30 June 2014

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 9, 6 July 2014

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Psalm 45:11-18 or Song of Solomon 2:8-13
Zechariah 9:9-12
Psalm 145:8-15

Romans 7:15-25a
St. Matthew11:16-19, 25-30

Background: Women and Marriage in Ancient Israel
With the continuance of the Abraham story, we come to the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah.  It is natural, as we read these verses to wonder about the status of women in the ancient world, especially in regard to marriage.  It is also clear that we should not extrapolate the provisions of the Mesopotamian legal codes (say the Code of Hammurabi) to the customs of a non-urban and nomadic people.  Some provisions might be the same, and some not thought of in the nomadic context.  Here is what we do no from the models in the patriarchal history.  Marriage was styled as “taking a wife”, and it always involved sexual intercourse (for that was the goal of marriage – the provision of descendants).  Adultery was viewed as an offense worthy of death, but there was not provision for a death sentence in other property crimes.  Women who could not have children, usually made a provision for providing that through the graces of a servant, such as Sarah did (see Genesis 16).  Often a childless marriage resulted in divorce.  Levirate marriage was not only permitted by encouraged (see Ruth) and polygyny was tolerated.  A man could divorce his wife, but there was no provision for a woman to divorce her husband. The woman left her home and family and moved into the home and family of her husband.  There was no “marriage contract” in Israelite practice, unlike their neighbors who used the protections of the marriage legal code, which required a contract.  What was required, most specifically, was the consent of the bride.

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67

The servant said to Laban, "I am Abraham's servant. The LORD has greatly blessed my master, and he has become wealthy; he has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female slaves, camels and donkeys. And Sarah my master's wife bore a son to my master when she was old; and he has given him all that he has. My master made me swear, saying, `You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live; but you shall go to my father's house, to my kindred, and get a wife for my son.'

"I came today to the spring, and said, `O LORD, the God of my master Abraham, if now you will only make successful the way I am going! I am standing here by the spring of water; let the young woman who comes out to draw, to whom I shall say, "Please give me a little water from your jar to drink," and who will say to me, "Drink, and I will draw for your camels also" -- let her be the woman whom the LORD has appointed for my master's son.'

"Before I had finished speaking in my heart, there was Rebekah coming out with her water jar on her shoulder; and she went down to the spring, and drew. I said to her, `Please let me drink.' She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder, and said, `Drink, and I will also water your camels.' So I drank, and she also watered the camels. Then I asked her, `Whose daughter are you?' She said, `The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor's son, whom Milcah bore to him.' So I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her arms. Then I bowed my head and worshiped the LORD, and blessed the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to obtain the daughter of my master's kinsman for his son. Now then, if you will deal loyally and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so that I may turn either to the right hand or to the left."

And they called Rebekah, and said to her, "Will you go with this man?" She said, "I will." So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham's servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, "May you, our sister, become thousands of myriads; may your offspring gain possession of the gates of their foes." Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man; thus the servant took Rebekah, and went his way. Now Isaac had come from Beer-lahai-roi, and was settled in the Negeb. Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming. And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, and said to the servant, "Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?" The servant said, "It is my master." So she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother's death.

We are not certain that Abraham is even living through the bulk of this story.  Some commentators opine that the directions given to the servant may have been a deathbed request.  The focus certainly shifts from Abraham to Isaac, and to some extent to Sarah as well.  Although the initial verses are elided here because our reading repeats a great deal of the content, it would be good to read through it to glean another level of detail that is missing from the other.  Abraham ties his request to two fundamental understandings of the transaction.  The first is that Isaac is not to marry a woman from Canaan.  Such a move would jeopardize the purity of Abraham’s line.  The second is that Isaac is not to be taken back to Mesopotamia, for the covenantal promise given by God is tied to the land.  This will become a fundamental concept as we leave the patriarchal stories and move into the Moses stories. 

There is a parallel here that lies just below the surface.  Presumably Isaac is fatherless, as is Rebekah (although the father, Bethuel is mentioned, no gifts or other obligations to him are mentioned.  Laban is clearly acting in his father’s stead).  We also meet her brother, Laban, whom we will meet again in stories about Jacob.  Laban acts as the one who allows the marriage to happen, as was allowed under Hurrian law.  Under those provisions, there would have been a marriage contract, here a “sistership agreement”, since the transaction was initiated in Haran.  The provisions would have been: 1) the parties involved, 2) the nature of the transaction, 3) Any payments, 4) the bride’s consent “will you go to this man?” and 5) Blessings and Curses.  Of special interest is the poem in which Rebekah’s mother and her brother Laban bless her (see verse 59). 

“Our sister, may you grow
into thousands of myriads!
And may your offspring take over
The gates of their enemies.”

The sentiment is a common one, but when these sentiments are used as a blessing of Abraham by God, they take on a wider and broader meaning and understanding.  It might be that the mouths of brother and mother speak again the blessings first given to Abraham and his descendants.  The final verses of the story, which relay the trip to the place where Isaac is, are told with certain tenderness.  It is in Rebekah that Isaac finds solace at the passing of his mother Sarah.

Breaking open Genesis:
  1. What are popular images of Biblical marriage?
  2. How has your knowledge of marriage in the Bible changed over the years?
  3. Where is love depicted in this story?

Psalm 45: 11-18 Eructavit cor meum

"Hear, O daughter; consider and listen closely; *
forget your people and your father's house.

The king will have pleasure in your beauty; *
he is your master; therefore do him honor.

The people of Tyre are here with a gift; *
the rich among the people seek your favor."

All glorious is the princess as she enters; *
her gown is cloth-of-gold.

In embroidered apparel she is brought to the king; *
after her the bridesmaids follow in procession.

With joy and gladness they are brought, *
and enter into the palace of the king.

"In place of fathers, O king, you shall have sons; *
you shall make them princes over all the earth.

I will make your name to be remembered
from one generation to another; *
therefore nations will praise you for ever and ever."

This psalm, as is evident in the early verses not included in our reading, is a royal psalm on the occasion of the marriage of the king to a foreign princess.  Its inclusion here is to serve as a comment on the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah.  Whereas the first part of the psalm describes the king and his might, these verses direct our attention to the bride, the daughter of another king.  What she brings to the situation is her beauty and the ability to provide pleasure to the king (her master.)  Gifts are offered to her, and she is seen as having the power of access to the king.  The human situation of having to have left her father’s household and family is commented on in the final verse.  Sons will be given to replace the lost familial relationships.

Breaking open Psalm 45:
  1. What is your image of the woman depicted in the psalm?
  2. What do you think of her relationship to the king?
  3. What do you think of her “job description”?


Song of Solomon 2:8-13

The voice of my beloved!
Look, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle
or a young stag.
Look, there he stands
behind our wall,
gazing in at the windows,
looking through the lattice.
My beloved speaks and says to me:
"Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;
for now the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away."

Here we have an anthology of “love songs”, common in the ancient near east.  Such verses were known in Egypt and in Mesopotamia.  They are also known in other parts of the Bible, notably the “Song of the Vineyard”, Isaiah 5:1-7, and Psalm 45 (see above) or Ezekiel 33:32.  These verses, in spite of the title that names a presumed author, were probably written in the second century BCE.  Although these are truly love songs, later Jewish and Christian commentators would use the tools of allegory to wrest some kind of theological meaning from the lovely text. 

Breaking open the Jeremiah:
  1. Which images describe love for you?
  2. Which images seem to match your life?
  3. How do you define love?


Zechariah 9:9-12

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
and he shall command peace to the nations;
his dominion shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.
Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope;
today I declare that I will restore to you double.

Zechariah, the prophet, wrote in that period that immediately followed the return from exile, and like Ezekiel, he relished the Holiness Code (cf. Leviticus 17-26) which described the obligations of the returnees to the cult of YHWH.  The later chapters of this book (9-14) are from a later pen writing in the style and theology of Zechariah.  Centered in the cult of the temple, and of its priestly theology, these writers have visions of a land united under YHWH.  They wrote at a time when the world was indeed being shaken by Greeks and would result in a world, far different than the one they had imagined.

Our reading looks forward to a messianic figure who comes back to Zion, victorious and triumphant, but riding no warhorse.  What this figure engenders is peace, and a wide geography is described as his realm: Ephraim (the North), Jerusalem (the South), the River (the Euphrates) and the Sea (the Mediterranean.)  In an image worthy of the Greek icon depicting the harrowing of hell by Jesus, these prophets describe, “I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.”  The restoration that Zechariah intimately new is reimaged by his disciples as a wider world of peace and reconciliation.

Breaking open the Jeremiah:
  1. What does the word “Messiah” mean to you?
  2. What other images other than Jesus are suggested to you?
  3. What would it be like to live in a messianic age?

Psalm 145:8-15 Exaltabo te, Deus

The LORD is gracious and full of compassion, *
slow to anger and of great kindness.

The LORD is loving to everyone *
and his compassion is over all his works.

All your works praise you, O LORD, *
and your faithful servants bless you.

They make known the glory of your kingdom *
and speak of your power;

That the peoples may know of your power *
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom; *
your dominion endures throughout all ages.

The LORD is faithful in all his words *
and merciful in all his deeds.

The LORD upholds all those who fall; *
he lifts up those who are bowed down.

In a collection of six psalms that close the collection of the Psalter, all are psalms of praise (Hallel) in spite of the preponderance of psalms of supplication.  The final psalms are the response to a God who has answered the needs put forth in the supplications of earlier writers.  These lines mimic the sentiments of the writers in Zechariah.  Here, however, it is not an anointed one, but YHWH who provides for a kingdom of peace and splendor.  It is a good commentary to the Zechariah reading, for it forms a dialogue of deed and pronouncement, people and Lord.

Breaking open the Psalm 145:
  1. For what might you praise God?
  2. For what might you offer thanksgiving?
  3. What would your thanksgiving be?

Romans 7:15-25a
I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.  Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good.  But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.  For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.  

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand.  For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.  Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

If the concept of Angst has been described well, it certainly is in these verses where Paul revels (is that the right word) in his on psychological conflict over sin.  Luther certainly followed in Paul’s train.  Paul sees himself as condemned, and has a vision of two different laws.  The first law is given by God, and “I agree that the law is good,” and later, “I delight in the Law of God.”  There is another law, however, a law drawn of sin and condemning of his every act, “but I see in my members another law…making me captive to the law of sin.”  Some commentators see this “captivity” to be representational of Paul’s existence before his encounter with the living Christ. Others, however, see it as the everyday experience of anyone of faith.  Was this Paul’s actual psychology, or was he making evident the Angst that could and would affect anyone?

Breaking open Romans:
  1. Do you identify with Paul’s dilemma?
  2. What are the aspects of your own conundrum?
  3. What offers you comfort in these situations?

St. Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Jesus said to the crowd, "To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,

`We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not mourn.'

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, `He has a demon'; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, `Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds."

At that time Jesus said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

Unfortunately the introductory material to Jesus’ comments to the crowd is lopped off and we lose the context of the scene.  These are the closing lines of the pericope that begins with the question John the Baptist bids his disciples ask Jesus, “Are you the Coming One, or are we to look for someone else?”  The reading consists of the end of one pericope, “John’s question and Jesus’ testimony” (11:2-19), skips over another pericope, “Denunciations” (11:20-24), and ends with “The Son’s Prayer” (11:25-30).  This last pericope a very difficult reading, for it really is an amalgam of several sayings.  The Anchor Bible’s commentary[1]underscores the difficulty of the text.  Verses 25 and 26 are seen as coming from a very early tradition of Jesus sayings.  Verse 27 is rejected as “on the a priori grounds that this could not possibly have been uttered by Jesus.”[2] And the final verses are seen as a borrowing from Ecclesiasticus 51:23-27. 

What is the casual reader, the lector, or the preacher to do?  I suspect it is best to revel in the dilemma of knowing and understanding whom it is that Jesus is.  The material related to the John the Baptist seems to deal with both faith and disappointment.  Jesus seems to paint John as a child who is not getting his way, a way of judgment and repentance, rather than a pronouncement of the kingdom of heaven.  There is the dilemma for those who live in Matthew’s community as well, and perhaps we can understand this pastiche of sayings from this community’s point of view.  What does it mean to recognize Jesus?  What has been hidden?  What has been revealed?  How will it affect our families and us if we truly follow Jesus?  If we are honest with ourselves, we can see our own participation in John’s frustration and Jesus’ determination that we should “know the Father.”

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. How is Jesus the prophet?
  2. How is Jesus the righteous one?
  3. How are you the one who offers a cup of water?

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

O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; 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 © 2014, Michael T. Hiller

[1]   Albright, W, and Mann, C. (1971) The Anchor Bible Matthew, Introduction, Translation, and Notes, Doubleday and Company, Inc., Garden City, N.Y., page 147.
[2]   Albright

23 June 2014

The Third Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 8, 29 June 2014

Genesis 22:1-14
Psalm 13
Jeremiah 28:5-9
Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18

Romans 6:12-23
St. Matthew10:40-42

Background: Child Sacrifice
The subject matter of the first reading in Track 1 leads us to ask the question of how prevalent was child sacrifice in the ancient near east.  My recent reading of Joan Breton Connelly’s book The Parthenon Enigma, made me realize that it was not only prevalent in the ancient near east but in Greece as well.  It was also practiced in Carthage and Phoenicia.  But what about Israel?   We have evidence in the Torah itself of instances, (see II Kings 3:26f. or Micah 6:7f.). Other references talk about the practice in the land of the Ammonites.  It is distinctly banned in Leviticus and Deuteronomy.  That it is mentioned in these texts implies that it was a practice to be actively condemned.  Isaiah 30:27-33 mentions a “tophet”, a place outside of Jerusalem where children were sacrificed to Moloch.  II Kings 16:3 accuses Ahaz of sacrificing his son, along with other forbidden practices.  Thus Leviticus and Deuteronomy are not commenting on a hypothetical situation, but rather on an active practice.

Genesis 22:1-14

God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." He said, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you." So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you." Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, "Father!" And he said, "Here I am, my son." He said, "The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" Abraham said, "God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So the two of them walked on together.

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." He said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me." And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place "The LORD will provide"; as it is said to this day, "On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided."

Why does either the “E” writer, or the “J” writer (both seem to be involved here, perhaps due to the work of a later redactor) tell this story, and if both are involved, why do both deem it of some importance.  E.A. Speiser is quick to advise, however, that we must not take this story as only an etiology or a warning against the practice of child sacrifice, but rather see a deeper meaning.  If anything the situation lends drama to Abraham’s circumstances.  That Isaac should have come late in life and should be the assurance of the promises that God gives to Abraham about being the father of many is made sharp in this demand that Abraham sacrifice his son.  The dearness of the relationship is pointed out clearly in a restructuring of the text, “your son, your only one, whom you love, Isaac”, by the 11th century Rabbi Rashi:

“’Your son.’ He (God) said to him, ‘I have two sons.’ He (God) said to him, ‘Your only one.’ He said, “This one is an only one to his mother and that one is an only one to his mother.’ He (God) said to him ‘Whom you love.’  He said to him (God), ‘I love both of them.’ He (God) said to him, ‘Isaac.’”[1]

Abraham and Sarah’s future and the future of their family have always swung in the balance.  Having followed God’s command to leave the land of their birth and to follow into an unknown place, the future seems equally unknown or at least at risk, and here all of that drama is brought to the forefront.  The initial statement about the “testing of Abraham” does not lead us astray.  Is Abraham worthy?  Does he trust?  His behavior in the text is unquestioning.  The intervention by the divine (angels) and by creation itself (the ram) seems to underscore the faithfulness of God’s promise, brought to the reader as well in high drama.

Breaking open Genesis:
  1. What are the tests that Abraham endures?
  2. Does Abraham seem to be engaged or disengaged in the text?
  3. What do you think the point of the text is?

Psalm 13 Usquequo, Domine?

How long, O LORD?
will you forget me for ever? *
how long will you hide your face from me?

How long shall I have perplexity in my mind,
and grief in my heart, day after day?*
how long shall my enemy triumph over me?

Look upon me and answer me, O LORD my God; *
give light to my eyes, lest I sleep in death;

Lest my enemy say, "I have prevailed over him," *
and my foes rejoice that I have fallen.

But I put my trust in your mercy; *
my heart is joyful because of your saving help.

I will sing to the LORD, for he has dealt with me richly; *
I will praise the Name of the Lord Most High.

This psalm might well be put on the lips of Abraham’s mind, especially in the light of the first reading.  “How long” and “Always” seem to form a tension in which Abraham’s (or actually the psalmist’s) life exists.  Such wrestling with God is not unusual here.  In last Sunday’s Track 2 first reading, Jeremiah deals with a similar situation and emotions.  The final line is the clue, “But I in your kindness do trust.”  In spite of the eternal waiting, the psalmist yet trusts, and waits.

Breaking open Psalm 13:
  1. What’s your emotional response to a “forgetful God?”
  2. How does God remember you during the day?
  3. How do you honor God during the day?


Jeremiah 28:5-9

The prophet Jeremiah spoke to the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the LORD; and the prophet Jeremiah said, "Amen! May the LORD do so; may the LORD fulfill the words that you have prophesied, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the LORD, and all the exiles. But listen now to this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people. The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the LORD has truly sent the prophet."

Here you might want to take time and read Chapter 27 and 28 as a unit.  Chapter 27 represents a four-part decree that God declares to his prophet, and the following chapter is the conversation that unpacks what God has said.  Our reading opines on the real nature of the prophetic office.  What Jeremiah wants to make perfectly clear to the hearer (here the prophet Hananiah, who has announced a prophecy of peace and restoration) is that it is the Word of the Lord that needs to be delivered to the people, and not prophetic hopes.  Jeremiah discloses the tradition of the Word of God that he has heard and is compelled to deliver.  God will ascertain which words are true.  This scene takes place in a charged atmosphere in which Babylon has already inserted itself into the affairs of Judah, and has taken exiles.  Which prophet speaks the Word of the Lord?  Hananiah is trusting in what God has done in the past, that God would remain faithful to the Davidid kings Jeremiah acknowledges Hananiah’s hope, but quickly makes him aware of what the prophets before have spoken.  Finally, Jeremiah puts both of their words to the test.  God will have God’s way.

Breaking open the Jeremiah:
  1. What are the three parts of Jeremiah’s argument?
  2. Are there points where he is a bit cynical?
  3. How do Jeremiah and Hananiah differ?

Psalm 89:1-4,15-18 Misericordias Domini

Your love, O LORD, for ever will I sing; *
from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness.

For I am persuaded that your love is established for ever; *
you have set your faithfulness firmly in the heavens.

"I have made a covenant with my chosen one; *
I have sworn an oath to David my servant:

'I will establish your line for ever, *
and preserve your throne for all generations.'"

Happy are the people who know the festal shout! *
they walk, O LORD, in the light of your presence.

They rejoice daily in your Name; *
they are jubilant in your righteousness.

For you are the glory of their strength, *
and by your favor our might is exalted.

Truly, the LORD is our ruler; *
the Holy One of Israel is our King.

In this “royal psalm” we can see where Hananiah (see the reading from Jeremiah, above) has placed his trust.  “I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn an oath to David my servant.”  We must ask, along with Jeremiah, are their limits to such promises and faithfulness?  This is a strange juxtaposition of psalm and first reading, for the psalmist hope exceeds even those of Hananiah.  This is the bedrock trust that Israel bears toward God.  It will be tested in all times, and not just those times of war and turmoil, but in times of personal stress as well.

Breaking open the Psalm 89:
  1. What promises are made in this psalm?
  2. Which ones are kept, and how?
  3. Which ones seem to be broken promises?
Romans 6:12-23

Do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.  No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness.  For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.  
What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!  Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?  But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.  I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.  

When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.  So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death.  But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life.  For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

St. Paul continues an exposition on Baptism and its effect in the Christian life.  The conversation begins with a discussion on the nature of sin, and its role over against those who would follow Jesus.  The turning point of this discussion is not only the nature of sin, but of freedom as well.  “Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace?”  This is the second time in this chapter that Paul has raised this conundrum.  He offers a choice: be a slave to sin or be a slave to obedience (that is to Christ).  What is important in this discussion, transactions actually, are the consequences of following the one or the other.  Slavery to sin leads to death.  Slavery to obedience leads to sanctification and eternal life.  His initial comments hold: “Present your members to God as instruments of righteousness.”

Breaking open Romans:
  1. What does “sin” mean to you?
  2. What does “a slave to sin” mean to Paul?
  3. How do you fit in?

St. Matthew 10:40-42

Jesus said, "Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet's reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple-- truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward."

Last Sunday we continued in this section in Matthew in which Jesus outlines the cost of discipleship.  In this reading we hear Jesus’ teaching about the acknowledgment of the Messiah.  The question for us is “how shall we recognize the Messiah?  What are the aspects that we should recognize?  Jesus gives us two choices.  The first is to recognize in him the Prophet – the one who speaks God’s word to the people.  The second is to recognize in him “the Righteous One”, or as we have understood it, “the Messiah.”  To each of these is given both recognition and a “reward.”  Perhaps the good Dr. Martin Luther should have read this passage before condemning the Epistle of James.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. How is Jesus the prophet?
  2. How is Jesus the righteous one?
  3. How are you the one who offers a cup of water?

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

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; 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 © 2014, Michael T. Hiller

[1]     Signer, M (2001) Rashi’s Reading of the Akedah,  The Journal of the Society for Textual Reasoning, Vol. 10., 2001.