17 August 2017

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 15, 20 August 2017

Track One:
Genesis 45:1-15
Psalm 133

Track Two:
Isaiah 56:1, 6-8
Psalm 67

Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
St. Matthew 15:(10-20), 21-28

Background: Tyre and Sidon

Originally two cities, Tyre and Ushu were brought together by Alexander the Great when he had a causeway built between them as a part of his siege of the ancient port. Sidon, located about 40 km. north of Tyre, is of an ancient origin, having evidence from the Neolithic age. Both served as important ports on the Mediterranean, and both were sites of Phoenician development and enterprise. Both cities fell under the influence of other cultures as well, Assyrian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Persian, Greek, and Roman. Tyre was founded around 2750 BCE and its name begins to appear on monuments areound 1300 BCE. In today’s Gospel, the major character is a Canaanite woman. Canaan was a Phoenician culture, so her being placed at Tyre or Sidon would have made sense. The name “Canaan” may be derived form the Hurrian word for “purple”. The major industry of Tyre was the production of purple dye.

Track One:

First Reading: Genesis 45:1-15

Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Send everyone away from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’ And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.

In this pericope we meet a very vulnerable Joseph who no longer hides his tears, but weeps in public in the presence of his brothers. His reunion with them, however, is reserved to them only – the court that attends to him is dismissed from this intimate moment. The scene is written with a certain level of tension. The house of Pharaoh witnesses Joseph’s expression of grief and joy, and the brothers are nonplused when Joseph reveals himself to them. The connection is not immediate but rather through the relationship with Jacob, “my father.” And here the word used is in a familiar form – nothing formal intended but rather the intimate relationship of father and son. The important words of relationship to the brothers is repeated for emphasis, so that they are reassured of Joseph’s character and presence. The invitation to “Come closer to me” makes the relationship even more intimate and real.

What follows is something of a homily that combines the divine purpose of his fate and presence (do to the acts of their hands) with the recent history of Egypt and of the region, “there will be neither plowing nor harvest.” What is ostensibly a personal drama quickly morphs into a national history, as Jacob and family are invited to resettle in Goshen. The personal love and relationship explained here will bind up a family into a nation.

Breaking open Genesis:
1.          How is Joseph still a member of his family?
2.          How is he somehow outside of it?
3.          What are the evidences of his relationship?

Psalm 133 Ecce, quam bonum!

     Oh, how good and pleasant it is, *
when brethren live together in unity!
2      It is like fine oil upon the head *
that runs down upon the beard,
3      Upon the beard of Aaron, *
and runs down upon the collar of his robe.
4      It is like the dew of Hermon *
that falls upon the hills of Zion.
5      For there the Lord has ordained the blessing: *
life for evermore.

The first word of the poem might be better translated as “Look!” inviting the hearer to closely observe a series of understandings about life and relationship. The goal of life is that humankind ought to live together in unity. The signs of that unity are also signs of the prosperity that serves as the locale of this relationship. What follows are examples, “it is like.” The poet begins with oil on the head, and then speaks of its abundance. It is so abundant that it runs down the face, onto the beard, and thence onto the robes. Then the oil is like dew, fresh each morning, and seen in visions of Mt. Herman, drenched with the life-giving water.

Breaking open Psalm 133:
1.     Who are the people closest to you in your life?
2.     How do you exhibit the unity that you have with them?
3.    What do they give you that makes you rich?


Track Two:

First Reading: Isaiah 56:1,6-8

Thus says the Lord:
Maintain justice, and do what is right,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my deliverance be revealed.
And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant--
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.
Thus says the Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered.

The position of this text in the Book of Isaiah gives us a false sense of importance. These are actually opening lines that announce the agenda of this third prophet writing as Isaiah. His words follow on a period of returning from exile with the order from Cyrus, an attempted rebuilding of the Temple, with discouraging results, and finally a completion of the Temple in 515 under Darius. It is a distinct look into the near future and into the hopes of a new future. I like Claus Westermann’s translation of verse 1b, “for my salvation is near to its coming”[1] There is an edge to the prophet’s expectation of God’s promise.

The latter part of the reading is from the final verses of a second pericope (56:3-8) which gives us a vision of a developing universalism in the third of the Isaiahs. It is helpful to read through the introductory verses in order to understand Isaiah’s comments on the foreigners invited to God’s court,

The foreigner joined to the LORD should not say,
“The LORD will surely exclude me from his people”;
Nor should the eunuch say,
“See, I am a dry tree.”c
For thus says the LORD:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose what pleases me,
and who hold fast to my covenant,d
I will give them, in my house
and within my walls, a monument and a name*
Better than sons and daughters;
an eternal name, which shall not be cut off, will I give them.

The complaints of the eunuch and of the foreigner are met with God’s promises of acceptance. What follows then, in our reading, is what is expected of these who come from the outside into the service of God’s house. What is especially notable is the final verse and its applicability to the problems of our times. “I will gather yet others of [his banished ones] beside those already gathered.”[2] What wonderful grist for a preacher’s mill on the Sunday following Charlottesville.

Breaking open the Isaiah:
1.     How do you welcome strangers in your church?
2.     How are they included in your worship?
3.    What about the poor and disheveled?

Psalm 67 Deus misereatur

     May God be merciful to us and bless us, *
show us the light of his countenance and come to us.
2      Let your ways be known upon earth, *
your saving health among all nations.
3      Let the peoples praise you, O God; *
let all the peoples praise you.
4      Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, *
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide all the nations upon earth.
5      Let the peoples praise you, O God; *
let all the peoples praise you.
6      The earth has brought forth her increase; *
may God, our own God, give us his blessing.
7      May God give us his blessing, *
and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him.

The psalm begins with a reflection of the Aaronic Benediction, which puts in mind of all the blessings that God gives to God’s people. What is at play here is a contrast between the “natural” religion of Canaan, which sought the on-going preservation of nature by the god, and the wisdom and revelation that were a part of Israel’s experience of God, “let your ways be known upon earth.” The appeal, however, is not limited to Israel, but is extended to the nations, “let the nations be glad and sing for joy.” Praise of God is the ultimate message and is the ultimate content that needs to be lifted up to the peoples of the world. The blessing of God is not limited to the gifts of nature as with the gods of Canaan, but is found more fully in the gifts of knowledge and salvation. When we realize that we can then “stand in awe of him.”

Breaking open the Psalm 67:
1.     What are the blessings of nature?
2.     How does God exceed the blessings of nature?
3.    How do you bless others?

The Second Reading: Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.

For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.

Given the recent civil discord in Virginia, Paul’s question in the first verse becomes even more poignant, “has God rejected his people.” There seems to be a strain of Christianity that mistakenly answers that question with a “yes!”. Even Paul is quick to correct that with a “no!”. He begins by noting his own connections with Israel, his own spiritual family.  What God offers, God does not take back. God gives mercy to us, to Israel, to the world in spite of our having missed the mark and having wandered away.

Breaking open Romans:
1.     How are the Jews still God’s people?
2.     How can Christians honor that?
3.    How are we related to Israel?

The Gospel: St. Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

[Jesus called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”]

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

The reading for this morning is constructed of two pericopes. The optional first is a discourse on the Law and how it obtains for those who wish to follow Jesus. The examples that Jesus supplies in verses 10-20 seem to flow from Jesus’ comment in verse 6, “So by your tradition you have emptied God’s word of meaning.”[3] God’s word (the Law) is not abrogated by what Jesus teaches, but enhanced and enriched so as to give sight to the blind.

The second pericope (15:21-31) on the Syrophoenician Woman literally moves into new territory both physically and theologically. Jesus’ answers over against her questions and arguments show how vapid our answers are when we separate people from their place and status in God’s family.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     Who has asked something of you that you didn’t think they deserved?
2.     How did you answer their request?
3.    What does this Gospel teach you?

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

Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2017, Michael T. Hiller

[1]  Westermann, C. (1969) Isaiah 40-66, A Commentary The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, page 309.
[2]  Ibid., page 311
[3]  Saint Matthew 15:6b.

09 August 2017

Saint Mary Virgin, Mother of Our Lord, 15 August 2017

Isaiah 61:10-11
Psalm 34:1-9
Galatians 4:4-7
St. Luke 1:46-55


Background: The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Even amongst the members of the Anglican Communion there are a variety of views on this feast day. We can see that in the variety of names by which the day is called. In the Church of England the festival is called “The Falling Asleep of the Blessed Virgin Mary” thus mirroring the Orthodox nomenclature. Scotland and Canada honor the day as a commemoration also calling it “The Falling Asleep of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the Episcopal Church in the USA it is celebrated as a holy day, “Saint Mary the Virgin, Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amongst Anglo-Catholics, the day is observed as the Assumption, and the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission see the day as both the Dormition (the Falling Asleep) and the Assumption. The doctrine of the Assumption was adopted by Roman Catholics in 1 November 1950 by Pope Pius XII.

First Reading: Isaiah 61:10-11

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.

What this Isaiah sees as an individual’s response to the saving actions of God on behalf of the whole community. The restoration of what was ruined is a turn around of God’s judgment of Israel which is now redeemed. Returning from exile and coming back to rebuild the “ancient ruins” the community becomes a society of the saved. Thus it is appropriate to assign this reading to Mary’s Day, and even more possible to see these words emerging from her mouth of praise. Her song, the Magnificat, seems to echo the words of verse 10. She is not only the representative of the saved community, but also the bearer of its Redeemer.

Breaking open Isaiah:
1.          What kind of joy do you have as an individual?
2.          Where is there joy in your community of faith?
3.          Who knows about your joy?

Psalm 34:1-9 Benedicam Dominum

     I will bless the Lord at all times; *
his praise shall ever be in my mouth.
2      I will glory in the Lord; *
let the humble hear and rejoice.
3      Proclaim with me the greatness of the Lord; *
let us exalt his Name together.
4      I sought the Lord, and he answered me *
and delivered me out of all my terror.
5      Look upon him and be radiant, *
and let not your faces be ashamed.
6      I called in my affliction and the Lord heard me *
and saved me from all my troubles.
7      The angel of the Lord encompasses those who fear him, *
and he will deliver them.
8      Taste and see that the Lord is good; *
happy are they who trust in him!
9      Fear the Lord, you that are his saints, *
for those who fear him lack nothing.

This psalm reflects the words of David who, as the initial verses explain[1], is in dire circumstances. Even in distress David is praising God. The appropriateness of these verses from the psalm, are seen in their foreshadowing of Mary’s song in the Magnificat. Words of deliverance, exaltation, and closeness with those who are humble seem to prepare us for Mary’s recognition of these acts by God in her own life. Of special interest is the verse, which proclaims, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” In the Magnificat we hear “He fills the hungry with good things.”

Breaking open Psalm 34:
1.     What is David’s joy?
2.     What might the poor have joy in?
3.    What does it mean that the Lord “tastes good”?

Second Reading: Galatians 4:4-7

When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

The Law is many things for Paul and it takes on several guises in his writing. Here the Law is a teacher, and the lessons are about how Christians move from slavery to freedom. It is really about the various progressions that we make in life. Here, in these verses, we follow the Christian from slavery to the Law to life as an adopted child of the heavenly Father. Even more so, the Christian is an heir – the first-born – set to receive all the gifts of inherited grace. All of this comes from the one “born of a woman.”

Breaking open Galatians:
1.     How is God a parent to you?
2.     Where in your life is there enslavement?
3.    Where in your life is liberation?

The Gospel: St. Luke 1:46-55

Mary said,

"My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

Here we have Mary’s song, the Magnificat. The passages of the song bear an amazing resemblance to Hannah’s song in I Samuel (2:1-10), and thus serves as a connection to the promises of the Covenant that will be made real in the birth of Christ. It is especially powerful in Luke’s vision of God’s plan made perfect among and with the lowly – here in the person of Mary. Mary recognizes it as well in the verses of her song, which elevate the lowly, and put down the mighty.  We have images in the Scriptures of Mary as the thoughtful and contemplative one. She ponders, she worries, she beseeches. Here she is blessed (read happy) for in God’s attitude toward her she sees God’s redeeming attitude toward the many. It is the promise made real not on in her own life (just like what happened to Hannah), but in the lives of so many others as well. Abraham and Sarah’s family grows in the sunshine of God’s promises and goodwill.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     How do you magnify the Lord?
2.     Why?
3.    For what are you grateful?

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

O God, you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of your incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2017, Michael T. Hiller

[1]  “For David, when he altered his good sense (feigned madness) before Abimelech, who banished him, and he went away.”