(Monthly Gathering 9.08.2019 // Proper 18 - Year C - Track 2: Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Psalm 1, Philemon 1-21, Luke 14:25-33
Ordinary time refers to the two periods in the Church calendar that are not marked by a major church season (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost). The Ordinary time after Pentecost lasts until Advent. (Church calendar + Special days )
Loving God, help us to trust in you and your compassion with all our hearts - not as the proud who trust in their own strength - so that we may enjoy the community of those who know your presence and boast of your mercy. Amen.
First Lesson - Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Moses said to all Israel the words which the Lord commanded him, "See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob."
The Response - Psalm 1:1-6 *She Remix
1 Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked,
nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seats of the scornful!
2 Their delight is in the law of the Lord, and they meditate on her law day and night.
3 They are like trees planted by streams of water,
bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither;
everything they do shall prosper.
4 It is not so with the wicked;
they are like chaff which the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes,
nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.
6 For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked is doomed.
The Epistle - Philemon 1-21
Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.
For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love-- and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother-- especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.
The Gospel - Luke 14:25-33
Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, `This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.".
NOTES + THOUGHTS:
*Liturgy means “the work of the people.” We enter into this work when we enact the scriptures together by reading and discussing them and allowing our lives to be formed by Christ and each other. Like a potluck, we each bring something to the discussion, and there is always enough.
Which passage jumped out at you the most? Why?
What thoughts / questions do you have?
What connections do you see between the readings + life?
What action or change do they invite?
Why was it included in the Bible?
Is there any disconnect between the narrators perspective and our perspective as modern readers?
"See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity… if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish… I call heaven and earth to witness… Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.
Blessing and curing language was a standard part of ancient cultures and teaching. To the modern reader, it sounds like a promise that punishments and blessing will be metered based on a concrete moral formula, however this is seldom what the authors have in mind. Rather they are laying out the natural consequence of being drawn away from their good God who gave them sabbath, protects, and provides for them and drawn into the clutches of other so called god’s who will promise much, but demand more than they deliver. In similar effect today, one might say, choose the way of God / life over the way of workaholism, hedonism, or materialism, of gluttony. Each of those “God’s promises a form a provision, but with a heavy potential cost. Being a Christian means embracing the life of Christ as the best way to live, ie, the way of life. When we follow Christ in his life, we are not promised ease or luxury, but we know it to be the the way of life and love.
Discuss: Are you thrown off by the “blessing and cursing” language of the Bible? How so?
One the other side of the blessing and cursing language, what is the invitation that this passage offers? Is it compelling?
They are like trees planted by streams of water,
bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither…
Similar to the dichotomy explored by Deuteronomy 30, Psalm 1 explores the difference between those who follow the humble ways of God in trust and the “wicked.” As we look around in 2019, often it does seem like the wicked are the ones who gain power and apparently prosper. Coming out from under 400 years in slavery, it’s likely the ancient Israelites could have deeply related with our frustration about the wicked prospering. This is what makes the appeal of Psalm 1 so subversive - namely - even though the wicked often appear to be “winning” they will not win out in the end. Those who choose life and love are planted by a river and have the nourishment for a lifetime of growth - in the end, this will lead to greater flourishing.
Discuss: What do we do with the basic fact that many “wicked people” appear to be happy and flourishing?
What does it look like for you to “choose life?”
…though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty [namely to free your slave - our brother in Christ], yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love… So if you consider me your partner, welcome as you would welcome me.
Galatians 3:27 …you… were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:27 -28
Sometimes the best options available are not the options we wish were available. When faced with this dilemma, some - on principle - hold out for an unavailable option and others choose to pursue the best options available. Neither is necessarily right or wrong, as both have historical examples of “working” and “not working.” The letter to Philemon is an example of Paul choosing to embrace the best available option - even though it’s clearly not a perfect option. On principle, Paul could order Philemon to set his slave (and brother in Christ) Onesimus free - but if he does so, and Philemon says “no” then Onesimus will be a fugitive, hunted for the rest of his life. Paul instead appeals to Philemon’s “better angles” - seeking to get him to make the right (and obvious as a Jewish Christian aware of the Exodus from slavery and Christ’s liberation) choice on his own. The risks of course is that Philemon refuses the way of Christ and seeks to continue the power differential culture granted him rather than a new dynamic as outlined by Christ and later Paul. How can slavery persist if we are all One in Christ. And yet as we look around, we are still a long way from being “One in Christ.” Many “Christians” cling to their cultural privilege at the expense of their own brothers and sisters. We are clever and often cloak our anti-Christ behavior even from ourselves - and therefor tragically, despite all of those in American who “follow Christ” there are still countless victims of racism, classism, sexism, misogyny, xenophobia, and all other sorts of oppression. In the case of Philemon, it’s likely Paul’s gambit payed off and Onesimus was freed - but there are many Onesimus’s today who have yet to be liberated by privileged Christians and their fragile consciences.
Discuss: How do you respond to situations where the best available option is not the option you wish was available? What are the dangers of each response?
Why is privilege so hard to spot in our own lives, with the light of faith?
Why we who are privileged so reactive when our privilege is pointed out to us?
… Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple…”
Jesus often speaks hyperbolically. When he is critiquing something, he will overstate his point, to make his point. This might not seem fitting for a spiritual teacher today, but it was perfectly expected and acceptable for an ancient Rabbi. Does Jesus really mean that you need to HATE in order to follow him in the way of LOVE? Of course not, that would be silly - but it does make an important point: If you follow Jesus teaching, you will find yourself at odds with lots of people.
Sometimes it will be family that think following Jesus is silly or that you are following Jesus wrong.
Sometimes it will be friends who see your personal growth as betrayal,
Sometimes it will be other Christians who find your freedom threatening,
Sometimes it will be pragmatists who find the concept of faith to be revolting.
Eventually, if we follow Jesus long enough and true enough, we will experience the grief of losing friends and family over it. And I think this is the point - following the way of Jesus - in love, in hospitality, in forgiveness, in honesty, in healing, in pain in hope, with integrity - will cost something significant.
Discuss: Why does Jesus use hyperbole and how does that impact the way we read the Bible?
How has your faith shifted over time? What has it cost you to keep following Jesus?
This is the table of Christ.
Here we remember God’s love + acceptance for humans.
Here we remember our connection with all humankind.
All are invited to come and eat
You who have much faith + you who have little.
You who have been here often + you who are new.
You who have tried to follow + you who have failed.
Come, because Christ has invited us here together.
(*Inspired by Galatians 6, Isaiah 66, and Psalm 66)
Come now and see the works of God,
how wonderful she is in her doing toward all people.
Her eyes keep watch over all the nations,
as a mother comforting her children
Come and join her in this universe of care,
Lifting one-another’s burdens
Opening our hearts to the burdens of all our neighbors,
across the street and around the world.
Come let us carry the burden of love together,
For she who holds our life, will keep our feet secure. Amen.