The Sixth Sunday of Pentecost

Sunday, 21st July 2019

Amos 8:1 – 12

This is what the Lord GOD showed me—a basket of summer fruit.1  2 He said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.”2  Then the LORD said to me,

“The end has come upon my people Israel;

I will never again pass them by.

 3 The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,”

says the Lord GOD;

“the dead bodies shall be many,

cast out in every place. Be silent!”

 4 Hear this, you that trample on the needy,

and bring to ruin the poor of the land,

 5 saying, “When will the new moon be over

so that we may sell grain;

and the sabbath,

so that we may offer wheat for sale?

We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,

and practice deceit with false balances,

 6 buying the poor for silver

and the needy for a pair of sandals,

and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”

 7 The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob:

Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.

 8 Shall not the land tremble on this account,

and everyone mourn who lives in it,

and all of it rise like the Nile,

and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt?

 9 On that day, says the Lord GOD,

I will make the sun go down at noon,

and darken the earth in broad daylight.

 10 I will turn your feasts into mourning,

and all your songs into lamentation;

I will bring sackcloth on all loins,

and baldness on every head;

I will make it like the mourning for an only son,

and the end of it like a bitter day.

 11 The time is surely coming, says the Lord GOD,

when I will send a famine on the land;

not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water,

but of hearing the words of the LORD.

 12 They shall wander from sea to sea,

and from north to east;

they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the LORD,

but they shall not find it.

we reflect on:

  • God’s use of the image of the ‘summer fruit’ to indicate the time has come.
  • The punishment prophesied and what it might be in the light of Christ’s reconciling death spoken of by Paul in Colossians.
  • Religious observances not being a cover for acting unjustly
  • what do we think is God’s attitude to the injustices of the world we live in today?
  • What do we think these injustices are and what are we and the church, doing about them?
  • The cosmic effects of injustice and our challenges today, particularly in terms of climate change
  • The day of the Lord.  Is such a day still coming?
  • A famine where God’s word is not heard. Are we, to some extent, in such a time at the moment?

The role of prophecy in the Christian Revelation, is a complex one. There are a number of aspects that we reflect upon as we listen to the voice of the Prophets.

  • The life situation in which they were first given and if and how they were fulfilled in that time or subsequently. This can include, as with Amos, natural disasters such as eclipses and earthquakes, which were often seen as instruments of God’s punishment. Today because of the influence of science and the scientific explanation of such disasters, we tend not to see these events as related to God. This does not mean that they are not. Disorder in nature, from a prophetic perspective, is symptomatic of God’s ways being neglected. As we look at the life situation, as we can with Amos, we can see the fulfilment of his prophecies some 30 years after they were uttered when the Assyrians took the northern tribes (Israel) into captivity (721 718 B.C.E) the lapse of time between the prophecy and its fulfilment being a sign of God giving Israel time to repent. Amos’s prophecies also included the house of Judah, which later went into captivity at the hand of Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon well over 100 years after the demise of the house of Israel.
  • God’s truth revealed in the prophecies that can apply to any situation with similar circumstances to that of the prophecy. This gives the prophecies a relevance throughout human history.
  • The significance of the coming of Christ on the message of the prophet. In many cases, the prophecy is fulfilled in the coming of Christ, or is being fulfilled and might not yet be fully fulfilled until the time when Christ comes again. For example, the day of the Lord that Amos refers to might well be linked with the 2nd coming of Christ, but beginning with his first coming.  Similarly, the book of Amos concludes, in chapter 9 verse 11, with a promise of restoration ‘On that day I will raise up the booth of David that has fallen and repair its breaches……’  This restoration can be seen to be coming to be through Jesus and as St Paul says, ‘through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven’.

The Prophets and particularly for us in today’s reading from Amos, can create a deep sense of awe and trembling.  We can wonder how God is going to act or how God does act, in the complex times in which we live. There is such diversity of thought, different religions and ideologies and many people who do not really believe in God.

The Prophets remind us of the big picture. They remind us that it is important that we seek to live in God’s way, living for the coming of the kingdom, that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven; that injustices will ultimately not go unpunished.

We need to keep reminding ourselves that the injustices that we see in the world, where so few have so much and so many suffer from poverty, is not God’s will and a time of reckoning will come. We need to do all we can to pray and advocate against these injustices.

Colossians 1: 15 – 29

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in8  him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in9  him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

 21 And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled10  in his fleshly body11  through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him— 23 provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.

24 I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. 25 I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me.

We reflect on:

  • how do you describe Jesus as a person, a being?
  • how we experience Jesus as the image of the invisible God, in whom ‘all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell’, through the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
  • How all things are created through him
  • how Jesus is the head of the church, which is his body and the challenge that this is to all the Christian churches, given our diversity but also our divisiveness
  • Jesus as the firstborn from the dead
  • the significance of Paul saying ‘and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross’.
  • How we experience being reconciled to God in Christ
  • what sufferings we experience ‘for the sake of his body, that is, the church’.
  • Paul summation of the mystery of the revelation of God in Christ as ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’.
  • What it means for us and at least all Christians, to be ‘mature in Christ’.

The opening verses of this passage are often likened to a creedal statement. They are a profound summary of who Jesus is and what God has done for us in Christ. This passage needs to be read and re-read and prayed over for some time in order to explore the depths that are revealed in it. It also needs to be read in the light of the prologue to John’s gospel and Philippians 2:6 – 11.

Paul, in describing Jesus as ‘the image of the invisible God’ is claiming that Jesus is the embodiment of the invisible God, in whom the fullness of God dwells. He is the one in which God is truly visible.  It needs to be noted that is saying this to people who probably never knew Jesus while he was alive on earth, which includes us.  Consequently, there is the question of how Jesus makes God visible to us. It is through the Scriptures, our life in the church, his body and Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit dwelling within us that we experience ‘Christ within us’. It is the Holy Spirit, as St Paul again says later in Colossians that clothes us ‘with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator’. (Colossians 3:10)

We can experience this in Christ, because for not only in him were all things of heaven and earth created but ‘he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so he might come to first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell’.  By being the firstborn from the dead, Christ begins a new creation which we, who follow him, are a part of this as an experience that we share in, as mentioned above, through being part of the church which he is head of, body.

Paul’s claim of the universality of Christ’s death on the cross, is a challenge to some of our traditional interpretations of Scripture.  Paul says ‘and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross’.

This passage has a similar tone to Jesus saying ‘when I’m lifted up I will draw all people to myself’. (John 12:31). 

The Scriptures contain some passages which are exclusive and others like these, that are inclusive. In the past, we seem to have given greater emphasis to the exclusive passages, where some people are, for want of better words, cast out. After years of reflection, it is my understanding that the exclusive passages, rightfully challenge people, but the inclusive passages ultimately override the exclusive ones. Consequently, Christ died for all and all can be reconciled with God.

Paul describing his sufferings for Christ can be helpful for us in our times of suffering. As a Christian, no matter what the cause of our suffering, by suffering it in Christ, we are sharing in his redemptive work. In other words, Christ is working his divine purpose through our sufferings. It is also part of the process of taking on the new self that Paul spoke of in Colossians; of having Christ within us.

Luke 10: 38 – 42

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

We reflect on

  • our response to the story and Jesus saying that ‘Mary has chosen the better part’.
  • Do we spend enough time sitting at the feet of Jesus?
  • Have we managed to find a balance between the life of prayer and being busy with the things of this world?
  • Has there been a time or have there been times, when Jesus has led us to move out of our social norms.

After setting his face to Jerusalem, as described by Luke ‘When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem’ (Luke 9:51) – Taken up here means that Jesus was now focused on his journey to the cross, resurrection, ascension and glorification – Jesus set some fundamentals in place.

His disciples have to be focused on him above all else; 70 are appointed to go out and do the work of the Kingdom; unrepentant cities are challenged; and Jesus rejoices in the fact that ‘All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’ (Luke 10: 22)

Now we are then given 3 fundamentals of discipleship:

 The story of the good Samaritan which raises the question of what we need to do to have eternal life and who is my neighbour. The answer being to love God and your neighbour as yourself meaning everybody is your neighbour. A true disciple sees everyone as their neighbour.

Today’s Gospel passage of Martha and Mary and the importance of focusing on Jesus above all else and experiencing His presence.  Putting focussing on Jesus, being with Jesus above social norms and expectations. Another example of putting one’s hand the plough not looking back. (Luke 9:62)

In next week’s gospel the giving of the Lord’s prayer, in other words teaching his disciples how to pray, the importance of prayer, which is a follow-on from today’s story.

To understand today’s Gospel passage, it is important to understand the cultural context. Martha and Mary are important to Jesus. Jesus and his disciples come to the village and are welcomed, invited into their home and provided with food and fellowship. Mary is so drawn to Jesus, the one who St Paul says in verse 19 above, ‘For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell’, that she forgets or deliberately breaks free of the cultural expectations, that she will tend to the physical needs of her guests, as Martha was, and sits at the feet of Jesus. This was a sign of being a rabbi’s disciple, the traditional place for the disciples, who were always males, to be with their teacher. Consequently this was a very radical thing for her to do.

The essence of this story is experienced by reflecting on what it would be like to be in the presence of Jesus. The one who God is truly at work in and the promised Messiah of the Jews and the Gentiles. The one who will preside over God is never ending realm (Luke 1:32 – 33; 2:29 – 32) Mary’s insight into Jesus as a person and his mission opens her to embrace the ‘one thing’ that is needful for of a disciple of Jesus – hearing in responding to the Word of God.

It is in this context that we need to see Martha’s totally understandable reaction. Yes, Mary should have been sharing the role of hostess with her but there was something in Jesus presence that transcended these norms. In this situation Mary had ‘chosen the better part’.

In the life the church, this story is seen to present a dichotomy between the active and the contemplative life – people are either doers or prayers.   As has the resurrection story, recorded in John’s gospel, where John (the contemplative life) arrives at the tomb first but does not go in.  Peter (the active life), arrives after him and goes in and then John goes in and it is John who ‘saw and believed’. (John 20:1 – 9)

The synthesis of this dichotomy is to realise that sitting at the feet and listening to Jesus is the foundation for true activity. In other words, when we move away from sitting at Jesus feet into our daily activities, we seek to be mindful of Christ within us in everything that we think, say and do.

Note: there are six Mary’s mentioned in the new Testament. Not all of them are clearly identifiable. Clearly, Mary, the mother of Jesus, is central. Similarly, Mary in today’s story is well-known as Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus.

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