The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 14, 9 August 2020
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
1 Kings 19:9-18
Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
A theophany is the appearance of a god to a human being, the earliest instance of which is found in the Gilgamesh Epic. We also see them in classical literature such as the Illiad, and in various Greek legends and myths. The word was used to describe an annual festival at Delphi, when the images of the various gods, usually kept in the confines of the temple, were put on display for the people to see.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, the appearances of God are quite common in the Primeval History, Adam and Eve, Cain, and Noah. These visions continue in the Patriarchal History with Abraham and Sarah, and Hagar. Moses experiences several theophanies – the burning bush, and later at Sinai. Even the prophets have these experiences: Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah. In today’s Track Two readings we have Elijah’s experience at Horeb.
In the Christian Gospels, we recognize the theophany at the Transfiguration, and in Luke/Acts, the appearance of Jesus to Saul/Paul. The Orthodox Churches celebrate 6 January (known in the Western Church as “The Epiphany”) as the Theophany of Jesus Christ. The baptism of Jesus is also seen as a theophany, either as an internal one known only to Jesus, or as a more public manifestation.
First Reading: Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. This is the story of the family of Jacob.
Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.
Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” He answered, “Here I am.” So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me.” So he sent him from the valley of Hebron.
He came to Shechem, and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” “I am seeking my brothers,” he said; “tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” The man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’“ So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him” —that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.
Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.
It is a shame that the lectionary elides an important event in the story of Joseph, namely his dream as to his supremacy, a dream that enrages his brothers. You may want to read the pair of dreams in verses 5 – 11. Although the text announces, “This is the story of the family of Jacob,” it is really the beginning of a larger epic, devoted to Joseph. The Joseph story will become important to Matthew as he models his birth narrative on events from the life of Joseph. The dreams give us a signal as to Joseph’s true role, that of a prophet. Here however, he is seen as an ambitious, best-loved son, and as such incurs the hatred of his brothers. Some of this is the shadow of the enmity of Rachel and Leah cast over their sons, and family.
The story is an interweaving of the Priestly thread and the Yahwhist’s thread, evidenced by the two parties who purchase Joseph as a slave, either the Midianites, or the Ishmaelites (see verses 25, and 28). There is no unanimity in the brother’s decision, but a fair amount of disagreement on the part of Reuben. All of this needs to be seen as the continuing grief that accompanies Jacob from his deception of his father, the scheming of his mother, the trouble with Laban, Leah, and Rachel, and now the dissension in his own family. A pattern of conflict is set up, that will follow Israel, both man and nation, into the future.
Breaking open Genesis:
1. Who was the black sheep in your family? Why?
2. Have you ever deceived members of your family?
3. How has your family been reconciled over time?
Psalm 105, 1-6, 16-22, 45b
1 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.
16 Then he called for a famine in the land *
and destroyed the supply of bread.
17 He sent a man before them, *
Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
18 They bruised his feet in fetters; *
his neck they put in an iron collar.
19 Until his prediction came to pass, *
the word of the Lord tested him.
20 The king sent and released him; *
the ruler of the peoples set him free.
21 He set him as a master over his household,
as a ruler over all his possessions,
22 To instruct his princes according to his will
and to teach his elders wisdom.
Artur Weiser entitles this psalm as “The Divine Covenant”, and in its entirety it gives a brief history of the Promise and how it plays out for the offspring of Abraham. There are six sections to Psalm 105 (parts included in our reading are in italic: a) Part I, verses 1-6, an invitation to give thanks to God from the promises of the covenant,b) Part II, verses 7-11, the Covenant made to Abraham, sworn to Isaac and ratified for Jacob, c) Part III, verses 12-15, Description of the wanderings of the people, d) Part IV, verses 16-22, A brief story of Jacob, sold, and then elevated in Egypt, e) Part V, verses 23-38, Israel in Egypt, plagues, signs, and freedom, f) Part VI, verses 39-45, God saves the people because of the Covenant God made with them.
This psalm also appears in I Chronicles 16:8-22, along with Psalm 96, and Psalm 106. The occasion is the bringing up of the Ark of the Covenant to Mount Zion, by David. Although the hymn teaches us a great deal of the history of both Covenant and people, it is not a didactic psalm, but rather a hymn. Verses 3 and 4 make clear the purpose of the psalm, a pilgrim’s chant as people went up to Jerusalem, “Let hearts that seek the Lord rejoice! Seek out the Lord and (God’s) might.” In our reading we become aware that in spite of others’ plans, Joseph, and God’s will obtain the day – salvation happens. We are made aware of Joseph’s prophetic role, “his prediction came to pass, and the word of the Lord proved him true.” In many respects this is a psalm devoted to Salvation History, with the following psalm (106) also describing that theme.
Breaking open Psalm 105:
1. What promises of God do you know in your life?
2. How has God led you through life?
3. What do you have for which you need to give thanks?
First Reading: I Kings 19:9-18
At Horeb, the mount of God, Elijah came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”
He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
As a way of familiarizing yourself with the context of this pericope, you might want to review the whole of Chapter 18, and the first 8 verses of Chapter 19. One needs to sense Elijah’s fear in the face of Ahab and Jezebel’s wrath. We also might want to recognize patterns from the Moses story that the author uses here in describing Elijah’s journey and experience at Horeb. We also need to remember why it is that Elijah is here – God is about to teach this fiery prophet a lesson on strategies. In Chapter 18 we have the contest between Elijah and the prophets of Ba’al, a challenge as to which god will ignite the sacrifice. Elijah goes over the top, anointing his sacrifice with water in order to accentuate God’s ability to overcome difficulties. It is that attitude of ostentatious behavior that God wishes to challenge.
The examples provided, a strong and violent wind, an earthquake, and then fire (look forward to Pentecost), are not the events, or evidence of YHWH’s presence. It is in the quiet of still small voice, or as in our reading, ‘the sound of sheer silence’. It is understatement that the Lord is recommending to the prophet. The real power that Elijah needs is the power of return. God says to him, “Go back!” Is that a word for our time – please don’t misunderstand me, I do not mean church buildings here. Perhaps we need to go back into society, not in any flashy kind of way, but in the sheer silence of what Jesus’ recommends, the prisoner, the sick, the hungry, the sick confronted with freedom, health, food, and healing.
Breaking open I Kings:
1. How has God spoken to you?
2. How loud is your quiet Christianity?
3. How loud are the needs of your community?
Psalm 85:8-13 Benedixisti, Domine
8 I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, *
for he is speaking peace to his faithful people
and to those who turn their hearts to him.
9 Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, *
that his glory may dwell in our land.
10 Mercy and truth have met together; *
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
11 Truth shall spring up from the earth, *
and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
12 The Lord will indeed grant prosperity, *
and our land will yield its increase.
13 Righteousness shall go before him, *
and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.
Second Reading: Romans 10:5-15
Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law that “the person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (That is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say?
“The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart”
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
Robert Hodgell’s print of what I assume is a preacher, or it could be a lawyer or a professor as well, shows the power of words. Paul sees that word as an opportunity for righteousness (which might make us want to devote our selves to the psalm (above) again. The interesting thing about the print is that the words seem to obscure rather than to enlighten. This print is often included with another that may be more to St. Paul’s Point
The question that Paul wants us to entertain is what our word of faith is. For Paul it was that “Jesus is Lord.” There are consequences to such a statement of belief. Words need to be accompanied with actions and events of consequence. Perhaps we who only rely on a still quiet voice (see First Reading) when it comes to announcing our faith, need to understand the power of deeds. The word is already a part of us. Paul comments on Deuteronomy 30:12-14, and in that we realize the intimacy of the word in our lives. Paul also understands the relationships that such intimacy brings, “for there is no distinction between Jew and Greek.” He will expand that list in other writings, and we in our time will expand it even further.
Perhaps if the preacher in the print were to share all the words obscuring his face with others? Paul wants us to recognize the need for other to send out the words, and to enact the deeds taught us in Christ.
Breaking open Romans:
1. When have you been a messenger of the Word?
2. Do you use words, or do you use deeds? Both?
3. What word is close to your heart and lips?
Gospel: St. Matthew 14:22-33
Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Apropos of this Gospel reading and of the times in which we are now living, St. John Chrysostom has something to tell us in his Homily L, on the Gospel for today. “He lets them be tempest-tost all the night, thoroughly to awaken, as I suppose, their hardened heart. For such is the nature of the fear, which the time concurs with the rough weather in producing.”
The temptation is to preach on the walking on the water, but perhaps we are called upon to really preach on the fear. It is that which is stalking us these days, the fear. And what might the fear give to us during this or any time? Chrysostom sees Jesus and waiting until the right time to appear (theophany again?). Chrysostom says, “He cast them also into a greater longing for Himself, and a continual remembrance of Him.” Perhaps it is time for us to not look at the Jesus who can walk on the water, but at the Jesus who as close to us as our heart and our lips (Second Reading), even as close to us as our own fear. It also might be a time to dare, but not in the way that Peter does, but rather full of faith, and humility. Chrysostom wants us to remember (in the midst of our own fears and in our own time) that Jesus took his own sweet time to reveal himself in the storm. Again, we are called to wait and to long for him. Perhaps that is the good news for those of us in a Eucharistic fast.
Breaking open the Gospel:
1. How does your fear silence you?
2. What waiting techniques have you discovered in order to wait out your fears?
3. Do you have a longing for worship?
General Idea: Sound, fury, silence.
Instance 1: Joseph’s silence at the bottom of the pit – waiting (Track One, First Reading)
Elijah’s silence, in which he knows God (Track Two, First Reading)
Instance 2: The silence of our knowledge of Christ – heart and lips (Second Reading)
Instance 3: Waiting in the midst of fury (Gospel)