The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 11, 22 July 2018

Track One:
II Samuel 7:1-14a
Psalm 89:20-37

Track Two:
Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 23

Ephesians 2:11-22
St. Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Background: Mary Magdalene

The twenty-second of July is the Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene, but the rules of precedence at least in the Episcopal Church prevent us from celebrating her on this day. Regardless, I’d like to take some time to talk about this Apostle to the Apostles. It is important that we do so in order to correct the blindness that we have had over the centuries and years to the ministry of women. That she and the other women were the first to proclaim the resurrection should not pass our notice or our thanksgiving. Therefore, this feast day gives us opportunity to address our failure in acknowledging the gifts that she and other women have brought to the Church.

Her name appears twelve times in the canonical gospels, and she is characterized in a variety of ways. Luke notes that she was one of Jesus’ literal followers, in that she accompanied him and the disciples. She offered contributions to their upkeep. She was a witness to his crucifixion, and in all the synoptics, she is a witness at the resurrection as well. A whole tradition is devoted to her, many of it lost or ignored. She is figure of some note in non-canonical writings, some Gnostic, such as The Dialogue of the Savior, Pistis Sophia, the Gospel of Thomas, theGospel of Philip, and theGospel of Mary.The confusion from the Medieval period of Mary and the so-called “sinful woman” who anoints Jesus’ feet has been abandoned by scholars. She is now recalled for her courage in announcing the Gospel.

Track One:

First Reading: II Samuel 7:1-14a

When the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.”

But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus, says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.

This pericope centers on a pun of sorts that of house (as dwelling), house (as dynasty), and house (as temple). Last Sunday’s reading ended David’s connection with the House of Saul and Michal’s disaffection with David. It is a pause in the story which wrestles not with the difficulties of the present but looks beyond them to a future. Some see the pieces of this story coming from two different sources – the vision of Nathan, and the prayer of David(which is not included in our reading) and the narrative itself which forms the context for the other two elements. Some see in the prayer/vision the influence of a Deuteronomistic author or editor. There are three characters, David, Nathan – who is new to the scene and who will be seen later, and God. 

The problem that David faces and hopes to resolve is the lack of a more permanent cultic space in Jerusalem, thus his observation that he lives in a house of cedar, and God in a house of “curtains”, the Tabernacle. The response on God’s part to David’s desire to provide a “house” for God, is blunt and forthright, “I have dwelt in no house.” Perhaps this story is a backward look at a pre-Temple period, providing a reason for its absence. It would be a later king (Solomon) that would provide for that. What God does promise is that David’s house (dynasty) will be blessed and provided for. All of this message is embraced by a rehearsal of all that God had done for Israel, from Egypt, prophets, and judges on. All of this is based on God’s hesed, faithfulness to the relationship that God has with David.

Breaking open II Samuel:
  1. How is your church like a home?
  2. How is your home like a church?
  3. Where do you go to find God?

Psalm 89:20-37 Tunc locutus es

20    I have found David my servant; *
with my holy oil have I anointed him.
21    My hand will hold him fast *
and my arm will make him strong.
22    No enemy shall deceive him, *
nor any wicked man bring him down.
23    I will crush his foes before him *
and strike down those who hate him.
24    My faithfulness and love shall be with him, *
and he shall be victorious through my Name.
25    I shall make his dominion extend *
from the Great Sea to the River.
26    He will say to me, 'You are my Father, *
my God, and the rock of my salvation.'
27    I will make him my firstborn *
and higher than the kings of the earth.
28    I will keep my love for him for ever, *
and my covenant will stand firm for him.
29    I will establish his line for ever *
and his throne as the days of heaven."
30    "If his children forsake my law *
and do not walk according to my judgments;
31    If they break my statutes *
and do not keep my commandments;
32    I will punish their transgressions with a rod *
and their iniquities with the lash;
33    But I will not take my love from him, *
nor let my faithfulness prove false.
34    I will not break my covenant, *
nor change what has gone out of my lips.
35    Once for all I have sworn by my holiness: *
'I will not lie to David.
36    His line shall endure for ever *
and his throne as the sun before me;
37    It shall stand fast for evermore like the moon, *
the abiding witness in the sky.' "

You might want to read through the entirety of the psalm, as the initial verses connect very well with the content of the first reading. The same sentiments are repeated at verse 20, so there is no real loss here. What follows are the benefits that God promises to David the King. We have the heart of the psalm here, and our reading abandons the “curses” section and focuses on the blessings. It is, in this respect a “covenant psalm”, reviewing and honoring the covenant between God and the house of David. 

Breaking open Psalm 89:
  1. What blessings does God promise our leaders?
  2. What is expected of them?
  3. How do we support our faithful shepherds?


Track Two

First Reading: Jeremiah 23:1-6

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

There seem to be two themes that unite the somewhat disparate sections of this part of Jeremiah, and they are judgment and hope. What immediately precedes this section is a commentary on kingship and Judah – it is not a favorable view. If anything, this pericope is a chiding of the monarchy, and indictment of the “shepherds” (read “kings”) of the land. You might want to read through Ezekiel 34to see a similar approach on the part of another prophet. The sheep are Judah, and the shepherds have been ignoring the flock in favor of their own well-being. What follows are three promises. The first and third promises are introduced to us with the word “Therefore” and the second one is introduced with “See”. Some translations introduce these promises with the word “Behold”. Two of the promises are included in our reading: 1) (2b-4) “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock.” 2) (5-6) “I will raise up for David a righteous branch.” The third promise (7-8), which is not included in our reading refers to the restoration of Israel, the northern kingdom, and implies the fate of Judah, “They shall again live on their own soil.” In spite of the judgmental language there is yet hope – a promise for something new that wipes out what happened in the past.

Breaking open Jeremiah:
  1. What would Jeremiah have to say to our leaders today?
  2. What might be a “righteous branch” for our time?
  3. What role do you as a citizen have in our land?

Psalm 23 Dominus regit me

1      The Lord is my shepherd; *
I shall not be in want.
2      He makes me lie down in green pastures *
and leads me beside still waters.
3      He revives my soul *
and guides me along right pathways for his Name's sake.
4      Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil; *
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5      You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; *
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.
6      Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

The shepherd language of Jeremiah is reflected in this psalm which models the behavior of a shepherd who cares. Thus, it serves as a commentary on what should have happened in Judah, and what should be happening on the part of the world’s leaders. What we may not be aware of is the implied connection of shepherding with royalty. David was, after all, first a shepherd. Again, we see hesedor faithfulness on the part of the shepherd, the leader. The psalm switches person in verse four and very effectively connects the “should be” with the “what is” – the valley of the shadow of death. The psalm closes with more hesed, faithfulness in God’s provision of goodness and mercy, and faithfulness in the author’s attendance to the Temple, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.”

Breaking open Psalm 23:
  1. What might you expect of a shepherd?
  2. What might you give as a shepherd?
  3. Who needs tending in your world?

The Second Reading: Ephesians 2:11-22

Remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision” —a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Our readings from Ephesians continue with a discourse on the relationship of Jew and Gentile in the peace of Christ. Paul begins by citing the actual physical distinction between Jew (circumcision) and Gentile (uncircumcision). He sees the gap healed by the Christ who have been “brought near” by the blood of Christ. The blood of circumcision finds a substitute in the blood of Jesus. What is the goal here? It is the new humanity that God desires. (What a hope for our time and politics!) If there is hostility, then it is healed and brought to a sense of peace in Christ. Paul makes a wonderful visual comparison of a building built with distinct and different stones – the whole thing held up by the cornerstone. For those using the Track One readings, there is an excellent connection with the David house story in the first reading, “the structure…grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” The two peoples are built together to become a dwelling place for God. Again, a message for our time.

Breaking open Ephesians:
  1. What is Paul’s message to the Gentiles?
  2. Is this a message to outsiders?
  3. Who is an outsider in your world?

The Gospel: St. Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

This pericope picks up where we last left the disciples, being sent out two by two in verse 13. There is a great deal of material that is elided from the pericope, namely the Feeding of the Five Thousand, because the focus of the lectionary is elsewhere. You might want to take some time and read the whole ofchapter six. It will leave you breathless. So, we can see what it is that Jesus is seeking both for himself and his disciples. He seeks rest and spiritual refreshment. It is in the deserted places that Jesus connects with call and Spirit. What surrounds this glimpse into the physical and emotional life of Jesus is hunger. It is not just a hunger for bread but also for healing and wholeness. It requires someone to meet the needs of people, and here we connect with the first reading and the psalm, “they were like sheep without a shepherd.”The brief interlude in the deserted place, and in crossing the Sea of Gennesaret, is encompassed by the needs of the people who rush to find Jesus wherever he is – to touch his garment and to seek healing. 

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Where do you find rest?
  2. Who needs rest in your world?
  3. Who wants to touch you for healing?

Question for the Sermon:            Who is touching us hoping for healing? (Gospel)

Proposition One:                          The people who are hoping for a better society (First Reading (1))
Proposition Two:                          Those hoping for find a home in God (First Reading (2))
Proposition Three:                       Those walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death (Psalm)
Proposition Four:                         Those who have been cast into the role of “enemy” or “stranger” (Second Reading)

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 © 2018, Michael T. Hiller


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