The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 18, 6 September 2020
Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
If you grew up in the fifties or sixties, your concept of the family may be at odds or quite different from the notion of the family in the Bible. The Track One First Reading is the founding text of the Passover, and we may think that it was celebrated in the intimacy of the nuclear family as we understand it from our own personal histories. The family of biblical times was much different, much larger, and, surprisingly, much more diverse. It was centered on the father, although the mother had a distinct and important role in providing a future for the family. What was “a family”? It was composed of elements that we would recognize father, mothers (polygamy was not an issue), sons, daughters, grandparents, and other kinsmen. Up until the Second World War, this was the pattern in our own families as well. Others, however, could be included: hired servants, concubines (whose children became a part of the ancestry of a tribe), and sojourners (aliens who were connected with the family for a variety of reasons).
Following the reforms of Josiah, the Temple become the center of Jewish religiosity, but before that, and following that the family was the center of religious life. In the family there was instruction regarding the traditions of the tribe, prayers and worship accompanied every meal, and solidarity of the family, clan, tribe and God was encouraged. We realize this when we heard, last Sunday, as God introduced Godself to Moses in the burning bush, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” YHWH was the God of families. The story of Ruth teaches us a great deal about the family, and the accompanying Levirate Law, to which she appeals, indicates how important family, clan, and tribe were.
The family was an economic unit as well, with women contributing a great part of a family’s economic effort. For this reason, it was thought that the family should have a great number of children so that all of them might contribute to the family’s economic success. Thus, marriage to one wife was not the norm, and secondary wives enjoyed an equal status in the pecking order of the family. To understand the role of women in the family Proverbs 31 offers a great example.
First Reading: Exodus 12:1-14
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.
Romans counted the calendar from the date that the city was founded by Romulus and Remus. In this reading we are given to understand, from the very beginning, that time itself was to constantly refer back to this seminal event. “This month will stand at the head of your calendar; you will reckon it the first month of the year.” Thus time itself will look back to a feast of freedom and liberation. The calendar names, ordinals, run from this date forward.
The lamb is to be “without blemish”, in other words it is to be a sacrificial animal. It is more than an element of the meal but is also an offering and a symbol. This sacrifice of the lamb will coincide with another offering – the offering of the first born of Egypt. In Chapter 11 (verses 4-7), we understand that it is God who will reek this horrible sacrifice. The Jewish Study Bible notes that in similar situations it is an angel of death, “The Destroyer” who accompanies God (see II Samuel 24:16, I Chronicles 21:15). Cecil B. DeMille’s cinematography of this scene has cemented that idea into our minds. The 23rd verse of chapter 12 also mentions such a “destroyer”. The point, however, is that Israel is protected from this sacrifice.
The sacrifice of the lamb at the ritual meal is for that particular purpose only. No leftovers are allowed, all that is not consumed is to be destroyed. The meal is eaten in a rush, for they are to be ready to leave at an instant. Here we see the importance of the family and the community at this meal, with the command, “This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.” The family as the preserver of tradition, prayer, and remembrance will ensure this.
Breaking open Exodus:
1. What are your ritual meals?
2. When has disaster “passed over” you?
3. How do you remember it?
Psalm 149 Cantate Domino
Sing to the Lord a new song; *
sing his praise in the congregation of the faithful.
2 Let Israel rejoice in his Maker; *
let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.
3 Let them praise his Name in the dance; *
let them sing praise to him with timbrel and harp.
4 For the Lord takes pleasure in his people *
and adorns the poor with victory.
5 Let the faithful rejoice in triumph; *
let them be joyful on their beds.
6 Let the praises of God be in their throat *
and a two-edged sword in their hand;
7 To wreak vengeance on the nations *
and punishment on the peoples;
8 To bind their kings in chains *
and their nobles with links of iron;
9 To inflict on them the judgment decreed; *
this is glory for all his faithful people.
While this psalm matches the joy that must have accompanied the Passover, it most likely dates from a much later time, mirroring the anticipated joy that would accompany the release from exile, or the actual joy as the people returned from exile. There are notes of the Exodus, as a template for rejoicing in the latter day. “Let them praise (God’s) name in dance, make music with tambourine and lyre.” (See Exodus 15:20). Rather than seeing the establishment of Judah, it celebrates the restoration of Judah, and God’s protection of the people. The term for those who are liberated and brought back is repeated three times in the text. They are called “the faithful.” The second verse notes who it is to whom the faithful are devoted. It is not a human king – for that was no longer possible. It is to the King, the One who made them and protects them. Again, we see a glimpse of worship in the home, with the family, “Let the faithful rejoice in their glory, cry out for joy on their couches.” That which was often meted out to prisoners of war is now given to the rulers of those who oppressed Israel – their kings are in shackles. With this has already happened, or is yet to happen, it is God’s will.
Breaking open Psalm 149:
1. In what ways are you faithful?
2. In what ways have you been protected by God?
3. What is your joy in God?
First Reading: Ezekiel 33:7-11
You, mortal, I have made a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, “O wicked ones, you shall surely die,” and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but their blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, and they do not turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but you will have saved your life.
Now you, mortal, say to the house of Israel, Thus you have said: “Our transgressions and our sins weigh upon us, and we waste away because of them; how then can we live?” Say to them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?
This is the beginning to the final section of the Book of Ezekiel – a series of Post destruction Oracles. Our reading is a response to the destruction of the temple and the prophet’s appointment as a watchman for Israel. It might be good for you to reflect on the prophet’s call in Ezekiel 3:9-21, in which the strength of the prophet must be the equal to the hardness of the house of Israel (“like diamond, harder than flint”. To see the full context, you might want to begin your study of this pericope at verse one (Ezekiel 33). In our reading the word of the Lord comes again and sends the prophet to speak a word of repentance to Israel. He is to offer a word of warning. Ezekiel is in a double bind here, responsible for Israel to hear and listen, but also responsible should they not. “If I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked ones, you shall surely die,’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but their blood I will require at your hand.” This text leads nicely into the Gospel for this morning in which the body of the church is called to responsibility for reminding the unfaithful of their obligations to both God and neighbor.
Breaking open Ezekiel:
1. Have you ever had to reprimand someone?
2. What strength did you call upon in order to do so?
3. What were the consequences?
Psalm 119:33-40 Legem pone
33 Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, *
and I shall keep it to the end.
34 Give me understanding, and I shall keep your law; *
I shall keep it with all my heart.
35 Make me go in the path of your commandments, *
for that is my desire.
36 Incline my heart to your decrees *
and not to unjust gain.
37 Turn my eyes from watching what is worthless; *
give me life in your ways.
38 Fulfill your promise to your servant, *
which you make to those who fear you.
39 Turn away the reproach which I dread, *
because your judgments are good.
40 Behold, I long for your commandments; *
in your righteousness preserve my life.
This is the longest psalm in the collection, an eight-fold acrostic based on the alphabet. It comes out of a long tradition of such compositions, such as an Akkadian text, “The Babylonian Theodicy”, an eleven-fold acrostic based on the author’s name and occupation. The theme of this psalm is the Law. In the body of the entire psalm there are eight different words used for the word “Torah”, word, laws, command, rules, decrees, precepts, and teachings. These words and synonyms are found in 176 of the verses of this psalm. In verse 32 of the psalm (not in our reading – “I will run the way of your commandments, for you will broaden my heart.”, or in another translation, “I eagerly pursue your commandments, for you broaden my understanding.”) we see that God is not pursued but rather God’s law. Value and worth are seen in what God rules for life.
Breaking open Psalm 119:
1. What are the commandments for you?
2. How do you observe them?
3. How well do they represent God to you?
Second Reading: Romans 13:8-14
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Once again, the randomness of Ordinary Time’s lectio continua in Romans yields a reading that comments on the Track Two First Reading and Psalm – God’s law. Here Paul makes the argument that Love fulfills the Law. It is a fundamental understanding of life that Paul strives for here, loving God and loving the neighbor. He puts it well, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” There is a deep need for this understanding, for Paul sees the End Time coming. It is not night that is coming, but rather the light of day – the light of salvation. Thus, while we wait for the full light of the day, behave worthy of the day. He, in his usual manner, lists what it is that needs to be avoided, “orgies, drunkenness, promiscuity, licentiousness, rivalry, and jealousy.” The fulfillment of this new day is that we “put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” and stop our worrying over lesser desires.
Breaking open Romans:
1. Who really is your neighbor?
2. How do you know your neighbor?
3. How do you love your neighbor?
The Gospel: St. Matthew 18:15-20
Jesus said, “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
We have come to a time, I think, when we are, all of us, going to need to be modelled by the behavior of Ezekiel (Track Two First Reading) who is called to announce God’s will to Judah. Here in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus sets up an equally difficult requirement for those who would be leaders in the church, or its members as well. This text always keeps me in mind of a text from the Gospel of John, chapter 20. “
1. How do you confront your own sins?
2. How do you confront the misdeeds of others?
3. How do you forgive yourself and others?
General Idea: Seeking God’s will
Idea 1: Remembering what God has done (Track One: First Reading)
Know that we are bound to our neighbor (enemy or friend) (Track Two: First Reading)
Idea 2: Being Faithful to God (Psalm 149)
Pursing God’s Law (Psalm 119)
Idea 3: Fulfilling the Law with Love (Second Reading)
Idea 4: Binding and Releasing as God would have it (Gospel)
Questions and comments copyright © 2020, Michael T. Hiller