22 February 2013

The Second Sunday in Lent* - 24 February 2013

Apologies are in order.  I inadvertently published Lent III as Lent II.  When Lent II proper is posted it will be out of order.  My apologies for any inconvenience this might have caused.  Have a blessed Lent.      - MTH

The Second Sunday in Lent - 24 February 2013
Genesis 15:1-12
Psalm 27
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Saint Luke 13:31-35


Background:  The Psalms in Lent
Unlike the second readings, the psalms usually relate to either the first reading or the Gospel, or in some instances to both.  Lent has a diversity of relationships in this year of the Lectionary.  On Lent I, Psalm 91, “he shall give his angels charge over you” is one of the quotes that Satan uses in the Gospel attempting to persuade Jesus to follow Satan’s will.  On Lent II, Psalm 27, the relationship of God and Abraham is reflected in the psalmist’s desire to be in conversation with God.  On Lent III, Psalm 63, the images of wilderness, water, thirst, and satiation are modeled in all the readings.  On Lent IV, Psalm 32, the psalmist rejoices in those whose “sin is put away” a reflection of the prodigal nature of the land of promise (first reading) and the situation of the son in the Gospel.  Finally on Lent V, Psalm 126, the psalm, in a wonderful image, describes the reality of those who believe when they say that “we were like those who dream.” The first reading from Isaiah is replete with such dreams.

Genesis 15:1-12,17-18

The word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, "Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great." But Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" And Abram said, "You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir." But the word of the LORD came to him, "This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir." He brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be." And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Then he said to him, "I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess." But he said, "O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?" He said to him, "Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon." He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.

When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates."

Most usually we see Abraham in the role as patriarch, however in this reading he is more of a prophet.  The opening phrase, “the word of the Lord came to” gives us the clue as to his role.  Like other prophets he admits to a weakness, “I am going to my end childless.”  When God does speak to Abraham’s reservations it is the language of promise full of images of hope.  The first image is of the stars and their staggering number.  So shall Abraham’s descendents be.  Then comes a wonderful scene where we witness the “cutting” of a covenant.  The word choice here is important, if we understand the ritual that is described to us.  Abraham is instructed to bring sacrificial animals, and then to cut them in two.  What happens next is intimated in the initial verses when the visit of God to Abraham is described as a vision.  So it is that Abraham goes into a deep sleep (as did Adam), dreams and sees the enactment of the cutting of a covenant as a smoking fire pot, and a flaming torch, pass through the two halves of the sacrifice.  Thus both parties of the covenant are dreamt as walking through and participating in the blood of the sacrifice, the blood that seals the covenant.  Now the promise is not only of heirs but of land as well.

Breaking open Genesis:

1.     Are you a dreamer?  Does God visit you in your dreams?
2.     What are your dreams for your family?
3.     How does God figure into these dreams?

Psalm 27 Dominus illuminatio

The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom then shall I fear? *
the LORD is the strength of my life;
of whom then shall I be afraid?

When evildoers came upon me to eat up my flesh, *
it was they, my foes and my adversaries, who
stumbled and fell.

Though an army should encamp against me, *
yet my heart shall not be afraid;

And though war should rise up against me, *
yet will I put my trust in him.

One thing have I asked of the LORD;
one thing I seek; *
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days
of my life;

To behold the fair beauty of the LORD *
and to seek him in his temple.

For in the day of trouble he shall keep me safe
in his shelter; *
he shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling
and set me high upon a rock.

Even now he lifts up my head *
above my enemies round about me.

Therefore I will offer in his dwelling an oblation
with sounds of great gladness; *
I will sing and make music to the LORD.

Hearken to my voice, O LORD, when I call; *
have mercy on me and answer me.

You speak in my heart and say, "Seek my face." *
Your face, LORD, will I seek.

Hide not your face from me, *
nor turn away your servant in displeasure.

You have been my helper;
cast me not away; *
do not forsake me, O God of my salvation.

Though my father and my mother forsake me, *
the LORD will sustain me.

Show me your way, O LORD; *
lead me on a level path, because of my enemies.

Deliver me not into the hand of my adversaries, *
for false witnesses have risen up against me,
and also those who speak malice.

What if I had not believed
that I should see the goodness of the LORD *
in the land of the living!

O tarry and await the LORD'S pleasure;
be strong, and he shall comfort your heart; *
wait patiently for the LORD.

In some respects, the images and notions that this psalm suggests are in extremis; everything seems to be a bit overblown.  It is a supplication that paints the poet’s distress in bold strokes.  Some examples:  Is the suppliant really involved in a war (see verse 3) or is this hyperbole designed to underscore the grim reality of whatever the situation is.  The “grim reality” is interrupted by a sublime reality – the sanctuary (and here I mean the protection) of the Temple.  Such protection is sweet, it conceals, and it raises up the suppliant over his enemies.  The final such example is in verse 10, “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord would gather me in.” (Alter).  There is interestingly a dual image of the Sanctuary, both Temple (Jerusalem) and Tent (wilderness) that the psalmist seeks in his supplication.  Finally it is a matter of waiting upon the Lord.  As the hymn says, “God will have his day.”

Breaking open Psalm 27
1.       Do you ever magnify your troubles?
2.       What would it mean to talk about them realistically?
3.       What would it mean to talk about them in the context of your faith?

Philippians 3:17-4:1

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

Paul is a conscious imitator of Jesus Christ, and so, without shame or embarrassment, Paul invites the reader to imitate himself.  Now to the problems: Paul describes enemies of the cross.  Who might this be?  A list of “sins” follows: destruction, greed, shame, and earthly-minded behavior.  Given these attributes, several suggestions might be made – the dietary laws of the Judaizers, or the libertine Christians against whom Paul frequently rails.  At any rate, Paul wants to move the Philippians from the community of such into the community that has its commonwealth in heaven.  It is this community and this relationship that will shape not only the body of Christ, but the individuals in that body as well.  Perhaps this is reflective of the sanctuary in the psalm.

Breaking open Philippians

1.               How do you imitate Christ?
2.               How are you like the “enemies” that Paul mentions?
3.               How are you a citizen of heaven?

Luke 13:31-35

Some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you." He said to them, "Go and tell that fox for me, 'Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.' Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'"

Luke’s progress of Jesus toward Jerusalem is unrelenting, both in its movement (which confounds those who follow him) and its intent, which Jesus is not reluctant to reveal.  Here Jesus is the prophet, the prophet who must be killed in Jerusalem.  Jesus isn’t interested in the politics of his situation or fate.  He is interested in its completeness.  Unlike Matthew, Luke places this scene before the Palm Sunday incident, and thus the final sentence of the pericope seems to make sense.  The wonder is, however, that the completeness comes with the next day, that is the parousia, the true coming of Jesus by means of both cross and tomb.  Each of the readings speaks about a future, a not yet.  Abraham’s involves continuation of the tribe and of the name, and of the covenant.  Paul wants his readers to be tied to the future that is the Kingdom of Heaven, and the future of Jesus is the future of the true prophet who delivers God’s final word on what will be.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Why is Jesus avoiding the politics of his time?
  2. What is Jesus’ sense of his fate?
  3. How does he teach that to those that follow him?

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

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

All commentary and questions are copyright © 2013 Michael T. Hiller

18 February 2013

The Third Sunday in Lent - 3 March 2013

Apologies are in order.  I inadvertently published Lent III as Lent II.  When Lent II proper is posted it will be out of order.  My apologies for any inconvenience this might have caused.  Have a blessed Lent.      - MTH

The Third Sunday in Lent - 24 February 2013
Exodus 3:1-15
Psalm 63:1-8
I Corinthians 10:1-13
Saint Luke 13:1-9


Background: The Second Readings in Lent
The usual pattern of the Lectionary (excepting the RCL when the semi-continuous readings from the Hebrew Scriptures are used) is that the Gospel reading is usually reflected in the First Reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, and sometimes from the Psalm.  The second lesson is usually independent of the others, although sometimes a reflection can be seen.  During the Sundays of Lent we see a pattern that highlights the Christian’s journey.  On the First Sunday of Lent Paul urges us to confess our faith in Jesus, to have it on “our lips and in our hearts.”  That is the beginning point – the witness we make to those around us.  Then come stages of Christian citizenship and behavior (Lent II), realizing that our hope is the Kingdom of Heaven.  Lent III brings us back to our baptisms (preparing us for the Easter Vigil) and calls us to recognize where we are, and urges to be careful in our stance “lest we fall.”  Lent IV sees us and all who believe as a new creation – moving on from confession, citizenship, and baptism, to reconciliation with God, and a relentless pressing on to the heavenly prize (Lent V).

Exodus 3:1-15

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.

Moses is clearly standing on new ground here, and in this reading experiences a stunning view into the “not yet” of things.  Attached to this sense of the “not yet” is a revealed hope seen in God’s very name.  Abraham had lunch with God and spoke with God.  Now in this time, there is the beginning of a hiddenness, perhaps due to the uncertain future that is Israel’s fate.  We are in the wilderness, three day’s journey from the Nile, from the place where Moses was drawn out of the water.  Now he is in a diametrically opposite place, and dry wilderness that surrounds Mt. Horeb (read: Sinai) that probably meant “parched mountain”.  In this place of deprivation and removal Moses encounters a hidden God, for it is a messenger that speaks to him out of the bush.  The conversation is existential.  What will Moses be?  What will be done by God?  The revelation of God’s name plays into the possibilities for both Moses as a leader and for Israel who are chosen of this God.  It is their anticipated question, “what is his name?” that begins the revelation of the future.  God’s name can be known in several ways.  YHWH can be “I-Am-Who-I-Am” or more provocatively “I-Will-Be-Who-I-Will-Be”.  Later on, this name of possibilities is affirmed in the passage, “I-Will-Be” has sent me (Moses). 

For a fuller discussion of the name, please see Robert W. Alter’s discussion in The Five Books of Moses, pages 321-322.  Moses becomes an example of God’s potentialities and the promise of humankind.  Like Isaiah and Jeremiah, Moses objects to his call, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” It is God, however, that knows what will be, for Moses will prove his authority when with God’s guidance Moses succeeds.  As we read this pericope, we like Moses are suspended between the revelation of God to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the revelation that is yet to come – a revelation of “milk and honey.”  To peer into the future requires a patience that will be voiced in the Gospel for this morning.

Breaking open Exodus:

1.     What name do you use for God?
2.     What does it mean to you?
3.     How is God a future for you?

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.

The superscription of this psalm is “A David psalm when he was in the wilderness of Judea.”  The psalmist sets his readers in a “dry place”, and perhaps this is the comparison that links this psalm with today’s readings (see the First Reading).  Even more telling, however, is how the poet makes the reader aware of the evident relationship with God.  It is described as an actual physical longing.  Alter’s translation of verse two accentuates this longing given the geographical context of the utterance.  He translates nephesh not in the usual manner as “soul” but as “my throat thirsts for you” and again, “my flesh yearns for you.”  This is not a cerebral relationship with a distant deity, but rather an intimate and physical relationship with a God whose presence embraces the whole spectrum of the poet’s life.   

The later verses are quite lovely with these phrases: “and with lips of glad song”, or “my soul clings to you,” or “in your wing’s shadow I uttered glad song.”  Hearing these we need to remember the initial context of the song – a burning desert. 

Breaking open Psalm 63
1.       Have you ever experienced an intense longing for something?
2.       What was it?  Does it still have meaning for you?
3.       Can you identify with the psalmist’s longing for God?

1 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.

Paul, in these passages, not only leads us back into the wilderness (which seems to be an emerging theme this Sunday) but wants us to understand its meaning as well.  Projecting Christian ideas on the experience of the Israelites in the wilderness, Paul sees in the wanderings, the crossing of the sea, the gift of food and drink, and other examples types of the Eucharistic and Baptismal life that would form the Church.  The examples that he lifts up are not only sacramental, but also examples of a life that does not take holiness seriously.  “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play,” becomes an illustration of contemporary Mediterranean life.  The model is one of being nourished and tested, and the test was not always passed.  Paul asks his readers to be aware of where they stand in their lives – to seek God’s care as they live out the temptations of this world.  Endurance, is a Pauline theme that is easily seen here – an effort to move beyond the wilderness of temptation (last Sunday’s Gospel) into a place of refreshment and comfort (see “milk and honey” in the first reading).

Breaking open I Corinthians:

1.               How is the Eucharist food and drink to you?
2.               How does the Church nourish you?
3.               How is your life of faith like “milk and honey”?

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.'"

In this section of Luke (unique to Luke) we are walking with Jesus and listening as observations are made about life, not only from Jesus but also from those walking with him as well.  It is a “what about…” kind of experience.  As was usual with students, they were posing questions of casuistry to their Rabbi – “What about those Galileans?” “What about those killed at Siloam?”  Jesus, the Rabbi, is not interested in politics or speculation about disasters.  Rather, Jesus wants to and uses these questions to ponder repentance.  A parable of a fig tree is the result.  The harshness of Matthew 21:18-22 is not present here.  Rather there is graciousness and a patience that Jesus seems to call us to.  The notion of the “three years” might be a reflection of Jesus own ministry, or to the idea that “my hour is not yet come.”  You may want to read Isaiah’s (and God’s) quandary as well (Isaiah 5:1-7).  Perhaps Jesus calls us here to a patience that becomes Moses and he struggles to live into the future that God has called him to.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. How do you practice repentance in your life?
  2. How patient are you with your own life of faith?
  3. Do you ever condemn yourself?

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.

All commentary and questions are copyright © 2013 Michael T. Hiller