Year C, Proper 25
Images and Themes
As I read our texts this week, I hear promises. It may be that I just have promises on the brain because at my church we are deep into our stewardship campaign, “Investing in the Promises of God; Faith for Our Future.” However listen with me….
- God says to God’s people through the prophet, Joel, “I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent against you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame….. I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions” (Jeremiah 2:25-26,28).
- And just as important, Jeremiah reports the people giving their promises to God. “We acknowledge our wickedness, O LORD, the iniquity of our ancestors, for we have sinned against you. Do not spurn us, for your name’s sake; do not dishonor your glorious throne; remember and do not break your covenant with us. Can any idols of the nations bring rain? Or can the heavens give showers? Is it not you, O LORD our God? We set our hope on you, for it is you who do all this” (Jeremiah 14:20-22).
- In the wisdom book of Sirach we hear,” Give to the Most High as he has given to you, and as generously as you can afford. For the Lord is the one who repays, and he will repay you sevenfold. ….. he will listen to the prayer of one who is wronged. He will not ignore the supplication of the orphan, or the widow when she pours out her complaint”(Sirach 35:12-13,17).
- The psalmists sing out, “Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion; and to you shall vows be performed, O you who answer prayer! To you all flesh shall come. When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us, you forgive our transgressions” (Psalm 65:1-3). “How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts. My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, Happy are those whose strength is in you….They go from strength to strength; the God of gods will be seen in Zion”(Psalm 84:1-3,5,7)
- The writer of I Timothy confesses, ”I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing. ….the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:7-8,17-18)
- And in Luke Jesus proclaims to the crowds after his parable of the two men praying in the temple “…all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted”(Luke 18:14).
As I prepare to preach on the passage in Luke 18, I am considering Jesus’ story in a new light, in the light of God’s promises throughout scripture. Yes, the Luke passage is about the proper attitude toward prayer. And the hapless Pharisee cannot see past the rules into real prayer. Yet it goes deeper, for what is prayer except an expression of our relationship with God? God’s promises to God’s people express the relationship that God wants to have with us….one of holy and intimate covenant. The Pharisee is in a relationship of competition…with his fellow pray-er…maybe even with God. “See God! How I keep the rules so well!” The “sinner” is just in relationship. He is raw and real! On this day he is in lament and confession. If he is this real in asking forgiveness what is his prayer when he is rejoicing and praising and coming before in gratitude! It must be tremendous! “High five, God!!”
What do the promises of God and God’s people in these passages bring to mind for you? The nature of promise….if you are in a stewardship campaign…the nature of pledging? How do these scriptures read as a whole inspire your response to the promises of God?
Many of the stories I found around the theme of promises were cautionary tales about not keeping a promise.
- A Promise Not Kept: A king forgets a promise that he made – owing a man a certain amount of money. The man reminds the king of his promise in a creative way. A tale from India. http://www.4to40.com/folktales/index.asp?p=Promise_Not_Kept&k=Promise
- A Broken Promise: A young man saves the life of a turtle and is rewarded well. But then he oversteps his bounds in greed and breaks a promise to the turtle. He suffers the consequences. A tale from Japan. http://www.topics-mag.com/folk-tales/folk-tale-greed-japan2.htm
I found three folktales about keeping promises and a website with real life promise stories. The first two tales are a bit long. But you could shorten them by leaving out an episode or two (or three) in each tale and still keep the gist of the narrative flow.
- Strongfist: A young man grows up to be quite strong and with strong principles. He is tested many times and never breaks his promises, even when betrayed by others. A tale from Latvia. http://www.4to40.com/folktales/index.asp?p=Strongfist&k=Promise
- Golden Curls: A girl is born to a poor blacksmith and his wife because the father makes a promise to a mysterious Lady in Black. When the girl grows up she endures the consequences of her father’s promise by keeping promises throughout her life and eventually helping the redeem the mysterious lady. A tale from Poland. http://www.uexpress.com/tell-me-a-story/2011/12/25/golden-curls-and-the-promise-a
- Siddhartha and the Swan: In this story of the Buddha as a boy, there is a theme of keeping a promise of care to those who are need healing.http://www.clear-vision.org/Schools/Students/Ages-4-7/story-Siddhartha-swan.aspx
- Becauseisaidiwould.com: this is a website of true stories that people have written about themselves and the promises they keep https://becauseisaidiwould.com/category/shared-with-us/
Blessings on your story journey this week,
©Jane Anne Ferguson, 2016 and beyond. Photos and commentary may be reprinted with permission only. Please tell the stories!