Bible Study

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Bible Study: Proper 17 (A) – 2023

September 03, 2023

RCL: Exodus 3:1-15; Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28

Exodus 3:1-15

How fitting that after we pray this Sunday’s collect, asking God to “graft in our hearts the love of [God’s] Name,” we hear this breathtaking lesson of God’s first intimate encounter with Moses that culminates in the revelation of the Divine Name. With Moses as our forerunner, we might well desire to emulate him in our encounter with this unfathomable story, removing our sandals and hiding our faces out of respect for the sheer holiness and otherness of God depicted in this text. Such a reaction would surely not be out of place!

But we would do well to note that God’s radical otherness that Moses encounters in this story is neither that of a detached and distant deity nor is it of some artifact whose presence causes a face-melting Hollywood special effect. Exodus teaches us that neither of these all-too-human conceptions of the divine applies to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This God is not merely a disinterested observer of a creation God assembled long ago. No; this God has observed the misery of God’s oppressed people, this God has heard their cry, this God knows their sufferings, and this God acts in loving freedom to bring the Israelites out of Egypt. No; even the most intimate revelation of this God’s personal being—the Divine Name—does not annihilate the creature but reveals that God is for the creature’s life and freedom.

  • Does this passage challenge any popular ideas held in your context about who God is and what God is like?

Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c

We have asked for the grace to love God’s Name, we have heard God’s Name, and now we praise God’s Name. We might pause with Psalm 105 to wonder just why Holy Scripture teaches us to have a reverence for the Name of God – why does the psalmist teach with such insistence to call upon and glory in God’s holy Name?

For us as well as for God, a name denotes individuality and particularity. This one is not another, but is this very one. This God has this Name, and as the psalmist lists, this God has done particular works, marvels, wonders, and judgments. This Name denotes a particular history and ongoing relation with particular humans: offspring of Abraham and children of Jacob, Moses, and Aaron. And again, as we learned from Exodus, we also learn again in the psalms, this particular God acts in history to vindicate his people, making his people fruitful, sending Moses and Aaron. Such a recollection can only culminate in the ancient praise-shout, as our psalm does in verse 45: Hallelujah!

  • In what ways have you recently made God’s deeds known among the peoples? Are there any opportunities for you to do so in the coming weeks?

Romans 12:9-21

This section of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans is justly famous. Love, mutual affection, hospitality, harmony—it seems we are getting the greatest hits of Christian ethics. And it is always worth remembering that St. Paul is no great innovator here—quotations from Deuteronomy and Proverbs feature prominently in this majestic list. As the 39 Articles put it, “The Old Testament is not contrary to the New” (BCP 869). We can never remind ourselves of this too much, especially when reading St. Paul!

What strikes me most in this passage is verses 17 and following: “Never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God.” Whew! Nietzche and the many others who have critiqued Christianity for encouraging a passive submission to earthly oppression would have a field day with such a teaching—and from much of the historical record, it seems like these critiques are not entirely misplaced. Love for one’s enemies can be a dangerous teaching to the abused and oppressed, and we should not pretend its danger can be piously waved away. But I think there is something more than a merely passive acquiescence to evil being taught here. For those of us who have been addressed by St. Paul’s exhortations, we are not meant to call the evil of abuse and oppression good, nor should we sweep uncomfortable truths under the rug. No; we must learn to be comfortable with hating what is evil and always holding fast to the good! This cannot and must not be a teaching that hinders any attempt at true justice and living peaceably with all.

  • What is one of these exhortations that you find easy to practice? What is one that is more difficult?

Matthew 16:21-28

There is always a temptation to confidently read any of the bumbling apostles stories from our post-resurrection perspective. Unlike the silly disciples, we know what happens next; we wouldn’t make their mistakes. But I think this attitude can often distort just how similar to the apostles we truly are, despite our supposedly enlightened position. How often do I—like St. Peter—desire a Lord who would destroy his executioners rather than forgive them with his dying breaths?

It is perhaps telling that Jesus immediately references the effects that his death and resurrection will have on those who follow him, that they must also take up a cross. Perhaps this is why St. Peter and I tell Jesus “God forbid,” when he goes to the cross—we know what it will mean for our lives, and we cling to them as if we could save them by striving to gain the world. The redemption that Jesus promises is both more terrible—according to merely human things—and wonderful—according to divine things—than we could ask or imagine.

  • What have you had to deny in taking up your cross and following Jesus?

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Christopher Sikkema


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