28 July 2010

The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 13, 1 August 2010

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23
Psalm 49:1-11
Colossians 3:1-11
Saint Luke 12:13-21


Since our first reading is from Ecclesiastes, permit a few words about Wisdom Literature – which was a common type in the Ancient Near East, known especially in Egyptian, and in Semitic cultures.  Greek philosophy, to which these teachings have often been compared, commented on human life in the context of the common mores of society.  Hebrew wisdom literature explores similar themes but in the context of the Law, the moral determinations that are set forth by the God of Israel.  In spite of this unique viewpoint in Hebrew Wisdom, it does serve as a conduit for ideas that enter Judaism from Egypt, and the Mesopotamian region.  Books of the Bible that are examples of such literature include Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, Job, the Wisdom of Solomon, some of the Psalms (see today’s psalm especially), and some materials in Lamentations.  The materials range from every-day aphorisms that we all recognize even today, to deep musings about the purpose and intent of life. 

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.

The author of Ecclesiastes is Qohelet, which means “assembly” or “congregation”, therefore someone who holds some kind of office in the assembly, perhaps “Teacher” would do.  The current title “Ecclesiastes” comes from the Greek word for “assembly” (later “Church”) ekklesia.   The author struggles to make sense of life, and discovers that there are no sure ways to secure the benefits of life, because all life ends in death.  This is elegantly stated in the first verse: “Vanity of vanities.  All is vanity”.  The word translated as “vanity” literally means “vapor” or “breath”, and so other words might be better used, since vanity has a distinct English connotation.  Perhaps the Teacher’s sense might be better served using words such as “absurd” or “futile”.  What is interesting about these passages is that they betray an individualism that is unusual in Hebrew life.  Concern about the future and “individual survival” was always met with the promise of the future of children, and the family as a whole.  This does not consol the Teacher, however, who finds his work joyless, something that he will take no pleasure in but will need to bequeath to his heirs. 

Breaking open Ecclesiastes:
1.     What do you think the purpose of life is?
2.     Is your work meaningful?  Does it benefit others?
3.     What is of real value in your life?  What makes you glad to see each new day?

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.

My mouth shall speak of wisdom, *
and my heart shall meditate on understanding.

I will incline my ear to a proverb *
and set forth my riddle upon the harp.

Why should I be afraid in evil days, *
when the wickedness of those at my heels surrounds me,

The wickedness of those who put their trust in their goods, *
and boast of their great riches?

We can never ransom ourselves, *
or deliver to God the price of our life;

For the ransom of our life is so great, *
that we should never have enough to pay it,

In order to live for ever and ever, *
and never see the grave.

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.

Their graves shall be their homes for ever,
their dwelling places from generation to generation, *
though they call the lands after their own names.

Even though honored, they cannot live for ever; *
they are like the beasts that perish.

Whoever wrote this particular psalm had a great deal in common with the Teacher of Ecclesiastes.  In fact, this particular psalm serves as an excellent example of what we call “Wisdom.”  The poet takes a cynical view of things, in seeing that death is a great equalizer between the rich and the poor and the wise and the foolish (see especially verse 10, where all the accomplishments of life are met with the inevitability of “the Pit”, or death.)  The “Pit” was the Hebrew notion of the place where the dead go – neither a heaven nor a hell, just a place for the dead.  Verse 11 uses a word for “fool” that is only found in Ecclesiastes, and so the comparison is well taken.  Indeed the whole notion that “others” will receive the reward of labor is a notion totally consonant with the message of Ecclesiastes.  The temptation is to assign to this psalm the theme of “greed”.  It’s actual message, however, is much more fundamental and existential.

Breaking open Psalm 49
1.     How do you feel about death?  Do you live in dread of it, or only see it as a part of life?
2.     What will you leave your children, or those who will inherit from you?
3.     Do you consider yourself “greedy”?

Colossians 3:1-11

So 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!

This particular reading consists of the end of one section, which consists of a warning against false teaching (3:1-4).  Here the author differentiates between those things that are “from above” and those things that are “earthly”.  These are resurrection arguments, and the author does not want to talk about Christ in a physical or earthly fashion, for Christ is raised.  Colossians wants us to understand that the resurrected Christ is in a new realm, and that we are invited to participate in this new type of existence.  Christ is not “hidden” in the earth, but rather “revealed” in glory, as we shall be as well

The next section which outlines general principles for the Christ life, beginning with verses that lift up the example of Baptism (3:5-11), continues with the notion that we are to become something different, and the author uses Baptism as the means.  Elsewhere Paul says, “For (in Baptism) you were buried with Christ.”  If the baptisms that you have witnessed have involved sprinkling or pouring, the image may miss you.  If, however, you have been to an Orthodox Baptism, where the candidate is submerged under the waters, the image is unmistakable.  The author continues with two lists of vices, that are “earthly” and that are to be given up.  We should be dead to such things, and being so, the whole social order is in upheaval.  The distinctions that used to be made, no longer obtain, for all are “raised” with Christ.  The earthly is left behind.

Breaking open Colossians:
  1. In what way is your life “earthly”?
  2. In what way is your life “heavenly”?
  3. What does your baptism mean to you?

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.

"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.

This particular parable is found only in Luke.  The question that the person in the crowd asks is not unusual.  Such a query, on inheritance, to a Rabbi would be common (see Numbers 27:1-11).  Jesus, however will have none of it.  Following on the themes introduced to us in Ecclesiastes and Psalm 49, where the common wisdom is “you can’t take it with you.” Jesus’ parable is about the Commonwealth of God – that which we can take with us.  For Jesus, the legal argument is meaningless, because the things of real value have been forgotten.  The final quotation is from Hosea 11:11.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. In what ways are you wealthy?
  2. In what ways are you poor?
  3. In what ways are you wise?
  4. In what ways are you a fool?

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.

20 July 2010

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 12) - 25 July 2010

Genesis 18:20-32
Psalm 138
Colossians 2:6-19
Saint Luke 11:1-13

      The Four Gospels

A quick word about the composition of the Gospels: With today’s Gospel, and its version of the Our Father, recorded by St. Luke, we get a glimpse of how these materials came together.  Mark is the earliest, shortest, and simplest of the four Gospels, and both Matthew and Luke depend on Mark.  In addition they depend on a hypothetical common source called “Q” (which stands for the German word Quelle, which means “Source”), and each of them on separate traditions peculiar to each of them.  Mark, Matthew, and Luke are called the “Synoptic” (that is, “with one eye”) Gospels. John, on the other hand is dependent on none of these materials, having his own chronology, themes, sayings, and symbols.  If there is any correspondence between the synoptics and John, it is to Luke.  Reading the Gospels, and paying attention to the various readings and differences enriches the reading, and give us space for thinking through how we perceive these stories of Jesus and the Good News that he tells.

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."

This will be a lesson that American hearers will be hard pressed to understand.  The theological dilemma is old, and its expression in communities has been varied.  In American life, the individual is dominant, sometimes to the detriment of the collective.  In the Ancient Near East, however, the opposite was true.  It was the collective that counted and not the individual, and it is here that we come to the nub of the bargaining that Abraham has with Yahweh, and the unique place that Abraham holds in the theological scheme of things.  The question is this: Must the righteous “one” suffer because of the sins of the many?  This particular reading is not concerned with the nature of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah but rather who must pay.  The Book of Job explores similar questions about the righteous and suffering.  Thus Abraham, the unique righteous individual, the “one”, recognized by Yahweh, haggles with Yahweh over the fate of the righteous people of Sodom.  Abraham stops at ten, and one wonders what might have happened if he had fought for “one”.  Abraham is that “one” and his family (the collective extension of the “one”) is saved due to his righteousness.  The sins of the many must now be reckoned with.

Breaking open Genesis:
1.     What comes into your mind when you think of Sodom and Gomorrah?
2.     Have you ever argued or bargained with God?  If not, why not?
3.     Is there such a thing as collective guilt?  How does an individual participate in the collective guilt?
4.     Can you think of an example of collective guilt?

Psalm 138 Confitebor tibi

I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with my whole heart; *
before the gods I will sing your praise.

I will bow down toward your holy temple
and praise your Name, *
because of your love and faithfulness;

For you have glorified your Name *
and your word above all things.

When I called, you answered me; *
you increased my strength within me.

All the kings of the earth will praise you, O LORD, *
when they have heard the words of your mouth.

They will sing of the ways of the LORD, *
that great is the glory of the LORD.

Though the LORD be high, he cares for the lowly; *
he perceives the haughty from afar.

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.

The LORD will make good his purpose for me; *
O LORD, your love endures for ever;
do not abandon the works of your hands.

In Psalm 138, we have a thanksgiving psalm, written by or on behalf of an individual.  Enemies (unnamed) have been thwarted in the evil (unnamed) that they had planned toward this person, and now the poet gives thanks.  Given the place of individual lives in the midst of tribes, families, and nations (see the notes on the reading from the Hebrew Scriptures above), this psalm is unusual in that the individual calls the collective to knowledge of what God has done for the poet.  In verse 1, God is praised in the company of all the other gods (a monotheist’s defiance of the polytheism of the cultures that surrounded Israel?)  In verse five, all the kings of the earth are called upon to praise Yahweh in recognition of the truthfulness of his words and acts.  There is one touching last piece – the individual mark of God on the person, “do not abandon the works of your hands.”  This psalm is truly a marked contrast to the culture that surrounded the poet.

Breaking open Psalm 138
1.     Is God concerned about you as an individual?  How?
2.     The psalm speaks of “enemies”.  Do you have enemies?  How does God relate to your enemies?
3.     How are you the “work of God’s hands”?

Colossians 2:6-19

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.
Paul is hoping to show the people of Colossae the contrast of their old lives to their newness in Christ; and not just their old ways, but also the tiredness of their customs and ways of thinking.  He battles on two fronts.  The first is the common parlance and thought – the philosophy, if you will, of the current time.  Paul sees this is as a trap that distracts the believer from the all-sufficiency of Christ.  There is also another distraction, however, the Paul finds equally difficult, and that is the demand, that the Judaisers make of new Christians.  Thus the comments on the true nature of circumcision (Paul prefers a spiritual understanding of this concept) and the comments on “festivals, new moons, and Sabbaths.  These he finds unnecessary, and an impediment to know and being incorporate with Christ.
Breaking open Colossians:
  1. What are the “empty deceits” of our time?
  2. What religious ceremonies do you think are essential to your faith?
  3. What symbols of Judaism and Christianity does Paul use in this text?  How are they effective in conveying his meaning?

George Rouault “Head of Christ”

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!"
Incorporated into this reading is one of two versions of the Our Father, the other being Matthew’s version (6:9-13).  Although similar, there are differences.  Luke’s version contains five petitions, while Matthew’s has seven.  Both were composed in rhyme, as was the traditional of Jewish liturgical prayers.  Matthew’s version has more in common with Jewish forms, and Luke’s with Christian forms.  The prayer has an eschatological (looking forward to the End Time) tone to it (God’s name is hallowed – an accomplished action, and “your kingdom come”).  Two parables then follow the prayer, the first being unique to Luke.  One is about the “persistent neighbor” and seems to be a commentary on the “give us each day our daily bread” petition.  The notion of persistence continues on into the second parable that centers on a father and son.  Here Jesus tells us how to prayer, rather than what to pray for; and continues his vision of God as a providing father and parent.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. How central is this prayer in your life?
  2. What goes through your mind when a different translation is used?
  3. Take some time a compare Matthew’s version (6:9-13) with Luke’s (11:1-4).  How do these two prayers read to you – do the differences impart a different meaning?
  4. How do you pray?  Who taught you?

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.

06 July 2010

The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 11) - 18 July 2010

Genesis 18:1-10a
Psalm 15
Colossians 1:15-28
Saint Luke 10:38-42


The Holy Trinity          

With a reading from Genesis before us, we need to take a moment to see how Genesis was written.  The tradition is that it is from the hand of Moses, thus the Pentateuch, or the Five Books of Moses.  Scholars, however, have used another theory when discussing the source of these materials, and have proposed several “strands”.  Today’s reading in the Hebrew Scriptures is in the “J” tradition, so named because of his use of the name JAHWEH (YAHWEH) for God.  These traditions come largely from the Southern Kingdom of Judah, and the Aaronic priesthood.  Another strand is the “E” strand, where the name for God is Elohim, and the content comes largely from the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and the Levitical priesthood.  The other strand is the P (for Priestly) strand, which is concerned with Temple life and law.  It may have originated during or after the Exile.  All of these become a part of the mosaic of the Book of Genesis 

Genesis 18:1-10a

The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, "My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on-- since you have come to your servant." So they said, "Do as you have said." And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, "Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes." Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

They said to him, "Where is your wife Sarah?" And he said, "There, in the tent." Then one said, "I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son."

We are essentially reading a family history with this reading from Genesis.  The history is unusual in that the editor of this strand of Genesis has pulled together various traditions in this chapter and the chapter following.  This author, sees in the three guests, a manifestation of the God of Abraham, and indeed this subject serves as the iconic representation of the Holy Trinity.  That Abraham greets them and serves them food and drink would have been expected in this nomadic tradition and culture.  The real subject, and the focus of the character’s interest is Abraham’s lack of a son and heir.  Abraham actually has a son by his mistress and servant Hagar, but that is not enough.  This family needs for Abraham to have a son by means of his wife Sarah.  That is the promise that will sustain them both.

Breaking open Deuteronomy:
1.     Why was the law of hospitality so important at the time of Abraham.
2.     Why is this story used as an icon of the Holy Trinity?
3.     What is the promise?  Why is it so important?

The Tabernacle

Psalm 15 Domine, quis haitabit?

LORD, who may dwell in your tabernacle? *
who may abide upon your holy hill?

Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right, *
who speaks the truth from his heart.

There is no guile upon his tongue;
he does no evil to his friend; *
he does not heap contempt upon his neighbor.

In his sight the wicked is rejected, *
but he honors those who fear the LORD.

He has sworn to do no wrong *
and does not take back his word.

He does not give his money in hope of gain, *
nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.

Whoever does these things *
shall never be overthrown.

Some have seen in this psalm a sort of “catechism” about who is righteous and worthy enough to enter the Temple (or the Tabernacle, both are mentioned.)  This translation misses a nuance in the first verse, where the verb “dwell” in Hebrew is really “sojourn” marking the temporary nature of the Tabernacle and its placement.  The “holy hill” refers to Zion and Jerusalem, where the Temple was built.  The ambiguity of this first verse aptly portrays the whole history of Israelite worship prior to the Exile.  What follows is a recitation of righteousness, in which the psalmist notes (not unlike St. Paul) a list of worthy behaviors.

Breaking open Psalm 32
1.     Take a moment and enumerate the virtues listed by the psalm?
2.     What are your feelings about the verse that prohibits usury, “he does not give his money in hope of gain?”
3.     How practical are the suggestions here?

Colossians 1:15-28

Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers-- all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him-- provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.

I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. I became its servant according to God's commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.

Paul doesn’t waste any time, after his initial greetings to the Church at Colossae, to get to the topic at hand – the all-sufficient character of Jesus, the Christ.  The clues about the argument are served up already in verse 15 where Paul mentions “thrones, dominions, rulers, and powers.”  These “spirits” were thought to be in total control of the world, or at least that was what some Jewish sects thought at the time.  Paul wants to make it perfectly clear that the Christ is in charge, for all of these things dwell in him.  “He himself is before all things,” Paul emphatically states.  Then Paul presents a model of Christ, in which he, Paul, personally participates.  It is Christ who reconciled the difficulties of human kind in his body of flesh, and so Paul follows that example in his own afflictions and sufferings.

Breaking open Colossians:
  1. Who is really in charge of this world?  Are there dark and hidden powers?
  2. What do you think Paul is trying to say when he calls Jesus “the beginning”?
  3. What are your thoughts on “suffering”?  Can they be a way of honoring Christ, or participating with Christ?

Mary and Martha

Saint Luke 10:38-42

As Jesus and his disciples went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."

Here the lectionary connects the Hebrew reading with the Gospel by a very tenuous thread – the hospitality of Abraham and Martha.  The point that Luke wants to make, as he structures these stories (this falls immediately after the Good Samaritan, which we read last Sunday) to serve as a case study of what it means to live the Gospel.  The story of the Good Samaritan points out the practicalities of Christian life, while the story of Mary and Martha accentuates the necessity of faith along with the works.  Martha is not put down, but serves only as one part of the equation.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. In what ways are you like Martha?
  2. In what ways are you like Mary?
  3. How is your life spiritual?
  4. How do you serve others?

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

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.