The Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 7 - 22 June 2014

Track 1:
Genesis 21:8-21
Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17
Track 2:
Jeremiah 20:7-13
Psalm 69:8-20

Romans 6:1b-11
St. Matthew 10:24-39

Background: Track 1 and Track 2 and Ordinary Time
Once again we are confronted by the choices of Ordinary Time.  The question really centers on how to effectively use this period of time and the choices offered to make the Gospel real to those who are attending the liturgy.  Is it more important to understand the scope and arc of the Bible (Track 1) or to connect more deeply to the Gospel readings (Track 2)? Arguments can be made for both.  Unless one is either willing to open up the context of the Track 1 Hebrew Scripture readings, those readings may be only an exercise in futility.  If a preacher is willing to preach on those texts, or to open them up in the classroom, then this might be a useful track.  Unfortunately, the culture of the season (vacations, no school, the allure of the countryside) may tempt us to see this as too ambitious, or too difficult.  It is, however, worthy of the time and effort.  The tendency of the festival half of the year to look only at events in the life of Jesus needs to be balanced by looking at his teaching and action.  This is the time for that – a time of systematic learning and investigation.  Perhaps I am arguing for Track 1.  What ever your choices are, look at the long range of these readings and lead your self or your parishioners from reading to reading, from concept to concept, from point of mission to point of mission.  Ordinary Time is a time for growth and challenge.

Genesis 21:8-21

The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.  But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac.  So she said to Abraham, "Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac."  The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son.  But God said to Abraham, "Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you.  As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring."  So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.  

When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes.  Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, "Do not let me look on the death of the child." And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept.  And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, "What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.  Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him."  Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.  

God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow.  He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

We enter the Track 1 sequence of readings at Proper 7, so a bit in “mid-stream”.  The story of Hagar and Ishmael may seem unintelligible without an understanding of the story that precedes it.  You may want to look at Genesis 20 and 21 in order to understand or convey the context of this reading.  A great deal of the import of the story depends on puns that revolve around the verb “to laugh” or “to play” – all connected to Isaac’s name, and Sarah’s behavior in the preceding story.  One might look at this reading as an etiology that explains the origin of other Semitic peoples in the ancient near east. 

What, however, can we say about this text as a piece of or a contributor to theology?  What does this say about God and about humankind?  We meet actual human beings here, or at least characters that are conversant with true human emotions.  Sarah’s jealously, Abraham’s distance, Ishmael’s interaction with the infant Isaac, and Hagar’s distress all reflects a real human situation, and in the midst of that is a God who advises and intervenes.  Thus God engenders two great tribes (among all the other tribes and peoples of the earth) and the plan God has in mind continues on.  In the midst of this plan however, is a scheming mother protecting the interest of her son, and a literally suffering servant, who only wants her son to live.

A final note: In the Gospel, Jesus weighs the real importance of our relationships in the reading from Matthew.  The emotions and relationships that surround Abraham and Sarah’s household are the human context into which Jesus’ poses his questions, and comments on the family.

Breaking open Genesis:
  1. How does God use our own human emotions for God’s own purpose?
  2. What other stories in the Bible have this same theme?
  3. What are your feelings about Sarah after reading this lesson?

Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17 Inclina, Domine

Bow down your ear, O LORD, and answer me, *
for I am poor and in misery.

Keep watch over my life, for I am faithful; *
save your servant who puts his trust in you.

Be merciful to me, O LORD, for you are my God; *
I call upon you all the day long.

Gladden the soul of your servant, *
for to you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.

For you, O LORD, are good and forgiving, *
and great is your love toward all who call upon you.

Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer, *
and attend to the voice of my supplications.

In the time of my trouble I will call upon you, *
for you will answer me.

Among the gods there is none like you, O LORD, *
nor anything like your works.

All nations you have made will come and worship you, O LORD, *
and glorify your Name.

For you are great;
you do wondrous things; *
and you alone are God.

Turn to me and have mercy upon me; *
give your strength to your servant;
and save the child of your handmaid.

Show me a sign of your favor,
so that those who hate me may see it and be ashamed; *
because you, O LORD, have helped me and comforted me.

Again, we encounter a psalm that is a quilt of lines and versets from other psalms.  Its presence here is most easily seen in the final verses of the psalm where the line “and save the child of our handmaid” links the psalm with the Track 1 reading.  The image that might serve as a point of reflection and devotion is that of the God who asked by the petitioner to “bow down” and to “listen.”  The statements about the faith in not only the ability of God to listen, but by implication God’s intention to not only listen but to answer as well.

Breaking open Psalm 86:
  1. How do you know that God is listening to you?
  2. How do you know when God responds to you?
  3. How do you respond to others?


Jeremiah 20:7-13

O LORD, you have enticed me,
and I was enticed;
you have overpowered me,
and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughingstock all day long;
everyone mocks me.
For whenever I speak, I must cry out,
I must shout, "Violence and destruction!"
For the word of the LORD has become for me
a reproach and derision all day long.
If I say, "I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,"
then within me there is something like a burning fire
shut up in my bones;
I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.
For I hear many whispering:
"Terror is all around!
Denounce him! Let us denounce him!"
All my close friends
are watching for me to stumble.
"Perhaps he can be enticed,
and we can prevail against him,
and take our revenge on him."
But the LORD is with me like a dread warrior;
therefore my persecutors will stumble,
and they will not prevail.
They will be greatly shamed,
for they will not succeed.
Their eternal dishonor
will never be forgotten.
O LORD of hosts, you test the righteous,
you see the heart and the mind;
let me see your retribution upon them,
for to you I have committed my cause.
Sing to the LORD;
praise the LORD!
For he has delivered the life of the needy
from the hands of evildoers.

Anyone wishing to understand this pericope from Jeremiah should read the six verses that precede Jeremiah’s lament (Jeremiah 20:1-6).  Indeed, Jeremiah’s words here might be found on the lips of Job or those of his wife, “curse God and die.”  What we witness here is an internal struggle on the part of Jeremiah, who searches for the God who has bidden him to his prophetic call, and now seems strangely absent and silent.  This theme of silence might be well recognized in our time.  I have heard many complain that their relationship with God has been cloaked in God’s silence and seeming absence.  Jeremiah does as he is commanded by God, but misses the support that he believes his work and words deserve.  Thus he is caught in a bind, between the rock of the religious who oppose what he has to say, and the hard place of an absent God.  How difficult it must be to speak against ones own religious institutions, awaiting the support of a God who does not pat us on the back.  It is like cursing your own family (hmmm, the Gospel reading). 

Sailing almost out of nowhere, comes verse 13.  Is this an interpolation by some scribe, a scrap ripped out of its original context?  Or, is this indeed Jeremiah’s final response – a praise verse implicit with the trust that God will intervene, support, and stand by?

Breaking open the Jeremiah:
  1. Have you ever had a disagreement with God?  What was it?
  2. What is Jeremiah’s disagreement with God?
  3. In what manner does he handle the situation?
  4. What might you learn from this?

Psalm 69: 8-11, (12-17), 18-20 Salvum me fac

Surely, for your sake have I suffered reproach, *
and shame has covered my face.

I have become a stranger to my own kindred, *
an alien to my mother's children.

Zeal for your house has eaten me up; *
the scorn of those who scorn you has fallen upon me.

I humbled myself with fasting, *
but that was turned to my reproach.

I put on sack-cloth also, *
and became a byword among them.

Those who sit at the gate murmur against me, *
and the drunkards make songs about me.

But as for me, this is my prayer to you, *
at the time you have set, O LORD:

"In your great mercy, O God, *
answer me with your unfailing help.

Save me from the mire; do not let me sink; *
let me be rescued from those who hate me
and out of the deep waters.

Let not the torrent of waters wash over me,
neither let the deep swallow me up; *
do not let the Pit shut its mouth upon me.]

Answer me, O LORD, for your love is kind; *
in your great compassion, turn to me."

"Hide not your face from your servant; *
be swift and answer me, for I am in distress.

Draw near to me and redeem me; *
because of my enemies deliver me."

This psalm of supplication seems to come from the period following the exile, when a great deal of uncertainty and anxiety troubled those who desired to rebuild Zion.  These verses serve as an excellent commentary and reflection on the words of Jeremiah in the first reading.  Like Jeremiah, the psalmist has a love of his religious tradition, “Zeal for your house has eaten me up,” and like Jeremiah he is reproached by some in the community for some sin or mistake (Alter suggests theft).  The language that is used to describe his internal Angst reflects the language about death, “let not the torrent of water wash over me,” “do not let the Pit shut its mouth upon me.”  These are strong emotions that give way to an earnest request, “Answer me,” and “Draw near to me and redeem me.”  The remaining verses are full of vitriol and enmity.  It is probably good that the framers of the Lectionary give a terminus here, rather than wandering into a rant against “the enemy.”  Would that we could pause our own hatreds and distress.

Breaking open the Psalm 69:
  1. Who is your enemy?
  2. What do they have against you?
  3. How is God involved?
Romans 6:1b-11

Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?  By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.  

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.  We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.  For whoever has died is freed from sin.  But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.  We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.  The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.  So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

I always read the initial verse of this pericope with not a little anxiousness.  It was my father’s response to me in a conversation with my mother and me as we discussed my homosexuality, something that they both deeply feared and disliked.  I had, in talking to them, described how my faith had actually been deepened by my honesty with myself and others, and the “should we continue in sin,” was my father’s response.  It was a yet/not yet kind of experience, and process that was completed by my mother but that was impeded by father’s death in 1992.  Paul, the lover of opposing forces meeting in some kind of beneficial understanding, juxtaposes Jesus’ death and our baptism into that death.  What shall we become?  Some in our times see an immediate culmination of things, and yet these verses seem to indicate that there is yet movement to something more.  The question that might engage us as we think about this text from Romans might be, “What is newness of life?”  The paragraph that follows hopes to explore that question.  Somehow Luther’s phrase, “simil Justus et Peccator” (at the same time both justified and sinner) seems to come to mind.  Paul will wrestle with this himself, “the good that I would, I cannot,” and so must we.

Breaking open Romans:
  1. How is baptism like death?
  2. How is it like life?
  3. Which of these have you experienced?  How?
 St. Matthew 10:24-39

Jesus said to the twelve disciples,
"A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!

"So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

"Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.

"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

"For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one's foes will be members of one's own household.

"Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."

The Gospel reading crosses three separate pericopes[1]: “The cost of discipleship: Mission” (St. Matthew 10:16-25), “The cost of discipleship: Fear” (10:26-31, and “The cost of discipleship: Acknowledgment of the Messiah” (10:32-11:1).  All are part of a discourse, a “missionary sermon” designed to instruct the disciples in what must follow in their following of Jesus.  As we look back from the passion we can understand what Jesus is attempting to teach them, and as we look at Matthew’s time, sometime immediately preceding the fall of Jerusalem (70 CE) or immediately following, we understand the difficulties of his own time are projected onto what Jesus tells the disciples.  The implicit suffering of Jesus is seen as the destiny of the disciples, and is understood by Matthew as his community’s own lot as well.  To get a glimpse of Matthew’s viewpoint you might want to look at Luke’s version (6:39-42) where Luke has a totally different take: Luke’s blindness vs. Matthew’s the suffering of both master and disciple.

This instruction by Jesus, in Matthew, continues with a discourse of fear.  Identification with and following Jesus will have its consequences.  Jesus wants them to look forward to their ministry but without fear.  What was there to fear?  For the disciples it was not only the reaction of Jews but of the Gentiles as well, for both would have negative reactions to the apostles’ teaching.  Jesus reminds them that God continues to watch over them. 

The final segment of the discourse talks about the actual cost of following Jesus, and what the demands of such loyalty might be.  This is not the cost meted out by either Jew or Gentile, but rather the intrinsic cost to self in giving one’s self to Jesus.  Such costs are listed out: “acknowledgment and denial”, “not peace, but division”, “family or the kingdom,” and finally “grasping at self vs. loss of self.” These are high prices indeed, but they would have been familiar to Matthew’s readers in the early community that formed his testimony.  Families and indeed society itself was riven during this time of revolution, continued dispersion, loss of leadership, and the Roman onslaught.  It is not easy to lay aside the traditions and beliefs of one’s family to follow the messiah.  The real lesson here is that the cross is meant not only for Jesus, but for his followers as well.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What does it cost you to have faith in Jesus?
  2. How do the people you know react to your Christianity?
  3. How do you react to the Christianity of others?

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

O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving­kindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2014, Michael T. Hiller

[1]     Albright, W. and Mann, C., (1971) The Anchor Bible Matthew, Introduction, Translation and Notes, Doubleday and Company, Inc. Garden City, New York, p. 121ff.


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