Posts Tagged 'proper 19'

For Sept. 15, 2013: Proper 19, Year C

The Reading            Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28

In the late sixth century before Christ, the reformer king Josiah, who had begun to lead Israel back to a right relationship with God, died in battle. He was succeeded by sons who failed to follow his example, under whom God’s chosen people continued breaking God’s law in letter and spirit. Today’s prophecy from Jeremiah is vivid and, for those of us who know drought, earthquake, and wildfire, horrifyingly familiar in our own time.

The Response            Psalm 14

“Every one has proved faithless; all alike have turned bad; there is none who does good; no, not one.”

The Epistle            1 Timothy 1:12-17

The author of the letters to Timothy may or may not be the man we know as Saint Paul or the Apostle Paul—the letters were probably written a generation later—but this towering hero of early Christianity paints himself as having been the worst offender against God, to whom nevertheless God saw fit to extend mercy. There might just be hope for the rest of us.

The Gospel            Luke 15:1-10

“‘I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’”

 

Further thoughts

Among the themes of the epistle and gospel readings for Proper 19 is surely seeking and finding.

The gospel gives us God’s determination to mount a search-and-rescue operation for the lost: sheep by sheep, coin by coin, sinner by sinner. Jesus’ choice of exemplars is as striking as his choice of dinner companions: shepherds were stereotypically grimy, uncivilized losers, and ordinary women were outside the terms of the covenants. But shepherds and women are Jesus’ chosen stand-ins for the seeking, finding, , rejoicing-in-the-lost God, and we the lost (or at least self-misplaced) can properly take comfort in the prospect of being both God’s found and God’s finders. Similarly, whether or not 1 Timothy was composed by the saint himself or (more probably) by a second-generation wannabe, this lesson is clear: if the likes of sinful Saul can be sought and found and straightened out by God, so can anyone else, including even me.

In the psalm and the Old Testament, however, the LORD is seeking but not finding the righteous—and in Jeremiah’s prophecy, disaster is promised as a consequence. It will begin with the hot wind: farm folk in that part of the world would toss threshed grain in the air so the wind could blow away the chaff—but this wind will blow as though from the very mouth of Hell, and the quaking fields and black, birdless skies both cause and result from the absence of worthy grain. Hope is not altogether gone: in the psalm God will shield the afflicted, and even Jeremiah’s exasperated Adonai adds, “yet I will not make a full end.” But the people who ought to be leaders in righteousness are instead the source of affliction and wickedness.

This brings us back to Saint Paul, self-proclaimed foremost of sinners. Consider his sins, however: sins not of the body or of unclean hands, but sins of hardness of heart. In God’s eyes, clearly, there are worse things than being a nobody; failing to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God,” as Micah 6:8 resonantly puts it, is at the top of the list of those things.

For Sept. 16, 2012: Proper 19, Year B

The Reading                                             Wisdom of Solomon 7:26-8:1

The book of the Wisdom of Solomon was not written by Solomon: it was written for Greek-speaking Jews between 100 B.C. and 100 A.D. It is part of the Septuagint—the version of the Bible in use by Jews in Alexandria, Egypt—though we now take it as one of the apocryphal books. Today’s reading personifies wisdom as an agent of God, in terms that are echoed by the description of Christ in the letter to the Hebrews.

The Response                                             Psalm 19

The Epistle                                                  James 3:1-12

Psalm 19, carrying on the theme of wisdom, ends with a plea to God to keep us from presumptuous sins and to keep our words and thoughts acceptable to God. The extent to which it is imperative that we Christians watch our language—and to which we need God’s help to do so—is underlined, in this increasingly contentious election season, by the vivid metaphors in today’s reading from the letter of James.

The Gospel                                                  Mark 8:27-38

 

Further thoughts

A mantra of the tumultuous 1960s was “Tell it like it is.” The message was that someone under thirty had an obligation to convey the unvarnished truth to those who were too unhip, too co-opted by The Man, too bugged, too hung up, too not-with-it, or simply too over-thirty to be reckoned able to grasp it on their own—with or without the short squat four-letter words with which one might daringly unvarnish it.

Aside from the four-letter words, some of which still do retain power to shock, it all sounds a bit quaint now, and in the phrasing of Psalm 19 more than slightly presumptuous. That the end of Psalm 19 and the letter to James counsel us to watch our language is quite fitting. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer” is not so far from “O Lord, make my words tender and juicy today, for tomorrow I may have to eat them.”

Nevertheless, telling it like it is has much to recommend it. First, sometimes I don’t know what I know until I give it voice. Peter, being Peter, might not have fully have recognized Jesus as the Messiah until the words came out of his mouth. Second, I won’t find out what I don’t know until I get it out there for corroboration or correction. Peter needed to learn that he was right that Jesus is the Messiah but wrong about just what that means.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, the “it” of “tell it like it is” properly embraces not just the bad news but the good news. Wisdom is the mirror of God and she does order all things well. The heavens do declare the glory of God, and it is marvelous. Jesus is the Messiah, sent because, in God’s terms, each of God’s children is so worth saving. The more we speak blessing to each other and the world, the more we speak God’s love into each other and the world—and the better we hear God’s love as well.


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