The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10) - 11 July 2010


Deuteronomy 30:9-14
Psalm 25:1-10
Colossians 1:1-14
Saint Luke 10:25-37


      The Ark of the Covenant   

BACKGROUND
Today’s readings all center, with the exception of the Epistle, on the Law and how we know it, and act accordingly.  The source of the Torah has been traditionally placed in the hands of Moses, who retrieves it from God on Mt. Sinai.  What happens to that material and to the tradition that is the Law is really a study in the development of Judaism.  The tradition held that the two tablets of the law were kept in the Ark of the Covenant – as primary source material.  As we look at the Bible today we become aware of other sources and other content.  As Israel moves from Tabernacle to Temple and from the wilderness, to the fields, to the city, the Law changes and becomes more complex.  In addition there are various religious “reforms” over time that attempt to regain the old tradition, or to make the tradition more accessible.  The lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures, the Psalm, and the Gospel, all wrestle with the Law and its place in the life of faithful Jews or Christians.



Deuteronomy 30:9-14

Moses said to the people of Israel, "The LORD your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings, in the fruit of your body, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your soil. For the LORD will again take delight in prospering you, just as he delighted in prospering your ancestors, when you obey the LORD your God by observing his commandments and decrees that are written in this book of the law, because you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

"Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?' Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?' No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe."

I may date myself here, but do you recall seeing The Ten Commandments by Cecil B. DeMille?  Especially vivid is the scene when the commandments are “written” by God with fingers of fire into the living rock.  It is this image that the Book of Deuteronomy tries to overcome.  The book was written either during one of the “reforms” (either of Hezikiah or of Josiah) sometime in the Seventh or Eight Century BCE, or perhaps even later after the Exile.  The point was to make the less a physical thing (the 2 tablets, or the written form of the Torah) and more of a conceptual thing.  Jeremiah takes this notion further in his writings, as does each of the Isaiahs.  The writers of Wisdom Literature take a similar stance.  The point is that God’s law is not something located outside of the person, in a book or in a temple, but rather it is “very near to you.”  It is in the hearer or reader’s mouth and heart.

Breaking open Deuteronomy:
1.       How do you know what it is that God wants you to do?  Where would you go to find out?
2.       What are your feelings about the Ten Commandments?  What do they mean to you?
3.        What role does your “heart” play in making decisions about your life?



Marc Chagall – Moses and the Ten Commandments

Psalm 25:1-10 Ad te, Domine, levavi

To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul; my God, I put my trust in you; *
let me not be humiliated, nor let my enemies triumph over me.

Let none who look to you be put to shame; *
let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.

Show me your ways, O LORD, *
and teach me your paths.

Lead me in your truth and teach me, *
for you are the God of my salvation; in you have I trusted all the day long.

Remember, O LORD, your compassion and love, *
for they are from everlasting.

Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; *
remember me according to your love and for the sake of your goodness, O LORD.

Gracious and upright is the LORD; *
therefore he teaches sinners in his way.

He guides the humble in doing right *
and teaches his way to the lowly.

All the paths of the LORD are love and faithfulness *
to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

Psalm 25 is an alphabetic acrostic, with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet serving as the initial in each verse of the psalm.  Such forms are found in other psalms and in Lamentations as well.  The purpose of such a device was to aid memory – for this psalm, and others like it, would have been used liturgically – and memorization of such psalms would have enabled the worshipping community.  Two letters of the alphabet are missing from the psalm, the sixth – waw, and the nineteenth – qof.  This text forms a perfect commentary on “knowing God’s law” from the first lesson, for in the psalm, the author admits his sin, and then requests God to make known the way to follow.

Breaking open Psalm 32
1.     What is the shame that the psalmist talks about in the second verse?  What does “shame” mean to you?
2.     What does the psalmist want God to remember, and what does the psalmist want God to forget?
3.     What are the “paths of love and faithfulness”, and what do they mean to you?

Colossians 1:1-14

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God. This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The city of Colossae was located about 110 miles east of Ephesus in Asia Minor.  It was a textile center and the junction of two rivers.  The church was composed of both Jewish Christians and Gentiles, and was not founded by Paul but by Epaphras, perhaps a student of Paul’s at Ephesus.  The situation at Colossae is interesting in that it gives us a notion of how powerful the influence of various religions were during this time.  The book attempts to speak against the syncretism that was marrying Christian notions with both pagan and Jewish influences.  In many respects the problem reflects and shows the reader the development of Gnosticism and its influence in the Second Century.  The primary notion that Paul speaks against is the idea of “controlling spirits” as opposed to the all sufficiency of Christ.  As we continue with readings from this letter, we will see how Paul develops his argument.

Breaking open Colossians:
  1. Paul didn’t start this congregation.  What words does he use to introduce himself to them, and to make certain that they know his intentions?
  2. What contrast does Paul make at the end of the reading?


The Good Samaritan

Saint Luke 10:25-37

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, `Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.' Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."

The Gospel for today emphasizes the tension that exists between the Law that is written and the Law that ought to direct our lives from our very own hearts.  The Lawyer represents a static understanding of the Law, while Jesus attempts to portray a more dynamic interpretation and understanding of the Law in his parable of the Good Samaritan.  Samaritans, by the way, were suspect to Jews because they were a mixed race – having sprung from the Assyrian policy of moving populations from one part of their empire to another.  Thus, Samaritans were not “Jews” according to the standards of Jerusalem.  In addition, the Samaritans did not acknowledge the temple in Jerusalem as the only place to worship God, but had their own temple on Mt. Gerazim.  Both groups distrusted one another.  The dramatic tension in the parable is then heightened by these realities as the priest, and Levite, both ignore the suffering of the man lying on the road.  It is the Samaritan who understands the situation, and who follows the Law.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What is going in the Lawyer’s mind?  How does it stray from what Jesus wants him to learn?
  2. What does the quotation that the Lawyer makes mean to you?  What does it mean to “love God”, to “love neighbor”, and to “love yourself”?
  3. Have you ever been a Good Samaritan?

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

O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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