The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 20, 22 September 2019

Track One:
Jeremiah 8:18-9:1
Psalm 79:1-9

Track Two:
Amos 8:4-7
Psalm 113

I Timothy 2:1-7
Saint Luke 16:1-13

Background:  Household in Ancient Israel

In ancient Israel there were three manifestations of the household. 1) The bayit, parents and children, including orphans, primarily, although other generations might be included along with household help, slaves, concubines, and other laborers. 2) The mishpachah, or clan, a collection of several households or kinship groups. 3) The mattah or Tribe. Polygamy was allowed so the first category might include several wives and their children. Males were seen as the head of the household, although women had their own rights and responsibilities. 

Of special concern with the households and clans was the management of the land, which was crucial for the household or clan’s survival. Leviticus 25, enunciates rules about the use of the land, and its redemption, should poverty threaten a household’s rights to the land. Foundational, however is the notion that the land was really God’s. “The land shall not be sold irrevocably; for the land is mine, and you are but resident aliens and under my authority. 

Since the household included slaves and servants as well, with wealth there was the possibility that a slave or servant could take over some of the responsibilities of the head of the household – the eldest male. We know such an individual in the Abraham story, where his manager is named – Eliezer (see Genesis 15:2). Later, with the Hellenization of Israelite culture, the model of the Greek household certainly influenced Jewish households, and such managers would have been common.

Track One:

First Reading: Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

My joy is gone, grief is upon me,
my heart is sick.
Hark, the cry of my poor people
from far and wide in the land:
"Is the Lord not in Zion?
Is her King not in her?"
("Why have they provoked me to anger with their images,
with their foreign idols?")
"The harvest is past, the summer is ended,
and we are not saved."
For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt,
I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.
Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of my poor people
not been restored?
O that my head were a spring of water,
and my eyes a fountain of tears,
so that I might weep day and night
for the slain of my poor people!

This is some of the most profound poetry in Jeremiah, and it often repeats themes that are found in the first chapters of the book. The singular image here is of a “sickness of heart” in which the speaker of the poem grieves over the loss of God, “Is the Lord not in Zion? Is her King not in her?” There is also the absence of healing and succor, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?” The hurt is felt by both people and God – the separation of the two is palpable. It is a dialogue the rote liturgical prayers of the people and God’s suffering over their actual unfaithfulness. The prayers, the liturgy, the sacrifices of the people are all empty, and their emptiness sickens and angers God. In Psalm 55:5-6we see a similar reaction, and stomach churning understanding, 

            “My heart pounds within me;
            Death’s terrors fall upon me.
            Fear and trembling overwhelm me;
            Shuddering sweeps over me.”

The poet sees what is coming to the people, and both he and God despair.

Breaking open Jeremiah:
1.       What causes you grief these days?
2.       Does your religion cause you grief?
3.       How will you assuage your grief?

Psalm 79:1-9 Deus, venerunt

1      O God, the heathen have come into your inheritance;
they have profaned your holy temple; *
they have made Jerusalem a heap of rubble.
2      They have given the bodies of your servants as food for the birds of the air, *
and the flesh of your faithful ones to the beasts of the field.
3      They have shed their blood like water on every side of Jerusalem, *
and there was no one to bury them.
4      We have become a reproach to our neighbors, *
an object of scorn and derision to those around us.
5      How long will you be angry, O Lord? *
will your fury blaze like fire for ever?
6      Pour out your wrath upon the heathen who have not known you *
and upon the kingdoms that have not called upon your Name.
7      For they have devoured Jacob *
and made his dwelling a ruin.
8      Remember not our past sins;
let your compassion be swift to meet us; *
for we have been brought very low.
9      Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your Name; *
deliver us and forgive us our sins, for your Name's sake.

This psalm encapsulates what Jeremiah anticipates in the reading above – the destruction and degradation of Jerusalem. The disaster that befell the city in 586 BCE, when the Babylonians laid waste to Jerusalem, seems to be the reason for this poem of anguish. The central question is asked in verse five, “How long will you be angry, O Lord?”The poet asks the Most High to redirect such anger and wrath toward the peoples (which we can assume in this case are the Babylonians) who have not known God, nor honored God. The consequences of Babylon’s wrath are seen in verse seven where both people and city are, as the psalm says, devoured. It is the sins of the fathers and the mothers that grieves the poet, who asks God’s forgiveness for their transgressions. 

Breaking open Psalm 79:

1.           Have you ever been depressed by God’s anger?
2.           What was the cause of this supposed anger?
3.           How did you ask that it be removed?


Track Two:

First Reading: Amos 8:4-7

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.

This is a reading for our time, for in speaks aloud the crimes which our society have made against the people of our cities and towns. Amos clearly demonstrates these sins and speaks aloud that God knows them as well. The poor are trampled and ruined. Holy days are demeaned, seen as a time during which we cannot buy or sell. There is no fairness in the markets with false weights, currency, and produce. This is what God sees, and this is what will bring down God’s wrath.

Breaking open Amos::
1.       Have you ever worked for someone who was dishonest with customers?
2.       What did you do about that?
3.       How should businesses treat the poor?

Psalm 113 Laudate, pueri

1      Hallelujah!
Give praise, you servants of the Lord; *
praise the Name of the Lord.
2      Let the Name of the Lord be blessed, *
from this time forth for evermore.
3      From the rising of the sun to its going down *
let the Name of the Lord be praised.
4      The Lord is high above all nations, *
and his glory above the heavens.
5      Who is like the Lord our God, who sits enthroned on high *
but stoops to behold the heavens and the earth?
6      He takes up the weak out of the dust *
and lifts up the poor from the ashes.
7      He sets them with the princes, *
with the princes of his people.
8      He makes the woman of a childless house *
to be a joyful mother of children.

This psalm forms an alternative to the behaviors decried by Amos in the first reading. What is honored and praised here is summarized in the sixth verse: “He takes up the weak out of the dust, and lifts up the poor from the ashes.” This falls in line with the prophetic preaching about honoring the poor, the widow, and the orphan. The psalm begins with “Halleluiah!” Praise God! For what, we might ask. First of all, the answer is where this praise is to be sung – and that is everywhere and at every time, “from the rising of the sun to its going down.” What follows are a series of directives that reorient things in a world gone astray. The poor are lifted up, made princes. The most amazing reversal is in the last verse, where the barren woman is made “the mother of children.” In other words, she who had no future now has one, as does all the people of God.

Breaking open Psalm 113:
1.       Where do you most see God?
2.       Where do you least see God?
3.       How might you change number 2?

Second Reading: I Timothy 2:1-7

First of all, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For

there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
who gave himself a ransom for all

-- this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

Here Paul instructs about how prayer and liturgy must become the stuff and reality of life. Prayers are to be made for everyone, and here he names those who are “in high positions.” That is a prayer that certainly ought to be made in our time with the recklessness of national leaders so evident now. If we look back at the first readings, and indeed the psalms for today, we see a disjuncture between God and humankind. Here Paul sees redemption – one God, and one mediator. Paul sees this as a timely happening, and he is proud and happy to announce it. Perhaps we ought to emulate his behavior, announcing this grace to our time as well.

Breaking open I Timothy:
  1. When you became a Christian what did you leave behind?
  2. What do you yet need to leave behind?
  3. For what do you give thanks to God?

The Gospel: St. Luke 16:1-13

Jesus said to the disciples, "There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, `What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.' Then the manager said to himself, `What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.' So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he asked the first, `How much do you owe my master?' He answered, `A hundred jugs of olive oil.' He said to him, `Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.' Then he asked another, `And how much do you owe?' He replied, `A hundred containers of wheat.' He said to him, `Take your bill and make it eighty.' And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

"Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."

If there is one conundrum in our time it is how Christians ought to use wealth. This section of Luke, the sixteenth chapter concerns itself with this question. It begins with the parable of the unethical manager and ends with the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. In the first parable, our reading for this day, we are introduced to the manager of a wealthy household who uses unethical methods to cover up his poor management. What is surprising in the parable is that Jesus has the head of the household commend the manager for his outrages but wise behavior. The situation, however, is not left there. The latter part of the reading is a discussion on faithfulness and honesty. A choice needs to be made. Is it wealth or is it faithfulness to God? See Amos for the answer.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.       What’s your opinion of the manager?
2.       What would you have done?
3.       How do you use your wealth?

Central Idea:               Who is the Master?

Example 1:                  God allows for consequences of unfaithful behavior - God is the master (Track One - First Reading)

                                      The consequences of only seeing wealth (Track Two - First Reading)

Example 2:                  The situations of life are not the master of our lives - Prayer and supplication provide access to the real master. (Second Reading)

Example 3:                  Jesus asks, "Upon whom shall we depend?" (Gospel)

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

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; 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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