Proper 23A

October 06, 2014

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    Matthew 22:1-14

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary +

    Exodus 32:1-14

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • The Lectionary Psalms

    Psalm 106:1-6; 9-13

    Author: Doug Bratt

    Comments and Observations

    Psalm 105 and 106 are in a way almost mirror images of each other.  Psalm 105 concentrates on God’s marvelous works.  Psalm 106 focuses on Israel’s failure to trust the Lord in spite of those marvelous works.  Psalm 105 recalls how Israel received the land of promise because God kept God’s promise to Israel.  106 recalls how Israel lost that gift because of her failure to trust and obey.

    Each, however, uses a recounting of God’s marvelous works to stimulate worshipers to praise the Lord.  “Read together,” writes Old Testament scholar James Mays in his book, Psalms, “the two psalms constitute a study in the tension between the promise and purpose of God on the one hand and the perversity of the people of God on the other as the logos of Israel’s story.”

    So “who can proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord or fully proclaim his praise?” (2).  The psalmist doesn’t explicitly answer that question.  Yet Jacobson suggests the psalm implies an answer to it.  Preachers and teachers might draw one possible answer to the question from verse 3.  “Blessed are they who maintain justice,” the poet writes there, “who constantly do what is right.”  She at least seems to suggest that doing what’s just and right play some kind of role in remembering what God has done.

    Yet the psalmist doesn’t make it clear whether doing what’s right and just comes first, or if remembering God’s marvelous deeds comes first.  However, he suggests that if unhappiness and trouble come from failing to remember God’s past actions on our behalf, blessing comes from a faithful relationship with God that produces just and righteous behavior.

    However, the psalmist also suggests those who can proclaim the mighty acts of God and fully proclaim God’s praise are also those who deliberately remember what God has done.  They’re people who take the time to make note of those deeds and deliberately commit them to memory.   Those who proclaim God’s marvelous deeds are those who remember God’s “many kindnesses” (7), what God “had done” (13) the “great things” God did in Egypt (21).

    Karl Jacobson, in Psalms for Preaching and Worship, says Psalm 106’s historical memory plays two roles.  It draws worshipers into Israel’s story.  However, this psalm also encourages worshipers to recognize our own tendency towards a kind of spiritual amnesia.  Like the psalm’s Israelites, we too easily forget God’s marvelous deeds.

    Those who wish to preach or teach this psalm may want to offer worshipers or students an opportunity to reflect on God’s marvelous deeds in their lives or the lives of those they love.  They may even offer participants an opportunity to publicly recount some of those deeds as a means to stimulating fellow participants to praise the Lord with them.

    Psalm 106 includes a number of examples of how forgetful Israel “sinned,” did “wrong” and “acted wickedly’ (6).  The section the Lectionary appoints for this particular Sunday recalls one of those incidents, her acts of unfaithfulness at Mount Horeb.  There, in the face of God and Moses’ apparent inactivity, Israel simply forgets God and what God had done to bring her to that place.  Israel worships a “calf,” “an idol cast from metal” (19), because she has forgotten how God has repeatedly rescued her, first from Egyptian slavery, then from the rampaging Egyptian army, then from her repeated wilderness missteps.

    Israel’s idolatry at Horeb is so egregious that God is determined to simply “destroy” (20) her.  It’s precisely the kind of sin, wrongdoing and wickedness that verse 6 introduces.  Yet Moses intercedes for her, “stepping into the breach” in order to change God’s mind about Israel.

    However, such sin isn’t limited to post-slavery Israel.  In verse 6 the poet confesses on behalf of worshipers, “We have sinned, even as our fathers did; we have done wrong and acted wickedly” (italics added).  So the psalm’s recitation of Israel’s past failures and infidelity serves as a kind of warning to her own contemporaries.  It’s as if she says to them, “Look what happened to our ancestors at Horeb (and other places).  Had Moses not interceded for them, God would have destroyed them.  The same thing could easily happen to us if we continue to forget God’s marvelous deeds and sin against God.”

    And yet a promise also lies embedded even in the psalm’s remembrance of Israel’s unfaithfulness.  God, insists the poet in verse 44, “took note of” the Israelites’ “distress when he heard their cry.”  Even if worshipers don’t remember God’s covenant, God remembers it and shows us God’s “great love” (45) because of it.

    That’s why the poet can invite worshipers to “praise” and “give thanks to the Lord” (1).  Such praise plays a crucial role in Israel’s relationship with the Lord.  It doesn’t just remember and recite God’s promises and actions.  It also reflects the reality in which worshipers live, move and have our being.  When we no longer live on the basis of God’s words and actions, we easily fall into the very sins our ancestors committed against God.

    The poet offers both a challenge and an assurance in Psalm 106.  She challenges worshipers to remember what God has done, how our ancestors failed and yet God still heard their cry, because then we’re less likely to be unfaithful to God.  However the poet also promises that even when we sin as our ancestors did, if we raise our voices in praise and prayer, God will listen.

    It’s not surprising that the Lectionary appoints Exodus 32 for this particular Sunday in partnership with its reading from Psalm 106.  The Exodus passage, after all, fleshes out what the psalm describes more briefly.  It poignantly describes just how Israel exchanged God’s “Glory for an image of a bull, which eats grass” (20).

    The Lectionary also appoints Philippians 4:1-9 for this Sunday.  Its call to consider what is true, honorable, just and pure serves as a wonderful contrast to our natural tendency to focus on what is not holy, leading us down the path toward sinning because we forget who God is and what God does.

    Illustration Idea

    The Spanish-born philosopher George Santayana once famously wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  It’s a truth that’s been sadly confirmed ever since our parents fell into sin.

  • Lectionary Epistle +

    Philippians 4:1-9

    Author: Stan Mast