Readings 29 Sep 2002
26th Sunday of "Ordinary Time"
Exodus 17: 1- 7
It seems the people of Israel were not convinced by the provision of bread (manna) and meat (quail) from heaven (see last week's reading). Still they complain. The question of the people, "Is the Lord among us or not?" clearly shows that they had lost trust. Moses shows his exasperation with "my people" suddenly becoming "These people!" (ever uttered that?). Again God provides, directing Moses to strike the rock. Note that Moses does this "in the sight of the Elders of Israel". Is God faithful here specifically to vindicate God's own chosen leadership? From then on, those places became "Massah" and "Meribah", or "testing" and "rebellion". For trust is an important thing for people to lose. Think of trust in relationships. Water flows and with it the answer, "Of course God is still among us!"
Psalm 78: 1 - 4, 12 - 16
This psalm calls the people again back to trust in God, remembering God's wonderful acts of their past. Specifically, in verses 12 - 16 we have the recall of God's guiding, protecting hand in the events of the Exodus (see previous reading). This is a psalm speaking of "hidden things, things from of old - what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us". As this psalm relays God's "praiseworthy deeds" to a new generation (verse 4), we see how tradition develops: stories are handed down giving meaning and identity to people of a new age.
Phillippians 2: 1 -13
What wonderful words of Christian living and community these are! Read them again! The first four verses are shaped by the rhetorical "If you ..." of verse 1. Paul is saying that if there be encouragement, comfort, fellowship and compassion amongst the readers of this letter, then let them show it all the more fully in their community. Verses 5 -11 are an early hymn of praise to what we see in the nature of Christ - serving, giving, emptying, humility. This is what has brought greatness from God and made Jesus' name known in all the world. And we know that this is how it works " we are affected and inspired by people's greatness in example and hope.
Matthew 21: 23 - 32
These are powerful words about what we say and what we do. They form a parable found only in Matthew's Gospel. The first son refuses his father's request but later goes to work in the vineyard anyway. The second makes all the right noises but fails to act. Do you know of situations like this? Jesus' words here appear to speak to the "chief priests and elders" (verse 23). Perhaps Jesus told the story to illustrate his answer to the preceding challenge to his authority to speak.
Comment: [Early Sermon thoughts]
As this Sunday coming at Brougham Place will gather around a celebration of our many cultural backgrounds, I see the link with the Psalm and the telling of stories that shape us. This is what tradition is. Despite people's resistance of tradition it is no bad thing. It can be helpful. Jesus himself is both a tradition and a story to us!