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

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