Sunday 22nd August 2010 Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
You, O Lord, are my hope, my trust from my youth. Upon You have I leaned since my birth.
Psalm 71: 5-6
Creator God, You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in You: teach us to offer ourselves in Your service, that here we may have peace, and in the world to come may see You face to face, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Old Testament Lesson Jeremiah 1: 4 – 10
Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." Then I said, "Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." But the LORD said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a boy'; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD."
Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me, "Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."
Psalm 71: 1 – 6
To You, Lord, have I come for shelter: let me never be put to shame
In Your righteousness, rescue and deliver me: incline Your ear to me and save me
Be for me a rock of refuge, a fortress to defend me: for You are my high rock, and my stronghold
Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked: from the grasp of the pitiless and unjust
For You, Lord, are my hope: You are my confidence O God, from my youth upward
On You have I leaned since my birth: You are He that brought me out of my mother’s womb, and my praise is of You continually.
Epistle Hebrews 12: 18 – 29
You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. (For they could not endure the order that was given, "If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death." Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, "I tremble with fear.")
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, "Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven." This phrase, "Yet once more," indicates the removal of what is shaken--that is, created things--so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.
GOSPEL Luke 13: 10 – 17
Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment." When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But 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." But the Lord answered him and said, "You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?" When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.
© New Revised Standard Version of the Bible
Copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the
Churches of Christ in the USA, and used by permission. All rights reserved
NOTES ON THE READINGS
It is interesting to note that we now have had three of the major prophets tell of their call to serve, and each call tends to echo quite something of the other. Probably the main focus of each call has been the fact that each prophet has been called to stir up the people of their respective days. Here has been no sinecure offered, but a very rough path to travel. Jeremiah, in particular, would be threatened within an inch of his life several times over.
Like Aaron, Jeremiah pleaded immaturity but the plea was disallowed. And thank heaven it was, for the world would be far poorer without these prophets, would it not!
Before you write this psalm off as the sad pleading of an insecure person, please understand the situation rather better. Because you may never have lived under the threat of powerful and evil people, you may not understand the need for support for such a one as this. Here is the clear recognition, as with Jeremiah, that the strength one needs in such times of crisis, comes from Israel’s God Who is Himself the guarantor of all that is just and true. In other words, evil will not win the final battle, and that gives this petitioner the strength to keep going in the face of huge threat.
It may be rather confusing to many readers, but can you follow what I offer as the old author compared the OT fear of God Who seemed to have all the reins of life and death over His subjects, to the NT picture. Mind you, one needs to recognize that there are no escape clauses here either; however the focus has long turned from fear to responsibility. That marks a huge step forward. For too many centuries, Christians have continued on the fear of hell line, and punishment, and the human outcome is control by the ‘shaman.’ Time passed and the emphasis is far more significant. I am responsible for my actions, -- and in spite of today’s attempts to avoid such a view of life, without responsibility my humanity and yours is reduced to pathetic sub-human proportion. This surely is part of the line between animals and humans.
Contrast all that with this marvellous little cameo. Whereas Jesus’ antagonists wanted to retain control over people and even over God, in their imposition of the ‘rules,’ Jesus took the far more significant path of seeing the person as far more important than the rule, and far more important than to be controlled by purveyors of a rather false religion.
There is a huge development and evolution of the Faith as Jesus came on the scene, pointing in a far more creative direction – and presenting as significant a shift as those to which the prophets had pointed some centuries before.
NOTES FOR A SERMON
The further I go and the older I get the more I am appalled at the gross distortions of the Faith that have been promulgated over the centuries. It is not just the emergence in recent decades of a strange distortion emanating from enthusiastic but unaware people, but the constant failure of the Church to preach the Gospel as the Scriptures have it.
I have just been reading a book on the history of the English language, where the story has been told again of the huge effect on the British Isles with the coming of the Normans. That rather brutal suppression of the locals by French interlopers (and my family was numbered amongst those interlopers!) was aided and abetted by the Roman Church, whose abuse of power meant not only the suppression of people but the utter distortion of the Faith. Small wonder that very many people turn their back on Church and Gospel. People were held in fearful thrall through threat of eternal damnation, and extorted for no other reason than to enrich the Church. The real faith is light-years away from such rubbish! Small wonder that these days fewer people take notice of the real thing!
Oddly enough, for anyone searching for the truth – about life and about themselves – the first place to look is inside. I recall hearing a strongly atheist lady on radio, several years ago, saying how she brought up her children not to listen to advertisers and other prompts to find where to head and what to choose. She encouraged them to look inside, to ponder the options from where they were, and to be true to their intuition. No doubt that lady would have been surprised to hear of me supporting her in that emphasis, but that is exactly the way I encourage, not only my children, but all those with whom I come in contact. That lady and I would use different names to describe the process, but that does not make any real difference.
‘Our hearts are restless till they find their rest in You’ comes from St. Augustine of Hippo about 1,700 years ago. Christian people often speak of a God-sized hole in them, but you do not have to be Christian to be aware of that deep-seated need and search for truth. I don’t care what you call it: it is the most effective way to go. And the Scriptures are full of examples of people who responded to such deep urges to find answers that stand up to real life and harsh experience. This is not a matter of dogma; it is far more a matter of experience.
And who would be a prophet? Anyone with any sense would respond as did Jeremiah, so many hundreds of years ago. (About 26 centuries actually!) I find it fascinating that, is our recent lectionary, each of the three major prophets have reported their call to that ministry, and while none of it shows any sign of being odd or fairy-like, each of the candidates expressed hesitancy (as did Moses, donkey’s years before,) for each of them had a fairly clear idea that they would be expected to ‘push wind uphill’ as the saying goes. (Perhaps one of the reason that so much distortion has marred the history of the Church is the expectation that most people really did not want to know what the Faith is pointing to.)
The closing lines of today’s Old Testament passage actually puts it into words: ‘I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down; to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.’ Again it is the old story of being unable to make omelettes unless you break some eggs! Anyone who has the temerity to suggest, even demand change, is in for a long and tedious task to get people to follow.
And yet, although many fail to see it, the Faith once delivered, and that includes Hebrew as much as Christian Faith, is designed to offer sound solutions to all of the problems and difficulties that face the human race. Mind you, neither synagogue nor Church seem to have kept their eye on the ball, so to speak. As today’s Gospel reading makes clear, even in Jesus’ day those old Jews them saw the rules before they saw the patient. That makes for little other than perpetuating the power game. The outcome of that path is diametrically opposed to the direction to which Jesus pointed, and lived.