The Third Sunday in Lent, 7 March 2010
I Corinthians 10:1-13
Saint Luke 13:1-9
In the reading from the Hebrew Scriptures we encounter an old and a popular story – the story of the Burning Bush. In the reading we are given the opportunity to learn something about how the scriptures were transmitted, and how they were written. The Hebrew word for bush is SNH (seneh), and the name for the Sinai is SN. Some commentators have the opinion that originally the story was about a fiery and burning Sinai (see Exodus 19:16-18). The story still makes sense whether it is bush or mountain. One can see , however, how the addition of a single consonant, can change the meaning of a passage. Also of interest in the manner in which God is mentioned. The names used are either “Lord” (the word “adonai” , or Lord, was substituted when the unpronounceable divine name (YHWH) was used), or “God” (elohim). Most commentators think that Genesis and Exodus were written by a combination of four authors. One of them, the Yahwist, is discernable by his use of the name, “Lord”, and the other, the Elohist, by his use of the word “God”. In this passage we see an interweaving of these two traditions.
Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, "I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up." When the LORD saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here I am." Then he said, "Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." He said further, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
Then the LORD said, "I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt." But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" He said, "I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain."
But Moses said to God, "If I come to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" God said to Moses, "I AM Who I AM." He said further, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" God also said to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'The LORD, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you':
This is my name forever,
and this my title for all generations.
There are three separate aspects to this well-known reading. In the first we have the story of the “Burning Bush” (you may want to reading the Background information above). What we are really introduced to is a theophany (an appearance of a god) and the idea of “holy space.” Such spaces, such as at Beth-El, where Jacob saw the vision of the ladder reaching up into heaven, or the several places that Abraham designated, were related to experiences there. In this case, it is God, who designates the space as holy, not Moses. In the revelation of this space, God also reveals the relationship that God has with the patriarchs, the history of the people. The second aspect, is the revelation that God knows the suffering of the people, and promises to bring them out of Egypt to a new land. This proleptic (vision of the future) serves as a map for Moses, who will now be sent to reintroduce this God to the people. The final aspect is perhaps the Most intimate, and the most powerful. In this section God reveals God’s name, “I-Am-Who-I-Am”, in Hebrew, YHWH – unpronounceable. This story is about the relationship God has with the people God has chosen, and the future he wishes to draw them into. The story is of Place, Mission, and Name.
Breaking Open Genesis:
- What names do you use for God?
- In what ways has God freed you, and from what?
- Do you feel that you have been given a mission from God? What is the mission?
- What was the God of your fathers and mothers like? Is it like your conception of God?
Psalm 63:1-8 Deus, Deus meus
O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; *
my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you,
as in a barren and dry land where there is no water.
Therefore I have gazed upon you in your holy place, *
that I might behold your power and your glory.
For your loving-kindness is better than life itself; *
my lips shall give you praise.
So will I bless you as long as I live *
and lift up my hands in your Name.
My soul is content, as with marrow and fatness, *
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips,
When I remember you upon my bed, *
and meditate on you in the night watches.
For you have been my helper, *
and under the shadow of your wings I will rejoice.
My soul clings to you; *
your right hand holds me fast.
This psalm might be used as a reflection of Moses’ thoughts as he approached the holy place and the burning bush, “I have gazed upon you in your holy place.” Indeed, its introduction in the Hebrew Bible indicates a similar provenance, “A David psalm, when he was in the wilderness of Judea”. That Moses and David should share an experience of the holy in the wilderness, is not unusual in the Bible – many found holiness there. In the middle of this nothingness, the psalmist finds satisfaction: contentment, fatness, and marrow. This psalm gives evidence of the intimacy with God, that we experienced in the Burning Bush story, where God shares God’s very name. Such knowledge brings not only satisfaction, but confidence, and trust.
Breaking open Psalm 63
- Where are your holy places?
- Do you seek after God? How?
- Does your faith bring you a sense of satisfaction? How would you describe that?
- How does God protect you?
I Corinthians 10:1-13
I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.
Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play." We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.
This seems to be Moses’ day. In this reading from Corinthians, Paul uses a device common to his work in which he uses an incident from the Hebrew Scriptures and then preaches on it or uses allegory to expound its message for his hearers/readers. In this reading Paul uses the wanderings of Israel and their being fed by manna and the parting of the Red Sea as allusions to the Eucharist and Baptism. In the second paragraph he expounds on the Golden Calf story, urging the Corinthians to eschew idolatry and to not test God.
Breaking open I Corinthians:
- How important is the Eucharist to you?
- How important is your baptism to you?
- What might be idols in your life? Can you name them?
- Paul talks about not being tested beyond our strength. Has God tested you? How? How did you endure?
Saint Luke 13: 1-9
There were some present who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them--do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did."
Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, 'See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?' He replied, 'Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'"
The fig tree figures into all of the synoptic (of one eye; Matthew, Mark, and Luke) gospels. In Matthew and Mark, Jesus harshly curses the fig tree, but in Luke we meet a gentler Jesus, who gives the unfruitful three one more chance. All of this is a homily on repentance and sin. The first paragraph relates a ruse on the part of some to get Jesus to comment on the political situation, which Jesus refuses to do. Instead, he makes theological hay out of their request, and exhort them to repent, and then by extension to “bear fruit.” Horrible consequences, such as illness or disaster were often connected in the common mind to the “sin” of the victim. Jesus moves away from such connections on several occasions. The discussions of destruction may have been keenly understood by Luke’s readers. Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed ca. 70 CE, and Luke may have taken that into account as he tells this story about Jesus.
Breaking open the Gospel:
- Are there consequences to sin? Is there a “karma” about bad deeds?
- Do you see others as being punished for their sins?
- What do you understand repentance to be?
- Jesus asks the man to give the fig tree another chance, and to care for it. How do you take care of yourself when you have failed at something?
After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:
Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.