The Third Sunday in Lent, 28 February 2016

Exodus 3:1-15
Psalm 63:1-8
I Corinthians 10:1-13
St. Luke 13:1-9

Background: The Name of God

Names are important. They become a part of our psyche and self-awareness, and our naming of God functions much in the same way. We identify with it. What is interesting in the Judeo-Christian traditions is that there are several names that are used to identify God, some of which seem familiar, and others that are or seem foreign. The unspoken name of God, YHWH, which in the Hebrew uses the substitute Adonai (Lord), is the subject of the first lesson for today – The Burning Bush, and the unspoken name. It seems appropriate given that in addition to the unspoken nature of the name, there was also no provision for image. Other names, however, are used in the Hebrew Scriptures. Some were in existence before the Hebrew traditions were even formed and migrated in as a cultural expression, such as the early Semitic El, also seen in the Hebrew Elohim (a plural). In the Abrahamic stories we meet a priest, Melchizedek, a priest of El Elyon, likely a Canaanite expression, or El Shaddai – “God – Destroyer”, again of Canaanite origin. You might be interested in reading Steve Hollinghurst’s excellent article on “The Mission of God in the Ancient Pagan World.”[1]  His survey of how God was referred to opens our eyes to all the cultures that have influenced our traditions. Also of interest might be Thomas Römer’s book, The Invention of God,[2] especially the first chapter, “The God of Israel and His Name.”

Exodus 3:1-15

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.”

This will not be the first adventure at Horeb (or Sinai). The name gives the indication of a dried up place, some three days journey from the Nile. Given that our first notice of Moses is actually in the Nile, we here see him at the extreme opposite and it is here that his adventure truly begins. The Hebrew word for bush is seneh (in which we see murmurs of “Sinai”). Here is one of the first signs that Moses either witnesses or participates in as he leads Israel from Egypt. The burning bush may also symbolize the wretched conditions of God’s people in Egypt. Not only can God’s name not be pronounced, nor can he be imagined; he cannot be seen by mortals, lest they thus Moses hides his face from the revealed God.

The land “flowing with milk and honey” indicates the huge cultural change that is about to happen. Although nomads would have know the milk of a goat, the stuff of sugar (honey here probably indicates a strong sugar syrup) would have purchased from others. Now it is the stuff of the land. And there will be neighbors and opposing forces: Canaanites, Hittites, and Jebusites. It will not be easy.

Like any prophet worth his denial, Moses says that he is not capable, “Who am I?” As usual, the prophet’s reticence is met with God’s strong promise to be present, and with a sign. Moses’ qualifying question, “Who am I?” also becomes his question for God – “Who are you?” The name is not satisfying but remains engaging – something of a mystery. “I-Will-Be-Who-I-Will-Be” solves nothing and everything. It sets up a future of activity and relationship the boundaries of which we cannot yet see. This, however, is the hook for Israel.  This is Moses’ authority.

Breaking open Exodus:
  1. What does your name mean?
  2. Does it describe you in any way?
  3. What is your name for God?

Psalm 63:1-8 Deus, Deus meus

     O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; *
my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you,
as in a barren and dry land where there is no water.
2      Therefore I have gazed upon you in your holy place, *
that I might behold your power and your glory.
3      For your loving-kindness is better than life itself; *
my lips shall give you praise.
4      So will I bless you as long as I live *
and lift up my hands in your Name.
5      My soul is content, as with marrow and fatness, *
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips,
6      When I remember you upon my bed, *
and meditate on you in the night watches.
7      For you have been my helper, *
and under the shadow of your wings I will rejoice.
8      My soul clings to you; *
your right hand holds me fast.

The superscription for this psalm is “A David psalm, when he was in the wilderness of Judea.” It may take its inspiration from the second verse (first in our translation), “as in a barren and dry land where there is no water.” Thus the writer sets up a situation of both want and need, “my throat thirsts for you.” Often the word soul is really a translation of the Hebrew vocable nephesh that indicates existence, and in the context of these verses flesh itself. What is clear in these verses is the author’s longing for God, and God’s presence in the midst of life. In the midst of thanksgiving, there is remembrance here of a presence in the Temple (Odd, that if this is truly a David psalm, during the period of Saul, there would have been no temple.) Life situations and images are abundant in this psalm – the night bed, and the sumptuous meal. It is in the midst of these things that the author remembers and at the same time longs for God.
outs his parents as having abandoned YHWH, and pointing out his own faithfulness.

Breaking open Psalm 63;
  1. What does it mean to thirst for God?
  2. What do you long for in life?
  3. What do you long for in your religion?

I Corinthians 10:1-13

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.

Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play." We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

Paul holds up the history of Israel as an example and a contrast. The initial verses serve to make the Corinthians aware of the unity and bounty that were given to Israel. All of the references mind us of the Red Sea event and all of them serve as allusions to the Christian sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist. So we follow Israel through the sea, eating the manna (bread) and drinking the waters provided from the rock. The crossing through the sea itself becomes a reminder of the baptism that brings unity to Christ’s people. However, Paul issues a warning, “God was not pleased with most of them.”

What follows is a catalogue of the “sins” of Israel, and Paul provides us with one of his usual lists. So in this pericope Paul instructs us in what goodness God has given us in the sacraments, and then rehearses the pitfalls that might provide difficulty for us. Here is the principal warning; “We must not put Christ to the test.” It is a reverse of the thought that the example of Israel is a reminder of our own Lenten tests and probation. Thus another warning, “So if you think that you are standing, watch out that you do not fall.” Paul’s good news is that we are not alone in our testing

Breaking open I Corinthains
  1. How is your life like that of the Israelites?
  2. How do you remember your baptism?
  3. What does the Eucharist provide you?

St. Luke 13:1-9

At that very time there were some present who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them--do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did."

Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, 'See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?' He replied, 'Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'"

It would do you well to read the initial part of this pericope that is not provided for in the lectionary (Luke 12:54-59) which prepares the people for watchfulness and a sense of vigilance. It provides for a sense of the scene as the people question Jesus about events in Galilee. It is a familiar question, but not about current events. It questions, as has been done in the past, about what was the innate sin that caused the massacre in Galilee, or the fall of the tower at Siloam. Jesus, however, is interested in mercy on God’s part and repentance on our part. Thus the parable of the fig tree. The logic of the master is questioned by the caring nature of the caregiver. There is always time for more probation, more time for mercy, more time for producing the ripe fruit. Here the watchfulness and vigilance is not for the roaming Satan that wishes us to devour us, but rather vigilance for signs of the kingdom and its goodness.

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What are you anxious about, or what are you watchful for?
  2. What should you be vigilent for?
  3. What are the fruits of your life?

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

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; 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 © 2016, Michael T. Hiller

[1] Hollinghurst, S. (2009), Mission Shaped Evangelism, The Gospel in Contemporary Culture, Canterbury Press, London.
[2] Römer, T. (2015), The Invention of God, Harvard University Press, Cambridge


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