Proper 21, Year A   24 comments

Above:  Saint Francis of Assisi Kneeling (1635-1639), Painted by Francisco de Zubaran

Image in the Public Domain

Against All Pretenses

The Sunday Closest to September 28

The Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost

OCTOBER 1, 2017

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FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #1

Exodus 17:1-7 (New Revised Standard Version):

From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said,

Give us water to drink.

Moses said to them,

Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?

But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said,

Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?

So Moses cried out to the Lord,

What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.

The Lord said to Moses,

Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.

Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying,

Is the Lord among us or not?

Psalm 78:1-14, 12-16 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  Hear my teaching, O my people;

incline your ears to the words of my mouth.

2  I will open my mouth in a parable;

I will declare the mysteries of ancient times.

3  That which we have heard and known,

and what our forefathers have told us,

we will not hide from their children.

4  We will recount to generations to come

the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the LORD,

and the wonderful works he has done.

12 He worked marvels in the sight of their forefathers,

in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan.

13  He split open the sea and let them pass through;

he made the waters stand up like walls.

14  He led them with a cloud by day,

and all the night through with a glow of fire.

15  He split the hard rocks in the wilderness

and gave them drink as from the great deep.

16  He brought streams out of the cliff,

and the waters gushed out like rivers.

FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #2

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32 (New Revised Standard Version):

The word of the LORD came to me:

What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? As I live, says the Lord GOD, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die.

Yet you say, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die. Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” O house of Israel, are my ways unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?

Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, all of you according to your ways, says the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord GOD. Turn, then, and live.

Psalm 25:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul;

my God, I put my trust in you;

let me not be humiliated,

nor let my enemies triumph over me.

2  Let none who look to you be put to shame;

let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.

3  Show me your ways, O LORD,

and teach me your paths.

4  Lead me in your truth and teach me,

for you are the God of my salvation;

in you have I trusted all the day long.

5  Remember, O LORD, your compassion and love,

for they are from everlasting.

6  Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions;

remember me according to your love

and for the sake of your goodness, O LORD.

7  Gracious and upright is the LORD;

therefore he teaches sinners in his way.

8  He guides the humble in doing right

and teaches his way to the lowly.

SECOND READING

Philippians 2:1-13 (New Revised Standard Version):

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete:  be of the same mind.  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.  Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God

as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

he humbled himself

and became obedient to the point of death–

even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him

and gave him the name

that is above every name,

so that at the name of Jesus

every knee should bend,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue should confess

that Jesus Christ is Lord,

the glory of God the Father.

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

GOSPEL READING

Matthew 21:23-32 (New Revised Standard Version):

When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said,

By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?

Jesus said to them,

I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?

And they argued with one another,

If we say, “From heaven,” he will say to us, “Why then did you not believe him?” But if we say, “Of human origin,” we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.

So they answered Jesus,

We do not know.

And he said to them,

Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not”; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, “I go, sir”; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?

They said,

The first.

Jesus said to them,

Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

The Collect:

O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; 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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I have become convinced that following a lectionary is one of the best, if not the best, way to study the Bible.  There is a place for studying just one text, but placing two or more of them side-by-side and identifying common threads is wonderful, too.  And that is one purpose of the orderly reading of scripture per a lectionary.

The common thread here is the necessity of obedience to God.  What stands in the way of that?  Various issues do.  Sometimes we misunderstand God, as did many of my Antebellum forebears who used the Bible to justify slavery, based on a literal reading of some passages (or parts of passages) but not others, as well as their own economic interests, racist views, and other cultural baggage.  They were sincerely wrong, which means that they were still wrong.  We have cultural blinders today, so we need not to content ourselves with condemning our benighted forebears, for each of us is severely mistaken in some ways, too.

Others do not try, at least as much as they ought to do.  Consider the case of the Israelites in the wilderness.  They focused on what they lacked, not what they had.  I have done a similar thing many times, and probably will do so again.  Or maybe the fault is that one operates out of selfish motivations.  I have seen this dynamic hobble more than one congregation.  When a person of influence, if not title, in a congregation, especially a small one, does not check his or ego at the church doors, the results are unfortunate.  Paul understood the assembly of the faithful to function much like the human body; everybody is necessary and the tasks differ according to each member.  What matters most is to identify one’s proper role, fulfill it, and to be content to do that–all for the improvement of the body and the glory of God.

We cannot and will not do this if we are taking ego trips and using our pretenses as crutches.  This is why Jesus said that some prostitutes would enter Heaven before certain Pharisees would.  The former had no pretenses, unlike the latter.  In another story, the wealthy young man relied on his money and possessions.  They insulated him from full knowledge of his reliance on God.  That was why Jesus told him to give them up.

We get one crutch–God.  This is the God who has become incarnate as Jesus, who, Paul tells us, did not let anything stand in the way of his faithful obedience.  Our Lord did not stand on ceremony, flaunt pretenses, or take his identity from others.  No, his identity was internal, as is yours, and as is mine.  Jesus was the Son of God.  I am, through Jesus, a member of the household of God.  You, O reader, are also one, I hope.  Knowing who we are–children of God–and whose we are–God’s–may we, using the one proper crutch, abandon our false egos and pretense.  May we journey toward God, supporting each other as our paths converge, for our individual and common good, and for the glory of God.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2011/10/25/against-all-pretenses/

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24 responses to “Proper 21, Year A

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