The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 17, 28 August 2016

Track One:
Jeremiah 2:4-13
Psalm 81:1, 10-16

Track 2
Sirach 10:12-18 or Proverbs 25:6-7
Psalm 112

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Saint Luke 14:1, 7-14

Background: Pride

We are caught, in our time, between two conflicting notions of pride.  On the one hand it is part and parcel of the Greek notion of hybris, an over-valued sense of self and importance in the scheme of things, and on the other hand, a sense of self and accomplishment that is part of the general good of things. Added to this are the psychological aspects of pride, or lack of it. If anything, our time seemed determined to address the sin of lack of self-esteem and self worth. Thus minority groups both racial and sexual, along with women and others have addressed the issues of pride and self esteem. Casting aside the devaluations that have been leveled against them by the prevailing patriarchy, or societal values in general, these groups have sought to regain themselves in a better sense of self. The question, then, is how do these efforts meld with what these lessons, this morning seem to want to teach us about pride?

Track One:

First Reading: Jeremiah 2:4-13

Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. Thus says the Lord:
What wrong did your ancestors find in me
that they went far from me,
and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?
They did not say, "Where is the Lord
who brought us up from the land of Egypt,
who led us in the wilderness,
in a land of deserts and pits,
in a land of drought and deep darkness,
in a land that no one passes through,
where no one lives?"
I brought you into a plentiful land
to eat its fruits and its good things.
But when you entered you defiled my land,
and made my heritage an abomination.
The priests did not say, "Where is the Lord?"
Those who handle the law did not know me;
the rulers transgressed against me;
the prophets prophesied by Baal,
and went after things that do not profit.
Therefore once more I accuse you, says the Lord,
and I accuse your children's children.
Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look,
send to Kedar and examine with care;
see if there has ever been such a thing.
Has a nation changed its gods,
even though they are no gods?
But my people have changed their glory
for something that does not profit.
Be appalled, O heavens, at this,
be shocked, be utterly desolate,
says the Lord,
for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living water,
and dug out cisterns for themselves,
cracked cisterns’
that can hold no water.

The psychological setting of a jilted and forgotten lover is usually the scene of untoward anger and unedited emotions.  The situation here is precisely that – Israel has forsaken her “husband” YHWH, and now it is YHWH who responds. The response however is the measured rejoinder of a lawsuit, and once again, as we have been several times before, we are in the courtroom listening to testimony. In addressing “all the families of Israel” we are clued in to the domestic nature of this dispute and proceeding. It begins with an earnest question, “What wrong did your ancestors find in me?” What follows is a rehearsal of what YHWH has done, beginning with the being set free from the land of Egypt, a land characterized as “a land of drought and deep darkness.” From this land, the people are brought into a good land – a land that is not only a gift from God, but also a sign of the favor God bears toward Israel. It is a possession that is not only spiritually threatened, but physically as well. Other powers, “the coasts of Cyprus…(and) Kedar” - these places threaten the relationship with their gods, after whom the people yearn and become faithless.

“Therefore once more I accuse you.” And thus it begins again, and not only for this generation but for future generations as well. The heavens are called to witness Israel’s seeking after gods that “are no gods.” The thirst of Israel is false – “cracked cisterns that can hold no water.” The land, the water, the relationship are all bound up in the relationship with YHWH, and thus their God makes a case.

Breaking open Jeremiah:
  1. Does national pride ever overtake love of God?
  2. Have you seen that in your time?
  3. How do you remain faithful to God?

Psalm 81:1, 10-16 Exultate Deo
     Sing with joy to God our strength *
and raise a loud shout to the God of Jacob.
10    I am the Lord your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt and said, *
"Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it."
11    And yet my people did not hear my voice, *
and Israel would not obey me.
12    So I gave them over to the stubbornness of their hearts, *
to follow their own devices.
13    Oh,that my people would listen to me! *
that Israel would walk in my ways!
14    I should soon subdue their enemies *
and turn my hand against their foes.
15    Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him, *
and their punishment would last for ever.
16    But Israel would I feed with the finest wheat *
and satisfy him with honey from the rock.

The psalmist speaks with the voice of Jeremiah, and reminds us of God’s lawsuit in the first Track One reading. These are familiar elements, the freedom from Israel, the deafness to God’s commands, and a giving-over to their base desires. The theme here is a bit different, relying on the richness. It is not water that flows from the rock, but rather honey! nature of listening, so that a following might come after the words are heard. There are consequences to this change of behavior, “I should soon subdue their enemies.” If the Jeremiah reading ends with a sense of thirst and wanting, this psalm ends with satiation and

Breaking open Psalm 81:
  1. In what ways do you listen to God?
  2. In what ways are you deaf to God?
  3. What is it that you don’t want to hear?


Track Two:

First Reading: Sirach 10:12-18

The beginning of human pride is to forsake the Lord;
the heart has withdrawn from its Maker.
For the beginning of pride is sin,
and the one who clings to it pours out abominations.
Therefore the Lord brings upon them unheard-of calamities,
and destroys them completely.
The Lord overthrows the thrones of rulers,
and enthrones the lowly in their place.
The Lord plucks up the roots of the nations,
and plants the humble in their place.
The Lord lays waste the lands of the nations,
and destroys them to the foundations of the earth.
He removes some of them and destroys them,
and erases the memory of them from the earth.
Pride was not created for human beings,
or violent anger for those born of women.

This is a late entry, but not into the canon. Written in the early part of the second century BCE it represents a stage in Jewish wisdom. The background is a period of difficult and violent change as the rule in the Levant transferred from the Egyptian Ptolemies to the Syrian Seleucids. It was written in Hebrew, but was translated into Greek around 117 BCE by the author’s grandson. In a sentiment similar to the cynical comments of Qohelet he comments on the temporary nature of “the nations”. “(God) removes some of them and destroys them, and erases the memory of them from the earth.” He connects human pride with unfaithfulness to God. (Users of the Track Two readings may want to look at the Track One First Reading for a further development of this theme). In the closing verse he opines that pride is not a part of what it means to be a human.

Breaking open Sirach::
  1. What is Sirach’s view of pride?
  2. Is pride good or bad – explain.
  3. What might you substitute for pride?


Proverbs 25:6-7
Do not put yourself forward in the king's presence
or stand in the place of the great;
for it is better to be told, "Come up here,"
than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.

This is a faint substitute for the reading from Sirach, but straightforward. Brave the reading from Sirach, it has a much more complex development than the dicta of these proverbs.

Breaking open Proverbs:
  1. What is Proverb’s view of pride?

Psalm 112 Beatus vir

Happy are they who fear the Lord *
and have great delight in his commandments!
2      Their descendants will be mighty in the land; *
the generation of the upright will be blessed.
3      Wealth and riches will be in their house, *
and their righteousness will last for ever.
4      Light shines in the darkness for the upright; *
the righteous are merciful and full of compassion.
5      It is good for them to be generous in lending *
and to manage their affairs with justice.
6      For they will never be shaken; *
the righteous will be kept in everlasting remembrance.
7      They will not be afraid of any evil rumors; *
their heart is right;
they put their trust in the Lord.
8      Their heart is established and will not shrink, *
until they see their desire upon their enemies.
9      They have given freely to the poor, *
and their righteousness stands fast for ever;
they will hold up their head with honor.
10    The wicked will see it and be angry;
they will gnash their teeth and pine away; *
the desires of the wicked will perish.

This wisdom psalm is an antidote to the pride that has been introduced in the First Reading and that will be treated later in the Gospel. Who and what is the virtuous person? Like Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the psalmist counts the ways. The introduction of heroic characters in the initial verses also lends itself to an understanding of a prosperous individual. What flows toward these people is carefully outlined in the verses that follow. Even the future is assured in the promise of a good remembrance of the virtuous person. The last verses add a note of contrast to the goodness rehearsed above.

Breaking open Psalm 112:
  1. Who are the righteous persons in your life?
  2. What virtues do they display?
  3. How do you emulate them?

The Second Reading: Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, "I will never leave you or forsake you." So we can say with confidence,

"The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?"

Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

If we have been reading the whole of Hebrews we will have noticed the author’s desire to underscore the values of faith, hope, and love. What follows now is a connection to what kind of life ought to be lived in the light of those virtues. Thus we begin with “mutual love and hospitality”, and ancient understanding of what it means to be connected to both God and neighbor. This is not “pie in the sky” either, for the readers are encouraged to remember prisoners and other unfortunates. It is the full context of life as he addresses marriage and family, fiscal prudence, and satisfaction with what God has given. Finally there is a plea to remember “your leaders”, - today we would pray for the church and its ministries. Above all this stands a ubiquitous and eternal Christ to whom we are bidden to offer a “sacrifice of praise.”

Breaking Open Hebrews::
  1. How is your life marked with mutual love and hospitality?
  2. How do try to live a life in Christ?
  3. Does it show?

The Gospel: Saint Luke 14:1, 7-14

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. "When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, `Give this person your place,' and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, `Friend, move up higher'; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."

He said also to the one who had invited him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

Once again we are dining at the home of a Pharisee, and it will serve as a setting for teaching and wisdom. Jesus is an astute observer of the scene, “when he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor.” But what might be seen as gentle comments on the niceties of human society will soon become demands of a higher sort. The real object of Jesus’ concern (and certainly Luke in his program as well) is “the humble.” First of all we are asked to observe a sense of humility in ourselves and then to find it in the world. In identifying the humble of the world, Jesus would have us see the focus of our hospitality. The guests are a sign of the messianic kingdom, “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” There is no giving here with the hope of getting. The rewards are eschatological and spiritual in nature. What a lesson for our time!

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. How do you follow Jesus notion of inviting in the poor?
  2. What do you do with your sense of guilt?
  3. How can you serve the poor?

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

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; 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


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