The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 17, 28 August 2011
Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c
St. Matthew 16:21-28
Background: Jesus the prophet.
Prophecy, and its understanding in the American Church, seems to have become the main theological perspective of evangelicalism and fundamentalism. Today’s readings, however, require us to move away from that point of view (prophecy as future telling) to a more classic view taught us in the Hebrew Scriptures. The call of Jeremiah (1:4-19) gives us an opportunity to see what prophecy was really all about, and how it connects to the mission of Jesus. When Jeremiah is called, he objects. He considers himself unworthy, too young, too inexperienced. God then reminds him that it is God’s words that will become the stuff of Jeremiah’s message. Prophecy was not a crystal ball affair, but rather a deep knowledge of God, and of God’s will for the time and the place of the prophet’s ministry. We understand that in the ministry of Jesus, especially when St. John associates Jesus with the Word, and calls him the Logos (the Word). In John, Jesus is constantly referring to the source of his teaching, “These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me” (St. John 14:24). In the alternate RCL reading for today (Exodus 3:1-15) we also see another prophet whose words come from God. Moses is the sent one, and what he is sent to announce is the Name and intentions of God. Such is the stuff of prophecy.
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."
|Tiffany - Moses and the Burning Bush|
What we have in this reading is a mixing of the tradition that uses YHWH as a name for God (J), and another tradition that uses G-d as a name for God (E). J also identifies the mountain as “Sinai”, while E calls it Horeb. Both seem to share the tradition of the Burning Bush, it being fundamental in connecting Moses to the traditions of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) and then connecting that relationship to the people soon to be known as Israel. The point of the story is not the bush – that is just the focus of this theophany (an appearance of a god) and grabs our attention. The message is God’s intent for Israel, and more importantly God’s name. The name, YHWH, can be translated in several ways, and two of them give us a feeling of the depth of the concept behind the name. Some see in YHWY “I am who I am”, while a deeper translation is “He Causes to be what Comes into Existence”. The very structure of the name is reminiscent of the “Horus Name” used by Egyptian Pharaoh’s to describe the intent and theological background of their Kingship. That the name should be unpronounced is a reflection of the Semitic understanding that to know a name is to have power over that which is named. Thus YHWH is not pronounced. Finally we hear God’s intent for God’s people – freedom and relationship.
Breaking open Exodus:
- Have you ever stood in wonder and awe at something that made you think of God?
- What name do you use for God? Why?
- What do you think that God has promised to do for you?
Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c Confitemini Domino
Give thanks to the LORD and call upon his Name; *
make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him, *
and speak of all his marvelous works.
Glory in his holy Name; *
let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.
Search for the LORD and his strength; *
continually seek his face.
Remember the marvels he has done, *
his wonders and the judgments of his mouth,
O offspring of Abraham his servant, *
O children of Jacob his chosen.
Israel came into Egypt, *
and Jacob became a sojourner in the land of Ham.
The LORD made his people exceedingly fruitful; *
he made them stronger than their enemies;
Whose heart he turned, so that they hated his people, *
and dealt unjustly with his servants.
He sent Moses his servant, *
and Aaron whom he had chosen.
Psalm 105 is a historical psalm rehearsing the history of Israel. The initial verses are more of a thanksgiving to God for all the deeds done for Israel. The follows: The Covenant with the Patriarchs (6-15), Joseph (16-23), Enslavement, Moses and Aaron (24-36), Exodus and Wandering (37-43), and finally the Promised Land (44-45). The sections chosen for this Sunday especially relate to the reading from the Hebrew Scriptures.
Breaking open Psalm 105
- What is the history of your family’s relationship to God?
- How has God prospered your family?
- How has God tested your family?
O LORD, you know;
remember me and visit me,
and bring down retribution for me on my persecutors.
In your forbearance do not take me away;
know that on your account I suffer insult.
Your words were found, and I ate them,
and your words became to me a joy
and the delight of my heart;
for I am called by your name,
O LORD, God of hosts.
I did not sit in the company of merrymakers,
nor did I rejoice;
under the weight of your hand I sat alone,
for you had filled me with indignation.
Why is my pain unceasing,
my wound incurable,
refusing to be healed?
Truly, you are to me like a deceitful brook,
like waters that fail.
Therefore thus says the LORD:
If you turn back, I will take you back,
and you shall stand before me.
If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless,
you shall serve as my mouth.
It is they who will turn to you,
not you who will turn to them.
And I will make you to this people
a fortified wall of bronze;
they will fight against you,
but they shall not prevail over you,
for I am with you
to save you and deliver you,
says the LORD.
I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked,
and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.
One needs to read this particular reading fully aware of the circumstances that surrounded Jeremiah’s call (see Background above). In spite of Jeremiah’s protestations, God touches Jeremiahs tongue and mouth with God’s words. They are to form the message that the prophet must bear. From the call we know that God has known Jeremiah from before his birth. Now however he sits in the midst of difficulty. He in speaking God’s word, and in pointing out the folly of a political solution to Israel’s troubles, now has a passel of enemies who would do him harm. Jeremiah feels abandoned by the one who put words in his mouth, and explains his disappointment to the God who sent him. In an explicit complaint he notes that he is like a “treacherous brook”, or “waters that fail”. This would be known to his hearers in the dried up wadi that are absent of water in the summer. God, however does not abandon Jeremiah, and urges him to speak that which is not “worthless.” God calls again and promises to support and uphold, if Jeremiah will be speak God’s message.
Breaking open Jeremiah:
1. How has God disappointed you?
2. What do you think that God wants you to proclaim to the world?
3. What would happen to you if you actually did this?
Psalm 26:1-8 Judica me, Domine
Give judgment for me, O LORD,
for I have lived with integrity; *
I have trusted in the Lord and have not faltered.
Test me, O LORD, and try me; *
examine my heart and my mind.
For your love is before my eyes; *
I have walked faithfully with you.
I have not sat with the worthless, *
nor do I consort with the deceitful.
I have hated the company of evildoers; *
I will not sit down with the wicked.
I will wash my hands in innocence, O LORD, *
that I may go in procession round your altar,
Singing aloud a song of thanksgiving *
and recounting all your wonderful deeds.
LORD, I love the house in which you dwell *
and the place where your glory abides.
There is a pattern in the Hebrew Scriptures that may be reflected in this particular psalm. The pattern is called the Rib(v) Pattern in which God is seen as judge, creation as the witnesses, and the individual as the one in judgment. Although verse 7 mentions a “thanksgiving”, this is not a thanksgiving psalm but rather a defense, a confession as to right purposes. The author stands before God and states his case. It’s use here on this Sunday, is tied to the stance that Jeremiah takes in the first reading. In the psalm, the author distinguishes himself and calls for the judge to see his integrity and his purpose. Compare this to Jeremiah’s comments in his so-called “Confessions” that surround the first reading. “I wash my hands in innocence” seems to sum up the intent of this psalm.
Breaking open Psalm 26
1. Does God judge you?
2. How do you respond?
3. What defenses do you offer?
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Serendipity seems to be the order of the day with this reading, in which Paul calls his readers to a holiness of action when dealing with “those who persecute you.” It seems to be advice intended, at one level, for the likes of Jeremiah. In verse 11, Paul enjoins his readers to “serve the Lord.” In other manuscripts, however, the word for “Lord” is substituted with the word for “time”, so that the verse might read, “serve the hour”. Either would stand in Paul’s theology here, for he urges his readers to love and serve one another, as well as those who work against them. It serves the situation as well as serving the Lord. The whole of the reading functions as a Pauline list, encouraging individual behaviors owed to both fellow Christian, and to others, “Bless those who persecute you.”
Breaking open Romans:
- How do you treat people who are not kind to you?
- How have others treated you, when you abused your friendship with them?
- What does it mean to “heap burning coals on their heads”?
Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you." But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."
Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
"For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."
|Pasolini - The Gospel According to Matthew|
We take up where we left off last Sunday, having just heard the confession of Saint Peter at Caesarea Philippi. In that reading, Peter confesses Jesus as messiah and “Son of the Living God.” Jesus continues to tutor Peter on how he has come to know this of Jesus, and what the responsibilities of such a confession are. Now comes the hard part in which Jesus talks about his own responsibilities, the necessity of going to Jerusalem to die. Peter objects, and Jesus responds with a sharp “get behind me Satan”! Jeremiah has stumbled on his journey as God’s prophet, and is Jesus also to stumble? Not if we hear his response to Peter, and by extension to the others. “Deny yourselves!” Jesus says. Matthew portrays Jesus as the prophet true to his calling and message. Even his very friends cannot deter him from its purposes.
Breaking open the Gospel:
- What do you think of Jesus’ retort to Peter?
- How are you a “stumbling block” to the Gospel?
- What in your life do you need to lose?
After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:
Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.