Saturday, July 16, 2011

Proper 14 Year A

Proper 14 A
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28; Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-22, 45b


I Kings 19: 9-18; Psalm 85: 8-13

Romans 10: 5-15; Matthew 14: 22-33

Patriarchal and matriarchal intrigue continues into the next generation, but God finds a way to extend the covenant.  Jacob/Israel and Rachel's seventeen-year old son, Joseph, was assisting his brothers in shepherding the flocks of the extended family.  He returned home to tell his father, "who loved Joseph more than all his sons," with some sort of tale that put his brothers in a bad light.  The fact that their father had shown his favor for Joseph by giving him "an ornamental tunic" only exacerbated their jealousy; "they hated him...."  On a later occasion, Jacob/Israel sent Joseph to join his brothers who were now tending the flocks somewhere near Shechem.  On the way to find them, "a man" discovered Joseph wandering and asked, "what is it you are seeking?"   He said he was looking for his brothers.  "The man" directed him to where they had gone.  When they saw Joseph approaching, they hatched a plot "how to put him to death."  They decided to kill the "dream master" and throw him in "a pit" where a wild beast would surely come along and devour him.  But one brother, Reuben, said they could not be responsible for murder.  Instead,  they stripped him of the elaborate cloak and threw him into a pit empty of water.  As they ate, they saw an approaching caravan on its ways to Egypt.  Another brother, Judah, proposed they sell Joseph, rather than murder him because "he is our brother, and our flesh."  The travelling merchants bought Joseph for twenty pieces of silver and took him to Egypt with them.

The psalmist rehearses the Lord's great "deeds among the peoples," beginning with Abraham and Sarah, continuing with Jacob and Rachel and Leah, and their son, Joseph, who was sold as a slave and taken into Egypt.  (This is the only mention of Joseph in the psaltery.)  He was shackled and tortured until "the king" had him freed.  He became master of his own house and flourished and prospered in Egypt.


The prophet Elijah had a long history of conflict with the reigning King and Queen of Israel, Ahab and Jezebel, who promoted alien religions, especially the cult of Baal, in Israel.  Fleeing from the vengeance of Jezebel, Elijah "came to a cave and spent the night there."  During the night, "the Lord came to him," asking what he was doing hiding in a cave.  Elijah forcefully replied:  "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of Hosts; for Israelites have forgotten your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword."  Elijah continued his accounting of himself: "I alone am left, and they are seeking my life to take it away."  The Lord told Elijah to leave the cave and "stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by."  At first, there is a wind strong enough to "split mountains and shatter rocks, but the Lord was not in the wind."  Then followed an earthquake, but the Lord was not there; then fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.  After the fire, "a sound of sheer silence."  Elijah "heard it" and "wrapped his face in his mantel...."  "A voice" asked Elijah for an accounting, and he repeated his prior report or service and loyalty.  The Lord told Elijah to go and anoint a leader in Syria, Hazael, and Jehu, a rival of Ahab, as King of Israel and Elisha as his own successor.  The two new kings will take up the sword against Ahab, leaving "seven thousand in Israel... that have not bowed to Baal....."

The psalmist gives thanks that the Lord forgave "Your people's crime" (v.3) and continues by asking for the Lord's enduring "kindness."  "Let me hear the Lord God speak," because when the Lord speaks, "kindness and truth have met/justice and peace have kissed."  Truth "springs up" from the earth as justice "looks down from heaven." 

Paul expounds on a frequent theme in his writings: the difference between the gift of God's to Moses of the Law, as literally written in stone and all the written and oral commentary it has generated, and God's gift of Christ.  The "words" of faith are no longer distant in any way, they are "on your lips and in your heart," beginning with personal statement "that Jesus is Lord" and "that God raised him from the dead."  The dynamic of faith now becomes a direct connection between what is in one's heart and what one speaks.  Paul quotes the prophet, Joel (2:32) to underline that essential act of speaking:  "For, 'Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.'"  But a dialogue/conversation/call-response does not happen unless someone initiate its: "how are they to hear without someone to proclaim..."

The received narrative of Elijah's encounter with "the Lord, the God of Hosts" includes nonchalantly two opposite experiences of God: "sheer silence" and then direct, specific conversation.  The psalmist (85) hopes and prays that she will "hear the Lord God speak," because when the Lord speaks inevitably kindness, truth and justice come to life in human affairs.  Paul, the highly-trained rabbi, insists that the same God who gave the gift of the Law in stone also gave the gift of Christ in the flesh, meaning that the "words" of faith are no longer distant in any way, but "on your lips and in your heart."  He then establishes an iron-clad rule--" anyone who "calls on the name of the Lord will be saved," but no one knows on whom to call or what to say unless someone else tells them.  Unnerved by being buffeted by threatening winds all night long, the disciples of Jesus are at first "terrified" when they see him until he speaks, "do not be afraid."  After an initial burst of enthusiasm and faith, Peter begins to sink and cries out spontaneously, "Lord, save me."  

This uniquely human activity of speaking reveals, enables, initiates action, connects, imparts; we learn all these things language can do from other human beings.  For Jean-Louis Chretien, human speech is where "spirit erupts."  In The Call and the Response, Chretien writes:  "This voice, our own, the human voice where we listen forever to what beckons us, is the very place where spirit erupts into the world.  In the timbre of the voice, spirit manifests itself the only way that it is possible for it, which is body and soul.  It gives itself by uttering itself."   However, speaking is only possible if we have listened, he continues: "To speak is to have listened and to be listening still...."  What we say is "intimately our own insofar as it reveals something to us about our own utterance and its meaning...."  (Was Peter surprised at what popped out of his mouth when he panicked-- "Lord, save me."  Where had he learned that?  What did the other disciples learn when they heard what Peter said and then what Jesus said in response?)  From whom we learn what to say and then when we say the same things establishes a kind of call-response relationship with the source of that conversation: "Our voice does not constitute itself by itself, does not give itself since it always responds, but it does give voice to whatever calls it, which becomes voice only in it...."  (pp44-45)

Knowing what to say because we have listened and learned applies to all human speaking.  But the peculiar language we have learned from scriptures always has the  same, distinctive effect on ourselves and on others-- justice, truth and kindness  "spring up" in human affairs.  It is language we mimic from God who, although shrouded in "sheer silence," also, has chosen to speak clearly, directly and always to the same effect.  And if we chose to engage in that peculiar, biblical conversation, we will be fundamentally changed ("saved").  Chretien again, "In calling me, the call does not leave me intact: it surges only by opening a space in me to be heard, and therefore by shattering something of what I was before I felt myself to be called."  (p.48)