Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Tuesday Thoughts on the Readings for Sunday, September 9th, 2018

Greetings, readers!  After some hectic schedules and a time of vacation, I am back and sharing my sermon preparations with you!

We have finished both the "Bread of Life Discourses" in John 6 and the letter to the Ephesians.  We now turn back to the Gospel of Mark and toward the letter to James (not Martin Luther's favorite epistle).

I will share my thoughts in italics following each reading.  I invite you to share your questions and reactions in the comments below so that we can discuss the readings together.  I am still traveling and may not respond as quickly as you would like, but I will respond as my travel schedule allows.

Isaiah 35:4 - 7a

4Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
  “Be strong, do not fear!
 Here is your God.
  He will come with vengeance,
 with terrible recompense.
  He will come and save you.”

5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
  and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6then the lame shall leap like a deer,
  and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
 For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
  and streams in the desert;
7athe burning sand shall become a pool,
  and the thirsty ground springs of water.

The words “vengeance” and “recompense” cast an ominous tone over the Isaiah 35 reading.  Is the Lord preparing to take vengeance against us?  No; the Lord is preparing to act against the enemies of Israel.  As the Lord does so, the Lord will provide everything that is due to Israel as a form of restitution after the harm done by Israel’s enemies.  For us, we can read this as a promise that the Lord will act against evil and restore us after we are harmed by evil in any form.

It is worth noting that Jesus’ miracles included healing the blind, the deaf, the lame, and the speechless.  Is Jesus the Lord’s recompense to the Lord’s people?

Psalm 146

 1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul!
 2 I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
 3 Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.
 4 When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.
 5 Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God,
 6 who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever;
 7 who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free;
 8 the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous.
 9 The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
 10 The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the LORD!

Psalm 146 is a psalm of praise to the Lord.  The Lord is upheld as a great help to those on the margins (the oppressed, the hungry, the captive, the blind, the orphan, the widow) and a keeper of all promises.  Paired with Isaiah 35, we praise the Lord for restoring us after we are harmed by others and/or by evil.

James 2:1 - 10 [11 - 13] 14 - 17

1My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” 4have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?
  8You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 9But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. [11For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.] 
  14What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

Much has been said about James 2:17: “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”  But this statement must be read in the context of what is described at the beginning of the chapter.  If we proclaim that everyone is equal because everyone is a child of God but then turn around and honor the rich while dishonoring the poor, then our actions reveal that we do not believe what we proclaim about equality.  Our actions reveal whether we truly believe what we say.  Our faith should never be an intellectual matter only; our faith should flow through our daily lives and demonstrate who and what we trust.

Mark 7:24 - 37

24[Jesus] set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice,25but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
  31Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

How do we read Jesus’ initial comment to the Syrophoenician woman?  Is Jesus being a jerk for no reason?  Is Jesus discriminating against a Gentile woman?  Or is Jesus saying this with a wink and a nod, offering the response expected from a good Jewish man while planning to subvert the assumption of how a good Jewish man should respond to this woman?

A good question from my aunt: for the woman, the crumbs are enough to heal her daughter.  For us, the crumbs are enough for our salvation and our daily bread.  Who around us is not even finding or receiving the crumbs from the table?  How are the mentally ill, the homeless, and the LGBTQ+ communities treated and received by the town or neighborhood around you?  What can we do to bring the food on the table to them?  Or, even better, bring them to the table so that they can sit next to us?

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