Monday, August 22, 2016

A Seat at the Table – 28 August 2016 – 15th Sunday after Pentecost/ Lectionary 22/ Proper 17

Luke 14:1, 7-14

Jesus' words were not merely practical advice about humility, but a parable providing insight into the great differences between divine and human values.

It is unsurprising to see people scrambling and competing for honor, wealth and power. . . Jesus rejected such jockeying for position then and does so again in this story. It is important to note that Jesus is not offering an alternative means of competition for his followers. Competing to be the most humble would still be focusing on self. Instead, Jesus invites the listener to recognize that the character of God is self-giving love.

The one who follows Jesus in his way of revealing the divine will not be concerned about how he or she is regarded by others. The follower of Jesus will be concerned instead with the needs of the neighbor and how those needs can be served. A life of loving service grows from the ground of humility, not self-promotion or pride. Jesus emphasizes this teaching concerning humility with a pronouncement of reversal. Although in human relations those who put themselves forward are usually rewarded, it is not so in relation to God.

In verse 12 Luke prepares the reader to recognize that what follows is a new but related teaching. Jesus speaks to the host concerning expectations of reciprocity. Just as he criticized the behavior of guests scrambling for the most honored place, he also rejects every sort of social arrangement that is driven by concern for self. Instead of seeking relationships that are mutually beneficial, the one who is in tune with God's way of self-giving love will serve those in need. . . It is better to use one's wealth to serve those in need than it is to serve one's own ambitions, social or otherwise. These temporal relationships offer only a temporal good; compassion for those in need yields an eternal benefit. – Aaron J. Couch

Proverbs 25:6-7

Chapters 25 through 29 of Proverbs are identified as “other proverbs of Solomon that the officials of King Hezekiah of Judah copied.” It is not difficult to imagine how these sayings might have given practical guidance for young men in the royal court. Verses 6–7 encourage a circumspect demeanor in the presence of the very powerful. This advice anticipates the theme of humility in the gospel text. It is misleading, though, insofar as it prepares the listener to hear Jesus' teaching as a similar sort of helpful counsel. – Aaron J. Couch

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

Chapter 13 begins with a series of exhortations concerning faithful living. To follow this way of life (mutual love, hospitality, marital fidelity, contentment) is to attain the holiness that is pleasing to God (12:14). The author appeals to memory of leaders and to Jesus' reliability, perhaps using a creedal statement known by the letter's recipients. The purpose of this appeal (to resist strange innovative teachings) is obscured by the lectionary's selection of verses. The reading concludes with the author's summary exhortation. A believer's faithful conduct, both in word and deed, is a sacrifice of praise and is pleasing to God. – Aaron J. Couch

Aaron Couch is a co-pastor of First Immanuel Lutheran Church in Portland, Oregon.

Homily Service 40, no. 10 (2007): 5-14.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Praying for the Stranger in Need

Ruth Meyers’s essay “Mission and Worship: Making the Connection” in the fall issue of Liturgy, explores the ways in which the church enacts its responsibility toward “the least among us” through worship. Here, she deals with the role of intercessory prayer.

Drawing from the well of tradition, missional worship attends to the context, incorporating elements of the local culture that reflect the gospel. Missional worship is counter-cultural when necessary, challenging injustice and oppression, critiquing and transforming cultural patterns in light of the gospel. Missional worship is also cross-cultural, celebrating the diversity of the body of Christ in many different contexts and uniting worshipers with Christians in other places.

Perhaps the most obvious place that worship is missional is in intercessory prayer, in which the assembly gives voice to the needs and hopes of the world, for example, for immigrants seeking refuge. This is liturgy as public work for the common good. By praying in, with, and through Christ, the assembly expresses its confidence that God does love the world, that God is at work healing the broken-hearted and restoring all creation to wholeness. The clearest scriptural command for Christians to intercede says: “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for everyone. . .” (1 Tim 2:1–2). Christians are to be concerned with the whole world, to pray “for everyone,” because, the letter-writer explains, God “desires everyone to be saved” (1 Tim 2:4). Clement, bishop of Rome in the late first century, in contrast, shows particular concern for those who are poor or weak or in need. [Lucien Deiss, Springtime of the Liturgy (Liturgical Press, 1979), 82-85]

Save the afflicted among us, have mercy on the lowly.

Raise up the fallen, show yourself to those in need.

Heal the sick, and bring back those who have strayed.

Fill the hungry, give freedom to our prisoners.

Raise up the weak, console the fainthearted.

These ancient examples suggest that the prayers of the assembly are wide in scope. They address not only the needs of those gathered and those near and dear to members of the assembly, but the needs of the entire world.

Several years ago, I visited Franklin Reformed Church in Nutley, New Jersey. The pastor had been teaching the congregation to ask, when they heard about specific needs in their community, “Can I pray about that for you?” The congregation was beginning to get a reputation for this ministry, and strangers, not all of them Christian, began to call and ask for prayer. During the Sunday assembly, members of this small congregation would speak aloud a particular concern, and the pastor would then repeat that need and broaden it. For example, a prayer for a seventh-grader struggling in school would be extended to prayer for all school children in the community. Intercessory prayer such as this is missional, joining God’s concern for those in need, turning the hearts and minds of the assembly to God’s call to work for justice.

. . . In the public service that is liturgy, the assembly responds to God’s self-giving for the life of the world. Gathered by the Spirit, the assembly is drawn into Christ’s liturgy, the paschal mystery of Christ’s dying and rising. In this public service, the assembly enacts and signifies God’s reconciling love for all creation.

Ruth Meyers is dean of Academic Affairs and Hodges-Haynes Professor of Liturgics at Church Divinity School of the Pacific, a member of the Core Doctoral Faculty at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California, and author of Missional Worship, Worshipful Mission (Eerdmans, 2014).

Ruth Meyers, “Mission and Worship: Making the Connection,” Liturgy 31, no. 4 (2016), 3-10.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Keeping Sabbath – 21 August 2016 – 13th Sunday after Pentecost/ Lectionary 21/ Proper 16

In a culture with commercial activity available twenty-four hours each day, seven days each week, for many people attending to the Sabbath is quaint. What they miss is the radical freedom God’s command to “remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy” means for those who are bent-over from hard work. Release from daily labors is for the sake of joy––for remembering that we have been created out of dust, for recognizing that we are kin to all living things, for refusing to be used for someone else’s material gain one-seventh of our lives.

This is a day to remind the assembly of all the reasons God’s word calls us to gather, sing, hear, prayer, hear, eat, and give to the church’s mission at least one day each week. We cannot hear it too much.

Luke 13: 10-17

“The leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the Sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day’” (Luke 13:14).

Can you imagine …a  religious leader who was upset that a congregant came to the service in order to be healed? . . . [M]ost of us [come] because of tradition, obligation, or habit. Some may even gather for social reasons: to meet friends at the coffee hour, to find a “nice Christian” spouse, to keep up on the parish gossip. . . . Do you come like the woman who appeared in the synagogue, disabled, broken, and looking for healing? Perhaps we do not come here for healing because we do not see ourselves like the broken woman in one of the gospel selections for today. We cannot stand up with the dignity that is ours as children of God, because our pain cripples us and weighs down upon us. Whether we stand in the pulpit or sit in the pew, all us should gather to be healed in this sacred space on this holy day. – John Paul Salay

Isaiah 58:9b-14

Written in the sixth century BCE, this prophetic passage targeted those religious professionals and other religionists who focused on outdoing each other in their meticulous observance and strict adherence to piety. The prophet emphasizes that what God requires of worship is not the details of practice, but the emphasis of caring for one another and observing the Sabbath to take delight in God, not focusing on individual interests. Isaiah makes clear that when the hungry are fed and the people's needs are met, God's people will be the light to those around them, leading people in the way of the Lord. – Carrie L. Lewis La Plante

Hebrews 12:18-29

Lest we think that we can fit God into a box that we can handle, the preacher uses the images of a blazing fire, darkness, gloom, a tempest, the sound of a trumpet, an overwhelming voice, none of which can be encompassed or confined. The description of the theophany at Sinai (vs 18–21) inspired by Exodus 19 is juxtaposed with the image of Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem (vs 22–24). However, rather than the fearful gathering that is depicted on Mount Sinai, the gathering on Mount Zion is festive with innumerable angels, and Jesus is pictured as the firstborn of the royal family. This is the same mountain, but now Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant for God's people before the divine judge, and Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for all.

In verses 25–29, the hearers are reminded not to ignore God when God is speaking. God is the ultimate judge, and no one, on his or her own, can escape this judge who will shake the foundations of earth and heaven, all of the created reality. However, those who follow God's way and have faith in Christ have already been given the gift of an unshakable kingdom, and in that the hearers can take consolation. . . [and] serve God with appropriate worship. – Carrie L. Lewis La Plante

John Paul Salay is Loyola University’s Minister of Liturgy and the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).

Carrie L. Lewis La Plante is pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Indianola, Iowa.

Homily Service 40, no. 9 (2007): 42-52.