Notes on the readings July to September 2010

Note: ¶ = Reading omitted at St Mary's, Temple Balsall

July | August | September

Sunday 4 July, 2010
The Fifth Sunday after Trinity - Proper 9

¶ 2 Kings 5. 1 – 14
The VIP of a neighbouring kingdom has the pride of nation and of class. But humility won the day – and Naaman became devoted to Yahweh.

Isaiah 66. 10 14
The last eleven chapters of the Book of Isaiah have a character of their own. They are full of visionary hope and of trust that God will bring delight and prosperity to his people. So the swing between a sense of God's righteous judgment and his love for his own comes to rest on the side of acceptance and welcome.

Galatians 6. (1 6), 7 16
Paul wrote Galatians in a state of great upset that his mission to gentiles, based on single-minded devotion to Christ and reliance on him as God's all-sufficient gift to us, was being blurred by Jewish Christians who wanted to impose obedience to the Jewish law. Paul will have none of it and sees it as a matter of the deepest principle. Having dictated most of the letter to a secretary, he takes up a furious pen himself for the final lines.

Luke 10. 1 11, 16 20
Luke tells of missions in Galilee and neighbouring, less purely Jewish territory, during Jesus' ministry, and he conveys an atmosphere of great freshness and hope. We can argue how appropriate nowadays is the attitude of 'take it or leave it' which has its modern imitators of course. Others prefer to discuss and ponder. Is that letting the side down?

* A vision of how good everything could be is perhaps a spur to collaborating with God's cause.

* Is Paul's single-mindedness always better than compromise? Or does it depend on the case?

* Christian mission looks different in a multi-cultural society. What might that do to us? And where does godly wisdom lie?

Sunday 11 July, 2010
The Sixth Sunday after Trinity - Proper 10

¶ Amos 7. 7 – 17
The prophet’s message is found intolerable by its hearers: he is too candid, too threatenng to authorities. And Amos is dismissed by the powers that be.

or Deuteronomy 30. 9 14
The Book of Deuteronomy presupposes a rural society, and the atmosphere of a harvest festival is never far away. But in this passage, the stress falls on the closeness of God, especially in the precious gift of the pattern of life that he lays down.

Colossians 1. 1 14
The opening of this letter is full of thankfulness for the gifts of God that flow from Christ and are now available to those who will receive them. The essence is a new relationship of peace and hope, in a new context altogether 'the kingdom of his dear Son'.

Luke 10. 25 37
The point of the story is not quite as obvious as it seems. The priest and Levite were correct - according to their lights; for the Law forbade pollution by attending to a possible corpse. The Samaritan's triumph is in going beyond any demand that his society could make of him where loving your neighbour meant caring for those of your own community, and why should a heretical and rejected Samaritan (as seen in orthodox Jewish eyes) care for those not of his own kind? In fact he leaps over the boundary and finds heroic truth and goodness.

* How ready is our generosity to go beyond easy or conventional bounds (the goodness of the flag-day contribution)?

* Can we recapture the greatness of what God has done to reconstruct our whole standing in life?

* How should we be looking at life if God had not touched us for good?

Sunday 18 July, 2010
The Seventh Sunday after Trinity - Proper 11

¶ Amos 8. 1 – 12
Amos was what we would call a social reformer, to the point of being a fire-brand and a nuisance, exposing injustice – and striking a new note for our sense of God’s will.

or Genesis 18. 1 10a
The passage is familiar as depicted in the Russian icons which see the three heavenly visitors as a foreshadowing of the Trinity, as in later Christian belief. It is God himself who brings to Abraham a promise of a son (Isaac), so guaranteeing at last his being the father and source of God's people.

¶ Colossians 1. 15 28
The first six verses of the passage may well be an early Christians hymn, expressing belief about Christ in high poetic language. He is nothing less than the comprehensive expression of God to us humans, in every way and from every point of view. So how marvellous to have received this divine mystery ('secret'), now at last revealed.

Luke 10. 38 42
This lovely little story has often seized the Christian imagination. It is seen as setting side by side practical service and life dedicated to prayer. There is little doubt where Jesus places the weight.

* The story of Isaac's birth reminds us how much may hang by a single thread. So it was with the self -offering of Jesus, and so it may be in our own lives.

* Christ meets us in all dimensions and sides of our existence - and once it is given there is no limit to his generosity.

* A good question. How to balance (is that the right word?) the demands of service to others and love for God? Is it a live choice - if faith is true? Or can the two coincide?

Sunday 25 July, 2010
The Eighth Sunday after Trinity - Proper 12

¶ Hosea 1. 2 – 10
The prophet vividly expresses his teaching in the make-up of his family. His message combines severe criticism with words of hope.

or ¶ Genesis 18. 20 32
The story is irresistible for its quality of suspense. But it presents God in a light that may now seem primitive or unworthy. Abraham is bargaining with God and presenting what we may see as a more moral stance than God himself. But we may reflect that his ways are not always necessarily the same as ours would be or ought to be. Wisdom can be many-layered.

¶ Colossians 2. 6 15 (16 19)
Paul is glad that the old Jewish criteria for membership of God's people have gone. In the new situation, there can be no compromise with God's fresh provision. Christ suffices and he stands alone as far as Christians are concerned in their relating to God.

Luke 11. 1 13
God is generous totally so. But we have no business to take him for granted and we must stick to him like leeches. He is no milch-cow, no 'soft touch'.

* Can we manage to believe that Christ is all and needs no support, no other force?

* Are there deeper ways of thinking of prayer? Is it just a matter of persistence - or is it to do with giving ourselves to God's purposes, come what may? Are the two perhaps related together?

* Give thanks to God for his generosity.

Sunday 1 August, 2010
The Ninth Sunday after Trinity - Proper 13

¶ Hosea 11. 1 – 11
The prophet spoke of a time when the worship of Yahweh alone was far from having a monopoly in Israel: the heritage from Moses was tarnished, and God’s faithful love is rejected.

Ecclesiastes 1. 2, 12 14; 2. 18 23
This is the one book of the Bible which non-believers really approve of! It was written long ago by a top Jerusalem official, world-weary and rather cynical. God hardly comes into his picture, but he does believe in 'wisdom' (i.e. thoughtful competence?) a decent ideal as far as it goes. But we could aim higher.

Colossians 3. 1 11
At first sight, the passage simply paints the contrast between virtue and vice, good qualities and bad. But Paul's main point is to show how the life of virtue springs straight from the gift of Christ and the impulse that comes to us from him. We do not change ourselves; he changes us, and he is 'all in all'.

Luke 12. 13 21
Here is the answer to the worldly-wise gentleman in Ecclesiastes. Earthly prudence and success are all very well, but they are not the last word, and our hearts had better look further. God is less stuffy than we are.

* Pray to see that plain good sense is not the last word.

* The new life in Christ is the starting-point and virtues follow on.

* Where exactly is the snare to be found in riches and what does it mean to be 'rich' towards God?

Sunday 8 August, 2010
The Tenth Sunday after Trinity - Proper 14

¶ Isaiah 1. 1 – 10
The prophet takes up his calling in desperate times, with the land either annexed by foreign power or under threat.

or Genesis 15. 1 6
In Judaism's sense of itself, Abraham is the great father-figure, from whom the whole of Israel has sprung. We may see this as both wonderful and yet restrictive. The picture here is of a beginning, not an end.

Hebrews 11. 1 3, 8 16
Abraham appears in this grand visionary passage as a man of faith. He trusted God when all sense stood against him. Even so, says the writer, still greater things lay in store for us.

Luke 12. 32 40
Expectation, excitement and alertness: these child-like qualities are required of us if we are to be ready for God's astounding generosity to us, summed up in the image of 'the kingdom'.

* It is good to be always amazed at the great promise concealed in small things.

* In part, 'faith' means simply trust - a disposition rather than a body of beliefs.

* Such trust then entails being ready for whatever God asks or gives.

Sunday 15 August, 2010
The Blessed Virgin Mary (- Proper 15)

Isaiah 61. 10, 11
Ecstasy in the presence of God’s utter generostiy – that is what the prophet opens up.

Galatians 4. 4 - 7
In Paul's letters, the oldest writings in the New Testament, Mary is never mentioned by name, and here we have the passing reference to her role. Jesus' is God's agent for our good; but he is not strange being, as from outer space: he is born of a woman', in the real world, at a particular time and place. He truly was 'one of us'.

Luke 1. 46 - 55
Mary's song, the Magnificat, coming as the birth of Jesus approaches, is both a giving of sheer praise to God and a summing os God' policy: he is all for reversing human values and turning them upside down. His followers sometimes manage to believe him and to help his purpose on, but it takes the greatest purity of heart and strength of spirit.

* Thank God for the example of Mary's joy and self-offering as she gives herself to God's service.

* We pray that the Church may imitate her spirit of sacrifice and radical goodness

Sunday 22 August, 2010
The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity - Proper 16

¶ Jeremiah 1. 4 10
Vocation is a mysterious business, and surprising people can find themselves taking on amazing tasks, sometimes early in life and despite the tut-tuts of others.

or Isaiah 58. 9 – 14
A call to give oneself – and one’s community – afresh to God. Renewed service of those in need will bring its reward from God and a new dawn will arise for his people.

Hebrews 12. 18 29
A hard passage to engage with; but its point is to keep us aware of the bewildering mystery and power with which God surrounds us. There is a Proper fearfulness and sense of being overwhelmed by what is given to us.

Luke 13. 10 17
Like other stories of healing on the sabbath, this one tells us of Jesus' priorities. Nothing, in the way of rules or conventions, must stand in the way of God's restoring love.

* The call of God may be no respecter of social good sense. But how can we tell when it is genuine?

* We needs to hold on to a sense of God's endless mysteriousness, beyond our easy summing-up.

* Rules may be made to be broken -- in the greatest of good causes.

Sunday 29 August, 2010
The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity - Proper 17

¶ Jeremiah 2. 4 – 13
The prophet’s call is consistent. It is to summon the people to renewed faithfulness to their heritage and God’s gifts to them.

or ¶ Ecclesiasticus 10. 12 – 18
A reflection on God’s powers to dispose the fortunes of nations and to overthrow those that are consumed by pride.

or ¶ Proverbs 25. 6 7
The ancient world, as witnessed in both Old and New Testaments, was even more conscious of pecking-orders, honour and shame, than we are. It takes an effort of imagination to feel as acutely as they felt. (Or perhaps it doesn't?)

¶ Hebrews 13. 1 8, 15 16
The statement about perhaps entertaining angels unawares refers to the story of the heavenly visitors to Abraham who promise Isaac's birth (Genesis 18). But it is the words about the utter dependability of Jesus that stay in the mind.

Luke 14. 1, 7 14
This story of musical chairs has a serous point. There is virtue in even the humdrum exercise of humility and also in (occasional?) recklessness of hospitality: it purges the heart and the conscience. A breath of open fresh air, with a serious point to it.

* Homely social and courteous gestures can be costly -- but also of big moral benefit.

* What does it mean to take Jesus as the rock we must rely upon?

* Behind humility lies genuine 'not caring' about the things that fortify our pride.

Sunday 5 September, 2010
The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity - Proper 18

¶ Jeremiah 18. 1 – 11
The prophet makes a striking demonstration of his message of judgment on God’s people and its rules. Only repentance will suffice.

or Deuteronomy 30. 15 20
Israel is poised on the point of entry, at long last, into the land of promise. It is a moment of huge seriousness -- and of choice. Will she stay faithful to the Giver of all her good?

Philemon 1 21
Perhaps this brief letter survived because it was precious to a particular person, most likely Onesimus, the slave in whose interest Paul intercedes and whose service he himself needs. Not long after, a man of that name was head of the church in Ephesus, a major Christian centre. A 'maybe' of early Christian history. Paul is shown here at his most attractive.

Luke 14. 25 33
Here is some of the most strident and forbidding teaching in the Gospels. The service of Jesus will be hard; and it is no good cutting corners as we read these words. Can we survive them?

* The reality and severity of choice, for or against God, faced Israel - and faces us all.

* Christian life often boils down to small-scale matters of kindness and help; but even they can be full of spiritual promise.

* Attention to individual relationships is among our dearest gifts and basic duties.

Sunday 12 September, 2010
The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity - Proper 19

¶ Jeremiah 4. 11 – 12, 22 – 28
One of the prophet’s bleakest oracles, uttered in a mood that is without hope of change.

or Exodus 32. 7 – 14
The story of the golden calf has become the classic picture of idolatry and falling away from God. And yet God stays faithful. It has its echoes on the levels of both individuals and groups.

1 Timothy 1. 12 – 17
The passage gives the most familiar images, of Paul the persecutor who turned to be an apostle. He saw this as a gift of sheer unmerited grace, and it dominated his faith. He never ceased to sing of it as the pattern of God's loving dealings with us.

Luke 15. 1 – 10
The main point is clear. But is there a touch of irony in the reference to 'ninety-nine who need no repentance'? If you count yourself among them, you show you haven't got the point do you not?

* We reflect on the business of turning to God and being accepted by him.

* It is a gift we easily let slip and even abandon.

* It is a gift that comes not by our deserving but by his pure generosity.
He is relentless in his longing to count us in. Why bother to hide?

Sunday 19 September, 2010
The Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity - Proper 20

¶ Jeremiah 8. 18 – 9. 1
The prophet is in despair over the treachery of Israel against God.

or Amos 8. 4 – 7
The prophet Amos is notable for his strong message of social justice and protest against the tricks of the better-off in their exploiting of the poor. And who shall say (and why?) that religion has no bearing on politics?

¶ 1 Timothy 2. 1 – 7
This is the earliest example of 'establishment' religion from a Christian voice - and you can almost hear already the Tudor English Prayer Book. It is the other side of the coin from the message of Amos. Christians do have a duty to help construct a stable society, one of the greatest (and most fragile) of all goods. So long as it is just.

Luke 16. 1 – 13
It is the most obscure and even shocking story of all those told by Jesus. Why exactly is the dishonest man commended? Probably because at least he had the sense to act, in the crisis of his life. Whether we know it or not, we too are in a fix and need above all to act, and to give ourselves to God's cause.

* The voice of godly protest is surely to be encouraged, even demanded.

* Yet stability is so great a good that it should never be lightly threatened.

* And the deepest crisis we face concerns the root of our allegiance. Where does our heart lie?

Sunday 26 September, 2010
The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity - Proper 21

¶ Jeremiah 32. 1 – 3a, 6 – 15
The prophet seemed to be nothing less than a traitor when it came to the time of invasion of Judah and the siege of Jerusalem. But he maintained, dramatically, a hope of ultimate redemption.

or ¶ Amos 6. 1a, 4 – 7
Amos does not like the rich! And who can deny that affluence brings serious moral perils? Never mind, they can be overcome by generosity of heart and pocket. Simple remedies. Oh dear.

¶ 1 Timothy 6. 6 – 19
A passage full of familiar 'quotes'. It plunges us into seriousness and its sole basis is the example of Jesus, especially his conduct in his Passion. That is where he most plainly discloses God to us and brings us to him.

Luke 16. 19 – 31
The parable is a picture of extremes. Callous self-indulgence on the one hand, and abject degradation on the other. We are more used to some softening at the edges though we may not need to go far to find situations pretty close to those in the story. But here, the fault of the rich lies in the hard casing on the conscience: nothing (not even a resurrection) can get through it.

* Which of us is immune to the battering inflicted in today's readings?

* Jesus lived in a largely desperately poor and pitiless society, and we do not. Can we enter the spirit of these words?

* How exactly does corruption through affluence bite?

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