its commentary to give you some future context. This pericope follows the awe-inspiring reading where Elijah encounters good in sheer silence. Just like Jesus at the Transfiguration, God will have none of it. Pausing to reflect, perhaps, God pushes him on, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” With this we discover that the old misgivings and reservations have not gone away. “I alone remain.” God directs Elijah to return and to initiate a new order – things will not remain the same.

Nor is the prophet to remain the same, for on the way to do his mission he encounters Elisha, who had been introduced to him in the new mission that God have given Elijah. Now we are greeted by several symbolic gestures and references, the mantle, the twelve yoke of oxen, the leaving of home and parents, and finally the sacrifice. This communion offering is shared with the people – so all are involved in this initiation of a new prophet.

Breaking open I Kings:
  1. How might one study to be a prophet?
  2. What prophets have you known in your life-time?
  3. How is Elisha like the disciples?

Psalm 16 Conserva me, Domine

     Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you; *
I have said to the Lord, "You are my Lord,
my good above all other."
2      All my delight is upon the godly that are in the land, *
upon those who are noble among the people.
3      But those who run after other gods *
shall have their troubles multiplied.
4      Their libations of blood I will not offer, *
nor take the names of their gods upon my lips.
5      Lord, YOU are my portion and my cup; *
it is you who uphold my lot.
6      My boundaries enclose a pleasant land; *
indeed, I have a goodly heritage.
7      I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel; *
my heart teaches me, night after night.
8      I have set the Lord always before me; *
because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.
9      My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; *
my body also shall rest in hope.
10    For you will not abandon me to the grave, *
nor let your holy one see the Pit.
11    You will show me the path of life; *
in your presence there is fullness of joy,
and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.

This psalm seems to be used here in the lectionary to give voice to Elijah’s on-going misgivings voiced in the initial part of the First Reading. In this psalm we have a confession of faith – a contrast to those who still follow other gods, “their libations of blood I will not offer.” With verse five we have a different vision – a new place, actually. Not only are the psychological realties pleasant and convincing, “my heart teaches me night after night,” but the actual physical space speaks of God’s grace, “my boundaries enclose a pleasant land.” The closing verses contrast death and life, and the call of the psalmist for life. This, again, is a pleasant recollection of the first reading.

Breaking open Psalm 16:
  1. When do you pray during the day?
  2. What are your prayers about?
  3. Do you pray about death?

The Second Reading: Galatians 5:1,13-25

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

There are three major themes here: slavery, the flesh, and the spirit. It is the idea of slavery that leads us into this reading, for it is redolent with Paul’s reminders to us about the nature of the Law, both Roman and Jewish. There is a proclamation of freedom from these institutions, and a description of the true service that a Christian owes. In typical Pauline fashion, Paul provides to “catalogues”, lists that from which we have been set free, and another list of that to which we have been called. The former are “works of the flesh”, while the latter are “fruit of the Spirit.” It is these distinctions that will define those who follow Christ, and who make their way in a foreign and difficult world, as they seek the Kingdom of God.

Breaking Open Galatians:
  1. To what or to whom are you a slave?
  2. What are your works of the flesh?
  3. What are your fruits of the Spirit?

The Gospel: St. Luke 9:51-62

When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

There is prophetic determination here. If Elijah is reticent, Jesus is not, “He set his face to go up to Jerusalem.” This is Luke’s goal – to get Jesus to Jerusalem, where the times will be fulfilled. What Jesus has pioneered in the past chapters seems to fall away in the face of this determination to reach Jerusalem. The Samaritans see this determination and do not deter him. The disciples of course do not understand. Here we meet an anonymous character that says the right thing, “I will follow you wherever you go.” As such this individual seems to mirror Elisha’s conviction from the first readings. There are others, however, who do not share those convictions – seeing family obligations as superior. It is interesting that here the story as Luke tells it does not allow for this leave-taking of family, while the Elijah-Elisha story does. Jesus wants to see his own determination mirrored in those who might follow him – but it is a stiff requirement. No Lot’s wives here.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What things are you determined to do?
  2. What do these things have to do with your faith?
  3. What have you given up for others?
After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2016, Michael T. Hiller

[1]Alter, R. (2013), Ancient Israel: The Former Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings: A Translation and Commentary, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, Kindle Location 13313.
[2]Alter, Kindle Location 19049.
[3]Alter, R. (2009), The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, Kindle Location 6185.

10 June 2016

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 7, 19 June 2016

Track One:
I Kings 19:1-15a
Psalm 42 and 43

Track Two:
Isaiah 65:1-9
Psalm 22:18-27

Galatians 3:23-29
Saint Luke 8:26-39

Background: Paul and Christianity

Two weeks ago I introduced you to the work of Brigitte Kahl and her book on Galatians. Today I’d like to acquaint you with another book that was recommended to me, Pamela Eisenbaum’s Paul was not a Christian – The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle. Whether or not you agree with her premise, that Paul was never a Christian, because the notion of Christianity didn’t exist at the time he wrote, this work is an excellent exercise in rethinking and reengaging with Paul. As a former Lutheran, it is often my habit to take his work for granted and not to look at it with new eyes. I have not finished reading this work, but expect that it will challenge and excite my reading of Paul and my preaching from Paul. Here is a tantalizing quote that may get you started.

“Instead of seeing Paul’s commitment to and advancement in Judaism as the cause or necessary corollary of his persecution of the church, a better explanation of why Paul mentions these two things together can be found within the context of Galatians. In this first chapter of Galatians, Paul is defending the validity of his mission and message, which he felt had been threatened. One of the ways he defends what he has preached to the Galatians is to emphasize that it comes from a divine and not a human source…Paul’s claim to having experience divine revelation is important not because it was a conversion, but because it reminds his Galatian congregants of his apostolic authority.”[1]

Track One:

First Reading: I Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a

Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, "So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow." Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.

But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: "It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors." [Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, "Get up and eat." He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, "Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you."] He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He answered, "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away."

He said, "Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by." Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He answered, "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away." Then the Lord said to him, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus."

This pericope begins with a confrontation of two very strong personalities, that of Elijah and that of Jezebel. It is Elijah who blinks and shows fear at what the queen proposes as a response to his having killed the entire school of the prophets of Ba’al. Not only is he afraid, but also he has had quite enough of this contest, and he contends with God a bit. What follows is a journey of the body and the soul, both of which are aided by the God who has called the prophet. There is bread and there are angels – and most of all there is a destination, a goal. Finding himself at Horeb, the prophet is confronted by a question. “What are you doing here?” The prophet finds himself in a lonely situation. Earlier he confessed that the prophets of YHWH had abandoned YHWH, and that he was alone. Now he is physically alone, and God will press that loneliness even further than the desert has already allowed. Standing before the mountain it is not unreasonable to think that Elijah had expectation of God’s presence and aid – there had been bread and angel after all. The usual evidences are empty, however. Storm, fire, and earthquake reveal nothing. It is the loneliness pressed into silence where Elijah understands God’s presence.

Breaking open I Kings:
1.     Have you ever run away from something? What?
2.     Describe your emotions?
3.     Have you sought God in silence and loneliness?

Psalm 42: Quemadmodum

     As the deer longs for the water-brooks, *
so longs my soul for you, O God.
2      My soul is athirst for God, athirst for the living God; *
when shall I come to appear before the presence of God?
3      My tears have been my food day and night, *
while all day long they say to me,
"Where now is your God?"
4      I pour out my soul when I think on these things: *
how I went with the multitude and led them into the house of God,
5      With the voice of praise and thanksgiving, *
among those who keep holy-day.
6      Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul? *
and why are you so disquieted within me?
7      Put your trust in God; *
for I will yet give thanks to him,
who is the help of my countenance, and my God.
8      My soul is heavy within me; *
therefore I will remember you from the land of Jordan,
and from the peak of Mizar among the heights of Hermon.
9      One deep calls to another in the noise of your cataracts; *
all your rapids and floods have gone over me.
10    The Lord grants his loving-kindness in the daytime; *
in the night season his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
11    I will say to the God of my strength,
"Why have you forgotten me? *
and why do I go so heavily while the enemy oppresses me?"
12    While my bones are being broken, *
my enemies mock me to my face;
13    All day long they mock me *
and say to me, "Where now is your God?"
14    Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul? *
and why are you so disquieted within me?
15    Put your trust in God; *
for I will yet give thanks to him,
who is the help of my countenance, and my God.

Psalm 43 Judica me, Deus

     Give judgment for me, O God,
and defend my cause against an ungodly people; *
deliver me from the deceitful and the wicked.
2      For you are the God of my strength;
why have you put me from you? *
and why do I go so heavily while the enemy oppresses me?
3      Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me, *
and bring me to your holy hill
and to your dwelling;
4      That I may go to the altar of God,
to the God of my joy and gladness; *
and on the harp I will give thanks to you, O God my God.
5      Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul? *
and why are you so disquieted within me?
6      Put your trust in God; *
for I will yet give thanks to him,
who is the help of my countenance, and my God.

The Lectionary happily unites Psalms 42 and 43, which were likely one work originally.  The psalmist uses a series of vocables that all rely upon and define one another. Thus “thirst”, “tears”, “pour out”, “rapids”, “floods” and “one deep to another” all are evocative of the same thing and yet help paint a diverse picture of the psalmist’s supplication. In the verses of psalm 43 we break into a different emotional scene, one that is dependent upon God’s “holy hill” Zion. There is in these verses a hearty anticipation of being in Jerusalem and at the altar of God.
as both judge and guide, and it is God that leads the suppliant into a “straight way.”

Breaking open Psalm 5:
1.     How are you thirsty for God?
2.     What do you need in your life?
3.     Where do you feel God’s presence?


Track Two:

Track Two:

First Reading: Isaiah 65:1-9

I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask,
to be found by those who did not seek me.
I said, "Here I am, here I am,"
to a nation that did not call on my name.
I held out my hands all day long to a rebellious people,
who walk in a way that is not good,
following their own devices;
a people who provoke me
to my face continually,
sacrificing in gardens
and offering incense on bricks;
who sit inside tombs,
and spend the night in secret places;
who eat swine's flesh,
with broth of abominable things in their vessels;
who say, "Keep to yourself,
do not come near me, for I am too holy for you."
These are a smoke in my nostrils,
a fire that burns all day long.
See, it is written before me:
I will not keep silent, but I will repay;
I will indeed repay into their laps
their iniquities and their ancestors' iniquities together,
says the Lord;
because they offered incense on the mountains
and reviled me on the hills,
I will measure into their laps
full payment for their actions.
Thus says the Lord:
As the wine is found in the cluster,
and they say, "Do not destroy it,
for there is a blessing in it,"
so I will do for my servants' sake,
and not destroy them all.
I will bring forth descendants from Jacob,
and from Judah inheritors of my mountains;
my chosen shall inherit it,
and my servants shall settle there.

There are two very different things here, and it would be best for the reader to observe the difference between them. The one pericope (verses 1-7) deals with impending doom that is announced by the prophet, while subsequent verses (8-9ff.) speak of salvation (but later on doom as well). God is the speaker in the first pericope and we hear words of anguish and of grief. The accusation is that the nation does not want God, that the nation provokes God. The evidence is mounted up in a succession of scenes of incense, association with the dead, the eating of pig’s flesh, and abominations in general. The promise that is made is that there will be retribution for such acts, “I will measure into their laps full payment for their actions.”

What follows then is of a different emotional character. There is something of the image of the redemptive remnant in the phrase, “Do not destroy it, for there is a blessing in it.” There is a promise of redemption and salvation for some of them, those who have been servants of the Lord. Thus the exiles from Jacob and Judah will be brought back to settle in “my mountains.”

Breaking open Isaiah:
1.     How is our society like the one Isaiah depicts?
2.     How is it not?
3.     How does God save you from the difficulties of our time?

Psalm 22:18-27: Deus, Deus meus

18    Be not far away, O Lord; *
you are my strength; hasten to help me.
19    Save me from the sword, *
my life from the power of the dog.
20    Save me from the lion's mouth, *
my wretched body from the horns of wild bulls.
21    I will declare your Name to my brethren; *
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.
22    Praise the Lord, you that fear him; *
stand in awe of him, O offspring of Israel;
all you of Jacob's line, give glory.
23    For he does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty;
neither does he hide his face from them; *
but when they cry to him he hears them.
24    My praise is of him in the great assembly; *
I will perform my vows in the presence of those who worship him.
25    The poor shall eat and be satisfied,
and those who seek the Lord shall praise him: *
"May your heart live for ever!"
26    All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, *
and all the families of the nations shall bow before him.
27    For kingship belongs to the Lord; *
he rules over the nations.

Liturgical Christians will be familiar with these phrases due to their recital during the Great Three Days. So it is odd to see them out of that context. There is both an intimacy of words here along with the emotions of being in the great assembly. We meet an individual in the initial verses of our selection, one who yearns for God’s presence in a difficult situation. That quickly moves to an apologia for God’s actions and presence, as the psalmist witnesses to God’s gracious acts not only to the author but also to the poor. Thus he sings praises in the assembly and utters vows in the Temple. The resulting goodness is not only for the suppliant, but also for “all the ends of the earth, and all the families of the nations.”

Breaking open Psalm 22:
1.     How might you defend God’s actions in your life?
2.     For what are you thankful?
3.     How is God ruler of all?

Second Reading: Galatians 3:23-29

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.

If Brigitte Kahl (see Background, above) is correct, then Paul has a bead on more than just concerns about ritual purity under the law, but a greater vision that was shared by both Jew and Galatian (Celt) in their life in this Roman city. To understand Judaism as a series of disciplines is not the only aspect of what Paul is speaking about here. The whole culture functioned as a “disciplinarian” over these people, and thus there could be “no longer Jew or Greek.” Paul takes the situation of people participating in a life that condemns them, and then reverses it. “You are one in Christ Jesus.” Thus he does not lead the Gentiles out of the exigencies of their own lives to understand the lives of Jews, but rather enters into that reality and even there proclaim a Christ who saves. How might we enter the lives of others who are seeking in our culture and time, and there proclaim Christ?

Breaking open Galatians:
4.     How do you discipline in your family or amongst your friends?
5.     How have you been disciplined?
6.     How does that make you feel?

The Gospel: Saint Luke 8:26-39

Jesus and his disciples arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me" -- for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?" He said, "Legion"; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.

Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

One wonders if Luke had knowledge of the prophet’s foretelling of doom in Isaiah 65:1-7, for the images he supplies (along with Mark) often match the descriptive detail that God uses in describing the people who have moved away from God. In the Luke story, however, it is not the people’s action, but rather the work of demonic and evil forces that has occupied at least one individual (who calls himself “Legion” and thus might be representative of a larger community). We are in Gentile territory, thus the herd of pigs. There are so many audiences here, the individual (or the community), the Gentiles, the disciples, the demons, the swineherds, and the hearer. Into this nexus Jesus is revealed as “Son of the Most High God.” Demonic forces, although recognizing this, are destroyed by it – cannot live with it. The individual (or the community) is attracted by it, and the swineherds are frightened by it. Jesus asks but one thing of the individual (or the community) and that is to be a witness. One who lived amongst the dead has been brought out to a new kind of life.  This is what people need to see.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     In what ways are you an intruder into holiness?
2.     What has Jesus set aside so that you might encounter him?
3.     How do others view your faith?

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

O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving­kindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2016, Michael T. Hiller

[1]Eisenbaum, P. (2009), Paul Was Not a Christian, The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle, Harper Collins, New York, page 136