The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 21, 29 September 2019

Track One:
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16

Track Two:
Amos 6:1a, 4-7
Psalm 146

I Timothy 6:6-19
Saint Luke 16:19-31

Background: Sheol

The name for this concept of where the dead go is either Sheol or in some cases this place was known as abaddon (ruin),or Bor (the pit). All the dead went here, not just the righteous, but the wicked as well. It was a place of separation from both life and God, a place of silence and darkness. In the Hebrew Scriptures there are instances where contact with the dead was possible, such as the story of the Witch of Endor, but such transactions were forbidden, see Deuteronomy 18:10-11. Later, in the Second Temple Period (500 BCE – 70 CE) the ideas around Sheol became more complex with a compartmentalization of the place, where the separated righteous and wicked awaited the Day of Judgement. A perfect example of this concept is found in the Gospel reading for today.

Track One:

First Reading: Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him.

Jeremiah said, The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, "Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours." Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, "Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself." Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.

And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.

In this reading from Jeremiah we have an example from daily life, here the purchase of some property, which serves to illustrate the prophet’s message to Judah. The elision of verses 3b-5leaves out an oracle against Judah which pronounces judgment against the king, and looks forward to the Babylonian invasion. It might be helpful in your study of the text to read the oracle and understand what Jeremiah is attempting to convey in his message. That he should disclose what the future will be for Judah gives power to his vision of the future that lays beyond that horrific vision. There is another word of the Lord in this reading. The first of them is a word of judgment, but the latter word is a word of promise and hope. “Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.” That is a strong statement and vision, for one had only to look north and remember that Assyria had completely devastated the Northern Kingdom. Would that not happen here? Was there hope beyond the treachery of Babylon?

Breaking open Jeremiah:
1.       What was the dreadful future that Jeremiah saw at first?
2.       What future is indicated in his purchase of the field?
3.       How do your eyes of faith see the future?

Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16 Qui habitat

     He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, *
abides under the shadow of the Almighty.
     He shall say to the Lord,
"You are my refuge and my stronghold, *
my God in whom I put my trust."
     He shall deliver you from the snare of the hunter *
and from the deadly pestilence.
     He shall cover you with his pinions,
and you shall find refuge under his wings; *
his faithfulness shall be a shield and buckler.
     You shall not be afraid of any terror by night, *
nor of the arrow that flies by day;
     Of the plague that stalks in the darkness, *
nor of the sickness that lays waste at mid-day.
14    Because he is bound to me in love,
therefore will I deliver him; *
I will protect him, because he knows my Name.
15    He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; *
I am with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and bring him to honor.
16    With long life will I satisfy him, *
and show him my salvation.

It is so strange that the framers of the lectionary decided to elide verses 7-13from the liturgical reading for today, for they are a certain match to the threats made in the first reading from Jeremiah. The hope of the latter part of the story is also here. It is a psalm of protection which rejoices in God’s saving power. There are three speakers in this poem, 1) the psalmist (verses 1, and 3-13, 2) the one who trusts in God (verse 2), and God (verses 14-16. In the psalm we have an unusual (although not totally unfamiliar) image of God as a bird – a hen – “He shall cover you with his pinions.” 

Breaking open Psalm 91:

1.           How do you protect your family?
2.           How does that seem like God’s protection of you?
3.           How is God a hen?


Track Two:

First Reading:Amos 6:1a,4-7

Alas for those who are at ease in Zion,
and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria.
Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory,
and lounge on their couches,
and eat lambs from the flock,
and calves from the stall;
who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp,
and like David improvise on instruments of music;
who drink wine from bowls,
and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!
Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile,
and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.

Amos seems to address both his native Judah and the land of his prophetic work, Israel in the opening verses of this oracle. Both Jerusalem (Zion) and Samaria are mentioned. They are both caught in the same net of wickedness. Amos sees them as being totally unaware, caught up in the delights of daily life, unaware of the threat that faces them. The images that Amos, a farmer, serves up for us must have truly horrified him. He depicts a people living in luxury – beds of ivory, couches, choice meats and wines, ointments and precious oils, all consumed to lovely songs worthy of David. The luxuries keep them from knowing the truth of their situation – they are doomed, “They shall now be the first to go into exile.”Amos sees with a sure vision what is to come. This life will soon be gone.

Breaking open Amos:
1.       What luxuries do you have in your life?
2.       Have they made charity difficult for you?
3.       How do you make it possible for the hungry to eat?

Psalm 146 Lauda, anima mea

Praise the Lord, O my soul! *
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
     Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth, *
for there is no help in them.
     When they breathe their last, they return to earth, *
and in that day their thoughts perish.
     Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help! *
whose hope is in the Lord their God;
     Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them; *
who keeps his promise for ever;
     Who gives justice to those who are oppressed, *
and food to those who hunger.
     The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind; *
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
     The Lord loves the righteous;
the Lord cares for the stranger; *
he sustains the orphan and widow,
but frustrates the way of the wicked.
     The Lord shall reign for ever, *
your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.

Psalm 146 serves as an exact opposite to what Amos has depicted in the first reading. The life of luxury – of royal privilege is of no avail, “Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth, for there is no help in them.” The life of those folk is contrasted with those who trust in God, Jacob’s God. There is a rehearsal of what this God has done, creation and all that God has made. God serves as a model for human behavior, the opposite to the lazy souls in Amos. Justice, bread, freedom, sight, healing, these are all gifts of God to God’s people. The widow and orphan are fed and kept. This is the God of Israel – the God who lives with God’s people in Zion. 

Breaking open Psalm 146:
1.       In what rulers do you put your trust?
2.       How does that work for you?
3.       Where have you trusted God?

Second Reading: I Timothy 6:6-19

There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time-- he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

Like Amos, Paul recognizes the difficulty that wealth presents. He encourages a simple lifestyle – no lounging on ivory couches for him. He sees life as a combination of godliness and contentment. It is a point of view that is at variance with not only his time, but our own time as well. Here Paul falls in line not only with how he reads the teachings of Jesus, but of the Greek philosophers as well. He honors autarkeia (contentment) and in that regard mirrors Job as well. “Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I go back again.” (Job 1:21). In conversations with friends as we grow old in life there are always comments about what to do with all that we have acquired – in-spite of our attempts to follow Jesus. 

It is not being rich (for we are all of us really rich) it is rather wanting to be rich – reaching for it often at the expense of others. It is here we see the difficulty through the lenses of our time and its values. The value that Paul sees is being “rich in good works.”His advice to Timothy here is rich in suggestion about how to not only do that but to be that. Righteousness for the sake of others is the message here, one that is commended to Timothy as a messenger of the Gospel.

Breaking open I Timothy:
  1. How wealthy are you?
  2. In what ways are you poor?
  3. What are the riches of goodness that you do?

The Gospel: St. Luke 16:19-31

Jesus said, "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, `Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' But Abraham said, `Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.' He said, `Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house-- for I have five brothers-- that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.' Abraham replied, `They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.' He said, `No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, `If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"

If you are anxious to study this text, you might want to look at the verses (16:14-18) that precede it, providing an introduction to the situation that results in Jesus’ parable. The section is begun with these words, “The Pharisees who loved money.” How can that notion and righteousness exist in the life of those who follow the Torah? This is Jesus’ question, and the parable explores an answer to the conundrum. Jesus had previously presented the contrast of service to God with the slavery to wealth and status. Luke calls them philargyroi – lovers of silver. The argument here is not about wealth per se but rather how to honor and follow the Torah. (Thus, the challenges about not only wealthy but marriage and divorce as well.) 

The contrasts here in the parable are painted in the extreme. The rich man has not only a wealth of money and things, but of friends and relationships as well. Everything that he has, the poor man has not. His friends are the dogs, who see him as a meal ticket. One thing that is highlighted here is the necessity to preserve wealth. The relationships at the rich man’s dinner table are not so much for the joy of companionship as for the maintenance of status. There is no place at this man’s table for other people’s needs and hnger. What the prophets have taught about the widow and the orphan is totally ignored and forgotten here. It is the ancient sin of Israel and Judah (see Amos). 

Death intervenes and suddenly the roles that the two men occupy is reversed. The one receives the richness of heaven, and the other the poverty of Sheol. It is a situation that does not escape the rich man’s eyes. He see’s the poor man’s company with Abraham – talk about status. The pleading of the rich man for a word to his brothers is quickly met with the stark realization that they already have what the rich man has requested – Moses and the Prophets. In other words, the Pharisees already have the answer to their challenges and questions of Jesus. They just can’t see it. 

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.       Where do you see this parable in your life?
2.       What does the rich man represent to you?
3.       What does the poor man represent to you?

Central Idea:               How to live in spite of our wealth

Example 1:                  The wealth of the future, (First Reading – Track One)

                                      The wealth that does not engender a future (First Reading – Track Two)

                                      What deeds our wealth makes possible (Psalm 146)

Example 2:                  Wealth providing for a richness of good works (Second Reading)

Example 3:                  Opportunities lost (Gospel)

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

O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; 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


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