The Third Sunday in Lent, 24 March 2019

TheThird Sunday in Lent, 24 March 2019

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

Background: The Name of God 

In Hebrew, God is primarily known in one of two ways. References are to “El” or sometimes to a plural form “Elohim”, suggesting strength or power. Actually, the short version as probably a borrowing from Canaanite neighbors. The distinctive name that the Hebrews used was the unpronounceable YHWH, “I am that I am”, or “Ehyeh – Asher – Ehyeh” (I-Will-Be-Who-I-Will-Be).[1]When encountered in the text of the scriptures, the reader would not pronounce the name but would rather substitute “Adonai” or “Lord”. Even to this day, readers or those speaking of G-d may use the word “HaShem” or “the Name.” For an example of this usage, see Leviticus 24:11, “And the son of the Israelite woman invoked the Name, vilifying it.”[2]

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.”

What should capture the emotion of the reader or the preacher? Is it the wonder of the bush that burns and is not consumed? Or is it the awe of encountering both God, and the name of God? I opt for the latter. Some interesting features about other names also capture our attention. Moses is at “Horeb” the name by which the Elohist identifies “Sinai” (the Jahwist’s term). Oddly enough the word for bush is “Seneh,” a nice pun on the name of Sinai. What begins with this sign is a series of signs and wonders that will accompany Moses as he attempts to persuade Pharaoh to free the Israelites. The question soon becomes evident and it is a question of authority. Who is this man who demands freedom and who is the God that has sent him? The role of Moses is quite clear here. He is a prophet, and that is suggested in his statement of unworthiness,“Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” It is a question that accompanied the call to Jeremiah, Isaiah, and other prophets. God, who we later realize is “I-Am-Who-I-Am” is the one who will be with Moses on this journey. Moses, however, needs to know more. He anticipates the question that Israel in turn will ask of him – “Who is this God?” The name suggests the God, the entity, that brings things into being. Thus, this God, with this name, will bring into reality a people and their freedom.

Breaking open Exodus:
  1. Has your day ever been interrupted by God?
  2. What were you asked to do?
  3. How did you accomplish it?


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.
     Therefore I have gazed upon you in your holy place, *
that I might behold your power and your glory.
     For your loving-kindness is better than life itself; *
my lips shall give you praise.
     So will I bless you as long as I live *
and lift up my hands in your Name.
     My soul is content, as with marrow and fatness, *
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips,
     When I remember you upon my bed, *
and meditate on you in the night watches.
     For you have been my helper, *
and under the shadow of your wings I will rejoice.
     My soul clings to you; *
your right hand holds me fast.

The elided ascription to this psalm is “A David psalm, when he was in the wilderness of Judea. There was a period of time when David was hiding from Saul in this region. The relation of David to God is intense, as seen in verse 1b, “my soul (flesh or life) thirsts for you.” That this phrase should be used in a water-less wilderness intensifies the emotion behind it. What the holy place that is alluded to in verse 2 is problematic. If it is the temple, then the author of this psalm is someone other than David. If it is the tabernacle or some other holy place, then it might indeed be David. In verse three we first see the intent of the psalm – thanksgiving, “my lips shall give you praise.” What follows are images of abundance that the author feels in his soul, “marrow and fatness,” literally suet and rich food. There is an abundance of remembrance as well, for God has been present continuously in the author’s life. All of this is in contrast to the dry and arid wilderness.

Breaking open Psalm 63:
  1. What abundance in your life leads to thanksgiving?
  2. Where had David experienced abundance?
  3. Why does David long for God?


Second Reading: 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.

This pericope comes from a section of First Corinthians that deals with the problems surrounding foods offered to idols, and idol worship. The import in this pericope seems to be two-fold: 1) sacramental, and 2) historic examples. The first paragraph is suffused with eucharistic and baptismal images – the cloud, the sea, spiritual food, spiritual drink. These images are all rooted in the history of Israel which is outlined more fully in the second paragraph. There we see stories from the worship of the golden bull, the serpents that attacked the people when they continued their complaints about food and drink in the wilderness. Paul reminds the Corinthians of these tests that came to those who waiver. Perhaps there is more to this than the spiritual, however. Perhaps the politics and social problems of the times are looked at by Paul as “tests”. With this reality he promises that God will not test more we are able.

Breaking open I Corinthians:
  1. What nourishes your faith? 
  2. What does Israel’s history teach you?
  3. How do you survive life’s tests?

The Gospel: 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.'"

Luke relates a similar theme as Paul does as he recalls Jesus’ comments to those who wanted to connect the execution of Galileans with probable sin, perhaps greater than the sin of other Galileans. You might find it helpful to read the previous chapter, especially 12:35f. There you will see Jesus advising that those who follow him need to be aware of the times, and to read the signs of the times. The question to Jesus is one of justification – did these people deserve their punishment. Jesus turns their attention not to deserts, but rather to repentance. As he will point out on other occasions, Jesus does not see accidents, health, or other human issues be connected with sin (see John 9:3ff.).Repentance, however, is the necessary response when God’s will is thwarted. 

What follows is the parable of the fig tree. Three years of expectation about fruit from the tree leads to disappointment with a fruitless tree. The three years could be seen as a time of mercy and patience, which indeed they are. There comes a time when the owner of the field must act. “Cut it down!”But it is the gardener who applies even more mercy – an image of God, and an example of how we ought to live with our neighbor. Rather than blaming him or her, repent and give them mercy.

Breaking open the Gospel: 
  1. Whom do you blame for various things?
  2. How can you be led to forgive them?
  3. What if they don’t repent?

Central Idea:               Turning away from (repenting) the sins of others.

Example 1:                  Moses attempts to turn away from God’s mission (Exodus)

Example 2:                  David runs away from the sins of Saul (Psalm)

Example 3:                  Examples of sin and repentance in Israel (I Corinthians)

Example 4:                  Jesus’ call to repentance rather than blame.

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 © 2019, Michael T. Hiller

[1]       Alter, R. (2019) The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary,W. W. Norton & Company, New York, Kindle Edition, location 7771.
[2]       Ibid, location 14682.


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