The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 17, 1 September 2019

Track One:
Jeremiah 2:4-13
Psalm 81:1, 10-16

Track Two:
Sirach 10:12-18, or Proverbs 25:6-7
Psalm 112

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Saint Luke 14:1, 7-14

Background: Ancient Dining

Dining wasn’t necessarily at home as prepared food could be obtained at shops in cities and small towns. Social dining was limited to those families of means. A house might have a kitchen along with a garden for vegetables and herbs, and sometimes a trained chef. Meals were usually held in the cool of the evening, where guests were entertained in a room triclinium specifically designed for such a purpose. The diners reclined on permanent couches and leaned on the left elbow. Depending on the local culture, women were included with the men, although in Judea that may not have been true. The food was served by a servant. 

Track One:

First Reading: Jeremiah 2:4-13

Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. Thus says the Lord:

What wrong did your ancestors find in me
that they went far from me,
and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?
They did not say, "Where is the Lord
who brought us up from the land of Egypt,
who led us in the wilderness,
in a land of deserts and pits,
in a land of drought and deep darkness,
in a land that no one passes through,
where no one lives?"
I brought you into a plentiful land
to eat its fruits and its good things.
But when you entered you defiled my land,
and made my heritage an abomination.
The priests did not say, "Where is the Lord?"
Those who handle the law did not know me;
the rulers transgressed against me;
the prophets prophesied by Baal,
and went after things that do not profit.
Therefore once more I accuse you, says the Lord,
and I accuse your children's children.
Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look,
send to Kedar and examine with care;
see if there has ever been such a thing.
Has a nation changed its gods,
even though they are no gods?
But my people have changed their glory
for something that does not profit.
Be appalled, O heavens, at this,
be shocked, be utterly desolate,
says the Lord,
for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living water,
and dug out cisterns for themselves,
cracked cisterns
that can hold no water.

Here Jeremiah through poetry attempts to get the people of Judah to look at the situation they’re in and to see it from a different perspective. The prognosis is a familiar one: Israel has forgotten YHWH and ought to expect judgment. The first three versesof the chapter give us an excellent introduction to the oracle that follows:

Go, cry out this message for Jerusalem to hear!
I remember the devotion* of your youth,
how you loved me as a bride,
Following me in the wilderness,
in a land unsown. 
Israel was dedicated to the LORD,
the first fruits* of his harvest;
All who ate of it were held guilty,
evil befell them—oracle of the LORD

The provenance of Jeremiah’s oracle cannot be mistaken; several times we are told “the word of the Lord,” “hear the word of the Lord.” This oracle is about Israel’s relationship with YHWH, for “how you loved me as a bride.” What follows seems to be a brief from a legal transaction – a lawsuit, if you will. Here are presented the evidences of unfaithfulness, as unfaithfulness in a marriage. The language is stark, but poetic as well. It makes its appeal as a legal argument, and a statement of a difficult situation in beauteous terms. 

The conversation begins with a search for God, and a reasoning behind God’s apparent absence, “What wrong did your ancestors find in me?” So it is not God’s absence that is the problem, but rather the disappearance of a faithful people.  The oracle accuses Israel of “going after”(a euphemism for infidelity) the wrong things, other gods. The most interesting of the accusations is that Israel has forgotten the story of what God did for them. They no longer knew or understood the witness of their fathers and mothers. 

Finally, as in a trial’s argument, God asks the heavens to witness the unfaithfulness of the bride, “Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate. The final image is Israel forsaking God – “the fountain of living water.” Instead they dug cisterns for other waters, but the cisterns were incapable of holding water.

Breaking open Jeremiah:
1.       What is your relationship with God?
2.       How is it like a marriage?
3.       How is God like living water to you?

Psalm 81:1, 10-16 Exultate Deo

     Sing with joy to God our strength *
and raise a loud shout to the God of Jacob.
10    I am the Lord your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt and said, *
"Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it."
11    And yet my people did not hear my voice, *
and Israel would not obey me.
12    So I gave them over to the stubbornness of their hearts, *
to follow their own devices.
13    Oh, that my people would listen to me! *
that Israel would walk in my ways!
14    I should soon subdue their enemies *
and turn my hand against their foes.
15    Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him, *
and their punishment would last for ever.
16    But Israel would I feed with the finest wheat *
and satisfy him with honey from the rock.

This is an excellent match to the first reading, using similar language and images as we experienced in the Jeremiah text. The story that is forgotten by Israel in Jeremiah is repeated in the psalm, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” But the story is met with a deaf ear, and hands that would not do the proper service. Like Pharaoh, they are abandoned to a hardened heart. God pleads with the people to listen to God’s voice. The initial voice, “I am the Lord your God…” is a quote from the beginning of the Ten Commandments, which would not have been lost on those hearing the psalm. There are promises that accompany walking in the Lord’s ways. God promises to subdue enemies and to act against their foes. The final verse is especially beautiful promising the “finest wheat,” and “honey from the rock.” Thus would God satisfy Israel.

Breaking open Psalm 81:

1.           How well do you listen?
2.           How well do you listen to those with whom you disagree?
3.           How well do you listen to God?


Track Two:

The First Reading: Sirach 10:12-18

The beginning of human pride is to forsake the Lord;
the heart has withdrawn from its Maker.
For the beginning of pride is sin,
and the one who clings to it pours out abominations.
Therefore the Lord brings upon them unheard-of calamities,
and destroys them completely.
The Lord overthrows the thrones of rulers,
and enthrones the lowly in their place.
The Lord plucks up the roots of the nations,
and plants the humble in their place.
The Lord lays waste the lands of the nations,
and destroys them to the foundations of the earth.
He removes some of them and destroys them,
and erases the memory of them from the earth.
Pride was not created for human beings,
or violent anger for those born of women.

In the Track One first reading we read of Jeremiah’s oracle against Judah who has forsaken YHWH. Ben Sira has a similar observation, although it has a much more humanistic and universalist bent: “The beginning of human pride is to forsake the Lord.” The effect of the writing is somewhat reminiscent of Percy Shelley’s poem, OzymandiasEspecially apparent here is the thought that “Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck.” Such is the wisdom of the ages. In Jeremiah or Isaiah such a judgment would be leveled on Israel, but here it is leveled on all nations, the roots of which God plucks up. It is a shame that the liturgical pericope ends as it does. The following verse, 19, offers a bit of hope:

“Whose offspring can be honorable? Human offspring.
Those who fear the LORD are honorable offspring.”

Breaking open Sirach::
1.       What were you proud of, but not so much any more?
2.       Where is your pride centered?
3.       Where do you see it in others?


First Reading: Proverbs 25:6-7

Do not put yourself forward in the king's presence
or stand in the place of the great;
for it is better to be told, "Come up here,"
than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.

I am always disappointed when the Lectionary provides alternatives to the Apocryphal readings. This one, in particular, doesn’t meet the bar that Sirach sets. Pride in our day and age has nothing to do with kings and nobles, but rather with our pride in economics or social status. Now that’s worthy of commentary. 

Breaking open Proverbs:
1.       Have you ever been humiliated?
2.       What was it like?
3.       Have you humiliated others?

Psalm 112 Beatus vir

Happy are they who fear the Lord *
and have great delight in his commandments!
     Their descendants will be mighty in the land; *
the generation of the upright will be blessed.
     Wealth and riches will be in their house, *
and their righteousness will last for ever.
     Light shines in the darkness for the upright; *
the righteous are merciful and full of compassion.
     It is good for them to be generous in lending *
and to manage their affairs with justice.
     For they will never be shaken; *
the righteous will be kept in everlasting remembrance.
     They will not be afraid of any evil rumors; *
their heart is right;
they put their trust in the Lord.
     Their heart is established and will not shrink, *
until they see their desire upon their enemies.
     They have given freely to the poor, *
and their righteousness stands fast for ever;
they will hold up their head with honor.
10    The wicked will see it and be angry;
they will gnash their teeth and pine away; *
the desires of the wicked will perish.

Once again the psalter explores the question as to who is righteous. Here in this acrostic poem we see a contrast with Psalm 111, which is a catalogue of God’s goodness. Here we read see a listing of good behavior on the part of humankind. Such individuals are seen as heroes and warriors, prosperous and upright. There is a prophetic glimpse in verse five, “It is good for them to be generous in lending and to manage their affairs with justice.” And again in verse nine, “They have given freely to the poor.” There are also interesting contrasts. Verse six sees them in “everlasting remembrance”, while in the following verse we see them not afraid of having a bad reputation. The final contrast is with the wicked – gnashing their teeth at the example of the righteous ones.

Breaking open Psalm 112:
1.       Where is righteousness in your life?
2.       How do you give to the poor?
3.       What do others see in your efforts?

Second Reading: Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, "I will never leave you or forsake you." So we can say with confidence,

"The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?"

Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Here the question is, how do the righteous live in community. This is a good topic for those who seem to be caught in the throes of present-day individualism. The principle is simple, “Let mutual love continue.” Throughout the book, the author has espoused the values of faith, hope, and love. Now the challenge is to live within those principles. There are immediate challenges that will be familiar in our world, remembering the prisoner, honoring marriage relationships, refraining from greed. These are the penultimate challenges that Hebrews offers, much like the twenty-fifth Chapter of Matthewwhere Jesus holds up the necessity of honoring the prisoner, the naked, the hungry, and the stranger. Hebrews reminds us that such deeds are not done alone, but alongside a gracious and generous God. (Pastors, note the final verse and what it says to you and your ministry!)

Breaking open Hebrews:
  1. How is faith a value in your life?
  2. How is hope a value in your life?
  3. How is love a value in your life?

The Gospel: St. Luke 14:1, 7-14

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. "When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, `Give this person your place,' and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, `Friend, move up higher'; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."
He said also to the one who had invited him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

As with last Sunday, in the verses elided from this pericope, Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, setting a similar scene of criticism of his actions. Here, however, Jesus teaches them a lesson on pride. It is a quick turn from the discussions about working on the Sabbath. Jesus wants those at dinner to question their assumptions about their status. They, after all, were only following what was expected of them by society (when to do work, how to honor the Sabbath, and where to sit at dinner). What is interesting here is that this is not only an ideation on social norms, but on the story of Jesus, himself. “And I when I am lifted up from the earth,” is not an exaltation in the story of Jesus but the crucifixion itself. His presence among us is a humiliation that benefits us. So, then, must we humiliate ourselves as well? We might take Jesus’ advice as something akin to what Miss Manners might offer. It is good advice. It is, however, more than just social grooming – or how life sometimes puts us down. It is about what we must do over against others, not just to ourselves, but for others. A good reflection in the midst of Jesus’ thoughts here might be Mary’s thoughts in the Magnificatwhere there are God made reversals of status.

What follows next is extremely appropriate to our time and circumstance. Who is it that we should feed and provide hospitality for? Followers of the so-called prosperity Gospel would see that in their richly blessed friends. Jesus, however, again hearing what he has to say in Matthew 25, would see that obligation needing to be met for the hungry, oppressed, and poor. 

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.       Where do you see yourself in this story?
2.       What do you do with the embarrassment of being “one upped”?
3.       How do you meet the expectations of Matthew 25?

Central Idea:               Wherein does my pride lie?

1st Idea:                        Pride in having a relationship with God (Jeremiah – Track One)

                                      The broken promises of human pride (Sirach/Proverbs – Track Two)

2nd Idea:                       Giving pride of place to those in need (Hebrews)

3rdIdea:                        Seeing our pride in the righteousness of giving (Luke)

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

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; 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


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