05 August 2017

The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 14, 13 August 2017


Track One:
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b

Track Two:
I Kings 19:9-18
Psalm 85:8-13

Romans 10:5-15
St. Matthew 14:22-33



Background: Trade

The cultures and civilizations of the ancient near east were hardly isolated one from the other. No, they were linked by an active and ambitious trade of goods, services, and ideas. The arc of the fertile crescent formed a natural highway of goods and influence that stretched from the Mesopotamian region to the Nile River valley. The trade routes not only allowed for the exchange of goods, but also encouraged the development of economic tools such as weights and measures, and mediums of exchange such as silver or grain. From the third millennium on Egypt had developed as system of trade with Minoans, Trojans, Greeks, Arabs, Nubians, and Canaanites. Items of import were oils, furniture, weaponry, and metals.

Track One:

First Reading: Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28

Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. This is the story of the family of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.

Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” He answered, “Here I am.” So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me.” So he sent him from the valley of Hebron.

He came to Shechem, and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” “I am seeking my brothers,” he said; “tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” The man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’“ So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him” —that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.

Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.



It is unfortunate that the lectionary has chosen to elide verses that provide a motive for the violence that later occurs in the chapter. The gift of the ornamented tunic is not enough to lay a foundation of hatred and attempted murder, but the visions that Joseph dreams not only establish his reputation, but provide a point of departure for the brothers. It is that capacity that Joseph enjoys that parts him from the affections of his brothers, “Here comes that dreamer.” Their suggestion of murder and non-burial (“let us kill him and fling him into one of the pits”) makes the act even more offensive, since it was against social mores – burial was required. Reuben intervenes and a less drastic fate is planned – Joseph is sold to traders who were dealing in gum, balm, and ladanum. Joseph is saved but sold into slavery – and thus the story is connected and has laid the foundation for an epic.

Breaking open Genesis:
1.          What does this story say about the relationships in a family?
2.          Does it mirror anything in your family?
3.          How is Joseph’s condemnation turned into a salvation?

Psalm 105, 1-6, 16-22, 45b Confitemini Domino

     Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name; *
make known his deeds among the peoples.
2      Sing to him, sing praises to him, *
and speak of all his marvelous works.
3      Glory in his holy Name; *
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
4      Search for the Lord and his strength; *
continually seek his face.
5      Remember the marvels he has done, *
his wonders and the judgments of his mouth,
6      O offspring of Abraham his servant, *
O children of Jacob his chosen.
16    Then he called for a famine in the land *
and destroyed the supply of bread.
17    He sent a man before them, *
Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
18    They bruised his feet in fetters; *
his neck they put in an iron collar.
19    Until his prediction came to pass, *
the word of the Lord tested him.
20    The king sent and released him; *
the ruler of the peoples set him free.
21    He set him as a master over his household,
as a ruler over all his possessions,
22    To instruct his princes according to his will
and to teach his elders wisdom.
45    Hallelujah!




This psalm is a rehearsal of God’s saving acts for Israel, but its force is blunted by the lectionary eliding the heart of the psalm. The sixth through the fifteens verses recall the covenant God has made with the Patriarchs, and the sixteenth through the twenty-third verses (included in the liturgical reading) call to mind the story of Joseph and his rise to power in Egypt. The other elided verses (23-43) review the plagues of Egypt and the deliverance from Egypt and life in the wilderness. Verses 17 and 18 are an unusual elaboration of the Joseph story in telling of the logistics of his imprisonment – perhaps a contrast to the freedom that will be wrought a few verses later.

Breaking open Psalm 105:
1.     What is the story of your salvation?
2.     How is it similar to that of Israel?
3.    How will Joseph become an element of freedom?

Or

Track Two:

First Reading: I Kings 19:9-18

At Horeb, the mount of God, Elijah came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but theLord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”



It would be good to read the first verses of the chapter so as to recall the purpose behind Elijah’s travel and predicament. It literally brings him back to the place and central purpose of God’s relationship with Israel. The contents of Psalm 105, the Track One psalm for this day, can be helpful in reviewing that relationship and theology.

The encounter with God begins with a question, fit for the prophet and his circumstance, but also one that might be addressed to us as well, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Is his journey one of abandonment, or is one of reconnection and discovery? In this scene, Elijah takes on another rôle – the rôle of an earlier prophet – Moses. This prepares Elijah and us for what is about to happen – a theophany, an appearance of God to God’s prophet. Again, the question as to purpose is repeated giving it added emphasis. In the embrace of this question we experience the profound silence of God, the exact opposite of what we have been led to expect. The prophet, however is not bidden to tarry, but rather to get back to his job and purpose. He has to announce God’s judgment to a people who have forgotten the covenant they made with God.

Breaking open the I Kings:
1.     What do you expect when you encounter God?
2.     How do you deal with God’s silence?
3.    What is your purpose as a Christian?

Psalm 85:8-13 Benedixisti, Domine

     I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, *
for he is speaking peace to his faithful people
and to those who turn their hearts to him.
9      Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, *
that his glory may dwell in our land.
10    Mercy and truth have met together; *
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
11    Truth shall spring up from the earth, *
and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
12    The Lord will indeed grant prosperity, *
and our land will yield its increase.
13    Righteousness shall go before him, *
and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.



Verse five of the psalm can help us to understand the motivations rehearsed in the psalm. “Turn back, pray, God of our rescue and undo your anger against us.” The verse recalls the anger that is set up in the first reading for the morning – the threat against and Israel that has forgotten God. A bargain is proposed here. If God will turn back then the people will turn back, “and to those who turn their hearts to (God.)” God has given them the land, but what is the evidence of God’s presence in their land. The psalmist visits the virtues: mercy, truth, righteousness, and peace. There will be prosperity in this rich land, but the real wealth will be that of mercy and kindness.

Breaking open the Psalm 85:
1.     What do you need to turn back from?
2.     What do you wish God might repent from?
3.    Where are mercy and truth in your life?

The Second Reading: Romans 10:5-15

Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say?

“The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart”

(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”



Paul continues his wrestling with the situation in which Jews find themselves. Their solution to finding righteousness through the Law has offered up meager results – to which the first reading gives evidence. Paul believes that righteousness comes from faith. Here is the contrast that he wishes to elucidate: righteousness form the law vs. righteousness that comes from faith. He uses a quote from Deuteronomy (30:14) to make his point. Yet even as he admonishes the Jews in his congregation, he recognizes that in Christ there is a unity – no distinction. What ought to come next, but to pronounce that Word given to solve the dilemma. Hearing, belief, proclamation, and being sent are all part of the apostolic formula and job description.

Breaking open Romans:
1.     What of the Law do you observe?
2.     How do you deal with your sense of guilt?
3.    How might you describe your faith?

The Gospel: St. Matthew 14:22-33

Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

It is time to get away from the crowds that gathered to hear Jesus preach, and who are saved from hunger by his feeding of the 5,000. So we follow him to two different destinations. Like Moses and Elijah he goes to the mountain to pray – by himself. There is difficulty, however, happening below. The quiet time given over to prayer and communion with God must give way to the difficulties of life – the wind and wave that threaten the followers. So Jesus comes to the difficult place, and there he asserts his kingship over the earth. They, however have to recognize him and his word – “It is I.” Matthew wants us to understand that this is the same I AM that greets both Moses and Elijah at the mountain top. Here, God is manifest in saving people – even people of little faith.



It is time to get away from the crowds that gathered to hear Jesus preach, and who are saved from hunger by his feeding of the 5,000. So we follow him to two different destinations. Like Moses and Elijah he goes to the mountain to pray – by himself. There is difficulty, however, happening below. The quiet time given over to prayer and communion with God must give way to the difficulties of life – the wind and wave that threaten the followers. So Jesus comes to the difficult place, and there he asserts his kingship over the earth. They, however have to recognize him and his word – “It is I.” Matthew wants us to understand that this is the same I AM that greets both Moses and Elijah at the mountain top. Here, God is manifest in saving people – even people of little faith.
  
Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     Where do you go to pray?
2.     What do you fear in life?
3.    How does your faith help you with your fears?

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



Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; 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

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