The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 18 - 5 September 2010

Contemporary Reading: Bonhöffer, The Cost of Discipleship
Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 1
Philemon 1-21
Saint Luke 14:25-33


We call them the Five Books of Moses, although they are hardly that.  Each of them (Genesis, Exodus, Levitcus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) evolve individually, and are often the skillful weaving together of several traditions.  Deuteronomy and Exodus are closely related, almost following the same outline.  Exodus is composed of a divine discourse in which God offers the Law, while Deuteronomy offers the same material, but in a more homiletic (sermon-like) manner from the mouth of Moses.  In the Hebrew Scriptures, two periods of reform are referred to.  One, under King Hezekiah (715-686 BCE) and the other under King Josiah (641-609) were programs designed to reacquaint Israel with its ancient traditions.  They may have emerged during this period after the Davidic Empire, or may have come to the fore after the Exile in Babylon.  Either way, these materials are an effort to educate about what had been either lost, or destroyed.

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Moses said to all Israel the words which the Lord commanded him, "See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob."

Blake - God writing the Law

Today’s reading from Deuteronomy is more akin to a sermon.  The text would have us see Moses as the preacher, but is more likely that the preacher is unknown, and that the audience is composed of Jew’s in exile in Babylon, grieving their lost traditions.  Even more than a sermon, this reading represents a cultic or liturgical moment in which the covenant is renewed in the hearts of the people.  What is interesting is that this is not a commitment of individuals, but a commitment of the community as a whole, as it hears the Law and determines to follow it.  The preacher urges the community to “choose life”, which may have seemed ironic to either hearer or reader.  The community’s life was in real danger of being dissipated into the culture of Babylon.  The preacher reminds them of the generations that will follow them, and then recalls the promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The community is offered a choice of on-going life in the covenant, or some other kind of life following other gods.  Of special interest in the liturgical action is that both heaven and earth are called as witnesses to the ritual. 

Breaking open Sirach:

1.     We live in a society of individuals.  When or where have you entered into a covenant or promise with a community of people?
2.     What do the Ten Commandments mean to you today?
3.     What does it mean, in the text, to “choose life”?

Psalm 1 Beatus vir qui non abiit

Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, *
nor lingered in the way of sinners,
nor sat in the seats of the scornful!

Their delight is in the law of the LORD, *
and they meditate on his law day and night.

They are like trees planted by streams of water,
bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; *
everything they do shall prosper.

It is not so with the wicked; *
they are like chaff which the wind blows away.

Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes, *
nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.

For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, *
but the way of the wicked is doomed.

They are like trees planted by steams of water

This wisdom psalm stands in direct disagreement with the thought of Job.  In this Psalm the individual, the righteous individual who follows the Law of God, is rewarded for such faithfulness.  The Job story describes a different trajectory.  This psalm, however, clearly stands in the Ancient Near Eastern tradition of such a moral journey – as life offers its choices and decisions.  The second image in the psalm is that of the watered orchard or field, with the Law forming the sustenance for the leafy tree, or the growing grain.  The poem both begins and ends with its primary contrast: the life of the righteous and the difficulties of the wicked. 

Breaking open Psalm 112
1.       How is your life a contrast to wickedness?
2.       How is your life nourished by faith?
3.       How is your life a contract to righteousness?

Philemon 1-21

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.

For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love-- and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother-- especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.

The program of the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) during Ordinary Time is to take the church through a continuing reading of the “epistles” of the Christian Testament.  Thus we have a brief excursus into Philemon, an intensely personal piece of correspondence between an old and imprisoned Paul and his friend Philemon.  Their discourse concerns Onesimus, a slave owned by Philemon, who has been working with Paul.  This is the Paul who has written elsewhere that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free” (Galatians 3:28).  In this difficult situation, Paul sends back his co-worker, the slave Onesimus, to his owner Philemon.  He does so, however, not without commentary on the new relationships that exist in Christ and in baptism.  Paul highlights that even given the social realities (slavery was a huge institution at the time) the relationships are different. 

Breaking open Philemon:
  1. What does Paul mean when he says, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free…”?
  2. Although slavery is abolished in our society, are there people who still live in slavery?
  3. What do you think of Paul’s decision to send Onesimus back?

Saint Luke 14:25-33

Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, `This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."

In reading this reading, we need to remember the material (largely parables) that immediately preceed this section.  If you will remember, the previous Sunday acquainted us with Jesus’ directions about taking seats of honor, and of whom it is that we really ought to invite to dinner.  Another reading, not used in the continuing reading during these Sundays, describes the invitations of the Wedding Feast which are disregarded by those invited.  The host goes out to the streets and alleys to invite new guests.  In that context we can read how “large crowds were traveling with Jesus”, and it doesn’t take too much imagination to see what Luke wants us to see, that these crowds were made up of the needy and impoverished.   To these, Jesus talks about discipleship, those who ought to follow him, and what the cost of such a following might be.  His commentary on the value of family, relationships, and possessions stands in sharp contrast to the social realities of his own time. 

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Which of your many relationships is most valuable to you?
  2. Could you give up any of these relationships for your faith?
  3. What does being a disciple mean to you?
Pr. Dietrich Bonhöffer

Contemporary Reading: “Discipleship and the Individual” from The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhöffer.

If any man cometh unto me, and hateth not his own father, 
and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and 
sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. 
( Luke 14.26)
Through the call of Jesus men become 
individuals. Willy-nilly, they are compelled to decide, 
and that decision can only be made by themselves. 
It is no choice of their own that makes them individuals: it is Christ who makes them individuals by calling them. Every man is called separately, and must 
follow alone. But men are frightened of solitude, and 
they try to protect themselves from it by merging 
themselves in the society of their fellow-men and in 
their material environment. They become suddenly 
aware of their responsibilities and duties, and are 
loath to part with them. But all this is only a cloak 
to protect them from having to make a decision. They 
are unwilling to stand alone before Jesus and to be 
compelled to decide with their eyes fixed on him alone. 
Yet neither father nor mother, neither wife nor child, 
neither nationality nor tradition, can protect a man 
at the moment of his call. It is Christ's will that he 
should be thus isolated, and that he should fix his 
eyes solely upon him.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, (4 February 1906 – 9 April 1945) was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian. He was also a participant in the German Resistance movement against Nazism, a founding member of the Confessing Church. His involvement in plans by members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office) to assassinate Adolf Hitler resulted in his arrest in April 1943 and his subsequent execution by hanging in April 1945, shortly before the war's end. His view of Christianity's role in the secular world has become very influential.

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

Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


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