I Corinthians 1:18-31
Saint Matthew 5:1-12
|Albrecht Dürer - Apocalypse|
BACKGROUND – The Prophets I
It might be a good time to step back and think about the prophets, what they contributed to the Holy Scriptures, and how they were perceived in the time of their ministry. The term, prophet, is a Greek translation of the Hebrew word Nabi’, which indicated some one who was considered to be an authentic spokesperson for a divinity. In the Hebrew Scriptures, and indeed in early Christianity, it mattered not whether the prophet spoke for YHWH, but rather that he or she spoke the truth. Thus both Balaam (see the First Reading for this morning) and the Sybil are honored along with the prophets who saw themselves as agents for the Most High. The notion that prophets were diviners of the future is a much later development. The original concept was that these men and women spoke God’s will – directed to the time and situation in which it was spoken. Good examples are the oracles of Jeremiah and I Isaiah, and the confrontation of David by the prophet Nathan over the murder of Uriah, and the adultery with Bathsheba. There will be more about the prophets in coming weeks.
Hear what the LORD says: Rise, plead your case before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice. Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the LORD, and you enduring foundations of the earth; for the LORD has a controversy with his people, and he will contend with Israel. "O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me! For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised, what Balaam son of Beor answered him, and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the saving acts of the LORD." "With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
There is a classic form in the Hebrew Scriptures that the prophet Micah uses to great effect. It is called the rib or controversy form. In our reading for today, a cosmic courtroom has been assembled. The mountains and foundations of the earth are to hear God’s controversy with Israel. Like his neighbor, Amos, Micah regularly took Israel to task for her injustices to the poor. There are three parts: a summons, the legal brief that YHWH submits, with it’s probing questions, and finally an exposition of what religion is really all about. Micah hears G-d’s push back to Israel – “remember what I have done from you, from the very moment you entered this land!” (from Shittim to Gilgal). Micah then anticipates the response of the audience, and dissuades them from what they are inclined to do. The sacrifices will mean nothing. The good, righteous, and noble response is recorded in Micah’s eloquent statement about “doing right”, “loving goodness”, and “walking humbly” with God.
Breaking open Micah:
- In your mind, what does it mean to “do right”?
- What do you see when others “do right” to you?
- How do you “walk humbly”?
Psalm 15 Domine, quis habitabit?
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.
|The Singer - Ernst Barlach|
The psalm for this morning mirrors some of Micah’s themes, with the introductory lines announcing the standards that the righteous should follow. The first verse has a sense to it that is lost in the English translation. The verb “dwell” is better translated as “sojourn” which makes better sense with “tabernacle” (read “tent”) – the real situation of a nomadic people. The second half of the verse expresses a more permanent situation with images of the temple building. In this elegant manner, the psalmist embraces a span of Jewish history.
Breaking open Psalm 15
1. What are the values that the psalmist enunciates in the psalm? Write them down?
2. How many are evidenced in your life?
3. Which ones are challenges to you?
I Corinthians 1:18-31
The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
"I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart."
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.
Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."
|Crucifixion - Paul Gibson|
In last week’s reading from I Corinthians, Paul derided the Corinthians for their “party spirit”, their distinctions from one another, rather than their unity with one another. In this section Paul notes the distinctions of those who follow Christ and who find in the cross the power of God. Our understanding of the church at Corinth from last week’s reading is that it was a diverse group, comprising slaves, freemen, Jews, Greeks, and others. Paul now wants to show them how their faith distinguishes them from others, or how their faith has changed their orientation within their own tribe or family. For Paul it is all about knowing – “how do we know God, how to we apprehend God?” Paul surmises that the Jews have knowledge about God through the Law, and that the Greeks attempt to know God through philosophical dialogues. Into this sophisticated world, Paul inserts an embarrassing and even upsetting notion – that the cross (stumbling block and foolishness) is the real wisdom of God. So the boasting from last week’s reading (“I am of Apollos,” “I am of Cephas”) gives way to boasting in the cross, which Paul calls God’s foolishness and weakness, which makes for true Wisdom.
Breaking open I Corinthians:
- How wise are you given the standards of our world and culture?
- Is the cross an embarrassment to you?
- How do you reconcile your own faith with your own technical or cultural knowledge?
Saint Matthew 5:1-12
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
|Sermon on the Mount - Dante Gabriel Rosetti|
Like St. John the Evangelist, Matthew uses a device that presents Jesus in a historic role that would have meaning to his readers. Here Jesus is the new Moses standing on a new Sinai (The Sermon on the Mount), announcing a new set of values for the Reign of Heaven. If you have the time, compare Luke’s structure and wording, for they are quite different. Luke uses the style of “Blessings and Curses” and his language is blunt and spare. Matthew, however, only speaks of blessings, and each of his virtues is spiritualized – Luke’s “Blessed are the poor” becomes Matthew’s “Blessed are the poor in spirit. However, despite the warmth of Matthew’s expressions, these beatitudes represent a revolution in the mores of the Jewish and Greco-Roman world. In fact these values are revolutionary in our own time as well. The danger in reading Matthew’s beatitudes is to not sentimentalize them but rather to recognize in them a quite real challenge to our own behaviors.
Breaking open the Gospel:
- Which do you like best, Matthew or Luke’s version? Why?
- How are you “blessedness” to others?
- What is your understanding of being poor in spirit?
After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:
Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.