The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 7) - 20 June 2010

Isaiah 65:1-9
Psalm 22
Galatians 3:23-29
Saint Luke 8:26-39


… and my servants shall settle there.       

We are so familiar with the divisions of the Bible that we are often not aware of earlier redactions of the text.  Today we read from “Third Isaiah” who’s theology differs from that of Second Isaiah (Chapters 40-55) and First Isaiah (Chapters 1-39).  These differences are a result of the time when written and of the circumstances of the intended audience.  None-the-less, it gives us an opportunity to delve deeper into the experience of the Word if we observe these differences and divisions.  After all, these were real words for real people.  It helps us to know what it is that they heard or read in these words.

Isaiah 65:1-9

I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask,
to be found by those who did not seek me.
I said, "Here I am, here I am,"
to a nation that did not call on my name.
I held out my hands all day long to a rebellious people,
who walk in a way that is not good,
following their own devices;
a people who provoke me
to my face continually,
sacrificing in gardens
and offering incense on bricks;
who sit inside tombs,
and spend the night in secret places;
who eat swine's flesh,
with broth of abominable things in their vessels;
who say, "Keep to yourself,
do not come near me, for I am too holy for you."
These are a smoke in my nostrils,
a fire that burns all day long.
See, it is written before me:
I will not keep silent, but I will repay;
I will indeed repay into their laps
their iniquities and their ancestors' iniquities together,
says the LORD;
because they offered incense on the mountains
and reviled me on the hills,
I will measure into their laps
full payment for their actions.
Thus says the LORD:
As the wine is found in the cluster,
and they say, "Do not destroy it,
for there is a blessing in it,"
so I will do for my servants' sake,
and not destroy them all.
I will bring forth descendants from Jacob,
and from Judah inheritors of my mountains;
my chosen shall inherit it,
and my servants shall settle there.

What we know as the Book of Isaiah contains the work of at least three individuals, all who write a different period’s in the history of Israel, and all of whom have different points of view concerning the nation’s destiny and status before God.  Today’s reading, from a so-called “Third Isaiah” is written after the period of exile and return, but it takes a slightly more conservative stance than that of the previous section (Chapters 40-55).  This prophet takes the position that the temple and sacrifice are necessary, and strict observance of the Law of Moses is also required.  In these verses he bewails the failings of the Israelite audience he seeks.  They sit in tombs, eat pork, and do other forbidden things.  To these unfaithful ones, this Isaiah prophesies doom.  In verse eight and nine, we hear a different voice, for the prophet perceives a different audience – one’s who have been faithful to the God of Israel.  To these, the prophet promises the lands that they have returned to God’s faithful presence and protection.

Breaking open II Samuel:
1.    What are the actions and activities that Isaiah finds so reprehensible in the first few verses of the reading?
2.    What are the promises that are made to the faithful?

George Rouault’s “Crucifixion”

Psalm 22:18-27 Deus, Deus, meus

Be not far away, O LORD; *
you are my strength; hasten to help me.

Save me from the sword, *
my life from the power of the dog.

Save me from the lion's mouth, *
my wretched body from the horns of wild bulls.

I will declare your Name to my brethren; *
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.

Praise the LORD, you that fear him; *
stand in awe of him, O offspring of Israel;
all you of Jacob's line, give glory.

For he does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty;
neither does he hide his face from them; *
but when they cry to him he hears them.

My praise is of him in the great assembly; *
I will perform my vows in the presence of those who worship him.

The poor shall eat and be satisfied,
and those who seek the LORD shall praise him: *
"May your heart live for ever!"

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, *
and all the families of the nations shall bow before him.

For kingship belongs to the LORD; *
he rules over the nations.

Anyone who has attended the Maundy Thursday Liturgy will recognize this psalm.  These are the words that are either spoken or sung as the altar is stripped and left barren for the Good Friday Liturgy.  A quick read of the entire psalm will give the sense of why this choice was made, in that the verses have an uncanny connection to the agonies of the crucifixion and verse 2 are the words that Jesus speaks in Aramaic from the cross (My God, my God…). We only have portion of the psalm this morning.  The first half (verses 18-21) still continues to lay out the agonies of a suffering human being, someone deeply in prayer asking God’s intervention.  At verse 22, the tone shifts, and now the psalmist praises God for prayers that have been presumably been answered.  

Breaking open Psalm 22
1.     What parts of the psalm remind you of the crucifixion?
2.     What parts remind you of your own troubles?
3.     How do you respond when your troubles seem to be resolved?

Galatians 3:23-29

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Sadao Watanabe’s “Baptism of Jesus”

In his on-going discourse on the Law, Paul continues to cite the limitations of the Law, and the new status that Christians enjoy because of their baptism.  Paul makes the claim that the law (which he calls “our disciplinarian”) is no longer necessary.  Baptized into Christ, we now share in Christ’s graces.  But it is more than individuals who are affected by this new distinction – whole classes of people are thought of differently.  Jews, Greeks, males, females, slaves, freedmen and freedwomen – all are in the same boat, all are one in Christ Jesus.  This is a word that so desperately needs to be heard in our society.

Breaking open Galatians:
  1. How is the Law your “disciplinarian” – what parts of what you think God wants in your life have you not been able to accomplish?
  2. What does your baptism mean to you?  How do you remember it?
  3. What does “being one in Jesus Christ” mean to you?

Saint Luke 8:26-39

Jesus and his disciples arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me" -- for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?" He said, "Legion"; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.

Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”

This rather odd story gives us a clue as to why the Hebrew reading for today, and the Psalm were chosen.  At the very least, it proclaims through its actions that which Jesus wanted to proclaim, namely, that the Kingdom of God was at hand.  To that end we meet the “demons” who possess the man, and indeed the man himself – who lives in a tomb (see the verses in the Hebrew reading).  That Jesus should cleanse the man, gives evidence of his universal scope.  He is not bothered by demon, tomb-dwelling, or swine.  What he wants is for the man to experience the presence of God in his life – and so he does, and announces it to others.  The people who witness this, however, are not “amazed” (Luke’s code word for belief) but rather they are afraid.  The Kingdom of God cuts with a sharp knife the faithful from the unfaithful (again, see the Hebrew reading).

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. When the Bible speaks of “demons” what do you think of?
  2. Is mental illness demonic?
  3. How do those who are mentally ill participate in the Kingdom of God?

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

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 loving kindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


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