Thursday, August 4, 2011

Proper 18 Year A

Proper 18 A
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Exodus 12:1-14; Psalm 149


Ezekiel 33: 7-11; Psalm 119: 33-40

Romans 13: 8-14; Matthew 18: 15-20

After 430 years in Egypt (v.40) and violent negotiations between God's representative, Moses, and Pharaoh for the release of God's people, they are now on the eve of escape when Moses and Aaron are given detailed instructions for the establishment of a new, annual observance.  On what is the "tenth" day for God's people in the "first month of the year," every household shall take a lamb, (shared with neighbors if appropriate), so that everyone has a portion.  This 'unblemished lamb, a yearling make," shall be kept for four days and then every household shall slaughter its lamb "at twilight."  "And they shall take the blood and put it on the two door posts and lintel on the house in which they will eat it."  With the "fire-roasted" lamb, they shall eat "flat bread on bitter herbs."  Leftovers shall be burnt the next morning.  While eating this special meal, you shall be dressed, ready to move in "haste," because with this meal of "passover offering," God's people begin their exodus.  Every first-born in Egypt "from man and beast" will die, but God's people will be spared.  "I will see the blood [on the doorposts and lintels] and I will pass over you...."  "And this day shall be a remembrance for you, and you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord through your generations, an everlasting statue you shall celebrate it."

The psalmist summons singers, dancers and instrumentalists to perform a new, large composition in praise of the Lord-- Maker, Redeemer, Avenger.


The book of Ezekiel records the Lord's orders to the Lord's sentinel. Warn the people. If they do not respond, at least one witness--the
sentinel --will be saved. If they do, all will be saved from the coming destruction and death.

The psalmist invokes following the Torah and all its
synonyms-- ordinances, law, ways, teachings-- as the path to a bountiful life.

Echoing the teaching of Jesus, Paul writes that the whole Law is fulfilled by "the
one who loves another." Paul stresses urgency, "for salvation is nearer to us than when we first became believers." In the meantime, do not give in to lower instincts.

In a passage unique to Matthew (who provides instructions to the church frequently), Jesus describes how the church ought to deal with differences.  The first step is to go directly to the other person and try to settle the dispute.  If you work it out, you have gained a friend.  If that does not work, take two or three others with you.  If that fails, take it to the whole church.  If he still refuses to listen, let him become an outsider, "as a Gentile and a tax collector."  Whatever the church agrees to will also "be bound in heaven...."  Furthermore, if "two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them."

A religious community declares the promises of God in praise and prayer which follow closely biblical examples, including exact phrases and inspired paraphrases to assert to all God's love and God's power. These liturgical observances of memory and praise inspire hope from generation to generation. They are done "perpetually" for the survival of the community.

The other major function of the religious community is interpretation in word and deed. And that gets more complicated.

Being and Time, Heidegger insists that while assertions can be made and passed on from person to person and generation to generation, fixed interpretation cannot. He writes: "That which is put forward as assertion is something that can be passed along for 'further re-telling' which "...may become veiled again in the further re-telling.. and does not 'give assent' to some 'valid meaning' which has been passed along." (pp 197-198, 155)

Merleau-Ponty's work (which influenced Levinas and Derrida especially) returns repeatedly to the theme that thinking is always embodied in a specific person with a unique personal and social history in community with others. Each person arrives at contingent truth that is truthful for her or him in her or his finite status. Each person is unique but not alone. The other person, the community and human expression of speech bring unique persons into proximity to each other. Speech "incarnates," "uses" words to convey meaning as he or she understands it. When the other reciprocates, there is new meaning. Speech and action declare who we are at a certain time and circumstance but the speech and actions of others change the individual, too.

A religious community asserts the glory of God and the hope to
which the glory of God gives to all. But the interpretation of these profound assertions in word and action vary by each unique person who is always being changed by the community of believers and who contributes to the community in her or his unique way.

American theologian Kathryn Tanner contributes timely insights when she writes: "Uniformity of belief in general is overrated as a requirement for social stability, according to postmodern culture." "Far from threatening the stability of the Christian way of life, the fact that Christians do not agree on interpretation of matters of common concern is the very thing that enables social solidarity among them." The church should encourage itself to have "a genuine community of argument, one marked by mutualcommitment to mutual correction and uplift, in keeping with the shared hope of good discipleship, proper faithfulness, and purity of witness. This is the sort of mutual admonition and concern that one finds in the letters of Paul." (Theories of Culture, pp 120-128)

Personal witness contributes to and is changed by community/communication. The community is changed by the witness of the individual. All suffer when it does not flourish. Not "toleration," not "diversity," but honest expression of personal conviction treated as necessary for the actual life of the whole community is what is called for. This is a high expectation. It does not give in to our "lower instincts." It values and holds accountable the individual and community equally.  It is peculiarly biblical.