Archive for the ‘Sarai’ Tag

Week of Proper 7: Thursday, Year 1   9 comments

Above:  A Dutch House Subsiding Because of An Inadequate Foundation

Image Source = Vincent van Zeijst

Declaring the Mighty Acts of God–Or Not

JUNE 27, 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 16:1-12, 15-16 (An American Translation):

Abram’s wife Sarai had borne him no children, but she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar.  So Sarai said to Abraham,

Seeing now that the LORD has prevented me from having children, suppose you marry my maid; I might perhaps build up a family through her.

Abram agreed to the suggestion of Sarai; so Abram’s wife Sarai took Hagar, her Egyptian maid (it was after Abram had been living in the land of Canaan for ten years), and gave her in marriage to her husband Abram.  He had intercourse with Hagar, and she had conceived.  When she found that she had conceived, she looked with disdain upon her mistress.  So Sarai said to Abram,

May the wrong done me fall on you.  It was I who put my maid in your arms, but when she found that she had conceived, she looked with disdain upon me.  May the LORD judge between you and me!

Abram said to Sarai,

Your maid is in your power; do what you like with her.

Then Sarai treated her so cruelly that she ran away from her.  But the angel of the LORD came upon her beside a spring in the desert (the spring on the road to Shur) and said,

Hagar, maid of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?

She said,

I am running away from my mistress Sarai.

The angel of the LORD said to her,

Return to your mistress, and submit to her authority.

Further, the angel of the LORD said to her,

I will make your descendants so numerous that they will be too many to count.

The angel of the LORD also said to her,

You are with child, and are going to bear a son; you are to call his name Ishmael [God heard], because the LORD has heard of your ill-treatment.  He shall be a wild-ass of a man, with his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him; he shall live on the outskirts of all his kindred.

So Hagar bore a son to Abram, and Abram gave the name of Ishmael to his son, whom Hagar bore.  Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to him.

Psalm 106:1-5 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Hallelujah!

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,

for his mercy endures for ever.

2 Who can declare the mighty acts of the LORD

or show forth all his praise!

3 Happy are those who act with justice

and always do what is right!

4 Remember me, O LORD, with the favor you have for your people,

and visit me with your saving help;

5 That I may see the prosperity of your elect

and be glad with the gladness of your people,

that I may glory with your inheritance.

Matthew 7:21-29 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued,]

It is not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ who will get into the Kingdom of Heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father in heaven.  Many will say to me on that Day, ‘Lord! Lord!  Was it not in your name that we prophesied, and by your name that we drove out demons, and by your name that we did many mighty acts?’  Then I will say to them plainly, ‘I never knew you!  Go away from me, you who do wrong!’

Everyone, therefore, who listens to this teaching of mine and acts upon it, will be like a sensible man who built his house on rock.  And the rain fell, and the rivers rose, and the winds blew, and beat about that house, and it did not go down, for its foundations were on rock.  And anyone who listens to this teaching of mine and does not act upon it, will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  And the rain fell, and the rivers rose, and the winds blew and beat down that house, and it went down, and its downfall was complete.

When Jesus had finished this discourse, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them like one who had authority and not like their scribes.

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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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And Peter opened his mouth and said:  “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him….”

–Acts 10:34-35 (Revised Standard Version)

Deeds reveal creeds, but good deeds can reveal more than one creed.  This is one lesson from the finale of the Sermon on the Mount.  Let us look up and read Acts 10:34-35 again; one must act properly and fear, that is, have awe for, God in on order to be acceptable to God.  So, by the proper combination of words and deeds, one declares the mighty acts of God.  The ultimate goal for one’s life should be that it, by grace, will become prayer.

Consistent with this thought, one needs to build on a solid foundation.  As a Christian, I state that the solid foundation is God, specifically Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnated Second Person of the Trinity and the Word of God.  What greater authority can there be?  He did not need to cite learned scholars of the Hebrew Scriptures as authorities, for he predated the book.

Speaking of that sacred anthology, it is brutally honest about the shortcomings of heroes of faith.  Consider Abram and Sarai, for example.  For a season they did not trust God to fulfill the divine promise to make Abram the origin of a great nation.  So they took matters into their own hands.  Sarai became jealous of Hagar after Abram did what she (Sarai) had suggested, so she (Sarai) abused Hagar, her maid servant now pregnant with Abram’s (firstborn) child.  So Hagar ran away, only to receive divine assurance of favor and a promise parallel to that God had made to Abram.  God heard Hagar, who never asked for any of her afflictions to come upon her, yet remained faithful to Abram and Sarai.  Grace flows where it will.

This story is only part of the Abraham saga, of course, so we ought to read and ponder it within that context.  One lesson I derive by doing this and placing the reading from Genesis next to the end of the Sermon on the Mount is that our lives, warts and all, can declare the mighty acts of God (to steal a phrase from the psalm) by grace.  The operative question here is: What is the dominant pattern of our lives?  Moral perfection is impossible in this life, but that is no excuse for not trying more often than not to do the right thing and to live in an awestruck relationship with God, who knows that we are “but dust.”  Between single predestination and the witness of the Holy Spirit everyone has an opportunity to declare the mighty acts of God in words and deeds.  Will the dominant pattern in our lives indicate a positive or a negative reply?

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/declaring-the-mighty-acts-of-god-or-not/

Week of Proper 7: Wednesday, Year 1   20 comments

Above:  A 2000-Year-Old Olive Tree in Bar, Montenegro

Image Source = Bratislav Tabas

You Can Tell Them By Their Fruit

JUNE 26, 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 15:1-21 (An American Translation):

After these events the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision,

Do not be afraid, Abram; I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.

But Abram said,

O Lord GOD, what canst thou give me, seeing that I am childless, and that my heir is a Damascene, Eliezer?

Abram said,

Since you have given me no posterity, my household slave will be my heir.

But there came to him this message from the LORD,

No such person is to be your heir, but one born of your own body is to be your heir.

Then he took him outside, and said,

Now, look at the sky, and count the stars if you can.  So shall your descendants be,

he said to him.

And he trusted in the LORD, who counted it to his credit, and said to him,

I am the LORD, who brought you out of the Chaldean city of Ur to give you possession of this land.

But he said,

O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?

So he said to him,

Procure a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old she-goat, a three-year-old he-goat, a dove, and a young pigeon.

Procuring all these, he cut them in two–but not the birds–and placed the pieces opposite each other.  The birds of prey swooped down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them off.  Then, as the sun was going down, a trance fell on Abram; indeed a great and awful gloom fell upon him.  Then the LORD said to Abram,

Know of a surety that your descendants shall be immigrants in a land not their own, where they shall be slaves, and be oppressed for four hundred years; but I will in turn bring judgment upon the nation that made slaves of them, after which they shall escape with great wealth.  (As for yourself, you shall join your fathers in peace, and be buried at a ripe old age.)  It will only be in the fourth generation, however, that they will return here; for the guilt of the Amorites is not yet complete.

When the sun had set and it was quite dark, there appeared a smoking fire-pot and a blazing torch that passed between the pieces.  That day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying,

To your descendants I give this land, from the River of Egypt as far as the Great River, the river Euphrates–that of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaim, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites.

Psalm 47 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Clap your hands, all you peoples;

shout to God with a cry of joy.

2 For the LORD Most High is to be feared;

he is the great King over all the earth.

3 He subdues the peoples under us,

and the nations under out feet.

4 He chooses our inheritance for us,

the pride of Jacob whom he loves.

5 God has gone up with a shout,

the LORD with the shout of the ram’s-horn.

6 Sing praises to God, sing praises;

sing praises to our King, sing praises.

7 For God is King of all the earth;

sing praises with all your skill.

8 God reigns over the nations;

God sits enthroned upon his holy throne.

9 The nobles of the peoples have gathered together

with the people of the God of Abraham.

10 The rulers of the earth belong to God,

and he is highly exalted.

Matthew 7:15-20 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued,]

Beware of the false prophets, who come to you disguised as sheep but are ravenous wolves underneath.  You can tell them by their fruit.  Do people pick grapes off thorns, or figs off thistles?  Just so any sound tree bears good fruit, but a poor tree bears bad fruit.  No sound tree can bear bad fruit, and no poor tree can bear good fruit.  Any tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and burned.  So you can tell them by their fruit.

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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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As I have written before, deeds reveal creeds.

Let us begin with Genesis.  The lectionary skips over Chapter 14, and Chapter 15 begins with, “After these events….”  In Chapter 14, the following events transpired:

  1. The kings of Shinar (a.k.a. Babylon), Ellasar, Elam, and Goiim waged war on the kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Adman, Zeboiim, and Bela (a.k.a. Zoar).  The latter alliance, subject to the king of Elam for twelve years, rebelled, so the Elamite king and his allies attacked.
  2. The attacking alliance of four kings conquered Rephaim, Zuzim, Emim, Horites, Amalekites, and Amorites along the way.
  3. The attacking alliance of four kings captured Lot, members of his household, and his possessions, and removed all of them from Sodom.
  4. Abram and members of his household defeated the attacking alliance of four kings and rescued Lot and all members of his household and retrieved Lot’s possessions.
  5. After the battle, Abram met the kings of Sodom and Salem.  Melchizedek, the priest-king of Salem, blessed El Shaddai for delivering Abram.
  6. Abram, consistent with his familial obligations and a promise to his God, declined to keep any of Lot’s possessions, although Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre, who had accompanied Abram, did claim their shares with Abram’s permission.

So, in Chapter 15, God repeated the previously stated promise that Abram would have many descendants.  After an animal sacrifice and advance notice of Hebrew slavery in Egypt, the Exodus, and the wandering in the wilderness, God established a covenant with Abram.  The patriarch trusted that God, whom he knew as El Shaddai, would keep divine promises, that is, Abram believed in God.  There would be rough patches and long, deep valleys, but the promises of God were–and are–trustworthy.

Abram, of course, did not always trust before Genesis 15:1-21 or after.  He was a mortal, not a flawless individual.  But he did well enough for biblical authors to look back on him as a role model of faithfulness.

The metaphor of good and bad trees and fruit is easy to understand.  We cannot hide who we are forever, no matter how good we are at playing parts in public life.  We are as we think, and the truth will emerge in time.  Abram was a good tree.  May we be good trees, too.

The Gospel of Matthew dates to approximately 85 C.E.  The original audience understood prophets well, as such men still roamed the roads and proclaimed messages they claimed came from God.  Some prophets were true; others were false.  The message for the audience in 85 C.E. was plain:  Consider the source.  This is a timeless lesson.  In my North American context, I can think of a murderous false prophet (Jim Jones) and numerous fraudulent false prophets (many televangelists, especially alleged faith healers who “heal” people planted in the audience).  A few years ago I received an unsolicited piece of mail from the Reverend Ike.  There was a paper “prayer cloth” featuring the outline of a hand.  The instructions said to put my hand in that hand, a stand-in for God’s hand, when praying.  I did no such thing.

I regret that many people mistake such confidence men as messengers from God.  Their fraud is well-documented, and they distract spiritually needy people from true shepherds who can provide guidance in person.  When I ponder Karl Marx’s famous statement that religion is the opiate of the masses, I wonder what he would have made of televangelism.

You shall know them by their fruits.

My parting thought is this:  What kind of tree are you?  Considering the reality of human imperfections and thus laying aside illusions of moral perfection, do you bear good fruit?  Do you lead people to God or do you distract them?

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/you-can-tell-them-by-their-fruit/

Week of Proper 7: Tuesday, Year 1   7 comments

Above: Golden Rule, by Norman Rockwell (1961)

Images of this painting are plentiful online, but I took it from http://gardenofpraise.com/art12.htm.

The Golden Rule

JUNE 25, 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 13:2, 5-18 (An American Translation):

Abram was now very rich in cattle, silver, and gold.

Lot, who accompanied Abram, also had flocks and herds, as well as tents.  The land could not support them both; for their possessions were so great that they could not live together.  Trouble arose accordingly between the herdsmen of Abram’s stock and those of Lot’s.  (The Canaanites and the Perizzites were living in the land at that time.)

There simply must be no quarrel between you and me,

Abram said to Lot,

nor between your herdsmen and mine; for we are kinsmen.  The whole land is open to you, is it not?  Please part from me then.  If you go to the left, I will go the right; or if you go to the right, I will go to the left.

Then Lot looked out, and saw that the whole basin of the Jordan was well watered everywhere (this was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah) like the LORD’s own garden, like the land of Egypt in the vicinity of Zoar.  So lot chose the whole Jordan basin.  Lot set off eastward, and thus they parted from each other.  Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled in the cities of the Basin, extending his tents as far as Sodom.  (Now the men of Sodom were wicked, being great sinners against the LORD.)

After Lot had parted from him, the LORD said to Abram,

Raise your eyes now, and look out from the place where you are, north, south, east, and west; for all the land that you see, I am going to give to you and your descendants for all time.  I am going to make your descendants like the dust of the earth, so that it will be as possible to count the dust of the earth as to count your descendants.  Go and travel the length and breadth of the land; for I am giving it to you.

So Abram moved his tent, and went to live beside the terebinth of Mamre at Hebron, where he built an altar to the LORD.

Psalm 15 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 LORD, who may dwell in your tabernacle?

who may abide upon your holy hill?

2 Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right,

who speaks the truth from his heart.

3 There is no guile upon his tongue;

he does no evil to his friend;

he does not heap contempt upon his neighbor.

4 In his sight the wicked is rejected,

but he honors those who fear the LORD.

5 He has sworn to do no wrong

and does not take back his word.

6 He does not give his money in hope of gain,

nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.

7 Whoever does these things

shall never be overthrown.

Matthew 7:6, 12-14 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued,]

Do not give what is sacred to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, or they will trample them under their feet and turn and tear you in pieces….Therefore you must always treat other people as you would like them to have them treat you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Go in at the narrow gate.  For the road that leads to destruction is broad and spacious, and there are many who go in by it.  But the gate is narrow the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few that find it.

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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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Many readers of the Bible (especially novices to the sacred anthology) become bogged down in the Hebrew Scriptures.  My experience was different, for my first real reading of of any part of the Old Testament was the Joseph epic from Genesis.  There are so many wonderful and epic stories in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Among these is the Abraham epic, through which the Canadian Anglican lectionary I am following guides a reader.  Since our previous lection, famine has forced Abram (later to renamed Abraham) and his family into fertile Egypt.  No sooner had they gone to collect on a divine promise than circumstances had forced them to delay claiming it.  Abram was concerned that royal officials might kill him and claim his lovely wife, Sarai (later to be renamed Sarah), so he claimed that she was actually his sister.  (This was partially true, for she was his half-sister.  But a half-truth is still a half-truth.) Most English versions of the Bible use a euphemism for what happened next, for they claim that the Pharaoh took Sarai into his palace, his house, or his household.  Kenneth N. Taylor’s The Living Bible, which cuts through euphemisms like a knife through butter, gets to the point:

…and she was taken into the harem.  (12:15)

In exchange, the Pharaoh bestows upon Abram much livestock, silver, and gold.

Let us pause here.  There are Bible stories and portions thereof that one does not find discussed often (or at all) in children’s Bible story books and in juvenile Sunday School classes.  I understand why, for the Bible does not carry a “G” rating.  But we are adults here, and we should be able to discuss the R-rated portions of the Bible intelligently and maturely.  This portion of the story of Abram and Sarai has an unsavory taste about it.  He benefited financially (as did she in the medium term and the long term, despite immediate risks) from her compromising situation.

This is an early example of Abram not trusting God to fulfill divine promises.  It is not the most notable one.  Even Abram, a great man of faith, was imperfect.  And God still protected and blessed him.  We can take comfort from that.

Genesis 12 tells us that God caused “great plagues” to befall the Phaoronic household, so the Egyptian monarch deported Abram, Sarai, and company–along with the livestock, silver, and gold.  They returned (in Genesis 13) to Bethel, where there was too little space for Abram, his nephew Lot, and their livestock and herdsmen.  So Abram and Lot parted company and relocated, so that each would have sufficient space and harmony might be preserved.   Then God reiterated the divine promise to Abram.

Genesis 13 contains foreboding foreshadowing regarding Lot, but I will not discuss it here and now.  I intend to follow the events of the Abraham epic in sequentially in this lectionary series.

Now I turn toward the excerpt from Matthew.

Matthew 7:6 is a difficult saying.  Swine were unclean beasts, and dogs were wild scavengers, not beloved pets.  So who among the humans were supposed to be the swine and dogs?

Reading in textual context is especially useful here.  Matthew 7:6 follows 7:1-5, the “do not judge” teaching.  Jesus reminds us that the standard we apply to others will apply to us, as well, and that we ought to notice and deal with our own faults before focusing on those of others.  Then we have this admonition not to throw pearls before swine and to give dogs what is sacred.

I have consulted various books with regard to this verse.  The best interpretation comes from W. Clyde Tilley in The Surpassing Righteousness:  Evangelism and Ethics in the Sermon on the Mount (Smyth & Helwys, 1992).  Tilley writes:

We cannot simply assume that all the beneficiaries of our good deeds, all of the hearers of our treasured teachings, will receive them with equal gratitude.  We cannot even assume that they will be received at all….Now we are being reminded in this case that one’s own perception can be so distorted that the sharing of the sharing of true values with that person can may be hopeless for him and harmful to ourselves….Maybe the only certainty we can have here is that such persistent and final rejecters do exist, even if we must ever defer to God for the final judgment about who these are.  (pages 149-150)

This interpretation is consistent with 7:13-14, the teaching about the narrow gate and the wide road.

In the middle of all this we have 7:12, the Golden Rule.  God is the final judge, and we are not to judge others.  We are called to love one another and ourselves actively, treating others at all times in ways we would want them to treat us.  I recall the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3b-9, 18-23):  many seeds will come to naught.  But we have to try, do we not?

And, by the way, would not the world be a vastly better place if many more people went about practicing the Golden Rule?  Try it on a smaller scale; practice the Golden Rule among all those with whom you come into contact.  Witness the results, in full knowledge that, in a “do unto others before they do unto you” world, you might experience what state intelligence agents call blowback, or unintended negative consequences.  But God is the final judge about who is worthy.  Let us not play God.

Chiefly, may we trust God.  Abram trusted God some of the time, as do we.  Decisions he made when he did not trust God had bad consequences–sometimes for himself and other times for others.  And, as we attempt to live according to the Golden Rule, may we trust that God is just, that our judgment and knowledge are limited, and that loving God and respecting human dignity are always good standards of ethical behavior.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/the-golden-rule/

Week of Proper 7: Monday, Year 1   15 comments

Above: Abraham’s Departure, by Molnar Jozsef (1850)

Trusting in God

JUNE 24, 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 12:1-9 (An American Translation):

The LORD said to Abram,

Leave your land, your relatives, and your father’s home, for the land that I will show you; and I will make a great nation of you; I will bless you, and make your name so great that it will be used for blessings.  I will bless those who bless you, and anyone who curses you I will curse; through you shall all the families of the earth invoke blessings on one another.

So Abram departed, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him.  Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran.  Abram took his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot, with all the property that they had accumulated, and the persons they had acquired in Haran, and they started out for the land of Canaan; and to the land of Canaan they came.

Abram traveled through the land as far as the sanctuary of Shechem at the terebinth of Moreh, the Canaanites being then in the land.  Then the LORD appeared to Abram, and said,

To your descendants I am going to give this land.

So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him.  From there he moved on to the hills east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east.  There he built an altar to the LORD, and called upon the name of the LORD.  Then Abram set out, continuing on his way to the Negeb.

Psalm 33:12-22 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

12 Happy is the nation whose God is the LORD!

happy the people he has chosen to be his own!

13 The LORD looks down from heaven,

and beholds all the people in the world.

14 From where he sits enthroned he turns his gaze

on all who dwell on the earth.

15 He fashions all the hearts of them

and understands all their works.

16 There is no king that can be saved by a mighty army;

a strong man is not delivered by his great strength.

17 The horse is a vain hope for deliverance;

for all its strength it cannot save.

18 Behold, the eye of the LORD is upon those who fear him,

on those who wait upon his love,

19 To pluck their lives from death,

and to feed them in time of famine.

20 Our soul waits for the LORD;

he is our help and our shield.

21 Indeed, our heart rejoices in him,

for in his holy name we put our trust.

22 Let your loving-kindness, O LORD, be upon us,

as we have put our trust in you.

Matthew 7:1-5 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued,]

Pass no more judgments upon other people, so that you may not have judgment passed upon you.  For you will be judged by the standard you judge by, and men will pay you back with the same measure you have used with them.  Why do you keep looking at the speck in your brother’s eye, and pay no attention to the beam that is in your own?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Just let me get that speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a beam in your own?  You hypocrite!  First get the beam out of your own eye, and then you can see to get the speck out of your brother’s eye.

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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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I hear and read people use the words “faith” and “believe” in reference to God.  But what do they mean?  I do not know, unless they stop to explain, but I know what I mean.  Just to be clear, faith is active trust in God, that God will keep divine promises.  Actions demonstrate faith.  Faith and belief are identical in my mind.  To believe in God is to trust in God, not merely to accept the existence of God intellectually.

Abram trusted and believed in God as he understood God.  One ought not to assume that Abram belonged to the cult of Yahweh, which originated after his lifetime.  No, Abram was almost certainly a polytheist, a description which applied to most people on the planet at the time.  And the voice that directed him to leave Ur (located somewhere in Mesopotamia; scholars disagree where in the land between the rivers) for Haran then to Canaan belonged to the deity Abram knew as El Shaddai (God of the Mountains).  This was a Mesopotamian and Canaanite god.  El was, in fact, the chief of the Canaanite pantheon the Elohim, or “mighty ones.”  And study of the Bible tells me that Elohim was another early name used for God.  Monotheism is a recent development in the history of religion, and Judaism has never included the doctrine of the Trinity.

(I am a history buff, and this fact does inform my approach to the Bible.)

Anyhow, subsequent tradition associated Yahweh with El Shaddai and Elohim.  And the author of this part of Genesis used the sacred name Yahweh for the deity who spoke to Abram.  Most importantly, Abram listened and obeyed.  He left everything he knew and ventured into the unknown.  He could have stayed home and been comfortable, but he obeyed the voice.

Jesus, in this day’s portion of the Sermon on the Mount, says not to judge others.  Our information is partial, but God knows everything.  So judgment belongs to God.  Each of us has judged others, and perhaps only those who will die immediately will not judge others again.  So we have committed this sin, and will do so again.  We might even be doing it now.  And I am at least as bad about this as are many other people.

So I address myself as much as anyone else when I write that judging others demonstrates a lack of trust in God, that God will keep divine promises.  Do I believe–trust–that someone who has done something terrible to me has thwarted God’s plan for my life, for example?  Do I doubt that God is in control?  Apparently I do, and I am not alone.  We all need more trust in God.  And, by grace, it is available.

Thanks be to God!

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2011/08/17/trusting-in-god/

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/