Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Proper 25 Year A

Proper 25 A
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Deuteronomy 34: 1-12; Psalm 90: 1-6, 13-17


Leviticus 19: 1-2, 15-18; Psalm 1

I Thessalonians 2: 1-8; Matthew 22: 34-46

Moses climbs another mountain, Mt Nebo, from which he sees the land promised by God to Abraham and re-affirmed to Isaac and Jacob/Israel.  And so the Torah ends with the death and burial of Moses, the only person who ever was "embraced" by God face to face.  His successor, Joshua, is named.  And the unparalleled story of the Lord's  "mighty deeds and and all the terrifying display of power" done through Moses ends with the stated assumption that another like him had never been seen since.

The only psalm attributed to Moses dramatically contrasts our awareness of time-- like grass we sprout and grow in the morning and wither and die at night-- to God's time-- "forever and forever, You are God." This is the God from we ask "sweetness/graciousness."


The writer of this excerpt from Leviticus incorporates into a summary of the Law given by God to Moses two crucial additions: "You shall by holy for I the Lord your God am holy." and "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

This wisdom psalm, placed at the very beginning of the psalter, introduces a thread that runs throughout the collection: the wise person "murmurs" God's teachings day and night and will prosper, flourish and bear fruit; the "scoffer" will wither and fade into nothing.

 Paul acknowledges the scepticism of his hearers in Thessaloniki because of other would-be leaders who have disillusioned them. But he reminds them that he did not use their well-known tactics-- flattery, angling for money and telling them what they wanted to hear. "But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply did we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us."

As others before him had done, Jesus links love of God and neighbor as the essence of the Law, (Deuteronomy 6:5).  But then he poses a question to the Pharisees. If the Messiah is to come from the lineage of David, then why does David (in Psalm 110) address the Messiah as "my Lord?" They have no answer. Jesus leaves the clear impression that he knows directly about such matters.

Past, present and future conflate into a "moment" that surpasses words. Powerful memories from the past when God rescued the chosen from slavery in Egypt and all that had happened in the wilderness over the past forty years, now overwhelmed with grief by the death of Moses but literally standing within seeing distance of the land promised to Abraham so many generations earlier -- past, present and future fused into a "moment," a moment out of time.

It fits that the only psalm attributed to Moses reveals a keen awareness of the contrast between our awareness of time and God, who is "forever and ever."

Being and Time, (p,370 ff) Martin Heidegger ponders the various awarenesses of time we know. He describes how each person has an awareness of her or his own past experiences, thoughts and feelings which are powerfully embedded in our memory. He also describes the Present, which is always a toss-up between just getting by, making the conventional or "average" choices and digging deeper into ourselves, owning who we are "authentically" and then making the most "caring" choice for ourselves and those who will be affected by our choices, (the kind of 'caring' Paul describes in today's epistle). Then he describes our awareness of the future as a mixture of who we have been in the past and the person we might become with "resoluteness," recognizing our "potentiality for being."

Then Heidegger arrives at one of his most crucial descriptions: "We therefore call the phenomenon of the future, the character of having been [the past] and the Present, the
ecstasies of temporality." (p.377) In a footnote, the translators Macquairre and Robinson highlight the root of the Greek word to "ecstasy" and its closeness to another English word, "existence."

In such ecstatic "moments," (who knows the minutes, hours or even longer by human measurement), the confluence of past, present and open-ended future meet in a life-changing experience.

This is the "moment" on which the Torah concludes. It leaves the reader suspended in this "moment." It is the "moment" which we experience a few times in our lives and change the course of our lives.

Jesus creates such a "moment" in his question to the Pharisees. His question allows each person to infer on his or her own that Jesus was a descendant of a venerable mortal, David,
and that he is also the One outside human history, the "Lord," the One who makes possible the future. And here he stands before them at this time and place and his presence demands a decision from each person.

A"moment" of ecstasy," of intense awareness of life at its most real, of "primordial existence," to use Heidegger's words. A "moment" in which I own my past as well as my future by the choices I make here and now.

Over and over, the biblical narratives attempt to induce such "moments" in those who dare to read these narratives and take them seriously.  Walter Benjamin made a distinction between "information [that] does not survive the moment in which it was new" compared to "storytelling" that "preserves and concentrates its strength and is capable of releasing it even after a long time." (
Illuminations, p.90)  The scriptures, we can add, honor past displays of God's "power" and the women and men who gave testimony to it in their time. But they are not any sort of "information," they are stories that assume that God's "spirit" is timeless and still can still be released, even "after a long time."