Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
27th September 2020
Prayer of the Day
Grant, O merciful God,
that your people may have that mind that was in Christ Jesus,
who emptied himself, and took the form of a servant,
and in humility became obedient even to death.
For you have highly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name, Jesus Christ, the Lord;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, in everlasting glory.
1 From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
Notes – from Episcopal Church of the USA (ECUSA) Bible Studies
Anyone who has been in a position of leadership can relate to Moses’ dilemma in this passage. Acting on faith and with divine guidance, he is leading his people from slavery into the promised land. Moses might be tempted by the potential for personal power, but he never really gets a chance. Instead, he finds himself in a “don’t shoot the messenger!” situation when there is a scarcity of water for his people. His people did what people do: they complained, they quarreled, and they turned on Moses. And Moses, in turn, sought the ear of the Lord in his frustration, asking, “What shall I do with this people?” As you might hear, the narrative becomes more about quarrelling and blame than it does about the vital, living water. The instruction Moses receives from the Lord isn’t about managing the people, but about how to draw that lifegiving water in abundance from a place of seeming scarcity. And, no surprise, at the source of this water is the Lord, “I will be standing there in front of you…” reminding us of God’s eternal presence even in times when we are parched, quarrelsome, and doubtful.
Psalm 78:1-4, 11-16
1 Give heed to my teaching, O my people: incline your ears to the words of my mouth;
2 For I will open my mouth in a parable: and expound the mysteries of former times.
3 What we have heard and known: what our forebears have told us,
4 We will not hide from their children, but declare to a generation yet to come: the praiseworthy acts of the Lord, his mighty and wonderful works.
11 For he did marvellous things in the sight of their ancestors: in the land of Egypt, in the country of Zoan.
12 He divided the sea and let them pass through: he made the waters stand up in a heap.
13 In the daytime he led them with a cloud: and all night long with the light of fire.
14 He cleft rocks in the wilderness: and gave them drink in abundance as from springs of water.
15 He brought streams out of the rock: and caused the waters to flow down like rivers.
16 But for all this they sinned yet more against him: and rebelled against the Most High in the desert.
Notes – from ECUSA
In these sections of Psalm 78, the narrative from Exodus can be found woven into the larger life and context of the people of Israel. Psalm 78 is often characterized as a Covenant or Liturgical Psalm. Neither a lament nor a song of praise, these psalms were used to characterize the public worship of the people as a community of faith. This psalm recounts praise-worthy actions of divine intervention: freedom from oppression, splitting open the sea, leading by a cloud, splitting open the rocks to provide water. This ritual of remembering and recounting is a community-building act of worship. It is, perhaps, the exact opposite of selfish complaining because it draws attention to communal recognition of God, whose actions are greater than any of us individually could accomplish.
1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Notes – from ECUSA
There are many times in our contemporary lives when it seems like being of one mind is an impossible reality. Political and ideological differences pull us in different directions and fill our minds with sounds bites of divisive rhetoric. And yet, the language of this Epistle to the Philippians tells us to be of the same mind, to have the same love and to do all of this because of the lavish and loving example set forth by Jesus Christ. It is sobering to read words written thousands of years ago and feel them still convicting our hearts and exhorting our actions about how to be Church in the world. At the core of the reminders of this Epistle are the virtues of humility and service. Or, in other words, “is it better to be right, or to be kind?” There are 3 lessons in this Epistle for vestries, for church leaders, for our own devotional reflections. Jesus is our example: how do we find the humility to live into that example rather than succumbing to our own wants and needs?
The Gospel: Matthew 21:23 -32
23 When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
28 “What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. 30 The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.
Other Notes (source reference unknown)
The first parable has a simple structure: 2 sons whose expression of willingness or unwillingness to work in the vineyard is reversed in practice. As in the next parable the vineyard is a standard image of Israel. The chief priest and elders are set in contrast to the prostitutes and tax collectors. The former engage in the rhetoric of obedience, but fail to do God's will. The latter disqualify themselves, but then turn to God. Note that all this is in response to the ministry of John the Baptist. For Matthew, of course, already John proclaimed the kingdom of God (3:2) in the same terms as Jesus (4:17) and the disciples (10:7). Indeed, as it says in 21:32, John came 'in the way of righteousness', another of Matthew's key terms, beside 'kingdom of God' (21:31). These are the terms that embrace the beatitudes (5:3,6,10).
Matthew has a way of cutting through the red tape and of by-passing the religious bureaucracy. There is no room for pretense or pretentiousness. The prostitutes and toll collectors, the lousy rich and the women they exploited, got the point, at least some of them. Is it because they allowed themselves to be vulnerable, to be moved, to let the word of compelling compassion address their deeper needs? Were the religious leaders so defensive in protecting their system - in the name of the people of God and the Scripture - that they suppressed their inner cries, stopped their ears? It is odd that we still find so many people inside the church who have a greater problem moving with compassion for change in society than many outside the church. They seem bent on protecting God.