29 July 2016

The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 14, 7 August 2016

Track One:
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24

Track Two:
Genesis 15:1-6
Psalm 33:12-22

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Saint Luke 12:32-40

Background: The Letter to the Hebrews

With this Sunday we begin a series of three Sundays of readings from the Letter to the Hebrews – hardly enough for this beautifully enigmatic book. The authorship of the book is hotly contested, but that really doesn’t seem to matter.  From Origen on there has been a high regard for the ideas of the book, and its elegant phraseology. In his commentary on the book, Hebrews – A Commentary, Luke Timothy Johnson, feels that contemporary Christians are at a significant remove from the world from which and for which Hebrews was written.  Dr. Johnson succinctly describes the problem,

“At least three elements contribute to the distance between ancient and contemporary readers of Hebrews. The first is the change in cosmology. The author of Hebrews and Gregory of Nyssa shared a basically Platonic view of reality (more on that later), which has scarcely been in evidence among thinkers even by way of revival since the nineteenth century. The second is the rise of the historical-critical approach to Scripture, which takes as its first premise that the Bible is to be read not as inspired revelation from God but as a literary production of a past writer, and takes as its second premise that the “historical” meaning of the text is primary and of greatest importance. The third is the slow erosion of classical Christian belief and practice itself. For many present-day Christians, the statements of the creed concerning God and Christ simply do not make sense. And the link between spiritual transformation and the practice of prayer and fasting is no longer obvious.”[1]  Johnson, Luke Timothy (2006-06-05). Hebrews: A Commentary (The New Testament Library) (Kindle Locations 716-722). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

Lectors, preachers, and the casual reader have a challenge confronting them.

Track One:

The First Reading: Isaiah 1:1, 10-20

The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
Hear the word of the Lord,
you rulers of Sodom!
Listen to the teaching of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats.
When you come to appear before me,
who asked this from your hand?
Trample my courts no more;
bringing offerings is futile;
incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation--
I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.
Your new moons and your appointed festivals
my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me,
I am weary of bearing them.
When you stretch out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings
from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
seek justice,
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.
Come now, let us argue it out,
says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be like snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.
If you are willing and obedient,
you shall eat the good of the land;
but if you refuse and rebel,
you shall be devoured by the sword;
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

This pericope consists of at least three parts, one of which (verses 2-9) is not included in the liturgical reading. It is an excellent summary of the prophet’s program and preaching and it previews what will become the prophet’s message to Israel. It takes the form of a legal accusation, although Otto Kaiser[2] titles the section “A Word to the Survivors” indicating a much later section that has been moved to the front of the collection. It is an accusation by YHWH, and serves as an explanation of why what will happen will happen.

The first verse introduces us to Isaiah and to his vision. Our selection continues with “The True Worship of God”[3] (verses 10-20), and its anti-temple and anti-sacrificial stance makes one wonder if it indeed was written following the destruction of the temple itself – rendering such liturgical and sacrificial rites unnecessary. There is a unique tie-in to the previous section, where in verse 9 the prophet observes, “If YHWH Sabaoth had not left us a few survivors, we should have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah.” So total was the destruction that the comparison can be made. Also interesting is the reference to “the remnant”, “the few survivors. However, in today’s selection the reference to Sodom and Gomorrah is not about destruction but about culpability. He pictures a people who do not listen to God nor understand what God is demanding. Thus the offerings that are mentioned are not only perhaps no longer possible but also not efficacious or convincing.

At verse 16, the mood changes and there is room for hope and for cleansing. If indeed the section from verses 2-9 was a rib (a legal brief), here it will be argued, “Come now, let us plead together says YHWH.” What follows is a list of comparisons (scarlet/white, crimson/wool) that indicate a repentant people. What is expected are the classic messianic anticipations – “Learn to do good, seek justice, help the oppressed, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.” This is indeed asking a great deal of a people just returned from exile whose only hope and motivation is survival. Society, however, whatever its situation, is about justice, and justice is about these expectations.

Breaking open Isaiah:
1.     What about your worship life might God have trouble with?
2.     What is genuine worship for you?
3.     How is your life about justice?

Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24 Deus deorum

     The Lord, the God of gods, has spoken; *
he has called the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.
2      Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty, *
God reveals himself in glory.
3      Our God will come and will not keep silence; *
before him there is a consuming flame,
and round about him a raging storm.
4      He calls the heavens and the earth from above *
to witness the judgment of his people.
5      "Gather before me my loyal followers, *
those who have made a covenant with me
and sealed it with sacrifice."
6      Let the heavens declare the rightness of his cause; *
for God himself is judge.
7      Hear, O my people, and I will speak:
"O Israel, I will bear witness against you; *
for I am God, your God.
8      I do not accuse you because of your sacrifices; *
your offerings are always before me.
23    Consider this well, you who forget God, *
lest I rend you and there be none to deliver you.
24    Whoever offers me the sacrifice of thanksgiving honors me; *
but to those who keep in my way will I show the salvation of God."

The psalm greets with an unusual amalgam of “God names”, which is not all that apparent in our translation. The first line in Hebrew reads, “El, the God YHWH”, and more literally “God God YHWH”. Perhaps these are some evidence of a scribal error. All kinds of images are offered most involving light and beauty. There is to be some kind of trial, “(God) calls the heavens and the earth from above to witness the judgment of (God’s) people.” The disposition of the psalm bears a great deal of similarity to the pronouncements of prophets – you may want to compare this language to that of Isaiah in the first reading. What follows, as in Isaiah, is a recitation of Israel’s sins. It is not ritual life that is the problem, “for your offerings are always before me.” It is a shame that the heart of the psalm, a recitation of troubles, and God’s aversion to sacrifice, has been removed from the lectionary selection. Its absence makes the psalm much more difficult to understand. The final verses attempt reconciliation with an understanding about a “sacrifice of thanksgiving”, a more spiritual understanding of what God requires.

Breaking open Psalm 50:

1.        Have you ever made a sacrifice of thanksgiving?
2.        What did you sacrifice?
3.        For what were you thankful?


Track Two:

First Reading: Genesis 15:1-6

The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, "Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great." But Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" And Abram said, "You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir." But the word of the Lord came to him, "This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir." He brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be." And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

This is one of several covenant/promise stories about Abraham and his God. This telling, however, has several prophetic aspects to it, and it is good to remember that in Genesis 20 Abraham is introduced to Abimelech as “a prophet”. This encounter with God is in a vision, often the means by which the prophets encountered God. We are also clued in with the introductory phrase, “The word of the Lord came to Abram.” We hear Abram’s complaint about his lack of an heir, and he gives us enough detail that we are able to see some of the social structures of the ancient near east. As is often the case with prophets, God reveals God’s response with something out of everyday life, a glance to the star-lit sky. There he is invited to see the promise and the hope.

Breaking open Genesis:
1.     What is the promise and hope given to Abram?
2.     Have you had a similar experience?
3.     For what do you hope from God?

Psalm 33:12-22 Exultate, justi

12    Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord! *
happy the people he has chosen to be his own!
13    The Lord looks down from heaven, *
and beholds all the people in the world.
14    From where he sits enthroned he turns his gaze *
on all who dwell on the earth.
15    He fashions all the hearts of them *
and understands all their works.
16    There is no king that can be saved by a mighty army; *
a strong man is not delivered by his great strength.
17    The horse is a vain hope for deliverance; *
for all its strength it cannot save.
18    Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon those who fear him, *
on those who wait upon his love,
19    To pluck their lives from death, *
and to feed them in time of famine.
20    Our soul waits for the Lord; *
he is our help and our shield.
21    Indeed, our heart rejoices in him, *
for in his holy Name we put our trust.
22    Let your loving-kindness, O Lord, be upon us, *
as we have put our trust in you.

In this psalm we see the result of God’s promise to Abram in the previous reading, “Happy is the nation…happy the people (God) has chosen.” There is a double emphasis here, one having a national aspect, and the other more universal and general – God’s perspective is cosmic. The poem wants us to understand the scope of God’s power, and we are invited to compare it to a king and his army, and to a horse and its power. The use of the word “soul” in verse 20 renders a somewhat static understanding, when the writer wants us to see a more powerful dynamic. What waits for God’s intervention is “the ultimate essence of ourselves.”

Breaking open Psalm 33
1.     What is the power of a horse?
2.     How does the power of God share in that idea?
3.    How is the word “soul” a powerful word?

The Second Reading: Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old-- and Sarah herself was barren-- because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, "as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore."

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

Our reading today is a combination of two pericopes, “The Ancient Faith” (1-7), and “The Faith of Patriarchs and Matriarchs” (8-22). You may wish to read the entirety of both pericopes to capture the drift of the entire selection. There is a connection with Abraham as well, as the author envisions a sweep of faith that extends from God’s call at Ur, and moves on. If there is a phrase that ought to be mined in our study of this pericope it is “by faith”, which occurs some eighteen times, while the single word “faith” is seen in an additional six places. Combined then with the word “hope” we have a strong statement of faith seen in the earliest human experiences (read the elided verses 4-6) and then in the sweep from Abraham and on.

The faith of the patriarchs is not seen in a static background, the property of flat characters, but rather against the liveliness of their own experience, nomadic, childless and infertile, troubled. It is in this context that they hope and have faith. Here the emphasis on Abraham is almost Pauline in scope (an argument, I suppose, for his authorship). Appropriately Sarah is present as well in this pilgrimage of faith as well. Asked to give up everything (place, family, and gods) they are promised a city, or as Hebrews says, “a better country, that is, a heavenly one.”

Breaking open Hebrews:
  1. How is your life like a pilgrimage?
  2. How is your faith like that of Abraham or Sarah?
  3. What do you understand by the word “faith”?

The Gospel: Saint Luke 12:32-40

Jesus said to his disciples, "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

"Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

"But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."

We move from a series of verses (32-34) that focus on the value of things – things that ought to be sold and given away. The question is, “but why?” The verses that follow (35-40) have a strong eschatological cast, as Jesus warns the disciples to be prepared for urgent action. We are reminded by the intent of this passage on the ancestors in Egypt who prepared to leave in haste and thus to attain their freedom. A brief parable about the householder further underscores Jesus’ intent. The reward for such faithfulness and alertness results in a startling response from the master – who bids his faithful servants recline at meal and who then serves them. I wonder if this has an almost Eucharistic flavor?

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     What is the urgency behind Jesus’ teaching?
2.     How do you look ahead in your life?
3.    In what ways are you prepared?

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

Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; 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 © 2016, Michael T. Hiller

[1]Johnson, L. (2006), Hebrews: A Commentary (The New Testament Library) Presbyterian Publishing Company, Louisville, Kindle Edition, Location 716.
[2]Kaiser, O., (1963), Isaiah 1-12, A Commentary, The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, page 5.
[3]Kaiser, page 11.

21 July 2016

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 13, 31 July 2016

Track One:
Hosea 11:1-11
Psalm 107:1-9, 43

Track Two:
Ecclesiastes: 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23
Psalm 49:1-11

Colossians 3:1-11
Saint Luke 12:13-21

Background: Difficult Prophets

I ran into an interesting conversation on Facebook this last week concerning Hosea. The poster wondered if others were abandoning the Track One reading from Hosea in favor of the Track Two reading because Hosea was just too difficult. One responder even commented that you couldn’t do just to Hosea in the average twelve-minute Episcopal sermon. I noted that I am missing the opportunity to preach on Hosea because he is out of the norm and the main stream. In Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, we have, I think, a fairly authentic representation of the ecstatic prophets – crazy making in their eccentricity. Perhaps that is the difficulty. If we scratch the surface of religion we find a substratum of the uncomfortable: sexual life, retribution, xenophobia, and exotic visions among others. That we not delve into these areas as preachers, or lectors, or just plan students of the Bible denies us the humanity of the Scriptures, and removes us from similar moments in our own lives. I find it heartening that Hosea takes the difficulties of his own life as the context against which he portrays his message. They seem to be hooks that any person can identify with, and then begin to understand the prophet’s concern. They dynamics of family life are used to provide examples of a nation’s relationship with God. It is the prophet’s hope, I think, that the individual could look at their own life and its quandaries and there begin to understand God’s message to Israel.

Track One:

First Reading: Hosea 11:1-11

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
The more I called them,
the more they went from me;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals,
and offering incense to idols.
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them up in my arms;
but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
with bands of love.
I was to them like those
who lift infants to their cheeks.
I bent down to them and fed them.
They shall return to the land of Egypt,
and Assyria shall be their king,
because they have refused to return to me.
The sword rages in their cities,
it consumes their oracle-priests,
and devours because of their schemes.
My people are bent on turning away from me.
To the Most High they call,
but he does not raise them up at all.
How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my fierce anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and no mortal,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath.
They shall go after the Lord,
who roars like a lion;
when he roars,
his children shall come trembling from the west.
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.

Between the parentheses of verses 1 and 11 in which God professes a great love for Israel, there is a rehearsal of unfaithfulness on Israel’s part and disappointment on God’s. What is contrasted here is Egypt and Assyria. The pericope begins with a remembrance of Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt, but later on there is a substitution for Egypt, “They shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king.” The deliverance is incomplete because the people are still in slavery to the Ba’alim. What God had meant as a return has been realized as a rejection, and thus the people shall return not to freedom and redemption, but rather to slavery.

The last part of the pericope sees some repentance. Not on the part of the people, but rather on God’s part, “My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.” What should be noticed are the images of parent and child, and the behaviors of a loving family. “I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks.” Many a parent in our midst knows the pain of having to correct a child, and yet love them. The humanity that Hosea lifts up here, as he talks about God and God’s people should make for some good preaching and reading – experiences that remarkably touch our own lives with understanding.

Breaking open Hosea:
1.     What does it mean to call God “father” or “mother”?
2.     What are the difficult parts about being a parent?
3.     In what ways does this reading represent a psychological conflict?

Psalm 107:1-9, 43 Confitemini Domino

     Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, *
and his mercy endures for ever.
2      Let all those whom the Lord has redeemed proclaim *
that he redeemed them from the hand of the foe.
3      He gathered them out of the lands; *
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.
4      Some wandered in desert wastes; *
they found no way to a city where they might dwell.
5      They were hungry and thirsty; *
their spirits languished within them.
6      Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, *
and he delivered them from their distress.
7      He put their feet on a straight path *
to go to a city where they might dwell.
8      Let them give thanks to the Lord for his mercy *
and the wonders he does for his children.
9      For he satisfies the thirsty *
and fills the hungry with good things.
43    Whoever is wise will ponder these things, *
and consider well the mercies of the Lord.

The themes of this psalm resonate with the themes that we have just rehearsed in the Hosea reading. What might seem to be theological ideas and remembrance is actually a reading of what was going on politically. The redemption mentioned in verse two is political redemption, a relief from the oppression of Egypt (or anticipated in Assyria or Babylon). There are hopeful verses, however, that speak of return from all the points of the compass, so the psalmist may be taking the experience of Egypt or of later exiles and making for a generic or universal understanding of God’s grace. There is also a contrasting of the people’s cries and their acclaim. One translation of the first verse underscores the contrast, “Acclaim the Lord, for He is good.” Later, however, the people are crying in the desert wastes. The bulk of the psalm, most of which is not used here in the reading for this Sunday, then rehearses the graciousness of God in answering the cries of God’s people.  Although this is a psalm of thanksgiving, there is an appeal to the notion of Wisdom in the final verse, “whoever is wise will ponder these things.”

Breaking open Psalm 107:

1.        How is the story of Egypt different that the story of Assyria?
2.        What does “redemption” mean in this psalm?
3.        What is the wisdom (common sense) in this psalm?


Track Two:

First Reading: 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.

In some respects the structure of this selection, chosen by the lectionary editors, is quite disappointing. It attempts too much, and thus accomplishes little in allowing us, and the people we are either preaching to or reading to, to understand Qohelet’s message. So what we are left with are the enigmatic introduction, which opines that life and all that accompanies it is really quite ephemeral, a snippet of autobiographical material that repeats the themes from the first verses, and a longer section from chapter two which represents Qohelet’s odd perspective of and turn of Wisdom. Readers would be helped considerably by referring to Robert Alter’s excellent article in his book, The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes: A Translation with Commentary.[1] He begins by tackling the concept of vanity, the word that begins the work proper and that was used by the King James translators. He contrasts the Hebrew vocable havel (merest breath, or vapor) which represents “the flimsy vapor that is exhaled in breathing,”[2] with a much more familiar word, ru’ah (life breath) that is such an active component in Genesis. In our pericope it appears only as the wind, “all is vanity and a chasing after wind”, so complete is his cynicism.

The closing paragraph of our selection is almost oddly appropriate to our time, given our current political situation, and the frustration that seems to flow at every point in our society. Yet, the “cries of the people” (see the Track One psalm) are not that their efforts are futile, but rather that they have not resulted in the luxuries and material goods that are supposedly deserved. In wondering how to preach this text, I would be tempted to challenge the values that seem to drive us, even in the church. I am reminded of an off-hand comment by the Bishop of California, Marc Andrus, “Perhaps we need to lose some of the bling.”

Breaking open Ecclesiastes:
1.     In what ways do you agree with the Teacher?
2.     What do you find disturbing?
3.     What is the “bling” in your life?

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.
2      My mouth shall speak of wisdom, *
and my heart shall meditate on understanding.
3      I will incline my ear to a proverb *
and set forth my riddle upon the harp.
4      Why should I be afraid in evil days, *
when the wickedness of those at my heels surrounds me,
5      The wickedness of those who put their trust in their goods, *
and boast of their great riches?
6      We can never ransom ourselves, *
or deliver to God the price of our life;
7      For the ransom of our life is so great, *
that we should never have enough to pay it,
8      In order to live for ever and ever, *
and never see the grave.
9      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.
10    Their graves shall be their homes for ever,
their dwelling places from generation to generation, *
though they call the lands after their own names.
11    Even though honored, they cannot live for ever; *
they are like the beasts that perish.

The psalmist here does not abandon his worldview to the complete cynicism of the Teacher (see First Reading) but rather gives a harsh assay of what is valuable in the world. That is the wisdom that he wishes to impart – a song sung sweetly upon a lyre, but bitter to hear. The words are not directed exclusively to Israel, but to a more general and universal audience, for this is a wisdom psalm. There is almost a graduated understanding of the vanities of this world, for the poor will dissolve into death before the rich. And yet the fate of the rich is just the same – death and the Pit. The fate of death is the destiny of both the wise and the dull. The phraseology and vocabulary of this psalmist bears an uncanny resemblance to the Teacher.

Breaking open Psalm 49
1.     How do you think about death?
2.     Do you talk to your friends about death?
3.    Are you too young to talk about death?

The Second Reading: Colossians 3:1-11

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!

Paul continues his teaching to the Colossians about what it means to live in Christ. Oddly enough, this reading, a part of lectio continua, actually fits in with the themes of the Gospel and first reading. Paul doesn’t teach us the vanity of life, but he does insist on the vanity of earthly things when compared to what Christ offers. His appeal is replete with his usual lists: a list of that which is earthly (fornication, impurity, etc.), things to get rid of (anger, wrath, etc.), and a list of human values that are no longer of value (Greek, Jew, etc.). There is a phrase here that indicates the mystery of this new existence that Paul calls the Colossians to, “your life is hidden with Christ in God.” All else must be given up.

Breaking open Colossians:
  1. What does it mean to you to be “hidden with Christ in God?”
  2. What are earthly things that are of no value to you?
  3. What is your true human status?

The Gospel: 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."

Here we see Jesus as rabbi, when a man from the crowd asks him a question of casuistry, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” Jesus refuses his request by oddly reversing a situation that involved Moses. Then, the people objected to Moses leadership, “Who appointed you ruler and judge? (Exodus 2:14)”. Here Jesus refuses the role, and it is he who turns the question around, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” Luke doesn’t leave us in suspense, but announces the meaning of Jesus’ parable in advance of reporting it to us. The themes are familiar today, “ones life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” The parable explores the vapid (see comments in the First Reading about the translation of the Hebrew vocable havel) nature of what the rich man finds of value. He is sort of an anti-Job, for God does not allow his wealth to be taken away, but rather he is given more. Yet, in spite of that, he will still die, and all that he has achieved will belong to another. We need to think back to Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, specifically to the woes that follow the blessings. “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation,” (Saint Luke 6:24). The question must be asked, “What does it mean to be rich toward God?” It is a proposal that is not even considered by the Teacher of the first reading, nor is it seen as a value. Jesus paints a different picture. There is something of value and worth, and it is in our relationship with God.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     How is Jesus your Rabbi?
2.     What of your possessions would you find it difficult to part with?
3.    What does that mean to you?

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.

Questions and comments copyright © 2016, Michael T. Hiller

[1]Alter, R. (2010), The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes: A Translation with Commentary, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, Kindle Edition, Location 6467 to 6586.
[2]Alter, Location 6518