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Introduction To The Scripture For Ordinary 19 - Proper 14 - Year C
Isaiah 1:1,10-20; Psalm 50:1-8,22-23; Hebrews 11:1-3,8-16; Luke 12:32-40
alt - Genesis 15:1-6; Psalm 33:12-22

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman ( of the United Church of Canada. John has structured his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'.

Ordinary 19 - Proper 14 - Year C

ISAIAH 1:1,10-20         Isaiah is without doubt the greatest of Israel's
prophets.  He survived through one of the stormiest periods of Judean
history (circa  745-700 BC).  He was so highly regarded nearly two
centuries later that the work of another group of anonymous prophesies were
added to his and now appear in chapters 40-66.  Although believed to belong
to the royal court, he vehemently condemned the injustices of his time.  In
this passage he thundered against the ruling classes, likening them to the
rulers of Sodom and Gomorrah.  His message presented God's claim for social
justice rather than elaborate rituals and sacrifices.

PSALM 50:1-8,22-23       This psalm stands in the tradition of the great
prophets like Isaiah.  It even repeats some of the same phrases as Isaiah's
condemnation of unworthy rituals, but offers an antidote in sincere prayers
of thanksgiving.

HEBREWS 11:1-3,8-16      This passage celebrates faith and those who have
shown themselves to be some of Israel's greatest faith-heroes.  After
giving what is for many a somewhat confusing definition of faith, it turns
to show how faith had resulted in action by Israel's great patriarchs,
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

LUKE 12:32-40            The early church believed in the return of Christ
at some unknown but imminent time.  This passage seems to fit that
tradition. We can find some elements of it in different contexts both
Matthew and Mark (vss. 33-34 = Matthew 6:19-21; vss. 35-40 = Mark 13:33-
37).  This reveals that a common tradition existed about the meaning of
Jesus' life, death and resurrection.  He came to inaugurate God's reign of
love in human affairs.

     NOTE: There are two alternative lessons from the OT and Psalms.
     The summaries and analysis of these passages follow those of the
     regular RCL lessons. 

GENESIS 15:1-6           Abraham  receives from God the promise of an heir
and countless descendants.  This has become the classic claim of all Jews
to their eternal existence as a people.

PSALM 33:12-22           Reiterating the promise of God to Abraham, the
closing part of a relatively late psalm celebrates the providence of God
for all those who render God due reverence.


ISAIAH 1:1,10-20   In the introduction to his commentary on Isaiah 1-39, 
in *The Interpreter's Bible*(vol. 5, p.162) the late Professor R.B.Y.Scott
described Isaiah as "an aristocrat of the spirit.  He moved like a prince
among men.  He spoke with the dignity and moral authority which he knew
befitted an ambassador of the Most High, and it is evident that he was a
product of the finest culture of Judah.  Like Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and
others, he may have been a priest for his vision of God came as he stood
where the priests stood between the porch and the altar." 

If Scott's speculations are accurate, he was both in a favored position to
observe the society and its cultic practices which he so severely
condemned.  It is also surprising that he was able to do so for so long.
Vs.1 states that his prophetic ministry extended through one of the most
turbulent times of the nation's history from about 742 BCE to 701 BCE when
Assyria posed a constant threat, the Northern Kingdom of Israel disappeared
altogther and Judah narrowly missed doing so too.

The body of this reading is especially noteworthy for one of Isaiah's class
since it gives a graphic statement about the futility and the disgrace of
worship when the lives of worshipers are absorbed in injustice.  To say
that God is more concerned with human relationships expressed through
economic practices than with formal acts of worship in a stately temple
would have been as anathema then as it is now.  Not that Isaiah rejected
all formal worship.  He only sought to point out that worship must be, as
Scott states "the expression and symbol of reverence for the moral
character of God and the corresponding moral standards which should
characterize his people."  Human conduct must be a reflection and imitation
of God's justice, goodness, truth and mercy.  In this Isaiah was not alone,
but one with all the great prophetic voices of Israel - Amos, Hosea, Micah
and Jeremiah. 
In vs.10 the reference to Sodom and Gomorrah has a different connotation to
many ears today because of the mistaken association of those vanished
cities with homosexuality.  Here they are simply figures of moral
destruction.  They are set in deliberate contrast to the Torah, the
authoritative teaching of the Israel's tradition of which Isaiah was a
staunch defender.  The subsequent verses declare unequivocally that God
required authenticity in Israel's worship.  Such authenticity should be
based on the ethical demands of the ancient covenant verbalized in the
It is obvious that Isaiah was speaking to the upper classes of Judah in
particular.  The common people could not have afforded the expensive
offerings at the frequent festivals cited in vss.11-14.  It was the wealthy
too who oppressed the defenseless orphans and widows of vs. 17.  The
implications of refusal by the elite to follow the path of justice and
mercy are set forth in vss.18-20.  No unconditional forgiveness is offered
as some modern interpretations suggest.  The alternative comes through as
clearly as in the Deuteronomic Code of Jeremiah's time a century later:
Repent or be destroyed. 

PSALM 50:1-8,22-23   Just exactly how did the prophetic tradition affect
the Psalter?  Here is one excellent example.  As W. Stewart McCullough
states in *The Interpreter's Bible* vol. 4, p. 260: "All the features (of
this psalm) stand in the prophetic tradition... (Yet) the writer in
handling the matter of animal sacrifices goes quite beyond the pre-exilic
prophets who pronounced the sacrifices of unrighteousness inefficacious, by
showing the fundamental unimportance of sacrifice.  In vss 16-21 (excluded
from this lection) it is clear that legalistic tendencies are becoming
ascendant in the definition of pious living, for the individual is warned
against undue obsession with the externals of the law to the neglect of its
inner requirements." 
A true theophany, another facet of prophetic experience, begins in vss.5-6,
where the psalmist reaffirms God's righteousness and judgment as the basis
for God's covenant with Israel.  Vs.8 makes a brief introduction to a
strong admonition concerning sacrifice and the remainder of that segment
(vss.9-15, also excluded) lifts up God's ownership of all the creatures
used in sacrificial worship.  The nature of divine judgment comes to the
fore more extensively in vss. 16-21.  Lip service to the Torah is no
substitute for true spirituality.  In true prophetic manner the closing
vss. 22-23 reiterates the earlier statement (vs. 14) that God prefers
thanksgiving rather than sacrifices and wants worship that issues from
thankful people who live faithfully. 

HEBREWS 11:1-3,8-16   "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for...."  Oh
my!  What trouble that Greek word "hupostasis" (here translated
"assurance") has caused is through the centuries!  Yet this is its only
appearance in the NT.  Granted that most arguments about it were linguistic
and theological, related almost exclusively to the true nature of the
Person of Christ in the 4th and 5th centuries CE.  Here the word is used to
define the "essence" of faith.  What follows in this excerpt from one of
great passages of the NT is a recitation of the achievements of those who
acted on faith. 

Vs. 2 states that "by faith" they "received approval"- from God, one
presumes, though this is not specifically stated.  Vs.3 goes on to define
faith as our attitude, conviction or trust that there is an invisible,
spiritual realm which not only influences but actually created and
determines what happens in the visible, external environment in which we
live from day to day. 
Abraham is cited as the exemplar, pursuing God's promise though he would
not see it accomplished in his lifetime (vss. 8-16).  Yet using him as the
great hero of faith as he is for three living religious traditions -
Jewish, Christian and Moslem - has its difficulties.  The skeptic might
well ask, "What did it get him?"  And answer, "A life of wandering in
search of a better homeland which he never reached."
Is it enough to say as vs.16 does that people of faith are sojourners
through this life?  Is this not a pessimistic escapist approach to living
faithfully in the world?  Does it deny the view that God intends to redeem
the whole of creation rather than to remove the saved from the world?  Does
God really intend simply to transfer those spiritual ones who have faith
from this "vale of tears" to a "sweet and blessed country, the home of
God's elect?"  Perhaps we need to rethink what Douglas John Hall calls "our
creaturely destiny" in the framework of Christ's redemptive work in his
life, death, resurrection and ascension.
William Barclay's *Daily Bible Study* of this passage has a fine opening:
"To the writer to the Hebrews faith is a hope that is absolutely certain
that what it believes is true, and that what it expects will come.  It is
not hope which looks forward with wistful longing; it is hope which looks
forward with utter certainty.  It is not hope which takes refuge in a
perhaps; it is hope which is founded on a conviction." ("Daily Bible Study:
The Letter to the Hebrews" Edinburgh: St. Andrew Press, 1955. Pp. 144-145) 

LUKE 12:32-40   So was Jesus talking to his disciples about the here and
now when the arrival of the new age was imminent or about some far off
future event when history would be wound up and everything set right with
the world at the Second Coming of Christ?  Is this ethical counsel or
eschatological apocalyptic?  Scholars have been divided about the exact
time references of these three pericopes.  If they are all teachings of
Jesus himself, they obviously come from different periods of his ministry
and were gathered into their present context by Luke himself.
The three pericopes use different teaching methods. Vss. 32-34 contains an
assurance peculiar to Luke, a radical but direct ethical instruction and a
proverb: "It is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." What
follows is almost a corollary: "(Therefore) sell your possessions, and give
alms."  In other words, simplify your life; lighten your burden of material
assets so that your spiritual journey will no longer be impaired by their
weight.  The proverb, "Where your treasure is, there will your hearts be
also," could well be from the ancient treasure of Jewish wisdom,
exemplifying the prophetic spirit of justice with which that literature was
imbued.  One questions whether or not this pericope has a parallel in
Matthew 6:19-21 as some have argued.  Only the proverb seems to be
identical; the context expresses a similar though not identical thought.    
Vss. 35-38, however, is an allegory which also contains a warning that the
Parousia may be delayed.  It has certain elements in common with parables
in Mark 13:33-37 and Matthew 25:1-13.  Neither Jewish rabbis nor Jesus
himself used allegories as a teaching method which was primarily
Hellenistic.  The early church quickly adopted this method from its Greek
converts.  Undoubtedly, Luke was one of these.  The eschatological aspect
to this story reverses the ordinary state of human affairs.  The servants
await the master to come home from a wedding banquet, possibly through all
three night watches.  When he does come and they respond to his knock at
the door, he will sit them down to a feast and serve them.  Obviously, this
refers to the messianic banquet at the end of the age, a common feature of
NT eschatology.

Vss. 39-40 returns to the typical form of a parable. Matthew 24:43-44 has a
parallel, so the source may well have been Q as *The Complete Gospels,*
edited by Robert J. Miller states. (Sonoma, CA: Poleridge Press, 1992.
p.284.)  Both counsel being prepared for the unknown moment when the
Parousia occurs.  An almost identical warning occurs in 1 Thessalonians
5:2, one of Paul's earliest letters, suggesting that this may indeed be a
dominical teaching.  On the other hand, an almost identical thought can be
found in 2 Peter 3:10 and Revelation 3:3 which came at much later dates,
indicating that the idea of an imminent Parousia persisted.

Preaching on any part of this passage encounters expository difficulties;
preaching on all three parts could prove virtually impossible.  The Second
Coming seems a rather heavy subject for a summer sermon.


GENESIS 15:1-6   Does theophany or any deeply spiritual experience spring
from an intense inner struggle.  This brief story from the J document
(attested by the use of YHWH, "the Lord") would seem to suggest so.  The
passage describes how Abram (aka Abraham) received from Yahweh the promise
of an heir and countless descendants. 

The first inkling we get is that Abram's had a vision in which Yahweh took
the initiative in response to Abram's fear (vs. 1).  But Abram still
doubted protesting that he had no son to be his direct heir other than his
servant Eliezer (vss.2-3).  Nothing should be made of the locale "Damascus"
from which the servant came.  The NRSV notes that the Hebrew is uncertain.
Scholars believe that a late editor of the story corrupted the text by
including "Damascus" as a gloss playing on the Hebrew word for "heir." 

Yahweh dealt directly with Abram's angst by promising that he would indeed
have a rightful heir of his own issue.  The promise went much further.
Abram's descendants would be as numerous as the stars.  Unquestionably a
hyperbole, this still rings through the millennia as the classic claim of
all Jews to their eternal existence as a people.

Vs. 6 stands out in Christian memory because it became Paul's great
instance of faith rather than righteousness as the catalyst for salvation
in Galatians 3:6-9.  This interpretation must have become part of the
Christian tradition for again in Hebrews 11:8-16 cites Abraham as the great
exemplar of faith.

PSALM 33:12-22   Reiterating the promise of God to Abraham, the closing
part of a relatively late psalm celebrates the providence of God for all
those who render God due reverence.  This excerpt has a distinct
nationalistic tone to it and could be appropriately applied to almost any
nation.  Although it sets forth conditions for attaining God's favour, the
initiative as to the choice of which nation shall be God's people is still
God's alone as the sovereign Lord of history.

The striking image of the "eye of God" reflects the lyric poetry of
Deutero-Isaiah (cf. Isa. 40:18-28). The image in vss. 13-15 portrays a
powerful sovereign looking over his fiefdom calculating by what means he
may command the loyalty of his people. Political or military power are not
enough.  Only a reverent trust that generates love proves sufficient (vss.

A church sanctuary no longer in existence had a circular stained glass
window high above the central pulpit picturing a human eye looking down on
the congregation.  It had a distinctively negative effect on some
worshipers who saw it as the "eye of God" witnessing all their thoughts and
actions. While vs. 15 does lend some force to that interpretation, it is
countered by the trusting attitude with which the psalm ends. By putting
trust in God's steadfast love, expressed so totally in Jesus Christ, we
have no reason to fear the judgment of our God .

copyright  - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006, 2004
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.

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