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Proper 12 | Ordinary Time 17 | Pentecost 10 (Cycle C)

Sunday between July 24 and July 30 inclusive

The worship services and the messages for next weekend obviously will be focused on prayer. The texts selected for this occasion (especially Psalm 138, Genesis 18:20-32, and Luke 11:1-13) provide models and guidance about how we as people of God should communicate with God. From these texts we see that our prayers to God should be personal and persistent. God is to be perceived as our concerned but transcendent Father and as our generous and always helpful Friend.

Psalm 138

In Psalm 138 prayer is not a peripheral matter, not an action to be performed in a perfunctory, mechanical way. The psalmist is totally involved in the prayer. Although the Lord (Adonai) is perceived to be high above the psalmist in power and in position, the psalmist claims that the Lord is intimately concerned with those who are powerless and in need. The psalmist proclaims the steadfast love and faithfulness of the Lord openly, within the hearing of the kings of the earth. Just as the Lord has responded to the pleas of the psalmist in the past, the psalmist expects the same personal attention in the present and in the future. In a most respectful way the psalmist is persistent, stating that it would not be advantageous for the Lord to neglect the psalmist. The Lord should not neglect the psalmist, for the psalmist is the work of the Lord’s own hands!

Genesis 18:20-32

This text is perhaps the supreme example in all of our biblical accounts of personal and persistent prayer. Those who composed this account provided in 18:17-19 an introspective view of the Lord. In those verses the Lord is said to be pondering whether to share with Abraham the plans of the Lord to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of the sins of the people who were living there. (It would be preferable to begin our reading with 18:17 rather than with 18:20 so that this introspective view of the Lord would be included.) The Lord is said in Genesis 18:20-21 to be so concerned about the people of the world that the decision to destroy even the most wicked among them will not be made on the basis of reports provided by subordinates. The Lord will make a personal inspection before the final decision for destruction will be made.

In this story Abraham is said to have approached the Lord closely and to have engaged the Lord in a bold though always most respectful manner in a prayer conversation. In this most interesting and persistent intercessory prayer developed and included within the biblical accounts, Abraham requests that the city of Sodom be spared if fifty, or forty-five, or forty, or thirty, or twenty, or even if only ten righteous people can be found there. Using the same persuasive argumentation that would be used in a human-to-human conversation, Abraham is said to have appealed to the sense of justice inherent with the Lord by making the statement that “It would not be consistent with your character to destroy the righteous with the wicked!” A better model for our own personal persistent intercessory prayers cannot be found.

Psalm 85

The reasoning expressed within this prayer is frequently seen in the psalms of the Israelite canonical hymnal. Just as, the psalmist argues, you, O Lord, have acted favorably toward us in the past, please show your favor to us now. Do not continue to be angry with us. In this psalm the psalmist is confident that the Lord will respond affirmatively.

The psalmist speaks personally to the Lord here, much as a person would speak personally to a dear friend. There is a faith-inducing closeness here, making it easier for us even today to address God in prayer. This is one of the most significant blessings that we receive by using the Israelite/Jewish psalms regularly in our private and in our corporate worship and life.

Hosea 1:2-10

There is nothing specifically about prayer in this puzzling text. Should we understand the text rather literally that God actually commanded Hosea to marry a woman who would have two children during their marriage who would be fathered by other men, in order to illustrate the sinfulness of Israel? Should we consider this to be instead a vivid story to demonstrate dramatically the unfaithfulness to the Lord God of many of the people in the Northern Kingdom Israel? Is the account to be understood as a parable or symbolic action that depicts the message of this prophetic document? Did Hosea actually have an unfortunate marriage situation and used it to speak his words of judgment against Israel? Was there some other purpose for this text? Is this a meaningful and helpful text for us to read in our corporate worship and to reflect upon in our sermons? At any rate, the text is enigmatic, challenging, and illustrative of the tremendous variety of materials in the Older Testament. There can be as many interpretations of the text as there are persons to interpret it.

Luke 11:1-13

In the oldest Greek manuscripts of the Lukan “Lord’s Prayer” available to modern text critics, God is simply addressed as “Father.” God is not depicted as “in heaven” or anywhere else beyond our hearing. The earliest Lukan “Lord’s Prayer” is, therefore, characterized by brevity and simplicity. The context given the Lukan “Lord’s Prayer” puts emphasis on Jesus himself praying and, because of the context of the Luke 18:1-5 story about the cold-hearted judge who finally responds to the persistent pleas of the widow who continues to appeal to him, on perseverance in prayer. The Lukan account also uses the technique of comparison between the lesser and the greater in which human-to-human relationships are used as illustrations of the more vital human-to-divine ones. If a friend will eventually relent and meet the needs of an acquaintance who continues to implore him for assistance and if a father will supply good food for his children, how much more will the far-superior heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who persist in their supplications! God, as the greatest Father, will certainly provide the much greater divine gifts to those who persist in their prayers. Therefore, we should continue to pray to God for good things and never become discouraged and discontinue our prayers. We believe that God is a loving Father and not a cold-hearted judge.

Colossians 2:6-15 (16-19)

This text is the third in a series of sequential readings from Colossians over a four week period and has very little connection with the other selections for this occasion, although there is in Colossians 2:7 the mention of thanksgiving and this text does provide some reasons for prayer. The words φιλοσοφιας και κενης απατης in 2:8 should be rendered in our time by something such as “love of human, self-centered wisdom and vain deceitfulness” so that the academic discipline of philosophy is not discredited.

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen