Thursday, August 4, 2011

Proper 17 Year A

Proper 17 A
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Genesis 3: 1-15; Psalm 105: 1-6, 23-26, 45c


Jeremiah 15: 15-21; Psalm 26: 1-8

Romans 12: 9-21; Matthew 16: 21-28

Moses was shepherding his father-in-law's flock near Mt Horeb when a messenger/angel of the Lord "appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of the bush" which burned, but was not "consumed."  Moses "turned aside" to look at this stunning sight more closely when "God called to him from the midst of the bush" , telling him "Here I am."  God instructs Moses to come no closer and to remove his sandals, "for the place you are standing on is holy ground."  God identifies God-Self as the same God as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Moses hid his face in fear as the Lord continued, "I indeed have seen the abuse of my people" under their Egyptian "taskmasters" and "know its pain."  Moved by their plight, the Lord announced: "I have come down to rescue it from the land of Egypt and to bring it to a goodly and spacious land" that flourishes with abundance, although already occupied by other peoples.  The Lord repeated awareness of their plight and told Moses he will be the one sent to Pharaoh.  Moses was incredulous!  The "sign" that all this was the Lord's doing will be fulfilled "when you bring the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain."  Pressed for more explicit authorization from the Lord, Moses asked for a name beyond "the God of our Fathers."  And God said to Moses, "I-am-Who-I-am."  That is the name you should tell the people, adding that this is the same name as "the Lord of your fathers..."[and mothers].  "That is my name forever, and this my title for all generations."

Revel in that "Holy Name," the
psalmist invites, and then "recall the wonders God did." Rehearse the stories of Jacob and Moses. Sing! Hymn!


Jeremiah begs the Lord, "remember me and visit me."  He "ate" the "words" of the Lord, in which he "delighted," but for which he endured "insult."  The prophet says the Lord is like a "deceitful" stream that promises water but the drys up.  The Lord speaks: "If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall serve as my mouth."  The people will fight you, "but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you...."

The psalmist professes his innocence before he washes his hands in preparation for praise.

Paul combines tactical advice for living in a
world that is suspicious of these new followers of this Jesus. Care for members of the community of believers.  He also advises to care for you enemies for a rather nasty reason, "for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads."   In summary, "overcome evil with good."

In Matthew's narrative, Jesus has just identified Peter's confession of faith as a "rock" upon which the church will be built  and then explicitly tells his disciple for the first time that "he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering... and be killed, and on the third day be raised."  Peter chastises Jesus, "this must never happen to you."  Jesus shuts Peter down absolutely: "get behind me Satan!"  Your priorities are a "stumbling block to me," because you are focused not on "divine things but on human things."  Jesus makes it clear to any would-be followers, "take up your cross and follow me...."  The stakes are high: "For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."  And then in an atmosphere of impending apocalypse, Jesus declares that "the Son of Man is to come... in the glory of the Father" and bring judgment with him.  When?  "[S]ome standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Mn coming in his kingdom."

In the biblical narratives, encountering God is befuddling, frightening, and irresistible. Each encounter leaves the poor individual with some impossible task that is scary and, at the same time, full of promise. It is always conveyed in the imperative; a demand. The only possible reaction is to accept or decline the demand. Acceptance always means personal risks. Declining entails the even greater risk of missing out on living an enlarged life with some more powerful purpose; to only see "human things" and miss "divine things."

The recent work of Jean-Luc Marion generates notable excitement among theologians. In a worthy collection of essays in response to the French "neo-phenomenologist," Emmanuel Falque quotes Marion's definition of "saturated phenomenon" as "where the manifest given goes beyond not only what a human look can bear without being blinded and dying but what the world in its essential finitude can receive and contain." And what is a consequence of this overwhelming experience? "[T]he miracle will no longer bear
on a physical event, but on my consciousness itself." And then Falque observes, "The true miracle, according to Marion, is in this way, a miracle of my consciousness, a lived experience in the conversion of my way of looking at things, rather than in the things themselves." (Kevin Hart, ed., Counter- Experiences: Reading Jean-Luc Marion, p. 192) 

Moses is dazzled and
confused, but will play that pivotal role in God's next act of salvation; Jeremiah "ate God's words" and personally suffered for it but is told by God that he will have the extraordinary human privilege of being God's mouth; Jesus describes a humbling and dangerous passage for him and those who follow him that is the only way that will lead to a final day of redemption.

God reveals. We are stunned and confused. We are changed and see new possibilities for ourselves and others we would not have even guessed at before. We are exposed to the "possibility of the impossible," in Marion's phrase.