Pentecost 11, Year C

Title:Pentecost 11, Year C

 Pentecost 11, Aug. 25, 2019 (full size gallery)

Two services today – 5 at 9am and 43 at 10am. A cool August Sunday in the 70’s which started clear but by the end of the 11am had some light rain.

Two important events this week:

This week’s Village Harvest had a surplus of food and supplies but fewer takers. 70 people came, the lowest number since mid 2016. Supplies of food (1136 pounds) were under average for the calendar year (1286) though the total for the first 8 months exceeded all other years. That meant the value per client remained high at $78.

Ladies Night Out ended the week with over 25 going to the Riverside Theatre to see South Pacific. While it is 70 years old the play is remarkably contemporary.

Today’s readings remind us of the universality of God’s invitation to wholeness and the difficulty of responding to it. Isaiah  identifies some characteristics of the right relationship with God. The author of Hebrews reminds us that the trials we undergo, though painful, come from the hand of a loving Father who is training us in holiness. Jesus’ words and actions reveal the tension between God’s desire for healing and our need for genuine conversion in order not to hinder God’s plan. 

The sermon reflected on discouragement present in the lectionary – people forced into exile (Isaiah), those in the New Testament who had been waiting patiently for Jesus return which had not happened and finally that poor woman bent over for 18 years. The sermon concluded with these words:

“So you who are discouraged, and for you who love someone who is discouraged—and for you who are not discouraged, but who stand in solidarity with those who are,

“Put your trust in God, who cannot be shaken.

“And give thanks and praise to God, because even though you or someone you know is bent over now, we know that God will set us free and that we too will stand straight, because we are already members of God’s unshakeable kingdom through the love of Jesus Christ, our Lord.

“As the closing prayer of the Rite I Eucharist says so beautifully,
“We most heartily thank thee….that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, the blessed company of all faithful people; and are also heirs, through hope, of thy everlasting kingdom.”

“So let us give thanks and offer up our praise to God, and lay our discouragements to rest.”

Isaiah 58:9b-14

Offering a classic example of empty religious ritual, this passage addresses Israel’s reliance on external practices of piety. Isaiah points out that many religious activities had become a form of manipulation. Through fasting, the people hoped to gain God’s approval even though the pious facade masked a mire of injustice and oppression.

Today’s verses are part of a longer section in which God redefines the role of fasting. An expression of humility, fasting offers the people an opportunity to do for others what God has already done for them. God had chosen to free the captives (52:1-3), feed the hungry (55:1-2) and bring Israel’s homeless back to their homeland (49:8-12). 

True spiritual practice attracts God’s attention and results in a new exodus. Verse 8 is reminiscent of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. Then a pillar of cloud guided them by day and a pillar of fire guarded them by night (Exodus 13:21-22). So it will be for those who keep the Lord’s fast. The Lord will deliver them from exiles into which they have been driven by their hardheartedness.

The attitude of the heart and use of the tongue must also reflect charity. The people must give more than food, clothing or shelter: they must give themselves. Instead of seeking their own pleasure, they must first satisfy the desires of the needy, finding their own desires satisfied by God (v. 11).

Psalm 103:1-8

This hymn of thanksgiving is cast in very general terms, but verses 1-5, in which the psalmist speaks to himself, indicate that it may have come from an individual situation, perhaps of recovery from illness (vv. 3-4a). In verse 4, “the Pit” refers to Sheol, the place of the dead, who retain only a semblance of existence. 

The psalmist compares his deliverance to that of Israel in the exodus (v. 7). He affirms the Lord’s steadfast love for the covenant people and invites all of creation to join his song of praise.

Hebrews 12:18-29

After the series of encouragements to fidelity and endurance, the author shows how those guidelines spring from the reality of what God has done for us. He contrasts the revelation given to Moses at Mt. Sinai with the revelation given through Jesus, on Mount Zion, which represents the heavenly Jerusalem. The revelation at Sinai is characterized as one of fear, darkness and dread.

But now believers have an earthly foretaste of the ideal worship of God in the heavenly Jerusalem. They join with angels, with “the firstborn enrolled in heaven” (perhaps the whole communion of saints, living and dead), with “the spirits of the just made perfect” (perhaps the pre-Christian saints). In this revelation of a new covenant, Jesus’ blood speaks of redemption rather than vengeance, which the shedding of human blood usually demanded. 

Yet the Christian responsibility is even more solemn and awful. As earthquake was an important sign of the revelation at Sinai, so it was also expected as an indication of the end of the world-order at the Lord’s return. Thus the author quotes Haggai 2:6, emphasizing the Hebrew notion of the end of the universe (v. 26) against the Greek conception of its eternal and indestructible nature. God who is “a consuming fire” will purify the people.

Luke 13:10-17

In today’s reading, we discover the tension between God’s bountiful gift of salvation through Jesus and the human desire to control it. Jesus’ compassion for the ailing woman, whom he identifies with the surprising description as a “daughter of Abraham,” spurs him to initiate a cure before she can even ask. 

Luke then contrasts the responses to this wondrous healing. The woman stands up and praises God. But the religious leader grouses because the healing took place on the sabbath. He is unable to understand that the healing is just as much a cause of praise as the religious observance required for the sabbath day. 

Jesus’ rebukes the man and reminds him that God’s desire for our freedom from bondage knows no limit and can never be restricted to times that we find convenient. To participate in God’s saving work on the sabbath cannot violate the restrictions forbidding human work.