30 August 2019

The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 18, 8 September 2019

Track One:
Jeremiah 18:1-11
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17

Track Two:
Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 1

Philemon 1-21
St. Luke 14:25-33

Background: Pottery during Jeremiah’s time

The pottery that was made during the United Monarchy (1000-586 BCE) saw improvements and refinements, using a red slip that was smoothed and burnished by hand. The pottery of the northern kingdom disappeared with the Assyrian assault and is not discussed here. Judean pottery, however was notably different and became more and more refined, especially through the use of a wheel burnish.  The slip (red or orange) was applied while the pot was still on the wheel, and then was burnished  by hand or using smoothing tools.

Track One:

First Reading: Jeremiah 18:1-11

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: "Come, go down to the potter's house, and there I will let you hear my words." So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it. Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.

Here Jeremiah uses an image that would be recognized by anyone at that time. Pottery was common to any household, and potters would have been seen in any city or town. The image and the application that Jeremiah makes of it would have been recognized from the Yom Kippur liturgy where this poem, piyut, would have been sung.

Like the clay in the hand of the potter
He expands it at will and contracts it at will
So are we in Your hand, O Preserver of kindness.
Look to the covenant and ignore the Accuser.

So God is seen as the potter, reminiscent of his forming of Adam from the clay of the earth at creation. What God is fashioning here, however, is judgment, and the implied command is that we as potters ourselves fashion (literally ‘throw a pot’) a new pot of faithfulness to God. Verse nine is interesting in that it repeats a theme from the call of Jeremiah, where God asks him to  To uproot and to tear down,
to destroy and to demolish, to build and to plant.” The difference here is that God is the actor – the one building and planting.” The choice is up to Israel. It can either choose faithfulness or other gods. God will fashion the appropriate response.

Breaking open Jeremiah:
1.     Who has formed your life?
2.     How have you reshaped mistakes?
3.     How is God a potter for you?

Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17 Domine, probasti

     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.

The introspection of this psalm is probably only matched by the same thoughts on being the product of he Creator’s hand in Job 10. These are beautiful words, and it is unfortunate that the lectionary eliminates verses six through eleven. There is enough, however, to capture the sentiment of the psalm. Here is a reflection on God’s knowledge of us, similar that which Jeremiah expresses in his call, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.*” The image of the potter (from the first reading) can also be seen in verse four, You press upon me behind and before and lay your hand upon me.” The English here betrays what the psalmist may have intended, namely the shaping of the pot by the potter’s hand. The laying on of a hand is the potter’s hand fashioning the vessel on the wheel.

There is a parallelism in verse twelve with the “inmost parts” (the kidneys, in Hebrew) illustrated along side the mother’s “womb”. That theme is continued in verse fourteen, “while I was being made in secret.” The comparison of the womb with the “the depths of the earth” would have been a common comparison at the time – see especially the myth of Persephone, and the cycle of winter/spring.  The psalmist expresses wonder at his own individuality, being “wonderously made.” The reverie is closed with the psalmist wondering at God’s knowledge not only of his being, but of his days and acts as well.

Breaking open Psalm 139:
1.     Who in your life knows you best?
2.     With whom do you share the secrets of your life?
3.     How are you supported in your life?


Track Two:

First Reading: Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Moses said to all Israel the words which the Lord commanded him, "See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of theLord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob."

The opening line, “See, I have set before you,” is completed with covenantal language, “life and prosperity, death and adversity,” in other words the blessings and curses of a covenantal ceremony.  Indeed, in verse nineteen the heavens and earth are called to witness the agreement. Moses calls upon Israel to make a choice, between life and death, between a blessing and a curse.

Breaking open Deuteronomy:
1.     In what ways have you chosen life?
2.     Where is death in the choices you have made?
3.     What blessings and curses have you experienced?

Psalm 1 Beatus vir qui non abiit

1      Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, *
nor lingered in the way of sinners,
nor sat in the seats of the scornful!

nor lingered in the way of sinners,
nor sat in the seats of the scornful!

2      Their delight is in the law of the Lord, *
and they meditate on his law day and night.
3      They are like trees planted by streams of water,
bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; *
everything they do shall prosper.
4      It is not so with the wicked; *
they are like chaff which the wind blows away.
5      Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes, *
nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.
6      For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, *
but the way of the wicked is doomed.

The choice that Moses asks Israel to make, namely between life and death, is reflected here in the psalm. The examples are the peoples who have chosen life, and the Law of the Lord.  This is a fine example of a Wisdom poem. As such it is devoted not to any national understanding of how society ought to form itself and behave, but rather a more universal understanding, common in the ancient near east, as to how to live. None-the-less, the Law of the Lord still is a focal point.  The trees are planted by water, and they flourish with that relationship. This was crucial for trees planted in an arid climate. They were dependent upon being near water.

In verse four we are shown the example of the wicked, compared to chaff, the dry leavings of the wheat harvest. The knowledge that God has of the righteous, it is intimate. The verb “to know” should be taken with the knowledge of its sexual implication – an exaggeration of God’s depth of knowing.

Breaking open Psalm 1:
1.     What are examples of righteousness from your life?
2.     How about wickedness?
3.     What is the water that nourishes you?

Second Reading: Philemon 1-21

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.

For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love-- and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother-- especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.

We have left Hebrews and with the lectio continua that is evident in the second readings during Ordinary Time, we now have a brief encounter with Paul and Philemon. The opening line, where Paul describes himself as a “prisoner of Christ Jesus” is unusual and may give us a clue to the theme of the letter – being a prisoner, and being a slave. Paul recognizes the difficulty of the conversation that he is beginning here. He characterizes himself as “bold”, and tempers his courage with what he sees as the wisdom of an elder. The emotional aspect of this request is further enhanced when Paul describes Onesimus as “my own heart.” The Greek word he uses is splanchna a word associated with the bowels and emotions.

Paul is caught on the horns of a dilemma. Deuteronomy 23:16 advises against sending back slaves “who have taken refuge with you.” Roman law saw no such advantage but demanded that slaves be returned. Paul seems to have opted for the latter. So he presumably leaves the decision up to Philemon, for Paul continues to express his need for Onesimus.

Breaking open Philemon:
1.     What moral dilemmas are you facing in your life?
2.     What might the Bible have to say about them?
3.     What might our culture have to say?

The Gospel: St. Luke 14:25-33

Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, `This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."

To regain your momentum in these difficult texts of Jesus, you may want to review Luke 12:54 – 13:9 (Proper 15C). Comments about needing to see the times for what they are, and the need for discernment, now give way to what the true cost is when following Jesus. The clear idea is one of detachment. It is Jesus’ typical ploy to upend social expectations and to rethink relationships. Thus what must be given up are dear things in our minds, parents, children, spouses, siblings, and life itself. This is not a mere turning away from such relationships – the word hate is used here. What is, then, the desirable relationship, the one worth having. It is having a part in the Kingdom of God. All other relationships then fall into line following that choice.

So we must ask ourselves, why this one community (the Kingdom) rather than the other community (the household)? We have to remember what the household really represented in the culture of Jesus’ time – perhaps in our own time as well. As the rich understand, the household – the family represent the effort to increase wealth and possessions. Just watch an hour of television commercials and you will understand this as a fundamental principle in our society. Jesus and Luke do not see this as life. Life in the kingdom is something entirely different. Jesus uses two examples to illustrate the cost of things – building a tower, and going to war. There is a cost involved, and if you cannot afford it – perhaps it is a thing not to be pursued. So what is the cost of our commitment as Christians?

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     What is your charitable giving like?
2.     What do you give to your church?
3.     What do you understand about Jesus’ demand?

General Idea;          On being a pilgrim – or Where are we going?

1st Indication:          Moving toward salvation in spite of our unfaithfulness (Track One - First Reading)

                                      Journeying toward the promise (Track Two – First Reading)

2nd Indication:          Walking with the Saints (Second Reading)

3rd Indication:          Walking without fear, knowing what’s about us. (Gospel)

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

Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2019, Michael T. Hiller

27 August 2019

The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 17, 1 September 2019

Track One:
Jeremiah 2:4-13
Psalm 81:1, 10-16

Track Two:
Sirach 10:12-18, or Proverbs 25:6-7
Psalm 112

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Saint Luke 14:1, 7-14

Background: Ancient Dining

Dining wasn’t necessarily at home as prepared food could be obtained at shops in cities and small towns. Social dining was limited to those families of means. A house might have a kitchen along with a garden for vegetables and herbs, and sometimes a trained chef. Meals were usually held in the cool of the evening, where guests were entertained in a room triclinium specifically designed for such a purpose. The diners reclined on permanent couches and leaned on the left elbow. Depending on the local culture, women were included with the men, although in Judea that may not have been true. The food was served by a servant. 

Track One:

First Reading: Jeremiah 2:4-13

Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. Thus says the Lord:

What wrong did your ancestors find in me
that they went far from me,
and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?
They did not say, "Where is the Lord
who brought us up from the land of Egypt,
who led us in the wilderness,
in a land of deserts and pits,
in a land of drought and deep darkness,
in a land that no one passes through,
where no one lives?"
I brought you into a plentiful land
to eat its fruits and its good things.
But when you entered you defiled my land,
and made my heritage an abomination.
The priests did not say, "Where is the Lord?"
Those who handle the law did not know me;
the rulers transgressed against me;
the prophets prophesied by Baal,
and went after things that do not profit.
Therefore once more I accuse you, says the Lord,
and I accuse your children's children.
Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look,
send to Kedar and examine with care;
see if there has ever been such a thing.
Has a nation changed its gods,
even though they are no gods?
But my people have changed their glory
for something that does not profit.
Be appalled, O heavens, at this,
be shocked, be utterly desolate,
says the Lord,
for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living water,
and dug out cisterns for themselves,
cracked cisterns
that can hold no water.

Here Jeremiah through poetry attempts to get the people of Judah to look at the situation they’re in and to see it from a different perspective. The prognosis is a familiar one: Israel has forgotten YHWH and ought to expect judgment. The first three versesof the chapter give us an excellent introduction to the oracle that follows:

Go, cry out this message for Jerusalem to hear!
I remember the devotion* of your youth,
how you loved me as a bride,
Following me in the wilderness,
in a land unsown. 
Israel was dedicated to the LORD,
the first fruits* of his harvest;
All who ate of it were held guilty,
evil befell them—oracle of the LORD

The provenance of Jeremiah’s oracle cannot be mistaken; several times we are told “the word of the Lord,” “hear the word of the Lord.” This oracle is about Israel’s relationship with YHWH, for “how you loved me as a bride.” What follows seems to be a brief from a legal transaction – a lawsuit, if you will. Here are presented the evidences of unfaithfulness, as unfaithfulness in a marriage. The language is stark, but poetic as well. It makes its appeal as a legal argument, and a statement of a difficult situation in beauteous terms. 

The conversation begins with a search for God, and a reasoning behind God’s apparent absence, “What wrong did your ancestors find in me?” So it is not God’s absence that is the problem, but rather the disappearance of a faithful people.  The oracle accuses Israel of “going after”(a euphemism for infidelity) the wrong things, other gods. The most interesting of the accusations is that Israel has forgotten the story of what God did for them. They no longer knew or understood the witness of their fathers and mothers. 

Finally, as in a trial’s argument, God asks the heavens to witness the unfaithfulness of the bride, “Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate. The final image is Israel forsaking God – “the fountain of living water.” Instead they dug cisterns for other waters, but the cisterns were incapable of holding water.

Breaking open Jeremiah:
1.       What is your relationship with God?
2.       How is it like a marriage?
3.       How is God like living water to you?

Psalm 81:1, 10-16 Exultate Deo

     Sing with joy to God our strength *
and raise a loud shout to the God of Jacob.
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."
11    And yet my people did not hear my voice, *
and Israel would not obey me.
12    So I gave them over to the stubbornness of their hearts, *
to follow their own devices.
13    Oh, that my people would listen to me! *
that Israel would walk in my ways!
14    I should soon subdue their enemies *
and turn my hand against their foes.
15    Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him, *
and their punishment would last for ever.
16    But Israel would I feed with the finest wheat *
and satisfy him with honey from the rock.

This is an excellent match to the first reading, using similar language and images as we experienced in the Jeremiah text. The story that is forgotten by Israel in Jeremiah is repeated in the psalm, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” But the story is met with a deaf ear, and hands that would not do the proper service. Like Pharaoh, they are abandoned to a hardened heart. God pleads with the people to listen to God’s voice. The initial voice, “I am the Lord your God…” is a quote from the beginning of the Ten Commandments, which would not have been lost on those hearing the psalm. There are promises that accompany walking in the Lord’s ways. God promises to subdue enemies and to act against their foes. The final verse is especially beautiful promising the “finest wheat,” and “honey from the rock.” Thus would God satisfy Israel.

Breaking open Psalm 81:

1.           How well do you listen?
2.           How well do you listen to those with whom you disagree?
3.           How well do you listen to God?


Track Two:

The First Reading: Sirach 10:12-18

The beginning of human pride is to forsake the Lord;
the heart has withdrawn from its Maker.
For the beginning of pride is sin,
and the one who clings to it pours out abominations.
Therefore the Lord brings upon them unheard-of calamities,
and destroys them completely.
The Lord overthrows the thrones of rulers,
and enthrones the lowly in their place.
The Lord plucks up the roots of the nations,
and plants the humble in their place.
The Lord lays waste the lands of the nations,
and destroys them to the foundations of the earth.
He removes some of them and destroys them,
and erases the memory of them from the earth.
Pride was not created for human beings,
or violent anger for those born of women.

In the Track One first reading we read of Jeremiah’s oracle against Judah who has forsaken YHWH. Ben Sira has a similar observation, although it has a much more humanistic and universalist bent: “The beginning of human pride is to forsake the Lord.” The effect of the writing is somewhat reminiscent of Percy Shelley’s poem, OzymandiasEspecially apparent here is the thought that “Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck.” Such is the wisdom of the ages. In Jeremiah or Isaiah such a judgment would be leveled on Israel, but here it is leveled on all nations, the roots of which God plucks up. It is a shame that the liturgical pericope ends as it does. The following verse, 19, offers a bit of hope:

“Whose offspring can be honorable? Human offspring.
Those who fear the LORD are honorable offspring.”

Breaking open Sirach::
1.       What were you proud of, but not so much any more?
2.       Where is your pride centered?
3.       Where do you see it in others?


First Reading: Proverbs 25:6-7

Do not put yourself forward in the king's presence
or stand in the place of the great;
for it is better to be told, "Come up here,"
than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.

I am always disappointed when the Lectionary provides alternatives to the Apocryphal readings. This one, in particular, doesn’t meet the bar that Sirach sets. Pride in our day and age has nothing to do with kings and nobles, but rather with our pride in economics or social status. Now that’s worthy of commentary. 

Breaking open Proverbs:
1.       Have you ever been humiliated?
2.       What was it like?
3.       Have you humiliated others?

Psalm 112 Beatus vir

Happy are they who fear the Lord *
and have great delight in his commandments!
     Their descendants will be mighty in the land; *
the generation of the upright will be blessed.
     Wealth and riches will be in their house, *
and their righteousness will last for ever.
     Light shines in the darkness for the upright; *
the righteous are merciful and full of compassion.
     It is good for them to be generous in lending *
and to manage their affairs with justice.
     For they will never be shaken; *
the righteous will be kept in everlasting remembrance.
     They will not be afraid of any evil rumors; *
their heart is right;
they put their trust in the Lord.
     Their heart is established and will not shrink, *
until they see their desire upon their enemies.
     They have given freely to the poor, *
and their righteousness stands fast for ever;
they will hold up their head with honor.
10    The wicked will see it and be angry;
they will gnash their teeth and pine away; *
the desires of the wicked will perish.

Once again the psalter explores the question as to who is righteous. Here in this acrostic poem we see a contrast with Psalm 111, which is a catalogue of God’s goodness. Here we read see a listing of good behavior on the part of humankind. Such individuals are seen as heroes and warriors, prosperous and upright. There is a prophetic glimpse in verse five, “It is good for them to be generous in lending and to manage their affairs with justice.” And again in verse nine, “They have given freely to the poor.” There are also interesting contrasts. Verse six sees them in “everlasting remembrance”, while in the following verse we see them not afraid of having a bad reputation. The final contrast is with the wicked – gnashing their teeth at the example of the righteous ones.

Breaking open Psalm 112:
1.       Where is righteousness in your life?
2.       How do you give to the poor?
3.       What do others see in your efforts?

Second Reading: Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, "I will never leave you or forsake you." So we can say with confidence,

"The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?"

Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Here the question is, how do the righteous live in community. This is a good topic for those who seem to be caught in the throes of present-day individualism. The principle is simple, “Let mutual love continue.” Throughout the book, the author has espoused the values of faith, hope, and love. Now the challenge is to live within those principles. There are immediate challenges that will be familiar in our world, remembering the prisoner, honoring marriage relationships, refraining from greed. These are the penultimate challenges that Hebrews offers, much like the twenty-fifth Chapter of Matthewwhere Jesus holds up the necessity of honoring the prisoner, the naked, the hungry, and the stranger. Hebrews reminds us that such deeds are not done alone, but alongside a gracious and generous God. (Pastors, note the final verse and what it says to you and your ministry!)

Breaking open Hebrews:
  1. How is faith a value in your life?
  2. How is hope a value in your life?
  3. How is love a value in your life?

The Gospel: St. Luke 14:1, 7-14

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. "When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, `Give this person your place,' and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, `Friend, move up higher'; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."
He said also to the one who had invited him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

As with last Sunday, in the verses elided from this pericope, Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, setting a similar scene of criticism of his actions. Here, however, Jesus teaches them a lesson on pride. It is a quick turn from the discussions about working on the Sabbath. Jesus wants those at dinner to question their assumptions about their status. They, after all, were only following what was expected of them by society (when to do work, how to honor the Sabbath, and where to sit at dinner). What is interesting here is that this is not only an ideation on social norms, but on the story of Jesus, himself. “And I when I am lifted up from the earth,” is not an exaltation in the story of Jesus but the crucifixion itself. His presence among us is a humiliation that benefits us. So, then, must we humiliate ourselves as well? We might take Jesus’ advice as something akin to what Miss Manners might offer. It is good advice. It is, however, more than just social grooming – or how life sometimes puts us down. It is about what we must do over against others, not just to ourselves, but for others. A good reflection in the midst of Jesus’ thoughts here might be Mary’s thoughts in the Magnificatwhere there are God made reversals of status.

What follows next is extremely appropriate to our time and circumstance. Who is it that we should feed and provide hospitality for? Followers of the so-called prosperity Gospel would see that in their richly blessed friends. Jesus, however, again hearing what he has to say in Matthew 25, would see that obligation needing to be met for the hungry, oppressed, and poor. 

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.       Where do you see yourself in this story?
2.       What do you do with the embarrassment of being “one upped”?
3.       How do you meet the expectations of Matthew 25?

Central Idea:               Wherein does my pride lie?

1st Idea:                        Pride in having a relationship with God (Jeremiah – Track One)

                                      The broken promises of human pride (Sirach/Proverbs – Track Two)

2nd Idea:                       Giving pride of place to those in need (Hebrews)

3rdIdea:                        Seeing our pride in the righteousness of giving (Luke)

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

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; 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 © 2019, Michael T. Hiller