Monday, August 26, 2019

Pentecost 11C

Isaiah 58:9b-14

9bIf you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10if 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.
11The 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.
12Your 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.

13If 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;
14then 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…

Earlier in this chapter: Isaiah 58:1-9


The 66 chapters of the major prophet Isaiah can be divided into three distinct sections:

• 1st Isaiah, mostly writings from Isaiah of Jerusalem, prior to Babylon exile: chapters 1-39
• 2nd Isaiah, during exile in Babylon: chapters 40-55. Includes "Comfort ye – every valley" we know from Handel's Messiah and other exquisitely memorably poetic passages.
• 3rd Isaiah, after the exile: chapters 56-66. Back in town trying to rebuild lives, physical and community and religious structures; attempting to restore meaning.

Today's Reading

Everyone didn't leave Jerusalem and Judah for Babylon; of those who left, some settled permanently and helped continue to create good living conditions in Babylon—the astonishment of empire as a venue for shalom that's a peace far more than absence of conflict, peace that's total well-being and fullness of life. The first reading today is from 3rd isaiah, who wrote to the returnees during the time of reconstructing Jerusalem with hope-filled, shalom-full urban renewal.

Last week Jeremiah reminded us God is God of the exodus, the God who liberates us from slaveries of every kind, bringing us into and settling us in land that yields crops and community to help sustain us. As Jeremiah pointed out, God also is God of homecoming, the God who gathers people from exile and dispersion (any of many literal or figurative diasporas) into a trustworthy place.

A few people had stayed in Jerusalem, some of the exiles returned. The temple was gone, the city was in near-total disrepair, almost no one trusted much of anyone. They needed to rebuild the physical infrastructure of the city that would include streets, roads, meeting places, markets for sales and exchange; they needed to rebuild a reliable human substructure that would include neighborhoods of real community and hope. We need safe, reliable shelter; we need safe, reliable people.

58:12 "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."

This passage ties together being good neighbors with keeping sabbath. It lines out a series of "if – then" conditions regarding human behaviors, God's response, and effectiveness of the outcomes. Like much of Jeremiah, Deuteronomy, and Luke, this scripture is a word about the neighbor, about the other; it's neighborology that offers guidelines for creating covenantal community where people trust God and one another—notice how this map for rebuilding shalom includes faithful Sabbath observance.

Cities and communities that have been destroyed and need rebuilding have become very familiar to us. New Orleans after Katrina; other cities after major weather events. The nearby town of Paradise after fires during fall 2018. A series of destructive earthquakes in Haiti. Fires currently raging through the Amazon rainforest. The God of liberation and homecoming also is God of resurrection! In order to be resurrected to new life, you must be dead.

Any of God's Work, Our Hands endeavors may seem small to us (most are very tiny compared with the needs that surround us). As I often remind everyone, our actions are synergistic and add up to more than the sum of all the actions.

Isaiah 58:10a "If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted…" echoes last week when again we talked about Jeremiah and his emphasis on (especially distributive) justice, social and economic equality, making sure everyone has adequate food and housing. A huge part of the covenantal ideal for distributive justice is no super-rich, no ultra poor. If you have more than you need, share it!

Historical Note: In terms of post-exilic Jerusalem, rebuilding the temple especially concerned Haggai and Zechariah; Nehemiah focused on rebuilding city walls; Ezra's passion was restoring worship. During those years God's people rediscovered Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament that form the Pentateuch); as they learned to read, study, and live by the counsel of the inspired texts, they became a People of the Book.

Sabbath:The actual Sabbath never changed from Saturday, the seventh day of the week, the final day of the original old creation [Exodus 20:1-17; Genesis 2:2-3]. The early Church started a tradition of worship on Sunday the day of resurrection, first day of the week, start of the new creation. We can assume "sabbath" as a necessary time out, a literal ceasing from producing, counting, working, but not a time of laziness and shiftlessness.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Pentecost 10C

Jeremiah 23:23-29

23Am I a God near by, says the Lord, and not a God far off? 24Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the Lord. 25I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, "I have dreamed, I have dreamed!" 26How long? Will the hearts of the prophets ever turn back—those who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart? 27They plan to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, just as their ancestors forgot my name for Baal.

28Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? says the Lord. 29Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?

The Church's year of grace has reached the Tenth Sunday after the Feast of Pentecost! "Ordinary" or arranged, lined-out, ordered time will continue three more months until Reign of Christ / Christ the King Sunday that celebrates the sovereignty of the risen and crucified Jesus Christ. Then we'll enter a new year with the first Sunday of Advent.

Our Old Testament/Hebrew Bible reading today is from the prophet Jeremiah. A very quick overview of OT structure and content:

Torah, sometimes called the five books of Moses, not because Moses wrote them, but because Moses is a central character and their general trajectory reflects his leadership: Genesis – Exodus – Leviticus – Numbers – Deuteronomy.

Prophets, with the "former prophets" of historical bent: Joshua; Judges; 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel; 1 Kings, 2 Kings. "Major or Writing Prophets" 1, 2, and 3 Isaiah; Ezekiel; Jeremiah; Book of the Twelve, sometimes called "Minor Prophets" because of their length, not because of lack of importance.

Writings, a truly miscellaneous collection that doesn't always have the same canonical content everywhere. Writings include the vital to the church Psalms; plus Job, Proverbs, Chronicles, Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, Song of Songs; Ecclesiastes. I've probably omitted a few.


Jeremiah was a priest from the Benjaminite tradition. Bud remembered what other famous biblical figure came from the tribe of Benjamin—Saul/Paul of Tarsus!

Jeremiah is very very much within the classical tradition of Hebrew/Israelite prophecy that brings us a Word from the Lord. Scripture distinguishes between prophet or nabi, who speaks truth to power, lining out alternatives (the reigning monarch most characteristically being that power), and seer or roeh, who peers into the future and predicts what will happen. Later in the history of Israel both roles became somewhat conflated.

As he responds to "Is there a Word from the Lord," Jeremiah is The Classic Prophet. Jeremiah also is very much within the covenantal tradition of Deuteronomy with its care for the least of these, society's marginalized, caring for the neighbor, the stranger, the immigrant, the sojourner. Jeremiah is another example of someone who had memorized and internalized scripture so he could quote and live that Word of Life.

This is Luke's lectionary year. We've seen Luke's Jesus has the same political, cultural, religious, social, and economic emphases as Deuteronomy and Jeremiah.

Chapter 22 immediately before today's very short reading is one of the most famous from Jeremiah as he addresses the wicked king sons of Josiah, who was one of the only good kings of Israel. Known as The Boy King because he assumed leadership at the age of 8, in a highly exemplary way Josiah helped take care of powerless widows, orphans, strangers, sojourners. In short, Josiah literally did justice and righteousness as God calls every one of us created in the divine image to do.

Jeremiah 22 also reminds us Israeli's God is not only God of liberation (redemption} from bondage and slavery with the subsequent gift of a Promised Land; God also is One who gathers the people together and enacts homecoming (restoration) from exile.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Pentecost 9C

Luke 12:32-40

32"Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

35"Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

39"But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."

The church's year of grace continues in Luke's gospel. Today's short gospel reading comes to us in three or four sections. We've previously discussed sources; Matthew and Luke both include a lot of Mark – the earliest canonical gospel – in theirs. Luke and Matthew may or may not have drawn upon an additional written source that may or may not actually have existed, though scholars still speculate some about "Q," named from the German word for river, Quelle. Besides those written documents that began as part of the dynamic, ever-changing oral tradition, Luke may have had a document we can label "L" for Luke.

Today's gospel reading opens with Jesus' command not to be afraid and why! Uniquely recorded in Luke's gospel, Jesus then announces the Reign of Heaven, Kingdom of God, Sovereignty of Grace and Love is a gift, a given, not something we need to earn or beg God for. It is not a transaction or an exchange. Gifting us brings pleasure and joy to God!

I asked how people felt about being called a flock (of sheep or birds). Sara mentioned how "All we like sheep have gone astray" in Handel's Messiah includes a wonderfully illustrative musical pattern that wanders all over to demonstrate straying sheep and people.

Each of the gospels has a distinctive emphasis or personality; even the three synoptic gospels that view Jesus' life and ministry in a somewhat similar manner are markedly different. Luke places his solidly within measurable historical time and space. Luke emphasizes women, other marginalized populations, prayer, the Holy Spirit, table fellowship, a reign of heaven that inverts the status quo, levels the economy and everything else about conventional society so everyone becomes social and economic equals; in God's Reign on Earth, everyone has enough, no one has too much or too little, creating an "Upside-Down Kingdom."

Early on in Luke when Mary learns she is pregnant, she remembers Hannah's song that she's likely memorized from a lifetime of exposure to scripture. Based upon Hannah's words, Mary sings her own beautiful prayer of praise and exultation we call the Magnificat, "My soul magnifies the Lord" [Luke 1:46-55]. Mary announces the upcoming reign of Heaven will mean justice and the sufficiency of "shalom" for all. Jesus' first act of public ministry (IPO/initial public offering) in Luke also announces justice and plenty enough for all—the arrival of jubilee justice [Luke 4:16-21].

"Sell your possessions and give alms" isn't about making a guilt-propelled contribution so you'll feel better about having more than many others; it's a concrete action that redistributes money and possessions to help create a common-wealth and evened-out society. It's wonderful to contribute time, money, possessions for a particular cause, and though most of us love to respond generously to specific giving appeals, for Jesus, alms-giving is a way of life.

The heart in Hebrew biology is the seat of the will; heart is not a sentimental, romantic, lacey Victorian, greeting card, floral bouquet warm fuzzy. Jesus begins with treasure (thesaurus, the word we use for a book of word synonyms and antonyms) and then goes on to heart. How we act with our treasures of money, time, and possessions actually changes our attitudes or hearts.

The master serving the slaves at table is very within Luke's emphases that include feasting and dining togetherness; it also coincides with Jesus' identifying himself in the image of the servant God as "one who serves."

The Son of Man/Human One arriving at an unexpected hour? Yes, as Bud suggested, this would include the Second Coming, but even more poignantly it reminds us Jesus' presence always surprises us, happens when we don't expect it, or when we least anticipate it.