The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost - Proper 21, 29 September 2013
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16
Amos 6:1a, 4-7
I Timothy 6:6-19
St. Luke 16:19-31
Timothy, whose name means “honored by” or “honoring God” was a companion of St. Paul. He accompanied Paul throughout Asia Minor and in Eastern Europe, mainly Greece. He was the son of a Greek man and his mother Eunice was a Jew, who was described as “a believer). Paul first comes into contact with Timothy in Lystra where Timothy was a disciple. He then follows Paul for the next few years, serving as an assistant and organizing congregations on Paul’s behalf. Tradition has it that Paul appointed Timothy as bishop of Ephesus around 65 CE. He died in 90 CE. He is honored in the calendar on 26 January, along with Titus and Silas as Companions of Saint Paul.
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar. At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him.
Jeremiah said, The word of the LORD came to me: Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, "Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours." Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the LORD, and said to me, "Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself." Then I knew that this was the word of the LORD.
And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.
Jeremiah, along with Isaiah and other prophets, often uses mundane examples from his own life to underscore a word from God, or a divine vision. Here we have a real estate transaction that serves as the example. Such a technique eases the hearer into the situation that Jeremiah is given to proclaim, namely “to pluck up and to tear down, to build and to plant,” (Jeremiah 1:10). That Judah and Jerusalem are condemned is a given. It is the prophet’s duty to aid the people into the exile that awaits them. The beginning of the reading makes it quite clear, for already Nebuchadnezzar is besieging Jerusalem. That is the “pluck up and tear down” part of the message. What about the “building and planting” part? Walter Brueggemann makes a startling comment in his commentary on Jeremiah, “the mandate ‘to build and to plant,’ that is, to restore, revive, and rehabilitate God’s people and God’s city, is presented as a resolve of God’s own heart (cf. 29:11)”. Now which is the more difficult message to give? One that proclaims doom in the midst of plenty, or the one that proclaims plenty at the beginning of doom? Jeremiah has a tough message to bring to the people. Perhaps that is the reason that this reading is found in the “Book of Comfort.”
At this point Jeremiah is not in a comfortable situation himself – indeed he is in prison. The political leaders have not taken kindly to his consistent pointing to G-d as solution rather than politics and the military. What the initial part of the reading attempts to assure is that the message from Hanamel is actually the “word of YHWH”. This transaction is more than a providential move to secure the family inheritance – it is a message from G-d about the land and its future. What G-d is meaning to say through this rather public matter, is that there is a future for this Land and for its people. In spite of the military occupation by the Babylonians, which would devalue the land, its worth and its future is underscored by G-d – “Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.” We need to remember that the land itself is a gift from G-d, given to G-d’s chosen people. The freighted word that comes to my mind is “redemption”, a word that will soon have other meanings and contexts. It is also a bit of a pun. Redemption here is pointed at the redemption of the land (its being released from ownership or occupation by another) in advance of its being taken by the Babylonians. Here G-d promises redemption for a land and its people who will soon be in exile.
Breaking open Jeremiah:
- Has an everyday, or ordinary event ever revealed itself to you as a voice from G-d?
- What might this event mean to the people of Israel who are facing a Babylonian invasion?
- What role does G-d play in your future?
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16 Qui habitat
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, *
abides under the shadow of the Almighty.
He shall say to the LORD,
"You are my refuge and my stronghold, *
my God in whom I put my trust."
He shall deliver you from the snare of the hunter *
and from the deadly pestilence.
He shall cover you with his pinions,
and you shall find refuge under his wings; *
his faithfulness shall be a shield and buckler.
You shall not be afraid of any terror by night, *
nor of the arrow that flies by day;
Of the plague that stalks in the darkness, *
nor of the sickness that lays waste at mid-day.
Because he is bound to me in love,
therefore will I deliver him; *
I will protect him, because he knows my Name.
He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; *
I am with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and bring him to honor.
With long life will I satisfy him, *
and show him my salvation.
As has been the habit over the last few Sundays, this psalm serves as a commentary on the reading from Jeremiah, and its promise of redemption. One scholar has called this an “amulet psalm”, a prospect that may apply to many psalms used by both Christians and Jews to assure them that G-d is indeed guarding them. In this psalm we hear from three separate speakers: the psalmist himself, the one who trusts in G-d (verse 2), and G-d. The initial verses are from the psalmist and the one who trusts in God, while the closing verses are from G-d. There is a strong image of G-d’s providential intent in the initial verses where G-d is seen as a protecting bird, perhaps a dove. The middle verses which detail the nature of G-d’s protecting stance, are not read this morning.
G-d speaks about the one who “desired” G-d and about G-d’s actions toward the trusting one. In several aspects, G-d’s presence and availability are described. The desired satisfaction of a long life is what G-d promises and in providing that makes evident what salvation from G-d truly is.
Breaking open Psalm 91:
- What images do you have of G-d’s protection of you?
- What are your favorite psalms of comfort?
- If you sang a song of praise, how would G-d respond to you.
Alas for those who are at ease in Zion,
and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria.
Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory,
and lounge on their couches,
and eat lambs from the flock,
and calves from the stall;
who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp,
and like David improvise on instruments of music;
who drink wine from bowls,
and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!
Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile,
and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.
You may want to read the Track 1 reading from Jeremiah and its commentary. It has something to say about the difficult message that Jeremiah, and now Amos must give. The difficulty is not the content of the message, but rather the context in which it must be delivered. Amos describes it meticulously. It is a context of prosperity and luxury. Into the midst of this kind of living, a hard message of doom must be delivered. More than luxury is impeding Israel’s relationship with G-d, it is her very confidence which impedes and which Amos wishes to shake. The passage begins with the word “Alas”, and we could properly substitute the words “Woe to you.” The audience for this vision of woe is not only the people of the north (Mount Samaria) but the south as well (Zion). One senses a bit of a sibling rivalry here. Who is the more prosperous? Who is the more confident? Amos wants them to attend to greater questions of what it is that G-d wants. What follows is a laundry list of superficial comforts: lamb, veal, popular songs, music, good wine, ointments, luxurious furniture, and restful times. Does this sound familiar to you? The promise that the prophet makes is not a comfortable one. Those who enjoy these things, he says, will be the first to go into exile. I wonder if the man wasn’t anticipating Ecclesiasticus as well, “Vanity of vanities,” says Qoheleth, “vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!”
Breaking open Amos:
- Do you have luxuries in your home? What are they?
- Do you have them at the expense of something else?
- Do you have them at the expense of others?
Psalm 146 Page Lauda, anima mea
Praise the LORD, O my soul! *
I will praise the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth, *
for there is no help in them.
When they breathe their last, they return to earth, *
and in that day their thoughts perish.
Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help!*
whose hope is in the LORD their God;
Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them; *
who keeps his promise for ever;
Who gives justice to those who are oppressed, *
and food to those who hunger.
The LORD sets the prisoners free;
the LORD opens the eyes of the blind; *
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;
The LORD loves the righteous;
the LORD cares for the stranger; *
he sustains the orphan and widow,
but frustrates the way of the wicked.
The LORD shall reign for ever, *
your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.
This is a general hymn of praise. Of special interest are the activities of G-d that are praised here which become the signs of the messianic community especially in Isaiah: sight to the blind, makes the bent stand erect, loving the righteous, sustaining widows and orphans, and so on. Perhaps this psalm was chosen by the framers of the lectionary to serve as an antidote to the mindless behaviors of the leaders of Israel in the reading from Amos. The psalmist is clear about the present and the future of things. He praises G-d “while I live” and “while I breathe.” However, the vision of the departing breath, and the return to “the dust” limits life. Therefore trust in G-d, not princes, the psalmist repeats. And while you are here enact acts of love toward the helpless as G-d does.
Breaking open Psalm 146:
- Do you view the future with hope or with dread?
- What gives you hope?
- What hope do you give others?
1 Timothy 6:6-19
There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time-- he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.
The author’s purpose, we need to remember, is to oppose certain teacher’s who were proclaiming a “knowledge” that was at odds with the Wisdom that is Christ. Secondly, the author’s purpose was to urge Timothy (actually all Christian leaders) to a right practice and administration of their calling as disciples and leaders in the Church. He urges a kind of “contentment.” This is a technical word (autarkeia) that indicates a virtue of freedom from material goods and was promoted by Aristotle, the Cynics, and the Stoics). The charge to Timothy, whom he calls “a man of G-d”, is cast in rather formal language, which may reflect its original use as an ordination rite.
The closing paragraph addresses different issues. The author returns to his exhortations about how to think about wealth, and his points about wealth are twisted to indicate his real view of what Christian wealth might be. First it is G-d who provides for our prosperity. True wealth is measured in what we do for others – in our generosity. All of this provides for a “good foundation” for what is to come – true life. The final sentence provides a last gibe at the “false teachers”, “avoid profane babbling and the absurdities of so-called knowledge.” This may be a warning about the dangers of an incipient Gnosticism that was making its appearance in the early Church.
Breaking open I Timothy:
- Are there “false teachers” in our time?
- What makes them “false”?
- What do you look for in a church leader?
St. Luke 16:19-31
Jesus said, "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, `Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' But Abraham said, `Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.' He said, `Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house-- for I have five brothers-- that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.' Abraham replied, `They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.' He said, `No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, `If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"
During the last few Sundays we have been in the midst of a dispute about values, money, and wealth. The dispute has been with the Scribes and Pharisees, and a bit of teaching for the disciples as well. In the verses that precede this parable, Jesus talks about some things of value that exist for eternity: the Law and the prophets, and marriage. Now begins a parable that contrasts things that are very much the interest of Luke. There are two main characters – a rich man, who remains unnamed, and a poor man, Lazarus. Both are lavishly described. The wealthy man is “dressed in purple” and the poor man is “covered in sores”. The rich man ignores Lazarus, and Lazarus remains at the rich man’s gate. Now Jesus, much to Luke’s delight, turns the tables and it is death that does the deed. Now it is the poor man who is luxuriating in heaven’s rest, and the rich man that is covered with the torments of Hades. Compare this to Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount (Luke 6:20-26) where the poor receive blessings or happiness, and the rich receive woes. Such contrasts are not unique to this Gospel, however. Similar stories can be found in Egyptian Literature and in the Talmud and in Greek and Latin sources as well. It would have been a literary type that would have been familiar to the hearers.
The tale does not end there, however, for now the discussion continues, not between the Pharisees and Jesus, but between Lazarus and the rich man. During this conversation a third character is introduced, Abraham. His entrance is an interesting one in that he, the epitome of hospitality, is in conversation with the rich man who was the antithesis of hospitality. Abraham’s presence is also of interest in that life after death was thought of in terms of a banquet hosted by Abraham and Sarah (cf. Genesis 18). The indifference of the rich man to the poor man’s fate is reflected in the indifference that his brothers will affect when the poor man supposedly goes to preach to them. Abraham replies to the unreal request with “They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.” Of this condition both Jeremiah and Amos had much to say. The final sentence may reflect the disbelief of those who were reached with the Gospel of the Resurrection, but refused to believe it. In this way we are painted a detailed picture of life at the time of Jesus, its values, and its social mores. Jesus and Luke call both rich and poor alike to rethink what it is that they value.
Breaking open the Gospel:
- Do you know a “Lazarus”?
- Do you know a “rich man”?
- What do you need to say to them?
After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:
O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.