The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 11, 17 July 2016

Track One:
Amos 8:1-12
Psalm 52

Track Two:
Genesis 18:1-10a
Psalm 15

Colossians 1:15-28
Saint Luke 10:38-42

Background: Hospitality
We have two readings (the Track Two reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, and the Gospel for the day) that deal with the notion of hospitality. In a sense, the Track One reading from the Hebrew Scriptures deals with the theme as well by implication of its absence. Rather then replicate some of the author’s material; I am going to link you with an excellent article on hospitality from the Encyclopedia Judaica. It will complete the contextual setting in which all of these lessons are situated. You can access the article here.

Track One:

Amos 8:1-12

This is what the Lord God showed me-- a basket of summer fruit. He said, "Amos, what do you see?" And I said, "A basket of summer fruit." Then the Lord said to me,

"The end has come upon my people Israel;
I will never again pass them by.
The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,"
says the Lord God;
"the dead bodies shall be many,
cast out in every place. Be silent!"
Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
saying, "When will the new moon be over
so that we may sell grain;
and the sabbath,
so that we may offer wheat for sale?
We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
and practice deceit with false balances,
buying the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and selling the sweepings of the wheat."
The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
Shall not the land tremble on this account,
and everyone mourn who lives in it,
and all of it rise like the Nile,
and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt?
On that day, says the Lord God,
I will make the sun go down at noon,
and darken the earth in broad daylight.
I will turn your feasts into mourning,
and all your songs into lamentation;
I will bring sackcloth on all loins,
and baldness on every head;
I will make it like the mourning for an only son,
and the end of it like a bitter day.
The time is surely coming, says the Lord God,
when I will send a famine on the land;
not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water,
but of hearing the words of the Lord.
They shall wander from sea to sea,
and from north to east;
they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord,
but they shall not find it.

The introduction to this oracle that Amos delivers to Israel is a pun that underscores both its significance and its irony. The Hebrew word for “summer fruit” sounds like the word for “end”. Here is the irony, that something that conjures up delicious, juicy, and refreshing fruit, should also indicate doom and destruction. The oracle that follows is a catalogue of sins that are the cause or lead to the doom. Before the catalogue rehearses its gloomy contents, the prophet sees and describes the rotten nature of things that lie just below the surface. In a way, this would be a good reading linked to the themes of hospitality in Track Two, as well – although it is certainly a good commentary on the hospitality mentioned in the Gospel for today. The prophet describes a great social divide in which some (the elites) not only have a distinct advantage over those with lesser means, but also make the situation of their inferiors even worse. They disobey the justice taught by the prophets, and envisioned in the Law. Whether or not God should enter the situation, such a society is doomed.

Breaking open Amos:
1.     What is rotten or doomed in your life?
2.     Does Amos’ oracle suggest anything to you?
3.     How does Amos’ oracle describe today’s situation?

Psalm 52 Quid gloriaris?

     You tyrant, why do you boast of wickedness *
against the godly all day long?
2      You plot ruin;
your tongue is like a sharpened razor, *
O worker of deception.
3      You love evil more than good *
and lying more than speaking the truth.
4      You love all words that hurt, *
O you deceitful tongue.
5      Oh, that God would demolish you utterly, *
topple you, and snatch you from your dwelling,
and root you out of the land of the living!
6      The righteous shall see and tremble, *
and they shall laugh at him, saying,
7      "This is the one who did not take God for a refuge, *
but trusted in great wealth
and relied upon wickedness."
8      But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; *
I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.
9      I will give you thanks for what you have done *
and declare the goodness of your Name in the presence of the godly.

One of the problems, as someone who desires more background and meaning from the psalter, is to rely on the liturgical text only. Often the introductory material is suppressed so that we enter a psalm not knowing its real or supposed intent.  The first verses of this psalm supply information about its application – “For the lead player, a David maskil, when Doeg the Edomite came and told Saul and said to him, “David has come to the house of Achimelech.”[1]
The story behind the ascription is found in I Samuel 21-22, in which Doeg compromises David’s refuge with a priest. This is an example of an older work, which is then applied as a commentary to another event. The psalm begins with accusations about the “tyrant” and ends with a thanksgiving for protection from those who might cause harm or evil. We encounter the speaker who comments on the evil man and who only late in the psalm feels confident in God’s protection, “But I am like a verdant olive tree.”

Breaking open Psalm 52:

1.        When were you ever betrayed?
2.        What are your feelings about your betrayal?
3.        Did forgiveness ever come?


Track Two:

First Reading: Genesis 18:1-10a

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, "My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on-- since you have come to your servant." So they said, "Do as you have said." And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, "Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes." Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.
They said to him, "Where is your wife Sarah?" And he said, "There, in the tent." Then one said, "I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son."

This text fulfills several purposes in the context of Genesis. It provides a positive description of the nomadic hospitality that was expected of everyone, and is here provided by Abraham and Sarah that will provide a sharp contrast to the Sodom story that follows. The other theme is one of promise and future. The patriarchal couple has no heir, and this visit is one that assures them of the future God has mapped out for them that will be sealed in a covenant with them. There is an on-going nature that becomes quite evident, and that is not initially intuitive. They are random visitors who happen into the camp, but later one of the visitors says, “I will return”. There are to be further interactions between the angelic visitors (or indeed God) and Abraham and Sarah.

Breaking open Genesis:
1.     When have you provided good hospitality?
2.     When should you have provided good hospitality?
3.     What was the promise that came with your hospitality?

Psalm 15 Domine, quis habitabit?

     Lord, who may dwell in your tabernacle? *
who may abide upon your holy hill?
2      Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right, *
who speaks the truth from his heart.
3      There is no guile upon his tongue;
he does no evil to his friend; *
he does not heap contempt upon his neighbor.
4      In his sight the wicked is rejected, *
but he honors those who fear the Lord.
5      He has sworn to do no wrong *
and does not take back his word.
6      He does not give his money in hope of gain, *
nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.
7      Whoever does these things *
shall never be overthrown.

The initial question gives rise to a listing of virtues and moralities that describe a faithful person. There is no reference to the covenant or to the Law, but only the “fear of YHWH.” The description however is helpful – that person doesn’t lie, doesn’t gossip, rejects evil doing, honors the faithful, keeps any word pledged, does not take interest from money lended, and accepts no bribes. Such is the follower of YHWH, and such is one who is honored in the courts of the Lord.

Breaking open Psalm 15:
1.     What are your virtues?
2.     How do the people around you see them?
3.     Do you encourage your virtues for the lives of others?

The Second Reading: Colossians 1:15-28

Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers-- all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him-- provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.

I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. I became its servant according to God's commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.

Our pericope begins with what many have thought to be an early Christian hymn describing the kingship and nature of Christ. It is not clear that this is the true provenance of these verses, but their nature is certainly poetic and of a certain beauty. One commentator calls this section, “Christ King and Redeemer” and that is a good summary of its content and intent. Here we see Jesus as “the icon of the invisible God” – all is made evident through his life, teaching, and example. And that is the whole point of the incarnation – Jesus is the epiphany of the Godhead. As in the prologue to the Gospel of John, the author sees Jesus as present and involved in creation – the Pantocrator. What is being built and recommended here is the full sufficiency of Jesus – an argument against the supplemental aspects of faith that seems to have attracted the Colossians. The enterprise of making this Jesus known is described as “all wisdom,” sufficient to the purpose.

Breaking open Colossians:
  1. How might you poetically describe Jesus?
  2. How does Jesus fulfill your religious longings?
  3. For what are you still waiting?

The Gospel: Saint Luke 10:38-42

As Jesus and his disciples went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."

Here we have the other half of the lesson and teaching that surround the young lawyer and the parable of the Good Samaritan. In the former, last Sunday’s Gospel, we wrestle along with the lawyer about necessary things, love of God and of neighbor. The neighbor part reminds us of the hospitality that is expected of those who would follow Jesus, and thus Luke treats us to this Sunday’s pericope. Ostensibly it is Martha who is following the right path, working to prepare a gracious welcome to a guest. As usual, Jesus pushes beyond what we first perceive in the law. Martha struggles with her efforts to be faithful, and Jesus points out that there is another half that she is missing. The example is Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus, actively listening to what he has to say. It is important to recognize that it is not Lazarus, their brother, who is sitting at the feet of Jesus, but rather a woman who is in the position of the disciple. What will be expected of her? More than the “morsel of bread” that was expected of Sarah. Another Mary will have learned that lesson when she peers into an empty tomb.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     How are you like Martha?
2.     How are you like Mary?
3.     Can you be both?

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

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son 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]Alter, R. (2009), The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, Kindle Location 4466.


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