The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 16, 21 August 2010

Exodus 1:8 – 2:10
Psalm 124
Isaiah 51:1-6
Psalm 138

Romans 12:1-8
St. Matthew 16:13-20

Background: The Southern Kingdom II

The end of the Southern Kingdom is a lesson in geo-politics, as we witness the efforts of the King Zedekiah revolts against the Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar, and attempts to ally himself with the Egyptians and the Pharaoh Hophra.  Jeremiah spends most of his prophetic career speaking against these political machinations, and the abandonment in trusting Yahweh to deliver the people.  There is a mass movement of peoples out of Judah into the neighboring kingdoms of Moab, Ammon, and Edom.  Finally in, 586 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar besieges Jerusalem for eighteen months, and it falls.  Around 5,000 individuals are deported to Babylon, and the king’s sons are murdered.  Jeremiah escapes to Egypt and begins an exile there.  Jerusalem was destroyed and whatever royals remained retreated to Benjamin, where they held sway for some time.  The Kingdom of Judah in reality was at an end.  The House of David continued to be honored and recognized by the exiles in Babylon.

Exodus 1:8 – 2:10
Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, "Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land." Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.

The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, "When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live." But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, "Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?" The midwives said to Pharaoh, "Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them." So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, "Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live."
Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.

The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him, "This must be one of the Hebrews' children," she said. Then his sister said to Pharaoh's daughter, "Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?" Pharaoh's daughter said to her, "Yes." So the girl went and called the child's mother. Pharaoh's daughter said to her, "Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages." So the woman took the child and nursed it. When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, "because," she said, "I drew him out of the water."

Thus begins the epochal tale of Moses.  The introduction of the Hebrew Patriarchs in Egypt was not an unusual thing, in that there were regular incursions of nomadic peoples into the Nile River Valley.  The gift of land in “Goshen” in the Nile River delta was not unusual either in that it was the latest of the lands to be developed and settled.  Around 1700 BCE there was an invasion of the “Sea Peoples” all around the southern and eastern parts of the Mediterranean basin, and at the end of the Middle Kingdom period in Egypt, these peoples asserted power and became known as the “Hyksos Kings.”  It is indeed possible that these are the peoples that “knew Joseph”, and the succeeding New Kingdom were the peoples who “knew not Joseph”.  So it is in the period of this resurgence of the Egyptian state during the New Kingdom that Moses makes his entrance.  The story of his being cast on the waters in a small arch harks back to the Noah story, and thus places in him in the Palace of the Pharaoh and provides for him a name as well.

Breaking open Exodus:
  1. What elements of this story are used in Matthew’s narrative of the Birth of Jesus?
  2. What other biblical stories are alluded to in this reading?

Psalm 124 Nisi quia Dominus

If the LORD had not been on our side, *
let Israel now say;

If the LORD had not been on our side, *
when enemies rose up against us;

Then would they have swallowed us up alive *
in their fierce anger toward us;

Then would the waters have overwhelmed us *
and the torrent gone over us;

Then would the raging waters *
have gone right over us.

Blessed be the LORD! *
he has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth.

We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler; *
the snare is broken, and we have escaped.

Our help is in the Name of the LORD, *
the maker of heaven and earth.

This is a psalm of assents and a collective thanksgiving psalm.  One can imagine it being spoken antiphonally between groups as they walked up to Jerusalem.  Verse two indicates that it may be in response to the Babylonian Exile, although the lectionary’s use ties it to the harsh treatment to the first-born in the Moses Story (First Reading).  There are several images of enmity and death: “they would have swallowed us up alive” (verse 3), “the waters have overwhelmed us” (verse 3 and 4 – a regular Hebrew image of death.  The final verses are about freedom and release, especially appropriate for the Moses reading.

Breaking open Psalm 124
  1. What are the images of death that are used in the psalm?
  2. What are the images of freedom?


Isaiah 51:1-6

Thus says the Lord:
"Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness,
you that seek the LORD.
Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
and to the quarry from which you were dug.
Look to Abraham your father
and to Sarah who bore you;
for he was but one when I called him,
but I blessed him and made him many.
For the LORD will comfort Zion;
he will comfort all her waste places,
and will make her wilderness like Eden,
her desert like the garden of the LORD;
joy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the voice of song.
Listen to me, my people,
and give heed to me, my nation;
for a teaching will go out from me,
and my justice for a light to the peoples.
I will bring near my deliverance swiftly,
my salvation has gone out
and my arms will rule the peoples;
the coastlands wait for me,
and for my arm they hope.
Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
and look at the earth beneath;
for the heavens will vanish like smoke,
the earth will wear out like a garment,
and those who live on it will die like gnats;
but my salvation will be forever,
and my deliverance will never be ended."

Second Isaiah looks back to the traditions of the Yahwist, who recorded the stories of the Patriarchs.  The images of Abraham and Sarah become icons that embody this situation of Jerusalem.  Like Sarah, Jerusalem is barren and sterile, a result of the devastations of the Babylonian invasions (see the Background material).  Sarah, of course soon receives her comforts in her pregnancy and the gift of Isaac, her son.  So it is with Jerusalem who will be comforted and become like a garden – like Eden.  Unlike the time of the Temple, now destroyed, the Law and the Word of Yahweh will not be mediated by either Temple or priest, but rather come directly from the mouth of God.  Nor will this word be limited to Israel, but rather be poured out upon “the peoples, (and) the coastland which wait”.  Old ways are passing away.  The heavens (here read the ancient deities of the son, moon, and stars) will vanish like smoke.  Indeed, in a sort of anti-creation, the earth itself will “wear out”.  What will remain, however is God’s salvation.

Breaking open Isaiah:
1.     Why does Isaiah depict Jerusalem as barren?
2.     How does God comfort Jerusalem?
3.     What is God’s deliverance for you?

Psalm 138 Confitebor tibi

I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with my whole heart; *
before the gods I will sing your praise.

I will bow down toward your holy temple
and praise your Name, *
because of your love and faithfulness;

For you have glorified your Name *
and your word above all things.

When I called, you answered me; *
you increased my strength within me.

All the kings of the earth will praise you, O LORD, *
when they have heard the words of your mouth.

They will sing of the ways of the LORD, *
that great is the glory of the LORD.

Though the LORD be high, he cares for the lowly; *
he perceives the haughty from afar.

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe; *
you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies;
your right hand shall save me.

The LORD will make good his purpose for me; *
O LORD, your love endures for ever;
do not abandon the works of your hands.

This individual psalm of thanksgiving owns a scope that far exceeds the individuality of the prayer.  It’s first verse betrays an early time (or it may be an anachronistic touch, since the Temple is mentioned later), in which Yahweh is seen as the head of the heavenly host of gods.  The psalmist bravely stands in their company and sings the praise of Yahweh.  The effect of this individual’s salvation has an effect on a much larger world.  “All the kings of the earth” seem to be moved by this one person’s deliverance.  Perhaps the “I” is really the “we” of Israel, or perhaps, what happens to this one person is so common, and known and experienced by others in the community, that all the earth sees God’s righteous judgment in these acts.  Nor is this a singular instance, but rather an on-going relationship of protection and salvation.  The last line “do not abandon the work of your hands” is much more telling in the Hebrew where the verb “abandon” is better translated as “let go.”  The image is of God the potter, the psalmist the product of the potter’s art, and the prayer that the pot not be dropped and destroyed.

Breaking open Psalm 138
1.     How has God intervened for good in your life?
2.     How has this been mirrored in our life as a community?
3.     How does God keep us (you) safe?

Romans 12:1-8

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-- what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

“What is worship?” is Paul’s question in this reading, and he provides the answer.  He compares the Christian to the victims of Jewish and pagan sacrifices, however the Christians are not dead upon the altar, but rather are a “living sacrifice.”  In the following paragraph, Paul outlines the living nature of the on-going sacrifice of the Christian: prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhorting, giving, leading, and compassion.  These gifts are an explication of the not only the unity but the diversity of the Body of Christ.  They may be given by individuals, but they are indeed the sacrifice of the whole body in Christ.  Thus, in the liturgy, representatives of the congregation bring our gifts of money, bread and wine forward to be blessed and used – our common oblation and sacrifice, and emblematic of our lives.

Breaking open Romans:
  1. What gifts do you have to offer?
  2. What is “spiritual worship” to you.
  3. How have you been transformed in your worship?

Matthew 16”13-20

When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

This is a gripping account of the Confession of Peter, and a simpler and perhaps more convincing version appears in Mark (8:27-30).  Of special interest is the locale of this confession, Caesarea Philippi, a town founded by Philip the tetrarch and brother of Herod Antipas, a gentile community.  Jesus' question is answered by traditional messianic statements that include, Elijah, Jeremiah, and a newcomer, John the Baptist.  Jesus however is not interested in these allusions, but rather on the faith of those who are following him.  “Who do you say that I am?”  Peter answers, and in this immediate response we can begin to see the role that Peter plays, for it is not his abruptness that is witnessed here, but rather his primacy.  He is the first to understand, know, and confess.  Matthew expands his confession to include the phrase, “the son of the living God,” which was probably more a reflection of Matthew’s community’s belief, than of Peter’s words.  There is a translation problem with the “gates of Hades” passage that does not allow us to see the intent of Matthew here.  “Gates of Hades” smells of brimstone and evil, rather than picturing for us death.  The original word was “Sheol” the place of the dead.  The power of death (the resurrection) has no power here.  Implicit here is the notion that the Messiah has to suffer and die – which would be unfamiliar to the contemporary Jewish understanding of the Messiah.  Thus Jesus instructs the disciples to “keep it quiet”.  The fullness of time has not yet come.  The faith, however, (Peter’s witness) is present.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Who do you say that Jesus is?
  2. How is your confession different than that of Peter’s?
  3. What do your friends and family think?

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

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


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