The Lectionary readings for this coming Sunday (August 21) are:Exodus 1:8-2:10 Psalm 124 Matthew 16:13-20 Romans 12:1-8
You can find them all at this link: http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=156, and if you prefer to read the Message, you can use this link: http://www.biblegateway.com/.
Because this Sunday’s Service will be an “All Ages Garden Worship”, this gives me a wonderful opportunity to ‘play’ with the upside of these texts, finding rich blessing and affirmation in them, suitable for our Summer worship format. However both the Exodus and Matthew passages have deep shadow sides also, and I’ll explore both of those here on the blog.
The Exodus passage is not just a cute story about a baby in a basket in the bullrushes. It’s also about slavery, ethnic cleansing, genocide, and an act of courageous civil disobedience that (in the words of one scholar, David Lose) changed the world. Any adult who has lived more than three decades cannot fail to see in this reading echoes of our own world and time; political leaders protecting their power by picking on a weaker group, dehumanizing or demonizing them (think Poles, Gays, Jews in Hitler’s Europe, and the tendency to belittle another ethnic group by name calling -Chinks, Wops, and more I can barely dare to print). No less destructive to the beauty and health of human community is the tendency, seen in this reading, and in our own time, for fear-driven immigration policies, inequities in local and global economic structures that protect the powerful at the expense of the weak, or weakening of rights for children and women. There is much to be gleaned from reading this ancient story for clues to the choices we must continue to make in our own time to choose the path of hospitality, humility, and healing wholeness in the face of the seductions of oppressive power. The two midwives, Shiprah and Puah stand for all who have stared power in the face with a defiant conviction that “choosing life” is closer to God’s way.
To the Matthew reading. It’s on this passage that the global structure of the Roman Catholic church has been built. It’s an awkward heritage in some respects, because often those of us who are not Catholic feel somewhat cut off from this story. Are we part of this “Church” that Jesus founded on the “Rock” called Peter? At another level, this story gives many scholars a bit of a shiver, because it’s so obviously a “Matthean” creation – what does that mean? Probably those lofty words Matthew puts into Jesus’ mouth directed to Peter were never spoken by him. Matthew, part of a community trying to form its identity in the generation after Jesus’ death and resurrection, needed to have a “Roots” story that anchored them to the ministry of Jesus around Galilee, and around the big fisherman, Simon Peter. This story gave them that anchor. For my part, I try to imagine a day by the lake, when Jesus is chewing on a freshly cooked fish, and asks the close friends and followers, “What do you make of all this fuss and bother about who I am?” When Peter says something to the effect “Well, as far as I’m concerned, Jesus, you’ve changed my life! You’ve given me meaning, you’ve loved me no matter how many times I’ve messed up. You mean the world to me, man, and I’d follow you to the ends of the earth!” I then imagine Jesus, not getting all lofty and pompous, but tearing up a little, reaching over and giving the big bombastic fisherman a bear hug and saying “I know you would! And it’s because you would that I know that everything I’ve lived for, talked about, cared about, been persecuted for, is going to carry on after me. Thank you, you’re a rock, Peter!” The “Way” of Jesus carried on not because of some special ceremony, but because of a bond of love and shared vision that even death couldn’t crush. We are heirs of Peter, all of us, because of the Love of Jesus.