The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 11, 23 July 2017

Track One:
Genesis 28:10-19a
Psalm 139:1-11, or Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19

Track Two:
Isaiah 44:6-8
Psalm 86:11-17

Romans 8:12-25
St. Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Background: Ancient foods.

Some 10,000 years ago, humans began to move from the mode of hunter-gatherer culture to that of farming culture. Those communities which settled in the Fertile Crescent along with southwest Asia depended upon basic grains and pulses as their domestic crops. The cereals were emmer wheat, einkorn wheat, and barley, upon which both baked goods and beverages were based. The pulses consisted of lentils, peas, chickpeas, and bitter vetch. The other domesticated crop, which was used in early civilizations, was that of flax. In ancient Israel the diet consisted of bread, wine, and olive oil, along with legumes, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, fish, and meat. Some of these products were raised in walled-in open spaces near villages, as well as on terraced hillsides in the hill country. Foods were stored in underground granaries, and in central storage cities. We know what was grown when due to the Gezer agricultural calendar that records the types of crops that were grown, and when during the year.

Track One:

First Reading: Genesis 28:10-19a

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel.

Jacob stops at a place with a long history as a sacred space, although the biblical story sidesteps that tradition. The purpose of this story is to take an anonymous place and make it into a sacred place, but really that had already been done by generations prior to Jacob. Jacob is a product of his culture, and all of its borrowed or requisitioned elements. He sleeps with stones, he sets them up as memorials, the stone or stones that mark a place. Upon this foreign foundation, however, there is some theological insight that is shared with us.

One of the story’s themes is access to heaven, and thus a stairway (are these memories of a Mesopotamian ziggurat?) to heaven is the heart of Jacob’s vision. In this momentous meeting with God (compare Moses’ meetings on Sinai), there is the repetition of the covenant story, in which God promises a future to Jacob, “and your seed shall be like the dust of the earth.” This covenant is secured and remembered with a ritual pillar anointed with oil – marking the place named as “The House of God.”

Breaking open Genesis:
1.          What is your connection with heaven?
2.          What are your sacred places?
3.         What kind of agreements do you have with God?

Psalm 139: 1-11, 22-23 Domine, probasti

     Lord, you have searched me out and known me; *
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
2      You trace my journeys and my resting-places *
and are acquainted with all my ways.
3      Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, *
but you, O Lord, know it altogether.
4      You press upon me behind and before *
and lay your hand upon me.
5      Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; *
it is so high that I cannot attain to it.
6      Where can I go then from your Spirit? *
where can I flee from your presence?
7      If I climb up to heaven, you are there; *
if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.
8      If I take the wings of the morning *
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
9      Even there your hand will lead me *
and your right hand hold me fast.
10    If I say, "Surely the darkness will cover me, *
and the light around me turn to night,"
11    Darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day; *
darkness and light to you are both alike.
22    Search me out, O God, and know my heart; *
try me and know my restless thoughts.
23    Look well whether there be any wickedness in me *
and lead me in the way that is everlasting.

Read through the entirety of the psalm to fully gather its tone and intent. The elided verses, especially verses 19 and 20 move us away from this meditation on God’s knowledge of us, but the prior verses play with other senses in an anthropomorphization of God’s knowing of us. The author leads us down a path with multiple destinations, all giving a glimpse of the individual and how God knows the individual. We go from resting place, to various aspects of the individual shaped as a potter would shape a pot. Likewise we pass through the various phases of sun and moon, time, if you will, during which God continues to observe and have knowledge. The heart, mind and thoughts are open to God. But who can withstand such a thorough investigation? The verse requesting an oblique forgiveness and asking for leadership trusts in God’s mercy and forgiveness.

Breaking open Psalm 139
  1. Have you ever tried to hide from God?
  2. Where was that?
  3. How does God find you?


Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19

There is no god besides you, whose care is for all people,
to whom you should prove that you have not judged unjustly;
for your strength is the source of righteousness,
and your sovereignty over all causes you to spare all.
For you show your strength when people doubt the completeness of your power,
and you rebuke any insolence among those who know it.
Although you are sovereign in strength, you judge with mildness,
and with great forbearance you govern us;
for you have power to act whenever you choose.
Through such works you have taught your people
that the righteous must be kind,
and you have filled your children with good hope,
because you give repentance for sins.

This is a meditation nestled in a longer section that looks back at the deliverance from Egypt. Here the author rhapsodizes over the mercy of a forgiving God. There is an implicit universalism that speaks with a new clarity to its second or first century world, “whose care is for all people.” The images are contrastive, sovereign vs. mildness, governance vs. forbearance. This is the basis of the wisdom that the people are urged to seek after, and the prayer that is offered to the God who gives repentance.

Breaking open Wisdom of Solomon
  1. In your mind, for whom does God care?
  2. With what kind of attitude does God greet you?
  3. What does “Wisdom” mean to you?

Track Two:

First Reading: Isaiah 44:6-8

Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel,
and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
I am the first and I am the last;
besides me there is no god.
Who is like me? Let them proclaim it,
let them declare and set it forth before me.
Who has announced from of old the things to come?
Let them tell us what is yet to be.
Do not fear, or be afraid;
have I not told you from of old and declared it?
You are my witnesses!
Is there any god besides me?
There is no other rock; I know not one.

If in the alternate reading from the Wisdom of Solomon, God is seen in many guises by many people, in this Isaiah there is only one God, and that is YHWH the God of the Judeans. The verses are a challenge to the gods of the world, and to their powers and attributes. God insists that the reign of YHWH is supreme and unmovable. There is a remarkable connection in the final verse, “There is no other rock,” with the rocks in the First Reading.

Breaking open the Isaiah:
1.         What are the gods of this world?
2.         How is God different?
3.        How is God a rock?

Psalm 86:11-17 Inclina, Domine

11    Teach me your way, O Lord,
and I will walk in your truth; *
knit my heart to you that I may fear your Name.
12    I will thank you, O Lord my God, with all my heart, *
and glorify your Name for evermore.
13    For great is your love toward me; *
you have delivered me from the nethermost Pit.
14    The arrogant rise up against me, O God,
and a band of violent men seeks my life; *
they have not set you before their eyes.
15    But you, O Lord, are gracious and full of compassion, *
slow to anger, and full of kindness and truth.
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 psalmist asks for instruction, and promises compliance. From then on the verses recount deeds for which the author offers thanksgiving, and like the insights in the Track One psalm, there is a ubiquity in God’s connections with the psalmist. There are notes of supplication as well as thanksgiving. The author looks at God’s compassion and desires mercy and kindness.

Breaking open the Psalm 86:
1.     How does God instruct you?
2.     What do you ask of God?
3.    How does God greet you with mercy?

Second Reading: Romans 8:12-25

Brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh-- for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ-- if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

We continue with “The Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus”, and a continuation of the contrasts of spirit and flesh. For Paul, this is the issue of life and death. The flesh calls us to an identity that is bound too tightly to the world, but the Spirit calls us to another world, indeed another family in which we are the adopted of the Father. As he continues the argument, however, we suddenly realize that we must still endure the “sufferings of this present time.” These are not the sufferings that meet us in the daily stuff of life. These are the troubles and risks that face us as we enter a new time, a new kingdom. This new creation exists as did the first creation, unformed, indescribable, all potential. It is the Spirit that gives voice to this new world.

Breaking open Romans:
  1. What parts of your life are flesh?
  2. What parts are spirit?
  3. Can you pray without words? How?

The Gospel: St. Matthew 13:24-30,36-43

Jesus put before the crowd another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No, for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!”

Again we have the structure of parable and then explanation. The listeners are like the soil in the earlier parable – the message is received differently by the different types of listeners. “Let the one who has ears hear.” Seeds amongst the weeds, and the misdeeds done by “the enemy” speaks to the real situation of Jesus’ ministry, and of the ministry that will come after him. There is a practicality here, that asks for both time and patience along with discernment.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What are the weeds in your life?
  2. Who are your enemies that sow the weeds?
  3. How will you deal with or forgive them?

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 © 2017, Michael T. Hiller


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