Pentecost 20, Year C, Oct 27, 2019

Title:Pentecost 20, Year C, Oct 27, 2019

 Pentecost 20, Year C, Oct. 27, 2019 (full size gallery)

We had two services today, 5 came to 9 and 28 at 11am. The rain came last night and lasted until the passing of the peace. At one point one side of the church still had rain clouds and the other side was clear. Weird! The sunlight makes a big difference in enjoying the leaves and particuarly lingering in conversation after the service.

We gave a birthday wish to Woody Everett turning 82.

Catherine also gave an impromptu prayer for the Nationals, a request of a baseball fan in the congregation. To catch the mood of the day, a group of the choir and other gave an impromptu reading of a “A Mighty Fortress is our God” after the service since this was Reformation Sunday. It is the closest day to Oct. 31 – the 95 theses supposedly was place on the church door at Wittenberg in Germany on Oct. 31, 1517, thus beginning the movement we know as the Reformation.

This is a big week coming up with the PhilHarmonia concert next Saturday, Nov. 2. We are having a reception at 6:15pm ahead of the 7pm concert.

The sermon used the reading from 2:Timothy

“I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come.” The person who wrote 2 Timothy imagines Paul at the end of his life, in chains in a Roman prison.

“Paul says that he himself is being poured out as a libation, as an offering up of his life to God. So when Paul is put to death, his own blood will be like an offering poured out at the foot of God’s altar.

An earlier hymn adds to the meaning – She wants to pour out her life in service to God. “She wants to consecrate her life to God. She wants her life to be one of praise. She wants to get poured out in loving service, she offers her mind and her will to God. She wants God to dwell in her life.”

For me, a libatious life is one of radical generosity, in which I give everything I’ve got to God so God can pour my life out for the good of the world, a life of celebration and joy that I can give and give and give, until I’ve given everything, until God has finished pouring me out.

When we have baptisms at St Peter’s, a libation of water gets poured into this baptismal font.

God sanctifies this libatious baptismal water by the power of the Holy Spirit. And that water, pouring over us, cleans us up and brings us into new life so that we may continue forever in the risen life of Jesus Christ our Savior.

In Paul’s mind, endings open out into immensities, and so when Paul dies, he understands his death as setting sail into a new life, a new beginning.

Thinking, as Paul does, about the beginnings that are inherent in the endings of our lives can help us face these endings positively.

For Paul gazes forward to the day when he will reach safe harbor, the day that the Lord will return and give to Paul the crown of righteousness.

Take Paul’s inspiring words with you as a guide.  Take this prayer of St Brendan the Navigator with you too.    Brendan was an Irish monk who lived in sixth century, and who is the patron saint of sailors in Ireland, because he loosed his ship from its moorings and sailed out into the unknown to spread God’s word wherever the wind blew him over the sea. 

So let us pray. 

“God, help us to journey beyond the familiar and into the unknown. 

Give us the faith to leave old ways and to break fresh ground with you.

Christ of the mysteries, we trust You to be stronger than each storm within us.

We will trust in the darkness and know that our times, even now, are in Your hand.

Tune our spirits to the music of heaven, and somehow, make our obedience count for you.”

Today’s readings define lowliness and celebrate its virtue. Jeremiah  speaks for God’s people, confessing their sin and pleading for God’s mercy. Paul looks forward to the reward of his many humble labors for the faith. In Jesus’ parable, two men come to pray but only the humble man leaves justified by God.

Jeremiah 14: 7-10, 19-22

Jeremiah intercedes on behalf of God’s people, not as an official spokesman or temple prophet (for he was rejected by the established religious authorities), but as one whose individual calling involves him in the fate of the nation.

He uses the liturgical form of the communal lament, found in many psalms. He first describes his suffering, then confesses past sins. Often there is a plaintive questioning of God, then an appeal to God’s own honor. In the communal laments of the psalms, such an appeal seems to have been answered by an oracle of divine assurance. Here, however, the Lord responds with a declaration of judgment.

Psalm 84:1-6

This psalm resembles the songs of Zion (see Psalms 46, 48, 76 and 87) and the pilgrim Songs of Ascent (Psalm 120–124). Likely composed on the occasion of a pilgrimage to the temple, the psalm express the strength of the psalmist’s longing for the temple and the trials and rewards of the journey. 

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

In Paul’s final farewell, he speaks of himself as one whose life is ebbing away, “poured out as a libation” (v. 6). Like a boxer or runner, he has completed his event; he has guarded the deposit entrusted to him. Wreaths and crowns were worn by Jews as a sign of honor and joy at feasts and weddings; for Greeks they were a sign of a victorious athlete.

The “lion’s mouth” (v. 17) is a common Old Testament metaphor for violent death; thus figuratively for the imperial power. Verse 18 seems to echo the Lord’s Prayer. Paul acknowledges that his work is finished, and he looks forward both to God’s reward and Jesus’ return.

Luke 18:9-14

The Pharisee in today’s story seems truly thankful. According to the beliefs of the times, he shows an honest and laudable desire to contribute to the coming of the kingdom by fulfilling the law. Indeed, he exceeds the demands of the law.

Fasting was required only once a year on the Day of Atonement. The Pharisees, however, fasted twice weekly, on Mondays and Thursdays. Likewise, the law required a tithe of all produce of grain, fruit and herd. The Pharisee extended his tithe to include all his income.

The tax collector, whose occupation branded him as an extortioner and traitor, knows he has no merits of his own. Using the language of Psalm 51, he throws himself on God’s mercy. It is he who is “justified” (v. 14), that is, accepted, made right with God. This is the only place this verb appears in the gospels using the familiar Pauline meaning.

Jesus’ parable contrasts two styles of prayer: the first, by the Pharisee, is loudly self-righteous. The second, by the tax collector (another social reject), is a plea for God’s mercy to a sinner.

Because the two represent such dramatic polarities, it is difficult to identify with one or the other. Perhaps we find a bit of both styles in our own prayer. To flesh out the two types, we might imagine the characters commenting on the state of prayer today.

The Pharisee would probably respect the codification and classification that distinguishes various types of prayer: intercessory, thanksgiving, adoration, etc. He’d survey the shelves of books on the subject and be pleased by the number of workshops presented around the country. He’d be impressed by the large crowds, the choirs and the vested presiders that assemble in spacious cathedrals.

Where would the tax collector find a counterpart? If he returned to the 20th century, he’d probably have a beer with Thomas Merton. When the Trappist monk was asked how he prayed, he replied, “I breathe.” That simple.

Another distinction between the praying styles is the amount of time each gives to listening. The Pharisee is so busy extolling his virtues that God would be hard pressed to get a word in edgewise. The tax collector’s simple sentence leaves plenty of silent spaces in which God can speak.

We can learn from Jesus’ example about the balance between speech and silence.