28 May 2018

The Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 4, 3 June 2018


Track One:
Isaiah I Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17

Track Two:
Deuteronomy 5:12-15
Psalm 81:1-10

II Corinthians 4:5-12
St. Mark 2:23-3:6





Background: Revised Common Lectionary

We are approaching almost three decades of use of the Revised Common Lectionary, which gives us opportunity to review a little history and usage. An excellent resource is Gordon Lathrop’s Foreword in The Revised Common Lectionary: 20thAnniversary Annotated Edition[1], as well as Fred Kimball Graham’s Introduction in the same volume. In it they recall the unity that gathered around the Ordo Lectionum Missae promulgated by the Roman Church following Vatican II. It was quickly appropriated by Anglican/Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, and some reformed Churches due to its broader sweep of the Scripture over a three-cycle period. In it he recommends other resources such as Fritz West’s Scripture and Memorywhich is, unfortunately, in short supply, and Gail Ramshaw’sTreasures Old and New, and her A Three-Year Banquet

In 1978 several churches gathered in Washington D.C. under the aegis of the Consultation on Common Textsto consider about a further revision to the lectionary. One of their goals was that the lectionary “should be revised "in order to provide readings that are more completely representative of the Hebrew Bible and not simply prophetic or typological."[1]The result of this goal was the system of alternate Hebrew Scripture readings and psalter during Ordinary Time (the Sundays after Pentecost). The readings from the Hebrew Scriptures are cited as a lectio continua, a continuing reading that allows people to become acquainted with a larger scope of readings from the Hebrew Scriptures.

Track One:

First Reading: I Samuel 3:1-10(11-20)

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” [Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”

Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.”

As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.]



The initial points of the Samuel saga ought to be reviewed because they form such an important model for the writers of the Nativity Narratives, and because it falls into the broad pattern of the barren woman, and the divine promise of a child. In this reading that is all in the past, and we know meet the child of the promise to Hannah, given back to the Lord and in service in the tabernacle. We meet a time in which the Word of God, given in visions or in communication with the priests, is in short supply – thus the character of Eli is presented to us as blind. It is a dire time, but there is still hope, for “the lamp of God had not yet gone out.”It is interesting that the author describes the young Samuel, working in the tabernacle, as not knowing the Lord. Thus, the three calls to Samuel are misidentified, as he runs to what he thinks is Eli’s call. Eli has sons, but it is clear from the text that he has a fondness of Samuel, and so he directs that young child how to answer the call that he has heard. You may want to go back to Chapter 2to see what is vexing God, and why Samuel is honored and not the priest’s own sons. Samuel is quickly introduced to the sometimes-grim work of the prophet, relaying to Eli God’s displeasure and subsequent message. Such honesty and forthrightness become a part of Samuel’s reputation with the people.

Breaking open I Samuel:
  1. When have you heard God’s voice?
  2. What was its call to you?
  3. Were you able to accomplish the call?

Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17 Domine, probasti

1      Lord, you have searched me out and known me; *
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
2      You trace my journeys and my resting-places *
and are acquainted with all my ways.
3      Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, *
but you, O Lord, know it altogether.
4      You press upon me behind and before *
and lay your hand upon me.
5      Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; *
it is so high that I cannot attain to it.
12    For you yourself created my inmost parts; *
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
13    I will thank you because I am marvelously made; *
your works are wonderful, and I know it well.
14    My body was not hidden from you, *
while I was being made in secret
and woven in the depths of the earth.
15    Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb;
all of them were written in your book; *
they were fashioned day by day,
when as yet there was none of them.
16    How deep I find your thoughts, O God! *
how great is the sum of them!
17    If I were to count them, they would be more in number than the sand; *
to count them all, my life span would need to be like yours.



This psalm could be used with the call of any of the prophets, where they understand that God has a deep knowledge of them, a knowledge that begins before their birth. We are clued in with the initial verse, “Lord, you have searched me out and known me.” There is an almost physical force in this knowing, especially in verse 4, “You press upon me behind and before and lay your hand upon me.” So many images are suggested here, anointing, the potter at the wheel, a gesture of affection. 

In verse 12 we begin to see the depth of the knowledge and experience of God; all the innermost parts are not only known by God but created by him. The poetic language looks to the forming embryo in a mother’s womb both dark and secret. The final judgment is, “marvelously made.” From the depth of the psalmist’s formation in the body we readily good to the depth of God’s thoughts, wisdom and will.

Breaking open Psalm 139:
  1. How well do you know yourself?
  2. How well do others know you?
  3. How does God know you?

Or

Track Two

First Reading: Deuteronomy 5:12-15

Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.



It might be helpful to read the initial verses of this chapter, especially the comments on God’s gift to the people of this time, who are honored with God’s word and will. In our pericope we see and witness parts of the Decalogue. You might want to compare this version with that of Exodus 20:2-17. The emphasis of this reading is on the keeping of Sabbath. In Exodus we are bidden to remember the Sabbath day, but here in Deuteronomy there is a more active stance – we are enjoined to keep the Sabbath day. The prohibition against work on that day is universal with several other community participants cited as well, both human and animal. There is a reason for their inclusion here as recollection of the Exodus from Egypt where they were freed from slavery. Thus, the people are asked to act just as God acted, both in their rest, and in their attitude toward those in service to them.

Breaking open Deuteronomy:
  1. What is the intention behind be called to rest on the Sabbath?
  2. How do you make Sabbath for yourself?
  3. How do you make Sabbath for others?

Psalm 81:1-10 Exultate Deo

1      Sing with joy to God our strength *
and raise a loud shout to the God of Jacob.
2      Raise a song and sound the timbrel, *
the merry harp, and the lyre.
3      Blow the ram's-horn at the new moon, *
and at the full moon, the day of our feast.
4      For this is a statute for Israel, *
a law of the God of Jacob.
5      He laid it as a solemn charge upon Joseph, *
when he came out of the land of Egypt.
6      I heard an unfamiliar voice saying *
"I eased his shoulder from the burden;
his hands were set free from bearing the load."
7      You called on me in trouble, and I saved you; *
I answered you from the secret place of thunder
and tested you at the waters of Meribah.
8      Hear, O my people, and I will admonish you: *
O Israel, if you would but listen to me!
9      There shall be no strange god among you; *
you shall not worship a foreign god.
10    I am the Lord your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt and said, *
"Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it."



Perhaps this psalm is a primer on how to worship. The first action is to “lift song.” Other instruments soon follow, harps, lyres, the ram’s horn and the timbrel. It is nature itself that directs us in praise of God. Both a new moon, and a full moon mark the times from praise and song. What is the purpose of this new moon festival? To remember. To remember the liberation from Egypt – literally from the place of “strange speech,” and “the load (of bricks)”. In this psalm, the God of Israel appropriates the abilities of the Canaanite thunder god. What quickly follows is an enjoinder to not follow foreign gods, and to recognize in the God of Israel, the one who brought the people out of Egypt. The final verse of our pericope is odd, “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.” What is it that God will provide – food and sustenance? Or is there possibility, given the initial injunction of this psalm, “lift song”, that what God provides are both melody and words? Our awe of God might be so great so as to not know what to say or sing. God in the Spirit provide the words.

Breaking open Psalm 81:
  1. What is your favorite song?
  2. What attracts you to it?
  3. What is your best song about faith?

Second Reading: IICorinthians 4:5-12

We do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.



In his usual manner Paul describes our weakness in a list: “afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, struck down”. There is an accompanying list which negates these weaknesses and abrogates them. But it is the final weakness which is astounding in that it is the cure, “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus.” It is a sign that comes to us in baptism where we are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus; where we become witnesses of him. In our weakness (and subsequent strength of faith) we become veritable signs of God’s grace. The foe, death, is accompanied by the life that Christ brings.

Breaking open Psalm II Corinthians:
  1. What is your greatest weakness?
  2. What is your greatest strength?
  3. How does your weakness enable your strength?

Holy Gospel: St. Mark 2:23-3:6

One sabbath Jesus and his disciples were going through the grain fields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

  

In this reading we have two pericopes, both of which concern themselves with the Sabbath (see the First Reading, Track Two). The sense of place is quite distinct here in visioning the disciples and their teacher making their way through the fields. Implicit in this scene is the abundance of the fields, the ready grains of wheat. What the disciples were doing, picking heads of grain, was licit in the Law (see Deuteronomy 23:26). This action, however, is not what the Pharisees will contend. It is the work, forbidden in the Law of the Sabbath, that will raise their ire. There is a pattern of contention here in Mark (2:62:162:24, and 3:6), a growing animosity directed toward Jesus. Here it is not the eating, it is the picking of the grain. Jesus corrects their view of the Sabbath by calling to memory the action of David when he ate the Show Bread from the tabernacle. Jesus raises the question of “who is the Sabbath for?”

The next pericope again focuses on the Sabbath, but here it is a healing on the Sabbath. Again, Jesus is in a synagogue (see Mark 1:21-28, and again Jesus’ demonstrates his power, here in healing a man with a withered hand. The tie with the previous pericope, man for the sabbath, or the sabbath for the man, is once again held up for all to see. The individual is in need. Jesus asks a poignant question, one worthy of the complexity of the times in which we live, Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?”The stubbornness of those with a different agenda about doing God’s will are struck dumb, they cannot answer. In the first synagogue scene there is astonishment, here there is the resolve to “destroy him.” 

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. When have you bent the law?
  2. Why?
  3. Was it for good or for evil?








Problem:                     What is worship? What is the Sabbath? What is due God? What is due our fellow human-being?

Discussion One:         Do we have ears, like Samuel’s reading to listen for God’s voice? Do we have resolve in keeping the Sabbath, in having a personal pattern of prayer and worship? (First readings)

Discussion Two:        How is our very being and affect a witness to Jesus? (Reading Two)

Discussion Three:      What does our Christian liberty allow us when we see the needs of others? (Gospel)



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



O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth: Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; 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 © 2018, Michael T. Hiller
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[1]     Consultation Common Texts, (2012), The Revised Common Lectionary: 20thAnniversary Annotated Edition, Fortress Press, Kindle Edition.
[2]     Ibid, location 152-153.