Today in the Spirit: Proper 6A

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On the Third Sunday After Pentecost this year, with the church’s assignment of prayers and readings in Proper 6A, we continue receiving revelation from God for day-to-day life walking with Christ in the fellowship of the Spirit. The Collect this week asks for “inspiration” by the Holy Spirit that we may “always” (routinely and constantly) “think” and “accomplish” that which is “good”, that is, God’s good which Paul tells us he “works together” in our lives in order to come out of us (see Romans 8:28). The Gospel reading Matthew 9:35-10:15 takes us into that book’s second major teaching discourse of Jesus when he is instructing his disciples before they set out to do gospel ministry on their own. The corresponding OT reading from Exodus 19:1-8 sets up something of a contrast between God instructing his disciples directly through Jesus and God providing assistance to Moses so that the people of Israel will follow via a human mediator. The appointed Psalm 100 is a glorious song of praise, one of the regular invitatory psalms provided in the Morning Prayer daily office. And in the NT reading Romans 5:1-11, continuing our sequential meditations in Paul’s early chapters of that letter, we receive the Apostle’s discourse transitioning from the fact of justification by faith in Christ to the fruit of that faith, peace and rejoicing in order to serve Christ.      

The Collect

O Lord, from whom all good proceeds: Grant us the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may always think those things that are good, and by your merciful guidance may accomplish the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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My Treasured Possession (Exodus 19:1-8)

On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness. There Israel encamped before the mountain, while Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord.

Here (without so much as a hello to start) is YHWH getting right down to business with the Israelites as they arrive at Mount Sinai three months after leaving Egypt. Apparently, the first thing to be established by God is the overall order of things, who says in so many words: “I am God, see how I have favored you above everybody else, now take up the privileged place I have given you and get busy with the job I am asking you to do.” Now, according to this passage, the people agree at the time, All that the LORD has spoken we will do; but we know from what happens later, it is not that simple. At this point Israel no doubt remembers the miraculous exodus from Egypt and the passage through the Red Sea (that was amazing!). But they will have also recalled that the desert was hot, and there was little food and water (see the complaining about this point in the preceding chapters in Exodus). And of course there has been, and would be, so much waiting, months and years at a time doing nothing. Does this sound at all familiar? Peter writes in the NT (using language lifted from this Exodus passage): But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). It sounds wonderful, but the day-to-day reality of it holds little (and on our worst days less) to be desired than the lives of people who are not in the marvelous light. Can we be honest here? The good news is that on this side of the cross of Christ bringing forgiveness of sin and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit providing divine power there is a prospect to succeed in the agenda God is laying out on the mountain. One of the great differences between the Bible testaments is that by the OT the people of God cannot prosper (and do not) and in the NT they can prosper (and do).

Today, in this Pentecost season celebrating life in the Holy Spirit, we make our vow All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and rejoice to know we can mean it, “the Lord being my helper” (from the vows of baptism, BCP, page 165).          

Make a Joyful Noise (Psalm 100)

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!

    Serve the Lord with gladness!
    Come into his presence with singing!

Know that the Lord, he is God!
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
    and his courts with praise!
    Give thanks to him; bless his name!

For the Lord is good;
    his steadfast love endures forever,
    and his faithfulness to all generations.

Last Sunday’s psalm called all creation–everything that has breath–to praise the Lord (Psalm. 150). This one for the coming Sunday once again makes a universal call out to all the earth, but with the added exhortation to Make a joyful noise…Serve the Lord with gladness. This psalmist demands not only the right activity (praise) but the right attitude (joy).  We might ask, how can any worship leader really demand joy? The worship leader of Psalm 100 does so by pressing for an attitude check upon entry into the sanctuary of praise: Know that the LORD, he is God! (implying “and you are not.”); and Enter his gates with thanksgiving (implying “without thinking mistakenly that you have provided anything for yourself”). Absent pride, joy rises up in us without effort–and so the psalmist can justly ask for it.  

Today, in the Spirit who supplies all due humility and gladness toward God, let me check pride at the door and have joy pour out of me in worship.   

We Rejoice (Romans 5:1-11)

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (1-5).

Though it is hard to see in English, the Greek grammar in this first part of this passage suggests a cycle of rejoicing in statements. So rejoicing in hope produces rejoicing in suffering, which produces rejoicing in endurance, which produces rejoicing in character, which produces–going back to where we started–rejoicing in hope. And I would suggest that Paul is saying that it is not just hope but the whole cycle from rejoicing in hope back to rejoicing in hope is that which does not put us to shame because of the Holy Spirit given to dwell in us. Why is this important devotionally? Well, among other things, this way of looking at the text teaches us that there is not only suffering, perseverance and character but rejoicing in those things to expect in our Christian lives and to look forward to. I can look forward to rejoicing in each part more than I can slogging through any of it. I can more easily endure suffering and its aftermath when I have the apostolic assurance of rejoicing in it, whether the rejoicing comes in the midst of the suffering (which sometimes it may do) or afterward (which it always does in some form). The point is there is a whole lot of rejoicing to expect in the Christian life, and no part of it, even the hardest parts, produce it.

Today, in the Spirit who has been given to us both to cause us to rejoice in all things and to make us expect rejoicing in all things in Christ, we boldly enter into service to our God.   

The Harvest Is Plentiful (Matthew 9:35-10:15)

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (9:35-38).

The Greek for plentiful here (polys) is a common word that can range in meaning from normal “large” to “greater than great.” There is no getting around the fact that Jesus Christ with his divine x-ray vision into the reality of things looks around at not only his situation in first-century Palestine but also mine in twenty-first-century New England (“where pastors go to die” in America), and yours, and says, the harvest (meaning, not necessarily big churches, but the likelihood of gospel impact) is abundant. Those of us in Christian ministry, especially when we’ve been at it for many years with only limited visible “success,” may have difficulty believing Jesus on this point. By faith, we must. His eyes need to be our eyes of faith as we evaluate our contexts for ministry. “Seeing” what he sees, we must not fail to see the potential for each day and always ask for the Father to send help. Imagine Adoniram Judson, an early nineteenth-century American missionary, looking out at the villages of Burma (now Myanmar) and saying, “The prospects are as bright as the promises of God.” So must our faith be permitted to evaluate all our gospel “prospects.” 

Today, Holy Spirit, assist us to look out on our various ministry placements–our work spaces, our homes, our schools, our marketplaces and our churches–and, overcoming doubt, take the Son of God at his word that the harvest is plentiful.  

Today in the Spirit

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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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