Old Testament: Joshua (5:9-12)
The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” And so that place is called Gilgal to this day. While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.
The Response: Psalm 32
1 Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, *
and whose sin is put away!
2 Happy are they to whom the Lord imputes no guilt, *
and in whose spirit there is no guile!
3 While I held my tongue, my bones withered away, *
because of my groaning all day long.
4 For your hand was heavy upon me day and night; *
my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you, *
and did not conceal my guilt.
6 I said,” I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” *
Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.
7 Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you
in time of trouble; *
when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them.
8 You are my hiding-place;
you preserve me from trouble; *
you surround me with shouts of deliverance.
9 “I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go; *
I will guide you with my eye.
10 Do not be like horse or mule, which have no understanding; *
who must be fitted with bit and bridle,
or else they will not stay near you.”
11 Great are the tribulations of the wicked; *
but mercy embraces those who trust in the Lord.
12 Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord; *
shout for joy, all who are true of heart.
The Epistle: 2 Corinthians (5:16-21)
From now on, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
The Gospel: Luke (15:1-3, 11b-32)
All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So Jesus told them this parable: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”‘ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe–the best one–and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
In studying the magnificent library that we call “the Bible,” scripture scholars sometimes refer to “a canon within the canon”: that is, a group of narratives and other passages that form the very heart of the biblical story. These selections, above all others, have formed communities of faith over the millennia in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. No such list, no such “canon within the canon,” is complete without today’s first reading: the story of the call of Moses.
Israel’s life and its very identity is based on God’s great work of setting the Israelites free from slavery, forming them into a people, and bringing them into the Promised Land. And that epic narrative begins with the passage that we heard here this morning. While volumes can be and have been written and said about this reading, there are at least three aspects of it that are worth noting as we consider our own relationship with God and our own calling to be the people of God in our day.
First of all, the story begins and takes place in the wilderness. The place that God chooses for this decisive event is not a religious shrine or what, at the time, was considered to be a sacred site. In fact, the name that Exodus uses at this point for the mountain, which is also called “Sinai,” is “Horeb.” The word “Horeb” means “wasteland”: an apt description for the part of the Sinai Peninsula in which it is found. It is in this wasteland, in what appears to be the most God-forsaken place around, that God is most personally and powerfully present.
Second, the person through whom God chooses to reveal God’s self and through whom God chooses to deliver Israel is an unlikely choice. Unlike his father-in-law, Moses is not a priest. He doesn’t hold any high office or place of special respect. He is a shepherd, working apparently by himself, in his in-laws’ family business. And, if we take seriously the backstory about Moses’ origins, he is a wanted man: not exactly anybody whose résumé would identify him as an outstanding candidate for the job.
Finally, and maybe most significant, Moses’ role in relationship to God and God’s plan is not a passive one. It’s not one in which God says “jump,” and Moses asks “How high?” Instead, Moses and God are in this great work together. Together they work out the plan to set Israel free. Together they will bring about the Exodus, the formation of Israel as a people, and the journey to the land of promise.
But working out the plan is not an easy or obvious process. It involves, as the name “Israel” signifies, a wrestling with God.
When God presents God’s plan for delivering the Israelites, Moses protests that he is not capable of such a leadership role; but God insists, “I will be with you.” Moses next responds that he doesn’t have enough information to give to the people; and God responds by revealing to him the divine name. Moses then objects that the people won’t believe him; so God promises to give them signs. When God presents the divine “Plan A” that has Moses and the elders going to speak with Pharaoh, Moses insists that he is far too poor a speaker to pull this off; so God replies basically, “OK then, let’s scrap Plan A. Here’s a Plan B: forget about the elders. Instead, how about you and your brother, Aaron, going to Pharaoh? Does that work for you?” And on and on it goes: the wrestling, the working out of the plan, and the working out of Israel’s future, as a divine and human endeavor.
As Terence Fretheim points out in his excellent commentary on Exodus (p. 62 and 58), if Moses had simply acquiesced to God’s initial plan, the exchange between God and God’s messenger would have stopped there: “Human questioning,” he observes, “leads to fuller divine revelation.” “God takes the initiative, invites Moses to be sent before Pharaoh, and sets the agenda, but God needs Moses as an instrument in and through whom to work.” The deliverance of Israel is a divine and human accomplishment.
The task of setting all of God’s children free from all those people and things that oppress them is an ongoing imperative. Today, it is our work: all of us who have been baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. And during this season of Lent, as we reflect on how we have worked to accomplish that work, or failed to do so, our Exodus reading offers us some critically important reminders.
First of all, we certainly seek God’s presence and God’s word here at St. Margaret’s and at St. Mark’s: in those special places where God’s people gather. But, as was the case with Moses, we need to allow ourselves to be open to the possibility that God may be most personally and powerfully present in what seem to be the most unlikely places in our community and world: in the “Horebs,“ in the “wastelands,” in what appear to be the most God-forsaken places around.
Second, as was the case with Moses, God often works through what might appear to be the most unlikely people: even through people like you and me. As much as we might try to pass off the work of God to others – “Somebody ought to do these things: maybe the clergy, or maybe our elected parish leaders, or maybe our youth” – as much as we try to avoid it, God has chosen all of us and has appointed us to be the ones through whom God sets people free from all those things that hold them captive: from hunger and lack of education and poverty and threat of violence and fear.
And finally, as Moses experienced, the work of God is always a divine and human endeavor. As Terence Fretheim puts it: “Neither God nor Moses acts alone in bringing Israel out of Egypt. God works in and through the work of Moses… The activity of both is crucial for what is to happen.”
Sitting back passively and waiting for God, or somebody else, to give us The Plan for us to help those in need, to set God’s people free, is not going to help anybody. Instead, God calls us, just as God once called Moses, to enter into a lifetime of active conversation with God and even struggle with God: to accept the role that God has given us to be responsible co-workers with God, to be the ones through whom the work of the kingdom is done. As St. Augustine of Hippo once put it: “God without us will not; and we without God cannot.” We are always in this work together: together with one another; together with God.