FIRST READING: Exodus (33:12-23)
Moses said to the LORD, “See, you have said to me, `Bring up this people’; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, `I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And he said to him, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.” The LORD said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, `The LORD’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” And the LORD continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”
1. The LORD is King;
let the people tremble; *
he is enthroned upon the cherubim;
let the earth shake.
2. The LORD is great in Zion; *
he is high above all peoples.
3. Let them confess his Name, which is great and awesome; *
he is the Holy One.
4. “O mighty King, lover of justice,
you have established equity; *
you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.”
5. Proclaim the greatness of the LORD our God
and fall down before his footstool; *
he is the Holy One.
6. Moses and Aaron among his priests,
and Samuel among those who call upon his Name, *
they called upon the LORD, and he answered them.
7. He spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud; *
they kept his testimonies and the decree that he gave them.
8. O LORD our God, you answered them indeed; *
you were a God who forgave them,
yet punished them for their evil deeds.
9. Proclaim the greatness of the LORD our God
and worship him upon his holy hill; *
for the LORD our God is the Holy One.
SECOND READING: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy: To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
Grace to you and peace. We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead– Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew (22:15-22)
The Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Last weekend, Judy, Mark, Micaela and I took part in a family gathering, celebrating my mother’s 85th birthday. It was a perfect fall day, and everyone had a wonderful time.
Occasions like these are ideal, both for catching up with one another and for reminiscing. Somehow during the course of our wandering conversation, we got to talking about some of the old TV shows we used to watch. Now I know it might date you just a bit, but how many of you remember Marlin Perkins? For those who don’t, Marlin Perkins was the Director of the St. Louis Zoo who hosted a TV program called “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.” It introduced viewers all over the country to all sorts of wild animals from around the world.
While Marlin was always in the spotlight during his years on the show, his assistant, Jim Fowler, had the really tough job. A segment of the show might begin with Marlin intoning: “The wild African lion is justifiably known as perhaps the fiercest of beasts. These particular lions that we are seeing here are especially dangerous because a lack of food over the past several months has made them ready to pounce on any potential prey. Approaching them is extremely treacherous. I’ll stay up here in the blind, while Jim goes in for a closer look.” At least in his later years, Marlin always stayed somewhere safe, while Jim was always the one who had to go in for a closer look.
I would have preferred Marlin’s job. I think we all would. But somebody always has to take Jim’s job. Somebody has to be the first. Somebody has to lead the way. Somebody has to take a chance.
In the Exodus story, Moses was that “somebody.” You may remember from last Sunday’s first reading that the Israelites had grown impatient with God and with Moses and had compelled Aaron to make for them a golden calf, which would supposedly lead them right to the Promised Land. God was furious. Moses managed to talk God out of destroying the people; but God still, at first, refused to continue with them on their way. Over the course of the next two chapters of Exodus, Moses continued to argue with God, and God finally agreed to accompany them.
But Moses was not fully convinced. Was it safe for the Israelites to travel along with the God who had grown so angry with them that God had just threatened to wipe them out from the face of the earth? Could they bear to travel in the presence of God? Somebody had to find out. Somebody had to go first. And Moses decided that he was that “somebody.”
And so, in today‘s first reading, Moses asks that he might come close to God, in fact, that he might see God. He needed to be sure that the Israelites, who had been entrusted to his care, would be safe in the divine presence.
God agrees but sets limits: “You cannot see my face, for no one shall see me and live. But I will set you in a safe place where you can look at my back after I pass by.” Moses got more than even he had asked for. Not only was he able to view at least a portion of God’s glory, but God pronounced in his presence the divine name and affirmed that he is “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” And Moses was assured that God would be with him and the Israelites as they continued on their way to the Promised Land.
We, thank God, have not been charged with as awesome a task as Moses was: leading a rebellious people, year after year, through an unforgiving land. Nor do we have to face the perils of viewing God directly. But we have been charged with leading the people of our community and our world to the ultimate “Promised Land”: leading the way into the reign of God. That’s what the church is all about.
According to the Book of Common Prayer (page 855), “The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” We have been charged by God to work to heal the divisions that exist among our fellow human beings, divisions that separate them from one another and from God. But that will never happen if we always choose the safe, the comfortable road, if we prefer to stay in the background and hope that someone else leads the way.
Fortunately for those whom we have been called to serve, St. Mark’s Church has not chosen that easy route. This community of faith has not chosen to hide its light under a bushel basket. Instead, we have opened our doors to those who have come to us, and we have opened our hearts to those to whom we have been sent. Throughout its history, St. Mark’s Church has not been afraid to lead the way.
Over 60 years ago, this church began welcoming into its Community Building those suffering from addictions to alcohol or other drugs, as well as their family members in order to help all of them find healing and strength and a way to reconcile with their families and with the rest of the community. Decades ago, we began working with and supporting the efforts of a Methodist Church in east Dayton to feed the hungry in our neighborhood and beyond. Over the years, we were the first church in our area, perhaps in our diocese, to begin celebrating Thanksgiving in a shared Eucharist with nearby Lutheran and Methodist churches, the first to join in celebrating the Easter Vigil with other neighboring Episcopal churches, and the first to begin worshiping several times a year with a sister church on the other side of our county. We were the first to begin taking our worship out of the sanctuary each September, joining it with a church picnic in the park. And we were the first to reach out to neighboring churches of multiple denominations in joining together to serve the children of a local Dayton public school. St. Mark’s has led the way in bridging the gaps that separate people one from another.
Leading the way is not easy. It always involves risks. But the risks that we take in reaching out to others and trying to heal divisions are nothing compared to what Moses was called to do. Sometimes we might be risking some of our money and our time, but mostly the only thing we are putting at risk in initiatives like these is our pride. And that is a small price to pay in striving to do the work of the kingdom.
So what are the divisions that divide our society now? Where are people separated from one another by old grudges, by fears, by ignorance, by selfishness, by prejudice? Where might God be calling St. Mark’s Church to take the initiative in trying to heal those divisions at this time in our history? That is a question for us to ask and try to answer together as we move into the future, into this church’s future, into God’s future.