Monday, June 20, 2011

Proper 11 Year A

Proper 11 A
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Genesis 28: 10-19a; Psalm 139:1-11,22-33
OR Wisdom 12:13, 16-19

Isaiah 44:6-8; Psalm 86:11-17

Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43

As his father, Isaac, and grandfather, Abraham, before him,
Jacob experiences his own affirmation of God's covenant. Also like his father, Isaac insists that his son return to the homeland to find a wife who is not a Canaanite. On the way, he stops in a "certain place" to rest.  There he dreams of a ladder to heaven, with angels ascending and descending between earth and heaven. The Lord is "poised" over Jacob and identifies God's-Self as the God of Abraham and Isaac and "this place" will be given to Jacob and his descendants, who will  become as ubiquitous as "dust," and all the "clans of the earth shall be blessed through you."  Jacob awakes from his dream, anoints the stone on which he had slept and builds a monument at the place of the dream and calls it Bethel, changing its name from Luz.

The psalmist acknowledges that the Lord's knowledge of him is complete, thorough and inescapable.

The poetry of Wisdom describes God's reign as the perfect balance between power and justice. We can teach this to our children and have hope.

Isaiah reminds the people that, due to their history with God, they are witnesses to God's relationship to us

Even in the most dire circumstances in life, the psalmist turns to God who
has been reliably "merciful, gracious," and "slow to anger." Give a sign, he prays.

Previously Paul has defined the "
spirit of Christ" as the core of his whole life and the impetus for his love for all persons, which also gives all hope. Paul understands his own generation as the "first fruits" of Christ's spirit, for which all preceding generations have been "moaning." Now, he declares, we are "adopted" and entitled to address God as "Abba." We live by this hope, which is not easily seen or understood in our own and the world's turmoil and confusion.

that section of Matthew's gospel designated chapter 11,12, and 13 just before the arrest and execution of Jesus, he addresses his followers, the religious establishment and then the people in the streets regarding the confusion caused by him and the wide range of reactions to him. Apparently, there is confusion in Matthew's own community of faith. So the issue becomes: how to distinguish between the "good seed" and the "weeds?" Jesus says leave it to God to make that final judgment. However, you can be certain, the "good seed" will "shine like the sun." Just prior to this section, we have also been told you will know them because they will be productive, as mush as a hundredfold. Or, as Jesus says on another occasion, "you will know them by their fruits."

An early, consistent and crucial theme that recurs in postmodern writers is that the God of philosophy is not the biblical God. The God of philosophy places "Him" at the pinnacle of the most sublime human experience and understanding; the biblical God is "wholly Other." It is the difference, Emmanuel Levinas writes in Alterity and Transcendence, between "totality" and "infinity," between comprehension and bedazzlement, between adequacy and spilling over our comprehension, even excess. Yet, for reasons known only to God, God makes God's-self available to us in a surprising way!

Jacob dreams of a ladder connecting heaven and earth on which God's angels move easily. The psalmist knows that God knows him better than he knows himself. God's excess, which even surpasses any human words of generosity, can only be approximated metaphorically by the Wisdom poet as the "perfect balance of power and justice." Having experienced God's love uniquely in Christ for the first time in his life, Paul declares that anyone -- literally any person-- can draw hope from his experience

Not only does the biblical God defy any and all human speculation, the biblical God defies all "religious" expectations. This can get confusing.

Matthew devotes a sizable section of his narrative to the confusion regarding Jesus and his message. In today's appointed excerpt, the point is still the same: apply a simple test to yourselves and others and leave the rest to God. That simple test has already been identified: you will know them by their actions, their "fruits," their "righteous" "shining," which always means in Jesus' message bread for the hungry, water for the thirsty, hope for the hopeless, justice for the disenfranchised.

Emmanuel Levinas, in his own highly personal way, shook up his peers and still irritates/inspires many by making such assertions as 'ethics precedes metaphysics', 'the ethical is the spiritual', 'the infinite is in the face of the other' and "the most finite creature is filled with the infinite
in its own way." (Ibid. p.67) He insists that although we get easily confused when we try to describe God, the ethical requirement is simple and clear. It's as clear as the person standing in front of me right now.
Following the patriarchs, matriarchs and prophets who went before him, Jesus' message is not complex; it is just different than all our other instincts, prejudices and preconceptions led us to believe was the import of God's message to us. 

Referring to Jacob's ladder, John Donne, the seventeenth century Anglican priest and poet preached in a sermon as Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral that "all the good works which are put upon the lowest step [by us]... ascend to him and descend to us."