Wednesday, September 27, 2017

17 Pentecost 2017: Proper 21a

The 17th Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 21A

1st Reading (Track 1):  Exodus 17:1-7
At this point in the Book of Exodus the people have fled from Egypt and successfully crossed “the sea of reeds.” They now find themselves in the vast wilderness of the Sinai and their elation changes to complaint (which actually begin in chapter 16). Moses is attacked as a leader and he, in turn, complains to God. God responds with the miracle of water at Massah and Meribah (Hebrew words that mean “test” and “find fault,” thus the place is a memorial not to the miracle, but to the people’s unfaithfulness).

17:1 From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16 (Track 1)
Psalm 78 is one of the “historical psalms” which tells the story of Israel in lines of poetry (the others are 105, 106, 135, and 136). In Psalm 78, the first eight verses are a general introduction, encouraging the people to give thanks and praise as they “recount to generations to come.” We then pick up in the middle of the psalm, re-calling the escape through the sea, and the giving of water told in today’s first reading.

1       Hear my teaching, O my people; *
                  incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
2       I will open my mouth in a parable; *
                  I will declare the mysteries of ancient times.
3       That which we have heard and known,
         and what our forefathers have told us, *
                  we will not hide from their children.
4       We will recount to generations to come
         the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the Lord, *
                  and the wonderful works he has done.
12     He worked marvels in the sight of their forefathers, *
                  in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan.
13     He split open the sea and let them pass through; *
                  he made the waters stand up like walls.
14     He led them with a cloud by day, *
                  and all the night through with a glow of fire.
15     He split the hard rocks in the wilderness *
                  and gave them drink as from the great deep.
16     He brought streams out of the cliff, *
                  and the waters gushed pout like rivers.

1st Reading (Track 2):  Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
The prophet Jeremiah tells us that the Israelites in exile in Babylon were blaming their ancestors for their current situation (Jeremiah 31:29-30). It had been the teaching that children will be punished for their parents’ sin (see, for example Exodus 20:5). Israel, however, is in a new situation, one in which accountability for their own actions is set upon the community. The invitation to repentance is open to all, an invitation the community does not seem to understand, and so they cry “unfair!” Yet God desires the life of all, and is prepared to give each a new heart and a new spirit (about which Ezekiel will say more in chapters 36 & 37.

18:1 The word of the Lord came to me:  What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die. 25 Yet you say, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? 26 When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die. 27 Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. 28 Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die. 29 Yet the house of Israel says, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” O house of Israel, are my ways unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? 30 Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, all of you according to your ways, says the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin. 31 Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live.

Psalm 25:1-8 (Track 2)
Psalm 25 is an acrostic poem (22 verses each beginning with a subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet) which is an urgent plea for God’s intervention and rescue. The speaker is ready to trust completely in God, the ground of that hope being God’s steadfast love (in verse 6, translated here as simply “love”).  In Hebrew this word is chesed, used frequently (248 times) as steadfast or loyal love.

1       To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul;
         my God, I put my trust in you; *
                  let me not be humiliated,
                  nor let my enemies triumph over me.
2       Let none who look to you be put to shame; *
                  let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.
3       Show me you ways, O Lord, *
                  and teach me your paths.
4       Lead me in your truth and teach me, *
                  for you are the God of my salvation;
                  in you have I trusted all the day long.
5       Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love, *
                  for they are from everlasting.
6       Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; *
                  remember me according to your love
                  and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.
7       Gracious and upright is the Lord; *
                  therefore he teaches sinners in his way.
8       He guides the humble in doing right *
                  and teaches his way to the lowly.

2nd Reading:  Philippians 2:1-13
Paul begins this passage with an exhortation to continued joy, unity, and humility. He then gives the example of Jesus, quoting in Verses 5-11 what was most likely an early Christian hymn. Jesus shows us how to live in his own self-emptying (kenosis in Greek) in order to fulfill God’s purpose for him. One result of this style of life is the unity in humility that Paul is proclaiming to the Christians of Philippi.  Despite his self-emptying his name is remembered and highly exalted.  One recalls his own teaching, “The first will be last and the last will be first.” It is important to know that the “your” in “Work out your own salvation…” is plural. Paul is calling the Philippians to continue in the hard work of community.

2:1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 21:23-32
When all else fails, question the troublemaker’s authority. Jesus turns the question back at the religious leaders, and they are too cautious to answer. Jesus replies, as he often does, with a parable. The message of this parable is relatively simple:  actions speak louder than words, but Jesus turns up the heat by the “prostitutes and tax collectors” are doing the right thing while the religious authorities are not. Another parable will follow, equally upsetting to the authorities, and we are told after it that they began a plan to arrest him.

21:23 When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 28 What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. 30 The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.”

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