A Contradictory Life

A sermon for Proper 25: Deuteronomy 34:1-12, Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17, 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8, Matthew 22:34-46

Here ends the Book of Deuteronomy. Yes, we jumped from Exodus 33, over last 7 chapters of Exodus, the entire book of Leviticus, the entire books of Numbers, and the first 33 chapters Deuteronomy. Here ends the Book of Deuteronomy. This is the story of Moses seeing the promised land but not being allowed to cross into it. We hear about Moses’ death, his unknown, unknowable burial place, and the thirty days of mourning by Israel for her sometimes scorned and sometimes beloved leader. We hear about the anointing of Joshua. We hear the praise of Moses as God’s unique prophet, who knew the LORD face to face and to whom there is no equal.

This is a story of ending: the end of Moses’ story, the end of Moses giving the Torah, the LAW as defined in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. This is the end of Moses’ leadership, the end of Israel’s wilderness journey, the end of Israel as a nomadic people.

This is a story of beginnings: Joshua begins his leadership of Israel, Israel’s beginning residence in the promised land the beginning of cosmopolitan Israel, of Israel as a nation of cities the beginning of Israel’s Temple-centered relationship with God.

This is a continuing story, Moses’ story is over, Joshua’s story is beginning, God’s story with Israel, God’s story with all creation continues (Gaventa, and Petersen).

This is a story of contradictions. Moses was God’s faithful servant. He left a life of luxury in the Egyptian Royal House to return to his people, to God’s people. He left the burning bush to lead Israel out of captivity in Egypt. He stood between Israel’s rebellious nature and God’s fierce anger. Moses was also a less than a faithful servant. The first thing he does on his arrival among the Hebrew slaves is to kill an Egyptian overlord and flees to Midian. He continually questions God’s decision by asking “Who am I?” He threatens to quit “What am I to do with your people?” At Meribah, he does not follow God’s instruction to speak to the rock to give water to the people of Israel. On his own, he strikes the rock with the staff God gave him (Exodus 17:1-7). On the surface, this is not a big deal; however, it questions the power of speaking, as if giving voice to God’s word is not enough. There is the possible implication that Moses believes the staff has some sort of power, which diminishes the power of God’s presence. So yes, Moses disobeys God, and is a less than a perfect servant; at the same time, he is also the unparalleled servant of the Lord. This contradictory relationship is seen in Moses relationship with Israel. Israel frequently rejected Moses’ leadership, “You have brought into the desert to die!” But, at his death, they are deeply grieved (Bratt).

When I read this lesson I immediately started thinking about the lessons of transitions it has to offer us. St. Stephen’s is in a big transition as I move to part-time, and some divine guidance is certainly welcome. However, the divine muse was strangely silent. What eventually emerged is the contradictions surrounding Moses, we have just explored. I want to explore a couple thoughts about contradictions, within the context of transition.

As a nation, we are in a time of change. The political upheaval we are witnessing is a sign of changes in our economic traditions, our relationships with other nations, our internal relations along lines of race, sex and gender, our relations along class lines. Another manifestation of these transitions is what to do with all the statues and memorials to controversial leaders from our past. I want to take a very brief look at two.

Robert E Lee did lead the army of Northern Virginia in rebellious action against the United States. It was possibly an act of treason. He did own slaves. That was an unquestionable moral wrong. Like Moses, and rebellious Israel, there is more to his story. Prior to assuming command of the Army of Northern Virginia Lee faithfully served the US Army as a general, including service as the Superintendent of West Point, where he likely taught officers he probably fought against. After the end of the Civil War , e was asked to lead Washington College, named after George Washington (Virginia Historical Society). The college was in dire straits. And he did restore it to a successful path. Washing College is now known as Washington and Lee University a preeminent school in our country. As you know some statues of Gen. Lee have been removed, and an Episcopal church named in his honor, has been renamed.

The other person I wish to explore this morning is Roger B. Taney, Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court from 1836 to 1864 (Wikipedia). At the time, he was the longest serving Chief Justice. His term was very productive. However, what he is known for the Dread Scott decision which includes the infamous line that

current or former slaves and their descendants had “No rights which the white man was bound to respect” (thisdayinquotes).

Driving home from Little Rock Wednesday I heard that earlier this year descendants of the Scott and Taney families meet in Baltimore for a reconciliation (NPR). A joint statement in part says:

The Scotts and the Taneys believe that Americans should learn from their history, not bury their history,” they have said in a joint statement.

They hope to raise money for a permanent educational exhibit on the site that would contextualize the Dred Scott decision and explore its ramifications in American history. If possible, they said they also hope a statue of the Maryland abolitionist Frederick Douglass can be added (Pitts).

Their task is complicated by the removal of a statue of Taney.

The Scott-Taney families’ reconciliation effort has a lot to teach us as a nation, as a church and as a congregation as we seek to find our way through this time of emergent change (Tickle).

One lesson is that to successfully navigate times of transition we also have to navigate the complexities of our contradictions. It is rare that any group or any person is all evil, or all good; most all of us, like Israel, and like Moses, are a mixture of contradictions. The Scott and Taney families are right, we should learn from our history, which means knowing it in all its contradictory complexity. It also means, as scripture commands us to do to teach it to our children and our children’s children (Deut. 6:7). Deuteronomy 34 shows us how Israel, and Moses accepted their contradictory relationship. It also shows us how God honors such relationships. God never abandons Moses, or any other contradictory biblical figure, and there are plenty, like most all of them. Moses undisclosed burial place and his epitaph Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face (Deut. 34:10). signify divine honor.

As a nation this is the time to reconcile with those with whom we have deep differences and between whom there are deep hurts. The prevailing expectation of unquestioned loyalty to a president or a party is perilously close to following other gods and idolatry. If we start here, we cannot follow the remaining 8 points of God’s plan for our lives. If we cannot follow the ten-point divine plan of life, we cannot reconcile, and if we cannot reconcile we cannot make successful transitions that are a part of life.

As a congregation this is a time to name and accept our contradictions. If we fail to name our contradictions, we will not be able to see the changes that are necessary for successful transition.

As both a nation, and a congregation, this is a time to trust that God will not abandon us for our many rebellions. Our hope is in the knowledge that God is right here, right now and will be, till the end of the ages.


References

Bratt, Doug. Proper 25 Deuteronomy 34:1-12 . 29 10 2017. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Clements, Ronald E. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Book of Deuteronomy (NIBC) Numbers 36:13. Vol. I. Nashville: Abingdon, 20151. XII vols. OliveTree App.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 29 10 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Logue, Frank. “Everything Hangs on Love, Twenty-First Sunday after.” 29 10 20107. Sermons that Work.

NPR. “Soctt Taney Reconcilation.” NPR, n.d. APP. 25 10 2017.

Pitts, Johathan. “Roger Taney, Dred Scott families reconcile 160 years after infamous Supreme Court decision.” 18 10 2017. baltimoresun.com. 27 10 2017. <http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/politics/bs-md-scott-taney-reconciliation-20170306-story.html&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

thisdayinquotes. No rights which the white man was bound to respect. n.d. 27 10 2017. <http://www.thisdayinquotes.com/2011/03/no-rights-which-white-man-was-bound-to.html&gt;.

Tickle, Phyllis. Emergence Christianity. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008.

Virginia Historical Society. Robert E. Lee after the War. 27 10 2017. <http://www.vahistorical.org/collections-and-resources/virginia-history-explorer/robert-e-lee-after-war&gt;.

Wikipedia. Roger B. Taney. 27 10 2017. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_B._Taney.&gt;.

 

 

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Prayer, Giving, and Confession

A sermon for Proper 24: Exodus 33:12-23, Psalm 99, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Matthew 22:15-22

This story begins in verse 1 when God tells Moses it time to leave this place and go to the promised land. However, because Israel is a “stiff-necked people” God will not go with them, but God will send an Angel to guide them. Israel is aghast, and no one put on any rings, earrings, or other ornaments of any kind. Moses isn’t so sure about this angel leader either. He knows he cannot lead Israel without God and like any good leader he wants certainty before setting out to complete this wild wilderness journey (Bratt; Brueggemann). God answers okay, “I will send my presence with you and I will give you rest.” which implies God’s blessing. Only “with you” is not in the Hebrew, and “you rest” is singular not plural (Olson; Brueggemann). It sounds like God is speaking to Moses, not to all of Israel.

So, Moses presses on for more. He knows Israel will not survive on her own (Brueggemann). He knows that only God’s presence will make him favored and Israel distinct. And being distinct is important it points back to the plagues. Israel escape the flies, the deadly pestilence on livestock, the hail that destroyed crops, the dense darkness that none could see in, and death of all first born because they were distinct (Exodus 8:22; 9:4, 26; 10:23; 11:7; 12:23)  (Gaventa and Petersen). Knowing that the plagues are part of the divine plan to free Israel Moses knows all Israel must be included (Olson).

So ~ Moses presses for even more as he asks for a glimpse of God’s glory. God agrees, sort of. The divine goodness, which can be used understood as shalom, or the blessing of the material wholeness of creation, will pass before Moses (Brueggemann). God also reveals more of the divine name;

  • which if you remember begins way back in Exodus 3:6 with “I am the God of your ancestors” (Exodus) 3:6,
  • and progressed to: “I Am Who I Am” and/or “I Will Be Who I Will Be” or somehow both (Exodus 3:14)
  • and then moves on to “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20:2)
  • and then “I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt in order that I might live among them” (Exodus 29:46) (Olson)
  • and now includes
  • “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious,”
    which reveals God’s completely unfettered capacity to be unconditionally generous
  • and “I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy,”

which reveals God’s capacity to act positively as God chooses (Brueggemann).

However, God continues to stand’s firm about revealing the divine face; that is not going to happen. As we heard Moses does see God’s goodness, that is revealed on God’s backside.

There are lots of curious tidbits is these verses. However, there are two gleanings I’d like to focus on this morning. I want to give credit to Walter Brueggemann who brings both of them to our attention. Brueggemann sees in Moses behavior a model for Prayer. Moses requests are daring, and insistent; which are good qualities for prayer. Moses asks to know God’s ways, which is another good quality for prayer. He insists that God go with not only him, but all of Israel as they make their way through the final wilderness stretch to long hoped for promised land. Moses continually asks to see God’s glory, which refers to God’s awesome, shrouded, magisterial presence; after all it is God’s presence that makes all the difference, not just some brilliant shining light, or some awesome thunder and lightning. Above all that we might seek in our prayer life, nothing ~ nothing is more significant or life changing than God’s presence.

Moses prayer is also deeply theological. Moses is singularly, we could say relentlessly concerned with the person and presence of God. He just keeps insisting that God be there, not only with him, but also with Israel. But, Moses also knows how to stop, when to stop. He while acknowledges his own considerable freedom in prayer, at the same time he honors the unique supreme sovereignty of God (Brueggemann). What would our prayer life be like if it sounded like a determined respectful insistence to know God’s life changing presence for ourselves and our community that is strong enough to reveal our trust in God’s graciousness and mercy, and respectful enough to honor God’s unknowable divine-self?

Brueggemann also sees a model for giving in this story. Moses is relentless in his request, his demand, that God be present with Israel as they make the final leg of the trip to the promised land. God is equally relentless in keeping to God’s self the unknowable, mystic person of God. God is at the same time inconceivably generous in revealing God’s self to both Moses and Israel. It is not like Israel, from Abraham on down, including Moses, have been a paragon of virtue, a model of righteous honesty. It is this non-negotiable and unending tension that makes giving possible. This constrained versus liberal model of giving is a worthy addition to a rule of life, our rule of prayer. If we are too constrained or too liberal in our giving to others, we risk destroying the relationship between ourselves and others we wish to help (Brueggemann).

A closing thought. I know I have, and I expect all of us have a prayer we fervently offered. It may be one of those that didn’t really get answered; and perhaps we hang our heads a bit at the memory of such prayer. Maybe we question God’s presence. Maybe we question our worth. But I’ve been thinking, that in such times, or with such memories we just might be a bit like Moses. We did not get to see God’s face, we only got to see God’s back, God’s going; God’s disappearing around the corner, if you will; and it is only after that, that we realize how God has just acted for us (Bratt). Perhaps the shadow of disappointment, or despair is really the shadow of God protecting hand. As the shadow recedes dare we be like Moses, dare we raise our heads, and witness the presence of shalom, the blessing of the wholeness of life? I do not think it is a risk. It is an outward and visible expression of your steadfast faith in the confession of your gracious and merciful God.


References

Bratt, Doug. Proper 24 A Exodus 33:12-23. 22 10 2017. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Brueggemann, Walter. New Interpreters’ Bible Exodus. Vol. 1. n.d. 12 vols.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 22 10 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Lewis, Karoline. Loyalties. 22 10 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.

Liggett, James. “Whose Image?” 22 10 2017. Sermons that Work.

Olson, Dennis. Commentary on Exodus 33:12-23. 22 10 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

 

 

 

Sovereignty and Forgiveness

A sermon for Proper 23: Exodus 32:1-14, Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23, Philippians 4:1-9, Matthew 22:1-14

A lot has happened since Moses received the 10 Commandments. Moses, Aaron, and some others go to a meeting with God. Since then God seems to have gone away. Now Moses has been gone for 40 days or so. And so Israel does as she always does when challenged, she grumbles. Only this time she grumbles to Aaron. “Where is Moses?” “Is he dead?” “Now we are all alone (Bratt)!” “You do something for us, something we can see (Portier-Young).”

We know what happens. Aaron takes gold from Israel, perhaps the same gold given to them as a tribute as they left Egypt. He casts a golden calf, an idol. The people make a burnt offering, offer a sacrifice, and then a raucous celebration breaks out. God is furious. Moses isn’t down the mountain yet and already Israel has broken the 1st, and 2nd commandments and who knows what else. In fierce anger, God is going to destroy Israel and make Moses into a great nation. Using God’s words as his argument Moses challenges God:

“Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.”

“Remember your promise ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven.’”

“Do you really want to give Egypt a reason to speak evil of you.”

Moses calls Israel “your people.” As Israel’s defense lawyer he pleads “Do not do this.” And God changes the divine mind.

There are two scenes in this story 1. the making of the idol and celebration that follows and 2. God’s response, and Moses plea. Let’s take a closer look.

Yes, Aaron casts a golden calf. But is it really an idol, is it really another god? After the idol is made Aaron says: “These are your gods.” Notice ‘gods’ is plural; why plural if there is only one casting? Is the calf envisioned as an animal mount, perhaps a divine one, with a god, or even the Lord riding upon it? Such iconography is common in the ancient Near East (Gaventa and Petersen). Nowhere in the Old Testament do we find an explanation about the calf (Brueggemann). And there is the kappōret (Leviticus 16:6) or footstool build for God’s use in the Tabernacle (Kaiser Jr.). Perhaps the calf is the kappōret. Aaron also says, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” Note ‘Lord’ is all caps, if you go to the Hebrew it reads ‘Yahweh’ which indicates the feast and celebration is for or to God! Aaron also does what has been authorized to do! Back in chapter 20, an altar has been authorized, burnt offerings have been described, and offerings of well-being are defined (Exodus 20:24), these are exactly what wayward Israel is offering. On top of this in chapter 29 Aaron and his sons are consecrated as Priest to serve God and Israel. So Aaron is just doing what he has been ordained to do!

All this is a bit like a murder mystery. The story looks like it flows from front to back. However, some scenes that are connected are interrupted by other scenes, sometimes whole chapters. It is up to the reader to figure out what the sequence is.

Here there are two choices. The first is that this scene follows the fuller story of the ten commandments we read last week, which is followed by Israel’s consecration, so we have a real existential threat, Israel has simply broken her covenant with God. If this is the case then this may be a precursor of Israel’s behavior. In 2 Kings 23 (4-25) Josiah, one of the few faithful Kings of Israel, sets out to reform Israel. He destroys the idols, alters, holy poles, and priest of: Baal and Asherah, the gods of the sun, moon, and constellations, Molech, Astarte, Chemosh, Milconm, in places from Geba to Beer-sheba, Wadi Kidron, Topheth, Bethel, and Samaria. That is a lot.  Josiah commanded that the Passover be kept; which had not been done since the time of the Judges. Which means that not a single King of Israel, not one, not even David or Solomon, observed Passover!

The second choice is that this scene follows Aaron’s consecration, which emphasizes all the power, prestige, splendor, and wealth of the his newly established office. Which suggest that Aaron falls to the temptations of his office.

It is also possible to read the conflict as Moses vs. Aaron. This is a conflict that repeats throughout Israel’s history. We read about conflicts between Levites vs. Zadokites, torah priests vs. temple priests, Pharisees vs Sadducees, and Jews vs Greeks (Brueggemann).

Both stories have a common theme we should pay attention to. Israel is impatient with God, and Aaron seemingly goes down a path of pledging allegiance to God and the other gods who happen to be available. It sets in motion a behavior we see through all of Israel’s history. It ends with the complete destruction of the ten Tribes of the Northern Kingdom. They have never been heard from or seen since. Later comes the exile of the two tribes of the Southern Kingdom; who do return to their homeland, but who live in an occupied land from then all the way until after the Second World War.

The competition between Moses and Aaron sets up a competition that is also seen throughout all Israel’s history until the 2nd complete destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD. The Temple has never been rebuilt.

Both story lines are a warning about how decisions leaders and peoples make can have consequences that last not just three or four generation, but thousands of generations. These are stories that that rebuke any thought “Well this leader won’t be here for long, we can pick up again after this mess is over.” Neither story line is particularly hopeful.

Even Moses changing God’s mind reveals a continuing tension. We want, many people want, God to be infallible, and unchangeable. But what we have here in this story is a clear example of Moses changing God’s mind. Throughout all the Bible God is a strong demanding God, with no tolerance for foolishness, continually sentencing people to lots of fire, darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth. God is a God of “sovereignty that will not be mocked.” At the same time, throughout the Bible we witness God’s unexpected, incomprehensible grace and mercy. God is a God of “mercy that forgives (Brueggemann).” A God who is infallible and unchangeable is easier to follow. You know the rules and rest is up to God, we aren’t responsible for anything. On the other hand, a merciful forgiving God calls us to be merciful and forgiving; and that makes us responsible for our inflexible sovereignty and how we give mercy away, or don’t.

Now, I want to be perfectly clear, there is no hidden implication here. I am not accusing any political leader or party of being self-sovereign or lacking in mercy and forgiveness. I am saying all political leaders and parties are; and have been. Moses, is no pure character. Born a slave, he is raised privileged, in the Egyptian royal house. He bravely returns to his people. Then he murders an Egyptian over lord. Instead of facing the corrupt repressive Egyptian system he flees to Midian. When God calls him to go back to help he people his favorite phrases are “Who am I?” and “Your people” which sound just like an exasperated parent speaking to their returning spouse “Do you know what your children did today!” In addition to all the political leaders, I am accusing all the people. In this story and throughout all of scripture in one way or another the people of Israel regularly break every commandment, starting by worshiping other gods all the way through violating Sabbath to coveting anybody’s everything. I include me; and I include you. We are all the wayward children of Israel and her kings, who do what is evil in the sight of the Lord.

The frightening vision is that we are living in dangerous times. Not because there are disagreements, but because we are more and more segregating ourselves into like thinking camps. We are less and less willing to put aside our differences and work for the good of all God’s people. Except for violence towards others, which some of many camps have demonstrated, ultra-liberal students literally shouting down an invited conservative speaker are no better than ultra-conservatives protesting the removal of their beloved but controversial monuments. If we cannot listen to someone who believes what we think is offensive we cannot learn the hardest lessons of life, that are so often spoken by the people we call “other.”

The hopeful vision is that Moses spoke up. Moses dared to argue with the most sovereign of all that is sovereign. The result was forgiveness and mercy. We too can speak up. We can risk arguing with our leaders. We can contribute to changing hearts. We can contribute to the restoration of forgiveness and mercy. The hopeful vision is we are still here. God has not abandoned us. Even though we may be walking through dark shadows we are not alone; the great shepherd is always with us. Look carefully, listen closely and you can see the signs. There are exhausted firemen continuing to fight massive wildfires to save homes and lives. There are police who run towards gun fire. There is the Paramedic sitting with a mortally wounded victim, unprotected from gun fire, so she will not die alone. There a stranger paying it forward for a single mother who is short at the grocery store checkout. There are stories of high school students who go out of their way to honor a somehow disable classmate. There the vagrant who sees someone drop a wallet, picks it up, sees it has a couple of hundred dollars in it, and traces the owner down and returns the wallet. There is much good in this world and it worth fighting for (Tolkien).

Like today’s story I think we are lead into a sort of tension; we are called to be aware of the opportunity to confront to sovereignty that will not be mocked and speak; and we are called to be aware of mercy that forgives and celebrate. And at all times we are to trust that our Lord really is right here, right now, and will be forever.


References

Bratt, Doug. Proper 23 A Exodus 32:1-14. 15 10 2017. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Brueggemann, Walter. New Interpreters’ Bible Exodus. Vol. 1. n.d. 12 vols.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Kaiser Jr., Walter C. New Interpreters’ Bible Commentary The Book of Leviticus. Vol. I. Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. Olivetree App.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Portier-Young, Anathea. Commentary on Exodus 32:1-14. 15 10 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

 

 

 

Invoking God’s Name

A sermon for Proper 22: Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20, Psalm 19, Philippians 3:4b-14, Matthew 21:33-46

Last Sunday night Stephen Paddock shot and killed 59 people and wounded more than 500 others. Monday Morning President Trump spoke to the nation. He thanked Homeland Security, the Las Vegas Police and first responders honoring their courage. Quoting from Psalms 34:18 the President said: “To the families of the victims, we are praying for you and we are here for you. And we ask God to help see you through this very dark period. Scripture teaches us the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Nilsen).”

It is not unusual for elected officials to invoke the name of God, directly or by extending “thoughts and prayers.” Since January 1995, “thoughts and prayers” have been pronounced by national political leaders 4,139 times. Since 2001 it is about 1 per day when Congress is in session (Rowen). This morning we heard the Ten Commandments as written in Exodus. Having President Trump’s words in my mind as I read them, preparing for this morning, my immediate response was “What does it mean to Invoke the name of God?” Curiously enough there are ten points.

The commandments begin with a prohibition against having any other god before you. As there always have been there are lots of alternatives. Then it was Pharaoh or any of the gods from surrounding cultures. We continue to be surrounded by alternatives that draw our attention; there are a variety of sports leagues, political and or economic philosophies, all sorts of entertainment, lots of material possessions; the list is long, and ever growing. The question is “Who has our undivided loyalty?” “Who is our moral compass?” (Gaventa and Petersen; (Harrelson; Brueggemann)

Next is a prohibition against any image of God. It is not an artistic restriction (Keener and Walton). It bans anything that tries to domesticate God so God can be controlled (Brueggemann).

We know that we are not to use God’s name in vain. We know better than to say ‘God’ before any curse; we might even blush or react apologetically when we reactively do so. But that is the not the hardest constraint here. God’s name invokes power and purpose. So, to use it trivially demeans God, and it is a kind domesticating God, and surely diminishes our loyalty. Perhaps most challenging of all are those times we use God’s name for our own purposes, to aggrandize, empower, or enrich ourselves, especially at the expense of another, including God (Keener and Walton; Brueggemann)

Keeping Sabbath is far more elusive then we think. To begin with keeping Sabbath does not include worship. We all know worship requires our active participation, it is a form of work; at our best, it is sacred / sacramental work, but it is work. Sabbath is the prohibition of any kind of work. Its roots are the manna provided in the wilderness (Harrelson). It stands dramatically against the bread of Egypt gotten only by being subjected to oppressive, exploitive ways. Sabbath is totally inclusive. Everyone, you, your spouse, your children, your siblings, your employees, even your working animals publicly take a day away from labor and away from economic activity (Keener and Walton; Harrelson; Brueggemann).

Keeping Sabbath is a transition from the definition of our covenantal relationship with God to our covenantal relationship with each other (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner). That relationship begins with honoring our fathers and mothers. The word ‘honor’ also means ‘to be heavy’, i.e. to feed our parents. A broader covenantal implication is generational; we are not to deprive our parents or elders out of their homes when they are no longer economically productive. For Israel, post-slavery social, and economic security is built on strong intergeneration covenantal relationships between generations who for now have power and those who are now vulnerable (Brueggemann). The same is true for us.

Everyone agrees murder is wrong. However, provisions of Sabbath and honor lead us to see that there is more here. The prohibition against killing reminds us that all life belongs to God and therefore all life must be respected. On a social scale, life that is diminished by unbridled greed, and the slow draining of another’s life which is often obscured by policy and ideology or willful blindness is equally offensive as Sunday night’s mass killing (Brueggemann).

Adultery concerns the most intimate of human relationships, which is to be highly honored. Such honor depends on covenantal relations of mutuality that are genuinely life-giving, nurturing, enhancing, and respectful (Brueggemann).

Like murder, we all know it is wrong to steal. And like murder, there is more here than the prohibition against taking stuff that is not yours. There is a material component to life; there are certain material goods that are necessary to live in dignity. Theft includes the restriction or taking away any material goods necessary to sustain ourselves, our families, or our communities. Such thievery is not limited to actions of individuals; it is enabled by social, political, and economic powers that favor one group of people over another robbing them and their descendants of their futures (Brueggemann).

As even a young child I knew it was wrong to lie. I remember the threatened punishment of having our mouths washed with soap for lying. Bearing false witness includes lies. More importantly, it’s focus is specifically testimony given in court (Brueggemann). Covenant community life is not possible without public confidence that there is a place where all else is set aside and the truth is spoken without regard to social standings. Clever manipulation and ideological perversion that hides the truth is a lie (Brueggemann). And to the extent that it allows someone or some group of people to be robbed of their future, it can also be theft, and in extreme situations murder.

The last commandment prohibits coveting or lusting after that which belongs to another. Its concern is the destructive power of and governing our inward desires (Harrelson). The ideal desire of Israel is to do the will and purpose of Yahweh (Brueggemann). The commandment’s primary concern is economic and constraining the impulse to endlessly acquire more and more. Coveting draws power from the illusion of scarcity, which is an expression of doubt; the same doubt expressed by Israel in the desert wondering if God would provide them bread. Scarcity driven lust expresses doubt about God’s generosity. And as it

  • it drives us to endless pursuit of more and more
  • it drives us to ignore Sabbath’s rest (Brueggemann);
  • it drives us to invoke God’s name for our selfish purposes,
  • it drives us to try and constrain God,
  • it drives us to honor whatever seduces us into believing only ‘I’ can secure your deepest desire;

it can tempt us to be like God.

It is a good thing to invoke the name of God. It is a righteous thing to remind those who are sick or injured, or in any way diminished that God sees their circumstances, that God hears their cry, that God is present, even as they traverse the shadows of death, anguish, and fear. However, offering “our prayers and our thoughts” is not enough. When we invoke the name of God, we commit / recommit ourselves to the covenant life. In the Episcopal tradition that commitment is a part of our baptismal covenant. When we invoke the name of God

  • we commit /recommit ourselves to keep God first in our lives all the time
  • to invoke God’s name for good of all creation
  • to keep Sabbath, for ourselves and others
  • to care for of all generations, those who came before us, and those who will follow
  • to respect all life as belonging to and reflecting the image of God
  • to live in mutual, nurturing, respectful covenantal relationships
  • to give, not take, that which promotes life for others
  • to respect the truth, especially at the gates of justice
  • to discipline our self-desires, and
  • to live from the abundance of manna God provides every day

When we invoke the name of God we commit /recommit ourselves to living God’s plan for our lives; which is what we’ve have been exploring this morning. The details of how we live into the divine plan for our lives is entrusted to us  (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner).

How your, how our commitment to Houston, Texas, Florida, Mexico, The US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the western states fighting wildfires, and the victims and families of the Las Vegas shootings and the people of Las Vegas, and those in Nate’s path will manifest themselves is for each of us, and for us as a church to study and discern. I trust, dare I pray, they reflect the abundance of God’s grace and mercy, now and always.

Amen.


References

Brueggemann, Walter. New Interpreters’ Bible Exodus. Vol. 1. n.d. 12 vols.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 8 10 20017.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Nilsen, Ella. Read Trump’s Full Speech on the Las Vegas Shooting. 2 10 2017. <https://www.vox.com/search?q=Read+Trump%E2%80%99s+full+speech+on+the+Las+Vegas+shooting&gt;.

Rowen, Ben. What Science Says About Thoughts and Prayers vs Policy. 5 10 2017. <theatlantic.com /health/archive/2017/10/thoughts-and-prayers-vs-policy/542076/>.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.