Archive for the 'Deuteronomy' Category

For Nov. 26, 2014: Thanksgiving

The Reading                                                   Deuteronomy 8:7-18

In Deuteronomy, Moses addresses God’s people as they prepare to take over the land of Canaan. Verses 7-10 describe a land in which hard work can be rewarded richly—which means it will be easy to forget that all the good is the gift of God.

The Response                                                Psalm 65

Psalm 65 is a psalm of thanksgiving for God’s activity in the Temple (verses 1-4), in the natural world (verses 5-8), and in supplying plentiful rain for the harvest (verses (9-14). The opening phrase dumiyya tehillah elohim, usually translated “Praise is owing” or “You are to be praised”, can also be rendered “Silence is praise to you.”[i]

The Epistle                                                     2 Corinthians 9:6-15

According to 2 Corinthians 9:1-6, this epistle has been sent ahead so the Christians of Corinth can ready their gift for the Church in Jerusalem (“the saints’) before Paul and a possible Macedonian escort arrive. Verses 6-15 go on to explain how cheerful giving blesses both receiver and giver while glorifying God.

The Gospel                                                      Luke 17:11-19

As Jesus makes his way toward Jerusalem and the last week of his life through the area between Jewish Galilee and non-Jewish Samaria, ten lepers there beg his mercy from a proper distance and he responds with healing. The one who turns back to thank Jesus is the one from Samaria.

Further thoughts

The theme of the Year A lectionary readings for Thanksgiving Day might be “mixed blessings”. As the people of Israel stand on the bank of the Jordan, ready to enter Canaan after the deprivations of life in the wilderness, Moses warns them—and us—not to get cocky enough to think that all the good is of their own getting. The psalm sings glory to God for the grandeur of Creation and for the humbler gift of soil and water for planting and growth—but it begins with confession: “Our sins are stronger than we are, but you will blot them out.” The Corinthians get an explanation of why and how to give: the gifts given in thanksgiving for God’s blessings are themselves God’s blessings to the recipient.

The blessing of healing from Jesus may have been very mixed indeed for the Samaritan. “The region between Samaria and Galilee” is the land around the border that divides two peoples, Jewish and mixed-blood Samaritans, who turn their backs on each other. This land between the averted backs serves as a place to which lepers may be banished lest they defile decent people on either side. Ten such outcasts have made something of a community there, and the Samaritan, the double outsider, is accepted as one of them.

Then they cry out to Jesus and are healed. (One wonders how these castoffs knew who it was that walked their no-man’s-land.) The Jews go off, as Jesus and the Law instruct them, to Jerusalem to be judged by the priests as whole, to rustle up somehow the sacrifices prescribed in Leviticus 14 for being declared clean and for atonement a week later, and thus to be readmitted to decent Jewish society. For the Samaritan, however, this isn’t an option: the priests of the Jews will not admit jurisdiction over such as him. He may well fear that the family from which his disease has excluded him will no longer be willing to accommodate him—or that he will no longer be prepared to accommodate to them. Nevertheless, he knows that Jesus has done him, a Samaritan, a stupendously unconventional miracle. He returns to give stupendously unconventional thanks, falling at the feet of the enemy who has just revealed himself as more than a friend. And Jesus’ response hints that the Samaritan’s own openness to miracle and readiness to thank is a factor in his healing.

Surely the result of thankful and thoughtful acts of giving opposes the vicious cycles of the world—in which inequality breeds entitlement breeds oppression breeds inequality and sooner or later despair that boils over in violence—with a virtuous cycle in which thanks foster gifts foster blessing foster thanks and sooner or later love that overflows into the giving and receiving of grace.

What if we’re called to practice thanks as giving and giving as thanks?

[i] Segal, Benjamin A, 17 May 2011, “Psalm 65—Silence Sings from Afar.” A New Psalm: A New Look at Age-Old Wisdom. Web. http://psalms.schechter.edu/2011/05/psalm-65-silence-sings-from-afar-text.html. Consulted 25 November 2014.

For July 6, 2014: Independence Day

The Reading      Deuteronomy 10:17-21, KJV

Deuteronomy 10:17-21 reminds us to be generous with foreigners as God has been generous with us. Reading these verses for Independence Day also reminds us that our independence is more by God’s gift than by human doing. In the English of 1611 (when the King James Bible was written), terrible meant not ‘bad’ but ‘worthy to be feared’.

 

The Gospel      Matthew 5:43-48

Whether the English is King James-era or today’s slang, Jesus commands us in verse 48 to be perfect as God is perfect. The context suggests that we are called specifically to love like God—and that is perfectly sobering.

 

Further thoughts

What I wrote for this time last year turn out to have anticipated a controversy of early July 2014. Once again St Alban’s is celebrating US Independence Day with a Eucharist based on the first Episcopal Book of Common Prayer (BCP) of 1789, issued just a few years after the end of the Revolutionary War. Since the 1789 BCP’s lectionary does not distinguish July 4, we are taking the Old Testament and Gospel for Independence Day from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, in the King James translation rather than the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) that the lectionary normally provides.

The 1928 BCP came into use ten short years after the end of what was then called the Great War, the European conflagration of nationalism that was the first major military venture of the United States as a world power; we know it as World War I. One expects, in response, celebratory verses about cities on hills, anointings, or victory, or perhaps admonitory verses that counsel preparedness, intemperance, or greater faith.

What we find, however, are two remarkable injunctions that all of us must love all of us. That these commands are addressed not just to individuals but to the community is less obvious in the modern English of the NRSV, in which you can denote one or many, but it is quite clear in the consciously archaic King James version, which carefully distinguishes plural ye and you from singular thou and thee. With “Love your enemies,” Jesus commands all his disciples—and us—to love widely and deeply, without regard to whom we see as right or wrong, good or bad, ours or theirs. The Deuteronomy writer’s “Love ye the stranger” explicitly calls all of us to care for those who are Not Us. Other translations render “stranger” as “alien” or “foreigner”: those in our midst who are not citizens, we are nevertheless called not to reject but to protect.

That love is how God loves, and that is the perfection to which Jesus calls us.

For July 7, 2013: Independence Day

The Reading      Deuteronomy 10:17-21

17 For the Lord your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward:

18 He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment.

19 Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.

20 Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God; him shalt thou serve, and to him shalt thou cleave, and swear by his name.

21 He is thy praise, and he is thy God, that hath done for thee these great and terrible things, which thine eyes have seen.

 

The Gospel      Matthew 5:43-48

43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.

44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?

47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?

48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
Further thoughts

St Alban’s is celebrating US Independence Day 2013 with a Eucharist based on the very first Episcopal Book of Common Prayer (BCP). This 1790 service provides for only two readings, from the Old Testament and the Gospels—and none for Independence Day as such, though it offers prayers worth reviving for the President and for Congress. In fact, no authorized edition of the BCP before 1928 ever specified Independence Day readings. It is the 1928 readings that St Alban’s somewhat anachronistically uses today with the 1790 order of service, in the King James translation rather than the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

The 1928 readings make a striking pair, especially for their time. The 1928 BCP came into use ten short years after the end of what was then called the Great War, the European conflagration of nationalism that was the first major military venture of the United States as a world power. One expects celebratory verses about cities on hills, anointings, or victory, or perhaps cautionary tales of unpreparedness, intemperance, or failure to exercise civic virtues.

What we find, however, are two remarkable injunctions to love. Each is addressed not just to individuals but to the community: this is less obvious in modern English, in which you can denote one or many, but it is quite clear in the consciously archaic English of the King James version, which carefully distinguishes plural ye and you from singular thou and thee. The Deuteronomy writer’s “Love ye the stranger” thus bids all of us to care for the person who is Not Us: not from these parts, not from our economic stratum, not of our race or language, not a citizen (for some other translations render “stranger” as “alien”). Then Jesus commands, “Love your enemies”, serving notice on all his disciples—us, too—that we are to love widely and deeply and without regard to who’s right or wrong, good or bad, ours or theirs.

That’s God’s love, and it’s as remarkable in our time as it was almost 90 years ago. More’s the pity.

For Feb. 17, 2013: 1 Lent, Year C

The Reading            Deuteronomy 26:1-11

The Book of Deuteronomy, though it tells of the time of Moses, was actually written centuries later, perhaps during the time of the exile or captivity in Babylon. This story about Israel’s past redemption from a time of suffering—the “wandering Aramean” is the patriarch Jacob—is surely meant as a story of present hope as well.

The Response            Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

The Epistle            Romans 10:8b-13

The letters to the Corinthians that we have heard over the last month set out how God’s justified people should live and behave. Now, writing to the Jewish and Greek Christians in Rome, Paul explains just what is required to be justified and to be saved: believing and confessing that Jesus is Lord—no matter who you are.

The Gospel            Luke 4:1-13

 

Further thoughts

As Lent begins, many people undertake fasts or other forms of denial. The rest of us may not manage to launch such a discipline or may falter in carrying it out; we may wonder whether we’ve given up the right thing, or we may sadly conclude, as everyone else apparently gets it right, that we are uniquely failures and some of us—all right, I admit it, I’m talking about myself—may interpret Lenten discipline as an order to deal with All-That-Is-Wrong-With-Me-And-Lord-Knows-There’s-Plenty by my very own self before I’m fit to show my face among Christians.

Woven into today’s readings for the first Sunday in Lent, in addition to the obvious lessons about trusting God and resisting the devil, are some subtler and perhaps less expected ones that confront these points.

In the season of giving up chocolate, the reading from Deuteronomy startles by bidding us to feast in gratitude for God’s blessings, and we are to make sure we share with everyone—foreigners, slaves, employees, panhandlers, even bosses—so they also may rejoice and give thanks.

As to not measuring up, Paul’s message for the Romans, and us, is that none of us measures up, whatever it looks like; what’s more, expecting to measure up misses the point, for the salvation that today’s psalm promises is exactly what God will deliver to us, if we believe to the extent of acting on it.

The passage from Luke similarly contains a surprise. Jesus is facing a powerful and determined adversary, so one expects him to show power in return: a little flexing of divine muscle, or at least an assertion in his own voice of his godly superiority. Yet the very Son of God doesn’t do so. Even Jesus’ final response, while it comes close to sounding exasperated, is nevertheless phrased, like the preceding ones, as a quotation from scriptures that he would have studied as a kid in the synagogue with everyone else. He relies not on his godhood but on God’s Word and the community of faith and love that has shaped him on earth: precisely the tools that, through God’s bounty, are available to us.

The most rigorous Lenten discipline may be learning to trust more than try.

For Jan. 29, 2012: 4 Epiphany, Year B

The Reading            Deuteronomy 18:15-20

The book of Deuteronomy is the last book of the Pentateuch—the first five books of the Bible—and it summarizes and expands on the laws laid down in the earlier books. Today’s reading contains God’s promise to give Israel a prophet like Moses, with God’s charge to those who listen and to those who prophesy.

 

The Epistle            1 Corinthians 8:1-13

The first letter to the Corinthians addresses a number of issues that caused deep divisions between the Jews and the Gentiles in the church community. In the matter of food that has been offered to idols, Paul explains that we are free to eat it—unless doing so will pose a danger for other members of the community, in which case we are to err on the side of behaving tenderly toward others’ sensibilities.

 

Further thoughts

Who is credible? This is a vital question in our communities and states during the primary-election process. It is equally vital in the life of God’s people, especially as a church searches for a new rector: how can we discern that a prophet—which is to say a preacher—really is speaking for God?

The four aspects of credibility in media studies are expertise, verifiability, timeliness, and trustworthiness.

The true expert in a field quotes sources but can speak or act without them. Jesus’ words and deeds in today’s gospel are authoritative: he and his Father wrote the Book, so to speak, and it shows. For the rest of us, Deuteronomy says that true prophets speak only God’s word and only on God’s authority. But how do we know when the prophet is speaking God’s word? “Thus says the Lord” and quotations alone are not enough.

As to verifiability, Deuteronomy 18:22 tells us that what a real prophet says comes true. Jesus’ words about himself came to pass. When a human prophet lacks a track record with us, however, the picture is much more cloudy, so by itself verifiability is a test that is often best applied in hindsight.

Timeliness figures into how well a message resonates with its hearers’ times and lives. Jesus’ words hit home, whether hearers were won over like Nathanael or offended like the Pharisees. The range of responses serves to remind us not to insist that every word, whether of the Bible or from a preacher, apply to us every minute—and not to dismiss those words that we would rather not hear.

Trustworthiness is, I think, what Paul intends by “love” in the epistle: trusting someone to look after our best interest is a kind of love, and so is being trustworthy by consistently working for another’s best interest. As Paul says, if I misuse my liberation from sin in ways that endanger someone else, I am not showing love—whether by acting when it would be more loving to be still or by holding back when it would be more loving to stand firm.

As we choose leaders—and as we ourselves lead in our various ways—let us choose to walk in love. That is the most credible witness of God’s love in our lives.

For November 23, 2011: Thanksgiving Eve

The Reading            Deuteronomy 8:7-18

Moses speaks the words of our Old Testament reading as the people of Israel stand on the bank of the Jordan, ready to enter Canaan. It is a very good land, blessed in resources and in room to spread out and prosper: what a contrast to their current circumstances! Moses warns them—and us—not to get cocky: whether we have much or little, burgeoning families or solitude, robust health or chronic problems, the good we have is nothing more nor less than the gift of God.

 

The Epistle            2 Corinthians 9:6-15

In today’s Epistle, Paul explains to the Corinthians how to give rightly. In short, we are to give gladly, and to give in thanks for all the good that we have received from the generosity of God.

 

 

Further thoughts

What is required for gratitude?

Maturity helps: a small child has to be taught to say “Thank you,” because the small child simply doesn’t recognize the giver as separate person with his or her own agenda and needs. Humility is certainly important: people who believe that they deserve to have everything are notorious for not remembering to give thanks. So is a lack of complacency: the person who is used to having or getting everything may not realize that thanks are even appropriate.

Now humility leads to thankfulness—but the evil shadow of humility is humiliation. When one feels humiliated it is as impossible to be genuinely thankful (because the gift has, so to speak, knives in it) as it is to be genuinely generous (because a gift that is forced is no gift). Worse, humiliation teaches a person that the gift she can give—including the gift of her heart and goodwill—is worthless.

That is, humiliation breaks hope. Without hope we see no point in asking, no point in so much as looking up to see whether any good might be coming—and, I fear, we lose the ability even to recognize good when it comes.

Humiliation and hopelessness together make a prison. Breaking out, and staying out, is very difficult. But the practice of gratitude can begin to open the door.  Practicing gratitude obviously helps us learn gratitude, of course, and through it we model gratitude for those, like children, who haven’t learned how. Less obviously, the practice of gratitude implies that the people we thank are worth thanking; it is our validation of their worth and dignity and our recognition of them (and ourselves) as the hands and feet and faces of our overflowingly generous God.

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.


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