The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 17, 3 September 2017

Track One:
Exodus 3:1-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c

Track Two:
Jeremiah 15:15-21
Psalm 26:1-8

Romans 12:9-21
St. Matthew 16:21-28

Background: The Burning Bush as a Symbol

We tend to focus on the story of Moses and the Burning Bush as a call narrative for Moses, but there are many who plumb the story line for even more meaning. The story’s location has gathered many to its supposed site, especially monks and hermits. Of note is Saint Catherine’s Monastery built at the site, which preserves a bush it believes is the bush that Moses observed. As a symbol, the bush has been used by Reformed Churches, most notably the French Huguenot, which adopted the motto Flagror non consumer (I am burned but not consumed). The Church of Scotland, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, and the Presbyterian Church in Canada use similar mottos. The bush was also the subject of an organ piece, “The Burning Bush” by Herman Berlinksi. If you wish to hear the piece, click here.

Track One:

First Reading: 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.

The lectionary has skipped ahead, and some may wonder how Moses has found himself in this odd environment, out in the wilderness, married to the daughter of Jethro. We meet several characters and sites in this chapter, not the least of which is “the mountain of God…Horeb.” In a way the experience with the burning bush is a foreshadowing of Moses’ experience on Sinai. Indeed some commentators see in the name of Sinai a similarity to the Hebrew word for bush, seneh. Others opine that this scene may be a conflation of the Sinai experience. Regardless of the bush, the scene really functions as a call rather than a destination after the liberation. Perhaps the bush scene and Sinai are parentheses around the Liberation/Wandering sequence.

The scene is softened a bit with a messenger rather than YHWH delivering the call to mission. Moses’ gestures, hiding his face, betray that he understands what is really happening here, and encounter with the Living God. The previous chapter is concluded with actions that God takes up again, “And God heard their moaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God saw the Israelites, and God knew.” Now at the bush God reveals something more, ““I indeed have seen the abuse of my people that is in Egypt, and its outcry because of its taskmasters. I have heard, for I know its pain.” God proposes the next steps rescue and redemption, and a land of promise and abundance.

Moses, like Jeremiah and others who will follow him in his prophetic role, allows that he is not capable of the job that is requested. His unworthiness stems from the part of the story that is elided from the liturgical text – the murder of the Egyptian agent. Moses has come into the scene with a background of crime, and fleeing his family and traditions. Moses recognizes the difficulty is his question, Who am I.God answers by indicating who God is, and by giving gifts and powers that speak to Moses authenticity and agency.

Beside the call of Moses, this pericope is important in that we learn who God is, and how we might refer to God. The unpronounceable name becomes a point of not only mystery but wonder as well. It is that wonder with which Moses will make an appeal to Pharaoh. The name, however, is the real legacy given to Israel, the knowledge of God and the ability to address God.

Breaking open Exodus:
1.          Which do you think is the point of this story?
2.          By what name do you call upon God? Why?
3.          What does God call you to do?

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.
2      Sing to him, sing praises to him, *
and speak of all his marvelous works.
3      Glory in his holy Name; *
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
4      Search for the Lord and his strength; *
continually seek his face.
5      Remember the marvels he has done, *
his wonders and the judgments of his mouth,
6      O offspring of Abraham his servant, *
O children of Jacob his chosen.
23    Israel came into Egypt, *
and Jacob became a sojourner in the land of Ham.
24    The Lord made his people exceedingly fruitful; *
he made them stronger than their enemies;
25    Whose heart he turned, so that they hated his people, *
and dealt unjustly with his servants.
26    He sent Moses his servant, *
and Aaron whom he had chosen.
45    Hallelujah!

I do not understand how the framers of the lectionary made certain decisions, such as the truncation of the psalm that matches the Track One First Reading. The elision of verses 7 through 22 takes the heart out of the story, and would have afforded the person worshiping through the psalm the ability to understand the fullness of the story. So, I recommend that you read the whole psalm just for your own edification. This is a thanksgiving psalm of a communal nature. It gives thanks for God’s choice of Israel, and for God’s protection of those God has chosen. In the elided verses there is ample reference to the Covenant that cements this relationship, and serves as the cause for God’s liberating Israel and calling God’s servant Moses to lead them.

Breaking open Psalm 105:
1.     Does God still choose the Jews as God’s own?
2.     Does God choose you?
3.    Whom has God chosen to lead God’s people?


Track Two:

First Reading: Jeremiah 15:15-21

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,
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.

In Jeremiah’s lament here we have a prophet who has an intimate knowledge of what it is that God knows, and yet a deep despair that God seems to not be doing anything about what the prophet mourns. We have a vision of a lonely man awaiting God’s will and bemoaning his solitude. Jeremiah’s position as the messenger of God’s discomfort with Israel in the midst of Israel’s obduracy becomes untenable. God’s word in return is one of faithfulness, “for I am with you to save you and deliver you.” That is for Jeremiah, however. Perhaps we ought in our theology and preaching remember those in the solitude of their ministry.

Breaking open the Isaiah:
1.     What have you expected from God that has not been met?
2.     Do you continue to pray for this expectation?
3.    How might you be an agent of its accomplishment?

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.
2      Test me, O Lord, and try me; *
examine my heart and my mind.
3      For your love is before my eyes; *
I have walked faithfully with you.
4      I have not sat with the worthless, *
nor do I consort with the deceitful.
5      I have hated the company of evildoers; *
I will not sit down with the wicked.
6      I will wash my hands in innocence, O Lord, *
that I may go in procession round your altar,
7      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.

When was the last time that you did this – confess your innocence to God? Check out verse 2, which invites God to examine the heart and mind of the psalmist. It is a celebration of the righteousness that God has granted the individual. It also serves as a model of how to live in righteousness, “I have not sat, nor do I consort, I have hated, I will not sit down.” Verse six with its hints at a liturgical practice may indicate that the psalm accompanied a temple liturgy of hand washing. It is a good meditative piece that allows for our thoughts about innocence and guilt.

Breaking open the Psalm 138:
1.     Where is innocence in your life?
2.     How do you strive for innocence?
3.    Of what do you need to wash your hands?

Second Reading: Romans 12:9-21

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.

We continue with Paul’s thoughts on the transformation of the Christian’s life. The attention here is focused on the behaviors of a community, all developed from the central theme of “Let love be genuine.” There is a call to empathy, identifying members of the Christian community or the community in general that are lowly, weeping, humble. The community is asked to be responsive to human need: hunger and thirst. “Overcome evil with good.”

Breaking open Romans:
1.     How do you make love genuine?
2.     Whom are you called to love?
3.    How do you do that?

The Gospel: St. Matthew 16:21-28

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.”

Last Sunday we saw Peter is the primary confessor of who and what Jesus is. Today we see Peter in a different guise – the complete nature of what it means to try to follow Jesus. This dual nature describes a cusp upon which Jesus and the disciples stand. The period of healing and preaching in Galilee is now over. The company must move toward Jerusalem and the things that have been ordained there. Jesus statements are evocative of what awaits Jesus, “let them deny themselves and take up their cross.” It is in the extreme of things that we begin to see the truth. Peter confesses and now dissuades, followers lose their lives and yet find them. Matthew’s reference to Jesus coming again in glory is not a look forward to a glorious return of the Son of Man, but rather a look forward to the glory of the cross and resurrection.

The composer Jan Bender wrote a piece on Peter’s denial of Jesus’ destiny. It’s tonality is based on the sound of emergency vehicles in Europe. You can listen to it here.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     What do you think Peter’s thoughts are in this Gospel?
2.     When have you tried to convince others that they should not pursue a course of action?
3.    What was the reaction?

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.

Questions and comments copyright © 2017, Michael T. Hiller


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