Archive for October, 2011

For Sunday, Oct. 30, 2011: Proper 26, Year A

The Reading            Joshua 3:7-17

When the people of Israel went out of Egypt in the book of Exodus, one great sign of God’s presence with them and with their leader Moses was the parting of the Red Sea.  Today’s reading turns the page: under a new leader, the people are going in to the land of promise—and as they cross the River Jordan, once again through God’s power they will go on dry land. That the process of bringing them to their new home requires that other peoples be dispossessed is troubling to 21st-century ears—and should be.

 

The Epistle            1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

In the first reading, a miracle showing God’s presence legitimized Joshua’s leadership of the people of Israel. Writing to the Thessalonians, Paul also invokes God’s presence in what he does, though Paul’s is a very different sort of leadership than was Joshua’s.

 

 

Further thoughts

The Old Testament reading shows us God acting with great power on Joshua’s behalf and before all the people, pulling no punches in preparing a homeland for the Israelites by evicting seven other groups. In verses that we don’t see, in fact, the Israelites are promised that they will not only wrest this prime real estate away from the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites who were already living there, but they will destroy those tribes utterly. This turns out not quite to be the case, but it is certainly true that Joshua and company will cut a mighty swath through them. In any case, with God on their side, these Israelites are assuredly a force to be reckoned with.

 

Oct. 30, Sunday: Proper 26, 9:30 am
Intercessor: Betty Levie
Second Chalice: Aaron Gates
Lector 1: Mike Park
Lector 2: Penny Park
Proper 26: Joshua 3:7-17, Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37, 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13, Matthew 23:1-12

Somehow one cannot imagine the mighty captain Joshua asking people to notice how hard he and his team have worked not to be a nuisance, to do things right, and to produce right results. That is exactly what Paul does, however. Paul is not being exalted here, nor is there a breathtaking miracle to quash opposition, nor a promise that other peoples must yield and be crushed before God’s people. That’s quite a series of shifts of perspective.

What drives these shifts? I think it is reflected in today’s gospel. The way of Jesus is not to strut our stuff, nor to demand respect and honor, nor to hierarchize individuals as more to be deferred to or less, nor to point out fellow human beings as “others” whom we may take advantage of, scorn, or even expect God’s help in obliterating. Instead, Jesus says this: “The greatest among you will be your servant.” How much less grand-sounding—but how much better a way to live a life.

For Sunday, Oct. 23, 2011: Proper 25, Year A

THE READING    Deuteronomy 34:1-12

The book of Deuteronomy is the last of the five books of the Law that begin the Bible, and it is very nearly the end of Israel’s epic journey from slavery in Egypt to the land of promise. It is, however, the end for Moses: though he has walked with God like no other human before, even he must die and pass the torch to the next generation.

 

THE EPISTLE    1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

Moses believed God’s promises, even though he did not live to see all of them fulfilled. In writing to the church at Thessalonica, Paul reminds his readers what it was that made them believe him and through him the gospel: he had spoken it credibly, without intent to make a buck and without impure motives, and in love.

For Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011: Proper 24, Year A

THE READING    Exodus 33:12-23
Last week we heard about the people of Israel, feeling bereft of God’s presence, worshiping the golden calf. In the verses that precede today’s reading, one of the consequences of their idolatry is laid out: God will not go with the people to the land of promise. In today’s reading, stubborn Moses persuades God to change God’s mind. But then Moses asks for more: to see God’s very self—and that is too much, or at least too much for the purely human Moses to bear.

THE EPISTLE    1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
We begin reading from the first letter to the church at Thessalonike, which in Paul’s time was an important trading and administrative center in Macedon, north of Greece. Paul commends these believers: in the face of persecution and of all the temptations that living in such a city would entail, these believers are not only spreading the Good News but living it in steadfastness and love and hope. What an example they set for us!

Further thoughts
Finding a common thread in the three texts for today—including the Gospel, Matthew 22:15-22—is not a simple task. I suppose a common theme might be rendering unto God what is God’s, or the consequence of doing so wrongly. Moses wants to walk more closely with God, and that is a good thing. Like Adam and Eve, however, he wants to know more about God than is quite good for him. Moses is, in a way, striving for a peer relationship with God by overreaching himself. The Pharisees and Herodians of the Gospel, in contrast, are eager to trap Jesus on the question of paying taxes to the Roman overlords; in the process, they are declaring that parts of this world are outside of God’s sphere of interest. They are striving for a peer relationship with God by bringing God down to their level. It is the Thessalonians who strike the right balance: they know how to wait on God, and they know how to live in the Spirit.

For Sunday, Oct. 9, 2011: Proper 23, Year A

The Reading            Exodus 32:1-14

Our readings from Exodus continue with a well-known story: Moses is elsewhere communing with God, God knows where, so the people feel abandoned, and Aaron’s attempted quick fix only makes matters worse. It’s easy in hindsight to condemn Israel as impatient and faithless. Note, though, that Genesis and Exodus exist to show us a group of humans as meatheaded as you or me and how they nevertheless grow into being the people of God.

The Epistle            Philippians 4:1-9

Today we finish our reading of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. In the first century A.D., Philippi’s church looks physically east to Jerusalem and west to Rome. Spiritually it looks backward and forward—backward to the messinesses of this world, as instanced in the apparent feud between the Greek women Euodia and Syntyche, but also, with Paul’s encouragement, forward to the Kingdom of God.

Further thoughts

Taken together, the Old Testament reading and Gospel give an unsettling set of images: in the former, God must be talked out of retaliating in rage against humankind; in the latter, the kingdom of heaven is like condemning someone to hell for failure to own a tuxedo.

How on earth can we reconcile these images with Paul’s picture of the God of peace?

I wonder whether the key phrase here might be “on earth”.

Consider again this event in Exodus. It’s is not the first occasion on which humankind has been promised divine destruction. The first time, of course was in Genesis. Noah was a righteous man, and he knew it. Told that he and his immediate family alone were going to be saved, along with two of every animal, Noah didn’t waste time arguing. He duly built the Ark and floated along in it while the rest of humanity drowned in the great Flood.

Moses too walks with God—that’s where he is when the Israelites start feeling abandoned.  But his past includes a murder and running away, and his breaking of the tablets of the Ten Commandments a few verses after today’s reading hints that he still struggles with impulse control.  In short, Moses is flawed like the rest of us—and perhaps his flaws help him identify with his fellow sinners, even to the point of confronting God Almighty on their behalf.

Similarly, Paul puts some of his authority on the line by stepping gently into the quarrel between Eudoia and Syntyche and by begging his loyal companion and the community to intervene in love as well.

This raises a question for the Gospel reading: What if “throw him into the outer darkness” isn’t supposed to be the end of the story? What if Jesus is waiting for someone to do something about this: to intercede on the guest’s behalf as Moses does, or to work with the guest to find a better way as Paul does?

And what if that someone is me?