The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 12, 24 July 2016

Track One:
Hosea 1:2-10
Psalm 85

Track Two:
Genesis 18:20-32
Psalm 138

Colossians 2:6-15, [16-19]
Saint Luke 11:1-13

Background: Prayer

Prayer is so common to our life as religious people, that it often escapes our notice and attention. We allow that to happen to our detriment, however. It is good that there are days in the lectionary where the focus is on prayer – and not sentimental prayer but difficult, argumentative prayer. I often tell friends about the prayer I made that was aided and abated by a difficult mimeograph machine. The stencil kept tearing and I finally exploded in prayer, “I’m doing this for you, don’t you know.” What followed was a period of meditation and thought about what I wanted from God well beyond a functioning mimeograph machine. My favorite book on prayer is Archbishop Anthony Bloom’s Beginning to Pray. In it he tells of the difficult prayers that must accompany a woman’s trials in life. “Humility is the situation of the earth,” he tells her as he tries to get her to see how prayer must address all aspects of life. Sometimes life and prayer must take in what seems repulsive to us. Another book is Rowan Williams book, Being Christian, Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer. The section on prayer offers a commentary on Origen’s comments on prayer, and is most helpful. His opening comments reflect, in a more gentle way, Anthony Bloom’s approach. “Growing in prayer is not simply acquiring a set of special spiritual skills that operate in one bit of your life. It is about growing into what St Paul calls ‘the measure of the full stature of Christ’ (Ephesians 4.13). It is growing into the kind of humanity that Christ shows us. Growing in prayer, in other words, is growing in Christian humanity.”[1]
Perhaps these readings and these books, along with others, will guide us in promoting prayer, and encouraging a life of prayer in our parishes.

Track One:

First Reading: Hosea 1:2-10

When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, "Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord." So he went and took Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.

And the Lord said to him, "Name him Jezreel; for in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. On that day I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel."

She conceived again and bore a daughter. Then the Lord said to him, "Name her Lo-ruhamah, for I will no longer have pity on the house of Israel or forgive them. But I will have pity on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the Lord their God; I will not save them by bow, or by sword, or by war, or by horses, or by horsemen."

When she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said, "Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not my people and I am not your God."

Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered; and in the place where it was said to them, "You are not my people," it shall be said to them, "Children of the living God."

Elizabeth Achtemeier introduces her commentary on Hosea with a simple sentence that she offers as a summarization of the book, “The central announcement of the prophet Hosea can be summarized in one short sentence: God promises to do what human beings ought to do but cannot. The God of Israel, Yahweh, who is revealed to us through the prophecies of Hosea, has an ongoing love story with the people of the covenant.”[2] Like a lot of love stories, the details will be complicated and difficult. Hosea does his work on the cusp of the fall of the Northern Kingdom to the forces of the Assyrian Empire ca. 750 BCE. In our pericope for today, we are introduced to the prophet’s work, perhaps by another hand, which uses the prophetic devices of vision and symbol to begin what “the Lord first spoke through Hosea.” The semiology is strong – and we are at odds in attempting to plumb its depths. Who and what was Gomer? Was this autobiography, or was it commentary on the state of Israel – or both. Some suggest that she was a temple prostitute, who would make the marriage and the prophet’s words even more telling. Thus the love story of God and Israel, told through the personal relationship of the prophet and his family, begins on a disastrous note, “for you are not my people and I am not your God.”

Breaking open Hosea:
1.     What events in your life illustrate biblical truths?
2.     How do you see God’s love in this reading?
3.     In what ways is this a difficult reading?

Psalm 85 Benedixisti, Domine

     You have been gracious to your land, O Lord, *
you have restored the good fortune of Jacob.
2      You have forgiven the iniquity of your people *
and blotted out all their sins.
3      You have withdrawn all your fury *
and turned yourself from your wrathful indignation.
4      Restore us then, O God our Savior; *
let your anger depart from us.
5      Will you be displeased with us for ever? *
will you prolong your anger from age to age?
6      Will you not give us life again, *
that your people may rejoice in you?
7      Show us your mercy, O Lord, *
and grant us your salvation.
8      I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, *
for he is speaking peace to his faithful people
and to those who turn their hearts to him.
9      Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, *
that his glory may dwell in our land.
10    Mercy and truth have met together; *
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
11    Truth shall spring up from the earth, *
and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
12    The Lord will indeed grant prosperity, *
and our land will yield its increase.
13    Righteousness shall go before him, *
and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.

The Hebrew of this psalm indicates both hope for a future condition, and thanks for that which God has already done. It functions here as an ideal response to the reading from Hosea – looking beyond the difficult words that God speaks at the beginning of the prophet’s work. What is sought here is forgiveness and restoration. A series of supplications that follow the remembrances of grace in the initial three verses now ask for continuing grace and forgiveness. What is needed is the attention of the people, and the psalmist promises such attendance to God’s word, “I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, for he is speaking peace to his faithful people.” What follows then is a pathway that the faithful are expected to follow.

Breaking open Psalm 85:

1.        Do you believe that you are forgiven?
2.        From what have you been forgiven?
3.        Is there something from which you have not been forgiven?


Track Two:

First Reading: Genesis 18:20-32

The Lord said to Abraham, "How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know."

So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the Lord. Then Abraham came near and said, "Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?" And the Lord said, "If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake." Abraham answered, "Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?" And he said, "I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there." Again he spoke to him, "Suppose forty are found there." He answered, "For the sake of forty I will not do it." Then he said, "Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there." He answered, "I will not do it, if I find thirty there." He said, "Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there." He answered, "For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it." Then he said, "Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there." He answered, "For the sake of ten I will not destroy it."

We are still with Abraham and Sarah, and despite the lectionary’s focus on hospitality last week, we return to the seriousness of the pericope – the promise of a future, and Sarah’s response of laughter. There is, however, another outcry, “The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah, how great! Their offense is very grave.” Now we shall see the opposite of the promise and the antithesis of hospitality that marked the life of Abraham and Sarah. What results is heartfelt prayer on the part of Abraham – prayer for the people of Sodom. In the phrase, “Abraham came near and said,” we have language that reflects a legal request – as in an advocate stepping up to the judge’s seat and seeking a privilege. God is the provider of justice and it is just that the Abraham seeks of God – and thus begins a session of bargaining, hoping that God’s wrath and judgment might be averted. Abraham continues to ask for a greater forbearance by requesting justice for a smaller and smaller number of “innocents”.  Oddly enough he stops at ten – a number greater than the innocent lives of Lot and his family, residents of the city. What follows is not the point of our reading in the lectionary – but rather the example of outrageous prayer.

Breaking open Genesis:
1.     Have you ever argued with God?
2.     What was it about?
3.     Will you do it again?

Psalm 138 Confitebor tibi

     I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with my whole heart; *
before the gods I will sing your praise.
2      I will bow down toward your holy temple
and praise your Name, *
because of your love and faithfulness;
3      For you have glorified your Name *
and your word above all things.
4      When I called, you answered me; *
you increased my strength within me.
5      All the kings of the earth will praise you, O Lord, *
when they have heard the words of your mouth.
6      They will sing of the ways of the Lord, *
that great is the glory of the Lord.
7      Though the Lord be high, he cares for the lowly; *
he perceives the haughty from afar.
8      Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe; *
you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies;
your right hand shall save me.
9      The Lord will make good his purpose for me; *
Lord, your love endures for ever;
do not abandon the works of your hands.

In this thanksgiving psalm, the author gives thanks and praise for the rescue that God has afforded him. The phrase, “before the gods I will sing your praise,” either reflects a cheeky reflection on their ineffectiveness, or a memory of an earlier time when such gods were seen as a part of the heavenly court ruled by YHWH. We get a glimpse of the scope of God’s will in that God forgives and protects an individual here, and yet this small event is seen by “all the kings of the earth.”  The closing verses of the psalm acknowledge the individual as the work of God’s hand, and the implication is that God is the potter and the individual is the thrown vessel. Thus the entreaty is that the individual be handled carefully.

Breaking open Psalm 138:
1.     In what ways is your life fragile?
2.     How do you protect yourself?
3.     How does God protect you?

Second Reading: Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)

As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.

[Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.]

Now Paul confronts the false teaching that he fears is attracting the Colossians. There is an initial warning against philosophy followed by two pericopes that argue for the sufficiency of Christ by means of Baptism (2:9-15), and then a rehearsal of the practices of false teachers (2:16-23). Against the “elemental spirits of the cosmos” Paul contrasts the fullness of Christ. Christ is sufficient for their salvation and redemption – no other elements are necessary. Later in the later part of the pericope, Paul will catalogue what others seem to require of the people of God, “matters of good and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or Sabbaths.” These are simply unnecessary, since the body of Christ participates in the sufficiency and fullness of Christ by means of Baptism. Paul becomes quite literal in this comparison, talking about the “ligaments and sinews” that are a part of the body that is held together and grows within God.

Breaking open Colossians:
  1. What things compete for attention in your life?
  2. What arguments do you entertain contra your beliefs?
  3. What role does religion play in your intellectual life?

The Gospel: Saint Luke 11:1-13

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." He said to them, "When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial."

And he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, `Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.' And he answers from within, `Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.' I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
"So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

What was it that Mary desired and paid attention to in last Sunday’s Gospel? Here it is demonstrated in the request of Jesus’ disciples. They wish to learn to pray. Jesus offers both an example of how to pray, and a demonstration of the power that prayer needs to be afforded in the life of the individual. The actual prayer offers an example of what needs to be included in prayer: an honoring of God’s name and a realization of God’s presence in the reality of our lives. What comes as well is human need – daily bread, forgiveness, and the hope that the trials of life can be avoided. The lesson that follows is the necessity of persistence in prayer. In these examples from daily life, Jesus affords the disciples what seemed to be evident to Abraham – a vigorous dialogue with God.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     How do you pray?
2.     Do you use the Our Father as a model for prayer, or for the prayer itself?
3.     What’s missing from the Our Father?

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

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; 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 © 2016, Michael T. Hiller

[1]Williams, R. (2014), Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Kindle Edition, page 61.
[2]Achtemeier, E. (2012, Minotr Prophets I (Understanding the Bible, Commentary Series), Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Kindle Edition, page 1.


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