Proper 4, Year A   32 comments

Above:  The Sermon on the Mount Window, Stanford Memorial Church, Stanford, California

Beginning Again

The Sunday Closest to June 1

NOT OBSERVED THIS YEAR

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FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #1

Genesis 6:9-22; 7:24; 8:14-19 (New Revised Standard Version):

These are the descendants of Noah.  Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation:  Noah walked with God.  And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.  And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth.  And God said to Noah,

I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth.  Make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch.  This is how you are to make it:  the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits.  Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above; and put the door of the ark in its side; make it with lower, second, and third decks.  For my part, I am going to bring a flood of waters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life, everything that is on the earth shall die.  But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.  And of every living thing, of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female.  Of the birds according to their kinds, of every creeping things of the ground according to its kind, two of every kind shall come in to you, to keep them alive.  Also take with you every kind of food that is eaten, and store it up; and it shall serve as food for you and for them.

Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.

And the waters swelled on the earth for one hundred fifty days.

In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry.  Then God said to Noah,

Go out of the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you.  Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh–birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth–so that they may abound on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.

So Noah went out with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives.  And every animal, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out of the ark by families.

Psalm 46 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 God is our refuge and strength,

a very present help in trouble.

2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved,

and though the mountains be toppled into the depths of the sea;

3 Though its waters rage and foam,

and though the mountains tremble at its tumult.

4 The LORD of hosts is with us;

the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

5 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

the holy habitation of the Most High.

6 God is in the midst of her;

she shall not be overthrown;

God shall help her at the break of day.

7 The nations make much ado, and the kingdoms are shaken;

God has spoken, and the earth shall melt away.

8 The LORD of hosts is with us;

the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

9 Come now and look upon the works of the LORD,

what awesome things he has done on earth.

10 It is he who makes war to cease in all the world;

he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear,

and burns the shields with fire.

11 “Be still, then, and know that I am God;

I will be exalted among the nations;

I will be exalted in the earth.”

12 The LORD of hosts is with us;

the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #2

Deuteronomy 11:18-21, 26-28 (New Revised Standard Version):

You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead.  Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.  Write them on the doorposts of your house and and on your gates, so that your days and the days the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the LORD swore to your ancestors to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.

See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse:  the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn from the way that I am commanding you today, to follow other gods that you have not known.

Psalm 31:1-5, 19-24 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 In you, O LORD, have I taken refuge;

let me never be put to shame;

deliver me in your righteousness.

2 Incline your ear to me;

make haste to deliver me.

3 Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe,

for you are my crag and my stronghold;

for the sake of your Name, lead me and guide me.

4 Take me out of the net that they have secretly set for me,

for you are my tower of strength.

5 Into your hands I commend my spirit,

for you have redeemed me,

O LORD, O God of truth.

19 How great is your goodness, O LORD!

which you have laid up for those who fear you;

which you have done in the sight of all

for those who put their trust in you.

20 You hide them in the covert of our presence from those who slander them;

you keep them in your shelter from the strife of tongues.

21 Blessed be the LORD!

for he has shown me the wonders of his love in a besieged city.

22 Yet I said in my alarm,

“I have never been cut off from the sight of your eyes.”

Nevertheless, you heard the sound of my entreaty

when I cried out to you.

23 Love the LORD, all you who worship him;

the LORD protects the faithful,

but repays to the full those who act haughtily.

24 Be strong and let your heart take courage,

all you who wait for the LORD.

SECOND READING

Romans 1:16-17; 3:22b-31 (New Revised Standard Version):

For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written,

The one who is righteous will live by faith.

For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith.  He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies  the one who has faith in Jesus.

Then what becomes of boasting?  It is excluded.  By what law?  By that of works?  No, but by the law of faith.  For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.  Or is God the God of Jews only?  Is he not the God of Gentiles also?  Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of faith and the uncircumcised through the same faith.  Do we then overthrow the law by this faith?  By now means!  On the contrary, we uphold the law.

GOSPEL READING

Matthew 7:21-29 (New Revised Standard Version):

[Jesus said,]

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’  Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’

Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.  The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.  And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The fain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat against that house, and it fell–and great was its fall!

Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.

The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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Beginning with Proper 4, the Revised Common Lectionary provides options for the First Reading and the Psalm.  As I ponder these choices for Proper 4, Year A, I detect some common ground.  It consists of the following elements:

  1. God prepares chosen people for a new beginning, whether in the case of Noah’s Ark or of the Israelites on the verge of entering Canaan.
  2. God is a refuge, strength, and stronghold.

I propose that God grants new beginnings out of mercy while imposing certain obligations.  This is where the reading from Deuteronomy applies:  obey God.  My thinking, with its emphasis on higher biblical criticism, tells me that the Deuteronomist was not Moses, and that this speech postdates Moses by centuries.  So this speech, put into the mouth of Moses, functioned as a criticism of the Kingdom of Judah late in its life.  My paraphrase of the Deuteronomist’s agenda:  “That is where we went wrong so long ago; we disobeyed God.  We have become at least as corrupt as was the generation in the time of Noah.  We have squandered an opportunity God has granted us.”

The readings from the New Testament remind us in prose and parable that the righteous live by faith.  We must build on the rock, Jesus says.  And Jesus himself is the rock.  The storms of life will come, but the house of faith built with a solid foundation will survive intact.  It is important to have a firm foundation, but also to possess sufficient flexibility, though.  The storms of life include strong winds, and, if one cannot sway with the winds, one will snap in two.  And what good is that?  Have you ever watched tall pine trees during a strong wind?  They remain standing because they are rooted firmly, but they remain whole because they sway with the wind.

Holiness is not abstract.  Much of it consists of how we treat each other.  Do we respect one another, or do we seek to exploit each other?  Do we love one another, or do we demonize each other?  In the name of God, do we extend helping hands to each other, or do we turn into cynical, Social Darwinian, every man, woman, and child-for-himself-and-herself types?  Is justice truly blind, or is it on the dole?  Do we nurture beauty, or do we nourish that which is coarse?  I could continue, but I trust that I have made my point clearly.

Thanks to grace, we get to start over periodically.  But this is not cheap grace, that which costs us nothing.  No, this grace demands something of us.  We must love God and each other if we are to make the most of each new beginning.  We must live by faith and practice good religion, that built on love, not hatred.

In grace we have a firm foundation.  Let us build on it, or continue to do so.

KRT

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32 responses to “Proper 4, Year A

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