The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 16, 25 August 2019

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 16, 25 August 2019

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

Track Two:
Isaiah 58:9b-14
Psalm 1-3:1-8

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

Background: The Sabbath

The Seventh Day became a remembrance in Judaism of God’s resting after creating the earth and the cosmos, and also as a day of remembrance for the delivery from Egypt (see Deuteronomy 5:12-15). It’s remembrance as one of the commandments (3 or 4, depending on your church affiliation) in which Israel is bidden to honor the Sabbath. The Day extended from the sixth day sundown until the seventh day sundown. Traditionally there are thirty-nine activities that are not to be accomplished on the Sabbath: planting, plowing, reaping, gathering, threshing, winnowing, sorting, dissection, sifting, kneading, cooking/backing, shearing, scouring/laundering, carding, dyeing, spinning, warping, threading, weaving, separating threads, tying, untying, sewing, tearing, trapping (animals), killing, flaying, curing smoothing scoring, measured cutting, writing, erasing, construction, demolition, extinguishing a fire, ignition, fine-tuning, transferring between domains. 

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 first three versesof Jeremiah address us from another point of view – perhaps that of one of the many editors who brought the book into its final form. We also learn the context of Jeremiah’s work, a priest in the tradition of Anathoth, and a follower and devotee of YHWH. The overarching theme of the book is “The Word of the Lord.” The transmission of this Word is clearly focused on YHWH’s word, not the words of Jeremiah, nor of the words of the book. What is conveyed in the book, through the life and voice of Jeremiah is none other than the Word of the Lord.

Our reading this morning is the stunning call of YHWH to Jeremiah. The call consists of several elements: divine initiative, human resistance, rebuke and reassurance, commissioning, and finally the substance of the commission. Such elements are evident in other prophetic calls. What is important here is how the human agency will be the platform from which God will address the people. Walter Brueggemann, in his commentary A Commentary on Jeremiah, Exile & Homecoming[1], describes this as more than a personal human experience (a breath-taking one at that) but also as a liturgical order, an ordination that presupposes a community that would recognize the authority given in the ordination. What we have though is the Word that inserts itself into history, and the book and the man become agents of that Word. The clues to the future words that Jeremiah will relate in addressing the crisis of his people are all found in verse 10: pluck up, break down, destroy, overthrow, build, and plant. Here is the frame in which Jeremiah will proclaim the Word of the Lord. 

Breaking open Jeremiah:
1.       What has God called you to do?
2.       To what community has God called you?
3.       How has God known you?

Psalm 71:1-6 In te, Domine, speravi

     In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; *
let me never be ashamed.
     In your righteousness, deliver me and set me free; *
incline your ear to me and save me.
     Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe; *
you are my crag and my stronghold.
     Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, *
from the clutches of the evildoer and the oppressor.
     For you are my hope, O Lord God, *
my confidence since I was young.
     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.

The first six verses of this psalm form a supplication, in which the author requests protection and shelter. It explicitly states that with the assertion in verse one that s/he has taken refuge in God and implies another shelter in verse six when it describes the shelter of a mother’s womb, a kind of parenthesis to the theme. This latter reference reminds us of Jeremiah’s situation in the First Reading. The theme is of constant protection and refuge through all of life.

Breaking open Psalm 71:

1.           Where do you find refuge in life?
2.           How is your church a refuge?
3.           For whom is your church a refuge?


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.

Chapters 56 through 58 in this Isaiah form a kind of blessings and curses, the formulary that accompanies covenants and their renewal. We see this in the verses documenting reproaches to the wicked and promises to those who are faithful to YHWH. You may want to read Isaiah’s impression of how the people view fasting in verses 1-5of this chapter. We see a different vision, from God’s point of view in verses 6-12, which makes an incursion in our reading for today. The structure of this little pericope is an “if – then” statement. We can see how the worship can be faulty if we forget its intent and the beneficiaries of our prayers and fasting. The “ifs” continue: “if you refrain from trampling the sabbath,” “if you call the Sabbath a delight,” “If you honor it…then.” There is a mutuality here between the people who are bidden to honor and serve the Lord, and God who will preserve and keep the people. At the core, however, is the service not only to God, but to the other as well. “If you offer your food to the hungry…then your light shall rise in the darkness.” Worship must be done in the complete context of God and of all of God’s people.

Breaking open Isaiah:
1.       How would you characterize your worship?
2.       If you have an active prayer life, then what might happen?
3.       If you offer your food to the hungry, then what might happen?

Psalm 103:1-8 Benedic, anima mea

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

The psalmist invites us to bless God from the innermost part of our being and existence. The idea of “blessing” God here also has the effect of praising God, and giving thanks.  The reasons for this thanksgiving, praise and blessing are quickly reviewed – forgiveness, and the gift of a continuing life. The thanksgiving and praise are expanded to all God’s people, “and judgment for all who are oppressed.” Finally the author points to Moses and quotes Exodus 34:6in the final verse of this pericope.

Breaking open Psalm 103:
1.       For what ought you to praise God?
2.       How does God bless the continuity of your life?
3.       How are the oppressed blessed by you?

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.

This is a message for pilgrims. Twice (in verses 18 and 22) the author uses the construct “you have come.” Israel came to Sinai to hear God’s will for them, but in the later days the author sees another destination,“You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” Those who are gathered there are not only the holy messengers of God, the angels, but also “the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven.” All are gathered to celebrate the new Covenant known in the blood of Jesus – better than the blood of Abel.

Just as we experienced in the initial readings for this day, here we encounter the need of acceptable and true worship. The second paragraph seems to reverse the actions of “coming to” in the initial verses to an action of refusal and escape. Refusal of the “One who is Speaking” is not an option. There is no escape from the consequences of such a refusal. There is a call to be steadfast, and to see an unshakeable kingdom to which we are called. 

Breaking open Hebrews:
  1. In what ways are you a pilgrim?
  2. What is your destination?
  3. What is your progress?

The Gospel: St. 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 Luke gives us a scene, a vision really, of what liberation in Christ really means. He uses the example of a woman who has been crippled for eighteen years. The scene is enriched by the time in which this encounter of woman and Jesus takes place – it is on the Sabbath. And here comes the hard part of the Gospel, when salvation and redemption collide with our former expectations and traditions. Jesus’ explanation of why he has healed on the Sabbath is tinged with pragmatism and practicality. “Does not each of you on the Sabbath”, and here follows common ordinary events and actions that demand our attention. Jesus wants them to be certain about who the enemy really is – who it is that is interrupting our relationship with God. He pictures the woman, a daughter of Abraham, who none-the-less is “bound by Satan.” What precedes and follows these criticisms by the synagogue rulers is the thanksgiving and praise of the people gathered around Jesus. They understood the heart of the matter. 

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.       How does the woman display her faith?
2.       How do the people display their faith?
3.       What is Jesus’ message here?

Central Idea:               What is the Worship to which we are called?

Idea 1:                          The worship that comes as we are called to speak God’s word (First Reading – Track One)

                                      The worship that comes as we serve both God and neighbor (First Reading – Track Two)

Idea 2:                          The worship that happens in the city of the Living God (Second Reading)

Idea 3:                          Worship that happens in the face of any human need (Gospel)

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 © 2019, Michael T. Hiller

[1]       Brueggemann, W. (1998), A Commentary on Jeremiah, Exile & Homecoming, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids. 


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