22 June 2020

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 8, 28 June 2020

Track 1
Track 2
Genesis 22:1-14
Psalm 13
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42

Jeremiah 28:5-9
Psalm 89:1-4,15-18
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42

The Collect

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Background: Prophets

One of the problems we have with understanding the prophets is the very word that we use to describe them. Our word “prophet” comes from the Greek combination of pro (in advance of) and the verb phesein (to speak or tell), thus prophetes. The Hebrew, however, has a different aspect to it. The word is navi, or spokesperson. This understanding has not so much to do with the future as it does with what ever God wants communicated or expressed. It is best described in Deuteronomy 18:18, “and will put my words into the mouth of the prophet; the prophet shall tell them all that I command.” In order to communicate the divine messages that had been put upon them, the prophets often used more than words to communicate these messages. Isaiah used the names of his children, and Jeremiah used a pot, linen belt, or yoke bar, as in the Track Two First Reading. The message is not to the future or even about the future necessarily but rather God’s word to the here and now. Now, how can our preaching and witnessing be prophetic?

Track One:

First Reading: Genesis 22:1-14

God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

The Track One readings continue with a lectio continua from the Patriarchal History in Genesis. Von Rad sees this story, today’s reading, as an ancient tradition that is inserted at this point. He describes it as “the most perfectly formed and polished of all the patriarchal stories.”[1] It is from the E document, and most probably existed before its placement here in the narrative. Von Rad also warns us not to see this as an etiology describing Israel’s rejection of Canaanite child sacrifice. The theme is quite simply stated in the initial verse: “God tested Abraham.” Abraham does not see it, at least initially, as a test, but as a direct command from God. “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…” There is a dramatic pacing in the phraseology – son, only son, loved son. It drills down to reveal the relationship that Abraham has with Isaac. The details that are outlined in the narrative slow the narrative down, as in the “only son” phrase allowing us to be troubled with the proposed future. At the end it is the relationship with God that is explored. It is the angel that appears, but it is God who speaks, “Do not lay your hand on the boy…” Does God miraculously provide, or does God just give Abraham the gift of sight? “And Abraham looked up and saw a ram.” But that is not the only gift. God says to Abraham, “for now I know that you fear God,” the whole intent of the test. The final verses provide an etiology regarding the name, “the Lord will provide.”

Breaking open Genesis:

1.     How would you describe the love you have for a family member?
2.     How would you describe the relationship between Abraham and God?
3.     Have you ever been tested in your love for God?

Psalm 13 Usquequo, Domine?

     How long, O Lord?
will you forget me for ever? *
how long will you hide your face from me?
2      How long shall I have perplexity in my mind,
and grief in my heart, day after day? *
how long shall my enemy triumph over me?
3      Look upon me and answer me, O Lord my God; *
give light to my eyes, lest I sleep in death;
4      Lest my enemy say, "I have prevailed over him," *
and my foes rejoice that I have fallen.
5      But I put my trust in your mercy; *
my heart is joyful because of your saving help.
6      I will sing to the Lord, for he has dealt with me richly; *
I will praise the Name of the Lord Most High.

The psalm of lament has three parts. Verses 1-2 provide the lamentation, a hint at a hidden or absent God, and an enemy as well. Verses 3-4 compose a prayer in which the psalmist asks that God attend to him. The specifics are quite human, “look upon me and answer me.” The line that follows almost mirrors what the psalmist requests of God, in that he requests “light for his (own) eyes.”  The enemy appears again in the prayer. The final two verses conclude the psalm. There is mercy, trust, song, and praise that come in response to the request of the psalmist that must have been answered by God.

Breaking open Psalm 13:

1.     What is your lament in life?
2.     How do you talk to others, or to God about your lament?
3.     How will you respond to God’s answer?


Track Two:

First Reading: Jeremiah 28:5-9

The prophet Jeremiah spoke to the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the Lord; and the prophet Jeremiah said, “Amen! May the Lord do so; may the Lord fulfill the words that you have prophesied, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the Lord, and all the exiles. But listen now to this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people. The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.”

It might prove helpful if you would read the verses preceding (Jeremiah 28:1-4) this reading to understand the context in which both Hananiah, and Jeremiah speak. They speak to Babylonian problem that the liturgical vessels from the Temple have been taken away from Jerusalem. The prophetic object used is here is a yoke bar. Hananiah is in disagreement with Jeremiah, and the two speak differently about the situation. Jeremiah wants to give some direction to people in discerning which of the prophets is truly speaking God’s word. Jeremiah does not see following in the ancient track of the prophets who have come before. In some respects Jeremiah is telling the people that the “proof is in the pudding.”

Breaking open Jeremiah:

1.     How do you discern the truth?
2.     What role does tradition play in your life?
3.     When do you move beyond that tradition?

Psalm 89:1-4,15-18 Misericordias Domini

     Your love, O Lord, for ever will I sing; *
from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness.
2      For I am persuaded that your love is established for ever; *
you have set your faithfulness firmly in the heavens.
3      "I have made a covenant with my chosen one; *
I have sworn an oath to David my servant:
4      'I will establish your line for ever, *
and preserve your throne for all generations.'"
15      Happy are the people who know the festal shout! *
they walk, O Lord, in the light of your presence.
16      They rejoice daily in your Name; *
they are jubilant in your righteousness.
17      For you are the glory of their strength, *
and by your favor our might is exalted.
18      Truly, the Lord is our ruler; *
the Holy One of Israel is our King.

This psalm has three parts: 1) verses 1-18, a hymn that praises God, 2) verses 19-37, promises made to the Davidic king, and 3) a lament which notes that God has given up on the covenant made with “your servant”, that is the Davidic kings. Our rescission of the psalm displays only a rejoicing in the covenant that the latter verses repudiate. The psalm, therefore, represents the hope of the kingship; the vision of what life under a godly ruler might be like. The final line of the psalm betrays its true intent, namely that God is the ruler.

Breaking open Psalm 89:

1.     What is your vision of how this nation should be ruled?
2.     What do these times tell you about that?
3.     What role might God play in all of this?

Second Reading: Romans 6:12-23

Do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.

When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Again, Paul uses the body as a way of getting at the message he wishes to convey to the church at Rome. The real subject is sin, and the model for seeing the consequence4s of sin is our very body. In our reading “the members”, in other words our limbs need to be used for righteousness sake, and not for sinful ends. He also uses the example of slavery or service. Do you want to serve sin, or do you want to serve God (obedience)? For Paul, sin leads to death, but he preaches that we have been freed from sin and death and are called to life.

Breaking open Romans:

1.     How has your body been used in service to sinful things?
2.     How has it been used to benefit others?
3.     How has it been used for life?

The Gospel: St. Matthew 10:40-42

Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet's reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple-- truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

I like the translation in the New American Bible – “Whoever receives you receives me.” Welcoming leaves the one coming to us still outside of us, but reception takes that one in – into our very selves. We might wonder how we might receive Jesus in our lives, and Jesus gives us the possibility of three sources: the prophet (a preacher?), the righteous one (a follower, a disciple?), and the surprising third, one of these little ones, showing how in our work of ministry, even the hearer can teach us and give us a vision of the Christ. What a message for our times, which call us to look at every man and every woman as a field “white unto harvest.”

General idea:          On Being Prophetic

Idea 1:                      Appreciating God’s tests (Track One, First Reading)

                                  Discerning God’s message (Track Two, First Reading)

Idea 2:                      Listening for God’s answer (Psalm 13)

                                  Understanding God’s promise (Psalm 89)

Idea 3:                      God’s message in our bodies (Second Reading)

Idea 4:                      God’s prophets to us (Gospel)

All questions and commentary copyright © 2020, Michael T. Hiller

[1]    Von Rad, G. (1961), Genesis, A Commentary, The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, page 238.

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