A Reading from the Book of Exodus (3:1-15)
Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.”
Psalm (105:1-6, 23-26, 45c)
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.
23 Israel came into Egypt, *
and Jacob became a sojourner in the land of Ham.
24 The Lord made his people exceedingly fruitful; *
he made them stronger than their enemies;
25 Whose heart he turned, so that they hated his people, *
and dealt unjustly with his servants.
26 He sent Moses his servant, *
and Aaron whom he had chosen.
45 That they might keep his statutes *
and observe his laws. Hallelujah!
A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Romans (12:9-21)
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew (16:21-28)
Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
The Gospel of the Lord.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
The Collect or prayer that we used at the beginning of today’s liturgy is an ancient one. It’s been used by Christians, in one form or another, for at least 1300 years. It employs the image of a gardener, asking God to “graft,” “increase,” “nourish,” and finally “bring forth in us the fruit of good works.” But right in the middle of that sequence, in place of an earlier petition for God simply to increase in us the practice of our religion, Thomas Cranmer, the lead author of the first Book of Common Prayer, inserted an adjective. The petition, as he modified it and as we still have it, asks God to “increase in us true religion”: not just any religion, but true religion.
While Archbishop Cranmer probably added that qualification in response to the religious controversies of his time, the challenge to focus on and live “true religion,” what God actually asks of us, continues to be critically important in every age. We humans are all too adept at, to use Nietzsche’s phrase, “creating God in our own image and likeness.”
Typically, we tend to be much more adept at seeing those religious distortions in others than in ourselves. This past Monday, for example, the Dayton Daily News included an article about a large group of Muslim teachers, from throughout the Arab world, who have publicly and emphatically rejected the violence done by the group that calls itself “the Islamic State,” allegedly in the name of Islam. These respected teachers clearly and unequivocally declared that the horrors that these terrorists commit are direct violations of the teachings of Islam and are in no way compatible with the true practice of their religion.
We can easily see that fact since it affects someone else’s religion and their approach to it; but it’s harder to recognize those distortions in our own approaches to our faith and life. The temptation for people of all ages, it seems, is to try to make their interpretations of their own religion support what they have already decided to do. Essentially, they are trying to reshape God to conform to what they want God to be. We see that tendency even in today’s first reading and gospel reading.
Our first reading presents us with the well-known story of God’s call to Moses from the burning bush. At first, Moses is completely on board with God’s plan. God announces “I have observed the misery of the Israelites; I have heard their cry; I know their afflictions; and so I have come down to deliver them.” All well and good. I’m sure that Moses was fully supportive. “That’s a great idea, God. Go for it!” But all that changes when God continues, “So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” Immediately, Moses starts to backpedal furiously. He’s all for God doing this great work of deliverance as long as he himself doesn’t have to be a part of it, as long as God doesn’t decide to accomplish God’s work through him. In its opening verses, the passage notes that Moses was afraid to look at God. I think Moses was afraid to look at God twice: not only as God appeared in the flames of the bush, but even more so as God appeared, calling on Moses to be the one through whom God would save God’s people.
In our gospel reading, Peter has the same experience. He, too, is afraid to look at God: afraid to look at the way that God was going to accomplish God’s work, both through Jesus and then through him and the rest of Jesus’ followers. Last Sunday, we heard the verses immediately preceding today’s passage: the ones in which Peter boldly proclaims that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Peter is fine with that. He thinks he’s done something courageous in making that declaration, and he has. But that is as far as he is willing to go. As long as God, working in Jesus, does things Peter’s way, everything is fine. But as soon as there is talk about rejection and suffering and death, the recently bold disciple quickly backs off.
And often, so do we. In place of Thomas Cranmer’s “true religion,” we try to substitute “religion as we want it to be.” And that “religion as we want it to be” tends to leave us off the hook. The problem is that the God of the bible doesn’t leave us off the hook. The God of the bible is a God who works through human beings like us, and often through ordinary human beings in their ordinary life settings like ours.
Notice that the call of Moses doesn’t take place while he’s on a religious pilgrimage; it takes place while he’s doing his very unglamorous job of herding a flock of sheep. It doesn’t take place at any sort of religious sanctuary or shrine; it takes place out in the wilderness, at a mountain called “Horeb,” a name which means “wasteland.” And it doesn’t take place through a man who is thought of as some saintly model of pious devotion; it takes place through Moses, who at that time was a fugitive, wanted by the Egyptian authorities on a charge of homicide.
In this story, we have not only a prophet and a setting that refuse to fit into any preconceived notions that we might have about where and how and through whom God is supposed to work. We have also a God who refuses to act in the way that we might expect and want God to act. This is a God who gives to the world through Moses that mysterious divine name: “I AM WHO I AM”; or perhaps, “I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE.” This is a God who cannot be pinned down into acting in ways that we want God to act.
Here is a God who is totally transcendent, completely beyond our attempts to define and limit who that God is and what that God will do. Yet, as Moses discovered, this was also a God who chose to accomplish this great work of deliverance through a human being.
But there’s even more in this story than just God’s choice. As Terence Fretheim points out (Exodus, page 58), “God takes the initiative…, but God needs Moses as an instrument in and through whom to work.” God needs Moses. And Moses is certainly not alone. This mysterious God has created us in such a way that, like Moses, we are not just passive instruments in the hands of God. Instead, like Moses, we are co-creators with God. It is in our response to God, in our ongoing dialogue with God, in our interaction with God that we, along with God, determine the future of the world. Or, as Fretheim puts it: “The human partner has a say in shaping the direction and outcome of events.”
While these events leading up to the Exodus comprise a unique and defining narrative in our history of salvation, they are not events that are confined to a remote past. Instead, they form a pattern of who this God is, who this God will be, and of who we are in relationship to God and to God’s work in the world. For this God is the God who still observes the misery of those who suffer in the world, who still hears their cry, and who still knows their affliction. And this is a God who still calls to us today, saying, “Come, I will send you to them to release them from their suffering, to raise them up, and to set them free.”