Weekly Introduction to the Readings of the Revised Common Lectionary (Proper 12C / Ordinary 17C)

Hebrew Bible Reading (Genesis 18:20-32)

Our Hebrew Bible reading contains the story of Abraham negotiating with God over the fate of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Sodom and Gomorrah were populated by sinful people who lived in great wickedness.  When God decides to destroy the cities because of their wickedness Abraham intercedes on the cities’ behalf asking God to spare the cities if a certain amount of righteous people can be found.  Abraham reasons with God offering the rhetorical, “Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”  God agrees to spare the city if fifty righteous souls are found.  When fifty can not be found Abraham begins to negotiate God down from fifty to ten.

Abraham’s reason for why God should not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah provides us food for thought.  Is it true that a small number of righteous people can work to spare countless numbers of wicked due to close proximity?!  The Sodom and Gomorrah story is often seen as a prime example of God’s wrath and harsh judgment (I will admit that it is a troubling text to ponder).  Let’s emphasize two positive thoughts about this narrative however.  First, Abraham is a wonderful example as intercessor.  He is relentless in his efforts to spare even the wicked of the world.  He takes no pleasure in anyone’s destruction.  He pleads with God for the plight of humanity that has gone astray.  Second, God is convinced by Abraham’s arguments.  God withholds judgment on the whole city if only ten righteous can be found.  Sometimes when it seems the wicked vastly outnumber the faithful it is good to remember the ministry of Abraham and the patience of God.

Psalm 138

Our Psalm lection is an interesting hymn.  It begins as though it were a Psalm of thanksgiving/deliverance (a Psalm written after a deliverance in thanksgiving to God for God’s role in the deliverance).  However, at the conclusion of the song we find out that the Psalmist has yet to be delivered: “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies; you stretch out your hand, and your right hand delivers me.  The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me.”  It is as if the Psalmist is thanking God for something that has yet to happen, but is sure to happen!  The Psalm also provides us with a wonderful theological statement (a truth about God) that helps us understand the way God views the world and the glory that is found in the world: “For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly; but the haughty he perceives from far away.”

Colossians 2:6-19

In our epistle lection Paul admonishes the Colossian Christians to continue to live their lives in Jesus Christ.  In a beautifully poetic passage Paul reminds the Colossians of the work of Christ in their lives: “when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God  made you  alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses.”  Paul encourages fidelity to Christ in the face of those who were promoting “philosophies and empty deceit” based on “human traditions” and the “elemental spirits of the universe.”  We have trouble exactly identifying the false teaching that was causing Paul such worry.  Whatever it is it appears to have argued for a certain asceticism that once again enslaved people under a rigid life of self regulation and nullified the freedom gained in Christ.

Gospel Lection (Luke 11:1-13)

Our gospel lection contains various teachings of Jesus the most famous of which is Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer.  In Luke’s account Jesus is asked by the disciples how they should pray and he responds with a condensed version of Matthew’s famous prayer used by churches across the world and throughout the centuries.  After the prayer Jesus gives a lesson on God’s desire to answer prayer and about the need for persistence in prayer. Jesus reminds his disciples that God is our heavenly parent, and as such God desires to give us good things.  Jesus also reminds us that our persistence in prayer is desired by
God.

Celebration of Worship

As you prepare your heart, minds, prayers, and hymns for Sunday consider what it means to persist in conversation with God through a time of trial.  The psalmist was confident in his/her persistence–knowing that God would not abandon God’s plan for the psalmist’s life.  Abraham was persistent in conversation with God in calling again and again on God’s justice and mercy (How can someone like you destroy the righteous with the wicked?)  Paul encourages the Colossians to stick with Jesus, even though at times they may be
tempted to revert to some other philosophy or empty deceit in order to alleviate their problems.  Conversation with God during times of great trial is vital in our spiritual growth.  God is our God in good times and bad–and God uses both seasons of life to work out his purpose for us.

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