Finding the Lessons

I try to post well in advance of the upcoming Sunday.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Proper 17C / Ordinary 22C / Pentecost +15 August 28, 2016

Quotes That Make Me Think

"True humility doesn't consist of thinking ill of yourself but of not thinking of yourself much differently from the way you'd be apt to think of anybody else. It is the capacity for being no more and no less pleased when you play your own hand well than when your opponents do."

"Humility," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.

"Giving great honor to those who are distinguished. Ignoring those who are ordinary or 'defective.' Seating charts that are set up to emphasize the high status of some and the lower status of others..."

Commentary, Luke 14:1, 7-14, Jeannine K. Brown, Preaching This Week,, 2010.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from

Not for a place of honor did your Son come among us, O god of the lowly, but to invite to the wedding feast the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. Let such humility grace our table and lead us to renounce the quest for power and privilege. Taking our place with other sinners, we may share the banquet your Son has prepared for those who place their trust in your grace alone. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Luke 14:1-14

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

I have a friend who likes to say, “The reason Jesus was killed is he ate with sinners.” It always strikes me as a shocking thing to say. I believe it challenges me because I don’t like to think on a day to day
basis that in America we have a class system. I was listening to a podcast interview this summer on the Economist and these two British citizens and business men were commenting on this very thing. They engaged in a conversation about how in America there does not seem to be a class system and there is a lot of discussion about an egalitarian society. However, they said there is, it is just difficult to see. I mentioned this to a friend and priest and we had a long discussion about the matter and he said something I had not thought of before. He commented on the fact that Americans are able to purchase anything. A member of the middle or lower middle class, even some of the lower classes can wear the clothes the rich wear; they can eat at the restaurants the rich eat in. He said this gives the false idea of a level playing field and makes money the central commodity in the system that moves you up and down. Therefore your class is established essentially based upon your longevity to afford any particular lifestyle; whether you can afford it for an hour at a fine dining establishment or a weekend in a posh resort.

Jesus has some different ideas about how the system should work. He is challenging and teaching a very radical thing; radical enough that they killed him for it and perhaps so radical that it is hard for us to reconcile ourselves to his lifestyle.

So our passage begins with Jesus at meal with the Pharisees. We might remember that this sect within the Jewish household has a number of boundaries and policies if you are to be a member; chiefly among these is the rule governing who you can be seated at table with.

A man appears who is suffering from what we call today edema, or the swelling caused by excess fluid. Jesus has been really at odds with the establishment regarding healing on the Sabbath and he brings it up here in relationship to this man. So, first we note it is the Sabbath. Second we must see that this man who is obviously a sinner because of his illness has entered into the midst of their supper and threatens to contaminate them all. The Pharisees are silent.

Jesus teaches on the importance of the Godly commandment to love neighbor and we can easily see the themes of the Abrahamic family running through his thoughts on the child or an ox. We are reminded perhaps of the untying of the mule last week and the daughter of Abraham. Jesus continues in Luke to teach that they are hypocritical when they publicly hold one doctrine clearly for the use of power and authority and separation and division of the family when privately they allow or make room for behavior which contradicts their public word and action.

We are then told a short illustration, almost a parabolic type of teaching, about being invited to the wedding feast.

Jesus says we are to invite the poor with the knowledge they can never repay what is given.  Is this not another way of describing the grace we receive from God? Are we not the poor who receive everything from the grace of Jesus Christ which makes us rich? Instead of class, or money, or any other system defining us we are defined purely by the gift of life and the gift of reconciliation to God and one another by Jesus Christ.

As Luke Timothy Johnson points out, Jesus is challenging all of our conventional patterns of transactions. (Luke, 227)

We might typically see this passage as a call to change our service and outreach to the poor. Indeed it certainly is that. However, it is also a challenge to see more deeply the gap which lies between those we believe are ok to go to church with and those Jesus is inviting into community, in point of fact inviting to come to table with us and full members of the family of Abraham.

Are we really willing to give someone else our place at the table? Can we hear Jesus say:  “Behold, here is ____________. Are you willing to help me get his life out of the ditch? If so, give him your place at the table.”

Wow! I am challenged by this idea in more ways than one can imagine. I wonder what name or type of person I might put in this blank?

Until the church can answer Jesus’ challenge honestly, and then do the opposite of what is expected we will forever be limited in our mission, in our evangelism, in discerning God’s imagination, and in see the kingdom of God for what it is!

Some Thoughts on Hebrews 13:1-16

Resources for Sunday's Epistle

"These few verses offer us snippets of what Christian community meant. It wasn't a holy huddle of worshippers scared for their lives and totally obsessed with religious rituals. It was a community which expressed and shared love and in that context praised God - obviously because God is a God who reaches out in love and compassion."

"First Thoughts on Year C Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 15, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

The author of the letter to the Hebrews invites the reader to consider what work might result as a response to the faith of Israel and faith in Jesus Christ? This passage is almost an ethical view of what Christian community is supposed to look like.  It is first and foremost to be a community of love. 

Love from Christ and in Christ will lead to certain actions by the individual follower of Jesus and the community that bears his name. 

  1. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
  2. 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. 
  3. Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. 
  4. 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.” 
  5. Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 

It is unlikely that these were the qualities of every first generation Christian community.  Nevertheless it gives a good view of what the author believes should be the qualities, and in some manner it reflects what the first apostles and leaders of the church thought were key elements within the first few centuries.  These are also the five categories that repeatedly show up in ethical New Testament writings and the writings of the Church theologians.  These are if you will the core and guiding principles of ministry in the fledgling church.

The author then reminds us of the unchanging nature of God.  That we are to continually return to God as revealed in Jesus Christ for our direction.  Moreover that in following this Christ we are to make our following as a response to grace.  

Rules and regulations will not bring us to the altar of grace, only Christ does that.  

Here then the author provides an understanding of the paschal feast and Christ as the true sacrifice and mediator between humanity and God. 

The author writes:  "We have an altar from which those who officiate in the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood."  We see within this text not only a developed understanding of a grace filled community, norms born out of the grace of forgiveness, but we also see a more fully developed understanding of the paschal mystery which is Christ's offering of himself.

What shall our response be to this God who reaches out to us? How shall we make an offering of gratitude to this God? The author writes: "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."

Some Thoughts on Jeremiah 2:4-13

Resources for Sunday's Old Testament

A bit about the Sinai prophetic tradition: The tradition is rooted in the covenant that is made with the people of God after God's deliverance of them from Egypt. God's covenant was made as a response to God's mercy and freedom. So the idea here is that the people are to respond to God's love and freedom.

What Jeremiah and the other Sinai prophets must contend with is that the centralization of faith in Jerusalem has caused them a problem. They are now seeing that the core of the Sinai tradition has been flipped. The religious leaders of Mount Zion now ask that the people be faithful in order to receive God's love, mercy, and freedom. The Zion temple faith has reversed the Sinai tradition. Here is Jeremiah's focus.

Jeremiah focuses then first in our passage on the acts of God. God questions:
O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. 5Thus 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? 6They 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?” 7I 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. 8The 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.
 Jeremiah prophesies and is clear that the religious leaders have left far behind the practices and relationship God and the people proclaimed in covenant at Sinai. So God "accuses" the religious leaders for forgetting. It is as if the people have changed their god and now worship some completely different God.
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. 12Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the Lord, 13for 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.
Jeremiah offers a vision of what the people have done. The God who is freedom, mercy, love, and forgiveness offers living water. But what the people have done is create a new religious order where by the people make their own casks and cisterns and they will not work and they will fail. Furthermore, the religious leaders who help the people build these extravagant ways not only lead the people away from the real God they also create a system by which they will all die from thirst.

Here we see then as Christians that God in Christ Jesus is the God of Jeremiah, both of the living water, but amongst the people, and releasing them from the new religious bondage under which they are suffering.

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