The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 11, 21 July 2019

Track One:
Amos 8:1-12
Psalm 52

Track Two:
Genesis 18:1-10a
Psalm 15

Colossians 1:15-28
St. Luke 10:38-42

Background: Fruit in ancient Israel

What would have been in that basket of summer fruit that Amos saw in his vision? Grapes, olives, and figs were the predominant foods of the time. The olives were used mainly for oil, and the grapes for wine or raisins. Figs were dried and pressed into cakes in order to preserve them. Other fruits were dates, apricots, pomegranates, and sycamore figs. Some fruits were eaten fresh while others were fermented or dried. Some fruit was boiled and reduced to make a thick syrup (dvash) that was used like honey. Other fruits known at the time were carob, mulberry, and the quince.

Track One:

First Reading: Amos 8:1-12

This is what the Lord God showed me-- a basket of summer fruit. He said, "Amos, what do you see?" And I said, "A basket of summer fruit." Then the Lord said to me,

"The end has come upon my people Israel;
I will never again pass them by.
The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,"
says the Lord God;
"the dead bodies shall be many,
cast out in every place. Be silent!"
Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
saying, "When will the new moon be over
so that we may sell grain;
and the sabbath,
so that we may offer wheat for sale?
We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
and practice deceit with false balances,
buying the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and selling the sweepings of the wheat."
The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
Shall not the land tremble on this account,
and everyone mourn who lives in it,
and all of it rise like the Nile,
and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt?
On that day, says the Lord God,
I will make the sun go down at noon,
and darken the earth in broad daylight.
I will turn your feasts into mourning,
and all your songs into lamentation;
I will bring sackcloth on all loins,
and baldness on every head;
I will make it like the mourning for an only son,
and the end of it like a bitter day.
The time is surely coming, says the Lord God,
when I will send a famine on the land;
not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water,
but of hearing the words of the Lord.
They shall wander from sea to sea,
and from north to east;
they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord,
but they shall not find it.

Amos serves up a pun to begin his prophecy of the Lord’s intent against Israel. The phrase “summer’s-end fruit” uses the Hebrew word qayits (summer) and qeits(end) to give us a visual understanding of what God really wants us to hear.  Following the introduction to the women singing in verse 2, we hear the lyrics of their song, 

"the dead bodies shall be many,
cast out in every place. Be silent!"

The rituals and practices concerning the dead are abandoned, for the corpses themselves are abandoned, just as God’s ways have been abandoned by society. What follows are a series of justifications for their abandonment of the justice that God requires: short-changing in the marketplace, adulterating grain, cheating the poor and the needy. What follows are a notice that the earth itself will abandon its normal ways, the example given is the rise and fall of the Nile. Other examples are the heavens themselves which will abandon their normal laws. Even the ritual year of feasts and fasts will be turned up side down, an abandonment of days on which the people might rely. This abandonment by the people will be accompanied by an abandonment of Israel by God – and it will be universal. “They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.” 

A Tangent: 

I recently purchased Miriam Lichtheim’s volume Ancient Egyptian Literature. In it I found a poem that bears some similarity to Amos’ verses. I thought you might find this interesting:

“Inscription of Nefer-Seshem-Re called Sheshi

‘I have come from my town,
I have descended from my nome,
I have done justice for its lord,
I have satisfied him with what he loves.
I spoke truly, I did right,
I spoke fairly, I repeated fairly, 
I seized the right moment,
So as to stand well with people.

I judged between two so as to content them,
I rescued the weak from one stronger than he
As much as was in my power
I gave bread to the hungry, clothes ,
I brought the boatless to land,
I buried him who had no son,
I made a boat for him who lacked one,
I respected my father, I pleased my mother,
I raised their children,
So says he whose nickname is Sheshi.’”[1]

Breaking open Amos:
1.    Have you ever felt abandoned by God?
2.    Why do you think you were abandoned?
3.    Whom have you ignored?

Psalm 52 Quid gloriaris?

     You tyrant, why do you boast of wickedness *
against the godly all day long?
     You plot ruin;
your tongue is like a sharpened razor, *
O worker of deception.
     You love evil more than good *
and lying more than speaking the truth.
     You love all words that hurt, *
O you deceitful tongue.
     Oh, that God would demolish you utterly, *
topple you, and snatch you from your dwelling,
and root you out of the land of the living!
     The righteous shall see and tremble, *
and they shall laugh at him, saying,
     "This is the one who did not take God for a refuge, *
but trusted in great wealth
and relied upon wickedness."
     But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; *
I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.
     I will give you thanks for what you have done *
and declare the goodness of your Name in the presence of the godly.

The attribution of this psalm, “For the lead player, a David maskil, when Doeg the Edomite came and told Saul and said to him, ‘David has come to the house of Ahimelech,” gives us some clues as to the intent of the poem. Doeg betrays Ahimelech to Saul (see I Samuel 21-22) and this psalm lashes out against dishonest leaders, “You tyrant…”The truth of the matter is that God protects the people, “all day long.”The wicked, the dishonest, are set for destruction. What is interesting is that all of this violence is tied to words, “You love words that hurt.” In the final verses the author offers himself as a contrast to the speakers of evil, “But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the mercy of God.” He also gives thanks to God for all the good deeds given by God.

Breaking open Psalm 52:
1.    Who is the tyrant of our time?
2.    Is there ever a good time for a lie?
3.    What has strained your honesty?


Track Two:

First Reading: Genesis 18:1-10a

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, "My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on-- since you have come to your servant." So they said, "Do as you have said." And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, "Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes." Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

They said to him, "Where is your wife Sarah?" And he said, "There, in the tent." Then one said, "I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son."

The story is so familiar, it is strange to have it truncated as it is in the lectionary this Sunday. Usually the first reading is matched somehow with the Gospel for a given Sunday, and this one seems to be a stretch. Is it the hospitality of Abraham that is compared with the hospitality of Martha? Perhaps it is the attentiveness of Sarah, “and Sarah was listening at the tent flap,”compared with the attentiveness of Martha who sits at Jesus’ feet. What hovers over this pericope, as well as the Gospel, is the promise that God will insert Godself into the human situation to make for salvation. 

Breaking open Genesis:
1.    Why was hospitality in the Ancient Near East so important?
2.    Why is it important now?
3.    When have your practiced radical hospitality?

Psalm 15 Domine, quis habitabit?

     Lord, who may dwell in your tabernacle? *
who may abide upon your holy hill?
     Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right, *
who speaks the truth from his heart.
     There is no guile upon his tongue;
he does no evil to his friend; *
he does not heap contempt upon his neighbor.
     In his sight the wicked is rejected, *
but he honors those who fear the Lord.
     He has sworn to do no wrong *
and does not take back his word.
     He does not give his money in hope of gain, *
nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.
     Whoever does these things *
shall never be overthrown.

It is surprising that the Lectionary does not match this psalm with the Track One first reading on this Sunday. It is a more succinct synopsis of the Amos text. Now our question is why this is matched to the Abraham story, unless it is meant to characterize the righteousness of Abraham and Sarah. Perhaps it is merely meant to stand on its own, and portrait of the righteous man or woman.

Breaking open Psalm 15:
1.    What does “being righteous” mean to you?
2.    Whom do you see as being righteous?
3.    Whom do you see as being the opposite?

Second Reading: Colossians 1:15-28

Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers-- all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him-- provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.

I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. I became its servant according to God's commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.

We cross a bridge in this reading. In the initial verses Paul paints a picture of the pre-eminent Christ: “first born of all creation,” “head of the Church”, “the firstborn from the dead,” and “all the fullness of God.” This is the Jesus who redeems and who invites those who follow him to be in relation with him and with him to the fullness of God. 

The next paragraph characterizes the Colossians as to what God has called them from, “estranged and hostile.” In spite of this they are reconciled to God through Jesus, leaving behind former behaviors. Paul encourages them to continue in this hope, as he phrases it. 

Finally, Paul offers himself as an example, “rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake.” Paul becomes the agent of God’s good news, a gospel given to the Gentiles as well. This unified body, Paul included, along with all who believe become proclaimers and teachers the good news of Jesus.

Breaking open Colossians:
1.    Is Jesus a “first” in your life or experience?
2.    What has God called you from?
3.    What has God called you to?

The Gospel: Luke 10:38-42

As Jesus and his disciples went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."

In this pericope, Jesus completes what he taught in the parable of the Good Samaritan. There the unlikely healer, the Samaritan, gives an example of how to exhibit the “coming near” of the Kingdom of God. The young man whose questions enable this conversation with Jesus is told, “Go, and do likewise.” Now Jesus links hospitality with something else – an attentiveness to the Word. Mary and the young man form a sort of parenthesis to the story, both being students of the Torah, or the Word. It is Martha, however, who is in the character of Abraham and Sarah, who host the divine trio who visit them at Mamre. This is not a teaching moment that lifts up one to the detriment of the other. Both disciplines, hospitality, and attendance to the word, define what it means to follow Jesus, to be a disciple. It is good to remember in this context, how Jesus describes the household (the place in which this story occurs). In Luke 8:19-21, Jesus describes his family as “those who hear the word of God and act on it.”And there you have it.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     How are you like Martha?
2.     How are you like Mary?
3.     How do you balance the two attitudes?

Central Idea:                 Hospitality and Attention

Scene One:                   Those who are forgotten or ignored by society (Amos)

                                      The stranger who appears (Genesis – Abraham and Sarah)

Scene Two:                   Remembering what God has called us for (Second Reading)

Scene Three:                 The Balance of Discipleship (Gospel)

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 © 2019, Michael T. Hiller

[1]     Lichtheim, M. ed.  (2019), Ancient Eyptian Literature, University of California Press, Berkeley, page 49f.


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