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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Book of Names and the Nameless

Shemot is the Hebrew title to the book we know as Exodus. “Shemot” means names, and the Hebrew title of this book comes from the opening sentence of the book. Exodus, a Greek word, means the way out.
The Jewish Study Bible says “Exodus is arguably the most important book in the Bible” (p. 102, in the introduction of Exodus). It is certainly one of the most familiar to Jew and Christian alike. I would argue it contains THe Gospel preached by Jesus.

I focus on the Hebrew title, “shemot” because of the role names play in the early chapters of Exodus. After listing the names of the sons of Jacob, Israel, the “sons of Israel” pass from the scene. Verse 7 reads “The Israelites were fertile, and prolific; they multiplied and increase very greatly, so the land was full of them.” Those verbs are used in Genesis at creation and are a reminder of God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The blessing, however, is viewed as a sinister and dangerous thing by the Pharaoh.
What is Pharaoh’s name? He has no name. We only know a Pharaoh emerged who did not know Joseph (lost history, forgetting, is the besetting sin of the Jewish Bible; remembering is the highest virtue, for to remember is to act on that memory). The Hebrews are oppressed (2x) and the Egyptians are ruthless (2x) and the situation is bitter and harsh—yet the worse things got the more they increased! [the war is between God's plan, life, and the Principalities and Powers which seek to destroy]
The nameless Pharaoh declares genocide, “Kill the baby boys.”

Suddenly we read two names—Shiprah and Puah—midwives who disobey the Pharaoh because they fear God (who blesses them). So the king demands that they throw the boys in the river. The two little Named women thwart the Nameless King, a world turned upside down, but other women will join in the rebellion! It would be easy, however, to overlook, a subtle message being communicated by the Word of God--He knows the name of the "no body," while the king is not named (to quote Mary, "he raises up the lowly and humbles the mighty)...

Chapter two
No names are given, just a story: A man, a Levite, marries a woman, of his clan. They have a baby. They see he is a “fine baby” (Hebrew tob; the word used by God to describe creation; Gen 1:31). He has a sister. They hide the baby until he gets too big, they put him in a small ark among reeds (ark//Noah, reeds//Sea of Reeds at exodus; connection to water death/salvation in two directions). The daughter of Pharaoh sees the baby, takes pity and saves the boy. The sister gets the mother, who is paid by the daughter of Pharaoh to care for the child. When he is of age, she takes the boy and names him Moses.  Finally, a character with a name!

Moses is an Egyptian name (cf. Ra-meses) meaning begotten. It sounds like a Hebrew word which means ‘drawn out.’This will factor into later Hebrew puns. Pharaoh is further thwarted in his plans by these three women, including his daughter.

The book of Names has no names, to this point, except two midwives and the young boy Moses. Prior to this, he had no name. Where are the names? Why the names of the midwives? I think it highlights that they are known, these two obscure women, they are known because they were faithful. They are known by God—a reminder to us when we feel obscure and unimportant.

What follows is familiar. Moses intervenes to save a Hebrew slave. The Egyptian strikes the slave, Moses strikes the Egyptian, who dies and s buried. The next day Moses intervenes between two fighting slaves. In a bitter foretaste of what he will deal with the entire time he leads Israel, the slave asks him, “Who put you in charge of me? I know what you did yesterday.”

Moses flees for his life and Pharaoh seeks to kill him (//David and King Saul). Moses ends up in Midian, where he meets his future wife at a watering hole. This story echoes Isaac and Jacob. Moses “saves” the women, something he will do for his people. He becomes a shepherd, another David reference. Then the author gives us a view from heaven.
God looks down. He sees, He hears, He knows, He remembers His covenant. (The Gospel) He comes down to meet Moses (as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob before), this time in a bush which burns but is not consumed. God speaks the sublime words of salvation: I have seen their suffering, I have heard their cries, I know, and I have come down to save. God is God of all, especially poor and needy.

I am who I am; I will be who I will be.
The God who sees, who hears, who know, who remembers
The God who comes down to save.
But for the suffering, nameless Hebrew slaves, who are sore oppressed and treated ruthlessly by the Egyptians, perhaps it feels too little, too late. Perhaps it feels like the long struggles of their life have no meaning and perhaps they feel they have no value.
It is easy to imagine people who think: no one cares about me.
This is the first message of the book of Names.
God, the one who is, knows your name.
He knows, He sees, He hears, He cares, He comes to save.
Trust Him

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Help! I have Fallen and Can't Get Up

I think most of us recall that commercial (around since 1987). It is an elderly woman, laying on the floor, crying out for help. It is a remarkably effective commercial because it captures the horror of helplessness. The human body is a remarkable construction and it is fairly resilient In time, however, it breaks down. I am at that turning point where that breakdown gets more serious. The eyes go. The hearing goes. The muscles ache and the connective tissues break. The mental and emotional stores are more easily depleted. The future looms as a less friendly place to be.

"Help! I have fallen and cannot get up!"

That cry raises a question which is then answered: Life Alert.
Life Alert is the answer; and the question is "Who will come to my aid in my time of need?"

But, of course, some falls are beyond Life Alert's power. They can only "alert" someone, after all, they are not in the healing business. They are in the 'security' business. Security in an insecure world.

One tenant of the Christian faith, particularly in the West, is "the Fall." St. Augustine, whose feast is today, ironically, is one of the theological masterminds of this doctrine. Smart guys like him work out the implications of Biblical revelation, always in conjunction with a keen intellect (reason) and observation of real life (experience) and in dialogue with the masters who have gone before us (tradition). God's Spirit is also at work in all this, leading, guiding, enlightening...

"Fallen-ness" is both a theological datum and a human condition. We are good and bad, a terrible mix which produces all manner of blessed moments and diabolical curses. This week I read that the "Teacher of the Year" was charged with child abuse! Really??? How could such disparity co-exist in one person? A mystery beyond comprehension (but less than surprising when we consider our own inconsistencies, right?).

The daily prayer routine of any person should include the cry "Help! I am fallen and cannot get up."
I must be raised up (passive voice) by the strength of another. I need help. Period.

We are victims and perpetrators all. Damaged and damaging. Blind to our own errors and hyper-aware of  any slight we receive. Resistant to God's will and resentful that He has not done what we want!

Who can help?
Thousands of years ago someone wrote this poem/prayer. We call it Psalm 121. (from Alter's Translation)

I lift up my eyes to the mountains,  from where will my help come?
My help is from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth...
The Lord guards you from all harm, He guards your life.
The Lord guards your going and your coming, now and forever.

And in our fallen state, realizing that we have fallen and we can not get up, we must decide if, in faith, we will cry out for help. Will we trust? Will we believe that God guards our life and guards us from harm, as we lay here, fallen?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Self Gift

Last week we proclaimed that the heart of the Gospel is “God saves.” In love He created. In love He redeems our misuse of the gift of dominion. In love He saves us from the spiritual forces at work as well. The reigns of this world’s Prince and the other principalities and powers are temporary. Jesus tells us to pray for the coming of God’s Kingdom each day. We pray and wait, but we live as those who have already seen the New Age begin (in the life, cross and resurrection of Jesus). We also long for the completion of that work, when all things will be handed over to the Father by Christ.
Today, anticipating that glory of perfect heavenly worship, we engage in human, earthly worship. It is not perfect, yet there is value in what we do. Before us, the Jews worshiped God in the Temple. Like the pagan religions that worship centered on sacrifice. One “returns” to God out of all that one has received. The sacrifice itself, usually an animal or some produce, was consumed as a meal by the one making the sacrifice (with parts given to the priest and the rest consumed by the flames of the sacrificial fire). So sacrifice was connected with communion and eating. The cross of Jesus fulfilled/completed/perfected) the Temple sacrifice. The cross of Jesus is the once and for all sacrifice of the Son. However, Jesus connected the cross to the Last Supper, instituting our liturgical practice since the early church.
From the beginning the church wrote of Eucharist as a sacrifice or offering [Didache, Clement, Ignatius, Justin, Irenaeus, Cyprian, Gregory Nazianzen, Ambrose, Chrysostom, Augustine and Patrick, among others)]. Eucharist, like the Passover meal, is the liturgical expression of God’s saving act. Jesus’ sacrifice transcends time and space and, therefore, permeates every place and time; each time we gather it is for the one and only self-offering of Jesus on Calvary.
But as Paul makes clear today in Romans, we are also called to make a sacrificial offering of ourselves. We give ourselves to God only once, but renew it constantly each day.
Jewish worship had a strong component of ethical demands. An offering must accompany a righteous life, especially including justice for the poor and marginalized. Jesus emphasizes this in His own teaching; if you offer your gift on the altar and remember your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there, find your brother and be reconciled, and then come back to make the offering.
The bread, wine and our time and money are tangible signs of our self-gift, but their symbolic value is measured against the reality of our life. “Take my mind, heart and soul, O Lord!” may be a perfect prayer, but it is only when sincerely lived out that its perfection has any value.
We are tempted to think hard work and effort produced our success, but in truth we must say, “All things come of Thee, O Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.” Accidents of birth play the larger part in any success we enjoy. It is all grace and unmerited blessing. If you don’t believe me, ask a mentally or physically handicapped child, or a third world villager terrorized by a local warlord about the value of working harder…
And just as the bread and wine we offer returns to us, as the sacramental Body and Blood of Jesus, so, too, we, offered to God, also come back transformed.
That transformation/ metamorphosis in Greek, is a frequently overlooked miracle. We, many individuals, are made into the ONE Body of Christ. Like the Eucharistic meal, we too are mysteriously and simultaneously both our physical, unchanged selves and the spiritually changed Body of Jesus.
This is why Paul’s talk of self-offering moves quickly to “not thinking too much of ourselves” and remembering that “our gifts are for the benefit of the Body/Church.” In the worship world of self-sacrifice, it is no longer all about me!
In a post-Christian age, even we, who claim Christ as Lord and Savior, think as a secular progressive. We measure our gifts and talents first for their potential for self-benefit, in jobs, income and personal satisfaction. We rarely, if ever, assess our charisms/gifts from the perspective of church ministry and the community of believers. (Maybe one exception is the choir) Perhaps this is because, for all the yammering about the Holy Spirit, we have not had a renewal of mind and transformation of our thinking.
In the chapters preceding Romans 12, Paul explains the nature of grace and salvation. He transitions to today’s reading with the word, therefore. Because love and grace are true, THEREFORE, make a sacrifice, an offering of your life. Offer yourself totally to receive a new mind and heart. And understand, that process of being a holy sacrifice, is an ecclessial reality—it is churchly through and through—because we are the body of Christ together! Understand it and do it, for the glory of God’s name!