Proper 17

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August 31, 2003

Prayer of the Day
O God, we thank you for your Son who chose the path of suffering for the sake of the world. Humble us by his example, point us to the path of obedience, and give us strength to follow his commands; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
{1} So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the LORD, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. {2} You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the LORD your God with which I am charging you…. {6} You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!" {7} For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is whenever we call to him? {8} And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today? {9} But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children's children--

2. You must neither add anything…nor take away anything: "The so-called canonical formula (v. 2, ‘you shall not add to the word…nor take from it’) has a long history…. But it did not come to have its full meaning until it occurred in sub-apostolic writings and in the church Fathers. Deuteronomy is not in fact very far from the idea of a complete course of doctrine with binding force." [1]
[3-5]: "…the preacher underlines the seriousness of the situation by giving a terrifying example from ‘salvation history’ as a warning; the disobedient who deserted Yahweh at Baal-peor [Numbers 25; Hosea 9:10) received their punishment." [2] The implication is that those who fail to keep the commandments of Yahweh will suffer a similar fate.
6-8: The "passage looks back to a recital of the law which has already taken place…. The eloquent words which place the revelation at Sinai as the embodiment of all wisdom above the truths possessed by all other nations (vv. 6-8) can surely be understood only as an exhortation to reinforce a recital of the law which has already been made." [3]
9: A closing admonition to pass on the knowledge of Yahweh’s mighty acts to the coming generations.

Psalm 15
(1} O LORD, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill? {2} Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart; {3} who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors; {4} in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the LORD; who stand by their oath even to their hurt; {5} who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent. Those who do these things shall never be moved.

   The Psalm responds to the first lesson by declaring that those who "walk blamelessly," obeying the commandments of Yahweh, may dwell with him and shall never be moved. The actions that are mentioned, speaking truth, standing by an oath, not lending money at interest, nor taking a bribe, while honoring their friends and neighbors, those who fear the Lord are the actions of one bound by the covenant.

James 1:17-27
{17} Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. {18} In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures. {19} You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; {20} for your anger does not produce God's righteousness. {21} Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. {22} But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. {23} For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; {24} for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. {25} But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act--they will be blessed in their doing. {26} If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. {27} Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

17-18: "We," Christians, have been "born" to be evidence of the goodness and constancy of God.
19-27: As the first fruits of God’s creatures we must be "doers of the word, and not merely hearers." Anger, sordidness, wickedness are the actions of those whose religion is worthless because they deceive themselves into thinking they are religious. The early Christian community was composed of people from many different places, ethnicities, classes, religious backgrounds, and behaviors. They often found themselves required to treat as equals persons that otherwise would have been rivals, adversaries, even enemies (That is the point of Jesus’ admonition to "love your enemies."). James warns all of them that they must be doers of the word, living out the law of love.
25. the perfect law, the law of liberty: This law is developed in chapter 2, where it is identified as "the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’" (James 2:8, 12).
27. to care for orphans and widows in their distress: The prophets (Isaiah 1:17; Jeremiah 5:28; Ezekiel 22:7; Zechariah 7:10; Deuteronomy passim) saw caring for those who had no rights as the proper expression of the religion of the covenant people, whose God loved and cared for them though they had no rights to his love.
to keep oneself unstained by the world: "‘unstained’ must be completely restricted here to its ethical sense…. There can be no doubt that in terms of the point it is making, v 27 is leading back to the fundamental idea of the section: Be doers of the word! This practical orientation of the verse (and of Jas in general) gives evidence for a Christianity which sees the confirmation of its faith in a daily life of brotherly love and moral purity—as Paul would say: the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22)." [4]

Mark 7:1-8. 14-15, 21-23
{1} Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, {2} they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. {3} (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; {4} and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) {5} So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?" {6} He said to them, "Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; {7} in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.' {8} You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition…." {14} Then he called the crowd again and said to them, "Listen to me, all of you, and understand: {15} there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile…." {21} For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, {22} adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. {23} All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."

3-4: These verse provide a brief explanation of the ceremonial washings of "the Pharisees, and all the Jews" for the benefit of those who do not know of such things.
the tradition of the elders: The "tradition of the elders" with respect to matters of purity "was demanded of everyone by those such as Pharisees and their scholars (called scribes) who viewed unwashed Galilean peasants and fishermen as outside the law (see John 7:48-52)…. Keeping purity laws was a near impossibility for peasant farmers…or for fishermen…. It was also very difficult for people who traveled about such as Jesus and his disciples." [5]
5-8: Jesus is challenged concerning his seeming disregard for the laws of purity. Jesus’ retort dismisses the challenge as being without merit, an illustration of Isaiah’s description of those who give human tradition the status of God’s commandments. The quotation from Isaiah 29:13 is "these people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote…."
[9-13]: Jesus’ counter challenge regarding the vow of Corban, that is, placing something, property or money, under a taboo. Jesus interprets this as dishonoring of parents.
14-15. Then he called the crowd again: Having disposed of the Pharisees Jesus offers to "the crowd," the ordinary people who did not keep purity as the Pharisees did, an alternative understanding of purity before God. It is what is inside a person that defiles a person.
21-23: Jesus lists the impure intentions that come from within and lead to sin, defiling a person.

   We pray for strength to follow the example of obedience of the Son of God. The Gospel would have us understand that it is our inner motivations that reflect our purity or impurity. To do the word is not just keeping the letter of the law. Rather it is the incorporation of God’s intention for us to reflect his purity, by caring for those who are unable the care for themselves. The second lesson inveighs against a worthless religion, which is concerned for one’s self at the expense of one’s neighbor, a fellow-member of the Christian community.
   These lessons, collectively, are a powerful antidote to the contemporary definition of the Christian life in terms of keeping the law as an evidence of personal righteousness. Instead, the royal law is that we love our neighbors as ourselves, and put ourselves at risk in the effort to care for that neighbor. Widows and orphans are introduced to personify those who have no rights and no claim on our generosity, whose care, nevertheless, is a demonstration of pure, undefiled religion.
   It is not what we do to advance our own righteousness that God looks on with favor, but our love for those who are helpless and hopeless, those who are ranged against God and his people. It should be interesting to explore what this might mean as we deal with homosexuals, abusers, drunks, murders, and so on. Jesus put his life on the line for such people. He commanded us to love our enemies and our neighbors as ourselves as he did. Perhaps it is time for us to try it.

Hymns [6]
With One Voice (e.g. 762v), Hymnal Supplement 1991 (e.g. 725s) and LBW (e.g. 32).
E=Entrance; D=Hymn of the Day; I=First Lesson, P=Psalm; II=Second Lesson; G=Gospel

401 --E--Before You, Lord,
409 --D--Praise and Thanksgiving
88 --II--Oh, Love, How
800s --II--O Love of
745v --II--Awake, O Sleeper (813s)
235 --G--Break Now the

334 --G--Jesus, Savior, Pilot
709v --G--Eat this Bread (772s)
701v --G--What Feast of Love
         --G--702v/762s, 700v/761s
            731v/824s, 290, 487, 467, 722v

Prayers of the People [7]
   Almighty God, forgive us when we hear and forget. Make us hearers who remember and doers who act. We hear your call. Help us by your Holy Spirit to respond. Give us grace to identify those in distress. Inspire us to change the conditions of human law and practice that cause the distress. Spur us to be politically and socially alive, for the sake of Jesus, who meets us in all human need. God who calls us to serve hear our prayer.
   You give us vacation and you offer us rest, O God. You call us to service and you give us the gifts to serve. Bless all ecumenical and inter-church councils. We plead for your wisdom again in living and dealing with one another. Give grace, we pray, to members of the Lutheran Church-Canada and people of our Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada who meet this coming weekend as Lutheran Council in Canada. Give insight and understanding for the task. God who calls us to serve hear our prayer.

Or [8]

Presider or deacon
Honoring God with our hearts as with our lips, let us offer prayers for all those in danger and need.
Deacon or other leader
For N our bishop and N our presbyter, for this holy gathering, and for the people of God in every place.
For mercy, peace, and justice among all peoples.
For students and teachers, and all those returning to their studies.
For workers and their organizations, and for those who employ and manage them.
For farmers and abundant fruits of the earth, and for safety from violent storms.
For the sick and the suffering, orphans and widows, prisoners, captives, and their families, and all those in distress.
For our city and those who live in it, and for our families, companions, and all those we love.
For those who rest in Christ and for all the dead.
Lifting our voices with all creation, let us offer ourselves and one another to the living God through Christ.
To you, O Lord.
Father of lights, in whom there is no variation or shadow, hear the prayers we offer this day and inspire us to be doers of the word, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

[1] Gerhard von Rad, Deuteronomy: A Commentary, The Westminster Press, 1966, p. 48.
[2] Loc. cit.
[3] Ibid., p. 49.
[4] Martin Dibelius, James: A Commentary on the Epistle of James. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976, p. 122.
[5] Bruce Malina & Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992, p. 221.