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Introduction To The Scripture For Ordinary 11 - Proper 6 - Year A
Genesis 18:1-15; Psalm 116:1-2,12-19; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35 – 10:8
Alt – Exodus 19:2-8a; Psalm 100

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) of the United Church of Canada. John has structured his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'

INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE	
Ordinary 11 - Proper 6 - Year A

     [NOTE: Throughout the Season after Pentecost the RCL 
     provides a set of alternate lessons which some 
     denominations prefer.  A summary of these readings is 
     also included below.]


GENESIS 18:1-15 		The location for this epiphany is sacred "to this day." It lies 
in Hebron, a place which Jews and Moslems alike still regard as sacred because of its 
association with Abraham.  The point of the story is to tell of God's appearance to Abraham 
in disguise to inform him that the promise of Gen. 12:2 will be fulfilled through the birth of 
a son despite the couple's advanced years.  Sarah's derision provides the narrator an 
opportunity to ask, "Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?"


PSALM 116:1-2, 12-19		This hymn of thanksgiving most likely accompanied a thank-
offering sacrifice by an individual on recovery from a serious illness.  It would appear to 
have been designed for ritual use in the temple in the presence of a congregation (vss.18-
19).

EXODUS 19:2-8A			[Alternate]  This brief passage describes the prelude to the 
covenant God made with Israel at Sinai.  As Moses went up the holy mountain, God told 
him what to expect the responsibilities of the covenant would be.  Obedience and loyalty of 
the people would result in their being God's treasured possession among all the people of 
the world.  Summoning the elders of Israel, Moses set before them these requirements.  On 
behalf of the people, the elders accepted.

 
PSALM 100			[Alternate]  This glorious hymn of praise and thanksgiving 
catches up in a few lines the whole experience of being a holy people as promised in the 
covenant of Sinai.


ROMANS 5:1-8			Few passages in the whole of the New Testament have had 
such influence in the church since the time of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th 
century.  Paul stated clearly, how a just God treats the guilty.  By his life, death and 
resurrection Jesus Christ had reconciled us to God.  Because of this we now have a 
completely different relationship with God.  All this is possible "because in God's love has 
been poured into our hearts" through the Holy Spirit as the enabling power for our daily 
lives (vs. 5).


MATTHEW 9:35 - 10:8   		This passage might be called "the apostles mandate" because 
it concentrates on the task to be done and the twelve whom Jesus selected to undertake it.  
It also includes their initial instructions for beginning their work.  Jesus used his Galilean 
origins to good effect, identifying with the humble villagers among whom he had grown up.  
On the other hand, we know virtually nothing about half of the twelve disciples who 
accompanied him throughout his ministry.


A MORE COMPLETE ANALYSIS.


GENESIS 18:1-15   The location for this epiphany is sacred "to this day." It lies in Hebron, 
a place which Jews and Moslems alike still regard as sacred because of its association with 
Abraham.  Multidisciplinary research has revealed that before Abraham settled there, it 
had been an important focal point for religious rites among the mixed population of 
southern Palestine.  

What are we to make of this with its legendary background and its touches of irony? Walter 
Russell Bowie, expositor of Genesis in *The Interpreter's Bible* makes much of Sarah's 
laughter, relating it to other kind's of human laughter (vol. 1, 617ff).  That is not a bad 
idea for a light summer sermon.  One could also build a plausible homily around the theme of 
hospitality using Abraham's welcoming of his surprise guests as a starting point.  A more 
scholarly approach might explain the various forms of epiphany by which God makes 
known to humans what God intends to do through them despite the apparent obstacles 
when they are willing to be agents of God's purpose.

The point of the story, however, is to tell of Yahweh's appearance to Abraham in disguise to 
inform him that the promise of Gen. 12:2 will be fulfilled through the birth of a son despite 
the couple's advanced years.  The emphasis of the story is on Yawheh's power in contrast to 
the doubts of humans.  Abraham's reaction does not form part of the story, but Sarah's 
derision and doubt provide the narrator an opportunity to ask the rhetorical question 
which becomes the pericope's central theme: "Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?"  That 
would seem to be the most promising preaching text in the passage.

A visiting preacher announced that he was going to preach on prayer.  He gave the title of 
his sermon as "P.U.S.H.  – Push!"  As he launched into his homily, he spelled out what the 
initial letters really meant: "Push until something happens."  For the next half hour he 
excited the congregation with examples from scripture about doing just that.  Abraham and 
Sarah wanting a child even though Sarah was beyond childbearing years was one of his 
prime examples.  It wasn't a very good choice so he improved on the story by saying that 
this is what every Christian should do.  "Push until something happens." Something 
happened for Abraham and Sarah alright.  And because of that we have Jesus, the 
preacher said.  The exposition may not be logical, but it does make a point.


PSALM 116:1-2, 12-19   This hymn of thanksgiving most likely accompanied a thank 
offering sacrifice by an individual on recovery from a serious illness.  It would appear to 
have been designed for ritual use in the temple in the presence of a congregation (vss.18-
19).  Some scholars question whether it is a single composition because in the LXX it was 
divided at vs. 9.  It has been suggested that liturgical use brought the two parts together.  
More likely is John Patterson's analysis in *The Praises of Israel,* (New York: Charles 
Scribners, 1950, 45-46) that it is a traditional *toda*, the Hebrew term for a song that 
accompanies a sacrifice.

Patterson wrote: "The occasion was a private, not a public, feast.  The man was 
accompanied by his friends who were probably entertained by him.  It is obvious that such 
a song could not be composed by him on the spur of the moment.  What we have here is a 
form designed for general use.  The worshiper was led in the act of worship by the 
ministering priest.  The individual concerned said the words after the priest just as a man 
and woman will repeat the words of the marriage service after the officiating minister.  
Harps and lutes might accompany the song.  The form may be analyzed as follows: 
introduction, narration recounting the trouble, calling on God, deliverance, 
acknowledgment, and announcement of than koffering.

After an initial statement of worshiper's reason for thanksgiving, this reading skips over the 
description of his illness, his appeal for help and deliverance.  In a congregation assembled 
in the temple he praises God, offers a libation, and makes a personal commitment to the 
Lord.  Some corruption of the text has crept in through repetition.  Vs. 14 and vs. 18 are 
the same, though the latter seems less appropriate.  Svs. 11 and 15 seem irrelevant.  Some 
Aramaic vocabulary  suggests a late post-exilic date when that dialect was becoming the 
lingua franca of the Jewish people.

Nonetheless, the psalm has stood the test of time for devotional use in the Christian 
church.  It has been for centuries a significant part of the Anglican liturgy in the traditional 
"Thanksgiving of Women after Childbirth," now little used.  Two metrical versions appeared 
in the Scottish Paraphrases of 1650, one of which, "I'll of salvation take the cup," was still 
in active use in communion services as late as the middle of the 20th century.


EXODUS 19:2-8a    [Alternate]  This brief passage describes the prelude to the covenant 
God made with Israel at Sinai.  As Moses went up the holy mountain, God told him what to 
expect the responsibilities of the covenant would be.  Obedience and loyalty of the people 
would result in their being God's treasured possession among all the people of the world.  
Summoning the elders of Israel, Moses set before them these requirements.  On behalf of 
the people, the elders accepted.

The passage may have come from the priestly strata, probably of the exilic period but also 
shows the influence of the Deuteronomist editors of post-exilic times.  This shows up most 
clearly in the words attributed to Yahweh in vvs. 3-6 which outlined the implications of 
keeping the covenant.  

There is an interesting contrast between those words and the fact that Moses reported his 
epiphany to the elders (vs. 7).  Yet it was the people, not just the elders, who respond in vs. 
8.  

One of the fascinating aspects of current events in 2005 has been the way in which the 
general populace of several countries – Ukraine, Georgia, France, the Netherlands, and 
even Vatican City – have completely disregarded the council and government of their 
nominal leaders to change the course of history for millions of ordinary people.  In 
democratic and quasi-democratic societies, ordinary people can and do take matters into 
their own hands with dramatic effect.  
 

PSALM 100   [Alternate]  Who among us modern Christians has not rejoiced with the 
ancients in singing this glorious hymn of thanksgiving in the words of the Geneva Psalter to 
the tune of Old 100th or one of the newer, catchy tunes such as Linnea Good's *Make a 
Joyful Noise*?   The psalm catches up in a few lines the whole experience of being a holy 
people as promised in the covenant of Sinai.

The majestic words define what being the holy people of God meant to the Israelites as the 
entered into the temple to worship.  Although every religious people regardless of their 
tradition may have a similar feeling of who they are, there surely cannot be a better 
expression of the experience.


ROMANS 5:1-8    Few passages in the whole of the NT have had such influence in the 
church since the time of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century.  Legend has it, 
though it has often been repeated as historical fact, that Martin Luther's study of this 
passage inspired him to post his "Ninety-five Theses Against Indulgences" on the church 
door of the Wittenburg Castle.

Paul stated here as clearly as he ever did, the basis for and the status of our relationship 
with God.  To do so he used a forensic term drawn not from Roman law courts, but from 
his Hebrew background, and particularly the LXX version of the OT.  The Greek LXX used 
the word *dikaioun* (= to treat rightly or regard as right) and its cognate word *dikaiosuné* 
(= justice, rightness) to translate the Hebrew concept of how a just God treats the guilty.  

Discussing Paul's use of the Greek terms which we translate as "justify" and "justification" 
E.C.  Blackman, former professor of NT at Emmanuel College, Toronto, wrote: "The 
distinctive teaching of the OT comes out in reference to Yahweh's dealing with refractory 
Israel.  God's problem, if we may so put it, is that his people are often guilty, and he must 
give a verdict against them, because he is just.  But equally because he is just, and 
because the Hebrew concept of justice was a redeeming and not merely a punishing 
activity, God's punitive judgments are not final, but the means to ultimate redemption.  
Thus, in a certain sense, he does 'justify the ungodly' (Rom. 4:5), though to say no more 
than this would be to caricature the OT doctrine." (*The Interpreter's Bible Dictionary.* vol. 
2, 1027.)

Paul had already stated the universal sinfulness of all humanity (3:23).  How could a just 
and holy God then relate to humans whose sin totally separated us from divine holiness? 
Only by grace, by totally undeserved acts of love that remove all barriers to the relationship.  
That has been the special work of Jesus Christ (i.e.  the work of at-one-ment).  By his life, 
death and resurrection he had reconciled us to God.  Because of this we now stand in a 
completely different relationship with God.  Our response to this unprecedented initiative 
by God in Christ is to accept our new relationship in grateful trust and to live a new life in 
faithful obedience to God, as Jesus himself had done.  In the end, we shall also share the 
glory of God even as Jesus did after his resurrection (vs. 2.  From this springs all the 
qualities required for living out our new relationship in this world despite all the suffering it 
may entail (vs. 3): endurance, character, hope (vss.3-4).  All this is possible "because in 
God's love has been poured into our hearts" through the Holy Spirit as the enabling power 
for our daily lives (vs. 5).

In a rhapsody of amazed adoration, Paul then went on to tell how this had all come about.  
Jesus Christ had died for us ungodly sinners.  This above all proves how much God loves 
us.  How many great hymns of faith have been written to repeat and yet failed to surpass 
the majestic simplicity of Paul's words, "While we were sinners Christ died for us."


MATTHEW 9:35 - 10:8   This passage might be called "the apostles mandate" because it 
concentrates on the task to be done and the twelve whom Jesus selected to undertake it.  It 
also includes their initial instructions for beginning their work.  The problem remains, 
however, whether this is a Matthean invention or a remembered tradition.

Quite authentic, however, is the description of Jesus' peripatetic ministry.  He apparently 
used his Galilean origins to good effect, identifying with the humble villagers among whom 
he had grown up.  As for the urban communities, there were possibly two which might 
qualify for such a description - Tiberias and Sepphoris.  Both were relatively new, and both 
had been built as the capital city for Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee and Perea.   
Sepphoris, just five miles north of Nazareth in the Galilean hills, had held the tetrarch's 
establishment since 4 CE, but in 25 CE was replaced by Tiberias on the shores of the Sea 
of Galilee because it gave better access to both regions of the tetrarchy.  It was also the hub 
for local roads and the great trade route from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf via 
Damascus and the valley of the Tigris-Euphrates River.  

Tiberias may have been still under construction when Jesus carried on his ministry.  Apart 
from this vague reference (vs. 1), he does not seem to have visited there.  The population of 
these urban centres was very mixed - Galileans and foreigners, high and low, Jews and 
gentiles, slaves and freedmen, and the usual hangers-on at the tetrarch's court.  Is it not 
conceivable, though impossible to prove, that Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth, may have 
actually worked there during the construction of Tiberias? After all, Nazareth was only 
about fifteen miles to the southwest.  

Recent studies about the historical Jesus affirm that he preferred smaller, rural 
communities, and ministering among the underclasses, because he himself was from that 
same element of Jewish society.  His compassion for the plight of these people stands out in 
all the gospels.  So the tradition reported in vs. 36 had deep, personal meaning.  It is 
possible that his words recorded in vs. 37 originated in a proverb well known to the same 
common folk.  It is the kind of saying one might hear during the busy harvest season when 
extra laborers were urgently needed.  Is it even possible that many laborers had been 
siphoned off as virtual slave labor for the construction of Tiberias?

The naming of the twelve creates a problem for every interpreter.  We know virtually 
nothing about half of them.  That there were twelve seems have greater correlation with the 
tradition of the twelve tribes of Israel than with any reliable historical data.  The renowned 
British scholar, B.H. Streeter, regarded the disappearance of the twelve from post-Easter 
Christian history as a great mystery.  Redaction critic, Heinz Guenther, formerly of 
Emmanuel College, Toronto, has made a thorough investigation of the 'twelve' in a 
fascinating little book, *The Footsteps of Jesus' Twelve In Early Christian Tradition.* 
(American University Studies Series VII.  Theology and Religion.  Vol.  7.  New York: Peter 
Lang, 1985) 

Guenther examined the Hebrew and Hellenistic symbolism of the number itself and three 
distinct "twelve' traditions in the NT.  He found in them a common denominator: "They 
bespeak the church's new Israel consciousness" because they gave substance and power to 
the church's identity in its historical context.  His conclusion is aptly stated in relation to 
this passage: the story of the twelve is narration, not history.  He wrote: "'Narrated' claims 
must not be confused with 'historical' claims.  Faith can move mountains but it cannot 
convert the story about Jesus' appointment of exactly twelve followers into historiography.  
The church is not apostolic because the earthly Jesus himself has appointed just 'twelve' 
earthly disciples.  It is apostolic whenever and wherever as a community representing 
'twelveness' it is ready to confess Jesus Christ, assuming responsibility 'with him' for an 
imperiled world in which the Lord has promised to be 'with his followers' to the close of the 
age."

                         
copyright  - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.



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