Monday, August 21, 2017

12 Pentecost 2017: Proper 16A

1st Reading (Track 1):  
Exodus 1:8—2:10
Exodus 1:8 is a significant shift in the text. The memory of good relationship with the children of Israel in Egypt is gone, and a new Pharaoh determines to enslave them. The term “Hebrews” seems to have arisen in Egypt as a way of naming the outsiders, literally “those who crossed over,” i.e., came from another place. The midwives Shiprah and Puah can be celebrated as responsible for the survival of these Hebrews.  Their story of cunning disobedience will be repeated many times over in the Scriptures.  The name “Moses” is clearly of Egyptian origin (“to beget a child”), but is given a Hebrew etymology of “he who draws out.”

1:8 Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9 He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. 10 Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” 11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. 13 The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, 14 and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them. 15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16 “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.” 17 But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. 18 So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?” 19 The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” 20 So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. 22 Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.” 2:1 Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. 2 The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. 3 When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. 4 His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him. 5 The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. 6 When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him. “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said. 7 Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” 8 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. 9 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. 10 When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”

Psalm 124 (Track 1)
Psalm 124 is one of the “Songs of Ascents” (Psalms 120-134), pilgrim songs sung on the way to celebrate festivals in Jerusalem. This psalm begins with a wonderment: “What if…”, referring to the escape from Egypt.  Verses 6-8 resolves this “if” into a “blessing.” God is the God who saves.

1       If the Lord had not been on our side, *
                  let Israel now say;
2       If the Lord had not been on our side, *
                  when enemies rose up against us;
3       Then would they have swallowed us up alive *
                  in their fierce anger towards us;
4       Then would the waters have overwhelmed us *
                  and the torrent gone over us;
5       Then would the raging waters *
                  have gone right over us.
6       Blessed be the Lord! *
                  he has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth.
7       We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler; *
                  the snare is broken, and we have escaped.
8       Our help is in the Name of the Lord, *
                  the maker of heaven and earth.

1st Reading (Track 2):  Isaiah 51:1-6
“Listen” is the imperative of this passage: Listen and look to the stories of your ancestors (vv. 1-2). As a plea to those who have lived in exile, listen and look for a new creation (v. 3).  Listen for a teaching and a justice that turns the governance of empire on its head, for the rule of the Lord, which results in deliverance and salvation rather than exploitation and fear.

51:1 Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the Lord. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. 2 Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many. 3 For the Lord will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song. 4 Listen to me, my people, and give heed to me, my nation; for a teaching will go out from me, and my justice for a light to the peoples. 5 I will bring near my deliverance swiftly, my salvation has gone out and my arms will rule the peoples; the coastlands wait for me, and for my arm they hope. 6 Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and those who live on it will die like gnats; but my salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended.

Psalm 138 (Track 2)
Psalm 138 is a song of thanksgiving by one who has been in crisis, but now that the crisis has been averted, a vow to praise in the temple is being fulfilled. Israel’s thanksgiving is for the Lord who rules over all (so-called) gods and kings and the nations they serve.

1   I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with my whole heart; *
           before the gods I will sing your praise.
2   I will bow down toward your holy temple
     and praise your Name, *
           because of your love and faithfulness;
3   For you have glorified your Name *
           and your word above all things
4   When I called, you answered me; *
           you increased my strength within me.
5   All the kings of the earth will praise you, O Lord, *
           when they have heard the words of your mouth.
6   They will sing of the ways of the Lord, *
           that great is the glory of the Lord.
7   Though the Lord be high, he cares for the lowly; *
           He perceives the haughty from afar.
8   Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe; *
           you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies;
           your right hand shall save me.
9   The Lord will make good his purpose for me; *
           O Lord, your love endures for ever;
           Do not abandon the works of your hands.

2nd Reading:  Romans 12:1-8
Chapter 12 begins a new section in Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome. Having said all that he has said before, this is what living in covenant with this God from whom nothing can separate us (8:39) looks like.  The appeal includes the necessity of discernment, humility, giftedness as part of a body, and the exercising of those gifts for the body’s good. In addition, Paul sees both grace and faith not as some easily defined, static things, but fine-tuned in each individual and tied to the gifts given us for the good of the whole.

12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. 3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 16:13-20
Our Gospel reading is the well-known story of Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah, as someone beyond the prophetic person that the disciples say others see him. The name “Peter” (Greek “petros”) and the word rock (Greek “petra”) are related in a play on words that we miss in English. Keys were a symbol of authority (for example, Isaiah 22:22, “the key of the House of David). This text is very much behind both the tradition that Peter was the first Bishop of Rome (or “Pope”) and the power that the church has to “bind or loose.” In Greek these are judicial terms which mean “forbid or allow,” probably referring primarily to Peter’s (and the church’s) teaching authority. Matthew is the only Gospel writer who uses the word “church” (Greek “ecclesia,” “assembly”). This is the first time of four. It shows that in Matthew’s experience, a distinctive community has formed. In its use throughout the New Testament, it never refers to a building or an institutional structure, but to a people gathered for a particular purpose.

16:13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

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 Collect of the Day and the Psalm translations are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2017 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for congregational use with this attribution.

Monday, August 14, 2017

11 Pentecost 2017: Proper 15A

Photo by Alexa Mazzarello on Unsplash
1st Reading (Track 1):Genesis 45:1-15
In last week’s reading, Joseph was sold by his jealous and resentful brothers and ended up a slave in Egypt. A great deal has happened since then! Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams eventually comes to the attention of the Pharaoh, and Joseph becomes what is essentially Pharaoh’s second-in-command, having special charge to prepare Egypt for five years of famine which Joseph has foreseen. Meanwhile back in Canaan, the famine hits Jacob and his family hard and he sends the brothers to Egypt to buy grain (holding Benjamin, the youngest, back). The brothers have to deal with Joseph, but they do not recognize him. Joseph plays games with them for the purpose of getting Benjamin (his only full brother) to join them. Our passage this morning is the scene when the brothers return with Benjamin and Joseph can hold back his identity no more. The brothers are afraid of retribution from Joseph, but he has developed a sense of God’s providence, and the ability of God to make good out of evil.

45:1 Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Send everyone away from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. 2 And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. 3 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence. 4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7 God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 9 Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. 10 You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11 I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’ 12 And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. 13 You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” 14 Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.

Psalm 133 (Track 1)
Psalm 133 is one of the “Songs of Ascents” (Psalms 120-134), pilgrim songs sung on the way to celebrate festivals in Jerusalem. Verse one might very well have been a popular saying extolling the virtues of family unity. Used here in this pilgrim song, especially near the end of the collection, it becomes a song of the unity of all God’s people in the heritage of Aaron (the first high priest), drawn together in one community in Zion, the center of Jewish life.

1       Oh, how good and pleasant it is, *
                  when brethren live together in unity!
2       It is like fine oil upon the head *
                  that runs down upon the beard.
3       Upon the beard of Aaron, *
                  and runs down upon the collar of his robe.
4       It is like the dew of Hermon *
                  that falls upon the hills of Zion.
5       For there the Lord has ordained the blessing: *
                  life for evermore.
1st Reading (Track 2):  Isaiah 56:1, 6-8
The last chapters of the book of the prophet Isaiah must likely have their source in the restored community in and around Jerusalem. The exiles are home from captivity in Babylon. The community faces a large question, driven by their exile experience. Will they forge a separate nation of only Jews, following a call to be God’s chosen people, or will they be “a light to the nations,” envisioning other nations coming into relationship with “their” God? Isaiah foresees the latter, while the former is pursued by the authorities of the time (see the books of Ezra and Nehemiah). The argument will go one for centuries, including the days of Jesus. Jesus signals his agreement with Isaiah in word and deed, although, as we see in today’s Gospel, even he has to make a choice.

56:1 Thus says the Lord: Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed. 6 And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant—7 these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. 8 Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.

The Word of the Lord.                     Thanks be to God.

Psalm 67 (Track 2)
Psalm 67 celebrates God’s relationship with Israel and invites “all the nations upon earth” into that relationship. The vision of God here is a large one, larger than much of the Hebrew Scriptures are willing to contemplate, but very much in line with the vision of the prophet Isaiah.

1       May God be merciful to us and bless us, *
                  show us the light of his countenance and come to us.
2       Let your ways be known upon earth, *
                  your saving health among all nations.
3       Let the peoples praise you, O God; *
                  let all the peoples praise you.
4       Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, *
                  for you judge the peoples with equity
                  and guide all the nations upon earth.
5       Let the peoples praise you, O God; *
                  let all the peoples praise you.
6       The earth has brought forth her increase; *
                  may God, our own God, give us his blessing.
7       May God give us his blessing, *
                  and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him.

2nd Reading:  Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
In Romans chapter 11, Paul deals with a question that arises given Paul’s emphasis both on the Gentiles being full partners as disciples of Jesus, and on faith overcoming the law. The chapter begins with the essential question. The church in its periods of anti-semitism has frequently forgotten his answer, “By no means.” Israel remains God’s chosen people—this cannot be revoked, but they share with all of humanity in their need of God’s mercy. The law imprisons all, God has responded with mercy for all.

11:1 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2a God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. 32 For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 15:(10-20), 21-28
The first (optional) portion of this passage deals with an example of how Jesus deepens the law. The laws of ritual defilement are meaningless if we do not comprehend that defilement is something we frequently do to ourselves, what comes out of us rather than what goes into us. This reasoning confounds the Pharisees, for whom Jesus has harsh words. He then withdraws to the area of Tyre and Sidon, where Gentiles were in the majority. His encounter with one of them is troubling. Jesus seems cold, and his reaction to her does not jive well with his preceding remarks about defilement. The Canaanite woman moves Jesus to a profoundly new understanding: the barrier between Jew and Gentile has been erased, although the woman, like Paul above, is comfortable with the priority of the Jewish people. She just also has faith in this Messiah in whose “name the Gentiles will hope (Matthew 12:21 quoting Isaiah 42:9).

[15:10  Then Jesus called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand:  11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” 12 Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” 13 He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” 15 But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” 16 Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19 For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”]
21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

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. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for congregational use with this attribution.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

10 Pentecost 2017, Proper 14A

10th Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 14

1st Reading (Track 1):  Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Jacob ends up with 12 sons and 1 daughter by his four wives. Because of his deep love for Rachel, he holds a special love for her two children, Joseph and Benjamin (who happened to also be his last two sons). The “long robe with sleeves” is a more direct translation than the more well-known “coat of many colors.” We skip the portion of this story in which Joseph interprets dreams in which he always happens to come out on top of his older brothers. His brothers thus resolve to be rid of him, although Reuben and Judah, conspire against killing him. He is sold into slavery, but the story ends in pointing us to Egypt, which will loom large in the continuing story.

37:1 Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. 2 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. 3 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. 4 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. 12 Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. 13 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.” 14 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, 15 and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” 16 “I am seeking my brothers,” he said; “tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” 17 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. 18 They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. 19 They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. 20 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.” 21 But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” 22 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. 23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; 24 and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it. 25 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. 26 Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 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. 28 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.

Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b (Track 1)
Psalm 105 is one of the historical psalms, which recite Israel’s past (the others are 78, 106, 135, and 136). They seek to portray the history of Israel as the history of the Lord’s relationship with his chosen people. This portion of Psalm 105 includes commentary on the story of Joseph.

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; *
                  and speak of all his marvelous works.
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     The Lord 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. [45c] Hallelujah!

1st Reading (Track 2):  1 Kings 19:9-18
The prophet Elijah has just defeated and destroyed the prophets of Baal, the god whom King Ahab of Israel and Jezebel, his queen, worship. Jezebel promises revenge, so Elijah flees into the wilderness and is miraculously fed, the Lord ignoring his fear and his plea for death. Next Elijah takes refuge in a cave. What happens to Elijah in the wilderness and on the mountain is meant to parallel things that happen to Moses, raising Elijah’s status among the prophets of the Lord (see the Transfiguration story in the gospels, such as Luke 9:28-26). The Hebrew in verse 12 is very difficult, hence some translations read “still small voice.” Silence is probably more correct. Elijah reiterates his despair, which the Lord again ignores, saying only, “Go back.” Mission trumps fear.

19:9 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?” 10 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.” 11 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; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13 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?” 14 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.” 15 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. 16 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. 17 Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. 18 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.”

Psalm 85:8-13 (Track 2)
“Restore us again,” is the plea at the beginning of this psalm, and in glorious language and imagery the restoration is spoken into being. The nouns used in verse ten are among the most significant in biblical thought, and in Hebrew their meaning is rich:  ḥesed (mercy, steadfast love) and ‘emet (truth), ṣedāqâ (righteousness, justice) and shālôm (peace, well-being).

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.

2nd Reading:  Romans 10:5-15
In this passage, Paul uses the interpretive technique of “midrash,” a creative use of scriptural texts to elucidate one another and arrive at fresh meaning.  He begins with Leviticus 18:5, which he interprets by use of Deuteronomy 30:11-14. Verse 11 quotes Isaiah 28:16, verse 13 Joel 2:32, and finally Isaiah 52:17.  All of this in the service of his understanding of the Gospel: without distinction all who call on the name of Jesus will be saved.

10:5 Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” 6 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) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead)”. 8 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); 9 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. 10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11 The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” 12 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. 13 For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” 14 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? 15 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!”

The Holy Gospel:  Matthew 14:22-33
This familiar story of Jesus walking on the water follows upon the death of John the Baptist (14:1-12), after which Jesus withdraws by boat to a “deserted place” that quickly is overrun by people seeking him out, who the disciples are challenged to feed (14:13-21). The episode clearly asserts Jesus’ authority even over nature, but it also raises questions about faith and fear.  Only Matthew tells the story of Peter’s attempt to imitate Jesus and the definitive reaction of the disciples, a confession Peter will not make for a couple chapters.

14:22 Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 28 Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

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 translation is from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2017 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for congregational use with this attribution.

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Transfiguration: Sunday August 6

The First Reading:  Exodus 34:29-35
This section of the Book of Exodus (chs. 32-34) is the account of the renewal of the covenant after the rebellion of the people and the smashing of the first tablets (chs. 19-24).  Our reading this morning is the account of Moses returning from the mountain the second time with the two tablets containing the Ten Commandments. Moses’ face shines because he has been in the presence of God.  The people were afraid and so Moses used a veil.  This apparently continued as Moses went in and out of the Tabernacle to speak with God.

29 Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. 32 Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. 33 When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; 34 but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

Psalm 99:5-9
Psalm 99 is a psalm proclaiming God as King and is a part of the “enthronement psalms” (Psalms 93, 95-99).  Part of their purpose is to proclaim that despite the failure of the Davidic covenant, including the loss of land, temple and monarchy, God still reigns.  So the references here are back to “origins,” to Moses and Aaron and (most significantly) Samuel, who opposed the establishment of the monarchy on the grounds that only God could be Israel’s king.

5     Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
       and fall down before his footstool; *
              he is the Holy One.
6     Moses and Aaron among his priests,
       and Samuel among those who call upon his Name, *
              they called upon the Lord, and he answered them.
7     He spoke to them out of a pillar of cloud; *
              they kept his testimonies and the decree that he gave them.
8     O Lord our God, you answered them indeed; *
              you were a God who forgave them,
              yet punished them for their evil deeds.
9     Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
       and worship him upon hos holy hill; *
              for the Lord our God is the Holy One.

The Second Reading:  2 Peter 1:13-21
Our second reading references the story of the Transfiguration, the only place outside the Gospels which does so. The writer uses his witness of that incident to prove his trustworthiness in regards to the second coming of Christ. The prophetic witness is reliable. Scripture (the writer would have been referring to the Hebrew Scriptures) is not a matter of individual initiative or interpretation. Both rely on the Holy Spirit, working through the community of those who follow Jesus, understood in these early days of the church as the primary subject of the Hebrew Scriptures.

13 I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to refresh your memory, 14 since I know that my death will come soon, as indeed our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things. 16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

The Holy Gospel:  Luke 9:28-36
“After these sayings” refers to a prediction by Jesus of his death, and of the need of the disciples to take up their cross. This context is important because Luke’s story of the Transfiguration contains one detail that Matthew and Mark lack.  We are told about what Jesus, Moses, and Elijah are speaking: “his [Jesus’] departure, which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem.”  Indeed near the end of the chapter (v. 51) there will be a sudden transition:  “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”  Peter assumes/hopes the experience will last longer but they are sent quickly away with the same voice from Jesus’ baptism: “This is my Son, my Chosen,” with the added “Listen to him!”

28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

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 translation is from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2017, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved. Permission to copy and edit for church services is given, provided this attribution remains.