The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost - Proper 16, 25 August 2013

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71: 1-6
Isaiah 58:9b-14
Psalm 103:1-8

Hebrews 12:18-29
St. Luke 13:10-17

Background:  The Theology of Jeremiah
When we begin to talk about the theology of a prophet, we are constrained to speak about it as the product and thought of an individual.  The Prophet Jeremiah presents us with some problems in that regard.  Here is a prophet who took pains to preserve his work through the editing and recording of his amanuensis Baruch.  In the very process of recording his oracles and utterances, Jeremiah often comments on his own work, interpreting it in relationship to the realities of the time in which it was being written down.  The materials of the book represent sayings that precede the exile and others that follow it.  The kernel of truth that represented his work was appropriated by later individuals and reinterpreted in the light of present realities.  All of this was collected and redacted to form the book as it has come down to us.  Such a process was not unique to the materials of Jeremiah.  Other prophets would be seen in a new and different light, and their words and work would be appropriated to the present need.  So the theology is one that sees G-d active and present in all of the ages of a people.  It’s observations and arguments circle round the event to be divined.  Does G-d judge a people, and if so, how?  Will the people survive and can they return?  How are the people sustained by G-d?  How are they to be redeemed?  This is the crux of Jeremiah’s problem, and it is the crux of those who followed in his school of thinking and talking about G-d.

Jeremiah 1:4-10

The word of the LORD came to me saying,
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations."
Then I said, "Ah, Lord G-D! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." But the LORD said to me,
"Do not say, 'I am only a boy';
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you,
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the LORD."
Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me,
"Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant."

Into the context of momentous events in the life of a people, a nation comes the word.  Through discernment we are able to hear the word of G-d through the agency of a human, Jeremiah.  That someone should take on such an awful responsibility is often described in a call – which is what we have in this reading.  Its elements are common to all such calls: a) G-d’s invitation (I appointed you a prophet), b) Resistance (I do not know how to speak), c) Assurance (Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’) d) Commissioning (I have put my words in your mouth), and e) Message (I appoint you over nations).  You might want to compare these elements in Jeremiah to the Call of Isaiah (Isaiah 6), for another example of the call of a human to serve as agent of G-d’s word.  Bruggemann argues that in spite of the personal aspects of such a call, the words of the text recalling a deeply personal experience, it is a call that, like ordination, is mediated through the community as well.  Or this call may be a literary construct, giving authenticity to all of the materials that will follow.  His “canonical” approach argues for a shift away from a personal point of view to a “word” that can “pluck up and pull down.”  It is no longer the words of an individual agent, nor the words agreed to by the community, but the word that in other contexts has invited creation to be.

Breaking open Isaiah:
  1. What do you think that it is that G-d wants you to do?
  2. How do you know that?
  3. What will you do about it?

Psalm 71:1-6, In te, Domine, speravi

In you, O LORD, have I taken refuge; *
let me never be ashamed.

In your righteousness, deliver me and set me free; *
incline your ear to me and save me.

Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe; *
you are my crag and my stronghold.

Deliver me, my G-d, from the hand of the wicked, *
from the clutches of the evildoer and the oppressor.

For you are my hope, O Lord G-D, *
my confidence since I was young.

I have been sustained by you ever since I was born;
from my mother's womb you have been my strength; *
my praise shall be always of you.

The words of the Psalm recall the reality that G-d speaks to the prophet Jeremiah, “before I formed you, in the womb I knew you.”  In this psalm of supplication we hear the continuing need of the writer, which is met with the continuing mercies of G-d.  The writer recognizes G-d’s presence from the beginning of his existence, “my confidence since I was young.”  Like the situation in Jeremiah’s call, where G-d acknowledges an intimate knowing of Jeremiah from the moment of conception, so the writer here sees a similar kind of knowledge, “from my mother’s womb you brought me out.”  The reading here, this morning, is to emphasize G-d’s agency in the life of Jeremiah, and of all who believe in G-d.

Breaking open Psalm 71:
  1. What is the depth of your knowledge of yourself?
  2. How deeply does your family know you?
  3. How deeply does G-d know you?


Isaiah 58:9b-14

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The LORD will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.
If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
if you call the sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the LORD honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;
then you shall take delight in the LORD,
and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Followers of Track 2 in the lectionary might want to avail themselves of the Track 1 reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, above.  It addresses the same concerns that confront the later Isaiah in this reading.  It is the word that comes following the judgment, the words that form the promises of restoration.  It also might be helpful to read the verse that immediately precedes this reading:

“Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.”  Isaiah 58:8

Isaiah would have us put into our mind’s eye the situation at the Reed Sea, with G-d serving in the pillar of fire before Israel, and serving not only as the one who leads, but also as the one who takes up the rear guard.  Given that context, Isaiah sees the remnant returning to the ruined and dark places of the past, which are now illuminated by G-d’s light.  A series of verbs describe what is required, it is no magical restoration.  The people are bidden to “rebuild”, “raise up”, “restore,” and “repair”.  This is a description of G-d’s work that apparently supersedes the normal observance of the Sabbath.  It is more than the community’s work; it is G-d’s work.  It is a completion of the return from Egypt.

Breaking open Isaiah:
  1. How does G-d guard your life?
  2. What about it needs guarding?
  3. What is your response to G-d’s graciousness?

Psalm 103:1-8 Benedic, anima mea

Bless the LORD, O my soul, *
and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.

Bless the LORD, O my soul, *
and forget not all his benefits.

He forgives all your sins *
and heals all your infirmities;

He redeems your life from the grave *
and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness;

He satisfies you with good things, *
and your youth is renewed like an eagle's.

The LORD executes righteousness *
and judgment for all who are oppressed.

He made his ways known to Moses *
and his works to the children of Israel.

The LORD is full of compassion and mercy, *
slow to anger and of great kindness.

What we are bidden to do, in this psalm, is not merely an external act of praise, but a deeply internal (Bless the Lord, O my soul) realization of G-d’s blessing.  The reasons are rehearsed, “he benefits,” “he forgives and heals”, “he redeems”, and “he satisfies” as the list of G-d’s interactions continues.  Verse 8 repeats Exodus 34:6, when G-d passes before Moses, shielding G-d’s glory,

So the LORD passed before him and proclaimed: The LORD, the LORD, a G-d gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love and fidelity,”

We are clued in to this connection in the previous verse, “He made his ways known to Moses.”  Were the quotation to have been continued we would be knee-deep in recrimination and accusation.  Here, however, the emphasis is on forgiveness and mercy.

Breaking open Psalm 103:
  1. What does your heart know about G-d?
  2. What does your heart know about yourself?
  3. How do the two compare?

Hebrews 12:18-29

You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. (For they could not endure the order that was given, "If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death." Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, "I tremble with fear.") But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living G-d, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to G-d the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, "Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven." This phrase, "Yet once more," indicates the removal of what is shaken-- that is, created things-- so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to G-d an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our G-d is a consuming fire.

The author presents us with two distinctly different visions.  The first transports us to Sinai that rumbles and shakes with the divine presence.  What is seen and felt there is not touchable for it is the abode and presence of G-d.  The contrasting vision is that of Jerusalem, and not just the earthly city, but the heavenly presence of promise.  If Sinai recalls the presence of sin and judgment, then Jerusalem is a sign of acceptance and righteousness.  A brief comparison in verse 24 is a delightful literary construct where the blood of Abel is compared with the blood of Jesus.  The results are the difference of condemnation and redemption.  The vision is continued with a sense of “words of warning”.  One is earthly, Sinai, and the other is heavenly, Jerusalem.  The author wonders, which one will we hear, which one will renew life and our praise of G-d?

Breaking open Hebrews:
  1. What is a good symbol of your failure in life?
  2. What is a good symbol of your success?
  3. Where is G-d in all of this?

St. Luke 13:10-17

Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment." When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising G-d. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the Sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day." But the Lord answered him and said, "You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?" When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

In this reading we see the wisdom for the reading from Isaiah.  The center of concern is the Sabbath, and the situation is one that used to be found in Galilee – teaching in the Synagogue.  Both of these elements are combined here as a dramatic confrontation of Satan (the situation of the woman) and of the prevailing attitudes regarding the Sabbath.  The woman is bent over – she is a disfigurement of the perfection of creation, and as such becomes as sign of what Jesus intends to do about both sin and Satan.  The conflict does not end with these elements, however.  Religious life is prevented from addressing what the prophets would have described as justice.  It is the Sabbath Day – she cannot be healed, and the leader of the Synagogue concurs.  Jesus confronts the situation by returning to creation itself.  If an animal is met with compassion on the Sabbath, then why not this woman?  So why is it necessary to release this woman from her trial on this day.  One needs only to go to Nazareth, and the reference in Luke 4:21, today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  The urgency of the Kingdom of Heaven demands it.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What do you understand about the demands of the Sabbath Day?
  2. How do you keep it holy?
  3. How do you find time for your own needs?

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

Grant, O merciful G-d, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one G-d, for ever and ever. Amen.


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