The Season after Pentecost: Proper 28, Year B

Hope for the future

Gerbrand van den Eeckhout - Hannah presenting ...

Gerbrand van den Eeckhout – Hannah presenting her son Samuel to the priest Eli, ca. 1665 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • 1 Samuel 1:4-20
  • Canticle: The Song of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10)
  • Hebrews 10:11-14, (15-18), 19-25
  • Mark 13:1-8

In the Hebrew Bible reading we hear the story of the birth of the prophet Samuel, on whom the guidance and direction of Israel waits. In distress because of her barrenness, Hannah makes fervent intercession before the Lord, pleading for a male child and promising that should her hope be granted, the child will be set aside for the Lord’s service. The priest Eli at first thinks Hannah is drunk, but when he perceives her faithfulness, prophesies that the Lord will fulfill her petition. Against all expectation, Hannah becomes pregnant and delivers Samuel, who will become a nazarite, a prophet and a great judge over Israel.

The Song of Hannah continues Samuel’s mother’s rejoicing. Our New Testament reading from Hebrews also confirms what has been promised to God’s people. God’s eternal law is now inscribed on human hearts and minds. Believers who have been washed in baptism must continue in the faithful way, encouraging each other to love, good deeds and frequent assembly. Continue reading

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The Season after Pentecost: Proper 24, Year B

6a00d83451f26169e200e551d646d78833-800wiSuffering and Servanthood

  • Job 38:1-7, (34-41)
  • Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 37b
  • Hebrews 5:1-10
  • Mark 10:35-45

Why do the righteous suffer? This is the third week we have had our Old Testament reading from the book of Job. It began with a conversation between God and Satan, resulting in Satan receiving “permission” to afflict Job with physical ailments. Last week we struggled along with Job as he grappled with what it means to be human before God in a world of random suffering. Today we finally hear from God.

As God speaks out of the whirlwind, Job begins to comprehend that no human can understand the purposes of God, who has created all that exists. Beginning in 38:4, God questions Job and describes the breadth and depth and width and height of the Divine works in the world. The beautiful poetry and imagery tell of the greatness of God in all creation.  Continue reading

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The Season after Pentecost: Proper 23, Year B

Riches distract

  • Job 23:1-9, 16-17
  • Psalm 22:1-15
  • Hebrews 4:12-16
  • Mark 10:17-31

Stewardship is a life lived for God rather than for social and economic advantage. With election season in full force, one of the major issues continues to be about the economy. Tax cuts, tax incentives, or tax increases. Does the middle class exist anymore? Who is the 1%? Who are the other 99%? Money and the acquisition of wealth has been a focus of humankind for millennia. Today’s Gospel gives us pause to challenge our understanding and priorities even in light of today’s challenges of wealth and poverty.

When asked, Jesus tells a rich man that in order to receive eternal life, he must renounce all worldly dependencies and accept, in faith, salvation as a pure gift of God. A total commitment to follow Jesus requires a person to give up his most cherished aspect of his or her life. This is a difficult choice to make, and the rich man can not do what Jesus’ asks. Total self-abandonment to God is the example that Jesus gives. It is not an easy path to follow.

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The Season after Pentecost: Proper 22, Year B

The Sanctity of Human Relationships

  • Job 1:1, 2-1-10
  • Psalm 26
  • Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
  • Mark 10:2-16

Discussions of what “marriage” means in today’s society in the United States has been a much debated topic in secular as well as sacred institutions in recent years. Episcopal churches are authorized to use a rite called “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant,” which is designed without reference to gender. (I Will Bless You, and You Will Be a Blessing)

Today’s gospel reading might offer an opportunity to offer further teaching and reflection on how we understand the role of the Church in marriage rites as well as the State. Many believe the Church should be the agent to “bless” while the State is the regulator of “license.” Also, what does it mean to be in a committed relationship, no matter what one’s sexual orientation? What does it mean to be united with another person as well as united with Christ? What happens when that union is dissolved? Continue reading

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The Season after Pentecost: Proper 21, Year B

Celebrating Purim

  • Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22
  • Psalm 124
  • James 5:13-20
  • Mark 9:38-50

This Sunday we’ll take a diversion from the Gospel reading and focus on the Old Testament as it is a rare occasion that we hear the “voice” of Esther in our Sunday readings. It recounts the climax of the story of Esther and the origin of the Jewish Feast of Purim. The story takes place while the Hebrew people are living in exile in Persia.

Esther, although she is a Jew is made a concubine of the king. Falling in love with her,  the Persian King Ahasuerus (Xerxes I, 486-465 BCE) chooses her to be his queen. One of the king’s advisors, Haman, has a plan to kill all the Jews on a day to be decided by the drawing of lots (purim). Haman has also plotted to have Esther’s cousin and confidant, Mordecai, hung as well.

After a period of fasting and prayer, Esther puts her own life at risk by pleading with the king to save her people (7:3-4). Ahasuerus grants her petition, and the treachery of Haman is exposed. Haman is hanged in place of Mordecai who had saved the kings’ life on a previous occasion. Thus, in the future, these events were to be commemorated by “feasting and gladness . . . sending gifts of food . . . and presents to the poor” (9:22). These customs continue to be an integral part of Purim celebrations. Continue reading

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The Season after Pentecost: Proper 20, Year B

The Greatest of All

  • Proverbs 31:10-31
  • Psalm 1
  • James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
  • Mark 9:30-37

The disciples are caught up in a typical squabble about greatness and rank. According to Jesus, humility and service are the characteristic marks of success in the kingdom of God (9:35). In contrast, the disciples quarrel about qualifications for the administration of an earthly messianic kingdom. They assume their close relationship with the Messiah will result in privileged positions of power in the new order.

This vision of success obstructs the way of the Lord, a way of humble openness to those the world may overlook. Jesus says that, as they honor a child, true disciples honor Christ. The child symbolizes all who are needy, helpless and vulnerable, all those who cannot return a favor or profit us in any way. Jesus takes the child into his nurturing embrace, demonstrating the manner in which we must receive the weak. Continue reading

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The Season after Pentecost: Proper 19, Year B

Doers of the Word

  • Proverbs 1:20-33
  • Psalm 19 or Wisdom 7:36-8:1
  • James 3:1-12
  • Mark 8:27-38

What is required to live a life that is faithful to God?

For the past three weeks (and next week) we have been hearing the words from the Epistle (letter) of James. “But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” (James 1:22). James reminds us that we are called to a self-discipline that will restrain our speech and our anger, as well as our behavior that will take away from God’s perfect creation. He call us to listen to one another and obey. It is of no value for us to claim that we have heard God’s Word unless we demonstrate it by living it.

Human existence cannot be silent, nor can it be nourished by false words, but only true words, with which mean and women transform the world. To exist, humanly, is to name the world, to change it . . . Human beings are not built in silence, but in word, in work, in action-reflection. Paulo Freire 

And that’s the challenge. The issue of how to live faithfully is also a question of today’s Gospel passage. Peter’s confession and Jesus’ first Passion prediction at Caesarea Philippi stand at the midpoint of Mark’s Gospel and serve as a climax to the first half. Who is Jesus? Who will stand by him? Continue reading

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