We are Nazarite

 

A sermon for Proper 22: Lamentations 1:1-6, Psalm 137, 2 Timothy 1:1-14, Luke 17:5-10

Everyone should have received an invitation to our Consecration Sunday Celebration Breakfast on October 23rd. And yes, this means it is stewardship time again. And we all know that there is financial aspect of stewardship; it does take money to do the work we are called to do. However, the context of our financial participation in the life and ministry of St. Stephen’s is far more important than the dollars themselves. At some point in preparing for the coming month, I realized that I had not shared any thoughts about why “Consecration Sunday.” So today we are going to explore what consecration means and how it helps to define our stewardship of Christ’s ministry.

I expect you remember the story of Samson, who was consecrated by his parents to be a Nazirite before God. (Judges 13:2-5) He was not very good at keeping the vows made for him; none the less he was among the Judges that saved Israel from the Philistines. Samuel’s mother is barren, and she prays for a son, whom she will give to God as a Nazarite (1 Samuel 1:11; 1:27-28). Samuel serves as God’s agent to identify and anoint Saul and David to be Kings over Israel. Nazarites are consecrated, or set apart for God’s use. These examples show how those set apart can vary in righteousness. An entire group of people can be consecrated, priests, who call come from one tribe, Levites, Aaronites and Zadokites are all consecrated in service to God. In addition to people, times and places can be consecrated. Sabbath is a day set apart for God is consecrated time. Holy Days and seasons, like Passover, are consecrated time. The Temple and all the setting are consecrated for service to God. Events can be consecrated; the Exodus is consecrated, as are all the first-born of Israel from then on (Exod 13:2; Deut 15:19). In the New testament, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is an event consecrated to the service of God. Clearly, the human manifestation of Jesus is consecrated to God, set aside, and is holy (Sakenfeld). Others in the New Testament are also consecrated.

One person is Timothy. He receives a strong Christian tradition from his mother and grandmother. Paul acknowledges the risks of proclaiming the gospel and at the same time assures Timothy of the Spiritual resources that are available (Harrelson 2 Timothy). Timothy is set aside to subvert the present world order rooted in the will to use whatever brute force [to] make your way in the world no matter how many people you have to step on—or even squash—along the way. (Adam; Hoezee, 2 Timothy). There is the implication that Timothy’s consecration, to some degree depends on, on his acceptance of the life and discipline required. The disciples face a similar challenge.

subvert the present world order rooted in the will to use whatever brute force [to] make your way in the world no matter how many people you have to step on—or even squash—along the way. (Adam; Hoezee, 2 Timothy).

There is the implication that Timothy’s consecration, to some degree depends on, on his acceptance of the life and discipline required. The disciples face a similar challenge.

Today’s reading opens with Jesus’ disciples asking him to “increase our faith.” It is interesting to note their request is for our faith, not my faith, to be increased (Lewis). It may be an indication of their growing sense of being a community consecrated to Jesus. But why do they make this request? Well, back up a few verses and you read that Jesus tells the disciples to be sure they don’t cause anyone to stumble, and adds a warning about a millstone around their neck and going for a swim in the sea. Then he tells them that if anyone repents of a sin, they must forgive them, even if that person sins against them seven times a day, or 70 times 7 times (Matthew 18:22). This discipleship stuff is hard. The disciples realize they are going to need help. At first reading, Jesus’ answer is a tad harsh. However, he may be telling them it doesn’t take a lot of faith. They don’t have to have much confidence because the grace and power of God has it covered. And in truth, even if they don’t their scripture tradition points the way forward.

Lamentation is a series of poems expressing regret for Israel’s behavior that has led to her drastic downfall; lead to her death. The primary purpose of her lament is “to enable her to give voice to the extreme suffering she and others endure” (Gaventa and Petersen). It is an intervention that stops Israel’s descent, and at the same time compels her to renew her hope in God; as faint as the glimmer may be. In expressing her emotions, Israel releases the energy necessary for her to do the work that needs to be done (Hoezee, Lamentations 1:1-6).

 Now, the gleaning about our consecration. As did Timothy, we have also received a great faith tradition. We too have to make or renew our choice to boldly proclaim the Gospel,  in increasingly challenging circumstances. Nationally, proclaiming the Gospel in falling out of favor. The particular tradition we follow is vigorously challenged by other Christian traditions. Like the disciples, we may begin to see just how big our calling is. We may begin to doubt our abilities. We may even begin to get overly focused on possible miss steps that seem to be leading us into an uncomfortable future. Like Israel, our existence may be doubtful. And yet today we hear how expressing our concerns, and our fears, and confessing our missteps will free the divine energies necessary for us to continue to be consecrated, to be set aside, to serve God’s purposes as faintly as they may appear.

One other observation. By our baptism, we are consecrated into Jesus’ ministry. We are Nazirites in service to Christ’s ministry all our lives. We may, no ~ we will fail on occasion. God forgives, seventy times seven times a day. Our trust, our faith may, no ~ will falter. The Spirit is always there gently pointing to the way. And when our days are up, we will give thanks for the resurrection of Jesus through which we come into the gracious presence of God.

In the days between now and October 23rd, our Consecration Sunday I invite you to prayerfully explore how you are consecrated to service in Christ’s ministry; trusting in our God, who is always: more ready to hear than we to pray, more ready to answer than we are to ask, more ready to welcome than we are to seek (Pankey).

 


Works Cited

Adam, A. K. M. Commentary on 2 Timothy 1:114. 2 10 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 2 10 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 2 10 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

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

Hoezee, Scott. Proper 22C | Lamentations 1:1-6. 2 10 2016.

—. Proper 22C | Luke 17:5-10. 2 10 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

—. Proper 22C 2 Timothy 1:1-14. 2 10 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-18c/>.

Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher The Increments of Faith. 2 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4706 1/3>.

Logue, Frank. “An Act of Love, Proper 22(C).” 2 10 2016. Sermons that Work.

Lose, David. Pentecost 20 C: Every Day Acts of Faith. 2 10 2016.

Pankey, Steve. “Is that you Jesus?” 2 10 2016. Draughting Theology.

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

West, Audrey. Commentary on Luke 17:510. 2 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Wines, Alphonetta. Commentary on Lamentations 1:16. 2 10 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

 

Restraint and Respect

A sermon for Proper 22

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20, Psalm 19, Philippians 3:4b-14, Matthew 21:33-46

We all know the Ten Commandments. Don’t we? It’s a giveaway since Exodus 20 is the biblical source. Except we’ve got to deal with the second set in Exodus 34, that’s not quite the same; and a third in Deuteronomy 5 which has some notable differences. But there are still ten and we know them? unless your Christian tradition is different than mine. There are some five or six, different ways of counting; read closely, there is no numbering, (Sampey 2880) and several have multiple parts so just how many are there? In any case, there some other interesting bits you may not know, which I think are, if not important, then at least intriguing; and who knows, what follows may stir up some thinking, and that is never bad.

Unlike other legal codes of the day, and in the Bible, the Ten Commandment in Exodus 20, are grounded in covenant community (Brueggemann 5217) and creation rather than a judicial setting. (Fretheim 2761) The rare structural form, which doesn’t specify any consequences for noncompliance, (Plunket-Brewton) focuses our attention on divine intention to protect the covenant community, “against every kind of exploitative social relation” (Brueggemann 5224) such that, as Terence Fretheim writes: “to obey [the commandments] is to be what one was created to be.” (Fretheim 2762-2766) They call Israel, call us, to “match God’s single-minded devotion to them, [us] with a single-minded devotion to God.” (Plunket-Brewton)

It all starts with the familiar “I am …” we’ve heard from early on in Exodus, that should always take us back to the burning bush. Especially here. Remember God’s answer when Moses asks God “Who am I to go to Pharaoh…?” (Ex 3:11) God tells Moses “Ya’ll will worship me on this mountain.” Well, here they are, back on Sinai / Horeb, that Mountain, where God is.

The first commandment is to have no other gods. It doesn’t say there aren’t other gods, just that Israel, we, aren’t supposed to give them any credence. For ancient Israel the competitors were Baal, Ashtoreth, Molech, (Elder) and others, for us the competitors are most likely a political, economic, ideological, or some other predisposition that determines how we relate to each other. Much of this is encapsulated in the second commandment’s prohibition against idols. Listen carefully, there are 3 commands here:

do not make,

do not bow down,

do not serve.

In short we are not to give anything else any theological significance.  (Brueggemann 5237) Remember ‘theo’ means ‘God,’ so we are not to give anything god status. But there is another bit that arises from trying to capture the form of God; the attempt to locate and thereby domesticate Yahweh. (Brueggemann 5237) It also maintains the distinction between the created (us) and the Creator.  (Petersen and Beverly Roberts Gaventa) A similar principle applies to the use of God’s name.

The prohibition is not about using bad words, and this is not permission to be less conscious of what we say. The concern here is the connection between name and reputation, and we should not speak God’s name in any way that diminishes or tarnishes God, (Fretheim 2788) and that includes who or what we associate or disassociate God with. Secondly, God’s name is powerful, and we should never invoke divine power for our own self-centered purposes. (Brueggemann 5240) God’s name belongs to God, and so does time.

The forth commandment, is the middle, the connection between guidance concerning our relationship with God, and guidance to come about relationships with each other. But it’s more than just a hinge. Once again there are multiple instructions: work six days rest one day; and oh by the way, everyone gets to rest too: spouses, sons and daughters, animals, slaves, and the foreigners. And yes, it puts a divine kink in productivity models, because there is a divine limit to the use of people, animals (Brueggemann 5269) and the land. (Leviticus 25) Here the commandments are tied to creation (5260) God created, worked, for six days and rested one; God rests, Israel rest, we rest. In resting, in keeping Sabbath, we remember not only the rest, but also the creation, and not just that it is, but that we are creation’s chief stewards. (Gen 1:28) And note, there is no mention of worship; (5260), (Fretheim 2793) we still owe God a day.

Keeping Sabbath is more complex than we think, perhaps more than we’d prefer. The same can be said for honoring our mothers and fathers. To honor comes from the root meaning ‘to be heavy’ or ‘give weight to.’ It is not coincidence that ‘to curse’ is also means ‘to take lightly.’ We are to give weight to our parents; it’s very likely this is to ensure parents are properly feed after their productive ability is gone. Given the practice of Corban, declaring you’ve given produce of the land to the Temple, while keeping it, to avoid giving it to  your parents,  which Jesus chastises, (Matthew 15:5, Mark 7:11) (Baur 709) the necessity of such a commandment, is clear. Today, that biblical social responsibility includes housing, health care and all other necessities of modern life. Notes that these commandments are given to Israel as a covenant community; in other words they are commands the society as a whole is responsible for. All of us are responsible for each other’s parents.

In comparison to what we like to think about the Ten Commandments, this is all a might complex. Thank goodness we are to six, seven and eight; ~ except they aren’t just about murder, sex and theft. The linguistics of ‘kill’ and ‘murder’ are complex and much debated. However, the basic point that life belongs to God is not. In summary we are to respect life.  (Brueggemann 5277) Sexuality belongs to the community as a means of procreation and pleasure; but only within the bounds of respect and restraint; otherwise the enormous dangers over whelm the enormous wonders. (5278) It is another form of respect for life. The prohibition against stealing is grounded in recognizing the necessity of goods to a life of dignity. (5280) To steal material goods, is to diminish life. For the third time, respect life. R-E-S-P-C-T goes a long way.

In fact, respect gets to the heart of not bearing false witness. This is not about lying, which is still not a good thing to do. False witness, is a matter of communal confidence in the judicial system. A covenant community’s, any community’s “life is not possible unless there is an arena in which … social reality will be reliably described and reported.” (5281) Moreover, as God’s name is not to be used for our self-interest, neither is our neighbor to be use for our self-interest. And remember a couple thousand years from this story, Jesus will teach, that everyone is our neighbor.

One, two, three, and half of four are about our relationship with God. Half of four, and five, six, seven eight and nine are about our relationships with each other. And I suspect, if Israel, or us for that matter, had any propensity to listen all of them could be rolled up into the tenth: “You shall not covet.” Yes, it mentions specifics, nonetheless, the issue with covet is the “destructive power of desire” (5283) Because of the list, we associate it sexual desires, and frequently recall Jimmy Carter’s “lusted in my heart” line. However, in ancient Israel desire was primarily an economic concern. (5284) In a true covenant community accepting what one has as adequate is the norm. (5286)

And such are the Ten Commandments. Until we read verse 18 when all the people are terrified, concerned about the future, and all but run away. That should give us cause to remember where this is ~ more or less at the site of the burning bush; ~ more or less at the site where God gave Israel

  • water,
  • life

The Ten Commandments, and Torah, the Law, that flows from them, like water, that flows from the rock, are a source of life, for Israel and for us. (Hoezee)

Christians spend so much time, thinking, worrying, arguing about redemption, life with God, out there somewhere, sometime, we forget the heart of the prayer  Jesus taught  “… thy Kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven …” which is life with God right here, right now. So yes, in the midst of our own fear and trembling about the future, we are called to proclaim Jesus as the Christ, and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2) in the Episcopal tradition in the Delta in the 21st century, we are called to be the church right here, right now. A part of that calling is how we live with restraint for our self-centered desires, with respect for:

God, for life,

for each other,

for all creation;

trusting that God through Jesus provides the way to life right here right now, for ever and for ever more.


Works Cited

Baur, William. “Corban.” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Ed. M.A., D.D, James Orr. WordSearch Corp, 2004.

Brueggemann, Walter. The New Interpreter’s Bible. Ed. Leander E Keck. Vol. Exodus. Abingdon Press, 2003.

Elder, Gregory. Baal, Ashtoreth and Molech – God’s Old Testament rivals. 10 1 2007. 10 2014. <Ashtoreth and Molech >.

Fretheim, Terence E. Interpretation A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING. Ed. Patrick D Miller, Jr. and Paul J. Achtemeier. Vol. Exodus. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1991.

Hoezee, Scott. Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Exodus 17: 1-7. 28 9 2014. 10 2014. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php&gt;.

Petersen, David and Beverly Roberts Gaventa. New Interpreters’ Bible, One Volume Commentary. Nashville TN: Abingdon Press, 2010. e-book.

Plunket-Brewton, Callie. Commentary on Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20. 5 10 2014. 2014. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2244&gt;.

Sampey, John Richard. “Ten Commandments.” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Ed. M.A., D.D, James Orr. WordSearch Corp, 2004.