19 October 2017

The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 24, 22 October 2017

Track One:
Exodus 33:12-23
Psalm 99

Track Two:
Isaiah 45:1-7
Psalm 96

I Thessalonians 1:1-10
St. Matthew 22:15-22

Background: Coinage in Israel

Herod Antipas ruled from 4 BCE until 39 CE, which coinage was minted in Tiberias, noted as such on the coin. Images were limited to plants (a reed or a wreath) or inscriptions. Herod Philip II (4 BCE – 34 CE) was the first to put portraits on coins, himself and the Roman Emperor. Augustus Caesar was thus depicted with the reverse showing Philip, Tetrarch. The reverse also showed a columned building, perhaps the temple. This is the common coinage that would have been used in Jesus’ time.

Track One:

First Reading: Exodus 33:12-23

Moses said to the Lord, “See, you have said to me, ‘Bring up this people’; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And he said to him, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.”

The Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”

Moses longs to know God more deeply, for he is aware from God’s own word that he has an intimate relationship with the God of Jacob. He quotes God’s own words about that relationship, “I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.” Moses is aware of the responsibility he has in leading God’s chosen people into a new land, and so he plumbs God’s intentions. Moses operates from a primary assumption that the covenant made with Abraham and Sarah is still functional here and is the basis for the people’s relationship with God as well.

In the previous verses of this chapter we are reminded of the fiery cloud that preceded or guarded Israel in its journey. Moses wants to be assured that this burning presence will continue here as well. God assures with the words, “My presence shall go.” There is some importance to the words used here. The Hebrew vocable “panim” can either be translated as “presence” (the topic of this section of the pericope) or as “face” the topic addressed in the next section. Moses, thus assured of God’s continuing presence now wishes to see the other aspect – God’s face or glory. God grants the request but only partially. Protecting Moses with the palm of God’s hand (the tender part of the hand, the part which is used to hold things) God then passes in front of Moses, but Moses is protected from the glory. In a way this vision matches that experience that Elijah has at Horeb where God is known in a “still, small voice.”

Breaking open Exodus:
1.      What images come to your mind when thinking of God?
2.      What is Moses’ purpose in this story?
3.      What assurances do you seek from God?

Psalm 99 Dominus regnavit

     The Lord is King;
let the people tremble; *
he is enthroned upon the cherubim;
let the earth shake.
2      The Lord is great in Zion; *
he is high above all peoples.
3      Let them confess his Name, which is great and awesome; *
he is the Holy One.
4      "O mighty King, lover of justice,
you have established equity; *
you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob."
5      Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
and fall down before his footstool; *
he is the Holy One.
6      Moses and Aaron among his priests,
and Samuel among those who call upon his Name, *
they called upon the Lord, and he answered them.
7      He spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud; *
they kept his testimonies and the decree that he gave them.
8      Lord our God, you answered them indeed; *
you were a God who forgave them,
yet punished them for their evil deeds.
9      Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
and worship him upon his holy hill; *
for the Lord our God is the Holy One.

This psalm captures two aspects of the First Reading, the presence of God in the pillar of cloud, and the glory of God that is hidden from Moses. Here the psalm hints at God’s presence and glory “enthroned upon the cherubim.” These creatures, partly human (face) with a winged lion’s body, sat upon the top of the Ark of the Covenant, thus forming the Mercy Seat – the place of God’s presence (hidden). This psalm has a monarchial perspective, picturing God and describing God in royal terms. The community that is gathered is lead by prophet and priest, and they are named: Moses, Aaron, and Samuel. Thus long after the wanderings and hardships of the wilderness, Israel still longs to identify its leaders.

Breaking open Psalm 99:
1.     What signals God’s majesty to you?
2.     Who are your religious leaders?
3.    Whence are they leading you?


Track Two:

First Reading: Isaiah 45:1-7

Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus,
whose right hand I have grasped
to subdue nations before him
and strip kings of their robes,
to open doors before him--
and the gates shall not be closed:
I will go before you and level the mountains,
I will break in pieces the doors of bronze
and cut through the bars of iron,
I will give you the treasures of darkness
and riches hidden in secret places,
so that you may know that it is I, the Lord,
the God of Israel, who call you by your name.
For the sake of my servant Jacob,
and Israel my chosen,
I call you by your name, I surname you, though you do not know me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other;
besides me there is no god.
I arm you, though you do not know me,
so that they may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is no one besides me;
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
I form light and create darkness,
I make weal and create woe;
I the Lord do all these things.

It would be not only interesting but also beneficial if both First Readings (one from Track One, and one from Track Two) could be read because they both deal with issues of agency and identity.  The shocking part of the Track One reading is that God would acquiesce to the requests of Moses, that he (Moses) be permitted to see God’s glory. God meets him half way. The shocking part of the Track Two reading is that God choses as God’s agent the Medo-Persian king Cyrus. The language of this oracle mirrors Psalm 2:6-7 and its enthronement language,

“I myself have installed my king
on Zion, my holy mountain.”
will proclaim the decree of the LORD,
he said to me, “You are my son;
today I have begotten you.”

Under this agency, Cyrus, probably unaware, is to accomplish YHWH’s will, “to subdue nations, ungird the loins of kings, and to open doors.” This will be seen when this same Cyrus releases daughters and sons of Jacob to return to their own lands, and their own God. God has not changed; only the agency has changed in his use of the foreign king. God is still the focus of power, and the only One. “I am the Lord, and there is no other.”

Breaking open Isaiah
1.     How has God used earthly rulers to accomplish God’s will?
2.     Who make this claim but are really not led by God?
3.    Which earthly rulers do you admire?

Psalm 96:1-9, (10-13) Cantate Domino

     Sing to the Lord a new song; *
sing to the Lord, all the whole earth.
2      Sing to the Lord and bless his Name; *
proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.
3      Declare his glory among the nations *
and his wonders among all peoples.
4      For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; *
he is more to be feared than all gods.
5      As for all the gods of the nations, they are but idols; *
but it is the Lord who made the heavens.
6      Oh, the majesty and magnificence of his presence! *
Oh, the power and the splendor of his sanctuary!
7      Ascribe to the Lord, you families of the peoples; *
ascribe to the Lord honor and power.
8      Ascribe to the Lord the honor due his Name; *
bring offerings and come into his courts.
9      Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; *
let the whole earth tremble before him.
10    [Tell it out among the nations: "The Lord is King! *
he has made the world so firm that it cannot be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity."
11    Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;
let the sea thunder and all that is in it; *
let the field be joyful and all that is therein.
12    Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy
before the Lord when he comes, *
when he comes to judge the earth.
13    He will judge the world with righteousness *
and the peoples with his truth.]

This psalm reiterates the themes of the last verses of the First Reading. It is God who is God; all other gods are “ungods.” The new song that Isaiah sang was one of recognizing that God had chosen someone apart from the Chosen People to be God’s agent. This psalm rejoices in all that God has done, and glories in God’s difference from the other gods. The realm of God’s rule is all-inclusive. Heavens, earth, field, and wood are called upon to praise the Lord.

Breaking open the Psalm 96:
1.     How has your faith changed over time?
2.     What ideas have you discarded or taken on?
3.    How has this “new song” been revealed to you?

Second Reading: I Thessalonians 1:1-10

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

Grace to you and peace.

We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead-- Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.

What was always included in a formal manner in Paul’s letters, a thanksgiving, and here is so long (1:2 – 3:13) that it serves as the actual main portion of the letter. The words of thanksgiving are repeated three times (1:2, 2:13, and 3:9). Some have seen this as evidence of three separate letters, but more than likely it just indicates an emphasis that Paul wants to make.

In his thanksgiving we are given some indications of from where the Thessalonian Christians have come. These are not members of a Jewish synagogue but more likely Gentile converts to Christianity. “And how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God.” Here we are not only made aware of their origin, but also their new status as “servants” to the living God. The activity of the Spirit and of the Gospel has incorporated these people into God’s family and the community of faith. They are now members of the Covenant wrought in Jesus Christ.

Breaking open I Thessalonians:
1.     For what might Paul give thanks in your congregation?
2.     For what do you give thanks?
3.    Who has come into your church from the “outside”?

The Gospel: St. Matthew 22:15-22

The Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

This is a pertinent text in our time. The divine between religion and state, which we thought was an established assumption in our republic, has become again an active discussion. What do Jesus’ words have to say to us in our time? His words then were a rebut to the Pharisees who wanted to entrap Jesus in rabbinical questions. Jesus, however, not only avoids their trap, but also guides those who would follow him in the focus on godly things as opposed to worldly things.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     What in your life is Caesar’s?
2.     What is God’s?
3.    In what ways do you serve both?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday. 

Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2017, Michael T. Hiller

10 October 2017

The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 23, 15 October 2017

Track One:
Exodus 32:1-14
Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23

Track Two:
Isaiah 25:1-9
Psalm 23

Philippians 4:1-9
St. Matthew 22:1-14

Background: Ancient Wedding Feasts

Unlike contemporary weddings, where the banquet follows the ceremony and the consummation of the wedding is a private affair, often totally unassociated with the legalities of the wedding, ancient wedding feasts followed the legal or contractural rites and the consummation of the wedding. Of course, these ceremonies and rituals occupied several days. The wedding feast was in the home of the groom, to which the bride and groom, accompanied by their companions, moved in procession following the consummation of the marriage in the chuppah room. Both the feast and the consummation were celebrated by those invited to the marriage ceremonies. It was the end of the rites, not the center of the rites.

Track One:

First Reading: Exodus 32:1-14

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.
The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!< The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”

But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’“ And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

There is a difficult situation that lurks just below the surface of the experience expressed in this pericope. One is the absence of the leader, Moses, and the perceived absence of the God who made for the spectacular miracle at the Sea of Reeds. What becomes evident beyond this is the persistence of the polytheistic culture in which these people have lived for a long period of time, Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us.” God’s appointed, Moses, is absent as well as God’s own presence. There is need for a leader in this wilderness, and neither seems evident, and so other options are sought. The calf that Aaron fashions is not the god itself that Israel sought. As was the manner in most ancient near eastern religions, the calf (or bull) represented the throne of the diety, not the god itself. We will see this again when the ark of the covenant is crafted, with the cherubim serving as the throne of YHWH. What is clear, however, is that the people have moved away from the God who brought them out of Egypt. Aaron thinks that he has made a throne for YHWH and we hear this in his proclamation, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.”  The people, however, have a much different idea, an idea that incurs God’s wrath. Moses argues against their destruction, for it would diminish God’s glory seen at the Sea of Reeds. He furthers the argument by citing the covenant made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God relents.

Breaking open Exodus:
1.      When have you experienced an absent leadership?
2.      What did you do about that?
3.      What were your options?

Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23 Confitemini Domino, Et fecerunt vitulum

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, *
for his mercy endures for ever.
2      Who can declare the mighty acts of the Lord *
or show forth all his praise?
3      Happy are those who act with justice *
and always do what is right!
4      Remember me, O Lord, with the favor you have for your people, *
and visit me with your saving help;
5      That I may see the prosperity of your elect
and be glad with the gladness of your people, *
that I may glory with your inheritance.
6      We have sinned as our forebears did; *
we have done wrong and dealt wickedly.
19    Israel made a bull-calf at Horeb *
and worshiped a molten image;
20    And so they exchanged their Glory *
for the image of an ox that feeds on grass.
21    They forgot God their Savior, *
who had done great things in Egypt,
22    Wonderful deeds in the land of Ham, *
and fearful things at the Red Sea.
23    So he would have destroyed them,
had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach, *
to turn away his wrath from consuming them.

The psalm is a rehearsal of events that follow on the experience at the Sea of Reeds. However it is really more than that, the elided verses reviewing history well beyond that of the golden calf and into the history of Israel’s dalliance with the ba’alim. You might want to read the entire psalm so as to see how often Israel went down the path of forgetting the Lord.

Breaking open Psalm 106:
1.     What have been your golden calves?
2.     Who called you back to God?
3.    How did you make your return?


Track Two:

First Reading: Isaiah 25:1-9

Lord, you are my God;
I will exalt you, I will praise your name;
for you have done wonderful things,
plans formed of old, faithful and sure.
For you have made the city a heap,
the fortified city a ruin;
the palace of aliens is a city no more,
it will never be rebuilt.
Therefore strong peoples will glorify you;
cities of ruthless nations will fear you.
For you have been a refuge to the poor,
a refuge to the needy in their distress,
a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat.
When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm,
the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place,
you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds;
the song of the ruthless was stilled.
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

Once again we see God active in human history. Here Isaiah sees God as a protector of the poor and needy, but also a God challenging and putting down the power of Israel’s enemies. Beginning at verse six we see a heartening vision – a banquet “for all peoples.” The full extent of the prophet’s meaning in citing “all peoples” is not easily discerned. At the least it is for the believers, both Jewish and not, who have come to accept and to worship the God of Israel.  Perhaps others who have been discouraged by the power of Israel’s enemies are included here as well. What will be gone is the pall of sorrow and disappointment that comes with a world in upheaval. Isaiah urges the people to “be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

Breaking open Isaiah
1.     What words of despair do you hear in Isaiah’s message?
2.     What words of hope?
3.    How is our world like Isaiah’s world?

Psalm 23 Dominus regit me

     The Lord is my shepherd; *
I shall not be in want.
2      He makes me lie down in green pastures *
and leads me beside still waters.
3      He revives my soul *
and guides me along right pathways for his Name's sake.
4      Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil; *
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5      You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; *
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.
6      Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

The popularity of this psalm makes it difficult for the person praying with it or meditating on it to wrest new meaning from its familiar verses. It is comforting, and that is perhaps why the framers of the lectionary chose it to accompany the reading from Isaiah. It shares some of the same elements, God as a guide and leader, God as a protector from enemies, and God as the provider of a magnificent feast. If there is a concept of time in the Hebrew Scriptures, it can often be one that looks at the entire scope of God’s care for and relationship with humankind, the created. So it is here as well, “dwelling in the house of the Lord for ever.”

Breaking open the Psalm 25:
1.     How do you use the 23rd psalm?
2.     What new insights have you gained?
3.    What understandings do you rely on?

Second Reading: Philippians 4:1-9

My brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

The readings in both tracks that have preceded this one have anticipated Paul’s themes here – themes of relationship and reconciliation. It the earlier readings focused on our relationship with God, and God’s good things given to us, this pericope from Paul extends that relationship of kindness and well-doing beyond the relationship with God to the relationship we have with one another as well. Two names, of which we know little, Euodia, and Syntyche, remind us the very human aspect of this reading and the relationships that Paul encourages. It is the peace of Christ that informs these relationships so both heart and mind are formed in Christ. How we treat one another is modeled in how we have been treated in Christ.

Breaking open Philippians:
1.     What treasured relationships do you have?
2.     What threatened relationships do you have?
3.    What would God have you do?

The Gospel: St. Matthew 22:1-14

Once more Jesus spoke to the people in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

In this parable, as in last Sunday’s Gospel, we have a model of God’s activity with us in Christ Jesus. It is a parable of the Kingdom of Heaven, and its symbolic device is the wedding banquet. At such banquets which could involve more than the entire family, perhaps even an entire town or village, a sense of the good and righteous community was to be seen in action. The banquet was known in two stages: the invitation stage – sort of penciling it in on a social calendar, and finally the announcement that the banquet was actually going to be celebrated. We see in these two stages the role of the prophets, and the role of the bridegroom present at the banquet. The reaction to this announcement allows Jesus to address how he had been received, and to foresee all who would eventually be invited into the banquet. Regardless of when the individual was invited (and here we have a glimpse of St. John Chrysostom’s magnificent Easter sermon) or when they actually attended there was yet an expection of righteousness. Washed and clearn, or in filthy clothes, the guests were expected to make themselves ready for the visitation.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     How have you been invited by God?
2.     What has been your response?
3.    What is the condition of your preparation?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday. 

Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2017, Michael T. Hiller