Monday, September 18, 2017

16 Pentecost, 2017: Proper 20A

1st Reading (Track 1):  Exodus 16:2-15
The Israelites are not long in their journey when their life under oppression in Egypt seems to have been better than where they now find themselves. They complain against Moses and Aaron, but their complaint is actually against the Lord, as their leaders point out to them.  God hears their cry, however, and sends them food:  quail in the evening and bread (“manna”) in the morning. The gift of manna comes with a test concerning sabbath observance, which many of them fail (16:27-30). See also the description of manna in Numbers 11:7-9, which gave rise to the legend that the manna’s taste varied with the eater’s preference.

16:2 The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” 4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. 5 On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” 6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” 8 And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the LORD.” 9 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’” 10 And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. 11 The Lord spoke to Moses and said, 12 “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’” 13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.”

Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45 (Track 1)
Psalm 105 is one of the “historical psalms” which tells the story of Israel in lines of poetry (the others are 78, 106, 135, and 136). In Psalm 105, the first six verses are a general introduction, encouraging the people to give thanks and praise as they “remember the marvels he has done.” We then read the end of the psalm, re-calling the exit from Egypt, the manna and the quails, the water out of the rock, and the conquering of “the nations.”  A crucial line for these historical psalms is verse 42:  “God remembered his holy word and [the promise made to] Abraham.”

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.
37      He led out his people with silver and gold; *
                     in all their tribes there was not one who stumbled.
38      Egypt was glad of their going, *
                     because they were afraid of them.
39      He spread out a cloud for a covering *
                     and a fire to give light in the night season.
40      They asked, and quails appeared, *
                     and he satisfied them with bread from heaven.
41      He opened the rock, and water flowed, *
                     so the river ran in the dry places.
42      For God remembered his word *
                     and Abraham his servant.
43      So he led forth his people with gladness, *
                     his chosen with shouts of joy.
44      He gave his people the lands of the nations, *
                     and they took the fruits of others’ toil.
45      That they might keep his statutes *
                     and observe his laws.  Hallelujah!           

1st Reading (Track 2):  Jonah 3:10—4:11
The story of Jonah is biblical comedy. Jonah does not believe in the “wideness of God’s mercy,” and does everything he can not to be the bearer of it. He would rather die than tell the good news to the Ninevites! As a story, Jonah calls Israel to repentance and proclaims God’s lavish mercy. The story is used in the Christian Testament at Matthew 12:38-41 and Luke 11:29-32, and it is the afternoon reading on the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.

3:10 When God saw what the people of Nineveh did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it. 4:1 But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. 3 And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’ 4 And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” 5 Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city. 6 The Lord God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. 7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” 9 But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” 10 Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

Psalm 145:1-8 (Track 2)
Psalm 145 is a song of praise, and also, in I s entire 21 verses, and alphabet acrostic poem. In this beginning of the psalm, verses 1-3 offer praise, and 4-8 offer a portrayal of God, ending, here, with a phrase used to characterize God that appears many times (9) in the Hebrew Scriptures, beginning with the creedal statement of Exodus 34:6.

1       I will exalt you, O God my King, *
                  and bless your Name for ever and ever.
2       Every day will I bless you, *
                  and praise your Name for ever and ever.
3       Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; *
                  there is no end to his greatness.
4       One generation shall praise your works to another *
                  and shall declare your power.
5       I will ponder the glorious splendor of your majesty *
                  and all your marvelous works.
6       They shall speak of the might of your wondrous acts, *
                  and I will tell of your greatness.
7       They shall publish the remembrance of your great goodness; *
                  they shall sing of your righteous deeds.
8       The Lord is gracious and fill of compassion, *
                  slow to anger and of great kindness.


2nd Reading:  Philippians 1:21-30
Philippi was a major port city in Macedonia. Pauls’ establishment of the church there is told in Acts 16:11-40. Paul’s relationship with this community was a good one. There is no sense of conflict between them as there is in most of Paul’s letters. There is some opposition to the Christians in Philippi going on, but we are not told much about it. Paul is probably writing this letter from prison in Rome, sometime between 61 and 63 c.e. He is at the point in his life where he has developed an indifference to continued earthly life and the chance to be with Christ. Yet he remains purposeful in encouraging the Philippians to continue in joy of the gospel and to strengthen their unity.

1:21 To me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. 23 I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; 24 but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. 25 Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, 26 so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again. 27 Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, 28 and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. 29 For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well—30 since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 20:1-16
Jesus’ parables are often meant to elicit a reaction from us that he then uses to bring home a point about the gospel. This is certainly true of this parable. We are meant to share in the indignation of those who have worked the entire day. It is not fair to give the same wage to those who worked only an hour, but that is the main point. The mercy of God is not fair by human standards. God stands ready to give indiscriminately, so that, indeed, it will seem as if the last are being put first and the first last. We are all on an equal footing with God.


20:1 [Jesus said,] “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4 and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5 When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6 And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Psalm translations are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Com.mentaries are copyright © 2017 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. www.EpiphanyEsources.com. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for congregational use with this attribution

Monday, September 11, 2017

15 Pentecost, 2017: Proper 19A

1st Reading (Track 1):  Exodus 14:19-31
Pharaoh has finally relented and ordered Moses to take his people away from Egypt.  Pharaoh, however, has another change of heart, and leads his army to destroy the Hebrews.  Moses and his people have been led with a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day, which also serves to protect them as they approach the Sea (literally, “the Sea of Reeds”).  In one last act against the Egyptians, the Israelites are led through the water safely and the warriors of Pharaoh who follow them are drowned.  This story of liberation from oppression will become Israel’s meta-narrative.

14:19 The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. 20 It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night. 21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. 22 The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. 23 The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh's horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. 24 At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. 25 He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.” 26 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.” 27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. 28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. 29 But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. 30 Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.

The Song of Moses (BCP, Canticle 8) (Track 1)
Canticle 8 from The Book of Common Prayer (p. 85) consists of portions of Exodus 15 (1-6, 11-13, 17-18).  It could be called the Song of Moses & Miriam, as the latter (Moses’ sister) is said to have led the women in such a song also (Exodus 15:20-21).  It is a song of Israel’s liberation from oppression at the hands of their God.  This is only one of two places where the divine name, Yahweh, is used rather than Lord because the name is called for directly (the other is in Psalm 68:4, BCP p. 676).

I will sing to the Lord, for he is lofty and uplifted; *
the horse and its rider has he hurled into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my refuge; *
the Lord has become my Savior.
This is my God and I will praise him, *
the God of my people and I will exalt him.
The Lord is a mighty warrior; *
Yahweh is his Name.
The chariots of Pharaoh and his army has he hurled into the sea;*
the finest of those who bear armor have been
drowned in the Red Sea.
The fathomless deep has overwhelmed them; *
they sank into the depths like a stone.
Your right hand, O Lord, is glorious in might; *
your right hand, O Lord, has overthrown the enemy.
Who can be compared with you, O Lord, among the gods? *
who is like you, glorious in holiness,
awesome in renown, and worker of wonders?
You stretched forth your right hand; *
the earth swallowed them up.
With your constant love you led the people you redeemed; *
with your might you brought them in safety to
your holy dwelling.
You will bring them in and plant them *
on the mount of your possession,
The resting-place you have made for yourself, O Lord, *
the sanctuary, O Lord, that your hand has established.
The Lord shall reign *
       for ever and for ever.

Or this (Track 1)

Psalm 114
Psalm 114 is a song of praise for God’s primary act of deliverance at the Sea, spoken in parallel with that other water-dividing story of crossing the Jordan to enter the promised land (Joshua 4:23).  The lively metaphors of skipping mountains and trembling earth declare that the God of liberation is Lord of all creation.  The final verse is a reference to Moses’ striking of a rock to bring forth fresh water (Exodus 17:1-7).

1       Hallelujah!
         When Israel came out of Egypt, *
                  the house of Judah from a people of strange speech.
2       Judah became God’s sanctuary *
                  and Israel his dominion.
3       The sea beheld it and fled; *
                  Jordan turned and went back.
4       The mountains skipped like rams, *
                  and the little hills like young sheep.
5       What ailed you, O sea, that you fled? *
                  O Jordan, that you turned back.
6       You mountains, that you skipped like rams? *
                  you little hills like young sheep?
7       Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, *
                  at the presence of the God of Jacob,
8       Who turned the hard rock into a pool of water *
                  and flint-stone into a flowing stream.

1st Reading (Track 2):  Genesis 50:15-21
Despite all that has taken place, Joseph’s brothers still mistrust him.  When their father dies, they imagine it is time for Joseph to take his inevitable revenge.  The story they tell feels made up, and this perhaps explains Joseph’s reaction. He weeps for relationships that have not healed, at least from the brothers’ perspective.  Joseph speaks kindly. He understands all that has happened to them and him as within God’s providence.  Even what we mean for evil, God can work for good.

50:15 Realizing that their father Jacob was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?” 16 So they approached Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this instruction before he died, 17 ‘Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.’ Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, “We are here as your slaves.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? 20 Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. 21 So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.

Psalm 103:(1-7), 8-13 (Track 2)
Psalm 103 is a hymn of praise.  The opening five verses are a call to worship, cast in the first person, but undoubtedly meant for corporate worship.  The psalm then goes on the give reasons for this praise, especially the miracle of God’s forgiveness (“as far as the east is from the west”).  Verses 8-13 are a fitting response to the forgiveness practiced by Joseph in our first reading.

[1  Bless the Lord, O my soul, *
           and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.
2   Bless the Lord, O my soul, *
           and forget not all his benefits.
3   He forgives all your sins *
           and heals all your infirmities;
4   He redeems your life from the grave *
           and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness;
5   He satisfies you with good things, *
           and your youth is renewed like an eagle’s.
6   The Lord executes righteousness *
           and judgment for all who are oppressed.
7   He made his ways known to Moses *
           and his works to the children of Israel.]
8   The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, *
           slow to anger and of great kindness.
9   He will not always accuse us, *
       nor will he keep his anger for ever.
10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins, *
           nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.
11 For as the heavens are high above the earth, *
           so is his mercy great upon those who fear him.
12 As far as the east is from the west, *
           so far has he removed our sins from us.
13 As a father cares for his children, *
       so does the Lord care for those who fear him.

2nd Reading:  Romans 14:1-12
This passage from Romans is important for at least two reasons. First of all, it sets up the reality and necessity of different acts of piety within the Christian community. Such differences must be honored, not judged.  Second, it establishes a fundamental equality before God, that is, “whether we live or die we are the Lord’s.”  Verse 11 contains a quote from Isaiah 45:23.

14:1 Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. 2 Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. 3 Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand. 5 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. 6 Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God. 7 We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. 10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” 12 So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

Gospel:  Matthew 18:21-35
Chapter 18 of Matthew’s Gospel is often referred to as “instructions to the church.”  Matthew is the only Gospel writer who uses the word “ekklesia” (Greek for any assembly of people), for which we use the English “church.”  Peter raises a concern that arises in e very Christian heart, “How many times?”  Jesus “seventy-seven times” is not meant literally, but is an example of Jesus’ frequent use of hyperbole.  It is meant to be heard as “however long it takes”).  The parable of the unjust steward brings home the point clearly:  our mercy/forgiveness is to match God’s.

18:21 Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. 23 For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”


The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Canticle and Psalm translations are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2017 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. www.EpiphanyEsources.com. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for congregational use with this attribution.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

14 Pentecost, 2017: Proper 18A

1st Reading (Track 1):  Exodus 12:1-14
We have skipped from chapter 3 to chapter 12 of Exodus, “passing over” Moses’ return to Egypt and his struggle to get Pharaoh “to ley my people go.” Nine plagues have been sent upon the Egyptians, but Pharaoh’s hear has remained hard.  Finally, in chapter 11, the Lord declares the tenth plague:  the death of all the first-born of the land.  The Israelites will be “passed over” in this plague if they do the following, which also serves to establish Passover as a yearly remembrance.  This is not an easy story, for the dead of Egypt in this night would be catastrophic.  Yet this is fundamentally a story of liberation from oppression, a story at the very heart of the purposes of God.

12:1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt:  2 This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. 4 If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 6 You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. 7 They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8 They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. 10 You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11 This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live:  when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. 14 This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.

Psalm 149 (Track 1)
The Book of Psalms ends with six psalms of praise (145-150). Among these, Psalm 149 begins in the typical way, but takes a different turn in verse 6, when Israel is called to battle.  The victory of God is replaced by the military capability of Israel, such that in the final verse, the glory is not for God, but for the people.  This line of thought was not necessarily unusual—the glory of God was frequently believed to be at one with the victories of Israel over her enemies.  This belief raises many questions about the ultimate purposes of God.

1       Hallelujah!
         Sing to the Lord a new song; *
                  sing his praise in the congregation of the faithful.
2       Let Israel rejoice in his Maker; *
                  let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.
3       Let them praise his Name in the dance; *
                  let them sing praise to him with timbrel and harp.
4       For the Lord takes pleasure in his people *
                  and adorns the poor with victory.
5       Let the faithful rejoice in triumph; *
                  let them be joyful on their beds.
6       Let the praises of God be in their throat *
                  and a two-edged sword in their hand;
7       To wreak vengeance on the nations *
                  and punishment on the peoples.
8       To bind their kings in chains *
                  and their nobles in links of iron;
9     To inflict on them the judgment decreed; *
              this is glory for all his faithful people.
              Hallelujah!

1st Reading (Track 2):  Ezekiel 33:7-11
The prophet Ezekiel was among the first group of exiles taken to Babylon, in 597 b.c.e.  The book is full of puzzling and strange visions.  This brief passage is part of a reiteration of Ezekiel’s call to prophesy.  It makes use of the image of a sentinel, which had been used in Ezekiel’s original call (3:16-21).  He is responsible for those given into his care.  He is to prophesy what sounds like doom, but in actuality is a message of life.  God desires life for his people, not death.

33:7 So you, mortal, I have made a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. 8 If I say to the wicked, “O wicked ones, you shall surely die,” and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but their blood I will require at your hand. 9 But if you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, and they do not turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but you will have saved your life. 10 Now you, mortal, say to the house of Israel, Thus you have said: “Our transgressions and our sins weigh upon us, and we waste away because of them; how then can we live?” 11 Say to them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?

Psalm 119:33-40 (Track 2)
Psalm 119 is the longest of the psalms at 176 verses.  It is a long meditation on the law, written as an acrostic poem.  Each of the verses of every eight verse section begins with a subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet. For example, our eight verses today in Hebrew each begin with the letter “He.”  It is also written so that every verse includes some synonym of the word “law.”

33     Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, *
                  and I shall keep it to the end.
34     Give me understanding, and I shall keep your law; *
                  I shall keep it with all my heart.
35     Make me go in the path of your commandments, *
                  for that is my desire.
36     Incline my hear to your decrees *
                  and not to unjust gain.
37     Turn my eyes from watching what is worthless; *
                  give me life in your ways.
38     Fulfill your promise to your servant, *
                  which you make to those who fear you.
39     Turn away the reproach which I dread, *
                  because your judgments are good.
40     Behold, I long for your commandments; *
                  in your righteousness preserve my life.

2nd Reading:  Romans 13:8-14
Near the end of his letter to the Romans, Paul writes a series of exhortations on the life of the believer.  In the following section he speaks of love as the highest fulfillment of the law, echoing his well-known chapter on love in First Corinthians (ch. 13).  He gives the practice of love an urgency by tying it to what he felt was the imminent return of Christ.  Yet his message holds up even without that return:  “live honorably, as in the day.”  “The flesh” for Paul is a metaphor for what The Book of Common Prayer asks us to renounce at our baptism:  “all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God” (p. 302).

13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. 11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Gospel Readng:  Matthew 18:15-20
This process for seeking truth, forgiveness, and reconciliation in Christian community is unique to Matthew.  Of the gospel writers, only Matthew uses the word “church,” although the actual Greek word is ekklesia, which simply means “an assembly of people.”  Nevertheless, Matthew’s community is clearly advanced in its way of working through the inevitable difficulties of community.  The statement about “binding and losing” appears twice in Matthew (see 16:19).  The terms used are legal ones meaning “to forbid” or “to permit.”  The community is capable of making such judgments.  The last verse is the most well-known of the passage. Again, it is unique to Matthew and clearly testifies to his community’s experience of life together.

18:15 [Jesus said,] “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”


The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission.  All rights reserved.  The Psalm translations are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2017 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. www.EpiphanyEsources.com. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for congregational use with this attribution.