The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 10, 10 July 2016

Track One:
Amos 7:7-17
Psalm 82

Track 2
Deuteronomy 30:9-14
Psalm 25:1-9

Colossians 1:1-14
Saint Luke 10:25-37



Background: Amos – a change in prophetic call and life

Amos (760 BCE) is the first of the writing prophets, but that is not his only distinction from those prophets who preceded him. He does not discount them but acknowledges the importance of their ministry and message. Amos, however, is a different breed of prophet. First of all, the prophetic life is not his professional calling. Amos is a Judean, who is a sheep-breeder and owner of sycamore fig orchards. He operates apart from the usual prophetic schools and guilds. Amos is called to prophesy in the north, in Israel. It is a temporary appointment to announce God’s message. Former prophets were always formed in the spirit, but Amos receives the message he is to impart directly from God. The prophets that follow also receive the message directly, and it is only the prophet Joel (fourth century BCE) who is anointed by the spirit. The former prophets delivered their message to individuals, but Amos’ message is intended for an entire nation. The message is harsh – God has judged Israel and she shall be punished. There is no call to repentance or return, but rather an announcement of destruction and doom.

Track One:

First Reading: Amos 7:7-17

This is what the Lord God showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord said to me, "Amos, what do you see?" And I said, "A plumb line." Then the Lord said,
"See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by;
the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate,
and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste,
and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword."
Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, "Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said,
`Jeroboam shall die by the sword,
and Israel must go into exile
away from his land.'"
And Amaziah said to Amos, "O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king's sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom."
Then Amos answered Amaziah, "I am no prophet, nor a prophet's son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, `Go, prophesy to my people Israel.'
"Now therefore hear the word of the Lord.
You say, `Do not prophesy against Israel,
and do not preach against the house of Isaac.'
Therefore thus says the Lord:
`Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city,
and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword,
and your land shall be parceled out by line;
you yourself shall die in an unclean land,
and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.'"



Readers may want to look at the entire pericope (Amos 7:1-8:3) in order to get the flavor of Amos’ visions and what he is attempting to announce to Israel. The first three verses form the first vision – The Locust Storm, and verses 4-6 record a second vision – The Rain of Fire. What follows these two visions (Amos’ primary means for telling his message) is a third – The Plumb Line that is the first of our reading for this morning. Elizabeth Achtemeier[1] calls the latter visions (7:7-9, 8:1-3) “wordplay visions” in which the interpretation depends on YHWH’s intention. Thus in our reading, God interprets the vision for Amos. What was once straight and properly plumbed to the earth is now crooked and misaligned. The evidence of this nonconformity to the covenant is seen in the references to “the high places”, a nod to the syncretism of the religion of Israel. The “sanctuaries of Israel”, the royal sanctuaries at Beth-El and Dan, signal God intent that the King Jereboam I will not survive.

What follows is a brief biographical section that introduces us to the priest Amaziah, who understands Amos as his own man, and not a prophet of YHWH. He warns Amos not continue his ministry or his message. Amos is an embarrassment to the elites and to the royal house. Amos reply is replete with images that stun – “your wife = a prostitute”, “your children will be killed with a sword”, “your properties will be confiscated,” and finally, the most damning “you will die in an unclean land.” The message to Amaziah is the message to Israel. It is total judgment.

Breaking open Amos:
  1. How would you describe the “straight and narrow”?
  2. What is Amos’ “straight and narrow?”
  3. Is there any hope in this reading?

Psalm 82 Deus stetit
     God takes his stand in the council of heaven; *
he gives judgment in the midst of the gods:
2      "How long will you judge unjustly, *
and show favor to the wicked?
3      Save the weak and the orphan; *
defend the humble and needy;
4      Rescue the weak and the poor; *
deliver them from the power of the wicked.
5      They do not know, neither do they understand;
they go about in darkness; *
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
6      Now I say to you, 'You are gods, *
and all of you children of the Most High;
7      Nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, *
and fall like any prince.'"
8      Arise, O God, and rule the earth, *
for you shall take all nations for your own.

                                                         



This is a familiar setting, God sitting in the council of the gods. We know this setting from Job and from other psalms as well. Judgment is going to be meted out here, and the gods are to be found wanting. Thus this psalm is seen as a transition piece, a movement from polytheism to monotheism. God’s wrath rages because these gods have not rendered justice in the world. God’s mission (which was entrusted to these gods) was intended for the poor and needy, “Save the weak and the orphan, defend the humble and needy.” In a phrase that is reminiscent of Amos’ plumb line God opines that the whole structure is crooked, “the foundations of the earth are shaken.” The verdict is quick and complete. The gods are demoted, made mortal, and sentenced to die, “to fall like any prince.” The last verse appeals to God to take charge.

Breaking open Psalm 82:
  1. Who has power in your life?
  2. How does it compare to God’s power in your life?
  3. How do you bring these powers “down to their own size?”

Or

Track Two:

First Reading: Deuteronomy 30:9-14

Moses said to the people of Israel, "The Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings, in the fruit of your body, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your soil. For the Lord will again take delight in prospering you, just as he delighted in prospering your ancestors, when you obey the Lord your God by observing his commandments and decrees that are written in this book of the law, because you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

"Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?' Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?' No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe."



This reading is best read in context, and readers may want to begin by taking in the whole chapter. The first verses talk about the “blessings and curses” that appear in chapter 28. We need to understand that this chapter was formed after the exiles were returning to the land of their fathers and mothers following the exile in Babylon. The point then of the chapter is to comment on the curses that had been rehearsed earlier, and then to reorient the people to the Wisdom of the God of Israel. We get that sense in the initial verses of our pericope for this morning, “For the Lord will again take delight in prospering you.” There is a condition to the promise, however, and that is that the nation should follow God’s precepts and pronouncements. “Turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”

The author recognizes the context out of which the people have come, and the mindset in which they lived for five decades. It does not come from a place that is removed from them, but is “very near you.” The Mesopotamian hero Gilgamesh does cross the sea to bring back the esoteric knowledge of the gods – just as other Ancient Near Eastern heroes would do as well. Not so for Israel. As Jeremiah had taught them, it was as close as their own hearts.

Breaking open Deuteronomy:
  1. How do you get wisdom?
  2. What wisdom do you find in the Bible?
  3. What is the wisdom of your heart?

Psalm 25:1-9 Ad te, Domine, levavi

     To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul;
my God, I put my trust in you; *
let me not be humiliated,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
2      Let none who look to you be put to shame; *
let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.
3      Show me your ways, O Lord, *
and teach me your paths.
4      Lead me in your truth and teach me, *
for you are the God of my salvation;
in you have I trusted all the day long.
5      Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love, *
for they are from everlasting.
6      Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; *
remember me according to your love
and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.
7      Gracious and upright is the Lord; *
therefore he teaches sinners in his way.
8      He guides the humble in doing right *
and teaches his way to the lowly.
9      All the paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness *
to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.



The psalm for this day offers excellent commentary on the intentions of the reading from Deuteronomy. It is an acrostic poem that misses two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Verse 6 gives us some clue as to the psalmist’s intent, “Remember not the sins of my you.” The focus of the psalm, however, is not a plea for forgiveness, but rather a hope that God might instruct the people in God’s ways. The verbs “teach” and “guide” underscores this intention that God should instruct and then lead the way to a better life – “all the paths of the Lord.”

Breaking open Psalm 25:
  1. When you make a mistake, how do you learn to do better?
  2. How do you make that learning a part of your life?
  3. How does your faith help in this process?

The Epistle: Colossians 1:1-14

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God. This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.



Having left Galatians, we now begin a lectio continua through the Letter to the Colossians. The attraction of esoteric knowledge that is hinted at in the first reading (Track Two) forms the background of the author’s quest in the letter to the Colossians. He argues against the need of ascetic practices or mystical states, and teaches a Christ supreme over all things.

After the Salutation and Blessing, the author begins his letter with prayers that ask for their realization of the hope that is Christ, and the hope “laid up for you in heaven.” The author quickly comes to the intent of the letter by addressing the desire that they be “filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.”  The reader is reminded of the defenses they have in Christ, how they are prepared to stand up against “darkness” and then to enter the kingdom. It is a quiet rehearsal of the Gospel, which will be taken up more fully in the readings that follow.

Breaking Open Colossians:
  1. What self-help books have you read?
  2. How did they help?
  3. How are they different from religious books?

The Gospel: Saint Luke 10:25-37

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, `Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.' Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."



The question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” seems to have been of some importance for Luke. He poses it in two separate pericopes. The intent is more universal than seeking a rabbinic reply to a specific verse of scripture. Here it is more general in scope, applying to the whole of the Torah. The intention of the young lawyer may be personal – a genuine quest to learn about a personal spiritual situation, or it may be a test. Either way it serves as a lesson to the bystander and to the reader of the Gospel. The lawyer wants to know what the Torah says, and it seems that he already knows – correctly parroting back to Jesus the latter part of the Great Shema.

For our benefit the lawyer presses more and wonders about who “the neighbor” might be. Here Jesus becomes the Rabbi as he tells the story of the Samaritan. Preachers are often tempted to preach only on the example and not to get at the homily present in the situation that surrounds the parable. The reception of the parable and the lawyer’s response to it is simple and elegant – and could lead to a healthy discussion about “the neighbor” in our society and day and age. There are themes of abundance and extravagance that could be addressed as well as we look at what we might owe our neighbor. Perhaps the most obvious question is, “How do we learn from God’s Law?”

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. How do you think you will inherit eternal life?
  2. What do you think of the lawyer’s answer?
  3. Does that answer work for you?

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



O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2016, Michael T. Hiller



[1]  Achtemeier, E. (1996), Minor Prophets I, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan,

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