THE COLLECT FOR THE SEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY
LORD of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of thy Name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of thy great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The lessons for the week are found on the top of pp. xxxviii-xxxix.
Part 1. The First Lesson of Morning Prayer
In the First Lesson of Morning Prayer this week we continue our reading of 1 Samuel. While Samuel had been a faithful and holy judge and guide to Israel, his sons didn’t follow his ways. This has always been troubling to intentional, and devoted Christian parents. How can it be that children raised in the faith and guidance of a Christian family and in the community of the Church fall from faith? Of course, there is no pat or easy answer. We must continue to share with them the love of God, especially in what he has done for us in his Son and Spirit.
But more particularly to the drama of 1 Samuel, the Israelites reject Samuel because of his sons’ wickedness, and demand that he give them a king so that they could be like their pagan neighbors. If true religion begins in the home, and true religion is the health of the commonwealth, then we should not be surprised when our nation’s political well-being falters when our families no longer offer authentic worship to Almighty God. Though Samuel warns Israel that they already have a king, God himself, they resolve to crown Saul the Benjamite as their king.
Part 2. The Second Lesson of Morning Prayer
In the Second Lesson of Morning Prayer we continue in our reading of Luke’s Gospel. Jesus’ warnings to Israel that have occupied our reading for the last three weeks give over to his exhortation to forgiveness. Jesus’ opponents are committed to violent nationalism, a zealous defense of land, law and temple against their gentile neighbors that can only end in the Romans coming to destroy their city and their people. Jesus offers another way: the way of peace marked by repentance and coincident forgiveness. These will be the hallmarks of the community that he was building around himself.
So Jesus tells three parables about God seeking the lost sheep, coin, and son in response to the Pharisees’ anger at Jesus’ fellowshipping with sinners. Again, his puzzling parable about the dishonest manager discounting the debts owed to his master is not given as business advice, but as a comment on the precarious state of Israel whose debts were all about to be called in. Where would they find friends when the Romans came to execute divine judgment on them? They should be wise before that terrible time came. The rich among them should take care of the poor in their streets, for in deathall humans are poor. As the book of Ecclesiastes reminds us, ‘It’s better to be a live dog, than a dead lion.’ So who will be justified, that is, declared to be in God’s kingdom when it comes? Jesus’ opponents clung to their identity as Jews.
But Jesus says that the true Israelite is one who hears his words and follows his words of warning before the storm strikes. It will be like the days of Noah, or the days of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Part 3. The First Lesson of Evening Prayer
In the First Lesson of Evening Prayer we conclude our reading of Ezra and begin Nehemiah, both likely written as a single volume by a common author. Once King Artaxerxes had confirmed Cyrus’ original order to rebuild the city and temple in Jerusalem, Ezra leads a large party of exiles in the long journey home from Babylon. What is remarkable in the opening passage is their devotion to God’s care for them. Though it was a long and dangerous expedition, they devoted themselves in prayer and fasting to the LORD instead of asking for military assistance from the Persian king. But upon his return to Israel, Ezra found that the first wave of returning exiles led by Zerubbabel had intermarried with the local, pagan, gentile peoples. This struck at the heart of what it meant to be a ‘holy nation’ set apart as priests to serve the living God.
This should remind us of Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 6) about the sanctity of the human body and the marriage covenant. It is important that we marry another Christian. Why? Because our primary status is that we are members of the temple of God, not made of stone, but of believers. We are the household of God, filled by his Spirit. We cannot be joined together with someone outside that edifice. We cannot serve God and the desires of the flesh. Nehemiah continues the story of the returning exiles from Babylon likely describing the wave of Jews arriving around the year 445BC.
Part 4. The Second Lesson of Evening Prayer
In the Second Lesson of Evening Prayer we continue our reading of Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Our reading begins with Paul’s triumphal shout, “What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” The things that stood against us included not only human failing, but the failure of the Jews to be the light to the nations. So Moses’ law stands over against the Jews and accuses them; it cannot give life. But as we saw in 3.21ff God has shown himself to be trustworthy by sending his faithful Son to do for Israel what she couldn’t do for herself. The result is that now the reconciling, resurrecting power of God has been poured out upon all nations, in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Now there cannot be any condemnation against those who are bound up in the love of the Triune God. But that joyous truth leads Paul to consider the sad consequence to his Jewish brothers who have rejected their own Messiah.
While chapters 9 and 10 have been mined for proof texts for the doctrine of predestination, Paul’s vision has not been diverted. If Israel, God’s chosen family, though whom salvation would come to the world, has not received their own Messiah, have God’s promises failed? Paul seeks to show that since the beginning of Israel’s story God had not chosen all Israel, but only some, as a faithful remnant (Isaac, not Ishmael; Jacob, not Esau; etc.). The dark days of the Exile proved that most of Israel had rejected God. But he preserved a remnant. Indeed, all of Israel’s hopes were confirmed in that remnant of one, Jesus himself, who took upon himself the rebellion of his own people and went out into Exile of crucifixion and death.
So Paul, drawing deeply on Deuteronomy 30, states that all those (Jews and Gentiles alike) who confess the name of Jesus (not Yahweh, as in Dt.) will be brought back from exile. In a deeply ironic way, fulfilling Moses’ prophecy in Deuteronomy 32, Israel’s rejecting God’s offers of forgiveness has been the means by which the Gentiles hear God’s promises, believe, and are brought in (‘justified’).