Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Proper 12 Year C

Proper 12 C
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Hosea 1:2-10; Psalm 85 OR Genesis 18:20-32;   Psalm 138; Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19); Luke 11:1-13

The beginning of the received text of the story of Hosea is surely one of the most poignant among the Hebrew prophets.  A narrator declares that it is the Lord who directly instructs Hosea to take a whore for a wife "and have children of whoredom" because "the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord."  This union produces three children, each named by the Lord: "Jezreel" (a reference to the sordid history of the bloody murders of Israel's kings); "Lo-ruhamah, for I will no longer have pity..."; and "Lo-anmi, for you are not my people and I am not your God."  Then follows a total reversal: the children of Israel will in the future be as numerous as grains of sand on the beach and will be known by the name "children of the Living God."

The psalmist begins by recalling the Lord's past restoration and forgiveness of the Lord's people (vv 1-4) and then shifts to a present crisis and pleads for the Lord to "Show us Your kindness" once again (vv 5-9).  She then expresses confidence that the Lord's "rescue is near for those who..." honor the Lord; kindness and truth with justice and peace will embrace and from their union truth and justice will "spring up from the earth." (vv 10-14)


Perhaps Abraham is emboldened because the Lord has just made a covenant that he and Sarah will be the progenitors of a great nation, through whom the whole earth will be blessed (vv 10-19)!  So, when the Lord decides to visit two cities, Sodom and Gomorrah,  in which the oppressed are literally crying out for justice  and determines that they deserve total destruction, Abraham intercedes.  The text says Abraham "stepped forward" and asked the Lord if both the innocent and guilty will be "wiped out."  If there are just fifty just persons, "Will not the Judge of all the earth do justice?"  The Lord relents.  Abraham pursues his cause by asking about forty-five, then forty, then thirty, then twenty.  Abraham acknowledges his audacity, "Please let not my Lord be incensed and let me speak just this time."  He asks if the Lord will spare the cities if there are just ten just persons.  The Lord relents.  The two figures part company and go their separate ways.

The psalmist gladly makes oblations before the Lord for "Your kindness and Your steadfast truth," to which the whole earth is witness as well.  He then discloses the powerful insight that  although the Lord is high and lofty, the Lord still "sees" the lowly on earth.  Emboldened by this insight, the psalmist ends with a request: "Do not abandon Your handiwork." 

The write of the letter to the church in Colossae warns against the potential for "deceit" by human philosophies and "the elemental spirits of the universe," but urges his readers instead to focus on Christ, in whom "the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him...."  Human customs, judgments and authorities which find us guilty, but "He set aside, nailing it to the cross."  The cross turns out to also be the means by which God "disarmed the rulers and authorities..." rebuking and triumphing over them.  Therefore, do not be distracted by those who want to use human authorities and "way of thinking" to judge you.  Persist in  growth "that is from God."

Luke addresses the form and function of prayer.  Seeing Jesus at prayer, his disciples ask how they ought to pray.  He gives them a short, but very specific punch list, (which is even pared down to the absolute essentials in Luke's rendition).  The proper address is just one word "Abba" ("Father").  The first petition is "Your kingdom come."  The second regards daily needs; send us our daily food.  Followed by another (daily?) need; forgive our sins just as we have forgiven those who are indebted to us.  These three simple, direct phrases conclude with a petition just as short-- "Save us from the time of trial."  Only Luke then follows-up with a story.  In the middle of the night, you disturb a friend because other friends have arrived at your home and, being in the middle of the night, you do not have your daily food supplies on hand.  But your friend tells you to go away, it is late and everyone is already in bed.  But he in fact does get up, due to your persistence and out of friendship.  He gives you what you need.  If such a friend is capable of responding to your needs, Jesus asks, just try to imagine "how much more will the Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"  Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.

Biblical narratives move seamlessly between past, present and future.  Because they remember God's goodness in the past, they can confront current circumstances open to hope for the future.  Psalm 85 sings: "Show us ... Your loving kindness once again.  Because Psalm 138 opens with an acknowledgment of God's steadfast kindness and truth, the text can conclude with a plausible plea for the future-- "Do not abandon Your handiwork."  Living between God's past promise, (God has just promised that he and Sarah will become parents even in their old age and become the progenitors of a great nation through whom all humankind will be blessed), Abraham is emboldened to respectfully "Step forward" and haggle with God in a current crisis.  He now has reason to believe by haggling with the "Judge of all the earth" he can nudge God to be true to Self and spare two cities notorious for their unjust treatment of the poor and disadvantage.

In  God Without Being, Jean-Luc Marion ponders how the memory of God's goodness in the past enables an appeal for hope for the future.  Marion writes: "It is a question of making an appeal, in the name of a past event, to Gxd, in order, in order that he recall an engagement (a covenant) that determines the instant presently given to the believing community.  Whether it be a question of crossing the Red Sea or of the conquest of the Promised Land, 'the memorial of the Messiah...' the event remains less a past fact than a pledge given in the past in order, today still, to appeal to a future-- an advent, that of the Messiah-- that does not cease to govern this day from beginning to end." (pp 172-173  It is this dynamic which enables we who live in the crease between past and future to pray.  Marion continues: "Immediately, one sees how the temporalization of the today, by it past , intimately refers to an even more essential temporilization-- by the future.  For the memorial itself is valid only as a support in order that prayer may implore the Father the innovation and completion of an eschatological event." (p. 173)

Luke's consideration of the form and function of prayer seems to inculcate this same  dynamic.  The first word of the model prayer is "Abba" "Father," an address of childlike familiarity that implies a history, a relationship of trust, built up over time.  Then comes immediately an expression of a deep longing for not just any future, but a very specific future, an "Eschatoligical future"-- "Your reign begin."  Luke's model nods to the past, squints into the future and functions in the present, today, this day.  "Give us this day our daily food."  This is followed by two other (daily?) essential requests-- wipe the slate clean for our sins since the past time we made the request as we wipe the slate clean for those who are beholden to us.  It concludes with a request to keep us away from further temptations with a certitude that, due to Christ, our full guilt has, in that extraordinary phrase, already been "nailed to the cross!"

Marion bears down further on the immediacy of daily renewal when he writes: "...'Give us this day our daily bread,' our bread of this day and which this day alone can give us, at the same time that this very day is given to us." (p. 175) The exercise of daily prayer, which remembers the memory of God's past goodness and longs for the inauguration of God's reign as soon as possible "gives us this day."