Engaging the Word: 6/18/17 (The Second Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 6)

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 By Barbara Klugh

Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7; Palm 116:1, 10-17; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:23. Go to www.lectionarypage.net for the weekly lectionary text.

We are in the season after Pentecost, also known as Ordinary Time, in which we focus on the mission of the church and how to live as faithful disciples day by day, week by week. For the next couple of months, our Old Testament readings will be from the Book of Genesis and our New Testament readings will be from Paul’s Letter to the Romans; we’ll read from Matthew’s gospel until the end of the church year on the last Sunday of November.

In this week’s readings, God keeps his promise to Abraham and Sarah, Paul guides us through how we achieve peace and hope through faith in Christ, and Jesus commissions the twelve disciples to ministry.

Sarah laughing by G. B. Tiepolo, c. 1726. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Sarah laughing by G. B. Tiepolo, c. 1726. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7: The story of Abraham is centered on God’s promises of land and descendants, but so far Abraham’s only son is Ishmael, the child of the slave Hagar, who became a surrogate mother since Sarah was barren. Both Abraham and Sarah are well past childbearing age.

In this week’s reading the Lord appears to Abraham in the appearance of three strangers (angels? the Trinity?) who suddenly arrive near his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham ran from the tent to meet them and showed proper hospitality to the three guests with water to wash their feet and a good meal.

While the guests are eating, one of them announces, “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” Sarah was in the tent listening and she laughed at the incredible idea. The guest heard Sarah laugh and he asks, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” He rebuked Sarah for laughing (though she denied it) and reiterated the promise.

The Lord kept his promise and Sarah bore a son. Abraham named the boy Isaac, which means he laughs in Hebrew, and, in keeping with the covenant made between God and Abraham, Abraham circumcised Isaac when he was eight days old. Isaac was the first infant circumcised on the eighth day. Now Sarah laughed with great joy and gratitude for her miracle baby.

Palm 116:1, 10-17: in our psalm this week, the psalmist expresses love, praise, and thanksgiving to the Lord “because he has heard the voice of my supplication.”  In the omitted verses we learn that the psalmist was near death, and God saved his life. To repay the Lord, he will make a drink-offering and “call upon the name of the Lord” in the presence of God’s people. Hallelujah!

St. Paul by José de Ribera, c. 1630. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

St. Paul by José de Ribera, c. 1630. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Romans 5:1-8: Paul had not yet been to Rome when he wrote this letter (c. AD 57), but he was well acquainted with the church. Romans is considered to be Paul’s most ambitious theological work and the Bible’s most systematic and comprehensive interpretation of the Christian message. Paul writes on the grand themes of sin, faith, God’s sovereignty, grace, freedom in Christ, the Holy Spirit, spiritual gifts, and rules for living.

In this week’s reading Paul addresses the question of suffering endured by followers of Jesus. Because we are justified (in right relationship with God) through faith, we can live in God’s grace and peace. And we can even boast in our sufferings, because suffering strengthens us along a continuum—suffering produces endurance, character, and hope because of God’s love though the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Paul adds that it would be rare enough for anyone to die for a righteous person, but God’s boundless love is shown by the fact that Christ sacrificed his life for us while we were still sinners. This is very good news indeed.

Harvest in Provence by Vincent van Gogh, 1888. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Harvest in Provence by Vincent van Gogh, 1888. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Matthew 9:35-10:23: This week’s lectionary is the first of three parts to Matthew’s missionary discourse. In this week’s reading, we see Jesus’ compassion for the people “because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”  He said the people were like a harvest waiting to be reaped. He says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

He called his twelve disciples to be an extension of his ministry, naming them apostles (meaning sent out) with authority over unclean spirits and the power to cure diseases. So instead of just being followers, they became ambassadors.  They were to “go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” and proclaim the good news of the kingdom without expecting any payment, or bring money, extra food or clothing. They were to rely upon the hospitality of those they visited. If the message of God’s peace was not well received, they were to “shake off the dust from your feet” and move on.

Jesus warned them that they will meet with resistance, division, and persecution, “See, I am sending you out like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” They needed to trust in the Spirit and “the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

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