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Sunday, August 6, 2017

Proper 15A/Ordinary 20A/Pentecost +10 August 20, 2017



Prayer

God of all the nations, in the outstretched arms of Jesus the Crucified you gather the people of earth, diverse and divided, into a single embrace of salvation and peace.  Stir up within us the longing for unity that filled the heart of Jesus your Son, and let our every word and deed serve your design of universal salvation, until all are gathered into your one family to be perfectly one in your covenant of love. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.


Some Thoughts on Matthew 15:10-28


"As far as I know, there is only one good reason for believing that he was who he said he was. One of the crooks he was strung up with put it this way: 'If you are the Christ, save yourself and us' (Luke 23:39). Save us from whatever we need most to be saved from. Save us from each other. Save us from ourselves. Save us from death both beyond the grave and before. If he is, he can. If he isn't, he can't. It may be that the only way in the world to find out is to give him the chance, whatever that involves. It may be just as simple and just as complicated as that."

"Messiah," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.

"Like the story of the woman who as an outsider experiences God's mercy and so challenges a too-narrow tradition that would want to restrict God's mercies to a chosen few, so these sayings invite a reexamination of our hearts and call us to a new appraisal of the expansive reach of God's mercies."

Commentary, Matthew 15:[10-20] 21-28, James Boyce, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.


Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text


Wow. Now this Sunday we have an interesting passage! In order to engage this passage we must realize that it comes after a confrontation scene with the religious leaders. Jesus has just been confronted by the authorities who are challenging him that he is not following the tradition of his faith ancestors.  They are acting somewhat like inspectors who are pretty sure the disciples have not been washing their hands before they sit down and eat.  The passage is a direct engagement with the rules of the day which understand the tradition of the religious authorities to be outside the tradition of scripture; and therefore Jesus in our passage today teaches the crowd around him.

Scholars tend to look upon this text as trying to deal with the difference between the Matthean communal rule of life and that of their forebears.

At the same time we must recognize that while this may be true, we also know that this engagement with the religious authorities was one of the key mitigating factors that led to Jesus' crucifixion.

Jesus is proclaiming a message that connects the new emerging communities with the ancient law of the Israel and their prophets.  The new communities that Jesus is speaking to are certainly continuing Jewish communities.  But the Gentile mission too was quickly to engage as a full member of the evolving understanding of God's widening kingdom.  Jesus is preserving the good news of a God who is in relationship with his people and who makes promises to be with them always even to the end of the ages; a God who promises the abundance of creation.  So there is a sense that Jesus is continuing and reforming. (Allison/Davies, Matthew, 537)

Jesus' teaching is essential to a global mission.  Jesus' teaching is the pre-cursor to the Apostolic Decree from Acts 15.20, 29; 21.45.  Wherein the first community of followers of Jesus quickly laid out the boundaries that would enable the Jew and the Gentile to worship God through the particular revelation of Jesus Christ without getting in one an other's way.  The rule prohibited four things: eating meat sacrificed to idols, eating blood, eating strangled animals, and intercourse with near kin. (Allison/Davies, Matthew, 538)  These were the rules.

The real focus I think for this passage has to be the text: What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and that defiles a man (15.18).  This is a key component to Matthew's Gospel; indeed the whole of the Gospels. It is mentioned throughout the Gospel narrative.  Too often religion gets overly focused upon ritual and in so doing looses sight of the key component of faith - the direction through the heart of one's life and work.

It is one's intention and attitudes that is a chief characteristic of Jesus' words to his followers.  It is perhaps the center of Jesus' own moral teachings.  Integrity is the result of harmony between thought and act.  Integrity is the result of an action based upon the living word of God brought into being through the vessel of one's heart and delivered by mouth and hands.

In the end Jesus' own teaching is why he must accept the challenge by the woman.  He too much act in accordance with his own teaching and in so doing shows the integrity of his words and his actions.  All too many preachers will get hung up on the woman's challenge. Do not miss the challenge Jesus is offering to us who craft many rules for the segregating of our own communities.

This is not particularly new teaching that Jesus is offering his followers. In fact most religious reform is not new.  It is rather a rereading, reinterpreting, and re vocalizing of the ancient words of psalms, prophets, and rabbis.  It is to say that keeping the commandment was good, but that interiorizing the commandment was essential religious work.

Allison and Davies in their work on Matthew write this:

The Psalms, the prophets, and the rabbis all attest the necessity of cleansing the heart and purifying interior disposition.  In the First Gospel, however, there is a regular and emphatic dwelling on the them, so that Matthew remains a constant reminder that Jesus laid an extraordinary emphasis on the real inner religious significance of the commandments.

We are challenged by this passage a great deal.  As a Church we are working through divisions on the different ways of acting out our faith - liturgy, sacrament, and polity. Yet I think we are being judged by those who do not come to church but seek God. We are being looked upon by those who love Jesus and believe he would have similar criticisms of today's church.

I think we are challenged to hold up today's scripture and ask ourselves as individuals and as preachers and teachers what are the things we are most concerned about? What are the items from the last meeting we went to and did not go our way and so now we are harboring as essential to the life of our church? What are the items we hold most dear and most important: budget, altar guild, ritual, grounds, coffee hour?  What are they and how are they connected to the religious heart of our church? How are the things we hold as most important connected to the religious heart of Jesus' Gospel?

This is a good exercise.  Perhaps we should do the work corporately and then offer ourselves to God and be reconciled to God, our neighbor and the world.  Then perhaps we can take genuine step forward in mission reconnecting our words and actions with our own heart and with the heart of Jesus and his Word.


Some Thoughts on Romans 11:1-32

"God will not give up on us. His promise of life is centered in the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ. He is the Deliverer from sin, death, and the power of the devil for Jew and Gentile alike."

Commentary, Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32, Paul S. Berge, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.

"What a wonderful vision: God wants to have compassion towards all people - and will!"

"First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary," Pentecost 9, William Loader, Murdoch University 



Paul has made his case, one that I do not agree with, that Israel will not be saved at the last day.  My view is in fact a generous view given the fact that most Jews today do not believe as I do that reconciliation with God is possible by God's doing and through God's love.  Some may be saved he says, but not many.

Paul then explains how like him both Jews and Gentiles may come to believe and that he is a chief example of how God is working his purpose out with his people the Israelites.  God is faithful and God intends to save his people. The Israelites are still his chosen people.  God will lead the Israelites to this new understanding by means of the Gentile Christians and their faithfulness he says.

Gentile Christians, who were once unfaithful/disobedient are now part of the family of God. They are and can be examples to the Jews ans show them how to respond to the grace and mercy and love of God.  They are to be examples to the world, to Jew and Gentile alike, of how to live with God.  I think this is the part of the passage that will preach.

As a follower of Jesus, who receives grace and the spirit, I have an opportunity to live a life worthy of my saving. I have an opportunity out of gratitude to reflect the love of God to all people.  In so doing they will be drawn towards God and God's love.  

I am not to spend a lot of time worrying about who is save and who is not.  Instead my work as a God fearer and Jesus follower is to live a life of grace. I am to be as C. S. Lewis said, a little Christ.  In so doing others will become as I am and in turn be Christs out in the world.  This is our work. Freed from the law and forever united by the love of God I am to respond out of gratitude and live a life of the Spirit for all the world to see...never boasting in my own saving work but in the work of may savior Jesus Christ.


Some Thoughts on Genesis 45:1-28

"The text for today describes a moving scene of reconciliation, the self-revelation of Joseph to the brothers who sold him into slavery many years before, and gives us the theological lens through which to view the whole story of Joseph."

Commentary, Genesis 45:1-15, Kathryn Schifferdecker, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.

"Joseph's complicated family history teaches us that Israelite identity was a cultural and religious one and not an ethnic or even national one in his time -- and for some time to come."

Commentary, Genesis 45:1-15, Wil Gafney, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

"Once powerless at the bottom of a pit, outnumbered by brothers who hated him, Joseph now gets to decide who will live and who will die. Having that power does not necessarily make Joseph a bad guy, but his use of that power to control those around him surely does, no matter how much he cries."
Commentary, Genesis 45:1-15, Cameron B.R. Howard, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2014.



In our passage for this week we have the great reconciliation moment between Joseph and his brothers. There of course has been a great drought and his brothers have come to Egypt for help and find themselves before Joseph who now oversees on behalf of the royal family. (Spoiler alert.) Joseph forgives them in the end. Joseph brings his brothers and family to Egypt thereby completing the journey of the tribe into Israel and sets up the story of Moses.

I really like what Rabbi Jane Rachel Litman in her BeliefNet article has to say:
This week's Torah portion, Vayiggash, probes the emotional tension of coming out after a lifetime of passing. It brings us to the dramatic climax of the Joseph story. Though a Hebrew, Joseph is now living as an Egyptian lord. He dresses as an Egyptian, he speaks as an Egyptian, in every outward respect he is Egyptian. His true identity is known only to himself and God. 
In last week's portion, Joseph sees his brothers for the first time since their youth. He is moved to tears, but he removes himself to another room and cries alone. Joseph sees, but he is not seen. 
From the time of his imprisonment until this climax, Joseph has assumed a more hardened and calculating face to the world. He cleverly guides Pharoah into making him vizier of Egypt. He strategically deals with a great famine and makes a profit. He lies to his brothers and tests them. Joseph is no longer the guileless and imprudent boy of the early chapters of the tale. Joseph has learned how to maneuver and manipulate in an unfriendly world, but at the cost of personal authenticity. 
At last, in this week's portion, Joseph must choose whether to allow himself to be vulnerable--to be seen for who he is. His brothers have passed his test. They do not abandon each other at times of danger. 
The situation is as psychologically "safe" as Joseph can make it. Now he must take the risk of honesty. It is a moving moment indeed when the Torah recounts how Joseph sends everyone away, so that he is alone with his bothers, his "own kind," when he reveals himself. Finally, letting go of his worldly, calculating, Egyptian facade, he comes out. "I am Joseph," he sobs. (Read full article here.)
The idea that Joseph, like others before him, has had to hide and be someone else for so long. Almost as if the old Joseph has died as the brothers wish. The moment of transformation comes for him. He can stay hidden or be revealed. He can help his family or leave them to suffer the consequences. In a costly moment to himself he is able to be his created self AND in this way there is also aid for his family and in the end reconciliation. While the story is clear that Joseph himself has been wronged, almost killed and sold into slavery, he must himself also pay a cost for reconciliation. He must unveil himself of his hatred and anger. 

Often times in reconciliation processes we are very attentive to what the other must do in order for us to move forward. Rarely are we aware of our own cost for the process and what we will loose in order to gain reconciliation.




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