Lectionary Commentaries for October 13, 2019
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Gospel

Commentary on Luke 17:11-19

Ira Brent Driggers

The only healed leper who turns back to praise Jesus is a Samaritan.

With this designation Luke alludes to a centuries-long story of religious rivalry and ethnic friction. At the same time, he foreshadows the eventual healing of that hostility.1

Why the hostility? The region of Samaria, along with Galilee to the north, had once comprised the northern Israelite tribes who separated from Judah in the 10th century BCE in order to establish a rival monarchy. Two centuries later, these northern tribes were conquered by the Assyrian empire, which transported distant Mesopotamian peoples into the region, resulting in centuries of inter-marriage. From a Judean perspective, these developments led to a kind of ethnic compromising of the already alienated branches of Jacob’s family tree. Over time, Samaritans developed their own religious traditions, emphasizing devotion to Torah and affiliation with the sanctuary on Mt. Gerizim near Shechem.

In the 2nd century BCE, much of Galilee converted to Judaism, meaning (among other things) that it recognized the Jerusalem temple as the proper place of cultic worship. This left the middle region of Samaria rather isolated between two Jerusalem-affiliated populations. In 128 BCE, the rivalry turned especially violent when Judeans destroyed the Samaritan sanctuary on Mt. Gerizim. In Jesus’ day, hostility toward Samaritans was still strong enough that Galilean pilgrims often bypassed Samaria en route to Jerusalem, even though it added considerable time to the journey.

Interestingly, Luke contains the most references to Samaria and Samaritans, especially when we consider the entirety of his two-volume work (Luke-Acts). In reading through those references, it becomes clear that Samaritans play a key role in Luke’s depiction of the universal significance of Jesus’ mission. The first volume foreshadows the salvation of Gentiles (see Luke 2:32; 3:5-6, 8; 7:1-10) while the second volume narrates it (see Acts 10). When the risen Jesus commissions the apostles, he seems to envision Samaria as a kind of threshold between the Jewish homeland and worldwide ministry: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

What the above history also makes clear, however, is that Jews could also consider Samaritans enemies. To appreciate this point, we must clarify that Jews did not consider Gentiles to be enemies by definition. The Persian king Cyrus, for example, was heralded as God’s “anointed” because he allowed the return of Jewish exiles (Isaiah 45:1). Luke himself provides us with one Roman centurion (unnamed) who built a synagogue for Jews in Capernaum (Luke 7:4-5) and another (Cornelius) who fears God and regularly gives alms (Acts 10:1-2).

In the case of Samaritans, we find a centuries-old confluence of “non-Jew” and “enemy.” The shared ancestry and overlapping religious beliefs did not engender harmony but rather inflamed animosity. As today’s feuding Christians can readily attest, it is sometimes hardest to accept those whose intense disagreements with us conceal a much broader foundation of shared beliefs. This is precisely the challenge presented by the parable of the “good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37), which identifies the nearby Samaritan enemy as the “neighbor” whom Jesus’ Jewish hearers are called to love.

But the good Samaritan is not only the object of neighborly love—he is also, and perhaps more importantly, the exemplary subject of neighborly love. Thus we find a narrative development in Luke from “love your enemy” (Luke 6:27, 35) to “love your worst enemy” (the Good Samaritan) to “see your worst enemy, no longer as enemy, but as an agent of God’s love” (again the Good Samaritan). Luke is building a case for indiscriminate love and radical inclusion.

Significantly, the Samaritan leper mirrors the Good Samaritan as a loving subject, but with this crucial difference: while the Good Samaritan is the subject of neighborly love, the Samaritan leper is the subject of godly love: “when he saw that he was healed, [he] turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him” (verses 15-16). How provocative, then, that Luke presents Samaritans as models of the dual love commandment (10:27), the first modeling “love your neighbor as yourself” and the second modeling “love the Lord your God with all your heart.” Perhaps Luke is aware of the fact that Samaritans shared with Jews the Mosaic traditions that Jesus cites (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18). Regardless, it is a revolutionary way for a Jewish Messiah to imagine the kingdom of God.

Of course, Jesus himself is struck by the Samaritan leper’s response: “Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (verse 18). Here too we find a parallel with the parable of the Good Samaritan, whose loving actions Jesus contrasts with the negligence of upstanding Jewish figures. In neither case, however, is Jesus’ point to shame his fellow Jews. His contrasts simply highlight, in the starkest terms, the praiseworthy actions of the alleged enemy. Sometimes our enemies are our persecutors (Luke 1:71, 74), and sometimes we love them “expecting nothing in return” (Luke 6:35). But in other cases, our enemies are not really our enemies—they are neighbors from whom we can learn and with whom we may be reconciled.

Following this line of interpretation, the preacher may ask, “Where do we find enemies who are not really enemies? So-called “foreigners” from whom we might glimpse God’s kingdom (such as the immigrants “invading” our southern border)? At the same time, it is worth remembering that today’s Christians are essentially non-Jews who, like the Samaritans, have been sought out and found (Luke 15:32) by the Jewish Messiah. Maybe we are the self-assured disciple who needs to hear Jesus’ praise of the Samaritan leper, or maybe we are the Samaritan leper who can only praise God and thank Jesus!


Notes:

  1. Because this story deals with issues of ritual purity, it is susceptible to any number of Christian caricatures of ancient Judaism. While I do not deal with these issues here, I feel obligated to warn preachers against vilifying Mosaic laws of purity as “oppressive” or assuming the categorical “shunning” of lepers in Jesus’ day. See Amy-Jill Levine, The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006), 144-149; Myrick C. Shinall, Jr., “The Social Condition of Lepers in the Gospels,” Journal of Biblical Literature 137, no. 4 (2018): 915-934.

First Reading

Commentary on 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c

Rolf Jacobson

The story of the prophet Elisha healing Naaman, the “commander of the army of the king of Aram,” is one of the most familiar stories from 2 Kings.

It may be the most familiar story from 2 Kings, because along with the account of Elijah’s ascension on the chariot of fire, it is the only significant passage from 2 Kings in the lectionary.

The account begins with what might seem like a routine report of an important person with an important problem: “Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy” (2 Kings 5:1).

All but the most biblically literate listeners (or “readers” but I will use “listeners” here) may miss the shocking significance of this introductory verse. Listeners may not know that “Aram” is the name of a foreign nation—the one we now call Syria. Because the narrator reports that “by [Naaman] the Lord had given victory to Aram,” listeners may assume that Naaman worshiped the Lord. But this is unlikely, because in Aram, they did not worship the Lord but rather Hadad. This “great man” and “mighty warrior”—favored with victory by the Lord—had a significant problem, however. Naaman suffered from leprosy.

In an ironic twist that is characteristic of the God of the Old and New Testaments, Naaman’s salvation from his affliction comes from the very people Naaman oppressed. Among his household’s slaves was a “young girl” (na’arah qatannah) from the “land of Israel.” The girl had been enslaved during one of the Aramean raids into Israel. And the girls turns out to be the catalyst of Naaman’s salvation.

Note the power differential. On the one hand, there is Naaman—the “great man” and “mighty warrior” favored by the Lord with victory. On the other hand, a trafficked and enslaved young Israelite girl. The vast chasm in social power and standing between the two is reminiscent of the power gaps between Pharaoh and the Hebrew midwives Shiphrah and Puah (Exodus 1), or Jacob and Tamar (Genesis 38), or Siserah and Jael (Judges 4), or indeed Pilate and Jesus. And as is so typical of the theology of the cross, the Spirit of God stirs among the lowly and brings salvation from the bottom upward.

The girl informed her mistress that “the prophet who is in Samaria” could cure Naaman’s leprosy. So Naaman set out to seek the prophet’s aid.

The lection skips verses 4-7, which preachers may want restore. The verses both explain what “the letter” referred to in verse 8 is and also underscore how the “great man” of power thinks. Naaman brings “ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments”—a vast sum of wealth. The point is that Naaman, a man of power, thinks like a man of power. Victorious according to the ways of the world and yet captive to its ways of thinking, he believes that the issue is wealth and power and proceeds on the assumption that salvation and healing are to be bought. The letter of introduction he bears from the king of Aram simply underscores the point.

The limits of earthly power, however, are revealed in the next scene by the reaction of the king of Israel. When the king read the letter, he tore his clothes—an extreme act in a culture in which every single garment had to be made from scratch, a long and painstaking process—and exclaimed, “Am I God, to give death and life?”

And there it is. Am I God? No. The limits of earthly power and wealth. Neither the king of Aram nor the king of Israel may give life. Nor can Naaman’s wealth and influence buy life. Only God can grant life in the face of death, health in the face of incurable illness.

But the prophet Elisha, upon hearing of the letter, sent word to the king: “Why have you torn your clothes?” (After all, it took some servant or tradesperson a great deal of effort to make them.). “Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.”

In the next scene, the differences between God’s ways of thinking and the world’s ways of thinking are further illuminated. Naaman—“with his horses and chariots”—went to the prophet. But Elijah did not even bother to see the great man. Rather, he simply sent word out to “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” Livid, the great man began to rant: “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He stormed off in a rage. But Naaman’s servants—again, the lowly—caution and counsel him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it?”

Note yet again the chasm between the world’s ways of thinking and God’s ways of thinking. The world thinks these things matter to God and salvation—war horses, chariots, generals, kings, letters of introduction from the influential, wealth, complicated religious rituals, cleaner and better rivers and waters. And those who are successful according to the ways of the world think such things matter to and will influence God.

But they do not.

Only the lowly and the godly can see how God works. The young, enslaved girl can see. The general’s slaves can see. The prophet can see. In other texts, the widow, the orphan, the sojourner can see. The crucified one, above all, knows and embodies the way God works.

God is not moved to act by complicated rituals, by golden bribes, by the influence of the powerful, by the power of the military, or the quality of the water and the wine. God is moved to act because God is God. God will save whom God chooses to save.

Naaman followed the prophet’s directions and he was healed. And note the gospel irony: “his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy.” The Hebrew for “young boy” is na’ar qaton—the masculine equivalent to the young girl (na’arah qatannah) whom the great man had enslaved and from whom his salvation began. How ironic. How wonderful. It makes one laugh like Sarah and ask, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?”


Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7

Alphonetta Wines

Sometimes the good news that we need to hear is not what we want to hear.

The doctor gives us a good report, but says your next step for healthy living requires lowering your carbs to 50 or less per day. The financial adviser says we’re on target for meeting our goals, however now it’s time to cut back on eating out and cook more often. Knowing both are right, hesitantly, we agree.

This kind of reluctant acceptance may be what the exiles felt when they received the letter from Jeremiah. Hoping against hope that Hananiah, who prophesied a short two year stay or the false prophets among them, might be right after all, that their stay in Babylon would be short, Jeremiah’s message would not be welcomed. Who would want to stay in exile, miles away from home, for generations? Who would want to be commanded to bless the oppressors because one’s welfare is connected to theirs? Who would want to be told to make the best of a bad situation?

These verses (Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7) are part of Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in Babylon (Jeremiah 29:4-23). If the reader continues, she will find the often quoted Jeremiah 29:11: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” Many people who love this verse have no idea of the context that surrounds it.

They would be appalled to realize that the beloved Jeremiah 29:11, along with Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 are words to a community that had been uprooted from the familiarity of home, travelled months to a place 900 miles away, that lives in a land whose language, food, and customs they neither know nor desire to learn. They would be dismayed to realize the verses dispense wisdom regarding how to respond to the face of war, defeat, and exile. They would be disheartened to know that the letter is about adjusting to painful circumstances, rather than alleviating them. Yes, they would be more than appalled to know that blessing for the exiles comes in the form of adjusting to, rather than escaping from their present situation.

For those who are not convinced, Jeremiah reinforces the point when he lets them know that as bad as their situation is, it is better than that of people back home. About people remaining in the land, in 29:17 Jeremiah writes, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, I am going to let loose on them sword, famine, and pestilence, and I will make them like rotten figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten.”

Perplexed, the exiles may have wondered, “This is not supposed to happen. Aren’t we God’s chosen people? Didn’t God promise David that an heir would always sit on the throne? Didn’t God promise Moses that our enemies would be God’s enemies? Where is the throne? Where is God?”

Eventually the exiles would have to wrestle with theological questions about God. For now, it’s a matter of survival. How is one supposed to survive in a strange land? Jeremiah’s advice that the exile would last seventy years and that they should go on living would be the last thing the exiles wanted to hear. Psalm 137 affirms the exiles’ longing for Jerusalem. The book of Lamentations attests to the depth of their pain.

How might Jeremiah help a people so broken-hearted, so devasted? How might he offer hope in these the worst of times? Blessing would come, but not in in the way people had hoped. Blessing meant coming to terms with the present. Blessing meant praying for the captors they would rather disdain.

Jeremiah faces the consequences of war with an unshakable faith attuned to God and compassionate concern about humanity. His faith is unflinching when it seems is lost. He knows that change will come. Yet, he understands that change will be a long time coming. Poised between God and people, He knows that despite the odds, even when things don’t go as the exiles would like, a good life is possible. A good life with needs for shelter and food met, and with family (spouses and children, even grandchildren) to bring joy.

Scholars tell us that much good came of this period of exile. Israel wrestled with the God questions and learned that worship could happen anywhere, not just in the temple. Much of the Hebrew Bible was formed during this period. Synagogues became a vital part of the community.

Jeremiah’s letter is a reminder that no circumstance is beyond God’s purview. It is a reminder of God’s promise to be with Israel and of Jesus’s promise to be believers. His letter is a reminder that God promises if we seek, we will find God … and that indeed is good news!


Psalm

Commentary on Psalm 111

Yolanda Norton

If anyone ever asked for a rubric to understand God’s identity, and how we sing God’s praises, the answer is found in Psalm 111.

This liturgical hymn of praise begins with a “hallelujah” (Hebrew: hll YH), which is the second person, plural imperative, “praise the Lord!” This particular psalm is a preface of a small series (Psalms 111-118 except 114) that emphasizes “hallelujah.”

This collection within the psalter is among the psalms thought to be from the post-exilic period. In particular, Psalms 113-118 are considered integral to Israel’s Jewish festivals.1 As such, they seemingly reflect Israel’s understanding of God’s capacity to honor covenant and deliver God’s faithful from destruction and displacement. So, it seems fitting that in the preface—Psalm 111—we find instruction for the when, where, why, and how of praising the Lord.

In this text, the author proclaims to the people the need to collectively praise YHWH. He then follows his pronouncement by offering himself as an example of how one might praise. remarking, “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart…” (verse 1).  Biblical expressions of the heart have often been misunderstood in the modern world because we commonly understand the heart as the seat of emotion and the head as the domain of intellect and rationality. This was not true in the biblical world.

The heart was seen as a host for emotion, morality, spirituality, determination, and intellect.2 Take, for example, Solomon’s request of God in I Kings 3. In verse 6, Solomon designates David’s heart as righteous as a means to describe Solomon’s perception of David’s morality. Later in the same chapter (1 Kings 3:9) Solomon asks God for a heart to judge the people fairly. Such an articulation is a request for discernment and wisdom. Consequently, when we see the psalmist’s declaration to give God thanks with his whole heart, we see bare witness not only to an emotional proclamation but also a statement of intellect and intention.

Further, this edict is offered within community, in front of the congregation. Such an articulation is a means of both challenge to the people to declare the Lord publicly and freely but also a means for accountability. Here, “God’s people” are established as a unit in their willingness to acknowledge God’s goodness amongst one another.

And so, once the audience and community are established the psalmist’s focus is on praising God for God’s deeds, which a focus on God’s work in creation, redemption, provision, and instruction. There is some debate about whether this psalm—like the others in its collection—should be linked to the Torah.3 I think that its liturgical structure, combined with its attention to the memory of God’s work through and in covenant provide ample reason to draw connection with the Torah, and more specifically with the exodus.

In verse five when the psalmist points to God’s provision of food, we as readers might be drawn to consistent images of God’s promises and provision in the midst of famine in the book of Genesis—both with Abraham in Genesis 12 and 13, and Joseph and his family in the Joseph novella (Genesis 37-50). However, from the perspective of festal worship, this text might also conjure the Passover meal in Exodus 13 and the manna from heaven in Exodus 16. God’s bestowment of food is an indication of God’s desire to physically and spiritually sustain God’s people.

In verse 9 the psalmist references God’s redemption and eternal decree of the covenant. Here, the author seems to be referencing the Mosaic covenant. Examining the decalogue (Exodus 20:3-17) gives us fodder for comprehending the scope of praise psalmist professes. The decalogue mirrors a treaty in the ancient world that establishes rules for the relationship between a lord and their subjects. The treaty requires the lord or master to protect the lesser party and provide for their needs. In return the vassal, or subjects, are required not only to pledge a certain allegiance to this master but to reflect the will of their lord in the world. Consequently, the decalogue is commonly understood to establish God’s responsibility to Israel, and to outline Israel reciprocal responsibilities in turn.

In Psalm 111, the author seems to be acknowledging God’s faithfulness in deed to the contract established in Exodus 20. Further, he seems to remind the people that they have an obligation to respond to God’s actions not only in praise and adoration but in righteousness. They are to be the “company of the upright” (verse 1).

In the same manner, we are called to praise God. However, we must remember that our praise is not simply the shouting of words. Our praise of God is a remembering of God’s redemptive and salvific activity in the world; it is a recollection of God’s provision. Further, our praise is a living into covenant such that we honor family, community, humanity, and all of creation. We are called to live out the God’s commandments. In doing so our praise is best reflected in our ability not only to name God’s work in the world but to participate in God’s work as a reflection of who God is.


Notes:

  1. Marc Zvi Brettler. “The Riddle of Psalm 111,” in Scriptural Exegesis: The Shapes of Culture and the Religious Imagination: Essays in Honour of Michael A Fishbane , eds. Deborah A Green & Laura Lieber, (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2009), 64.  

  2. Kauffman Kohler & Tobias Schanfarber, “Heart” in The Jewish Encyclopedia, eds., Adolf Guttmacher, et. al., (New York, NY: Kvat Publishing House, 1964), 265.

  3. Marc Zvi Brettler. “The Riddle of Psalm 111,” in Scriptural Exegesis: The Shapes of Culture and the Religious Imagination: Essays in Honour of Michael A Fishbane , eds. Deborah A Green & Laura Lieber, (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2009), 66.


Second Reading

Commentary on 2 Timothy 2:8-15

Karl Jacobson

This reading from 2 Timothy comes to us in a bit of a strange way.

Strange, because it skips over the beginning of the chapter, and seems to stop rather short of its ending. This is not to suggest that the selection here is inappropriate, or incomplete, but it is to suggest that one might be well served in reading both a little behind and a little ahead.

In all, this reading is, once again, an exhortation to remain focused on what is of primary importance (or things “of first importance,” 1 Corinthians 15:3); to remember the Gospel, and to avoid “wrangling over words” (2 Timothy 2:14).

Mixing metaphors

The 2 Timothy 2 (verses 1-7) sets the stage for the author’s exhortation to remember and to remind, and it does so through a trio of mixing metaphors. Timothy is encouraged to first to be like a solider (obedient and aiming to please), second to be like an athlete (finishing the race), and finally to be a like a farmer (the one who does the work). In each case these metaphors serve to keep Timothy focused on what has come earlier in the letter, the admonition to “Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13), and to “endure everything” for the sake not of oneself, but for the sake of the people to whom one preachers and ministers (2 Timothy 2:10).

It seems that for “Paul,” faith and love, as well as the grace that “is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1) are, the keys to avoiding conflict and discord which can result in the ruination of the ones who listen (2 Timothy 2:14).

These mixed up metaphors and the exhortation to keep one’s eye on the prize and one’s nose to the grindstone (to mix metaphors even more) in one’s calling frame what is the core of this reading, the act of remembering.

Remember and remind

Timothy (and we who read with him) is told to remember (verse 8) the gospel which is “Paul’s,” and then to remind (verse 14) those he himself serves of it as well. Those two words share a similar etymological origin, having to do with memory. “Remember” is mnemoveue, and “remind” is hupomimneske, both related to the word mnemonic. “Remember,” here is a command to Timothy that he remember, and “remind” is, perhaps obviously, a command that he cause others to remember.

This remembering and reminding, remembering as causing to remember, is anchored in two things; first, in the spare summary of “Paul’s” own gospel, “Jesus (the) Christ, raise from the dead, a descendant of David.” This summary collapses the entirety of the story of Jesus into three basic claims:

  1. He is the Christ, the anticipated messiah.
  2. He is the descendant of David, the rightful king (anointed one) of Israel.
  3. That Christ-ship and king-ship is defined by one thing: the resurrection.

Jesus’ reign is over death, according to 2 Timothy 2:8 (and in harmony with the overall witness of the New Testament), and that reign is the central point of memory.

Second, this central point of memory is the central point of reminding, because it is where the relationship of the elect with the Christ Jesus lives. This is what matters, above and beyond “wrangling over words,” or any other point.

The saying is sure

There is, further, movement between the remembering and the reminding just outline. While Timothy is to remember “Paul’s” gospel-nutshell, the implications of … the outcomes of that gospel are laid out in the “saying that is sure.”

Verses 11b-13 are one of two things, and maybe both—allusions to similar Pauline expressions found in Romans, Galatians, and Colossians, or selections from an early Christian hymn.

In several other places, the central, defining work of Jesus—death and resurrection—are preached as profoundly important for and effective in the “elect.”

  • Romans 6:4-6: The refore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.
  • Galatians 2:19-20: For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
  • Colossians 3:2-3: Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

What 2 Timothy 11b-13 do is hold those same tensions in place. If death, then life; if endure, then reign. What is more, Timothy here turns what is cause for memory, a challenge and a promise.

First, the challenge—if we deny him, he will deny us—which he cannot do; Christ cannot stay in relationship with people who deny him, to do so would be to deny himself. This is challenging for us, hard, even, to come to grips with. And we ought not to be quick to try to smooth over that challenge. The purpose of causing us to remember in this way is meant to elicit in us a reaction. We should let it rest there, and let it happen however it will happen.

Second, the promise, which is seated within the challenge—even if we are faithless, Christ remains faithful. This is, apparently, a paradox, and yet in the Christian faith that is nothing new. So, what do we make of it? This calls to mind, for me, a passage from Psalm 81. Calling to the people and almost pleading with them, begging them, God says, “O, Israel, if you would but listen to me!” And then, chillingly, the psalm both describes and condemns the peoples’ behavior,

But my people did not listen to my voice;
     Israel would not submit to me.
So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts,
     To follow their own counsels (Psalm 81:11-12).

This is, it would seem, a denial of God’s people, who have denied their God. But the psalm is not done, and herein lies the promise once more. God turns again to the people in verse 13-14,

O that my people would listen to me,
     That Israel would walk in my ways!
Then I would …

God remains faithful, ready to speak and be heard, even in the midst of our faithlessness. This is the paradox of a just God, who loves the unjust, a paradox embodied in Christ Jesus. In that paradox, in that tension, lies remembrance, which is that paradox’s only resolution.

Preaching that causes remembrance

With all of this in mind, I want to suggest two questions for preaching, which may serve as a causing of remembrance. Two “what if, what then” questions.

What if this is true, that Jesus Christ, raised from the death, means for us that we will live also? What then does that mean for us today, right now?

What if we sought to live our lives “enduring,” and “faithful” to that gospel? What then would our lives of faith mean for the world, today, right now?