Archive for August, 2011

For Sunday, Sept. 4, 2011: Proper 18, Year A

The Reading            Exodus 12:1-14

In last week’s reading from Exodus, Moses was startled by a burning bush and through it by God’s summons to to help bring the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt. Today’s reading skips over Moses and his brother Aaron in their first nine attempts to persuade Pharaoh to let Israel go. Here we have God’s commands for the very first Passover: prepare in holiness and eat in haste and fear, for it is time to go.


The Epistle            Romans 13:8-14

Like the reading from Exodus, the reading from Romans also urges us to act in holiness and to act now, for time is short. Paul differs from Exodus, though, for he tells us to act not in fear but in love to all around us.


Further notes

The commandments for dealing with the Passover lamb are very specific. This is not merely a meal but a priestly occasion: the lamb is to be physically perfect, as the priests of Israel were later to be physically perfect; it is to be slaughtered at twilight, the time of sacred sacrifice, and its blood is to be put to a special saving purpose; it is to be roasted and any leftovers burned up, just as Abraham offered up his sacrifice with fire. Significantly, the head of each household of the Israelites was to act as the priest. In later practice, of course, priestly functions, specifically including the act of sacrifice, were reserved for the Levites (and we may recall that Moses and his brother Aaron, the first priest, were the sons of a Levite man and woman). There is, however, scholarly disagreement as to whether levite originally meant ‘son of Levi’ and came to mean ‘priest’, or whether levite originally meant ‘priest’ and then came to denote a member of a particular tribe of Israel.

Jesus, who was not a Levite, is the ultimate high priest, having sacrificed himself to atone for sin literally “once and for all”. It is for this reason that the clergy in most Protestant churches are called ministers or pastors but not priests: since the sacrifice of Jesus, they say, there is no more need for a high priest than there is for a burnt offering.

For Sunday, Aug. 28, 2011: Year A, Proper 17

The Reading            Exodus 3:1-15

We continue to follow the career of Moses, whom we last saw as a young child adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter. This week’s reading skips over the grown Moses coming to the defense of a Hebrew kinsman who was being beaten by an Egyptian overseer: he killed the overseer and hid the body, but he was promptly found out and fled for his life. In Midian, far from both his Hebrew heritage and his prior life of privilege in Pharaoh’s court, Moses made a new life among the shepherds. Today’s reading takes up the tale.


The Epistle            Romans 12:9-21

Today’s first reading shows God Almighty heeding the cry of Israel and sending Moses with a sign by which Israel will recognize that Moses comes as God’s agent of liberation. In the Epistle, Paul sends us all to act as God’s agents of love in all that we do. Will we obey?


Further notes:

Moses undoubtedly seemed destined for great things growing up in the court of Pharaoh; he could have aspired to a position high in the Egyptian government from which, perhaps, he could have persuaded his adoptive grandfather to take a less punitive approach to the Hebrew people. It is interesting to consider what he might have been able to accomplish, along the lines of Joseph, from inside Pharaoh’s household. Impulse control was not his strong suit as a young man, however, and neither was facing up to the consequences of his actions—so, when his well-meaning intervention went awry, he ran away.

Years later, all a casual observer would be likely to see in Moses is a middle-aged immigrant working in one of Midian’s less high-status jobs. One hopes that he engaged in some self-reflection while fleeing to Midian and that the abrupt demotion in status to herding sheep taught him responsibility, humility, and gratitude. In any case, we see in God an eagerness to partner with Moses exactly where Moses is.

Part of Paul’s message may be similar. We are, in our various ways, no less unlikely than Moses as possible partners of God. Ultimately, it may matter less whether we are ready for God to part the Red Sea through us than whether we are willing to do, and do well, the small daily tasks that come to hand that both bring about and are evidence of the kingdom of God on earth.

For Sunday, August 21, 2011: Year A, Proper 16

The Reading            Exodus 1:8-2:10

The book of Genesis brings God’s people from Eden to Egypt. The book of Exodus picks up the tale a generation later: the Israelites prosper, and a new ruler—having forgotten how Joseph saved Egypt—feels threatened by these people who look and talk and worship so differently. Pharaoh enslaves the Israelites or Hebrews, and when that doesn’t reduce the perceived threat, commands that every Hebrew baby boy be killed. Courageous women quietly but determinedly refuse to obey—and one of them is Pharaoh’s own daughter.


The Epistle            Romans 12:1-8

We saw in our first reading that the Egyptians resented the Hebrew “others”. The church at Rome to which Paul wrote was a mixed community of Jewish and Gentile followers of Christ with some similar issues. Indeed, by A.D. 57, when Paul most probably wrote, the two factions had already such a history of sniping at each other that the Roman civil authorities had had to get involved. Today’s reading is part of Paul’s response to these divisions: we all bring to God’s table the gifts of God, and the gifts that each of us brings are all precious to our common good.


Further notes:

The evidence is a little scanty for a historical basis for the Exodus from Egypt. The lesson for us here is surely Pharaoh’s response in the reading from Exodus:   the classic human response to those who are and keep being different. The Israelites or Hebrews might have done fine in Egypt as long as they were not very numerous, or they adopted the local language and culture, or both.  They did neither, however: they prospered in Egypt while steadfastly maintaining their own ways of speaking and worshiping and living. One senses that a situation in which one group thrives in ways that make other people apprehensive about their own prospects for getting a suitable share of the available goodies.  This is, in short, seeing the case from the point of view of scarcity: “what anyone else gets, I have lost.”  The parallels between Pharaoh’s time and ours are fairly obvious.

Paul’s epistle to the Romans addresses a similar scenario: the Jewish and Gentle segments of the church in Rome seem to have concluded that if one of them has the right way to be a Christian, then the other necessarily doesn’t. How very human of them—and how very like them we are.  Paul calls them and us to do better: to stop doing business the way the world does. We’re not in competition with other Christians for the goodies that come from God: rather, we are to see ourselves as partners of God and each other, members of each other, looking out for each others’ good and living into and out of God’s abundant love.

For Sunday, August 14, 2011: Year A, Proper 15

The Reading            Genesis 45:1-15

The book of Genesis is the story of the people of God. We saw some of the worst of this in last week’s reading, in which a boy was sold into slavery by his own brothers, who had more than a little justification for their jealousy. This week’s reading skips past a trumped-up sex scandal and rigged trial—who ever said the Bible is tame reading?—plus economic disaster to bring an outcome that is as unexpected as it is undeserved.


Read the omitted parts of the stories of Jacob and his sons in Genesis 38-44 here.



The Epistle            Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

Today’s short but rich reading from Romans underlines the point of the first reading: it is not because God’s people are good that God is merciful. Rather, it is because God is merciful that God’s people have even the slightest hope of being good.


Further notes:

If we push the doctrine of predestination to its extreme, we end up with God having already decided who is too bad to go to Heaven. I’m not comfortable with that any more than I am comfortable with absolute biblical literalism, and for some of the same reasons: Just as I think God are perfectly comfortable with metaphor and figurative language, so also I think God can quite easily hold in Their thoughts a great many more possible futures than we human beings can juggle mentally. Among these are surely possible futures in which, instead of acting from our own insecurities and terrors, even the worst among us can instead choose to respond to the love that God show us. What’s more, God can certainly choose – and often God will so choose – to redeem our base behavior and bring great good of it.  Anna Grant-Henderson of the Uniting Church in Australia makes this point this way:

“In our lives we cannot avoid being accountable for actions which hurt and give pain to others whether on a personal level or indeed on a global level. However, it is the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit which can overcome our sin, bring new life and possibilities from situations.”

For Sunday, August 7, 2011: Year A

THE READING  Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28

As today’s reading from Genesis opens, there is dissension in Jacob’s family: of all of his sons by his two wives and their maids, Jacob or Israel clearly loves the next to youngest son the best. Worse, this favored boy snitches on his older brothers. Worse still, though not mentioned in today’s reading, young Joseph won’t stop talking about his prophetic dreams in which his older brothers and even his father are subservient to him. It is a classic setting for jealousy and revenge.


THE EPISTLE    Romans 10:5-15

Today’s first reading showed God in the process of raising up Israel as a righteous people It also showed that, from the beginning, God’s people couldn’t be trusted not to lie and cheat and even contemplate murder. In writing to the church at Rome, Paul resolves this paradox: righteousness comes not from the law but through faith. He ends by calling us to proclaim Jesus Christ to all the children that God yearns to bring home.

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