Archive for the ‘Genesis 21’ Tag

Devotion for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Before Proper 22, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

March on Washington 1963

Above:  The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963

Photographer = Warren K. Leffler

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ds-04411

Looking Upon the Heart

OCTOBER 4, 5, and 6, 2018

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The Collect:

Sovereign God, you have created us to live

in loving community with one another.

Form us for life that is faithful and steadfast,

and teach us to trust like little children,

that we may reflect the image of your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 49

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 20:1-18 (Thursday)

Genesis 21:22-34 (Friday)

Genesis 23:1-20 (Saturday)

Psalm 8 (All Days)

Galatians 3:23-29 (Thursday)

Romans 8:1-11 (Friday)

Luke 16:14-18 (Saturday)

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When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars that you have ordained,

What are mortals, that you should be mindful of them;

mere human beings, that you should seek them out?

You have made them little lower than the angels

and crown them with glory and honour.

–Psalm 8:4-6, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)

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The Book of Genesis is honest about the vices and virtues of Abraham and Sarah.  Abraham was a man who valued his relationship with God so much that he acted to the detriment of his family sometimes.  Sarah knew jealousy and acted accordingly.  Abraham, who preferred that people deal honestly with him, dealt dishonestly with others on occasion, telling lies.  These were not the

No, that dress does not make you look fat

variety of lies.  No, these were lies with negative consequences for people.  Yet Abraham and Sarah were instruments of divine grace in their time.  Their legacy has never ceased to exist.

Grace is radical and frequently disturbing.  It ignores human-created distinctions (as in the pericope from Galatians) and calls us to live according to a higher purpose.  We are free from the shackles we have accepted, those which others have imposed upon us, and those we have imposed upon ourselves.  We are free to love God and our fellow human beings as fully as possible, via grace.  We are free to follow Jesus, our Lord and Savior, who taught us via words and deeds how to live according to the Kingdom of God.

Recently I watched a sermon by Michael Curry, soon to become the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church.  He spoke of an incident in the Gospels in which our Lord and Savior’s relatives, convinced that Jesus was crazy, sought to take him away and control him.  Seeking to control Jesus is what much of the Christian Church has sought to do for a long time, Curry stated accurately.  Our Lord and Savior was–and remains–beyond control, fortunately.  Yet elements of institutionalized Christianity have retained human-created distinctions (such as those St. Paul the Apostle listed in the pericope from Galatians) and have labeled doing so orthodoxy.  Fortunately, other elements of institutionalized Christianity have behaved properly in that regard.

Boundaries provide order, hence definition and psychological security.  Some of them are necessary and proper.  Other boundaries, however, exclude improperly, labeling members of the household of God as outsiders, unclean persons, et cetera.  Jesus, as the Gospels present him, defied social conventions and broke down boundaries relative to, among other factors, gender, ritual impurity, and economic status.  Erroneous distinctions regarding gender and economic status remain in societies, of course.  Many of us lack the concept of ritual impurity, but we have probably learned from our cultures or subcultures that certain types of people are somehow impure, that contact with them will defile us.  Often these are racial or ethnic distinctions.

The example of Jesus commands us to, among other things, lay aside erroneous standards of judging and to consider only the proverbial heart.  That is a difficult spiritual vocation, but it is a matter of obedience to God.  It is also possible via grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 2, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WALTER RAUSCHENBUSCH, WASHINGTON GLADDEN, AND JACOB RIIS, ADVOCATES OF THE SOCIAL GOSPEL

THE FEAST OF CHARLES ALBERT DICKINSON, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF GEORGE DUFFIELD, JR., AND HIS SON, SAMUEL DUFFIELD, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTERS

THE FEAST OF HENRY MONTAGU BUTLER, EDUCATOR, SCHOLAR, AND ANGLICAN PRIEST

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/07/02/looking-upon-the-heart/

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Week of Proper 8: Wednesday, Year 1   12 comments

Above: The Casting Out of Hagar, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

Identifying With the Outcasts

JULY 3, 2019

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Genesis 21:5, 8-21 (An American Translation):

…Abraham himself being one  hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.

So the child grew and was weaned; and on the day that Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast.  But Sarah noticed the son of Hagar, the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac; so she said to Abraham,

Get rid of this slave-girl and her son; for the slave-girl’s son must not share the inheritance with my son Isaac.

The proposal, however, was very displeasing to Abraham, for his son’s sake; but God said to Abraham,

Do not be distressed for the boy and your slave; follow Sarah’s bidding in all that she tells you; for it is through Isaac that you are to have descendants bearing your name.  As for the slave-girl’s son, I will make a nation of him, too, because he is your child.

So next morning Abraham rose early, and taking some bread and a skin of water, he gave them to Hagar, along with her son, and putting them on her shoulder, he sent her away.  So she departed, and wandered about in the desert of Beersheba.  Then the water in the skin became exhausted, and throwing the child under one of the bushes, she went and sat down about a bowshot away;

For,

said she,

I cannot bear to see the child die!

So she sat down some way off, and lifted up her voice in weeping.

God, however, heard the boy’s cry, and the angel of God called from the heavens to Hagar, and said to her,

What is the matter with you, Hagar?  Fear not; for God has heard the boy’s cry, even here where he is.  Come, pick up the boy, and hold fast to him; for I am going to make a great nation of him.

Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water, whereupon she went and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.  So God was with the boy, and he grew up.  He lived in the desert, and became expert with the bow.  He settled in the desert of Paran, and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

Psalm 34:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 I will bless the LORD at all times;

his praise shall ever be in my mouth.

2 I will glory in the LORD;

let the humble hear and rejoice.

3 Proclaim with me the greatness of the LORD;

let us exult his Name together.

4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me

and delivered me out of all my terror.

5 Look upon him and be radiant,

and let not your faces be ashamed.

6 I called in my affliction and the LORD heard me

and saved me from all my troubles.

7 The angel of the LORD encompasses those who fear him,

and he will deliver them.

8 Taste and see that the LORD is good;

happy are they who trust in him.

Matthew 8:28-34 (An American Translation):

When he [Jesus] reached the other side, in the region of Gadara, two men possessed by demons came out of the tombs and confronted him; they were so extremely violent that nobody could go along that road.  And they suddenly screamed out,

What so you want of us, you Son of God?  Have you come here before the appointed time to torture us?

Now at some distance from them there was a great drove of pigs feeding.  And the demons entreated him, saying,

If you are going to drive us out, send us into the drove of pigs.

And he said to them,

Begone!

And they came out and went into the pigs.  And suddenly the whole drove rushed over the steep bank into the sea, and perished in the water.  And the men who tended them ran away and went off to the town and told it all, and the news about the men possessed by demons.  And the whole town came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him they begged him to go away from their district.

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone:  Grant to us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; 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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Some people are inconvenient to us, so we think that they must be apart from us, for our own comfort.  This is a sin.

This day’s reading from Genesis comes from the Elohist, who was sympathetic to the lineage of Isaac.  So it is no surprise that this text depicts God as pro-Isaac.  Yet even the Elohist depicts Hagar and Ishmael kindly.  Recall that Hagar’s status as mother of Abraham’s firstborn son and the fact of Ishmael’s existence flowed from one of Sarah’s suggestions.  She was clearly in the wrong.

Tradition states that Ishmael became the father of the Arabs, for your information.  Jealousies continue, just for different reasons.  Human jealousies are like that too often.  But they ought to die more frequently than they do.

Genesis 21 says that God came to the aid of Hagar and Ishmael, saving their lives.  God was with the outcasts.

Speaking of outcasts, we have also the tale of the two demoniacs in Matthew 8.  Read Mark 5:1-20 and Luke 8:26-39 as well, for those texts have one demoniac.  These are clearly variants of the same story, down to the pigs.  Demon possession was a common diagnosis at the time of Jesus.  Today we would say epilepsy, schizophrenia, multiple personalities, or some other medical condition.  These men lived in tombs, at the edge of society.  Once healed, they could rejoin the social order.  Healing was often about more than correcting physical illnesses; there were also emotional, social, and psychological aspects.

The former demoniacs (or whatever they were) were grateful to Jesus.  Of course, those for whom the pigs provided income had a different opinion.

There was another reason to ask Jesus to leave, however.  The people knew who they were, or rather, who they were not, in relation to the demoniacs.  They were not those dangerous, sick people living in tombs.  So who were they now, that the men were well?  The social restoration of outcasts can disturb the self-defined insiders.  We humans tend to like the concept of outsiders, outcasts.  Their existence confirms that we are insiders.  But, with God, the number of insiders is far greater than according to human definitions.  And, if that disturbs us, we need to take this to God and repent.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2011/08/26/identifying-with-the-outcasts/

Proper 7, Year A   22 comments

Above: The Scapegoat, by William Holman Hunt (1954)

No More Scapegoating

The Sunday Closest to June 22

The Third Sunday After Pentecost

JUNE 21, 2020

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FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #1

Genesis 21:8-21 (New Revised Standard Version):

The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.  But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham,

Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.

The matter was very distressing to Abraham, on account of his son.  But God said to Abraham,

Do not be distressed because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah does to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you.  As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.

So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away.  And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beersheba.

When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes.  Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said,

Do not let me look on the death of the child.

And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept.  And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her,

What troubles you, Hagar?  Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.  Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.

Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water.  She sent, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.

God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow.  He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got him a wife from the land of Egypt.

Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Bow down your ear, O LORD, and answer me,

for I am poor and in misery.

2 Keep watch over my life, for I am faithful;

save your servant who puts his trust in you.

3 Be merciful to me, O LORD, for you are my God;

I call upon you all the day long.

4 Gladden the soul of your servant,

for to you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.

5 For you, O LORD, are good and forgiving,

and great is your love toward all who call upon you.

6 Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer,

and attend to the voice of my supplications.

7 In the time of trouble I will call upon you,

for you will answer me.

8 Among the gods there is none like you, O LORD,

nor anything like your works.

9 All nations you have made will come and worship you, O LORD,

and glorify your Name.

10 For you are great;

you do wondrous things;

and you alone are God.

16 Turn to me and have mercy upon me;

give your strength to your servant;

and save the child of your handmaid.

17 Show me a sign of your favor,

so that those who hate me may see it and be ashamed;

because you, O LORD, have helped me and comforted me.

FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #2

Jeremiah 20:7-13 (New Revised Standard Version):

O LORD, you have enticed me,

and I was enticed;

you have overpowered me,

and you have prevailed.

I have become a laughingstock all day long;

everyone mocks me.

For whenever I speak, I must cry out,

I must shout, “Violence and destruction!”

For the word of the LORD has become for me

a reproach and derision all day long.

If I say, “I will not mention him,

or speak any more in his name,”

then within me there is something like a burning fire

shut up in my bones;

I am weary with holding it in,

and I cannot.

For I hear many whispering:

“Terror is all around!

Denounce him!  Let us denounce him!”

All my close friends

are watching for me to stumble.

“Perhaps he can be enticed,

and we can prevail against him,

and take our revenge on him.”

But the LORD is with me like a dread warrior;

therefore my persecutors will stumble,

and they will not prevail.

They will be greatly shamed,

for they will not succeed.

Their eternal dishonor

will never be forgotten.

O LORD of hosts, you test the righteous,

you see the heart and the mind;

let me see your retribution upon them,

for to you I have committed my cause.

Sing to the LORD;

praise the LORD!

For he has delivered the life of the needy

from the hands of evildoers.

Psalm 69:8-11 (12-17), 18-20 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

8 Surely, for your sake have I suffered reproach,

and shame has covered my face.

9 I have become a stranger to my own kindred,

an alien to my mother’s children.

10 Zeal for your house has eaten me up;

the scorn of those who scorn you has fallen upon me.

11 I humbled myself with fasting,

but that was turned to my reproach.

12 I put on sack-cloth also,

and became a byward among them.

13 Those who sit at the gate murmur against me,

and the drunkards make songs about me.

14 But as for me, this is my prayer to you,

at the time you have set, O LORD;

15 “In your great mercy, O God,

answer me with your unfailing help.

16 Save me from the mire; do not let me sink;

let me be rescued from those who hate me

and out of the deep waters.

17 Let not the torrent of waters wash over me,

neither let the deep pit swallow me up;

do not let the Pit shut its mouth upon me.

18 Answer me, O LORD, for your love is kind;

in your great compassion, turn to me.”

SECOND READING

Romans 6:1b-11 (New Revised Standard Version):

Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?  By no means!  How can we who died to sin go on living in it?  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into his death?  Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.  We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might no longer be enslaved to sin.  For whoever has died is freed from sin.  But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.   We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.  The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.  So you must also consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

GOSPEL READING

Matthew 10:24-39 (New Revised Standard Version):

[Jesus said,] “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master.  If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!

So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.  What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.  Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  And even the hairs of your head are all counted.  So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

For I have come to set a man against his father,

and a daughter against her mother,

and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;

and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

The Collect:

O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving-kindness; 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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Problems are real.  When faced with the necessity of facing a difficult or awkward situation  honestly and resolving a it, one might do so, or one might find a scapegoat instead.  Often we humans scapegoat.  This day’s readings concern scapegoating.

Abraham and Sarah had known for years that he would have many descendants.  First, however, he needed one.  So they decided to act, and Sarah granted her permission for Abraham to sire his heir via Hagar, her Egyptian slave.  Ishmael was the result.  His existence became awkward after the birth of Isaac.

Whatever else the Bible is, it is honest about the faults of figures the reader is supposed to admire.  Abraham, for example, comes across as a really bad father.  In Genesis 21 he consents to the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael.  And he tries to kill Isaac in the next chapter.  That story disturbs me deeply, but I get ahead of myself; that tale will wait until Proper 8, Year A.

Note, anyway, the sympathetic tone in the text with regard for the plight of Hagar and her son.  These two were not responsible for what was happening, yet they bore the brunt of the circumstances of Sarah’s jealousy.  This jealousy created a new problem in time, for ethnic tensions arose from it.  Jewish tradition links Ishmael to the origin of Arab bedouin tribes, and the Koran states that Muhammad is descended from Abraham’s firstborn son.  People still use the tale of Ishmael and Isaac to justify hatred.

The prophet Jeremiah spent years speaking unpopular truths and behaving bizarrely.  He ate a scroll, walked around naked, and said that the Kingdom of Judah was doomed.  The latter point was fairly obvious by his time, for the Chaldean (a.k.a. Babylonian) Empire menaced the kingdom.  Furthermore, the two Kings of Judah were puppets of foreigners–one of Egypt and the other of Babylonia.  Jeremiah faced scorn and persecution for his efforts.  This day’s reading from the book bearing his name (The actual author of the book was the scribe Baruch.) contains one of the prophet’s understandable complaints to God.  Jeremiah had become a scapegoat.  What he said would happen did occur, of course, so scapegoating him did not resolve the national crisis.

Jesus was a scapegoat, too.  As some religious authorities said, they preferred to sacrifice him to the Roman Empire than for the imperium to kill many people.  Both happened, of course, just about a generation apart.  As the reading from Matthew acknowledges, the mere existence of Jesus was divisive.  And it still is, especially in families where someone has converted to Christianity and religious law and/or cultural custom requires the convert’s death on the charge of apostasy.  But, as Paul wrote far better than I can, the death of Jesus bestows spiritual life in God.  So, as Jesus said, one should not fear those who can kill only the body.  No, spiritual death is what one ought to fear and avoid.

God cares for us.  God cared for Hagar and Ishmael, for Jeremiah, and for Jesus and Paul.  All of them suffered, but God was with them through it all and provided for them.  And God cares for us, too.  Will we reciprocate and trust God to provide for us, or will we seek convenient, easy solutions, which will only complicate the issue?  Will we listen to God and to God’s prophets, or will we engage in scapegoating?

The death and resurrection of Jesus were profound events packed with meanings.  Among them is this:  Scapegoating is destructive and ineffective.  Why do we continue to scapegoat?  I think the answer is that we like the seemingly easy way out.  May God have mercy on us.

KRT

Proper 6, Year A   30 comments

Above:  Terebinth Trees (Such as Those at Mamre)

The Juxtaposition of Mercy and Judgment

The Sunday Closest to June 15

The Second Sunday After Pentecost

JUNE 14, 2020

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FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #1

Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7) (New Revised Standard Version):

The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day.  He looked up and saw three men standing near him.  When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground.  He said,

My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant.  Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree.  Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on–since you have come to your servant.

So they said,

Do as you have said.

And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said,

Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.

Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it.  Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

They said to him,

Where is your wife Sarah?

And he said,

There, in the tent.

Then one said,

I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah will have a son.

And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him.  Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.  So Sarah laughed to herself, saying,

After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?

The LORD said to Abraham,

Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I have indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too wonderful for the LORD?  At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.

But Sarah denied, saying,

I did not laugh;

for she was afraid.  He said,

Oh yes, you did laugh.

The LORD dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as he had promised.  Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him.  Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him.  And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him.  Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.  Now Sarah said,

God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.

And she said,

Who would ever said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children?  Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.

Psalm 116:1, 10-17 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 I love the LORD, because he has heard the voice of my supplication,

because he has inclined his ear to me whenever I call upon him.

10 How shall I repay the LORD

for all the good things he has done for me?

11 I will lift up the cup of salvation

and call upon the Name of the LORD.

12 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD

in the presence of all his people.

13 Precious in the sight of the LORD

is the death of his servants.

14 O LORD, I am your servant,

I am your servant and the child of your handmaid;

you have freed me from my bonds.

15 I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving

and call upon the Name of the LORD.

16 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD

in the presence of all his people,

17 In the courts of the LORD’s house,

in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.

Hallelujah!

FIRST READING AND PSALM:  OPTION #2

Exodus 19:2-8a (New Revised Standard Version):

They had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain.  Then Moses went up to God; the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying,

Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites:  You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.  Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples.  Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.  These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.

So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the LORD had commanded him.  The people all answered,

Everything that the LORD has spoken we will do.

Moses reported the words of the people to the LORD.  Then the LORD said to Moses,

I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you and so trust you ever after.

Psalm 100 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Be joyful in the LORD, all you lands;

serve the LORD with gladness

and come before his presence with a song.

2 Know this:  The LORD himself is God;

he himself has made us, and we are his;

we are the sheep of his pasture.

3 Enter his gates with thanksgiving;

go into his courts with praise;

give thanks to him and call upon his name.

4 For the LORD is good;

his mercy is everlasting;

and his faithfulness endures from age to age.

SECOND READING

Romans 5:1-8 (New Revised Standard Version):

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.  And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.  But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

GOSPEL READING

Matthew 9:35-10:8 (9-23) (New Revised Standard Version):

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples,

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.  These are names of the twelve apostles:  first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus; Simon the Cananean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions:

Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the Gentiles, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.   As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of God has come near.”  Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.  You received without payment, give without payment. (Take no gold, or silver, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food.  Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave.  As you enter the house, greet it.  If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.  If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.  Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.  Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles.  When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who will speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.  Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name.  But the one who endures to the end will be saved.  When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.)

The Collect:

Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

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Nothing is too wonderful or difficult for God, who is faithful to promises, even though we are not always mindful of ours or or God.  Therein lies the juxtaposition of mercy and judgment.  This is my theme for this devotional writing.

Let us begin with the reading from Genesis.  Abraham welcomes three visitors and extends to them full hospitality, according to his culture.  The patriarch does not know that one of them is YHWH, who has come to make a shocking announcement.  Sarah is post-menepausal, or as the formal euphemism states, “it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.”  Yet she will have a son, which is what she and her husband have wanted for years and thought impossible by now.  She laughs incredulously and silently to herself when she overhears the prophesy, but laughs with delight when she sees her newborn son.  She names him Yitzhak, or Isaac in English.  This names means, “He will laugh.”  And now others will laugh with Sarah.

Sometimes laughter of joy is appropriate after considering what God has done.  In the case of Sarah, God was merciful, and the laughter constituted high praise.  And although God refused to accept Sarah’s denial that she had laughed, God did not seem to hold either the initial laugh or her lie against her.  Really, who could blame Sarah?  Had anyone ever heard of such a thing as a woman of her years giving birth?

God was faithful in Genesis 18 and 21.  And, in Exodus 19, God (via Moses) challenged the Israelites to obey divine commandments.  They said they would, but their subsequent actions belied their words.  God did not destroy them (That was merciful.), but God did not permit them to enter Canaan.  (That was judgment.)  The next generation entered the Promised Land.  Read the accounts of the wanderings in the wilderness, if you have not done so already.  And if you have, you might want to read them again.  It is no wonder that Moses and God became angry with such behaviors as many Israelites exhibited.

Jesus and Paul remind us of suffering for the sake of righteousness.  The manners of their deaths give their words credibility:  The Roman Empire beheaded Paul and crucified Jesus.  And almost all of the twelve Apostles died as martyrs.  The incarnation of Jesus was itself an indication of great mercy, the message of which Paul took to the Gentile world.  Empires have executed messengers of the Kingdom of God, which had “come near” with Jesus, but the work of God is unstoppable.  Those who persecute such messengers will face judgment, but the faithful–those who endure–will live with God, regardless of what anyone does to their bodies.

I grew up in a Christian home.  This fact contributes greatly to the fact that I remain a Christian.  But other factors have contributed to this choice.  Among these factors is the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  Read ancient comparative religion; few claims are original to Christianity.  Older religions featured a Son of God who died for the sins of the world, for example.  But these alleged Sons of God never walked the face of the earth; they were figments of imaginations.  Jesus was real, however.  He was, as I say, the genuine article.

God has come near.  The Kingdom of God has come near.  We have seen it in human flesh, in the form of Jesus.  And, in his own way, Abraham had an incarnational experience.  God seems to like us, sometimes despite ourselves.   Divine mercy does not preclude us suffering consequences of our actions, however.  But judgment does not necessarily connote divine hostility, for discipline is part of love.

Not only does God seem to like us, God loves us.  Should we not love God back?  Should we not laugh in delight for God has done, is doing, and will do out of love for us?

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/the-juxtaposition-of-mercy-and-judgment/