The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 12) - 25 July 2010

Genesis 18:20-32
Psalm 138
Colossians 2:6-19
Saint Luke 11:1-13

      The Four Gospels

A quick word about the composition of the Gospels: With today’s Gospel, and its version of the Our Father, recorded by St. Luke, we get a glimpse of how these materials came together.  Mark is the earliest, shortest, and simplest of the four Gospels, and both Matthew and Luke depend on Mark.  In addition they depend on a hypothetical common source called “Q” (which stands for the German word Quelle, which means “Source”), and each of them on separate traditions peculiar to each of them.  Mark, Matthew, and Luke are called the “Synoptic” (that is, “with one eye”) Gospels. John, on the other hand is dependent on none of these materials, having his own chronology, themes, sayings, and symbols.  If there is any correspondence between the synoptics and John, it is to Luke.  Reading the Gospels, and paying attention to the various readings and differences enriches the reading, and give us space for thinking through how we perceive these stories of Jesus and the Good News that he tells.

Genesis 18:20-32

The LORD said to Abraham, "How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know."

So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the LORD. Then Abraham came near and said, "Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?" And the LORD said, "If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake." Abraham answered, "Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?" And he said, "I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there." Again he spoke to him, "Suppose forty are found there." He answered, "For the sake of forty I will not do it." Then he said, "Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there." He answered, "I will not do it, if I find thirty there." He said, "Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there." He answered, "For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it." Then he said, "Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there." He answered, "For the sake of ten I will not destroy it."

This will be a lesson that American hearers will be hard pressed to understand.  The theological dilemma is old, and its expression in communities has been varied.  In American life, the individual is dominant, sometimes to the detriment of the collective.  In the Ancient Near East, however, the opposite was true.  It was the collective that counted and not the individual, and it is here that we come to the nub of the bargaining that Abraham has with Yahweh, and the unique place that Abraham holds in the theological scheme of things.  The question is this: Must the righteous “one” suffer because of the sins of the many?  This particular reading is not concerned with the nature of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah but rather who must pay.  The Book of Job explores similar questions about the righteous and suffering.  Thus Abraham, the unique righteous individual, the “one”, recognized by Yahweh, haggles with Yahweh over the fate of the righteous people of Sodom.  Abraham stops at ten, and one wonders what might have happened if he had fought for “one”.  Abraham is that “one” and his family (the collective extension of the “one”) is saved due to his righteousness.  The sins of the many must now be reckoned with.

Breaking open Genesis:
1.     What comes into your mind when you think of Sodom and Gomorrah?
2.     Have you ever argued or bargained with God?  If not, why not?
3.     Is there such a thing as collective guilt?  How does an individual participate in the collective guilt?
4.     Can you think of an example of collective guilt?

Psalm 138 Confitebor tibi

I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with my whole heart; *
before the gods I will sing your praise.

I will bow down toward your holy temple
and praise your Name, *
because of your love and faithfulness;

For you have glorified your Name *
and your word above all things.

When I called, you answered me; *
you increased my strength within me.

All the kings of the earth will praise you, O LORD, *
when they have heard the words of your mouth.

They will sing of the ways of the LORD, *
that great is the glory of the LORD.

Though the LORD be high, he cares for the lowly; *
he perceives the haughty from afar.

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe; *
you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies;
your right hand shall save me.

The LORD will make good his purpose for me; *
O LORD, your love endures for ever;
do not abandon the works of your hands.

In Psalm 138, we have a thanksgiving psalm, written by or on behalf of an individual.  Enemies (unnamed) have been thwarted in the evil (unnamed) that they had planned toward this person, and now the poet gives thanks.  Given the place of individual lives in the midst of tribes, families, and nations (see the notes on the reading from the Hebrew Scriptures above), this psalm is unusual in that the individual calls the collective to knowledge of what God has done for the poet.  In verse 1, God is praised in the company of all the other gods (a monotheist’s defiance of the polytheism of the cultures that surrounded Israel?)  In verse five, all the kings of the earth are called upon to praise Yahweh in recognition of the truthfulness of his words and acts.  There is one touching last piece – the individual mark of God on the person, “do not abandon the works of your hands.”  This psalm is truly a marked contrast to the culture that surrounded the poet.

Breaking open Psalm 138
1.     Is God concerned about you as an individual?  How?
2.     The psalm speaks of “enemies”.  Do you have enemies?  How does God relate to your enemies?
3.     How are you the “work of God’s hands”?

Colossians 2:6-19

As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.
Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.
Paul is hoping to show the people of Colossae the contrast of their old lives to their newness in Christ; and not just their old ways, but also the tiredness of their customs and ways of thinking.  He battles on two fronts.  The first is the common parlance and thought – the philosophy, if you will, of the current time.  Paul sees this is as a trap that distracts the believer from the all-sufficiency of Christ.  There is also another distraction, however, the Paul finds equally difficult, and that is the demand, that the Judaisers make of new Christians.  Thus the comments on the true nature of circumcision (Paul prefers a spiritual understanding of this concept) and the comments on “festivals, new moons, and Sabbaths.  These he finds unnecessary, and an impediment to know and being incorporate with Christ.
Breaking open Colossians:
  1. What are the “empty deceits” of our time?
  2. What religious ceremonies do you think are essential to your faith?
  3. What symbols of Judaism and Christianity does Paul use in this text?  How are they effective in conveying his meaning?

George Rouault “Head of Christ”

Saint Luke 11:1-13

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." He said to them, "When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial."

And he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, `Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.' And he answers from within, `Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.' I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
"So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
Incorporated into this reading is one of two versions of the Our Father, the other being Matthew’s version (6:9-13).  Although similar, there are differences.  Luke’s version contains five petitions, while Matthew’s has seven.  Both were composed in rhyme, as was the traditional of Jewish liturgical prayers.  Matthew’s version has more in common with Jewish forms, and Luke’s with Christian forms.  The prayer has an eschatological (looking forward to the End Time) tone to it (God’s name is hallowed – an accomplished action, and “your kingdom come”).  Two parables then follow the prayer, the first being unique to Luke.  One is about the “persistent neighbor” and seems to be a commentary on the “give us each day our daily bread” petition.  The notion of persistence continues on into the second parable that centers on a father and son.  Here Jesus tells us how to prayer, rather than what to pray for; and continues his vision of God as a providing father and parent.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. How central is this prayer in your life?
  2. What goes through your mind when a different translation is used?
  3. Take some time a compare Matthew’s version (6:9-13) with Luke’s (11:1-4).  How do these two prayers read to you – do the differences impart a different meaning?
  4. How do you pray?  Who taught you?

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

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; 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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