The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 18 - 4 September 2011
St. Matthew 18:15-20
|Blake - Ezekiel|
There is a moment in Terry Jones’ The Life of Brian, that I think actually portrays an ancient situation. It is that moment when Brian, below the walls of Jerusalem, encounters prophets. They are a staggering lot, crazy with make up and accessories, wild-eyed, speaking with out editing what they are saying, pronouncing the impossible. Most commentators would put Ezekiel right in this lot. A man of vision and variable emotions, Ezekiel is difficult to examine and hold in focus. He seems to be the author of something new in Judaism, and in his work we see the whole spectrum of Israelite institutions: priesthood, prophecy, literacy, and theological discovery. The broad visions and ecstasies that he reports seem to come from his being torn from the land of his birth, and placed in the midst of the Babylonian exiles. How his vision must have been jolted by the new cultural surroundings, and how his memories must have started with the absence of Jerusalem’s temple and court. His job, as he saw it, was to cobble something new from the circumstances in which he had been found, and in which he come to be. Whether his ministry was only in Palestine, or is divided with a Babylonian presence it is a ministry of extremes, and from these extremes he attempts to announce something new.
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.
In the story of Cain and Able (Genesis 4:1-8) we have a record of the collision of two traditions: that of the nomad with his sheep and flocks, and that of a more settled people, and their harvest of barley. Both of these ways of life give presence to rituals that celebrated them: the feast of the barley harvest and the week of unleavened bread, and the celebration of the flock with the wealth of its blood painted over the door. In the Passover, these traditions from earlier days are tied to the liberation from Egypt. All of the words from which Pesach might have come are rich with Hebrew and Egyptian associations: “to jump”, “to appease”, “a blow”. The traditions of the fathers and mothers are assimilated in a new way to speak to the present situation, or even to reinterpret the deeds of the past from the vantage point of a time in the future.
As this meal moves on in the history of Judaism and later Christianity, it takes on more and different meanings, springing from the sense of fullness, and later the sense of liberation. We see in the reading all the ritual notes that effect the day, and embody the prayers of a people.
Breaking open Exodus:
- Do you have any “remembrance meals”? What are they like?
- Is there a time in your life when you expected punishment from God, but you were “passed over”?
- How do you teach the next generation your traditions?
Psalm 149 Cantate Domino
Sing to the LORD a new song; *
sing his praise in the congregation of the faithful.
Let Israel rejoice in his Maker; *
let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.
Let them praise his Name in the dance; *
let them sing praise to him with timbrel and harp.
For the LORD takes pleasure in his people *
and adorns the poor with victory.
Let the faithful rejoice in triumph; *
let them be joyful on their beds.
Let the praises of God be in their throat *
and a two-edged sword in their hand;
To wreak vengeance on the nations *
and punishment on the peoples;
To bind their kings in chains *
and their nobles with links of iron;
To inflict on them the judgment decreed; *
this is glory for all his faithful people.
Psalm 149 is a continuation of Psalm 148, and participates in its general theme of thanksgiving and joyfulness. The first four verses expand on these themes and particularly devote some time to a consideration of the poor. At verse five, however, the theme abruptly changes to one of warfare and bloodshed. David and Solomon, along with all those that followed them enjoyed their status as kings, but only at the expense of constant threat by the small kingdoms that surrounded them, but also the larger empires of the Hittites, the Assyrians, and the Egyptians that posed an even greater threat. This was the reality of the situation in Israel and Judah, and it was the expectation that these peoples had of their God, Yahweh, their protector, king, and warrior.
Breaking open Psalm 149
- What do you think that the psalmist means by “a new song”?
- The joy of song is contrasted with something more somber in this psalm – what is it?
- How do you “adorn the poor with victory”?
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?
These verses serve as a type of recommissioning for Ezekiel, who in this translation is described as “O Mortal”. Ezekiel has been the prophet who has warned Israel of its coming judgment, given at the hand of the Babylonians, and God wants Ezekiel to be clear about the on-going nature of the message. Jerusalem’s destruction does not end God’s call for the righteousness of the people. Ezekiel’s job is to renew the message, or forfeit his life. His model is simple: the sinful who repent, and become righteousness can depend on their newly acquired righteousness for their salvation. The righteous who lapse into sin, cannot rely on their former righteousness. So it is with the exiles. Their ordeal does not end with the destruction of City and of Temple, but rather their call to righteousness continues even in the strange land.
Breaking open Ezekiel:
1. Is Ezekiel’s message one of doom?
2. What grace is there in his message?
3. Do you consider yourself a righteous person?
Psalm 119:33-40 Legem pone
Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes, *
and I shall keep it to the end.
Give me understanding, and I shall keep your law; *
I shall keep it with all my heart.
Make me go in the path of your commandments, *
for that is my desire.
Incline my heart to your decrees *
and not to unjust gain.
Turn my eyes from watching what is worthless; *
give me life in your ways.
Fulfill your promise to your servant, *
which you make to those who fear you.
Turn away the reproach which I dread, *
because your judgments are good.
Behold, I long for your commandments; *
in your righteousness preserve my life.
Psalm 119 is a rather long acrostic psalm that is a meditation on the Torah, the Law. If anything it is a reflection of the writings of Jeremiah, IInd Isaiah, Proverbs, and Ezekiel. It is a quiet, meditative reflection of their studies of the Law and what the Law requires.
Breaking open Psalm 119
1. How is God’s law reflect in our civic law?
2. How is it not?
3. How do you feel about what God asks you to do?
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.
|The Font at Salisbury Cathedral|
In this reading, Paul summarizes the law, and not in the way that we might expect. He does not ape Jesus’ summarization (You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.) For Paul, the love of God was the natural response that flowed from becoming a part of Christ and walking in his ways. The difficult part, and he quotes the commandments from the Second Table (Murder, Adultery, False Testimony, and Covetousness) to make his point, is truly loving one’s neighbor. “Love is the fulfilling of the law”, he says, quite simply. It is focused on that love. To further underscore the point, he reminds us of taking on a new nature at baptism – “Instead, put on Christ”. I recall the baptism of a young baby girl at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church in Belmont, California. At the chrismation, she was amply slathered in holy oils, and then passionately dunked in the baptismal waters three times. She came out of that ordeal shining and gleaming with what the oil and water had done, and then she put on the white christening gown. “Put on Christ!” Yes, Paul is reminding his own audience of their own ordeal in baptism – that out of that might flow love – the love of the neighbor.
Breaking open Romans:
- How have you but on Christ?
- Who is your literal neighbor?
- How have you been Christ to him or her?
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."
As if on cue, Jesus offers further examples of how to love the neighbor. In this case he talks about someone in the community who has sinned or done wrong, and offers a process for recovery. First there is a discussion in private, and then a discussion with 2 or 3 others, and finally a discussion with the whole church. It is at this point where popular theology begins to not understand what Jesus is trying to say. Saint Matthew records, “let (this person) be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Shunned? Forgotten? Discarded? No. How did Jesus treat the Gentile and the tax collector, but with additional love, teaching, and forbearance. One does not stop, but continues with the full panoply of teaching and care that is required by the situation. In this way, Paul’s thoughts, noted above, are given a foundation and a focus. As if to confirm the importance of the point, Matthew talks about the consequences of what we do to one another, “whatever you bind…”
Breaking open the Gospel:
- Have you ever had to confront someone about something they were doing that was wrong?
- Have you ever had to confront yourself?
- Is it easy to speak words of forgiveness?
After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:
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.