The Third Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 7, 25 June 2017

Track One:
Genesis 21:8-21
Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17

Track Two:
Jeremiah 20:7-13
Psalm 69:8-11, (12-17), 18-20

Romans 6:1b-11
St. Matthew 10:24-39

Background: Disciple

Although this word is usually heard in a Christian context, there are examples from the Hebrew Scriptures as well. In Hebrew the term is translated as “scholar” or “pupil”.  A good example is in Isaiah 8:16, where the prophet realizing that his word is not being well received entrusts it to his disciples so that they might reveal it at a future time. In the New Testament, the Greek vocable mathetes is a form derived from the verb “to learn.”

Track One:

First Reading: Genesis 21:8-21

The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.

When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.

God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

This is a deep study of human nature. Sarah and Hagar are in a rivalry not all that unusual in the ancient near east. The question is, “Who shall be the heir?” Given that background, Sarah’s comments upon seeing Ishmael playing with her son, Isaac, are deeper in their import, rather than being a casual comment upon the observation of two boys playing. The verb, depending on its conjugation, can mean anything from “mocking” or “joking” to mere “play,” or to a more troublesome meaning, “sexual activity.” That Ishmael might pretend to be the heir would be truly troubling to Sarah. Thus her demand that Hagar be sent away.

Now the focus of the story turns to Ishmael, and to a certain extent his mother as well. The issue of inheritance has been taken care of and God has promised to make of Ishmael a great nation as well. We need to be aware at this point of the meaning of Ishmael’s name – “God will hear.” That will become a very important meaning as the story continues. Here a model of prayer is formed, a model that will be upon the lips of Hannah the mother of Samuel, and other women as well. Here, however, the son is already present. The danger that is telegraphed to God is his risk in the wilderness. God opens her eyes, and she then can see what must be done for her son in the wilderness.

Breaking open Genesis:
1.          What do you think of Sarah’s actions?
2.          In what ways is Hagar admirable?
3.         What’s your impression of Ishmael?

Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17 Inclina, Domine

     Bow down your ear, O Lord, and answer me, *
for I am poor and in misery.
2      Keep watch over my life, for I am faithful; *
save your servant who puts his trust in you.
3      Be merciful to me, O Lord, for you are my God; *
I call upon you all the day long.
4      Gladden the soul of your servant, *
for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
5      For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, *
and great is your love toward all who call upon you.
6      Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer, *
and attend to the voice of my supplications.
7      In the time of my trouble I will call upon you, *
for you will answer me.
8      Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord, *
nor anything like your works.
9      All nations you have made will come and worship you, O Lord, *
and glorify your Name.
10    For you are great;
you do wondrous things; *
and you alone are God.
16    Turn to me and have mercy upon me; *
give your strength to your servant;
and save the child of your handmaid.
17    Show me a sign of your favor,
so that those who hate me may see it and be ashamed; *
because you, O Lord, have helped me and comforted me.

The match of this psalm with the first reading is stunning. Especially noted is the 16th verse, “and save the child of your handmaid.” The anthropomorphic image of God inclining to hear the prayer of the psalmist is quite moving. The translation of our version might cause us to miss the play between bending over, and lifting up. In verse 4 we have a tepid reading, “for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.” The word translated as "soul" could be better rendered as “my very being and existence.” Here we hear the troubled necessity of the psalmist’s (and Hagar’s) prayer.

Breaking open Psalm 86
  1. How does God insinuate Godself into your world?
  2. What are the troubles that you lay upon God?
  3. How have you helped others who are troubled?


Track Two:

First Reading: Jeremiah 20:7-13

Lord, you have enticed me,
and I was enticed;
you have overpowered me,
and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughingstock all day long;
everyone mocks me.
For whenever I speak, I must cry out,
I must shout, "Violence and destruction!"
For the word of the Lord has become for me
a reproach and derision all day long.
If I say, "I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,"
then within me there is something like a burning fire
shut up in my bones;
I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.
For I hear many whispering:
"Terror is all around!
Denounce him! Let us denounce him!"
All my close friends
are watching for me to stumble.
"Perhaps he can be enticed,
and we can prevail against him,
and take our revenge on him."
But the Lord is with me like a dread warrior;
therefore my persecutors will stumble,
and they will not prevail.
They will be greatly shamed,
for they will not succeed. 
Their eternal dishonor
will never be forgotten.
Lord of hosts, you test the righteous,
you see the heart and the mind;
let me see your retribution upon them,
for to you I have committed my cause.
Sing to the Lord;
praise the Lord!
For he has delivered the life of the needy
from the hands of evildoers.

Here we see the troublesome world of the prophet, fated to speak God’s truth to an unwilling world. This reading is filled with a great deal of sorrow and fear. It is evident in he comment, “I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” But he has not been holding it in. In verses 3-6 we understand how difficult his speech has been.

This is not the speech of the fearful, but one that recognizes the truth that God wishes to be known. It is also speech that makes for enemies and hostility. But it is not only in the others that Jeremiah recognizes fear and difficulty, but in his relationship with God as well. “Oh, Lord, you have enticed me.” This is the voice of one who is feeling abused and used. The power that Jeremiah sees and experiences in a deeply personal way, he wants used against those who are not following God’s will. “Let me see your retribution upon them.” This is not ambiguous speech. Jeremiah’s hope is expressed in the salvation he wishes to see for the needy.

Breaking open the Jeremiah:
1.         Why has Jeremiah begotten so many enemies?
2.         How do you deal with people who disrespect your Christianity?
3.        Why does Jeremiah complain to God?

Psalm 69: 8-11, (12-17), 18-20 Salvum me fac

     Surely, for your sake have I suffered reproach, *
and shame has covered my face.
9      I have become a stranger to my own kindred, *
an alien to my mother's children.
10    Zeal for your house has eaten me up; *
the scorn of those who scorn you has fallen upon me.
11    I humbled myself with fasting, *
but that was turned to my reproach.
[12   I put on sack-cloth also, *
and became a byword among them.
13    Those who sit at the gate murmur against me, *
and the drunkards make songs about me.
14    But as for me, this is my prayer to you, *
at the time you have set, O Lord:
15    "In your great mercy, O God, *
answer me with your unfailing help.
16    Save me from the mire; do not let me sink; *
let me be rescued from those who hate me
and out of the deep waters.
17    Let not the torrent of waters wash over me,
neither let the deep swallow me up; *
do not let the Pit shut its mouth upon me.]
18    Answer me, O Lord, for your love is kind; *
in your great compassion, turn to me.'
19    "Hide not your face from your servant; *
be swift and answer me, for I am in distress.
20    Draw near to me and redeem me; *
because of my enemies deliver me.

Once again the psalm and the first reading are well met. The prayer of the psalm, a supplication, is from one who is treading the dreadful waters of death. In verse 2 (not included in our text) we hear the cry, “Rescue me, God.” And what is all the trouble about? Verse 8 clues us in to what the psalmist is feeling. His attempts to honor God and what God has asked are seen by others as foolishness. The optional verses play on this theme, and accentuate the psychological risks in honoring God and God’s commands.

Breaking open the Psalm 69:
1.     From what has God rescued you?
2.     From what do you now need rescue?
3.    What do you do when you’re rescued?

Second Reading: Romans 6:1b-11

Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

“Of what shall we boast?” the author asks. In this pericope the answer is sharp and clear. We should boast of and be found in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He continues on then exploring how the Christian ought to live. Sin – for the sake of receiving grace? No. Paul wants his readers to understand that they have died to sin, just as Jesus died – and that they have been raised to a new kind of living, just as Jesus was raised. The battle with death and the grave has revealed some unexpected results. They have become the gateway to life – a life in Christ.

Breaking open Romans:
  1. What makes you unusual?
  2. What have you died to in the world?
  3. How have you been made alive?

The Gospel: St. Matthew 10:24-39

Jesus said to the twelve disciples, “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!

“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

The reading for today is spread across three different pericopes, “The Cost of Discipleship – Mission” (10:16-25), “- Fear” (10:26-31), and “- Acknowledgement of the Messiah” (10:32 – 11:1). In each of these instances, we are given the privilege of listening in on Jesus’ instruction to those closest to him. Some see in these instructions a focus on the end of time, but there is a more immediate understanding of this instruction. Jesus describes mission in its immediate context (to the people of Israel) and in its probable results (the rejection by both Israel, and others). That warning is accentuated in verses 26-31, which puts any possible fear within the understanding of God’s protection, “Even the hairs of your head are all numbered.”

Finally, Jesus paints his expectations in sharp contrasts, “I have come neither to impose peace, nor yet to make war. I have come to divide.” The divisions noted by Jesus, (man against his father, etc.) seem more difficult than what is actually intended. The sufferings of division described by Jesus are a sign of the Messianic Era. Rabbinic writers saw such suffering as a harbinger of the time of the Messiah. In short the disciples are pushed to make a choice, and to accept Jesus as the Messiah.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What is the mission that Jesus gives to the disciples?
  2. What is the fear that you share with them?
  3. How is Jesus the Messiah?

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

O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving­kindness; 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 © 2017, Michael T. Hiller


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