Above: A Scroll of the Book of Esther
“The Word is Near You….”
The Sunday Closest to August 10
Tenth Sunday After Pentecost
AUGUST 10, 2014
AUGUST 13, 2017
FIRST READING AND PSALM: OPTION #1
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 (New Revised Standard Version):
Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. This is the story of the family of Jacob.
Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.
Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” He answered, “Here I am.” So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me.” So he sent him from the valley of Hebron.
He came to Shechem, and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” “I am seeking my brothers,” he said; “tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” The man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, `Let us go to Dothan.’” So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him” — that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.
Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.
Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b (1979 Book of Common Prayer):
1 Give thanks to the LORD and call upon his Name;
make known his deeds among the peoples.
2 Sing to him, sing praises to him,
and speak of all his marvelous works.
3 Glory in his holy Name;
let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.
4 Search for the LORD and his strength;
continually seek his face.
5 Remember the marvels he has done,
his wonders and the judgments of his mouth,
6 O offspring of Abraham his servant,
O children of Jacob his chosen.
16 Then he called for a famine in the land
and destroyed the supply of bread.
17 He sent a man before them,
Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
18 They bruised his feet in fetters;
his neck they put in an iron collar.
19 Until his prediction came to pass,
the word of the LORD tested him.
20 The king sent and released him;
the ruler of the peoples set him free.
21 He set him as a master over his household,
as a ruler over all his possessions,
22 To instruct his princes according to his will
and to teach his elders wisdom.
FIRST READING AND PSALM: OPTION #2
1 Kings 19:9-18 (New Revised Standard Version):
At Horeb, the mount of God, Elijah came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”
He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” Then the LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
Psalm 85:8-13 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):
8 I will listen to what the LORD God is saying,
for he is speaking peace to his faithful people
and to those who turn their hearts to him.
9 Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.
10 Mercy and truth have met together;
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
11 Truth shall spring up from the earth,
and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
12 The LORD will indeed grant prosperity,
and our land will yield its increase.
13 Righteousness shall go before him,
and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.
Romans 10:5-15 (New Revised Standard Version):
Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say?
“The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart”
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
Matthew 14:22-33 (New Revised Standard Version):
Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
I have chosen to take my focus from Romans. Thus I refer you, O reader, to the following links, for further details:
Consider these words, put into the mouth of Moses toward the end of the Israelite sojourn in the wilderness:
“For this commandment which I command you this day is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up for us to heaven, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say ‘Who will go over to the sea for us, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.
“See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil. If you obey commandments of the LORD your God which I command you this day, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his ordinances, they you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land which you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you this day, that you shall perish….” (Deuteronomy 30:11-18a, Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition)
Paul was obviously familiar with this passage, for he channeled it in this day’s excerpt from Romans. God’s message is not remote, he says; it is near us. Indeed, the Hebrew prophets proclaimed this word, and many Jewish scriptures, originally oral tradition, did as well. So did Jesus, God incarnate. How much more concrete could God get than that? So, yes, the word is very near us. If we do not perceive it, we need to pay closer attention.
The reading from Deuteronomy describes following God as the path to life and the alternative as the route to death. Life and death are both physical and spiritual in this context. I typed only part of the germane passage; a portion I chose not to type concludes, “therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live….” (Deuteronomy 30:19) But we know how the story unfolded, do we not? Read the excerpt from 1 Kings; pious advocacy of monotheism by a portion of the population did not prevent the widespread practice of polytheism. Thus hindsight, in the wake of the Babylonian Exile, informs the theology of final, edited version of much of the Hebrew Bible: Spiritual infidelity led to the decline, division, and extinction of the Jewish kingdoms.
YHWH was a different kind of deity relative to the alleged members of pantheons. As Professor Richard Elliott Friedman writes in his Commentary on the Torah:
In comparing Israel’s monotheism to pagan religion, we must appreciate that the difference between one and many is not the same sort of thing as the difference between two and three or between six and twenty. It is not numerical. It is a different concept of what a god is. A God who is outside of nature, known through acts of history, a creator, unseeable, without a mate, who makes legal covenants with humans, who is one, is a revolution in religious conception. (Page 586)
The account from 1 Kings reinforces this point. Adherents of other deities believed that they made themselves known in forces of nature, such as earthquakes, fire, and mighty winds. But YHWH did the opposite. God does that often. We find God in silence, not noise. And we Christians worship God, who took on human form and became both fully human and fully divine. (I have given up trying to explain this mystery and chosen to revel in it instead.) God refuses to fit into our theological boxes. If we cannot deal with this reality in a healthy way, then we need to read the great J. B. Phillips book, Your God is Too Small.
The word is near us. It is present in the silence around us, as well as in any place we read or hear God speaking–certainly in the Bible, but not just there. The word can also be present in other literature, as well as in nature. The word is present anywhere the Holy Spirit speaks to us, including our minds. So the word is around us and inside us. Do we hear it? Do we really hear it?
Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on January 31, 2011