Sermons  SSLR  Illustrations  Lenten Resources  News  Devos  Newsletter  Clergy.net  Churchmail  Children  Bulletins  Search


kirshalom.gif united-on.gif

Sermon & Lectionary Resources           Year A   Year B   Year C   Occasional   Seasonal


Join our FREE Illustrations Newsletter: Privacy Policy

Introduction To The Scripture For Ordinary 25 - Proper 20 - Year C
Jeremiah 8:18 - 9:1; Psalm 79:1-9; I Timothy 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13
alt - Amos 8:4-7; Psalm 113


The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) 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'.

INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE	
Ordinary 25 - Proper 20 - Year C


JEREMIAH  8:18-9:1       This lament expressed Jeremiah's distress at some
calamity which had befallen Israel.  Widespread suffering afflicted the
nation.  The prophet mourned with the people, the poor in particular.  He
spoke for them by asking the unanswerable question: "Is the Lord not in
Zion?" Feeling deserted by God was a natural reflection of their dire
straits.  It still may be so for many people, but does not mean they have
lost faith.


PSALM 79:1-9             Another lament for another disaster, but this time
an invasion by a foreign power had caused national suffering.  It not only
depicts scene of great horror, but raises significant theological questions
about God's covenant with Israel: How long will the terror last?  Will
God's anger persist?


1 TIMOTHY 2:1-7          The theological and historical situation implicit
in this passage point to a much later date that the 50s AD when Paul
carried on his ministry to the Gentiles with Timothy as a co-worker.  The
Jews had a well-developed liturgical system which Paul would have known
intimately, but prayers for rulers as in vs. 2 would have been anathema.
When we reflect on the meaning of Christ's death in relation to other
religious traditions, the statement of universal salvation in vs.3 and the
"one mediator" in vs.5 seem as contemporary today as then.


LUKE 16:1-13             This parable tells of an incompetent steward who
is told to hand over his accounts.  Because he successfully collected part
of what is owed him by placing his debtors in obligation to him, the master
commends him for his shrewdness.  But is there anything edifying about this
steward's dishonesty?  Kickbacks were as common in those times as now.  The
point that Jesus appears to be making is that no one can serve two masters. 
Either we serve God faithfully and honestly or we look out for ourselves
without regard for the moral issues involved.  


     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.  


AMOS 8:4-7               (Alternate)  This outburst of prophetic wrath
promised nothing but destruction for Israel caused by the grave injustices
of the times.  The scarce produce of the poor was being manipulated by
wealthy merchants with false balances for the sake of making greater
profit.  But Amos promises that God will not forget any of these misdeeds.

PSALM 113.               (Alternate)  This psalm of praise also conveys a
message of social justice in God's concern for the poor and the homeless
woman seeking shelter for her children.


************

JEREMIAH 8:18-9:1   This lament expressed Jeremiah's distress at some
calamity which had befallen Israel.  Widespread suffering afflicted the
nation.  The prophet mourned with the people, the poor in particular.  He
spoke for them by asking the unanswerable question: "Is the Lord not in
Zion?" (vs.19b) Feeling deserted by Yahweh was a natural reflection of
their dire straits.

This analysis of the lesson was revised a few days after September 11,
2001, the infamous 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre in New York City
and the Pentagon in Washington.  Many Americans were asking similar
questions for weeks afterward as they waited in vain for news about loved
ones with diminishing hopes: "How could God allow such terrible things to
happen?" "Why us?" And some may have been asking: "Why did I survive and --
------ did not?  Was God looking after me more than all those others?"
Those are natural questions which the grieving ask after any disaster,
personal or public.
      
The exact nature of the disaster Jeremiah experienced can only be
conjectured.  There are some clues, however, in the prophet's words.  Most
scholars regard vs.19c accusing the people of idolatry as a later
insertion, possibly by a Deuteronomic editor who collected Jeremiah's
oracles in the middle of the 6th century BCE.  Vs.20 tells us that the
harvest had been gathered and the summer had ended.  Vs.22b speaks of the
continuing ill-health of the people who are identified as "my poor people"
in 18:19, 22 and 9:1.  From these hints one can draw the reasonable
conclusion that the harvest had failed, possibly the result of prolonged
drought.  The prophet's vision of his head as a spring and his tears as a
fountain in 19:1 also suggests this.  The hopes of the common people, who
often lived in the edge of starvation, had been dashed.  Hunger had turned
to famine.  The most vulnerable poor were dying as if slain in warfare.
     
In the 19th and 20th centuries the words "Is there no balm in Gilead?  Is
there no physician there?" became the symbolic inspiration for a moving
Afro-American spiritual, especially for  male and female vocalists with
deep voices.  No clear botanical identification has been made of the source
of this resinous natural medicine.  Probably not even found in Gilead, east
of the Jordan, it may have come through there in the trade caravans from
Arabia or further east where such a substance still grows in the wild.  It
is said to have had antiseptic, counter-irritant and general medicinal
properties.  As a commodity for trade, however, it may have become too
expensive for the common people to afford.  This hypothesis lends further
support to the nature of the disaster about which Jeremiah grieves.

A personal story: My mother-in-law was diagnosed with inoperable cancer in
the summer of 1958.  One Sunday in September, unable to join her husband at
worship, she turned on the radio and heard a soloist singing the spiritual,
"Is there no balm in Gilead?" Afterward she said that while she listened a
deep, abiding peace came over her and she knew that all would be well.  She
died in December of that same year, sooner and with much less pain than
anticipated.


PSALM 79:1-9   Another lament for another disaster, but this time an
invasion by a foreign power had caused a national calamity.  The first
long-shot scenes of the temple defiled and Jerusalem in ruins move like the
television live and video replays from "ground zero" in New York to focus
on horrific details of what happened and the search and rescue work still
going on after 9/11/01.  The psalmist saw vultures and wild animals feeding
on corpses, blood running in the streets, and unburied dead rotting in the
sun.  Neighboring peoples waiting to pounce on the spoils only taunt and
mock those who have survived.  With such a vivid word picture before us,
who can claim that the scriptures provide dull reading?  Has horror ever
received a better description?  Have contemporary television scenes from
Ossetia, Iraq or Palestine been any more traumatic?

Then the lament begins in earnest (v.5) with two incisive theological
questions: How long will the terror last?  Will God's anger persist?  A
third question reiterates the second in forceful parallelism.  The
psalmist's answer to his own questions is to pray that Yahweh's anger will
be visited on those who do not worship Israel's God (vss.6-7).  This bitter
outburst has its origin in Israel's long-established covenant with Yahweh. 
Do our cries for revenge on the criminals of September 11, 2001 have a
similarly religious source?  Or is this just part of our myth of
superiority?

Does this mean that the covenant tradition of the Jews and worship of
Yahweh were their exclusive hope for security in a hostile world?  That may
be too narrow an interpretation of the covenant relationship.  The psalmist
does confess, however, that the covenant had been broken not by Jahweh's
rejection of Israel, but by the sins of their ancestors (vs.8) and of
themselves (vs.9b).  Thus the plea for help had a moral thrust despite its
narrow theological viewpoint.  
     
Three years after 9/11/01 are we even now engaged in a holy war between
fundamentalist Christian and Islamic traditions as some people have been
advocating in the aftermath of "this infamous date ?" Was it a mere slip of
the tongue that came from President Bush about being involved in a crusade? 
Is not the current American presidential campaign being fought on the
single issue of who would make the better warrior president?  Are not the
cries of some Canadians for a stronger,  better staffed and better equipped
military establishment not part of the same bellicose frame of mind?


I TIMOTHY 2:1-7   The theological and historical situation implicit in this
passage point to a much later date that the 50s C.E. when Paul carried on
his ministry to the Gentiles with Timothy as a co-worker.  The Jews had a
well-developed liturgical system which Paul would have known intimately. 
But prayers for "kings" would have been anathema.  Fully 150 years later, 
Tertullian did urge Christians to pray for the emperor, but this seems
hardly possible in Paul's time when the emperor was Nero.  A statement of
universal salvation in vs.3 appears similarly anachronistic.

A recent discussion of Paul's true allegiance by a contrarian scholar,
Robert Eisenman, in his *The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Early Christians,*
(Castle Books, 2004) claims that internal evidence in the scrolls indicates
that Paul may have been more of a Roman than a faithful Jew  and even a
relative of the Herods.  Indeed, this scholar  believes that Paul was part
of the group of Pharisees who sided with the Romans and the Herodian family
during the years leading up to the Jewish Rebellion of 68-70 CE.  If there
is any validity to this argument, a prayer for the king - i.e. Herod
Agrippa I or II, or the Roman emperor - would be understandable.
     
Is there not also a creedal declaration in vss.5-6 far beyond Paul's
theological position?  Two words in particular represent a later analysis
of the meaning of the Christ-event as Paul expressed it.  The concept of
Jesus as the sole mediator first appears in Hebrews written by an unknown
author of at least one generation later than Paul.  Furthermore, in
Galatians 3:19, Paul wrote of Moses as a mediator (Greek = *mesit‚s*).  
     
Questions can also be raised about the use of the word "ransom" in vs.6. 
Though the word appears extensively in the Greek Septuagint, it usually
refers to the liberation of Israel from slavery in Egypt.  It also appears
in Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:45 with reference to Jesus' death on the
cross.  William Barclay points out that the basic word "lutron" never had
any other meaning than a payment releasing someone of an obligation which
otherwise one would have to fulfill.  (Barclay, William. "New Testament
Words." Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1974)  But the version of the
Greek word here is the rare "antilutron" which in classical Greek meant an
antidote for poison.  The concept has more relevance for a time of struggle
against the Gnostic heresy which conceived of many semi-divine mediators
between God and humanity.

Much subsequent theological debate has hung on the elusive meaning of the
word *ransom.* The issue is still very much alive.  Bishop John Spong
recently re-ignited it by proposing a much more radical interpretation of
the Christ-event in his book, *Christianity Must Change Or Die.* He
believes that we must rid ourselves of the whole concept of Jesus as
Rescuer which has dominated the theological and doctrinal attention of the
church since Paul's time.

The description of Paul in vs.7 is that of a disciple very familiar with
the apostle's ministry and letters, but not of the man himself.  The
parenthetical reiteration, "I am telling the truth, I am not lying," tends
to affirm this conclusion.  The whole passage thus presents many exegetical
and theological problems for anyone choosing it as a sermon text. 
Nonetheless, as a famous preacher once said, "It isn't always a mistake to
misinterpret a text so long as one admits that one is doing so."

Surely it is also obvious that the "martyrs" who hijacked and crashed those
fuel-laden airliners into crowded office buildings on 9/11/2001 also
believed intensely that their actions were done for similarly sanctified
religious motives.  Ostensibly, they sought to rescue the religious
tradition and culture of Islam from the corruption of Western Christian
civilization.  And yet ... and yet ... what does Jesus Christ as the one
mediator between God and humanity mean in this context?  


LUKE 16:1-13   Passing over the parable of the prodigal son, the third in
the series of parables about those who were lost and then found, the
lectionary moves on to a more puzzling story.  An incompetent steward is
told to hand in his accounts.  When he had successfully collected part of
what was owed his master, he placed these same debtors in obligation to
him, the master commends him for his shrewdness.  But is that the point of
the parable?  Is there anything edifying about this steward's dishonesty?
     
Whereas Matthew tends to clump sayings together in a "sermon" (e.g. the
Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7), Luke sometimes used a parable to
elaborate an isolated but very pithy saying.  Matthew's parallel to Luke
16:13 is a such an instance found in Matthew 6:24.  A more picaresque
parallel to this saying has surfaced in the Gospel of Thomas 47:1-2 which
sounds more like the village carpenter Jesus had been: "A person cannot
mount two horses or bend two bows.  And a slave cannot serve two masters,
otherwise he will honor one and offend the other." Luke makes this the
beginning of a series of three sayings enclosed as in brackets by this
parable and the one about the rich man and Lazarus in vss.19-31.

In telling this story, Luke is not encouraging the abuse of financial
obligations as vs.9 seems to suggest.  This may be an interpretation by
Luke or even some other hand to make the parable more palatable.  He goes
on in vss.10-12 to contrast the morality of the old age with that of the
new age Jesus had initiated.  One of the criticisms of the Pharisees had
been that Jesus' proclamation of a new order had made sin easy by lowering
the requirements for God's reign in contrast to John the Baptist's rigorous
morality.  "Cheap grace," modern theologians cell it.  James appears to
follow a similarly rigid approach to the Law.  

As Luke makes clear in his comments, Jesus raised the bar even higher.  A
little dishonesty or a little white lie always pays the wrong kind of
dividends.  On the other hand, faithfulness is small issues will result in
more responsibility in greater ones.  How we handle money can be a genuine
test case.  The use of money is important because it is a training ground
for all of life and expressive of the true character of the user.

************

AMOS 8:4-7   (Alternate) Of all the OT prophets, none is more passionate
about social justice than Amos.  This outburst of prophetic wrath promised
nothing but destruction for Israel caused by the grave injustices of the
times.  It would appear that normal business operations were postponed
during the festival celebrating the beginning of a new month ( "the new
moon" in vs. 5) and also for the weekly sabbaths.  That prevented the
merchants from making as much profit as they would have liked.  The return
for scarce produce of the poor was being manipulated by false balances,
inaccurate measures and low prices (vss. 5b-6).  

Amos promised that God will not forget any of these misdeeds.  The
phrase "by the  pride of Jacob" may be a synonym for a similar phrase
in 6:8  "The Lord God has sworn by himself" and in 4:2 "the Lord God
has sworn by his holiness." The meaning of the phrase relates to the
nature of Yahweh whose righteousness is so vastly different from that
of Israel whose pride leads to arrogant self-sufficiency.

Is that not often the attitude of many who achieved made great wealth
through less than just means?


PSALM 113   (Alternate) This psalm of praise also conveys a message
of social justice in God's concern for the poor and the homeless
woman seeking shelter for her children.  It also conveys some of the
fundamental theological concepts of the O.T.  In Jewish practice this
psalm and the five that follow (Pss. 113-118) are known as the Hallel
or the Egyptian Hallel and are used to celebrate some of Judaism' s
great festivals.

The song opens with a solo voice summoning the assembled congregation
to praise.  The response on vss. 2-4 comes from the choir of
Levitical priests.  In a second response another group or the whole
congregation picks the chorus.  Vss. 5-9 expresses the majesty of
Yahweh who concerns himself with the ordinary needs of humankind.

In vs. 7 Yahweh is described as "lifting the needy from the ash
heap." These unusual  words contain a vignette of the way many poor
people the world over still eke out a meagre existence by rooting in
the garbage discarded by the more affluent.  Vs. 8 describes the
revolutionary reversal of the social order also evident in Hannah's
prayer in 1 Samuel 2:7-8 and again in Mary's Song in Luke 1:69-71. 
For the psalmist, this social upheaval based on economic realities is
a token of Yahweh's absolute sovereignty over human affairs.   

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



Further information on this ministry and the history of "Sermons & Sermon - Lectionary Resources" can be found at our Site FAQ.  This site is now associated with christianglobe.com

Spirit Networks
1045 King Crescent
Golden, British Columbia
V0A 1H2

SCRIPTURAL INDEX

sslr-sm