Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 17C

Track 1: Cracked Cisterns

Jeremiah 2:4-13
Psalm 81:1, 10-16
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14

The psalmist wrote:

I am the Lord your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt and said,
“Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.”

And yet my people did not hear my voice,
and Israel would not obey me.

So I gave them over to the stubbornness of their hearts,
to follow their own devices.

Oh, that my people would listen to me!
that Israel would walk in my ways!   (Psalm 81:10-13)

Israel had a history with God. Through great signs and wonders he led them out of bondage in Egypt and brought them to a land he had promised their forefather Abraham. Yet they turned away from him to other gods. Through the Prophet Jeremiah he asked:

Has a nation changed its gods,
even though they are no gods?

But my people have changed their glory
for something that does not profit.

Be appalled, O heavens, at this,
be shocked, be utterly desolate,

says the Lord,

for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,

the fountain of living water,
and dug out cisterns for themselves,

cracked cisterns
that can hold no water.   (Jeremiah 2:11-13)

God had provided for them living water which met all their needs. God provides this same water to us. Nonetheless, we need to thirst for it. We cannot allow other things to take its place such as entertainment, addictions, and worldly pleasures. If we are not careful these things become our gods. They only last for a short while. They do not satisfy us or sustain us.

Jesus came so that we all might partake of God’s living water. From the Gospel of John we read:

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.   (John 7:37-39)

Jesus paid the price so that God could pour out his Holy Spirit upon us all. Without the Spirit we are weak and powerless to resist sin and fight off the Devil’s attacks. Our strength is always draining out of us. We become the cracked cisterns like the ones spoken of in Jeremiah. We need a sustaining power that always refreshes us.

Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well about the living water:

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”   (John 4:10-14)

God provides us his living water overflowing within us. It sustains our lives here on earth. Moreover, it is his supply for life eternal. Are we ready for this supply. Are we thirty for it? Or are we committing the two evils of Israel:

My people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,

the fountain of living water,
and dug out cisterns for themselves,

cracked cisterns
that can hold no water.

Our cracked cisterns have failed us. God offers us a spring of living water that never runs dry. The Samaritan woman at the well asked Jesus:

“Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”   (John 4:15)



Track 2: Those Who Are Humble Will Be Exalted

Sirach 10:12-18
or Proverbs 25:6-7
Psalm 112
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus speaks about the concept of self-importance:

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, `Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, `Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”   (Luke 14:1, 7-11)

The Book of James echos a similar theme:

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?   (James 2:1-4)

Why do we make distinctions among ourselves? Where does the notion of a certain pecking order come from? In other words, why are some people more important than others? Why might we consider ourselves more important? Today’s reading from Sirach speaks directly to this question:

The beginning of human pride is to forsake the Lord;
the heart has withdrawn from its Maker.

For the beginning of pride is sin,
and the one who clings to it pours out abominations.

Therefore the Lord brings upon them unheard-of calamities,
and destroys them completely.

The Lord overthrows the thrones of rulers,
and enthrones the lowly in their place.

The Lord plucks up the roots of the nations,
and plants the humble in their place.   (Sirach 10:12-15)

The answer is human pride. When we abandon God pride rears its ugly head. We sense that we have fallen and we look for ways of picking ourselves up. Often the process of picking of oneself up has to do with putting others down. The thinking is: we may be failing, but at least we are ahead of someone else.

The Apostle Paul warns us:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.   (Philippians 2:3)

How often are we willing to treat others as though they were better than us? They are neither better nor worse, because “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Paul is merely suggesting a corrective factor to our normal behavior. We should treat others as though they were better than us.

But then the Apostle gets to the heart of the matter:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death —
    even death on a cross.   (Philippians 2:5-8)

If Jesus could empty himself and humble himself, then surely we can learn to do the same. Certainly we should be willing to give up something of ourselves to a greater purpose. Remember, Jesus said: “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)

We may exalt ourselves, but that can never compare to the exaltation of God the Father. God highly exalted Jesus:

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.   (Philippians 2:9-11)

When we empty ourselves Jesus is better able to fill us. When we humble ourselves God exalts us and fills us with his supply. We have more than enough for ourselves. In this way we can be much more generous to others. From today’s reading in Hebrews:

Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.   (Hebrews 13:15-16)

We have living water to share. As we are filled we are better able to share his love with others.

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Filed under Eucharist, homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, Pentecost, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon development, Year C

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