Readings for August 7, 2022 -- 9th Sunday after Pentecost
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
1:1 The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
1:10 Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!
1:11 What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.
1:12 When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more;
1:13 bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation-- I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.
1:14 Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them.
1:15 When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.
1:16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil,
1:17 learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.
1:18 Come now, let us argue it out, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.
1:19 If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land;
1:20 but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23
50:1 The mighty one, God the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.
50:2 Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.
50:3 Our God comes and does not keep silence, before him is a devouring fire, and a mighty tempest all around him.
50:4 He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people:
50:5 "Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!"
50:6 The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge. Selah
50:7 "Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, I will testify against you. I am God, your God.
50:8 Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt offerings are continually before me.
50:22 "Mark this, then, you who forget God, or I will tear you apart, and there will be no one to deliver.
50:23 Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honor me; to those who go the right way I will show the salvation of God."
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
11:2 Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval.
11:3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.
11:8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going.
11:9 By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.
11:10 For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
11:11 By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old--and Sarah herself was barren--because he considered him faithful who had promised.
11:12 Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, "as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore."
11:13 All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth,
11:14 for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.
11:15 If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return.
11:16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
12:32 "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
12:33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.
12:34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
12:35 "Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit;
12:36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.
12:37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them.
12:38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
12:39 "But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.
12:40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."
A few weeks ago, I came across articles by Everett Fox, a scholar of Hebrew and the Old Testament. He has made a new translation of the first five books of the Bible (the books of Moses), trying to replicate in English the Hebrew poetry which is permeates the writing.
While there were many curious and fascinating insights I hadn't seen before, Fox especially reminded me of the one characteristic which sets the Bible apart from almost all other writing.
When you read a novel or a short story, you quickly begin to identify the "hero" or main character. That person's strengths and weaknesses become clear as you read, driving the story-line towards the climax. In the Bible, by contrast, the main character driving the story is often in the background rather than center stage: God. The Bible portrays God's moral values as the guidelines we discover in the unfolding arc of meaning throughout the narrative, which encompasses human history.
The immediate implication of this perspective is a question each of us can consider for ourselves: what is the story-line that God is writing in your life? What have you learned through the twists and turns caused by various events, people, and your own attempts to "find your way" as God writes Your Life?
When we read the Bible, we relate to it on different levels at the same time. While the ancient story of Israel and Jesus is the presenting narrative, we also look for clues or indicators of patterns which might be present also in our era. In the lives of people in the Bible, we see that learning often happens through their mistakes, rebellion, sin, or paradox. Of course, this prompts us to evaluate the good, bad, and ugly of our own life experience, as well as what is going on in the world today.
The point of this exercise, however, is to continue to lift up the underlying question as we attempt to live our days with purpose and meaning: "What can I learn about the Author's story line in my life, from looking back along the days of my years?"
The secondary question, as important as considering God's purposes, is this: "How can I cooperate with what the Author seems to be developing in my life?"
The readings we consider this Sunday reflect these two questions. Once again, we see how "the Bible" is not just ancient writings about "long ago and far away", but a potential help in making sense of life. Can we see our life story as a weaving in which we collaborate with the Creator/weaver who is designing the tapestry?
In all the circumstances of our lives, we believe that God is present, encouraging us and opening before us the "abundant life" which Jesus spoke about.