Reflections for June 14th
Called to Service
Called to Worship:
We are called to be witnesses of God’s loveGod calls us to love one another, to love our neighbor as ourselves.We are called to be witnesses of God’s justiceSo let us stand with the oppressed and speak out for those in need.We are called to be witnesses of God’s peaceLet us keep to the path of peacemaking and to be bearers of peace in the world.We are called to be witnesses of God.Let us follow Jesus, who leads us into God’s ways of love, justice and peace. Amen!
Out of deep need, we enter your holy presence, O Lord, seeking your wisdom, power and your guidance. As Jesus charged his waiting disciples, deliver now your charge to us. And lead us, as he led them, into the fields white and ready to harvest, that we may become faithful laborers in your vineyard.O God of abundant grace and unlimited love, we thank you for your infinite mercy. It has been the source of our life and faith through all our days, and before that, through the days of our ancestors. When the whip of Pharaoh held Israel in bondage, you broke the yoke of the tyrant, and the prisoners escaped. When the exiles in Babylon trembled before their captors, you raised up a deliverer, and the refugees returned. And when their descendants believed their sin had doomed them to life without hope, you sent your Son, and the hopeless rejoiced. Not only did you redeem them from their sin, but you reconciled them in the midst of their sin. We thank you, dear Lord, that where sin abounds, grace much more abounds.You call us to be a priestly people and a holy nation, but we, like lost sheep, go astray. We know that peace comes through openness to our neighbors, but we make little effort to crash the walls between us. We know that the soft answer turns away wrath, but we greet our enemies with hard words and even harder looks. We know that self-giving breeds self-givers, but we refuse others the grace with which you treat us. We criticize fellow believers for not patterning their lives after Jesus, yet we do not mirror his life. Forgive us, O God, for our betrayal of your call. Let us take our place at the foot of the mountain of revelation. Open our ears that we might hear your commandments, and transform our hearts that we might keep your covenant. Let us now, as when we first believed, exclaim, "All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient."As we think of your other sheep who have gone astray, we think of ourselves as your instruments for bringing them home. If they tarry for a sympathizing tear, let us shed it without shame. If they wait for a soothing word, let us speak it without hesitation. If they desire a cup of water, let us offer it without delay. If they hunger for a decent meal, let us provide it without suspicion. Remembering that you are not impressed by gracious words unaccompanied by generous deeds, make us the instruments of your grace in speech and in action.We are your people, O God; grant us the wisdom to affirm your claim upon us. We await your revealing word; grant us the sensitivity to hear your demands in clear and compelling language. We long to do your will on earth as in heaven, our Heavenly Father; grant us the courage to fail neither you nor your children.Amen.
Exodus 19:2-8The Lord appeared again to Abraham near the oak grove belonging to Mamre. One day Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the hottest part of the day. He looked up and noticed three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran to meet them and welcomed them, bowing low to the ground.“My lord,” he said, “if it pleases you, stop here for a while. Rest in the shade of this tree while water is brought to wash your feet. And since you’ve honored your servant with this visit, let me prepare some food to refresh you before you continue on your journey.”“All right,” they said. “Do as you have said.”So Abraham ran back to the tent and said to Sarah, “Hurry! Get three large measures of your best flour, knead it into dough, and bake some bread.” Then Abraham ran out to the herd and chose a tender calf and gave it to his servant, who quickly prepared it. When the food was ready, Abraham took some yogurt and milk and the roasted meat, and he served it to the men. As they ate, Abraham waited on them in the shade of the trees.“Where is Sarah, your wife?” the visitors asked.“She’s inside the tent,” Abraham replied.Then one of them said, “I will return to you about this time next year, and your wife, Sarah, will have a son!”Sarah was listening to this conversation from the tent. Abraham and Sarah were both very old by this time, and Sarah was long past the age of having children. So she laughed silently to herself and said, “How could a worn-out woman like me enjoy such pleasure, especially when my master—my husband—is also so old?”Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh? Why did she say, ‘Can an old woman like me have a baby?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”Sarah was afraid, so she denied it, saying, “I didn’t laugh.”But the Lord said, “No, you did laugh.”
After breaking camp at Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and set up camp there at the base of Mount Sinai. Then Moses climbed the mountain to appear before God. The Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “Give these instructions to the family of Jacob; announce it to the descendants of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.”So Moses returned from the mountain and called together the elders of the people and told them everything the Lord had commanded him. And all the people responded together, “We will do everything the Lord has commanded.” So Moses brought the people’s answer back to the Lord.
Matthew 9:35-10:8, (9-23)
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. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 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." 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.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.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."
Whenever we turn to Scripture, it is helpful to have a few helpful guidelines to help us in discerning the meaning of the text. Perhaps one of the most important is to consider the broader context of a passage.
Sadly, in our contemporary society, we tend to continually break things into smaller pieces and components which often destroys the integrity of the text. It is very easy to "proof text," to "make" the text say something, when you are only looking at a couple of verses. No wonder Twitter gets people into trouble so much!
So, the first rule of interpreting the text is... "Read the text... all of it. And what comes before and after."
Looking at today's readings from the Old Testament, we hear two stories... one dealing with God's promise to Abraham and Sarah for a son (and Abraham's excessive hospitality!), and the other deals with God's Call to the people of Israel ... God's commissioning of them as His priestly people.
And this is where I want to remind us of that first rule of interpretation: Context.
Abraham is chosen by God for special favour and blessing... chosen to be God's chosen possession. God promises to bless Abraham and his descendants abundantly, "and to bless all nations through (him.)" And this promised blessing can seem... well... a little arbitrary and unfair. (As if any of us would be good judges of what Fair is...) Perhaps God saw something in Abraham that He wanted to encourage, to use?
In fact, Rabbi's have pointed to this very story as one of the reasons that God chose Abraham... a story of excessive generosity. Sitting in his tent in the heat of the day, Abraham sees three men walking by... and he runs (not very proper) and begs (again, not proper) for the men to stay with him. Then he arranges for a feast. (Three large measures of grain? That's approximately 144 cups of flour (12x12? Hmmm) and would make about 52 loaves of full sized bread. For three men!)
And that doesn't include the fatted calf!
Okay, so we have a sign that Abraham is well to do, and also very generous (or crazy.) So God blesses rich people? But there is something more important to this story that we have done injustice to by cutting it off too early.
Immediately after this story comes the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. And when we read the story, we hear of God and Abraham bargaining for the life of the city. Abraham "argues" with God to the point where God is willing to withhold judgement for the sake of 10 righteous people. Just 10. (Shouldn't be too hard to find ten, right?)
And this, I suggest, becomes a major driving theme of Israels story: they are chosen, through Abraham, to be excessively generous and to passionately pursue the well-being and salvation of others. "A people after God's own heart."
Our second reading has Israel gathered at the foot of Sinai being commissioned as God's priestly people... one's who will go and bring the nations to God, and God to the nations. and they respond, "We will do what you command."
The problem is, they didn't.
They lost sight of this mission and they began to limit their scope of vision on their own kingdom... their own well-being. They lost the heart of Abraham.
Perhaps it is confusing, then, in Matthew's Gospel that we hear Jesus telling his disciples to only go to Israel... to leave the Gentiles. Well, again, remember that we need to consider the WHOLE story... and after this occasion, Jesus will broaden the scope of the mission. But it began with trying to remind Israel of who they were: God's kingdom of priests!
Do we need such a reminder?
Have we forgotten the heart that called us, rescued us, commissioned us? Do we share the heart of our Father... a heart of excessive Grace and generosity?
Pentecost was where God poured out His Spirit onto us, His Children so that we might live His life and demonstrate His heart. Let us remember the heart, the new heart, that was given to us... and recommit to the call, the cause of Christ... for the fields are ripe and ready for harvest.
"Lord, use me as your worker..."