Season after Pentecost (Proper 8 [13]) : The Old Testament Passages – In faith I say, “The Lord will Provide”

After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” (Genesis 22:1)

Trust me, beloved reader, when the Lord calls your name, you may as well answer. But do not doubt that answering the Lord will lead to things you never imagined!

“He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.”(Verses 2 – 5)

Now we know this story well enough to know what happened in the short term and in the long term. So let us glean other aspects of this story as Abraham and Isaac make their way to the mountain where they do not know what will happen.

Abraham did not want the young men that he brought with him to know what the Lord expected him to do. He had not even told Isaac, which I totally understand. But just what did Abraham think would happen when he came back WITHOUT his son?! What sort of story would he tell the two young men who must have known how much his son meant to him. And what did Abraham think he was going to tell his wife Sarah about what happened to he beloved son that she did not believe would come, and for whom she sent away Hagar and her son? So often we rush to the end of this story, or knowing how it would end, we are loathe to consider what the consequences could have been! And what of Abraham himself, who must have seen how his legacy would soon be at an end!

“Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together.” (Verse 6)

Abraham must have been fairly old to not be able to carry the wood that was to be used; and Isaac must have been more than just a young tot to carry the wood. And if Abraham was that old, he must have thought that he would never have another child. And if Isaac was hold enough to carry wood, how did Abraham think he would manage if Isaac resisted?

“Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Verse 7)

Notice how Isaac calls to his father, and his father answers him – as the Lord called Abraham and he answered in complete faith and trust.

“Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together. When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son.” (Verses 8 – 10)

So here we are, at the moment. I have read other versions and paraphrases that strongly indicate that Isaac put his complete trust in his father, as much as Abraham put his trust in the Lord. Have we ever held back, beloved reader, because did not put our complete trust in the Lord God? When the Lord God calls us, have we ever held back because we suspected we would be called on to do things we would rather not? It reminds me of when the Lord God called for Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden, and they hid because they knew that had done counter to the Lord’s wishes.

“But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” (Verse 11)

And here, beloved reader, is the payoff for answering the Lord God swiftly and completely.

“He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.” (Verses 12 – 14)

“The Lord will provide.” If it is not a reminder to you, beloved reader, it is certainly a reminder to me. I am still in the midst of a job search, as I write this, and wondering mightily what and how the Lord will provide. Just as Abraham had to trust, so must I. I have not been asked to place anything on an altar to sacrifice . . . . except my hope for the future. Not like sacrificing a child, but still, I am hopeful that something will come soon that will answer my needs.

Until then I journey on, knowing the Lord is with me. May it be so for you too beloved reader. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 7 [12]) : The Psalm Passages – A “Shout Out” to the Lord God

If the Old Testament passages take up the plight of those used and downtrodden, subject to censure and disdain, do not be surprised that the Psalm passages are where they ask for help because of their situation. First is the Psalm passage for Hagar’s plight.

Incline your ear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am devoted to you; save your servant who trusts in you. You are my God;
be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all day long.” (Psalm 86:1-3)

Now Hagar might not have seen herself under the Lord’s protection. She may have thought believe in an all-seeing monotheistic God was Abraham’s thing and not hers. The Genesis passage does NOT say she lifted up her voice to God but that she lifted up her voice and wept.

Although – thinking about it – she was alone, and she and her son were not seen again in the Old Testament . . . how does the writer of Genesis know what became of them? However, if all these things were done under the eye of God, and the writing of them was inspired by the Divine, then we can and must believe that somehow it was known. And that same belief, beloved reader, can allow us to give to Hagar this plea to the Lord.

“Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you.” (Verses 4 – 5)

It also occurs to me that this Psalm would work just as well for Abraham and Sarah, at whose hands Hagar and her once-welcomed now disposed of son suffered so much. None of us, beloved reader, live our lives so perfectly that are not in need of the forgiveness of the Lord. That was the alluded to point of what I wrote yesterday. For now though, we are undertaking of Hagar’s cause.

“Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer; listen to my cry of supplication.
In the day of my trouble I call on you, for you will answer me.” Verses 6 – 7)

The Psalms are oft times used for praising the Lord God and giving thanks for what the Divine has done. But there is also a strong tradition of the Psalms being used for supplication and petition. And for many such as Hagar who only have the Lord to appeal to for help and deliverance.

“There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours.
All the nations you have made shall come and bow down before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.
For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.” (Verses 8 – 10)

Maybe Hagar did left up her voice to the Lord God her master, Abraham served. Maybe she did from him faith in the Divine. It is a lesson to us, beloved reader, in our times of despair to turn to the One who will never abandon us, no matter what our present circumstances or the outcome for our human lives.

“Turn to me and be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant; save the child of your serving girl.
Show me a sign of your favor, so that those who hate me may see it and be put to shame, because you, LORD, have helped me and comforted me.” (Verses 16 – 17)

It is at the end of this passage that the desire is spoken that those who oppress might be made to change their ways. And this desire brings us to the plight and situation of the writer of Jeremiah. As you may remember, Jeremiah was bemoaning his situation in the Old Testament passage of this week.

It is for your sake that I have borne reproach, that shame has covered my face.
I have become a stranger to my kindred, an alien to my mother’s children.
It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.
When I humbled my soul with fasting, they insulted me for doing so.
When I made sackcloth my clothing, I became a byword to them.
I am the subject of gossip for those who sit in the gate, and the drunkards make songs about me.” (Psalm 69: 7-12)

Now, if we are to go along with accepted interpretation, many of the psalms were authored by King David. And he too suffered for living his life according to the word of God. Also true was that he suffered when he deviated from the word of God. His coming back to God was also fraught with difficulty.

“But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me. With your faithful help rescue me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters.
Do not let the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the Pit close its mouth over me.
Answer me, O LORD, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.
Do not hide your face from your servant, for I am in distress–make haste to answer me.
Draw near to me, redeem me, set me free because of my enemies.” (Verses 13 – 18)

It seems to me that both men and women who follow God’s call and set out to live their lives according to God’s leading are subject to problems and difficulties. It seems obvious that when one is living according to the Word of the Lord that one would call upon that same Lord when difficulties and problems arise. May it be true in our lives, that where God leads, we go; and what God calls us to, we do. And so that in times of trouble we call upon that same God, and God will deliver us. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 7 [12]) : The Epistles Passage – Silly Questions & Serious Answers

Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1b)

The writer of Romans (Paul) asks an absurd question to make a point.

“By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?” (Verse 2)

And answers it by saying “me genioto” which in the ancient Greek means “by no means!” I can still hear my Greek from seminary saying that with special emphasis. Paul has a habit of asking absurd questions, like this one to make a point – should we sin in order to know and get more grace? And answers it with another question asking how can we who have sworn to live a good Christian life deliberately do that which we know is sin! (Picture your favorite image of Paul being horrified!)

He goes on to strengthen his point . . .


“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were 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 the 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 be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin.” (Verses 3 – 6)

Therefore it is unimaginable, according to Paul, that we would sin just so we can get the grace that was already promised and given to us. Not unlike shooting your nose to spit your face – another saying tossed around. Paul has more to say . . .

“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 also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Verses 7 – 11)

According to Paul those who believe in Christ and have put away and repented all sin, should never again sin nor seek to sin. And that we no longer need will suffer because of the sin we did in the past. So, let’s pose that question again – how can we who have sworn to live a good Christian life deliberately do that which we know is sin? Or maybe the more appropriate question is “why?”

Season after Pentecost (Proper 7 [12]) : The Gospel Passage – Searching for answers and living wisely in the light of the wisdom of the Divine

“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!” (Matthew 10:24-25)

It is good to remind one’s self every once in a while that Jesus was in a human body, and did have some human feelings and emotions – perhaps the highest and best of human feelings and emotions. After all, Jesus was God, and humans were made in the image of God. So when Jesus tells his disciples that the way he is maligned, they will be maligned too may be a result of him feeling the sting of the censure placed on him.

“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.” (Verse 26)

But that does not mean one should shy aware from living for Jesus and God; but instead speak about it openly and often.

“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.” (Verses 27 – 28)

While Jesus alludes to it in vague terms, I tell you openly beloved reader – the only one who can harm you is the one who threatens you eternal life, the life and world after this one. The Lord God knows, and Jesus Christ knows, that there are things to fear in this world. But we should not let that fear dissuade us from the Christian life we know we ought to live.

“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.” (Verses 29 – 33)

We live in trying times beloved reader. And each seems that with each year that passes and each event that comes upon us leaves us more bewildered and confused. My own denomination is trying to sort out the implications of our present, and how they should respond to it. Good people are divided over what is best to do. And no one can claim that there way is best. For that, we must look to our Lord God and Jesus Christ. And hope & pray that we can interpret correctly the example laid down for us.

“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.” (Verses 33 – 39)

As much as we love family and friends, as much as we are devoted to church and our faith group, as much as we believe in whichever political ideology we espouse to – it cannot and should not dissuade us from the faith journey we are called to. And yet, how can we claim one faith journey is more valid than the other? It is an unsolvable question that we optimistically hope we can find an answer to. But I believe as long as we remain open to search for the best possible answer, we will not go to far astray. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 7 [12]) : The Old Testament Passages – When hope grows dim

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, playing with her son Isaac. So she said 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.” (Genesis 21:8-11)

In our modern society a child might be weaned by 1 year old, but it is quite possible that young Isaac was two or three years old. Old enough that he had survived infancy and all the illness and injury that comes with those fragile delicate years. He was eating solid food and was thriving. It indeed was a celebration that he had firmly taken his place in the land of living.

But being alive and healthy, as was Hagar’s son, might that he would most probably grow to adulthood and be the inheritor of all that God promised. And Sarah, being a possessive mother, did want that shared with the usurper son of Hagar.

I have to say, I dismayed that there was not a camaraderie between the two women. As we know from other biblical characters, a man having more than one wife was not unusual. Often biblical studies among women studies and considers the life of Hagar as much a worthy topic as the life of Sarah and other wives to men of God. I think that is very good.

“But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says 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 Beer-sheba.” (Verses 12 – 14)

One of the things I hope studies of Hagar show is that everyone is a part of God’s plan and under God’s blessing. Especially those who do not think they are.

“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.” (Verses 15 – 18)

I have read that Hagar did her son a mercy, sheltering him under a brush, away from the heat of the son. We can assume she hoped she would die first, so she would not have to see his agony. But also hoped, I am sure, that under the brush he would not see her perish. And that might have been the end of the story. But the God of the Old Testament was not done, had not closed the chapter on Hagar and her son.

“Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, 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 a wife for him from the land of Egypt.” (Verses 19 – 21)

When I sat down to consider the two Old Testament passages this week, I could not decide which one to use. And as I looked at them both, I realized there are many similar themes in these two passages. Maybe the constructors of the Revised Common Lectionary thought the same thing.

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.” (Jeremiah 20:7-8)

Just as Hagar cried out in her distress, the writer of the book of Jeremiah cries out in distress also. Both are called to a difficult life, and struggle in what seems to be their fate.

“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.” (Verses 9 – 10)

I am sure Hagar felt used and abused, forced into motherhood not because of a relationship that promised support and respect but used to fulfill the hopes and dreams of an old man. And then when she had done what was required of her, she was set aside and driven off in favor of another. And as I compare these two passages, Hagar’s pleas and Jeremiah’s pleas came together in my mind. Jeremiah was called to prophesy, and as he laments, prophesies that was not well received. While he follows his calling from the Lord, he is punished by those around him. But if he determines not to speak, he is tormented inside. Where can he turn? Where could Hagar turn?

“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.” (Verses 11)

It would be simple, and simplistic, of me to say, “See, call upon the Lord and your problems will be gone!” It is not that simple, and I do an injustice to both Hagar and Jeremiah if I gloss over and erase their distress. When one cries out to the Lord, one does not know what the answer will be or even if there will be a favorable answer.

“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” (Verses 12 – 13)

It is only . . . only on the other side of our troubles that we can see and say where I deliverance was. And it is only those who are delivered that are able to speak of it. Tragedy and disaster happen every day, and the victims of it multiply over the generations. I give you not false promise and insubstantial hope. I tell you (or rather the RCL) tells you these stories so that you know you are not the only one that has been set against. We who have lost hope in the desert, and feel torn between two opposing sides, have our own stories to tell. And tell them we will. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 6 [11]) : The Psalms Passage – Psalm 100 Embedded in Nature

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.”

Worship the LORD with gladness; come into his presence with singing.”

Know that the LORD is God. It is he that made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.”

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name.”

For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.” (Psalm 100)

Season after Pentecost (Proper 6 [11]) : The Gospel Passage – Spreading the Word

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.” (Matthew 9:35)

According to the gospel of Matthew, Jesus had just completed a series of healings, and was setting out to see and spread his ministry to the people of that area – the writer of Matthew has does not name specific places.

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Verse 36)

Not having studied animal husbandry, I am forced to assume that sheep do not do well without someone to make sure they have access to good food and clean water.

“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.” (Verse 38)

Now this is interesting. From the way this verse/sentence is constructed you would almost think that “laborers” are going to come out from buildings, or something, and go out to do the harvesting that is the Lord’s. But these “laborers” do not come from an outside source, but are the disciples that are supposedly traveling with Jesus. And it strikes me this is an unusual way to maneuver someone or a group into doing something. Yet, it is also familiar – this leading with already set intention. Like a subliminal motivation instead of an overt instruction.

“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 the 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 Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.” (Chap 10: 1 – 4)

And I have to conclude, since it is obvious that this was written after Jesus’ ministry was over, that there was some purpose in phrasing the suggestion for laborers to go out. It reminds me somewhat of the theological perspective that we, as God’s called and chosen people, are the ones who bear the responsibility for spreading the word and message of God. In fact, the end of the book of Matthew ends with such a directed purpose.

“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 lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.” (Verses 5 – 8)

You can be sure, beloved reader, when I post this I will most certainly put it under the tags of “Mission” , “Missiology”, and “Missional”. And I want to remind you that mission can be done close at hand. Jesus, in essence, told his disciples not wander far but to stay close to home and close by in the land of Israel.

The lectionary, while noting the verses that follow verse eight, do not include verses nine to twenty-three.

“Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, 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 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.” (Verses 9 – 23)

I am not too surprised at this, for two reasons. Number one, the verses are pretty prophetic and predictive about what happens after Jesus’ death. We can see that in the last section of verse 23 that seems more “end of the world-ish” than one would expect. Number two, the theme this year is new believers coming to faith. Stopping at verse eight leaves the emphasis on ministering and converting new believers. The verses that follow have less to do with new believers and more to do with those believers who are heading out to do missional work.

Do not think it too unusual, beloved reader, that the RCL crafts what verses and passages are presented and when. Just as Jesus (according to the writer of the gospel of Matthew) arranged for this disciples to be laborers in the Lord’s harvest, so does the RCL seek to present scripture in such a way that it supports a theme and a purpose. In the same way, do not doubt that I have a theme and purpose in what I write and I. But rest assured, my purposes are good and to aid you on your Christian journey. Selah!