Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

28th June 2020

Prayer of the Day

 

O God,

your Son has taught us

that those who give a cup of water in his name

will not lose their reward:

open our hearts to the needs of your children,

and in all things make us obedient to your will,

so that in faith we may receive your gracious gift,

eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

 

First Reading from the Book of Genesis 22:1-14

1 After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. 4On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. 5Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” 6 Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. 7 Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.

 

9 When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

 

Notes

This story is a very contentious one, raising commentaries from those who see it as a nasty story, a text of terror, and an appalling form of divine child abuse – even though Isaac wasn’t killed, what was the effect on Isaac of being bound up, on the altar, with a knife in his father’s hand ready to kill him? What kind of faith must Isaac have as a result of this?

 

Other commentaries focus on the meaning of this story as God’s testing of Abraham. Up until now, Abraham has fluctuated between trust in God, and doubt. His behaviour has not been exemplary. Yet he is the one chosen by God to be the father of all nations. Is he worthy?

 

One of the better commentaries (Amanda Benckhuysen) I’ve read says: “ there are indications that Abraham still doesn’t quite trust God to accomplish what he promised, or believe that God is a god of his word.

 

So God asks Abraham to demonstrate his faith by trusting God with his hopes, his future, his deepest longings, his only son whom he loves. Genesis 22:1 describes it as a test, signalling to the reader that God had no intention of going through with it. The messenger of the Lord stays Abraham’s hand, preventing him from killing his son. God never wanted child sacrifice after all. Rather, he wanted Abraham to face his own conflicted and divided loyalties.

 

The test serves its purpose and leaves an indelible mark on both God and Abraham. Abraham now knows, in the profoundest of ways, that life with God is a gift, and God’s blessing is freely bestowed. He need not do anything - God will provide—generously, bountifully, wondrously. All he has to do is look up him to see that God has been there all along, guiding his steps, directing his paths, and making a future for him.

 

But God now knows something too. God learns that Abraham fears him. This is the first time the narrator describes Abraham’s demeanor toward God in this way. Prior to this, the text depicts Abraham as listening to and obeying God. But in Genesis 21:12, God experiences from Abraham more—respect, awe, and a healthy dose of fear and trembling appropriate to a divine-human relationship.

 

In the end, God’s commitment to fulfilling his promises to Abraham and bringing about his redemptive purposes would end up costing God dearly. For while Abraham’s son is spared, God would give his own son to up to death. This too was an act of provision on God’s part—a provision that would ultimately fulfill what God started in Abraham, that is, the restoration of blessing to the nations and to the world.”

 

If you want to continue to read more about this story, there is an excellent transcript of a discussion between Christian, Jewish and Islamic scholars on this. See https://billmoyers.com/content/genesis-the-test/

 

Psalm 13

1 How long, O Lord, will you so utterly forget me: how long will you hide your face from me?

2 How long must I suffer anguish in my soul, and be so grieved in my heart day and night: how long shall my enemy triumph over me?

3 Look upon me, O Lord my God, and answer me: lighten my eyes, lest I sleep in death;

4 Lest my enemy say 'I have prevailed': lest my foes exult at my overthrow.

5 Yet I put my trust in your unfailing love: O let my heart rejoice in your salvation.

6 And I will make my song to the Lord: because he deals so bountifully with me.

 

Second reading Paul’s Letter to the Romans 6:12-23

12Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13 No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

 

15 What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, 18 and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification. 20 When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

Notes, from Chris Haslam

Paul has told his readers that baptism has changed their way of being from one in which God responded to their continual contravention of the Law by loving them more to one in which sin is no more. But freedom from sin is not yet definitive: they can still be tempted and can succumb to the “passions” of their “bodies”. So take care to avoid using any of your faculties and functions (“members”, v. 13) to advance the cause of evil, but rather work actively to advance God’s benevolence (“righteousness”). At the end of time, sin will not be your master, and you will fully live the baptised life, “under grace” (v. 14), in God’s free gift of love. In v. 15 Paul asks again the rhetorical question he posed in v. 1: are we now free to behave as we like, no longer being subject to the Law?; he again answers no!.

 

He now uses the analogy of slavery (or servanthood) to explain the two ways of being. You cannot serve two masters (v. 16). If sin is your master, you will face spiritual (as well as physical) death; death will be final. However if you serve God, your end is oneness with him (“righteousness”). Through baptism you have ceased to be under sin ; you have committed yourselves willingly (“from the heart”, v. 17) to obedience to the gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection (“form of teaching ...”). You have attained Christian liberty and have become servants of God (v. 18). He explains a divine truth “in human terms” (v. 19). In the old way, you were slaves to licentiousness and accumulation of sin (for only some sins could be forgiven); in the new way, you work towards “sanctification” (v. 19, consecration to God and dedication to him). Before conversion, you thought yourselves free from God’s demands (v. 20), but the end-point of that life was “death” (v. 21). In the new way, the goal (“end”, v. 22) is sharing in God himself, “eternal life”. Now v. 23: “wages” are regular, recurrent. In the old way, you regularly deserved spiritual “death”, but God’s gift is pro gratia , without expectation of repayment.

 

The Gospel: Matthew 10:40-42 .

40 “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42 and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple - truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

 

Text Notes, from Chris Haslam

Verse 40: Comments: Jewish law considered that one’s agent is like oneself; acting in the name of is having the same authority. Verse 42: “little ones”: Jesus calls his disciples “children” in Mark 10:24 and refers to them as “infants” in Matthew 11:25. So an interpretation is that Jesus is referring here to those who have started the journey to understanding God’s ways but have a long way to go. See also 18:6, 10, 14 where Jesus also refers to “little ones”. Clearly, “little ones” are very important to God. Verse 42: “their”: The reference is to the person who gives to the “little ones”.

Commentary, From William Loader, Murdoch University

“Something is happening here which definitely undercuts a sense of hierarchy. Ordinary people get the same reward as the high flyers or the necessarily public functionaries, the envoys. Matthew uses the language of reward not to incite our consumer imagination, but to evoke an image of God's favour. Matthew wants us to believe that it is just as rewarding to be on the supporting side of these ministries as to be exercising them. We don't have to feel we have to do everything ourselves! Paul would say, it is OK to be part of the body; you don't have to be a foot if you are a hand.

 

10:42 takes us one step further. It speaks of 'little ones'. This appears to be a term with which members of the community described themselves. Caring within the community is also ministry. This trio of verses sets side by side: welcoming Christ, supporting ministry, and caring for one another. In the final speech of Jesus' ministry in Matthew, Jesus tells the parable of the sheep and the goats, which takes this to its widest conclusion 25:31-46). Your caring for people in need (and probably in that context not only those in your church community) stands on the same level as your response to Christ. Back to our question above: Your response to me is your response to God - who dares claim this? Here it finds a radical answer.

 

Many people could feel disenfranchised by all this talk about apostles and ministry in Matthew 10 until we reach these final verses. Here in these verses is an opportunity to address that feeling and affirm mutual ownership of the gift given to all of us to own and to exercise: allowing ourselves to be involved in God's life in the world. And what could be more natural than that and more inclusive!”

 

Commentary, from David Lose

“Discipleship doesn’t have to be heroic. Like all the small acts of devotion, tenderness, and forgiveness that go largely unnoticed but tend the relationships that are most important to us, so also the life of faith is composed of a thousand small gestures. Except that, according to Jesus, there is no small gesture. Anything done in faith and love has cosmic significance for the ones involved and, indeed, for the world God loves so much.

 

You probably know as well as I do Loren Eiseley’s story of “the star thrower” -- the one about the guy tossing starfish after starfish into the sea. When asked why, he replies that if they don’t get back in the water soon, they’ll dry out and die. Looking at a beach strewn with thousands of starfish, his interlocutor responds that he can’t possibly hope to make any difference. To which he says -- and this is famous closing line -- “To the ones I throw back, it makes all the difference in the world.”

 

Exactly. Because Jesus has promised to come in time to redeem all in love, to fix all damage, heal all hurts, and wipe the tears from every eye, we can in the meantime devote ourselves to acts of mercy and deeds of compassion small and large, not trying to save the world -- Jesus has promised to do that! -- but simply trying to care for the little corner of the world in which we have been placed. And so even a cup of cold water can make a huge and unexpected difference to those to whom we give it and, according to Jesus, such acts have eternal and cosmic consequences.

 

Can you imagine that? Each and every act of mercy rings through the eons and across the universe imbued with Christ’s love for the world, a love we can share anytime and anywhere with gestures that may seem small in the eyes of the world but loom large in the life of those who witness them.

 

Each of us, as we hold out our “cups of cold water”, in countless and myriad ways, is making this world God loves so much a little better, a little more trustworthy, a little more joyful through our gestures of love, mercy, and compassion. Whilst we don’t do this for any recognition, God sees, knows and rejoices. There is no small gesture, and through our cups of cold water, hugs, helping hands, and listening ears we are caring for the world God loves so much.”

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