Proper 19A

September 08, 2014

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    Matthew 18:21-35

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary +

    Exodus 14:19-31

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • The Lectionary Psalms

    Psalm 114

    Author: Doug Bratt

    Comments and Observations

    It seems as if many people who claim to believe in God are largely deist in their theology.  Their god may have somehow made things, but that god is largely uninvolved in the world’s daily activities.  Even western Christians sometimes lean toward such deism.  We easily act as though God acted to create the world, sent Jesus into it and then will someday end the world so we can all go to heaven.  But in the meantime, we naturally act as if God remains largely uninvolved in what God makes.

    This isn’t helped by a growing awareness of the physical causes of much of what happens in our world.  The psalmists’ contemporaries thought of the gods as doing everything, including making the world, sending rain and sun, and carving out rivers and lakes.  The 21st century seeks and has discovered physical explanations for much of what the ancients assumed the gods did.  Who needs a god when we can identify the physical causes of rain, snow, good crops and nearly everything else?

    Psalm 114’s cosmology, its understanding of the way things work in our world, is definitely pre-scientific.  Its God is intimately and actively involved in the world’s activities.  It even suggests inanimate objects such as the seas, mountains, rocks and the very earth itself act like God’s obedient servants.

    Those who preach and teach this psalm won’t be able to bridge the gap between the psalmist and 21st century cosmology in 30 or 60 minutes.  However, they should be aware of that disconnect as they lead worshipers through it.  Worship leaders will also want to find ways to help worshipers consider God’s ongoing providential activity in our world, even in things for which we identify “natural” causes.

    Psalm 114’s focus is on God’s liberation of God’s Hebrew children from Egyptian slavery.  However, several more themes also echo throughout it.  The poet refers twice to God’s presence in and with Israel.  “Judah became God’s sanctuary,” the poet writes in verse 2a.  In verse 7 she adds, “Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord …”

    What’s more, the theme of water is also prominent in Psalm 114.  In fact, the psalmist refers to some form of it six times.  “The sea looked and fled, the Jordan turned back,” the psalmist sings in verse 3.  “Why was it, O sea, that you fled, O Jordan, that you turned back,” he asks in verse 5.  In verse 8 the poet asserts the God of Jacob “turned the rock into a pool, the hard rock into springs of water.”

    Yet if Psalm 114 is a hymn of praise to the God who freed Israel from Egyptian slavery, it’s Exodus with a “twist.”  The narratives of the Scriptures, after all, refer to the Israelites passing through the sea in order to continue on to the land of promise.  This psalm’s Israel, as it were, “stops” at Rephidim and Meribah.

    Scholars like Richard D. Nelson suggest the psalmist is synchronizing and making present to worshipers the creation and exodus.  He suggests the poet is portraying both creation and the exodus as part of ongoing battles between Yahweh and the forces of chaos.  The primordial chaos and Jordan’s waters don’t simply dry up and divide.  They turn around and run away in the face of God’s creating, sustaining power.

    In a similar way the unformed creation and wilderness hills don’t remain the immovable objects they seem.  In the face of God’s creative and sustaining power they get up and jump around like frisky spring lambs.  In a similar vein, the psalmist suggests in the face of God’s great power, rocks turn into puddles and springs.  The poet even invites the inanimate and largely immovable “earth” to “tremble before the Lord” (7).

    In the face of God’s gracious onslaught against them, the forces of chaos should also “tremble.”  Yahweh has shown, after all, that God can turn even death-dealing desert into land suitable for cultivation, chaos into order.  In other words, not even chaos and death can resist the life-giving power of Yahweh.

    Is there a hint in Psalm 114 of post-exilic Israel’s own deathly status?  The psalmist, after all, asserts when God led Israel out of Egypt, she became “God’s sanctuary” and “dominion” (2).  At the Exodus, in other words, God made God’s home among the Israelites.  They became God’s “dominion,” the people whom God graciously ruled.  This is not a picture of a dead folk, but a very lively one.  Interestingly, the word English Bibles generally translate as “dominion” (mamslotay) can also be translated army.  Might this hint at the role God’s redeemed people can play in helping to tame nature’s chaotic forces?

    Christians have long linked the symbols of the Exodus to Easter.  We’ve seen in the waters that fled before God’s power a symbol of the waters of death through which Christ passed when the Romans crucified him.  Like the mountains that skipped like lambs and the rock that turned into water, God turned death’s tomb into a portal to life when God raised Jesus from the dead.

    However, in Israel’s exodus from Egyptian slavery, Christians have also always seen a reflection of our own story, by God’s grace.  God has rescued us from the dominion of sin and death to be God’s own people whom God graciously rules.  In the face of God’s creating and sustaining power, even death must turn back and flee.  From the “hard rock” (8) that is a life-giving stream of water flow, nourishing God’s peoples’ whole selves.

    Psalm 114 serves as an ancient reminder that neither chaos nor death gets the last word in the life of either God’s creation or God’s people who are God’s “sanctuary” and “dominion.”  As long as there is life, there is hope that the various waters will turn back and mountains will ultimately dance before the Lord of life.

  • Lectionary Epistle +

    Romans 14:1-12

    Author: Stan Mast