A Sermon for Proper 17: Jeremiah 2:4-13, Psalm 81:1, 10-16, Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16, Luke 14:1, 7-14

Streets of Philadelphia

I was bruised and battered, I couldn’t tell what I felt
I was unrecognizable to myself
I saw my reflection in a window, I didn’t know my own face
Oh brother are you gonna leave me wastin’ away
On the Streets of Philadelphia

I walked the avenue, ’til my legs felt like stone
I heard the voices of friends vanished and gone
At night I could hear the blood in my veins
Just as black and whispering as the rain
On the Streets of Philadelphia

Ain’t no angel gonna greet me
It’s just you and I my friend
And my clothes don’t fit me no more
I walked a thousand miles
Just to slip this skin

The night has fallen, I’m lyin’ awake
I can feel myself fading away
So receive me brother with your faithless kiss
Or will we leave each other alone like this
On the Streets of Philadelphia

This morning’s reading from Hebrews begins ho philadelphia meno (Olive Tree) Let brotherly (mutual) love continue (Pankey). It has always been disjointing for me to put the title next to Springsteen’s words and realize that on the streets of brotherly love we are gonna leave him wastin’ away that no angel gonna greet him and will we leave each other alone like this. (AZ Lyrics). On the streets of philadelphia, on the streets of brotherly love how can there be such angst? how can there be such despair? how can there be such death? It’s a disconcerting to know that in the city of brotherly love in any city here in Blytheville, where we see and speak of ourselves as a place of brotherly, mutual love, that our neighbors ~ are wastin’ away and ain’t no angel is going to greet them, and that we leave each other alone like this.

Chapter 13 is the beginning of the letter’s summary. It begins with a plea for philadelphia, for brotherly, for mutual love to continue. The implication is there is the risk of division. It is a challenge to face the truth how we, of God’s church of so many flavors, split ourselves up. We start with big divisions Christian, Jew, and Muslim. Then we subdivide: Protestant, Catholic, Anglican; reformed, Orthodox; Sunni, Shai, Sufi. As you know, making divisions continues in the secular side of life. We divide by where we are from, we divide ourselves by the color of our skin, we divide ourselves by the language we speak we divide ourselves in almost every imaginable way. The immigration debate is about the divide between outsiders and insiders. The continuing racial issues is a divide, with deep roots, where one group has declared another unworthy. The debate about gender issues; reflects the male and female divide, and also the divide about gender identity. We divide ourselves by wealth; we believe, at least we act as if, those with more are somehow blessed, and those with less were somehow sinful and are receiving their just reward. Our propensity to divide up is seen in social etiquette; we gossip about who gets invited to what. The next time you go to a wedding dinner watch people responses at the seating chart when they see who gets to sit where, it doesn’t take words for folks to express their thoughts.

We are not so different from first century Palestine where seating is connected to social status; closer to the head table, the higher social status; and the higher the status, the greater the chance for gain. Jesus teaching on social etiquette has nothing to do with seating arrangements. Jesus, as is Hebrews, is trying to raise our awareness of others; and how we are always dividing ourselves up into camps. And how our camp is always right which requires another, all others, to be second or less (Ellingsen). This first or second scheme leads us to living life as some sort of balancing act, where this action is measured against that action. We are always seeking to tip the scales in our favor, or to at the least to keep them balanced. Such behavior leads us

to leave God behind and change after worthless things,
until we become worthless ourselves. (Jeremiah 2:5b)

Truth is we also try to balance out righteousness and sin, mostly to ensure we get in, but occasionally trying to keep someone else out.

This is not how God see the world (Lewis). With God in Jesus there are no seconds. Both Jesus and Hebrews challenge us to look beyond self and be open to the holiness in others. When we take the risk we will be surprised by who is holy, and who invites us to come and see.

We are fortunate we don’t have to go far to look into the night sky and see the wonders of the cosmos. Look carefully, sometimes with the help of amazing gadgets, and we will see the amazing diversity of the cosmos. Every star every nebula, every galaxy is different. Here on earth, there are differences. There are difference amongst humans. In and of themselves the differences are not a problem, God knows they are there, just as they are present in the cosmos. The trouble is how we use them to divide ourselves, pitting one over the other, castigating the other as somehow defective, unrighteous or otherwise unworthy. Jesus and Hebrews entreat us to live in brotherly, in mutual love. We are challenged to “learn to live in disagreement and find God in discomfort, and remember, that even when the music changes, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

When you are unrecognizable to yourself, and don’t know your own face
God in Jesus is never gonna leave you wastin’ away
On the Streets of philadelphia

God’s angel is gonna greet you
you and me my friend
as we walk a thousand miles
Just to slip this skin

As the night is falling, as you are lyin’ awake
feeling yourself fading away
God will never leave us, so we are never alone
On the Streets of philadelphia.


AZ Lyrics. “Streets Of Philadelphia” lyrics. n.d. 28 8 2016. <;.

Bratt, Doug. Proper 17 C | Jeremiah. 28 8 2016. <>.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 28 8 2016. <;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary – Pentecost 15 – August 28, 28 8 2016. <;.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. Proper 17 C | Hebrews. 28 8 2016.

—. Proper 17 C | Luke. 28 8 2016. <;.

Jacobsen, David Schnasa. Commentary on Luke 14:1, 714. 28 8 2016. <;.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 6 9 2015.

Lewis, Karoline. God’s Pro Quo. 28 8 2016. <>.

Mast, Stan. Lectionary Epistle. 6 9 2015. <;.

Olive Tree. NKJV Greek-English Interlinear New Testament. Olive Tree Bible Software, 22014.

Pankey, Steve. “Losing philadelphia.” 28 8 2016. Draughting Theology. <>.

Peeler, Amy L.B. Commentary on Hebrews 13:18, 28 8 2016. <>.

PortierYoung, Anathea. Commentary on Jeremiah 2:413. 28 8 2016. <;.

Rice, Whitney. “What Seat Do You Choose? Proper 17(C).” 28 8 2016. Sermons that Work.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.


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