Above: Terebinth Trees (Such as Those at Mamre)
The Juxtaposition of Mercy and Judgment
The Sunday Closest to June 15
The Second Sunday after Pentecost
JUNE 18, 2017
FIRST READING AND PSALM: OPTION #1
Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7) (New Revised Standard Version):
The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said,
My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on–since you have come to your servant.
So they said,
Do as you have said.
And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said,
Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.
Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.
They said to him,
Where is your wife Sarah?
And he said,
There, in the tent.
Then one said,
I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah will have a son.
And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying,
After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?
The LORD said to Abraham,
Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I have indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too wonderful for the LORD? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.
But Sarah denied, saying,
I did not laugh;
for she was afraid. He said,
Oh yes, you did laugh.
The LORD dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as he had promised. Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. Now Sarah said,
God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.
And she said,
Who would ever said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.
Psalm 116:1, 10-17 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):
1 I love the LORD, because he has heard the voice of my supplication,
because he has inclined his ear to me whenever I call upon him.
10 How shall I repay the LORD
for all the good things he has done for me?
11 I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call upon the Name of the LORD.
12 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all his people.
13 Precious in the sight of the LORD
is the death of his servants.
14 O LORD, I am your servant,
I am your servant and the child of your handmaid;
you have freed me from my bonds.
15 I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving
and call upon the Name of the LORD.
16 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all his people,
17 In the courts of the LORD’s house,
in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.
FIRST READING AND PSALM: OPTION #2
Exodus 19:2-8a (New Revised Standard Version):
They had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain. Then Moses went up to God; the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying,
Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: You 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 obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.
So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the LORD had commanded him. The people all answered,
Everything that the LORD has spoken we will do.
Moses reported the words of the people to the LORD. Then the LORD said to Moses,
I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you and so trust you ever after.
Psalm 100 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):
1 Be joyful in the LORD, all you lands;
serve the LORD with gladness
and come before his presence with a song.
2 Know this: The LORD himself is God;
he himself has made us, and we are his;
we are the sheep of his pasture.
3 Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and call upon his name.
4 For the LORD is good;
his mercy is everlasting;
and his faithfulness endures from age to age.
Romans 5:1-8 (New Revised Standard Version):
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.
Matthew 9:35-10:8 (9-23) (New Revised Standard Version):
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 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 ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.
Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus; Simon the Cananean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions:
Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the Gentiles, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of God has come near.” Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment, give without payment. (Take no gold, or silver, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who will speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.)
Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Nothing is too wonderful or difficult for God, who is faithful to promises, even though we are not always mindful of ours or or God. Therein lies the juxtaposition of mercy and judgment. This is my theme for this devotional writing.
Let us begin with the reading from Genesis. Abraham welcomes three visitors and extends to them full hospitality, according to his culture. The patriarch does not know that one of them is YHWH, who has come to make a shocking announcement. Sarah is post-menepausal, or as the formal euphemism states, “it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.” Yet she will have a son, which is what she and her husband have wanted for years and thought impossible by now. She laughs incredulously and silently to herself when she overhears the prophesy, but laughs with delight when she sees her newborn son. She names him Yitzhak, or Isaac in English. This names means, “He will laugh.” And now others will laugh with Sarah.
Sometimes laughter of joy is appropriate after considering what God has done. In the case of Sarah, God was merciful, and the laughter constituted high praise. And although God refused to accept Sarah’s denial that she had laughed, God did not seem to hold either the initial laugh or her lie against her. Really, who could blame Sarah? Had anyone ever heard of such a thing as a woman of her years giving birth?
God was faithful in Genesis 18 and 21. And, in Exodus 19, God (via Moses) challenged the Israelites to obey divine commandments. They said they would, but their subsequent actions belied their words. God did not destroy them (That was merciful.), but God did not permit them to enter Canaan. (That was judgment.) The next generation entered the Promised Land. Read the accounts of the wanderings in the wilderness, if you have not done so already. And if you have, you might want to read them again. It is no wonder that Moses and God became angry with such behaviors as many Israelites exhibited.
Jesus and Paul remind us of suffering for the sake of righteousness. The manners of their deaths give their words credibility: The Roman Empire beheaded Paul and crucified Jesus. And almost all of the twelve Apostles died as martyrs. The incarnation of Jesus was itself an indication of great mercy, the message of which Paul took to the Gentile world. Empires have executed messengers of the Kingdom of God, which had “come near” with Jesus, but the work of God is unstoppable. Those who persecute such messengers will face judgment, but the faithful–those who endure–will live with God, regardless of what anyone does to their bodies.
I grew up in a Christian home. This fact contributes greatly to the fact that I remain a Christian. But other factors have contributed to this choice. Among these factors is the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Read ancient comparative religion; few claims are original to Christianity. Older religions featured a Son of God who died for the sins of the world, for example. But these alleged Sons of God never walked the face of the earth; they were figments of imaginations. Jesus was real, however. He was, as I say, the genuine article.
God has come near. The Kingdom of God has come near. We have seen it in human flesh, in the form of Jesus. And, in his own way, Abraham had an incarnational experience. God seems to like us, sometimes despite ourselves. Divine mercy does not preclude us suffering consequences of our actions, however. But judgment does not necessarily connote divine hostility, for discipline is part of love.
Not only does God seem to like us, God loves us. Should we not love God back? Should we not laugh in delight for God has done, is doing, and will do out of love for us?