15 June 2020

The Third Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 7, 21 June 2020




Track 1
or
Track 2
Genesis 21:8-21
Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17
Romans 6:1b-11
Matthew 10:24-39

Jeremiah 20:7-13
Psalm 69: 8-11, (12-17), 18-20
Romans 6:1b-11
Matthew 10:24-39



The Collect

O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving­kindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.



Background: Family Life in Ancient Israel

In our time the notion of family is not only fluid, but is more compact than that of ancient cultures. In Israel there were three basic entities that comprised the family. The first was the bayit, the household – similar to our concept of family, but including a larger number of people. The household would be comprised of not only the mother, father, and children, but also grand parents, aunts, uncles, debt servants, slaves, concubines, resident aliens, guests, day laborers, and orphans. It should be noted here that polygamy was common in large wealthy households, as is evidenced in the first reading (Track One) for this Sunday.  It was also in this smallest of the entities that children were nurtured, educated, and disciplined.

The second was the mishpachah, which we would understand with the word “clan”. This entity would include several households of kin or other related folk.

Finally there was the mattah, or tribe, which would be comprised by several clans.

Track One:

First Reading: Genesis 21:8-21

The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.

When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.

God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.



In order to understand the context of this story, you may wish to review the situation about Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar in Genesis 16, and further in Genesis 21:1-4. Given that background, you can now see how the story of Hagar, Sarah, and Abraham continues. It should be noted that in Chapter 21 we are in a different strand of the document. In Chapter 16, we read from the Yahwhist’s history. Chapter 21 is from the hand of the Elohist. Abraham plays a more passive rĂ´le in the former chapter, and indeed it is Sarah’s mistreatment of Hagar, which causes her to run away (see verse 16:6). This version of the tradition includes an intervention by YHWH, a blessing poem, and an etiology about the well at Beer-lahai-roi.

In our reading Abraham is not so sanguine about the dismissal of Hagar and his/her son Ishmael. God repeats the promises made in the Y account, and the remainder of the reading is a reminder of the protection that God has for Ishmael and Hagar, and the beginnings of another patriarchal story.

If there is a theme here, it is one that we shall see repeated with Isaac later on. The theme is that God hears, and then acts. “God heard the boys voice, and God’s angel called to Hagar from heaven…’do not fear.’” The name Ishmael means, “God has heard”. Certainly some sermonizing might be done here regarding immigrants and refugees.

Breaking open Genesis:

1.     In what ways does your family part from the “norm”?
2.     In what ways have you asked things of God?
3.     How has God heard you?

Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17 Inclina, Domine

     Bow down your ear, O Lord, and answer me, *
for I am poor and in misery.
2      Keep watch over my life, for I am faithful; *
save your servant who puts his trust in you.
3      Be merciful to me, O Lord, for you are my God; *
I call upon you all the day long.
4      Gladden the soul of your servant, *
for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
5      For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, *
and great is your love toward all who call upon you.
6      Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer, *
and attend to the voice of my supplications.
7      In the time of my trouble I will call upon you, *
for you will answer me.
8      Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord, *
nor anything like your works.
9      All nations you have made will come and worship you, O Lord, *
and glorify your Name.
10      For you are great;
you do wondrous things; *
and you alone are God.
16      Turn to me and have mercy upon me; *
give your strength to your servant;
and save the child of your handmaid.
17      Show me a sign of your favor,
so that those who hate me may see it and be ashamed; *
because you, O Lord, have helped me and comforted me.




Somewhat like a quilt, this psalm of lament is made up of quotes and passages from other laments. In verses one through four, we meet the petitioner, the psalmist. He describes not only his condition, “poor and in misery,” but also his piety as well, “for you are my God.” At verse five, we see God as the answer to the psalmist’s prayer. The psalmist describes the divine attributes that will serve as the answer to the prayer given: “good and forgiving…you will answer me…you do wondrous things.”  The elided verses are comprised of a request for knowledge and truth, and further descriptions of the miseries experienced by the psalmist. The sixteenth verse ties the psalm to the Track One First Reading, “and save the child of your handmaid.”

Breaking open Psalm 86:

1.     When have you been in misery?
2.     Whom did you ask to help you?
3.     What did their aid entail?

Or

Track Two:

First Reading: Jeremiah 20:7-13

Lord, you have enticed me,
and I was enticed;
you have overpowered me,
and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughingstock all day long;
everyone mocks me.
For whenever I speak, I must cry out,
I must shout, "Violence and destruction!"
For the word of the Lord has become for me
a reproach and derision all day long.
If I say, "I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,"
then within me there is something like a burning fire
shut up in my bones;
I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.
For I hear many whispering:
"Terror is all around!
Denounce him! Let us denounce him!"
All my close friends
are watching for me to stumble.
"Perhaps he can be enticed,
and we can prevail against him,
and take our revenge on him."
But the Lord is with me like a dread warrior;
therefore my persecutors will stumble,
and they will not prevail.
They will be greatly shamed,
for they will not succeed. 
Their eternal dishonor
will never be forgotten.
Lord of hosts, you test the righteous,
you see the heart and the mind;
let me see your retribution upon them,
for to you I have committed my cause.
Sing to the Lord;
praise the Lord!
For he has delivered the life of the needy
from the hands of evildoers.





John Bright entitles this pericope, “Jeremiah in Tension with His Calling.” Our reading’s translation reads, “O Lord, you have enticed me.” Bright’s translation has a similar flavor, highlighting the captivating nature of Jeremiah’s argument with God, “You seduced me, Yahweh, and I let you; you seized and overcame me.”[1] Jeremiah has been put (or put himself) in a difficult situation. In 19:11 we see the thorn Jeremiah has placed in Judah’s side. The Lord commanded that Jeremiah go to the Potsherd gate, and to break a bottle with the imprecation of verse 11, “Thus will I smash this people and this city.” It was common in many ancient near eastern cultures to use imprecation texts such as this, write them on a pottery jar, and then smash them. The result of this act is that he is struck by the priest Pashhur, and put into the stocks. The poem that follows this scene is our reading for today. It is about inner turmoil and reluctance to follow God’s call. In the de Profundis that follows in verses fourteen to eighteen, Jeremiah echoes Job’s cry, “Cursed be the day whereon I was born.” Jeremiah is persecuted for speaking God’s word to that time and that place. This is the true meaning of prophecy. It is not a view into the future as in looking into a crystal ball, but rather speaking God’s will and word to the now. What might our preachers’ words be to our time?

Breaking open Jeremiah:

1.     When have you had to deliver a difficult message?
2.     What were the repercussions’?
3.     Who supported you in your mission?


Psalm 69: 8-11, (12-17), 18-20 Salvum me fac

     Surely, for your sake have I suffered reproach, *
and shame has covered my face.
9      I have become a stranger to my own kindred, *
an alien to my mother's children.
10      Zeal for your house has eaten me up; *
the scorn of those who scorn you has fallen upon me.
11      I humbled myself with fasting, *
but that was turned to my reproach.
[12      I put on sack-cloth also, *
and became a byword among them.
13      Those who sit at the gate murmur against me, *
and the drunkards make songs about me.
14      But as for me, this is my prayer to you, *
at the time you have set, O Lord:
15      "In your great mercy, O God, *
answer me with your unfailing help.
16      Save me from the mire; do not let me sink; *
let me be rescued from those who hate me
and out of the deep waters.
17      Let not the torrent of waters wash over me,
neither let the deep swallow me up; *
do not let the Pit shut its mouth upon me.]
18      Answer me, O Lord, for your love is kind; *
in your great compassion, turn to me.'
19      "Hide not your face from your servant; *
be swift and answer me, for I am in distress.
20      Draw near to me and redeem me; *
because of my enemies deliver me.



Psalm 22 is the psalm most frequently quoted in the New Testament, and Psalm 69 follows close behind. Reading through its verses, which describe the ignominy meted out to the psalmist, we can see how they might apply to Jesus as well. Here, we can see their relationship to Jeremiah’s mission and then suffering. Like the psalm that accompanies Track One’s First Reading, this is a lament as well, which at verse thirty turns into a thanksgiving. In his commentary, Artur Weiser notes that some have felt that this particular psalm was influenced by the Jeremiah incident, but it is more likely to come from the time of the Seleucid kings, when attempts were made to Hellenize the Jews. The opening line ties God’s call to the subsequent sufferings, “Surely, for your sake have I suffered reproach.” One wonders if we as prophets, preachers, and followers of the Way, have not “suffered reproach”, are we really preaching the folly of the Gospel.

Breaking Open Psalm 69:

1.     Where or when have you suffered for your faith?
2.     Where might have you suffered for your faith?
3.     Why didn’t that happen?

Second Reading: Romans 6:1b-11

Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.



Please excuse me for a rather personal aside. This verse reminds me of a time when I had a conversation with my father (a Lutheran pastor) and my mother about my homosexuality. When I offered that I thought that my faith had grown a great deal along with my struggling with my sexual orientation, my father replied with this line from today’s reading: “Should we continue in sin in order that grace might abound?” The difficulty for me was that my life in Christ, in the various graces given to me, had led me to know that the grace was sufficient – that it was given to me as a gay man.

I am reminded here, especially, of Luther’s comments on Baptism,

“What then is the significance of such a baptism with water?
It signifies that the old person in us with all sins and evil desires is to be drowned and die through daily sorrow for sin and through repentance, on the other hand that daily a new person is to come forth and rise up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”[2]

The question that humankind has had to live with from creation onwards is one about death. Can we live without it? Or, must we all recognize that we live within the bounds of death – it is a part of living. Here Paul links death with Baptism and the death of Christ. Luther saw that in the new person rising from the death of sleep each day – called to be a new person. Thus the man, the woman linked with Christ, enters into the body be means of a baptismal death, and rises with Christ then each day. Now, what do we do with the sin part? Paul wants us to be dead to sin, but alive in Christ. It is the synecdoche of Christian life, living with death, dying to live.

Breaking open Romans:

1.     What are your feelings about death?
2.     How do you understand your Baptism?
3.     How do you continue in your Baptism?

The Gospel: St. Matthew 10:24-39

Jesus said to the twelve disciples, “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!

“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”



This material in Matthew follows on Jesus’ discourse to the disciples on being in mission. As we have learned from the Jeremiah reading (Track Two) and Psalm 69, there are consequences to following Jesus, and being in mission with him. Jesus tries to prepare the disciples for those eventualities. You may want to look at the parallels in Mark 13:9-13 to see how this discourse was originally presented, as Mark places it in the context of the Passion. Suffering in mission is a part of the Passion of Jesus. In Matthew these warnings follow the commissioning of the disciples – early on. You may want to look at Matthew 9:34 to understand the saying about Beelzebul.

What follows are a series of comparisons: the hidden and the revealed, the darkness and the light, the whispered and the shouted, killing the body, killing the soul. This is the radical nature of the mission and Gospel of Jesus – there is to be fundamental change. Such change might instill fear, but Jesus encourages them. “Do not be afraid,” is repeated to clarify the point.
           
Jesus continues in this vein with an antipode on peace and the sword. You may wish to compare Matthew’s version with Luke’s in 12:49-53. In Matthew this saying may have a special significance in that Matthew reflects the Christian community divided from the Jewish community in the Levant. Jesus did cause division, and the description of families being divided against one another was not just a metaphor but also a reality. This theme of opposites continues with the final saying about taking up the cross and losing life. Wrestling with this in our time may be quite beneficial to the church.

Breaking open the Gospel:

1.     Has religion ever divided your family?
2.     How might baptism reconcile you?
3.     What have you given up to follow Jesus?

General Idea:          Division

Instance 1:          When social custom asks us to divide (Track One, First Reading)

                             When our preaching crosses the social norm (Track Two, First Reading)

Instance 2:          Where is God in our difficulties (Both Psalms)

Instance 3:          When we must part from and accept death (Second Reading)

Instance 4:          The consequences of following Jesus (Gospel)





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


[1]    Bright, J. (1965), The Anchor Bible Jeremiah, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, page 129.
[2]    Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, (2006), Evangelical Lutheran Worship, Augsburg Fortress, Minneapolis, page 1165.

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