We’re going to begin this morning with a short lesson in how we do things as Episcopalians. If you care to, you can pull out the red Book of Common Prayer in the pew rack in front of you, and turn to page 918. Again , 918. On this page you will see at the bottom, by the page number, that it reads “Lectionary C.” That means that we are looking at the schedule of readings that are part of our lectionary for the third year in the three-year cycle. There are called years A, B, and C. At the top of the page you will see it reads “The Season after Pentecost” and in parentheses “Ordinary Time,” which is now since we just passed Pentecost, and in the left-most column it reads Proper 1, closest to May 11, Proper 2, Closes to May 18, and so on. That means that in the weeks after Pentecost, these are our readings. And for today, we have the readings from Proper 7, the Sunday closest to June 22nd. On the cover of this week’s prayer guide you will also see that today is the Second Sunday after Pentecost and we are using Proper 7. You will see for our Old Testament lesson and Psalm, we have a choice of either 1 Kings 19 and Psalm 42 and 43, or Isaiah 65 and Psalm 22.
So why this lesson on how we do the lectionary? That’s because a few weeks ago I said our lectionary until around 2006 used to be thematically driven—the Old Testament, Psalm, and New Testament were selected to thematically match the Gospel reading’s message—but our new lectionary doesn’t do that. It prefers to pick books of the Bible and read right through them. That was definitely a simplification of things to make it easier on us all, but for the summer we’ve chosen to go back to the thematic scheme of things.
And what is the theme that comes from our readings today? Liberation.
Think back, or flip in your prayer guide back to our readings for today. In Isaiah, God wishes to liberate the people from their wayward ways, with outstretched arms wishing for the people to turn back to God, to worship the Lord alone, and though God will discipline the people for their waywardness, they will not be destroyed because they are loved, and God wants to restore them and bring the fullness that they once enjoyed.
Then in the Psalm, the psalmist implores God to rescue them from warfare and the other threats that surround them, including poverty and hunger. And we see that in the great deliverance of God, the poor and the hungry shall eat and have their fill, and God will care for them and provide all their needs.
In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he writes that the people of God were imprisoned under the Law, as though the commandments given by God were enough to keep the people in line and do what was right, but that it was nothing compared to the life and freedom that comes from being baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ. And under that law, a distinction had been made between men and women, between slaves and free people, and between Jews and Gentiles, but Christ has now freed us from those distinctions, and all are of equal status in the new life in Christ.
And finally, in the Gospel, when Jesus meets the Gerasene Demoniac as he is called, in an instant, at the simple words that Jesus speaks, he is liberated from all that has afflicted him and tormented him, and he is restored to sanity and health and to live a normal life, which he spends telling everyone who will listen about the great and wonderful things God has done for him.
The concept of liberation is a theme that runs throughout the Scriptures, of God’s concern for the oppressed, the downtrodden, and the destitute. And one of the primary examples of this is the deliverance of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt.
In seminary, in a Hebrew Language class, one of the lectures presented by our professor, Dr. Lawler, was spent examining a passage from Exodus 5:22-6:8, which he remarked was the seminal (defining) passage of Scripture for the identity of the Jewish people.
After Moses Goes to Pharoah and demands the freedom of the Israelites, Phaoroh says he will not, but instead the people will have to work harder and gather their own straw to make bricks, we read:
Moses turned to the Lord and said, “O my Lord, why have you mistreated this people? Why did you ever send me? Since I first came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has mistreated this people, and you have done nothing at all to deliver your people.” Then the Lord said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh: indeed, by a mighty hand he will let them go; by a mighty hand he will drive them out of his land.” God also spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name ‘Yahweh’ I did not make myself known to them. I also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they resided as aliens. I have also heard the groaning of the Israelites whom the Egyptians have enslaved, and I have remembered my covenant. Say therefore to the Israelites: I am the Lord, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.”
Here we see that deliverance from bondage was a core part of the identity of the Israelites, and part of their liberation from slavery to freedom in the Promised Land. That forms the basis for their early worship of God, and was part of their annual rituals at Passover, to remember God’s deliverance of the people from Egypt.
But it’s not just deliverance from bondage in Egypt that was important, but so was how one treated others. The Isarelites are implored to treat the foreigner and stranger with respect and kindness, because they were grossly mistreated by the Egyptians when they were the foreigners, and they are to be better and to do differently.
And while I could continue on, I do want to wrap this up at some point!
We’ve been exploring the idea of liberation together, which does have a purpose. As many of you are aware, this weekend is Juneteenth—today, actually—which is a celebration of the emancipation of slaves in this country, as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation Lincoln signed in 1862 and the final victory of Union troops in April of 1965.
Now, we’re not here, necessarily, to celebrate the day. I’m personally not a fan of mixing our worship of the transcendent God with secular holidays in general—my take on the matter is that when we are together here, our purpose is to worship God, to learn about what God is like, and to be equipped and inspired to live out our hope in Christ in all the rest of our lives. This is our calling when we are together.
But this holiday clearly connects with the theological idea of Liberation. Of countering oppression, and the evil that people can enact upon their fellow human being, and, as our Baptismal Covenant reads, to strive for justice and peace among all people. So for me, today is a reminder of the God who longs to free us from oppression, and who calls us to not tolerate evil, but to root out injustice and suffering of our fellow human, so that the world may be more just to all people, which as we see from the Scriptures is pleasing to God.