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Bible Study: Proper 25 (A) – 2023

October 29, 2023

RCL: Deuteronomy 34:1-12; Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 22:34-46

Deuteronomy 34:1-12

Moses’ story ends with God showing him the Promised Lan,d even though Moses would “not cross over there.” The statement is traditionally considered a reminder of the punishment at the Waters of Meribah (cf. Numbers 20:1-13).

Even with this reminder of punishment, there is no indication that Moses is dying unfulfilled or with any regrets. Quite the opposite. Despite being 120 years old, God has preserved Moses’ body and mind – so much so that he can climb a mountain. Moses is only permitted to die at God’s express command, and it is God who seemingly buries Moses personally (since no one else knows where Moses is buried). There is great mourning over Moses, a prophet unlike any other. This passage gives us a completed story of a fulfilled Moses.

Of course, there is profound grief over Moses’ death, but even as there is much more to come in the story of the People of Israel, Moses’ story is complete and fulfilled. This is a powerful culminating moment. Moses is far from the man who knew nothing of his people or their God, the man whom this as-of-yet-unknown-to-him God sent to confront the most powerful empire in the world. Moses is far from the still fledgling leader facing the seemingly impossible task of leading God’s people out of oppression, through desert and desolation, and into promise. There have been many stumbles on the way, but Moses is a very different, more spiritually mature, and whole man than he was. Moses’ death narrative marks for us the unbelievable spiritual growth that comes from walking with God.

  • How has your walk with God changed you? How has your spiritual journey moved you from oppression through desolation and into promise?

Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17

This week presents us with two seemingly dissonant portions of Psalm 90. The first six verses speak of God’s eternal nature in contrast to our mortality with the assurance that our mortality rests within the refuge of God’s eternity. The concluding five verses, though, plead for God to return to being the refuge God has been in the past. As we turn to verse 13, we might wonder where the assurance in verse 1 went.

These two sets of verses speak profoundly to human experience. Even when we feel most secure about God’s love for us and faithfulness and goodwill toward us, there are times when God’s grace seems so far away, when we can’t muster rejoicing, when we face adversity. We feel the need to remind God – or more accurately to remind ourselves – of God’s past graciousness, begging for its return. In those times, strength comes both from crying out to God and remembering that God’s nature is always love and goodness.

  • How do you find solace when God’s graciousness seems far off?

1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

In our society, we know preachers in many forms. We have televangelists, megachurch pastors, small parish pastors, preachers in large cardinal parishes, street preachers, prophets, and more. There are still many others who, though they may not consider themselves preachers, proclaim what they believe to be the core principles of the Gospel. Perhaps worse yet, these people do not all speak with one voice. They offer sometimes radically opposing views of the Gospel. How do we know which people and messages are genuine?

That is part of what Paul is addressing in this passage. He wants the Thessalonians to know that he is the real deal. Perhaps the Thessalonians are suspicious and looking out for “deceit,” “impure motives,” and “trickery” because of past evangelists. Perhaps they have heard that the Philippians did not take too kindly to Paul, a concern Paul addresses head-on.

Paul counsels first that the Thessalonians (and we) listen to what these messengers say. If it is too good to be true, too much of what we want to hear, perhaps our suspicion is warranted. Surely, this is not the only test, but flattery may denote a pretext for greed. Paul contrasts himself and his companions against itinerate philosophers and Christian preachers who were paid to impart their wisdom. Paul does his work out of love and mission, not for money.

Paul also counsels that the Thessalonians (and we) listen to how these messengers deliver their message. Paul and his companions are invested in those to whom they preach, and so they deliver their message with gentleness and care as a parent for a child. So much so that they share themselves, not just the message.

  • How would you preach the Gospel to someone who is very dear to you?

Matthew 22:34-46

With Jesus having finally silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees take up the quest to try to trip Jesus up on some doctrinal matter. They enlist a lawyer, someone who knows well the Jewish tradition that there are 613 commandments, and he asks Jesus to choose. If nothing else, which of these 613 commandments should we keep no matter what? Jesus, of course, can’t just give one. He gives two – love God and love your neighbor as yourself – or maybe Jesus gives three – love God, love yourself, and love your neighbor.

But perhaps Jesus does respond with just one commandment. Jesus responds to these leaders learned in the Torah in words taken from the central Jewish prayer, the Shema. Perhaps he is trying to explain to them the meaning of these words and, in so doing, that the premise of their question is flawed. There are not 613 commandments. There are not two or three. There is only one: Love. That is the foundation of all the other commandments and every word that the prophets have uttered. We are to love God and cannot do so without loving ourselves and our neighbors. Nor can we do so without following the other commandments and heeding the prophets’ call for justice for the oppressed and marginalized. We have but one commandment: Love.

  • How does your own sense of what God commands us to do measure up against the commandment to love?

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Christopher Sikkema


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