The Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 26) - 31 October 2010

Isaiah 1:10-18
Psalm 32:1-8
II Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
Saint Luke 19:1-10


I once designed an altar frontal for Saint Francis Church in San Francisco for use during the Sundays after Pentecost – a season of eternal green.  It was designed to be augmented, period by period, with darker and darker greens and complementary colors added as accents.  So it is with the lectionary at this point in the Church’s Year.  The readings in the next few Sundays will begin to represent a sort of “Shadow Advent”, as the themes of end-time and judgment remain from a much longer Advent season.  These all culminate in the brightness of Christ the King, but it is important to pay attention to these dark moods portrayed in the lectionary.  These readings are pepper in the pot of our liturgical stew.  They explore a side of life that evangelicals would just as soon forget, lost in a world of praise music and denial.  Although the penitential aspect of Advent, and even our remnant Advent, has been muted and softened, it is good for God’s people to look at the valley of the shadow of death.

First Reading: Isaiah 1:10-18

Hear the word of the LORD,
you rulers of Sodom!
Listen to the teaching of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the LORD;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats.
When you come to appear before me,
who asked this from your hand?
Trample my courts no more;
bringing offerings is futile;
incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation--
I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.
Your new moons and your appointed festivals
my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me,
I am weary of bearing them.
When you stretch out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings
from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
seek justice,
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.
Come now, let us argue it out,
says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be like snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.

This first of the Isaiahs, represented in chapters 1-39, was a resident of Judah, and exercised his ministry during the reign of four kings.  The ministry to the kingship of Judah and its people is set in the backdrop of an increasingly menacing Assyria, and an end to the prosperity of the reign of King Uzziah.  It was not all political, however, for the forces that drove the prosperity of the time also condemned the spiritual powers of the people.  It is to these issues that Isaiah speaks.  This reading takes it to a very personal level, for it is not the institutions that Isaiah immediately takes on, but the people themselves.  Their attitudes toward God, justice, and the poor are painted in bold strokes in this reading.

Breaking open Isaiah:

1.     What strong words does Isaiah have for the worship of Judah?
2.     What is Isaiah’s notion of genuine worship?
3.     How have you been able to enable such worship in your life?

Psalm 32:1-8 Beati quorum

Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, *
and whose sin is put away!

Happy are they to whom the LORD imputes no guilt, *
and in whose spirit there is no guile!

While I held my tongue, my bones withered away, *
because of my groaning all day long.

For your hand was heavy upon me day and night; *
my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you, *
and did not conceal my guilt.

I said," I will confess my transgressions to the LORD." *
Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.

[Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in time of trouble; *
when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them.]

You are my hiding-place;
you preserve me from trouble; *
you surround me with shouts of deliverance.

You are my hiding place

This psalm is described in the text as a maskil – a distinction that we really know little about.  It has all the aspects of a song of joy, or thanksgiving; and in its later verses of a wisdom psalm.  What we do have is the outlook of the author, who outlines his process in receiving his forgiveness as perfected steps (working backwords: “whose sin is put away” (v. 1b) to “I acknowledged my sin to you” (v. 5).  Verse 3 is quite interesting in that it seems to portray the psychological dilemma of the author.  Its forces range form utter silence (“I held my tongue”) to the exact opposite (“because of my groaning”)  Alter translates this verb as “roaring”, which makes the contrast, and the dilemma, even stronger.  Also of interest is verse 7 (“Therefore all the faithful…) which seems to be an interpolation from another work.  The psychological dimensions of verse 3 are recaptured in the final verse where the silence of the hiding place is contrasted with the “shouts of deliverance.”

Breaking open Psalm 32:
1.       Does the anxiety of the author (see verse three) resonate with you?  What are your emotions about sins or shortcomings that still disturb you?
2.       Have you ever gone to confession?  If not, why not?
3.       What kind of internal dialogue do you have with yourself about what faith demands and you care capable of delivering?

II Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of everyone of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions that you are enduring.

To this end we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfill by his power every good resolve and work of faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy

In his brief, second letter to the Church at Thessalonika, Paul appears a bit anxious about the church there, which he seems to have to observe at a distance.  Initially, however, Paul talks about the call, his own, and the call that God has given the people.  In his initial statement, Paul works to link the human endeavor, that the church at Thessalonika represents, with the divine initiative in God’s grace.  In the final verses, these concerns are wrapped into a prayer asking that God would continue God’s work and their work.  In the coming Sundays, this continuing reading will explore the themes of the book.

Breaking open II Thessalonians:
  1. How do you feel called by God?
  2. To what are you called?
  3. What are your “works of faith”?

Saint Luke 19:1-10

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today." So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, "He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner."

Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much." Then Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost."

In the chapter preceding this one, we not only meet the Pharisee and the Publican, but also a man of wealth, who is reluctant to part with his holdings for the sake of the Gospel.  This chapter begins by introducing us to Zacchaeus, a tax collector and a publican, but a man who is able to part with wealth and live in faith.  The contrast is deliberate and stricking. These individuals (the publicans) were contractors to the Roman government, collecting taxes, and then taking a percentage as a fee.  To the Jews, these people not only represented the oppression of the Romans, but sycophants who lived off the lives of their own people.  This is a perfect character for Luke, who will, in this story, lift up the lowly.  Zacchaeus, is anxious to meet Jesus, and Jesus is quite happy to meet him (thus the accusation “he dines with sinners”).  But we meet a penitent and believing publican who does all that he can to help the poor.  Jesus says to the man (although the sense is that he is really speaking to the crowd that has gathered around this wealthy publican’s house) that salvation has come to this place – a rejoinder to those who could not see God’s grace operative in the lives of the lowly.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What do you think is Luke’s point in this story?
  2. What individuals might be like the publican in your life – despised but righteous?
  3. Do you eat with sinners?

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

Almighty and merciful God, it is only by your gift that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service: Grant that we may run without stumbling to obtain your heavenly promises; 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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