The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 14 - 8 August 2010
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Saint Luke 12:32-40
The structure of the lectionary readings is usually quite simple, with the lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures, and sometimes the psalm, relating to the theme of the Gospel. That may not be the case, however, in each instance. During the Sundays of Easter, for example, the first reading may be from The Acts of the Apostles, a series of continuing readings about the formation of the Church. These selections are usually independent of the Gospel reading. During Ordinary Time (Sundays after Epiphany, and after Pentecost), the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) gives two options, either a first reading that is thematically related to the lectionary for the day, or a continuing reading from the Hebrew Scriptures. This Sunday we see something that is a bit rare. The reading from the Hebrew Scriptures relates not to the Gospel, but serves as a backdrop for the reading from Hebrews. So there is a third option.
The word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, "Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great." But Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" And Abram said, "You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir." But the word of the LORD came to him, "This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir." He brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be." And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Until we meet the person of Abram (later called Abraham), the book of Genesis is filed with archetypes: Adam, Eve, Noah, Cain, and Abel, and we can see how these initial chapters have attempted to invest meaning into the questions of origin and life. Abram, however, is a personality. A couple of Sundays ago we witnessed his haggling with God over the fate of the righteous in Sodom. Today we meet a man, of some wealth, who is concerned about who is to inherit his fortune. These are ordinary themes, but they too are archetypical in that they are concerned about “the future” and “the tribe” or “the family.” Almost unnoticed is the centrality of the relationship that Abram has with YHWH (the unspeakable name of God that is used by this particular strand in Genesis. Modern day Orthodox Jews have taken to spelling the name G-d to heighten this tradition). Indeed since we are early in the saga of Abraham, it makes sense for Abraham to be concerned. It will be mentioned again in other stories, and becomes a leitmotiv in the saga. The word to us is that God is concerned about Abraham’s future, and thus about our future as well. These concerns will be addressed in the Epistle reading for today – from Hebrews.
Breaking open Genesis:
1. When you look at your future as an individual, what do you see?
2. When you look at the future of your children, or of your family what do you see?
3. How is God involved with your future?
Psalm 33:12-22 Exultate, justi
Happy is the nation whose God is the LORD! *
happy the people he has chosen to be his own!
The LORD looks down from heaven, *
and beholds all the people in the world.
From where he sits enthroned he turns his gaze *
on all who dwell on the earth.
He fashions all the hearts of them *
and understands all their works.
There is no king that can be saved by a mighty army;
a strong man is not delivered by his great strength.
The horse is a vain hope for deliverance; *
for all its strength it cannot save.
Behold, the eye of the LORD is upon those who fear him, *
on those who wait upon his love,
To pluck their lives from death, *
and to feed them in time of famine.
Our soul waits for the LORD; *
he is our help and our shield.
Indeed, our heart rejoices in him, *
for in his holy Name we put our trust.
Let your loving-kindness, O LORD, be upon us, *
as we have put our trust in you.
This psalm stands on a theological cusp; on one hand honoring the Chosen of God (Israel), “happy the people he has chosen to be his own!” and on the other hand declaring a universalistic conception of God and the nations, “From where he sits enthroned he turns his gaze, on all who dwell on the earth.” This is an extension of the concerns of the God who comforts Abraham about his lack of an heir in the first reading. Only this God, is concerned not only with the righteous one (Abraham) but with the whole of creation. This is the God whose will and word is our very being and existence. Robert Alter, in his translation of the Psalms, writes verse 20 in a poignant manner: “We urgently wait for the Lord.” The “urgently” he uses mirrors the notion that our “very lives” and our “very selves” are dependent upon God. Using the translation above, “Our soul waits for the Lord” we could properly and rightly substitute the word “breath” for “soul” and then we might get a glimpse of this fundamental dependency.
Breaking open Psalm 33
1. Upon whom, in your life, are you dependent?
2. Who depends upon you?
3. How are you dependent upon God?
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old-- and Sarah herself was barren-- because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, "as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore."
All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
We leave Colossae behind and move on to “The Epistle to the Hebrews” in a continuing reading that will last a few Sundays. The author of Hebrews is anonymous, and indeed the name itself may only be an indication of the content, rather than an intended audience. The author’s concern is “apostasy” – any movement away from the Gospel of Jesus Christ and his message. The author does this (and here the book is very much in touch with a problem that engaged Paul – namely the insistence that the Jewish Ritual Law be applied to Christians as well) by contrasting the earthly with the heavenly; Thus the earthly temple/tabernacle with the heavenly temple, and the earthly priesthood, with the Jesus, the priest. In this reading, the author wants us to set our minds on faith and on the notion of “promise”. For an example of these notions, the author places Abraham at the center of our inquiry, for Abraham is the example par excellance of faith (see also in Paul) and is the recipient of the promise. Abraham leaves Ur the Chaldees, and comes to a new place by faith and by promise. Hebrews recommends the “heavenly city” that God has prepared for his own.
Breaking open Hebrews:
- What has God called you to be, or do?
- How is your faith like that of Abraham? How is it not like his?
- What promises has God made to you – what are your expectations of God?
Saint Luke 12:32-40
Jesus said to his disciples, "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
"Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
"But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."
Luke, like Abraham, is peering off into the future, much like his readers, or any of us really. So Jesus says, “Do not fear,” and then proceeds to teach his disciples the discipline of waiting. It is not passive waiting, however, but rather a proactive reaction to what is earthly. Remember, Luke always has a subtext of awareness of the poor. So this “waiting” that Jesus recommends has some very active components: “Sell your possessions,” “give alms,” find “treasure in heaven,” “be dressed for action.” Luke has Jesus prepare his followers for the parousia – Jesus’ coming again (even though he has not yet left them). Abraham’s future was known in the nations that sprang from him. The future of Jesus in Luke pierces beyond that to a heavenly reality where there is no death, nor no fear. Luke, however, in his passion for us being a part of the kingdom, does not forget the poor, the widow, or the orphan. These are a part of the kingdom as well, and the objects of our “active waiting.”
Breaking open the Gospel:
- For what are you waiting in your life?
- What is your response to the poor?
- How are you preparing for your end?
After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:
Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.