The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 19, 17 September 2017

Track One:
Exodus 14:19-31
Psalm 114 or Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21

Track Two:
Genesis 50:15-21
Psalm 103: (1-7) 8-13

Romans 14:1-12
St. Matthew 18:21-35

Background: Absolution

The history of absolution, pronouncing the forgiveness of sins, is one of movement from a public event to one that included private expressions of confession and forgiveness. At Salisbury on Maundy Thursday, penitents who had admitted grievous sins on Ash Wednesday, and who were expelled from the Church because of them, we readmitted to the Church immediately preceding the principal mass of the day. A video depicting this ceremony is available here. This is an example of the public expression of absolution, which up until the sixth century, was the only expression. The Celtic monasteries began combining the two expressions (public confession and absolution, and private confession without absolution), which is the mode we see today. Around 1000, the rite of confession and absolution, either declaratory or precatory, entered the public celebration of the mass. Private absolution remains a feature of the Anglican, Lutheran, Orthodox and Roman Churches.

The First Reading: Exodus 14:19-31

The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.” So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.

Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.

Here we have the great event that would be the pivotal point for Israel (along with the celebration of the Passover) and for Christians who saw in this event a foretelling of the importance of baptism. In an odd combination of effect, the pillar of cloud is darkness to the Egyptians, effectively hiding Israel, and lights up the night for the sons and daughters of Jacob. This pairing of symbols of God’s presence is also seen in the wind and the dry seabed, both references to the Creation Story. Thus the passage through the sea is an effective paren to the death of the Israelite children, Moses having been consigned to the water by his mother – the people are spared again from and by the water. So the story reaches forward and backward so that we might encounter the whole context of Moses’ and the people’s experience.

Breaking open Exodus:
1.      When is God light for you?
2.      When is God darkness?
3.      Where is God leading you?

Psalm 114 In exitu Israel

When Israel came out of Egypt, *
the house of Jacob from a people of strange speech,
2      Judah became God's sanctuary *
and Israel his dominion.
3      The sea beheld it and fled; *
Jordan turned and went back.
4      The mountains skipped like rams, *
and the little hills like young sheep.
5      What ailed you, O sea, that you fled? *
O Jordan, that you turned back?
6      You mountains, that you skipped like rams? *
you little hills like young sheep?
7      Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, *
at the presence of the God of Jacob,
8      Who turned the hard rock into a pool of water *
and flint-stone into a flowing spring.

Robert Alter translates the penultimate verse of the psalm with these words, “Before the Master, whirl, O earth.”[1]  That verb, “whirl,” describes the force of the psalm as we are thrust into its immediate action in the first verse, “When Israel came out of Egypt.”  Here we have a God who is in action in history and with God’s people.  Of interest is the phrase, “Judah became God’s sanctuary”. Another way to translate the Hebrew is to render it as “Judah become God’s holiness” – which puts a totally different spin on the action of God over against the people.

There is a reprise of the ancient creation myth and its images. “The sea saw and fled,” and the waters of the Jordan react as well. The God of Israel is the one who has tamed the order less waters, and that victory is repeated here at the Red Sea. The waters remember and the earth trembles, dances, and whirls.

Breaking open Psalm 114:
1.     How is liberation like a dance?
2.     How has God entered your life?
3.    How have you celebrated that?


Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21

“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my might,
and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
my father's God, and I will exalt him.
The Lord is a warrior;
the Lord is his name.
Pharaoh's chariots and his army he cast into the sea;
his picked officers were sunk in the Red Sea.
The floods covered them;
they went down into the depths like a stone.
Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power--
your right hand, O Lord, shattered the enemy.
In the greatness of your majesty you overthrew your adversaries;
you sent out your fury, it consumed them like stubble.
At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up,
the floods stood up in a heap;
the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea.
The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake,
I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them.
I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.’
You blew with your wind, the sea covered them;
they sank like lead in the mighty waters.

“Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?
Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
awesome in splendor, doing wonders?”

Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron's sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing.
And Miriam sang to them:

“Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.”

Here is a section of the Hebrew Scriptures that anticipates the Gospel of Luke – the characters sing and reflect on the situation in which they find themselves. Both Moses and Miriam are given roles and a song to go with them. They are ecstatic prophets with their song and their dance. That is how we remember significant events, we sing of them. God seems, in these verses, to take on the role of the combatant, Pharaoh. God is also the warrior. And again, God is fighting the battle with the waters of chaos and destruction. It is all of a piece.

Breaking open Exodus:
1.     What songs characterize your life?
2.     What is your favorite hymn?
3.    What does it say that is special to you?


Track Two:

The First Reading: Genesis 50:15-21

Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?” So they approached Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this instruction before he died, ‘Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.’ Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, “We are here as your slaves.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.

Track One followers will be familiar with this story having just read it. Here we meet a family that has been reconciled, but is still in bitter memory of the evil done to one another. In Chapter 49 of Genesis we have the last will and testament of Jacob, but in chapter 50 the brothers seem to present a codicil, a further testament to their father’s wishes. They desire forgiveness and perhaps forgetfulness of what had separated them. The expectations of Joseph are high, and Joseph recognizes that. However, God is at the center of the transaction of forgiveness and forgetting, for it was the lives of more than this family that were at stake. There is a circular nature to this story, for in one of Joseph’s dreams the family kneels before him, and now in this pericope the brothers “fall down before him.” The dream is complete.

Breaking open the Genesis:
1.        How is Joseph an example of forgiveness?
2.        How is God involved in this business?
3.        Have you ever forgiven family?

Psalm 103:(1-7), 8-13 Benedic, anima mea

1      [Bless the Lord, O my soul, *
and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.
2      Bless the Lord, O my soul, *
and forget not all his benefits.
3      He forgives all your sins *
and heals all your infirmities;
4      He redeems your life from the grave *
and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness;
5      He satisfies you with good things, *
and your youth is renewed like an eagle's.
6      The Lord executes righteousness *
and judgment for all who are oppressed.
7      He made his ways known to Moses *
and his works to the children of Israel.]
8      The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, *
slow to anger and of great kindness.
9      He will not always accuse us, *
nor will he keep his anger for ever.
10    He has not dealt with us according to our sins, *
nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.
11    For as the heavens are high above the earth, *
so is his mercy great upon those who fear him.
12    As far as the east is from the west, *
so far has he removed our sins from us.
13    As a father cares for his children, *
so does the Lord care for those who fear him.

In this psalm we have an interior conversation, the psalmist addressing his inner being and life. Words of thanks are commended to the soul for redemption from some difficulty. It is seen as God’s work of righteousness and mercy. What is left out is the sin that seems to lurk in the background, but God is “slow to anger” and therefore the psalmist is thankful.

Breaking open the Psalm 103:
1.     What have you ever requested of your soul?
2.     How have you ever forgiven yourself?
3.    Has that led to forgiving others?

The Second Reading: Romans 14:1-12

Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.

We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written,

"As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall give praise to God."

So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

Paul in his exhortation on Christian living now comes to the nitty-gritty of life as a follower of Jesus. What do we do with the old law, which some seem content to continue to observe? Is one better than the other because of this observance? Or are all things allowed? Paul comes down on the side of knowing what it is that motivates us. “Eat in honor of the Lord…abstain in honor of the Lord.” What we do is not for ourselves, but is done for the Lord. The model is Christ – his death and his life given to God.

Breaking open Romans:
1.     What do you differ on with other Christians?
2.     How do you still allow for a relationship?
3.    What do you do in honor of the Lord?

The Gospel: St. Matthew 18:21-35

Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

This was a pertinent topic for Matthew to address as he reports Jesus’ parable about forgiveness. Families riven apart in first century Palestine would have found in this story a model of forgiveness and redemption. Our forgiveness must be full, in fact full of fullness, over the top and heaped up. So it is seen in the story of the slave who is not able to replicate the mercy of his lord. It is a strong message, but it is one that Jesus firmly stood by.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.     How do you confront those who have done something wrong?
2.     Have you ever followed this procedure outlined in Matthew?  Why not?
3.    How do you confront your own wrong-doings?

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

O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2017, Michael T. Hiller

[1]   Alter, R. (2007), The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, Kindle Edition, location 8934.


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