The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 16, 21 August 2016

Track One:
Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6

Track 2
Isaiah 58:9b-14
Psalm 103:1-8

Hebrews 12:18-29
Saint Luke 13:10-17

Background: Holiness

The reading from Hebrews skirts around it, and is often awash in it. It is present in Jeremiah’s reflections on his relationship with God, which sentiments are pointed out in the Track One psalm as well. It is implicit in the reading from Isaiah, and it is the central understanding of creation on the part of the psalmist in the Track Two psalm. Finally it is the “problem” that is addressed in the Gospel for this day – on two levels. It is an understanding of time itself, and of individual circumstance as well. The “it” that I am talking about is “holiness”, that aspect of being set apart and differentiated. As I became aware of this subtle theme in the readings, I resorted to two resources. The first is Rudolph Otto’s The Idea of the Holy[1], in which he did his formative work on the notion of the sacred that went on to influence Mircea Eliade and other scholars in this field. It is Eliade that I first became familiar with during my studies in seminary. In the following, he outlines essential assumptions as we consider holiness.

“Man becomes aware of the sacred because it manifests itself, shows itself, as something wholly different from the profane. TO designate the act of manifestation of the sacred, we have proposed the term hierophany. It is a fitting term, because it does not imply anything further; it expresses no more than is implicit in its etymological content, i.e., that something sacred shows itself to us. It could be said that the history of religions – from the most primitive to the most highly developed – is constituted by a great number of hierophanies, by manifestations of sacred realities. From the most elementary hierophany – e.g., manifestation of the sacred in some ordinary object, a stone or a tree – to the supreme hierophany (which, for a Christian, is the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ) there is no solution of continuity. In each case we are confronted by the same mysterious act – the manifestation of something of a wholly different order, a reality that does not belong t our world, in objects that are an integral port of our natural ‘profane’ world.”[2]

Track One:

First Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-10

The word of the Lord came to me saying,
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations."
Then I said, "Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." But the Lord said to me,
"Do not say, 'I am only a boy';
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you,
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the Lord."
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,
"Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant."

The holiness here, of course, is the status that Jeremiah enjoys in the eyes of his creator, and of which he seems totally unaware. In spite of his innate holiness, his being set apart, new differentiations will flow out of God’s call to him, and he will be set apart for other missions and other work. Walter Brueggemann characterizes the interaction between YHWH and his chose prophet as consisting of five stages: 1) divine initiative (5), 2) human resistance (6), 3) rebuke and reassurance (7-8), 4) a physical act of commissioning (9a), and 5) the substance of the commission (9b-10). [3] What is interesting here is Jeremiah’s personal experience of God’s call, both known to him and unknown to him. It would be wrong, perhaps, to read this incident as “a day in the life of” rather than seeing it is a programmatic introduction to all that is to follow in the prophet’s work. The work, like the situation in which the prophet finds himself, runs the whole gamut of human experience, from the most profound to the horrific.

Breaking open Amos:
  1. Have you always been holy and set apart?
  2. How?
  3. What is holy in your life?

Psalm 71:1-6 In te, Domine, speravi

     In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; *
let me never be ashamed.
2      In your righteousness, deliver me and set me free; *
incline your ear to me and save me.
3      Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe; *
you are my crag and my stronghold.
4      Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, *
from the clutches of the evildoer and the oppressor.
5      For you are my hope, O Lord God, *
my confidence since I was young.
6      I have been sustained by you ever since I was born;
from my mother's womb you have been my strength; *
my praise shall be always of you.

This psalm of supplication seems to have been assembled from other psalms, and it is verse six that gave the framers of the lectionary cause to place here as a reading for today. This particular verse bears some resemblance to Psalm 22:10, and gives evidence to the notion that it was formed from disparate parts. Nonetheless, the psalm’s message of protection makes it useful as a personal prayer for almost any situation.

Breaking open Psalm 71:
  1. What verses in this psalm appeal to you?
  2. Why?
  3. What could you use to comfort others?

Track Two:

First Reading: Isaiah 58:9b-14

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.
If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
if you call the sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;
then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

In a listing almost worthy of Paul, this Isaiah lists a series of behaviors that would indicate that the word of YHWH is being followed.  These are important instructions to a people returned to the land of their fathers and mothers. If the society that was so treasured by them is to be restored then these are attributes that need to be taken on. There is a list of consequences as well: satisfaction, rebuilt, repaired, delighted in the Lord, fed with the heritage of your ancestor. This is the foundation stuff of a reshaped and reformed community, and it is this Isaiah’s particular job to preach the good news of God’s favor toward those who return not only to the land, but to YHWH as well.

Breaking open Deuteronomy:
  1. What parts of your life are “ruined”?
  2. How do you propose to heal them?
  3. How can God help?

Psalm 103:1-8 Benedic, anima mea

     Bless the Lord, O my soul, *
and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.
2      Bless the Lord, O my soul, *
and forget not all his benefits.
3      He forgives all your sins *
and heals all your infirmities;
4      He redeems your life from the grave *
and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness;
5      He satisfies you with good things, *
and your youth is renewed like an eagle's.
6      The Lord executes righteousness *
and judgment for all who are oppressed.
7      He made his ways known to Moses *
and his works to the children of Israel.
8      The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, *
slow to anger and of great kindness.

In some sense this psalm could follow as a liturgical response to what Isaiah has told the returning exiles in the previous lesson. Robert Alter suggests that the sense of the word “bless” used here is praise at the time of a recovery – such as at a return from exile. A similar list follows of various aspects of this redemption and compassion.

Breaking open Psalm 103:
  1. What recoveries have you made in your life?
  2. Are there any left to accomplish?
  3. How will you accomplish them?

The Second Reading: Hebrews 12:18-29

You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. (For they could not endure the order that was given, "If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death." Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, "I tremble with fear.") But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, "Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven." This phrase, "Yet once more," indicates the removal of what is shaken-- that is, created things-- so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.

The reader is encouraged to be Israel and to approach the holy mountain, the fire, and the manifestations of God’s glory to Israel. It is an invitation to come into the presence of the living God – to experience holiness. The reader would recall all the events that surrounded the giving of the law to Moses at Sinai, but more will be drawn from this remembrance than just the law. If Sinai gathered a new community that was centered on the word of YHWH, then there is a new community that is gathered and “enrolled in heaven.” These are contrasts of the old story and the new. Able’s blood “speaks better” in the blood of Jesus.

There is an aspect to holiness that is bound up in the word, particularly in the Voice. It is the voice that engenders creation that sets apart light from darkness, order from chaos. This is the power of holiness. Reading between the lines we catch glimpses of a society that is unstable – shakable. Out of this a people are called into a new “kingdom that cannot be shaken.” God may come as a consuming fire – but it is a fire that purifies and makes holy.

Breaking Open Hebrews::
  1. When have you approached holiness?
  2. Where – what was it like?
  3. What do you see as holy in others?

The Gospel: Saint Luke 13:10-17

Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment." When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the Sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day." But the Lord answered him and said, "You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?" When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

Here two aspects of holiness come into conflict, the holiness of a sacred day (and space, as well), and the holiness of God’s chosen one, here a daughter of Abraham. The conflict arises when on the Sabbath Jesus sees this disabled woman and calls her into healing. The high ideals of the leader of the synagogue are called into question when he confronts Jesus about his work on the Sabbath. To these niceties, Jesus recalls the pragmatic nature of human life, “does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox?” It is an argument about the sanctity of human life – and by calling her “a daughter of Abraham” that sanctity is not lost on the critics who confront Jesus.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What part of the day is holy for you?
  2. How was the woman holy?
  3. What does Jesus see in her?

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

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; 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]Otto, R. (2013), The Idea of the Holy, Kindle Edition.
[2]Eliade, M. (1957), The Sacred and the Profane – The Nature of Religion, Harcourt, Inc. New York, page 11.
[3]Brueggemann, W. (1998), A Commentary on Jeremiah, Exile and Homecoming, William B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Page 24.


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