The Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 28, 17 November 2019

Track One:
Isaiah 65:17-25
Canticle 9 (Isaiah 12:2-6)

Track Two:
Malachi 4:1-2a
Psalm 98

II Thessalonians 3:6-13
Saint Luke 21:5-19

Background: The Advent Shadow

In the readings beginning with this Sunday we will begin to see what I call the “Advent Shadow.” Originally Advent was (and still is in some rites) six weeks long, rather than the four that we now observe. It is still observed as six weeks in the Ambrosian Rite (Milan) and in the Mozarabic Rite (Spain). The readings reflect the original understanding of Advent as a penitential season. In fact, in some places it was called St. Martin’s Lent since it began on the Sunday following St. Martin’s Day, 11 November. In Eastern Orthodoxy it is called the “Nativity Fast.” Advent and fasting were connected in 567 at the Council of Tours who decreed that monks were to fast during the season. In 1362 under Pope Urban V, the season was reduced to five weeks. After the Vatican II Council the fasting and penitential aspects were done away with. The shadow of the old Advent, however, is still evident, even in the revised Lectionary.

Track One:

First Reading: Isaiah 65:17-25

For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord--
and their descendants as well.
Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent-- its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.

In Isaiah 65:2 we hear the third of the Isaiahs proclaim the problem, and in our reading for this morning proclaim hope for the future. “I have stretched out my hands all day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own designs.” Two themes are held up in third Isaiah, hope and judgement. They will be seen in the chapters that precede this one in a pattern of hope, judgment, hope, judgment, hope. In the initial chapters of first Isaiah, the same themes occur but in a reversed pattern. Here the concluding theme is hope rather than judgment. The previous pericope (65:1-16) concludes with this thought, “For the hardships of the past shall be forgotten and hidden from my eyes.” Something new is being sought.

So it follows with the initial verse of our reading, “See, I am creating new heavens and a new earth; The former things shall not be remembered nor come to mind.” The God who creates promises a recreation – a renewal of all things. This cosmic description of God’s intent gives way to a more personal and individual promise of renewal, “They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.” The prophet Jeremiah (29:5) discloses a similar hope, urging the people to resign themselves to their fate in Babylon and to build and to live there. Isaiah is hoping for something more. This is a land of reversals for the wolf and the lamb shall feed together. Are we at Sinai discovering God’s will, or we in the Temple on Zion worshipping the God of Israel? Perhaps it is both, for “they shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.”

Breaking open Isaiah:
1.            What in your world would you like to see go away?
2.            What might replace it?
3.            How might you help do that?

The Response: Canticle 9
The First Song of Isaiah Ecce Deus Isaiah 12:2-6

Surely, it is God who saves me; *
I will trust in him and not be afraid.
For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, *
and he will be my Savior.
Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing *
from the springs of salvation.
And on that day you shall say, *
Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;
Make his deeds known among the peoples; *
see that they remember that his Name is exalted.
Sing the praises of the Lord, for he has done great things, *
and this is known in all the world.
Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, *
for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

The introduction to this praise psalm by the first of the Isaiahs has been elided from our reading, but it has an important element that helps us to understand the psalm. The pericope properly begins with this: “You will say in that day.” There is a reflection of the Great Day of the Lord, which is associated with judgment, but here we have something different. The verses that precede this reading give us a clue, “There shall be a highway for the remnant of his people that is left from Assyria, as there was for Israel when it came up from the land of Egypt.” The Kingdom of Israel was obliterated by the Assyrians in the eighth century – a reflection of the judgment theme. But there is more, the salvation of Israel freed from bondage in Egypt.

The psalm is one that praises God for being a Savior, one who forgets the sins of the people. It is this notion that needs to inform the actions and behavior of the people of God. The Day of the Lord has become a day of promise and joy – “Sing the praises of the Lord, for (God) has done great things.” This is Isaiah’s message – focus upon the God who has saved you.

Breaking open Canticle 9:
1.        What do you understand by the word “savior”.
2.        Who has been a savior in your life?
3.        How has God been a savior for you?


Track Two:

First Reading: Malachi 4:1-2a

See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.

In this reading Malachi reverts to a more ancient view of the Day of the Lord (see notes on the First Reading and Psalm in Track One above). It is like an oven in which all the “arrogant and all evildoers” will be burned as stubble. Malachi’s intent is for the reader to understand the difference between the righteous and the wicked. The healing that he proposes is a contrast of the burning oven, bringing to mind the hot sun of the Near East. No, the new sun will be righteousness that will bring healing. 

Breaking open Job:
1.      How is your spiritual life a trial for you?
2.      Who is the judge?
3.      Who is the advocate?

Psalm 98 Cantate Domino

     Sing to the Lord a new song, *
for he has done marvelous things.
     With his right hand and his holy arm *
has he won for himself the victory.
     The Lord has made known his victory; *
his righteousness has he openly shown in the sight of the nations.
     He remembers his mercy and faithfulness to the house of Israel, *
and all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
     Shout with joy to the Lord, all you lands; *
lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing.
     Sing to the Lord with the harp, *
with the harp and the voice of song.
     With trumpets and the sound of the horn *
shout with joy before the King, the Lord.
     Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it, *
the lands and those who dwell therein.
     Let the rivers clap their hands, *
and let the hills ring out with joy before the Lord,
when he comes to judge the earth.
10    In righteousness shall he judge the world *
and the peoples with equity.

This psalm celebrates an undefined “victory.” As to whom this victory is over is unknown. Perhaps it is a generic enemy, anyone opposed to the God of Israel, or perhaps it is victory over the primeval chaos and evil (see verse 8, especially). There is a dose of universalism here, “all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.” All the lands are bidden to offer praise, and the whole world will be judged by God. 

Breaking open Psalm 98:
1.        Where have you been victorious in your life?
2.        What victories has God done in your life?
3.        What victories need to be won in your community?

Second Reading: II Thessalonians 3:6-13

Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone's bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.

Paul continues his recommendations to the church in Thessaloniki. Sze- Kar Wan in his commentary on Second Thessalonians sees problems that accrue to a community that seems to have followed the example set in Acts 2:42-47 where the community shared all things, giving to those who were needy. Paul derides those in the Thessalonian community who are not doing their fair share. He address them as those “who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us.” The one who is not willing to work should not eat. As they awaited the coming of the Lord Paul urges them, “do not be weary in doing what is right.” This is a fine looking-toward-Advent theme.

Breaking open II Thessalonians:
  1. How do you contribute to the needy?
  2. When have you been guilty of not doing so?
  3. What does it mean “doing right?”

The Gospel: St. Luke 21:5-19

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, "As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down."

They asked him, "Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?" And he said, "Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, `I am he!' and, `The time is near!' Do not go after them.

"When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately." Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

"But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls."

A phrase that seems common to our time – “Too big to fail.” We have seen that to be an applicable comment to the institutions of our time. Perhaps it was the disciples, or just those following him, who comment on the beauty and size of the Temple. Jesus warns them about their admiration. “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another.” Now we’re back with Malachi and the Day of the Lord that proffered judgment. Jesus asks for vigilance and attentiveness. There are cautions that accompany following the Lord. His vision of troubled times and difficulty would prove true in 70 CE when the Romans conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. It was Babylon all over again. It was not only a time of tumult but also of change. We get a glimplse of that in Luke’s presentation of the Day of Pentecost with a city filled with people from many nations, speaking many tongues. Soon society would be torn apart, especially for those who would follow Jesus. “You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers.” The church would be launched in a tumultuous world. Like Paul, Jesus calls for endurance – a faithful waiting.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.        What in your world impresses you?
2.        What in your world is on the brink of destruction?
3.        In what ways are you ready for the end of things?

General Idea:              Judgment and Hope bound together in God’s visitation

Example 1:                  Living in both judgment and hope (Track One: First Reading)

                                      Discerning the Righteous and the Wicked (Track Two: First Reading)

Example 2:                  Not being idle as we wait (Second Reading)

Example 3:                  Waiting in hope in spite of what’s going on around us (Gospel)

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

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2019, Michael T. Hille


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