Season after Pentecost (Proper 16 [21]): The Psalm Passage – The fates turn on the Israelites

Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.”(Exodus 1:8)

We now start down another long road of the story of God’s called and chosen people. It has often been joked by Jews that they sometimes wish God would chose someone else! It is bitter humor. The sentiment has at times been shared by other people called out by God. Because being called out by God can often mean the powers and principalities are set against one. I do have to wonder however, why God’s chosen people were allowed lead into such trying circumstances.

“He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we.
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.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites.” (Verses 9 – 12)

Overlords and rulers being ruthless over those who are helpless to defend themselves. It is a story told over and over, in differing places and at differing times. And in different cultures. It is tragedy that branches from ancient times to modern times. One people oppressing and subjugating another. Just tell me when it sounds familiar to you, beloved reader, and I will stop pounding it into your minds.


“The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, 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.” (Verses 13 – 14)

Many terrible things are done out of fear, and misunderstanding. Once we see people as “things” instead of kindred souls and spirits deserving of respect, dignity, and acceptance . . . a great many things are tolerated and condoned.

“The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “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.” But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?”
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.” So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.” (Verses 15 – 21)

As I am sitting here and thinking about these things, I can’t help but remember all the times in the Old Testaments that the Israelites, the Hebrews, and the Jews were told to recall their time in Egypt as a reason to do a thing or an obey a law. I have often thought of the Old Testament as the story of a people learning what it means to be called by God. Not a fully formed and realized people, but learning what it means to follow the One God. Mighty lessons needed to be learned, and the people seemed at times to be slow to learn the lessons.

“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.”(Verse 22)

Did you notice, beloved reader, that the Israelites are now called the Hebrews. I do not know how many years it was until the new king of Egypt “did not know Joseph.” It must have been several generations for the family of Israel (Jacob) to become a nation. The Israelites – now Hebrews – still remembered the families they were from.

“Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. 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. His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.” (Chapter 2, verses 1 – 4)

This was Moses. Proof that the Lord God has not forgetting the called and chosen people. That they were still chosen by God, and still under the Divine Eye. A lesson to us, beloved reader, that even in our trials and tribulations that we are still under the Divine Eye, and still within the Lord’s heart.

“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. 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. 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?” Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother.” (Verses 5 – 8)

You may be thinking lucky Moses and lucky Moses’ mother, and sharp thinking Moses’ sister. But let me remind you, beloved reader, this happened because the Pharaoh’s daughter also thought of Moses as a “thing”, something to be cared for but it did not matter to get Moses back to the correct family. Any family and nurse would due.

“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. 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.” (Verses 9 – 10)

Grown up does not mean an adult, but weaned and capable of eating solid food. The Pharaoh’s daughter took another woman’s young child for her own. That is not to say she did not have compassion on the infant child, saving it from the river and insuring its welfare. Surely she was aware of her father’s edict about male Hebrew children. And she evidently did want to save the child from an uncertain future. But neither did she let Moses grow up with his own people but took him as her own son, turning her back on his heritage.

But if Moses was poorly used by the Egyptians, he was never far from the Lord God . . . as his story will show.

We too, beloved reader, are never far from the Lord God. And I am reminded again that this lectionary year has the theme of new believers. As the Hebrews were new to being God’s people (as the extended story will show) new Christian believers are new to Christian faith too. There is many stories of difficult times amongst new Christians. Trust that none of them are far from God’s concern. Selah!

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Season after Pentecost (Proper 15 [20]): The Psalm Passage – Seek and treasure harmony where you find it

How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the LORD ordained his blessing, life forevermore.” (Psalm 133)

While the psalmist might have had his own and close-by family in mind, these verses are perfect for the reunion of Joseph and his family. And their moving to a place and culture that had abundant resources. I am sure Joseph and his father Israel thought that the move to Egypt would be good for them and the coming generations, a blessing and life forevermore. But we, beloved reader, are keenly aware (or should be) that any material abundance in this world will not last and transfer over to the world to come. And that is where our true home is.

I was reminded of this by a FB firend who was lamenting that the world we live in now, and how everyone seems so eager and set upon sharing their discontent. That there is no acceptance of differing opinions, and that it seems in the world at large whoever disagrees with you “must be” bullied and shouted down. That there is, in a word, no unity.

While the psalmist may mean “kindred” to be family related by blood or marriage, the broader meaning is the family of God, humanity. There is the “good” and “pleasant” of life together. It is in shalom (increasingly rare in the world at large) where the Lord’s ordained blessing is most often seen. And if the shalom is truly from the Lord God, you can be assured it is good, pleasant, and blessed.

It would probably be easier for me if I were to draw the curtain and not look down the road to where the Israelites went from honored guest to slaves. But turning a blind eye has never been my forte. Neither has being naïve about the way of the world. I am trying these days to support and nurture the pockets and places of the Lord God’s shalom. Rejoicing where I find it, and trying to maintain those places of peace and blessing.

I had once read that humanity cannot be “peace makers”; that is, we can not create peace but can only keep peace where it is found. That seemed kind of pessimistic to me. But I understand that better now. We can keep the peace that the Lord God has created in us. And we can keep the peace that exists between two or more people who have kept the peace that was created by the Lord God and Jesus Christ in them. But we cannot “make” peace where no peace already exists. That is what I was trying to tell my FB friend. That all we cannot do where there is no peace, is not to create (or not create more) disharmony and disunity.

How good and pleasant it is when humanity lives in unity, harmony and peace. It is precious. May you seek and find that peace, beloved reader. Cherishing and nurturing it, keeping it and holding it holy and sacred. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 15 [20]): The Gospel Passage – What is clean and not clean

Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand:
it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”
Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.”
But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” “ (Matthew 15:10 -15)

It was not Jesus’ calm in the face of the Pharisee’s upset that Peter needed explanation of, but that what goes into the mouth does not defile a person. Remember, Peter was raised as a Jew and as such obeyed the dietary laws with the same adherence as the 10 commandments; okay, maybe even more strictly!

Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.” (Verses 16 – 20)

While one could spend some good and worthwhile time thinking about, pondering, and then speaking about this passage from Matthew 15, RCL actually does not focus on the verses 15 to 20, but the verses that follow. What I wonder is how the two sections might connect.

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 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.” 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.” (Verses 21 – 23)

In order to understand the disciples reaction, you have to understand that a Canaanite woman was not a Jew, and therefore not someone who a Jew who cared about his/her reputation would talk to or pay attention to. Any problems a Canaanite person had were not the concern of a Jew. Jesus’ initial response to here was just what the disciple expected.

“He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Verse 24)

And yet, just above in the previous passage Jesus was all for consigning the “blind” Pharisees to be forever lost and not understanding the message that Jesus had to bring. And furthermore, as evidenced by the passage not listed here (verses one to nine) the Pharisees were according to Jesus not following God’s commandments at all. So something more than what is going on at the surface . . . . is going on.

“But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” (Verses 25 -27)

I encourage you to think about this, beloved reader. What was coming out of this woman’s mouth were words of faith and belief in God, even when it is not part of her cultural or religious heritage.

“Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.” (Verse 28)

Where the Pharisees faltered and failed in keeping faith, this Canaanite woman exhibited faith in Jesus as Divine and capable of healing, and having compassion for all people. Where she might have had different faith practices (ie, eating with unwashed hands) what came from her heart, mind, and mouth were words of faith and belief.

When Jesus was turning upside down long held (but erroneous) ideas and traditions, it is no wonder the disciples needed help in understanding what was meant. And it is at such times that I am very grateful for the theological teaching I received from childhood on up. It is only now, as an adult, that I realize the gift that was given to me. Understanding the “upside down” messages that Jesus told his disciples.

May you, beloved reader, incorporate these teachings of Jesus into your life. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 15 [20]): The Epistle Passage – Once again, Paul speaks forth

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. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.” (Romans 11:1-2a)

Paul, being a Jew and standing firm in that identity, does not believe God can be seen as starting over called a new people. But the Jewish people are not the only ones who are inheritors of God’s favor and blessing. Those blessings are not given lightly, as Paul says further on in the passage.

“For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (Verse 29)

What was promised to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob/Israel, and brought about through Joseph and his brothers will not be taken away. But it as been expanded to cover more people, all people actually.

“Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy.” (Verses 30 – 31)

Now these verses are interesting. Paul’s audience, the Gentiles, were at one time disobedient and sinful. But through Jesus’ act salvation and mercy they were redeemed. Paul contends (or at least that is one impression one subscribe to) that the Jews can see what has been given to the Gentiles and still claim it for themselves.

As strict as Paul can be at times, he is all for second chances as he was given a second chance.

“For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.” (Verse 32)

It is interesting to think and consider how Paul who was once Saul – how his life influenced his preaching and teaching. It would not make so much difference if Paul had been no major a teacher than some more contemporary preachers; even considering such preachers as Billy Graham or other such preachers of renown. You see, Paul did not just preach but established scripture. His life experiences and perspective crafted theology as it is taught. And every once in a while that realization creeps under my skin and just itches! I am not saying Paul is wrong; just that the twists and turns of his life have impacted almost 2000 years of Christianity.

And I would go from that point to mount my soapbox about Paul. But the other thing I remember is that Paul never meant to be so influential. So there you are. Paul speaks forth, and we diligently take note.

It is true, we see grace and mercy lived out in the lives of others, and we covet it for ourselves. It is true that everyone has been disobedient, and the Lord God grants mercy to us all. And it is very true that the blessings, gifts, grace, mercy and calling of the Lord God stand forever. Furthermore, beloved reader, it is very very true that no person or group of people have been rejected by the Lord God. No matter their lineage or pedigree, no person is accepted by the Lord God on that basis alone. Nor are they rejected because of lineage, pedigree or self-identification. All are eligible for grace and mercy upon confession of and forgiveness from the Lord God. Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 15 [20]): The Old Testament Passage – The very beginning of the journey of the Hebrews

Then 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.” (Genesis 45:1)

We have conveniently skipped over the part where Joseph made it tough for his brothers, and tested them to see if they were the same unfeeling young men that they were during Joseph’s youth. Joseph’s brothers had matured and were now seasoned and accountable men.

Joseph had grown and matured also – mostly. I think what he did to his brothers in hiding the golden cup in their sacks of grain was sort of extreme. But when it came to extremes of behavior, it ran in the family. So it was no secret that he was extremely moved in revealing himself to his brothers.

“And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it.” (Verse 2)

What must the Egyptians thought when they heard Joseph cry like that? Scripture does not tell us. It reminds me of another man called by God, who had to go through great turmoil in the Egyptian palace before his discovered his destiny. Moses was also a man of extreme emotions. But back to the story.

“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. 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. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.” (Verses 3 – 5)

I hope Joseph truly believed that; for the sake of his brothers and because, in a way, Joseph was sentencing his people to many years of servitude. Read the following verses with that in mind.

“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. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 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. 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.” (Verses 6 – 9)

It could very well be true that Joseph and his family would not have survived if they had stayed where they were. And being in Egypt, the people who would become the Hebrews/Israelites multiplied, and became a nation within the borders of Egypt.

“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. 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. And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. 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.” Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.” (Verses 10 – 15)

I had not previously considered that the saving of Joseph’s family and their possessions lead directly (or maybe indirectly) to the Israelites becoming slaves, and in need of being set free. And thinking about it, many generations and nations of people called by God have needed to be set free from circumstances both of their making and things being done to them.

When you consider what all of the people from Abraham through King David to Joseph the earthly father of Jesus have been through, it seems like a practically impossible journey filled with moments where it came close to not working out. And yet it did, culminating in Jesus. And then the outbound journey started again – to all nations!

The other thing I have learned anew from this story of Joseph is that there is no assured safety in this live for believers of God. A very stark fact. Our true home is not this world, but the world to come. We are all “outbound” until we return “home” to the Divine. But what stories we have to tell! And what things we have learned!

May the Lord God watch over your outbound journey, beloved reader, and welcome you home when the time comes! Selah!

Season after Pentecost (Proper 14 [19]): The Gospel Passage – Trusting in the Lord God, no matter the depths and circumstances

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.” (Matthew 14:22)

To paraphrase, and set the scene, Jesus and the disciples had just gotten done “cleaning up the crumbs” and gathering up the leftovers after the feeding of the multitudes (five thousand according to scripture) from two fish and five loaves of bread. According to the above verse, after the tidying up was done, Jesus had the disciples get into the boat (the one he had disembarked from after trying to get some away time) and start for the other side of the sea.

“And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone,” (Verse 23)

Jesus was trying to get some “alone time” performing the miracle of the loaves and fishes, and maybe to finish whatever meditation time had been interrupt by the crowds earlier. It took several hours, we assume, for Jesus to be refreshed and ready for what might come. And, there was more to come!

. . . but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea.” (Verses 24 – 25)

Now, I am not quite sure how this timing worked out. Jesus was done his meditation time some time in the evening, or was praying to the Lord through the night. I am not questioning that it might have taken overnight or disbelieve that one could be in prayer that long. And maybe the mountain was a bit of a hike away. But in any case, he was away from them from the afternoon or early evening until the next early morning. Long enough, we have to assume, for the disciples to be “out to sea” literally and figuratively. Much farther out than the disciples expected to see anyone else NOT in a boat!

“But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear.” (Verse 26)

Now imagine, tossed on a stormy and restless sea, they see an apparition coming towards them. Maybe seemingly from out of nowhere or from the turbulent sea itself. Scared already, now even more scared.

“But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” (Verse 27)

Be honest, beloved reader, after seeing Jesus do a miracle with multiplying food for five thousand, would you doubt that it was he walking on the water as if strolling down a solid path? Would you doubt it? Would you question it? Depends who you are I guess.

“Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” (Verses 28 – 30)

How often, beloved reader, do you feel called by the Lord God & Jesus Christ, most naturally heeding that call, oblivious to anything else? And then realize that you are deeper in than you thought?

“Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Verse 31)

Who is the “you”, beloved reader? Just Peter, or all of the disciples? Or is it all of us who have been called, and answer the call. And then find out that our own humanness is not sufficient to the challenge involved? I will raise my hand and freely admit that I have had “little faith” and felt myself sinking, only to be pulled up by the Divine Hand. More than once. And once rescued, the turmoil I though I was in subsided.

“When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.” (Verse 32)

In circumstances like that, there is really only one thing we can do.

“And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Verse 33)

Season after Pentecost (Proper 14 [19]): The Epistle Passage – Going another round with Paul

The late afternoon/early evening that I sat down to write this, it got up to 97 degrees with hotter weather for tomorrow. So what better time to sit down and wrestle more with a passage from Romans!

“Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” (Romans 10:5)

As I prepared to write on this passage, I had to wonder which law (from which righteousness comes from) Paul was referring to? The law that convicts and does nothing to free us. Or the law that liberates us and makes sin no more? If one did, as I did, and consulted a trusted commentary/commentator, one would learn that Paul’s reference to Moses did not mean the Judaic law, but “law” as guidelines and precepts that the Lord God through Jesus Christ established.

“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) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?'” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” (Verses 6 – 7)

The commentator I consulted (thank you again Albert Barnes) said that righteousness from faith does not demand that one goes far distances or undertake arduous travel. No, there is a way much closer at hand.

“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) 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.” (Verses 8 – 9)

Now, this is not exactly what the Israelites understood as what Moses was saying at the foot of Mt. Sinai. Nor does Paul say that is what Moses was saying. The “takeaway” concept is that believe in God is what is required. This is something that has come up again and again in my readings, that we cannot earn salvation and righteousness through what we do or how we act. It is a blessing and gift from the Lord God and Jesus the Messiah. Our correct living is (or should be) a response to that gift and blessing. But so often the response and the acting get intertwined and we believe that our good actions are what gains us salvation.

“For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.
The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” (Verses 10 – 11)

To make clear, confession is worthless unless you believe in the Divine that you confess to, and are sincere in both confession and belief. It is not enough to beat one’s chest and pray/bray aloud one’s faults. Belief is necessary and a contrite heart is mandatory. But other than that, not qualifications are necessary.

“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. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Verses 12 – 13)

Paul, however, takes it one step further. Because, he is . . . . . you know, Paul.

“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? 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!” (Verses 14 – 15)

Paul is giving leniency for those who have NOT heard the good news of Jesus Christ. If I can conjecture, it might be an exhortation to share and proclaim one’s faith. Reading further on outside of this passage Paul has not said so explicitly. He does however say the the proclamation concerning Jesus Christ was in Old Testament scripture (as we name it). And if the Jews did not believe in God and Jesus Christ because of what had been set down before them – that was their fault and their eternal loss.

If they may seem rather shaky reasoning, beloved reader, set it aside. And consider, there are very few parts of the world that are not acquainted, at least in passing, with the message of Jesus Christ. And for those places, the same exemption stands for them as Paul explains it. But for those who have heard and have NOT believed, it will not go well with them. Paul is being stern. And I can’t fault him for that. For Paul, this is literally live and death stuff. Take it, and make of it what you will.

There are other approaches to evangelism and salvation. Other perspectives and expectations. And in the heat of the day I just cannot be as exacting as Paul is.

Look to your own inner spirit and soul. Discover and discern what you believe and what you believe in. May the Holy Spirit guide your thoughts and meditations, and bring you through the “heat” of your life. Selah!