Seventh Sunday After Pentecost Study

7TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST   07-11-2021

FIRST READING:   Amos 7:7-15

Context matters when we look at the Old Testament prophets. Last Sunday, in Ezekiel, we were in the time after the Babylonians had conquered the southern Jewish nation of Judah, destroyed the city of Jerusalem, and looted, burned, and leveled the Temple to the ground. In that particular time the northern Jewish nation of Israel had long since fallen to the Assyrians. But the context this Sunday, in the book of Amos, is so very different – in the earlier days of mid-eighth century B.C. both the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah had reached new political and military heights. Peace not only reigned but there were no military threats to even worry about. Business was not only booming but merchants piled up huge profits, luxuries were readily available, and the wealthy were getting even richer at the expense of the poor. (No,“trickle down” economics didn’t work back then either!)

Amos was a simple shepherd, cattleman, and fruit farmer from the south – from a small town in Judah – who came up north – to Israel – because God had called him to speak a prophetic word to the nation of Israel, in some seemingly good times, about God’s judgment against them for their greed, their materialism, and their social injustice against the poor. The problem was that, with the help of a corrupt judicial system, the rich were seizing the land and property of the poor as payment for debts, forcing some into slavery in order to survive.

The words of the simple man from down south were not well received by the powerful and prosperous up north. Today’s reading describes the “official” reaction to the cry of Amos for reform and for justice. Amaziah, the priest of the worship center at Bethel (constructed by King Jeroboam I to discourage northerners from traveling south to the Temple in Jerusalem) sent a memorandum to the present king, Jeroboam II, to warn the king that Amos was nothing but bad news. To Amos himself, Amaziah warned him to shut up, get out of Israel, and go back home.

Do you think that Amos shut up and ran away? Or did he continue to speak “truth to power”? When have you sensed that the Lord was calling you to do something out of the ordinary? Have you ever felt called to take a risk and continue to speak God’s word in areas and in situations where it might be vigorously opposed? Do you think that the Church should continue to speak out on issues of justice that affect society? Why or why not? What issues are pressing today? Do you think that the Church sometimes is in danger of being too closely aligned with political powers that it can no longer speak very critically to them? 

Today’s text ends just a bit early. You might look in your Bible at 7:16-17 to see the account of the words

Amos addressed directly to the priest Amaziah.

A “plumb line” is referred to in the first part of today’s reading. This was a weight at the end of a string used by builders to make sure that their walls were standing straight. Amos proclaims God’s intent to use a plumb line to see whether the people of God “measure up” to practicing justice, mercy, compassion, and peace. What do you think would be God’s measure of the United States of America – including its Christians – in our own times of injustice, neglect, oppression, hate, greed, and brutal power? God pokes and prods and pushes us to be greater than our fears and bigger than our pride as we stand up in the conscience and compassion of our faith.  

 

SECOND READING:   Ephesians 1:3-14

This entire reading is one single sentence in its original Greek from New Testament times! The letter was written by the Christian missionary Paul during a time when he was in prison, locked up because of his work on behalf of Jesus Christ. Biblical scholars believe that it was not written particularly for a Christian congregation “in Ephesus” (see verse 1) but was for a wider geography of Gentile Christians in several communities.

In today’s lengthy “blessing” Paul sets forth his theology. God had a choice. God chose to love the world. And God chose you to be a bearer of that love. Nothing you are right now or have done in the past has earned you this distinction. It is purely by the grace of Jesus Christ – his life, death, and resurrection on our behalf. It is a gift. Your life is now already blessed… you are adopted as God’s own child through the cross of Christ… you are sealed with the Holy Spirit… you have become an inheritor of salvation and eternal life… and you can either choose to live into it or choose not to. But God has chosen you for this special purpose: TO BE HOLY AND BLAMELESS BEFORE HIM IN LOVE. God is teaching us, leading us, guiding us, and empowering us, so that we might bring harmony and unity to all of life! It’s not just for you, this plan of God, just for your own gain. It is all for the praise of God’s glory, to be a child of God and a servant of God. Having been given the gift of Jesus Christ, we can hope, we can live, we can love others, we can help heal the world, fixing what is broken and uniting what is fragmented.   

              Or you can stumble in many other directions. Despite the seeming variety of options, they all lead nowhere.

 

GOSPEL READING:  Mark 6:14-29

There are two kings mentioned in today’s reading.

One is Jesus, who does not seek or claim the title, privilege, or luxury of ordinary earthly kingship. Jesus has   sent “the twelve” – his disciples – on the mission for which he has trained them. They are to be his representatives, extensions of his own ministry – announcing God’s kingdom, casting out demons, anointing the sick. They are going forth with authority and power given them by Jesus. They are to travel light, almost empty-handed. They are to keep their focus on their ministry. And they are to anticipate that they might encounter some disinterest and rejection along the way. Jesus seems like no real king, and his “army” of followers seem to be no threat to the values and the ways of this world. 

“King Herod” has his curiosity and concern raised when he hears reports about the missionary activity of these disciples of Jesus. Please note that he wasn’t, in truth, a king… never officially held that title. His real title was “Tetrarch” – that is, “ruler of a quarter”, because he only had a small portion of the area that his father, King Herod the Great, had once ruled. And he didn’t have unlimited authority… he was more like a “governor” of an assigned area and was totally answerable to the mighty Roman Empire. By the way, he also wasn’t really loved or respected by all the people he ruled over. There were plenty of people in his territories who didn’t consider him to be truly Jewish in faith or practice… and plenty reviled him and sometimes revolted against him for his collaboration with Roman rule.

Jesus and his disciples are attracting the attention of “King Herod”. Mark tells us that Herod has heard that some people think that Jesus is John the Baptist raised from the dead. And this triggers in Herod the memory of how he had disposed of that baptizing man, how he had ordered him to be executed, partly against his own will. When we remember our past, a guilty conscience sometimes haunts us.

    You can read the gory details in today’s reading. John the baptizer’s death shows the price that one sometimes has to pay for being a “witness” – the Greek word martyr means “witness”. Like John, Jesus and his disciples will also suffer at the hands of those who are opposed to God’s truth, God’s will, God’s salvation. And there is a long list of famous and not-so-well-known prophets and priests and preachers… peace makers and justice seekers and mercy bearers… saints great and small… who have stood in the past, who are standing, in the present, who will stand in the future to speak truth against power, to share love in the midst of hate, to represent new life in the shadows of death.

Oh, let us faithfully stand firmly “in Christ” because if we don’t, then we might fall for anything!

Upcoming Events

Jul
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2024
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