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Today in the Spirit: Proper 10B

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In the Sunday lectionary, there is significant coverage of Jesus’ instructions to the apostles sent out on mission as recorded in the Gospels. In Year A, for three Sundays, we hear consecutive sections of Matthew 10 (a significant teaching discourse in Matthew on principles of missionary conduct). In Year B, Proper 10, the shorter version of this commissioning appears in Mark 6:7-13. A distinctive feature in the Marcan account for this week is a brief report of what the apostles did on their ministry tour:

So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.   

Mark 6:12-13

The assigned OT reading from Amos 7:7-15 complements the Gospel reading on mission with a brief narrative account of a confrontation between Amos, the prophet of YHWH, and Amaziah, the priest of Bethel. Amaziah demands Amos leave off preaching in his territory. Amos replies boldly, But the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel’ (15). The appointed Psalm 85, with its expectant vision of the righteousness of YHWH coming to the world, fits most naturally in the season of Advent (2B, 3C). But this week in the Pentecost season, we can imagine the words of exultation in this psalm on the lips of the disciples as they are successful in carrying out ministry without Jesus present: For his salvation is near to those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land (8, New Coverdale BCP). 

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This week, we begin in this period of Year B with a series of NT readings through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, which will continue through the remainder of the summer months. In the first installment assigned this week from Ephesians 1:1-14(15-23), we sit under the breathtaking introduction to the letter in which the Apostle reflects on the adoption of both Jews and Gentiles to [God] as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will. In reciting the assigned collect, we can imagine ourselves as missionaries sent out, like the Twelve, looking for godly wisdom for the journey and holy precision in our prayers, “to ask only those things that are pleasing to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The Collect

Let your merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of your humble servants; and, that we may receive what we ask, teach us by your Holy Spirit to ask only those things that are pleasing to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the same Spirit lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

O Seer, Flee Away (Amos 7:7-15)

10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel. The land is not able to bear all his words. 11 For thus Amos has said,

“‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword,
    and Israel must go into exile
    away from his land.’”

12 And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, 13 but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” 14 Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, “I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. 15 But the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’

Amas 7:10-15

This week’s readings take us further down the path we started on last week, contemplating in worship what it means to be a prophetic people of God in the world. Interestingly, last week in the OT reading about Ezekiel’s call to preach among his fellow exiles in Babylon and in the Gospel reading about Jesus ministering in his hometown of Nazareth, the point of conflict was with people they knew. This week, we hear about Jesus’ disciples going out to villages to people they do not know, and in this reading, we hear about Amos, a Judean from the south, prophesying in Israel in the north. Amaziah, a priest of Bethel (a so-called “high place” of mixed pagan and Jewish worship), is quick to play the foreigner card with Amos: “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there.”

Last week, my devotional application was that as Christians working with family and friends, we need to be conscious of hometown disdain but persevere in doing (sensitively) what God has called us to do and say. This week, I say the same but from the other direction: be aware of stranger bias and work through it. There may be a time when we need to, as Jesus says in the Gospel reading, shake off the dust of our feet and leave. (Some commentators believe this incident with Amaziah marked the end of Amos’ ministry in Israel). Still, as Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount, we are the salt of the earth who must remain, through abiding in the Spirit, salty in the world around us, where, as believers, we are always strangers in the depths of who we are in any case (see Mt. 5:13-16).

Today, Holy Spirit, help me overcome my reticence to live and speak out of my Christian faith to those who find it and me foreign.   

Righteousness and Peace Kiss Each Other (Psalm 85)

1 Lord, you were favorable to your land;
    you restored the fortunes of Jacob.

2 You forgave the iniquity of your people;
    you covered all their sin. Selah
3 You withdrew all your wrath;
    you turned from your hot anger.

4 Restore us again, O God of our salvation,
    and put away your indignation toward us!

5 Will you be angry with us forever?
    Will you prolong your anger to all generations?

6 Will you not revive us again,
    that your people may rejoice in you?
7 Show us your steadfast love, O Lord,
    and grant us your salvation.

8 Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
    for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints;
    but let them not turn back to folly.

9 Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him,
    that glory may dwell in our land.

10 Steadfast love and faithfulness meet;
    righteousness and peace kiss each other.

11 Faithfulness springs up from the ground,
    and righteousness looks down from the sky.
12 Yes, the Lord will give what is good,
    and our land will yield its increase.
13 Righteousness will go before him
    and make his footsteps a way.

Psalm 85:1-13

The psalmist’s visions, which I take to be God’s answers to his prayers (8), of steadfast love and faithfulness meeting and righteousness and peace kissing, represent intimate physical contact between heaven and earth. The psalmist could look back on Israel’s history and find momentary touchpoints between God and man–in creation, in the giving of the law to Moses, in the appearance of angels to the saints, and in miracles performed by the prophets. But there is a yearning in this song for something more concrete and enduring to bring about renewal in Israel. Little could the psalmist imagine the coming of a God-man who would be, in himself, the physical meeting between heaven and earth. In Jesus Christ, we have the kiss between God and creation, and there is no peck on the cheek of hello and goodbye. Jesus, heaven on earth, is here to stay, bringing about the increase of righteousness in the world, with much more to come.

Devotionally, we find ourselves becoming easily discouraged by what appears to be not an increase but a decrease of righteousness in the world. We make the prayer of the psalmist that the saints not turn back to folly, and in doing so, cannot help but feel something is off. We are disappointed in ourselves and others, watching helplessly as so many suffer and die without the knowledge of Christ. Where is our vision from God of the meeting of heaven and earth? Jesus himself is that vision, yes, but also his glorious return and the arrival of the fullness of God’s kingdom with him on the clouds:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

Rev. 21:1-2

We pray for a clear vision like the psalmist’s, and here is our Father God’s response to our yearning for more.

Today, as a community of the faithful in Jesus Christ and filled with the Spirit, let us not be overcome by what appears to be evil winning the day. Instead, like our psalmist this Sunday, find your vision of heaven and earth meeting together for good in the NT revelation of the Son of God.

The Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation (Ephesians 1:1-14[15-23])

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

Ephesians 1:3-6

15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all .

Ephesians 6:15-23

We would do well to include the optional part of this reading from Ephesians 1, not only for the additional treasure trove of spiritual wisdom in Paul’s writing but also because of the important transition he makes in the latter verses. Vv. 1-14 give us the sublime facts surrounding the Father adoption of both Jews and Gentiles through Christ Jesus: that our coming into the family of the Almighty was predestined (5); that included is our redemption and the forgiveness of our trespasses (7); that the mystery of God’s will for all of creation has been revealed to us (9); and that we have received a sure inheritance of heaven through Christ, including a deposit in the present of all that we have waiting for us through the infilling of the Holy Spirit (11-14). 

In vv. 15-23, by informing his readers of his prayers for them, Paul teaches how the Father God molds our hearts to assimilate these facts as truth to reform our hearts. Devotionally, we know that just having the facts is not enough to move us in the right direction behaviorally. Christian living is a process of gradual transformation. And how does Paul say God transforms us? By imparting God’s wisdom and revelation into our inward being through the Holy Spirit and by demonstrating Christ’s resurrection power in our lives. By this means, the eyes of our hearts are opened and “see” with increasing clarity our adoption by God through Christ as a present reality. 

Today, in the Spirit, train my mind and open my eyes to understand that I am your child and already under the influence of your reign in the world.

So They Went Out and Proclaimed that People Should Repent (Mark 6:7-13)

7 And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— 9 but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. 10 And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. 11 And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13 And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.

Mark 6:7-13

Or, So they went out and preached that all should repent (13, NASB—The Greek is less precise: lit., “Going out, they preached that they should repent”). Only Mark contains this latter statement of the actual activity of the apostles on their itinerant mission. The Greek term for repent (metanoia) means to change one’s mind. It is striking that with no precise instructions to do so, the Twelve are reported to have preached repentance. Surely, this is what they had seen Jesus do. The miracles, casting out demons and healing the sick, are not meant merely to attract attention but to equip people to change their minds about the direction of their lives and turn toward the kingdom of God now here with them in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

As preachers of the word, we might ask ourselves if there is enough of a call to repentance in our ministry of proclaiming the truth of the Scriptures. And as hearers of the word, we are challenged to ask ourselves, are we seriously changing our minds about persistent sin in our lives? The call to repent is a challenge to accommodate no longer. Far from the moralizing message “Do better,” to repent is to accept that the ministry of Jesus coming into the world is an opportunity for healing and victory over what we cannot change in ourselves. We change our minds first over the possibility of transformation through Jesus, then over what needs transformation. 

Today, in the Spirit who is in me reminding me of the healing power of Jesus, I see the road forward for transformation and gladly take it. 

Today in the Spirit

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Published on

July 7, 2024

Author

Geoff Little

Geoff Little writes the Today in the Spirit series of reflections on the ACNA Sunday and Holy Day Lectionary. He is the founding rector of All Nations Church in New Haven, Connecticut, where he lives with his wife, Blanca.

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