21 July 2016

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 13, 31 July 2016

Track One:
Hosea 11:1-11
Psalm 107:1-9, 43

Track Two:
Ecclesiastes: 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23
Psalm 49:1-11

Colossians 3:1-11
Saint Luke 12:13-21

Background: Difficult Prophets

I ran into an interesting conversation on Facebook this last week concerning Hosea. The poster wondered if others were abandoning the Track One reading from Hosea in favor of the Track Two reading because Hosea was just too difficult. One responder even commented that you couldn’t do just to Hosea in the average twelve-minute Episcopal sermon. I noted that I am missing the opportunity to preach on Hosea because he is out of the norm and the main stream. In Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, we have, I think, a fairly authentic representation of the ecstatic prophets – crazy making in their eccentricity. Perhaps that is the difficulty. If we scratch the surface of religion we find a substratum of the uncomfortable: sexual life, retribution, xenophobia, and exotic visions among others. That we not delve into these areas as preachers, or lectors, or just plan students of the Bible denies us the humanity of the Scriptures, and removes us from similar moments in our own lives. I find it heartening that Hosea takes the difficulties of his own life as the context against which he portrays his message. They seem to be hooks that any person can identify with, and then begin to understand the prophet’s concern. They dynamics of family life are used to provide examples of a nation’s relationship with God. It is the prophet’s hope, I think, that the individual could look at their own life and its quandaries and there begin to understand God’s message to Israel.

Track One:

First Reading: Hosea 11:1-11

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
The more I called them,
the more they went from me;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals,
and offering incense to idols.
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them up in my arms;
but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
with bands of love.
I was to them like those
who lift infants to their cheeks.
I bent down to them and fed them.
They shall return to the land of Egypt,
and Assyria shall be their king,
because they have refused to return to me.
The sword rages in their cities,
it consumes their oracle-priests,
and devours because of their schemes.
My people are bent on turning away from me.
To the Most High they call,
but he does not raise them up at all.
How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my fierce anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and no mortal,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath.
They shall go after the Lord,
who roars like a lion;
when he roars,
his children shall come trembling from the west.
They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt,
and like doves from the land of Assyria;
and I will return them to their homes, says the Lord.

Between the parentheses of verses 1 and 11 in which God professes a great love for Israel, there is a rehearsal of unfaithfulness on Israel’s part and disappointment on God’s. What is contrasted here is Egypt and Assyria. The pericope begins with a remembrance of Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt, but later on there is a substitution for Egypt, “They shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king.” The deliverance is incomplete because the people are still in slavery to the Ba’alim. What God had meant as a return has been realized as a rejection, and thus the people shall return not to freedom and redemption, but rather to slavery.

The last part of the pericope sees some repentance. Not on the part of the people, but rather on God’s part, “My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.” What should be noticed are the images of parent and child, and the behaviors of a loving family. “I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks.” Many a parent in our midst knows the pain of having to correct a child, and yet love them. The humanity that Hosea lifts up here, as he talks about God and God’s people should make for some good preaching and reading – experiences that remarkably touch our own lives with understanding.

Breaking open Hosea:
1.     What does it mean to call God “father” or “mother”?
2.     What are the difficult parts about being a parent?
3.     In what ways does this reading represent a psychological conflict?

Psalm 107:1-9, 43 Confitemini Domino

     Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, *
and his mercy endures for ever.
2      Let all those whom the Lord has redeemed proclaim *
that he redeemed them from the hand of the foe.
3      He gathered them out of the lands; *
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.
4      Some wandered in desert wastes; *
they found no way to a city where they might dwell.
5      They were hungry and thirsty; *
their spirits languished within them.
6      Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, *
and he delivered them from their distress.
7      He put their feet on a straight path *
to go to a city where they might dwell.
8      Let them give thanks to the Lord for his mercy *
and the wonders he does for his children.
9      For he satisfies the thirsty *
and fills the hungry with good things.
43    Whoever is wise will ponder these things, *
and consider well the mercies of the Lord.

The themes of this psalm resonate with the themes that we have just rehearsed in the Hosea reading. What might seem to be theological ideas and remembrance is actually a reading of what was going on politically. The redemption mentioned in verse two is political redemption, a relief from the oppression of Egypt (or anticipated in Assyria or Babylon). There are hopeful verses, however, that speak of return from all the points of the compass, so the psalmist may be taking the experience of Egypt or of later exiles and making for a generic or universal understanding of God’s grace. There is also a contrasting of the people’s cries and their acclaim. One translation of the first verse underscores the contrast, “Acclaim the Lord, for He is good.” Later, however, the people are crying in the desert wastes. The bulk of the psalm, most of which is not used here in the reading for this Sunday, then rehearses the graciousness of God in answering the cries of God’s people.  Although this is a psalm of thanksgiving, there is an appeal to the notion of Wisdom in the final verse, “whoever is wise will ponder these things.”

Breaking open Psalm 107:

1.        How is the story of Egypt different that the story of Assyria?
2.        What does “redemption” mean in this psalm?
3.        What is the wisdom (common sense) in this psalm?


Track Two:

First Reading: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23

Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.

I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me -- and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.

In some respects the structure of this selection, chosen by the lectionary editors, is quite disappointing. It attempts too much, and thus accomplishes little in allowing us, and the people we are either preaching to or reading to, to understand Qohelet’s message. So what we are left with are the enigmatic introduction, which opines that life and all that accompanies it is really quite ephemeral, a snippet of autobiographical material that repeats the themes from the first verses, and a longer section from chapter two which represents Qohelet’s odd perspective of and turn of Wisdom. Readers would be helped considerably by referring to Robert Alter’s excellent article in his book, The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes: A Translation with Commentary.[1] He begins by tackling the concept of vanity, the word that begins the work proper and that was used by the King James translators. He contrasts the Hebrew vocable havel (merest breath, or vapor) which represents “the flimsy vapor that is exhaled in breathing,”[2] with a much more familiar word, ru’ah (life breath) that is such an active component in Genesis. In our pericope it appears only as the wind, “all is vanity and a chasing after wind”, so complete is his cynicism.

The closing paragraph of our selection is almost oddly appropriate to our time, given our current political situation, and the frustration that seems to flow at every point in our society. Yet, the “cries of the people” (see the Track One psalm) are not that their efforts are futile, but rather that they have not resulted in the luxuries and material goods that are supposedly deserved. In wondering how to preach this text, I would be tempted to challenge the values that seem to drive us, even in the church. I am reminded of an off-hand comment by the Bishop of California, Marc Andrus, “Perhaps we need to lose some of the bling.”

Breaking open Ecclesiastes:
1.     In what ways do you agree with the Teacher?
2.     What do you find disturbing?
3.     What is the “bling” in your life?

Psalm 49:1-11 Audite haec, omnes

     Hear this, all you peoples;
hearken, all you who dwell in the world, *
you of high degree and low, rich and poor together.
2      My mouth shall speak of wisdom, *
and my heart shall meditate on understanding.
3      I will incline my ear to a proverb *
and set forth my riddle upon the harp.
4      Why should I be afraid in evil days, *
when the wickedness of those at my heels surrounds me,
5      The wickedness of those who put their trust in their goods, *
and boast of their great riches?
6      We can never ransom ourselves, *
or deliver to God the price of our life;
7      For the ransom of our life is so great, *
that we should never have enough to pay it,
8      In order to live for ever and ever, *
and never see the grave.
9      For we see that the wise die also;
like the dull and stupid they perish *
and leave their wealth to those who come after them.
10    Their graves shall be their homes for ever,
their dwelling places from generation to generation, *
though they call the lands after their own names.
11    Even though honored, they cannot live for ever; *
they are like the beasts that perish.

The psalmist here does not abandon his worldview to the complete cynicism of the Teacher (see First Reading) but rather gives a harsh assay of what is valuable in the world. That is the wisdom that he wishes to impart – a song sung sweetly upon a lyre, but bitter to hear. The words are not directed exclusively to Israel, but to a more general and universal audience, for this is a wisdom psalm. There is almost a graduated understanding of the vanities of this world, for the poor will dissolve into death before the rich. And yet the fate of the rich is just the same – death and the Pit. The fate of death is the destiny of both the wise and the dull. The phraseology and vocabulary of this psalmist bears an uncanny resemblance to the Teacher.

Breaking open Psalm 49
1.     How do you think about death?
2.     Do you talk to your friends about death?
3.    Are you too young to talk about death?

The Second Reading: Colossians 3:1-11

If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. But now you must get rid of all such things-- anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

Paul continues his teaching to the Colossians about what it means to live in Christ. Oddly enough, this reading, a part of lectio continua, actually fits in with the themes of the Gospel and first reading. Paul doesn’t teach us the vanity of life, but he does insist on the vanity of earthly things when compared to what Christ offers. His appeal is replete with his usual lists: a list of that which is earthly (fornication, impurity, etc.), things to get rid of (anger, wrath, etc.), and a list of human values that are no longer of value (Greek, Jew, etc.). There is a phrase here that indicates the mystery of this new existence that Paul calls the Colossians to, “your life is hidden with Christ in God.” All else must be given up.

Breaking open Colossians:
  1. What does it mean to you to be “hidden with Christ in God?”
  2. What are earthly things that are of no value to you?
  3. What is your true human status?

The Gospel: Saint Luke 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." But he said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?" And he said to them, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions."

Then he told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, `What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' Then he said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, `Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."

Here we see Jesus as rabbi, when a man from the crowd asks him a question of casuistry, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” Jesus refuses his request by oddly reversing a situation that involved Moses. Then, the people objected to Moses leadership, “Who appointed you ruler and judge? (Exodus 2:14)”. Here Jesus refuses the role, and it is he who turns the question around, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” Luke doesn’t leave us in suspense, but announces the meaning of Jesus’ parable in advance of reporting it to us. The themes are familiar today, “ones life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” The parable explores the vapid (see comments in the First Reading about the translation of the Hebrew vocable havel) nature of what the rich man finds of value. He is sort of an anti-Job, for God does not allow his wealth to be taken away, but rather he is given more. Yet, in spite of that, he will still die, and all that he has achieved will belong to another. We need to think back to Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, specifically to the woes that follow the blessings. “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation,” (Saint Luke 6:24). The question must be asked, “What does it mean to be rich toward God?” It is a proposal that is not even considered by the Teacher of the first reading, nor is it seen as a value. Jesus paints a different picture. There is something of value and worth, and it is in our relationship with God.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     How is Jesus your Rabbi?
2.     What of your possessions would you find it difficult to part with?
3.    What does that mean to you?

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

Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; 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. (2010), The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes: A Translation with Commentary, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, Kindle Edition, Location 6467 to 6586.
[2]Alter, Location 6518

19 July 2016

The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 12, 24 July 2016

Track One:
Hosea 1:2-10
Psalm 85

Track Two:
Genesis 18:20-32
Psalm 138

Colossians 2:6-15, [16-19]
Saint Luke 11:1-13

Background: Prayer

Prayer is so common to our life as religious people, that it often escapes our notice and attention. We allow that to happen to our detriment, however. It is good that there are days in the lectionary where the focus is on prayer – and not sentimental prayer but difficult, argumentative prayer. I often tell friends about the prayer I made that was aided and abated by a difficult mimeograph machine. The stencil kept tearing and I finally exploded in prayer, “I’m doing this for you, don’t you know.” What followed was a period of meditation and thought about what I wanted from God well beyond a functioning mimeograph machine. My favorite book on prayer is Archbishop Anthony Bloom’s Beginning to Pray. In it he tells of the difficult prayers that must accompany a woman’s trials in life. “Humility is the situation of the earth,” he tells her as he tries to get her to see how prayer must address all aspects of life. Sometimes life and prayer must take in what seems repulsive to us. Another book is Rowan Williams book, Being Christian, Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer. The section on prayer offers a commentary on Origen’s comments on prayer, and is most helpful. His opening comments reflect, in a more gentle way, Anthony Bloom’s approach. “Growing in prayer is not simply acquiring a set of special spiritual skills that operate in one bit of your life. It is about growing into what St Paul calls ‘the measure of the full stature of Christ’ (Ephesians 4.13). It is growing into the kind of humanity that Christ shows us. Growing in prayer, in other words, is growing in Christian humanity.”[1]
Perhaps these readings and these books, along with others, will guide us in promoting prayer, and encouraging a life of prayer in our parishes.

Track One:

First Reading: Hosea 1:2-10

When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, "Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord." So he went and took Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.

And the Lord said to him, "Name him Jezreel; for in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. On that day I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel."

She conceived again and bore a daughter. Then the Lord said to him, "Name her Lo-ruhamah, for I will no longer have pity on the house of Israel or forgive them. But I will have pity on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the Lord their God; I will not save them by bow, or by sword, or by war, or by horses, or by horsemen."

When she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said, "Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not my people and I am not your God."

Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered; and in the place where it was said to them, "You are not my people," it shall be said to them, "Children of the living God."

Elizabeth Achtemeier introduces her commentary on Hosea with a simple sentence that she offers as a summarization of the book, “The central announcement of the prophet Hosea can be summarized in one short sentence: God promises to do what human beings ought to do but cannot. The God of Israel, Yahweh, who is revealed to us through the prophecies of Hosea, has an ongoing love story with the people of the covenant.”[2] Like a lot of love stories, the details will be complicated and difficult. Hosea does his work on the cusp of the fall of the Northern Kingdom to the forces of the Assyrian Empire ca. 750 BCE. In our pericope for today, we are introduced to the prophet’s work, perhaps by another hand, which uses the prophetic devices of vision and symbol to begin what “the Lord first spoke through Hosea.” The semiology is strong – and we are at odds in attempting to plumb its depths. Who and what was Gomer? Was this autobiography, or was it commentary on the state of Israel – or both. Some suggest that she was a temple prostitute, who would make the marriage and the prophet’s words even more telling. Thus the love story of God and Israel, told through the personal relationship of the prophet and his family, begins on a disastrous note, “for you are not my people and I am not your God.”

Breaking open Hosea:
1.     What events in your life illustrate biblical truths?
2.     How do you see God’s love in this reading?
3.     In what ways is this a difficult reading?

Psalm 85 Benedixisti, Domine

     You have been gracious to your land, O Lord, *
you have restored the good fortune of Jacob.
2      You have forgiven the iniquity of your people *
and blotted out all their sins.
3      You have withdrawn all your fury *
and turned yourself from your wrathful indignation.
4      Restore us then, O God our Savior; *
let your anger depart from us.
5      Will you be displeased with us for ever? *
will you prolong your anger from age to age?
6      Will you not give us life again, *
that your people may rejoice in you?
7      Show us your mercy, O Lord, *
and grant us your salvation.
8      I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, *
for he is speaking peace to his faithful people
and to those who turn their hearts to him.
9      Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, *
that his glory may dwell in our land.
10    Mercy and truth have met together; *
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
11    Truth shall spring up from the earth, *
and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
12    The Lord will indeed grant prosperity, *
and our land will yield its increase.
13    Righteousness shall go before him, *
and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.

The Hebrew of this psalm indicates both hope for a future condition, and thanks for that which God has already done. It functions here as an ideal response to the reading from Hosea – looking beyond the difficult words that God speaks at the beginning of the prophet’s work. What is sought here is forgiveness and restoration. A series of supplications that follow the remembrances of grace in the initial three verses now ask for continuing grace and forgiveness. What is needed is the attention of the people, and the psalmist promises such attendance to God’s word, “I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, for he is speaking peace to his faithful people.” What follows then is a pathway that the faithful are expected to follow.

Breaking open Psalm 85:

1.        Do you believe that you are forgiven?
2.        From what have you been forgiven?
3.        Is there something from which you have not been forgiven?


Track Two:

First Reading: Genesis 18:20-32

The Lord said to Abraham, "How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know."

So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the Lord. Then Abraham came near and said, "Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?" And the Lord said, "If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake." Abraham answered, "Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?" And he said, "I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there." Again he spoke to him, "Suppose forty are found there." He answered, "For the sake of forty I will not do it." Then he said, "Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there." He answered, "I will not do it, if I find thirty there." He said, "Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there." He answered, "For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it." Then he said, "Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there." He answered, "For the sake of ten I will not destroy it."

We are still with Abraham and Sarah, and despite the lectionary’s focus on hospitality last week, we return to the seriousness of the pericope – the promise of a future, and Sarah’s response of laughter. There is, however, another outcry, “The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah, how great! Their offense is very grave.” Now we shall see the opposite of the promise and the antithesis of hospitality that marked the life of Abraham and Sarah. What results is heartfelt prayer on the part of Abraham – prayer for the people of Sodom. In the phrase, “Abraham came near and said,” we have language that reflects a legal request – as in an advocate stepping up to the judge’s seat and seeking a privilege. God is the provider of justice and it is just that the Abraham seeks of God – and thus begins a session of bargaining, hoping that God’s wrath and judgment might be averted. Abraham continues to ask for a greater forbearance by requesting justice for a smaller and smaller number of “innocents”.  Oddly enough he stops at ten – a number greater than the innocent lives of Lot and his family, residents of the city. What follows is not the point of our reading in the lectionary – but rather the example of outrageous prayer.

Breaking open Genesis:
1.     Have you ever argued with God?
2.     What was it about?
3.     Will you do it again?

Psalm 138 Confitebor tibi

     I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with my whole heart; *
before the gods I will sing your praise.
2      I will bow down toward your holy temple
and praise your Name, *
because of your love and faithfulness;
3      For you have glorified your Name *
and your word above all things.
4      When I called, you answered me; *
you increased my strength within me.
5      All the kings of the earth will praise you, O Lord, *
when they have heard the words of your mouth.
6      They will sing of the ways of the Lord, *
that great is the glory of the Lord.
7      Though the Lord be high, he cares for the lowly; *
he perceives the haughty from afar.
8      Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe; *
you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies;
your right hand shall save me.
9      The Lord will make good his purpose for me; *
Lord, your love endures for ever;
do not abandon the works of your hands.

In this thanksgiving psalm, the author gives thanks and praise for the rescue that God has afforded him. The phrase, “before the gods I will sing your praise,” either reflects a cheeky reflection on their ineffectiveness, or a memory of an earlier time when such gods were seen as a part of the heavenly court ruled by YHWH. We get a glimpse of the scope of God’s will in that God forgives and protects an individual here, and yet this small event is seen by “all the kings of the earth.”  The closing verses of the psalm acknowledge the individual as the work of God’s hand, and the implication is that God is the potter and the individual is the thrown vessel. Thus the entreaty is that the individual be handled carefully.

Breaking open Psalm 138:
1.     In what ways is your life fragile?
2.     How do you protect yourself?
3.     How does God protect you?

Second Reading: Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)

As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.

[Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.]

Now Paul confronts the false teaching that he fears is attracting the Colossians. There is an initial warning against philosophy followed by two pericopes that argue for the sufficiency of Christ by means of Baptism (2:9-15), and then a rehearsal of the practices of false teachers (2:16-23). Against the “elemental spirits of the cosmos” Paul contrasts the fullness of Christ. Christ is sufficient for their salvation and redemption – no other elements are necessary. Later in the later part of the pericope, Paul will catalogue what others seem to require of the people of God, “matters of good and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or Sabbaths.” These are simply unnecessary, since the body of Christ participates in the sufficiency and fullness of Christ by means of Baptism. Paul becomes quite literal in this comparison, talking about the “ligaments and sinews” that are a part of the body that is held together and grows within God.

Breaking open Colossians:
  1. What things compete for attention in your life?
  2. What arguments do you entertain contra your beliefs?
  3. What role does religion play in your intellectual life?

The Gospel: Saint Luke 11:1-13

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." He said to them, "When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial."

And he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, `Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.' And he answers from within, `Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.' I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
"So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

What was it that Mary desired and paid attention to in last Sunday’s Gospel? Here it is demonstrated in the request of Jesus’ disciples. They wish to learn to pray. Jesus offers both an example of how to pray, and a demonstration of the power that prayer needs to be afforded in the life of the individual. The actual prayer offers an example of what needs to be included in prayer: an honoring of God’s name and a realization of God’s presence in the reality of our lives. What comes as well is human need – daily bread, forgiveness, and the hope that the trials of life can be avoided. The lesson that follows is the necessity of persistence in prayer. In these examples from daily life, Jesus affords the disciples what seemed to be evident to Abraham – a vigorous dialogue with God.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     How do you pray?
2.     Do you use the Our Father as a model for prayer, or for the prayer itself?
3.     What’s missing from the Our Father?

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

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; 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]Williams, R. (2014), Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Kindle Edition, page 61.
[2]Achtemeier, E. (2012, Minotr Prophets I (Understanding the Bible, Commentary Series), Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Kindle Edition, page 1.