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Daily Bible Reflections for the Week of March 22, 2020

Saturday, March 28, 2020
Exodus 2:23 – 3:15

After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.’ When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then he said, ‘Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ He said further, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Then the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.’ But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ He said, ‘I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.’

But Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your ancestors has sent me to you”, and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.”’ God also said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you”:

This is my name for ever,
and this my title for all generations.

At one time I wanted to explain this story away. I imagined Moses looking at a bush behind which he could see the setting sun. The bush seemed on fire, yet not consumed. At the time I remember thinking that it was important to explain away such fairy tale elements of bible stories because such things never seem to happen in our modern world. So they must not have been true then.

Moses’ voice in his own head explained the rest of the tale. And Moses’ feelings of guilt that he had run away from his people in Goshen and escaped punishment for killing an Egyptian soldier who was beating a worker completed my conception of the story. I put it all away in my mind and let it all settle down. But it would not rest.

Since then, I have seen too many visions and miracles myself. And heard the witness of others. It’s entirely possible that the story is all true. And I’m happy to take it as true now. That said, what am I to make of this very specific, very detailed call to Moses to go back to Egypt and free his people? Most people who have a calling feel a general call to service, and just let the details work themselves out.

This call is unique. Moses is tending sheep on Mt. Horeb. The bush appears to burn. The voice speaks from the bush. I’ll never know why the God of the entire Universe needs a man to take off his sandals outside as a sign of reverence, but some day someone will explain it. Maybe it’s just to make sure Moses will obey and listen. Anyway, the message is clear.

And, after all these signs, Moses argues with the Lord. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Isrealites out of Egypt.” He is reassured the Lord will be with him. But it is Hollywood who actually answered his question.

We know from his rescue from the bullrushes that he was raised in the house of the Pharaoh, possibly as a rival to the boy who became Ramses II. We like to think he was the talented and smart one. Pharaoh, not so much. For Hollywood, it makes a good story. But we do not know the facts. We do know that when Moses arrives in the court of the Pharaoh, he is not a stranger.

God gives his name as I AM. God says he is the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moses knows the protocols of the Egyptian court. He knows what he will have to say. Already, in this brief encounter with God, you see him planning how to approach the Pharaoh.

As I look deeper into this story, I can see reality blended with a holy moment. The fairy tale elements simply fall away and a real encounter with God emerges. The personality of Moses emerges. He is not a two-dimensional cartoon hero from a long-ago story. He has shape and substance.

He thinks strategically, even as he is in the presence of a blazing sign from Heaven. He is not
overwhelmed, as the disciples during the Transfiguration, offering to build temples and worship. He goes on to plan the campaign with God. And God explains the plagues and other help Moses will have to free the people. They work together as a team. It’s amazing to see.

This story is at the heart of Judaism. A people set apart, chosen and rescued by their God from suffering and slavery is a profound image. It resonates not only with Jews, but with anyone who is trapped in some kind of prison, some kind of suffering, great and small.

I disagree with Hollywood on this story. Moses was a very unlikely hero. He ran away from a crime. He stuttered. He had to rely on his sister for so much of his thinking and his brother for the speeches he gave to the people. Like so many people God chooses to do great things, he was the least likely person.

As a servant of the Lord, this gives me great hope that I will be of use some how some way.

[Peter Mansell]

Friday, March 27, 2020
Mark 9:2-13

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. Then they asked him, ‘Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’ He said to them, ‘Elijah is indeed coming first to restore all things. How then is it written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written about him.

Transfiguration. How to make sense of it? Why did Jesus take Peter, James and John up on Mt. Tabor and let them see him in his Glory, talking to Moses and Elijah? My first instinct was to backtrack to the previous chapter of Mark’s gospel for clues.

Jesus had just cured a blind man and spent time explaining in very plain language to his disciples about his death and resurrection. Peter had challenged that and incurred Jesus’ rebuke. Peter didn’t get it.

Perhaps the news was so overwhelming that Jesus had compassion. Perhaps he felt that his followers needed to know his suffering and death were only part of the story leading to his final triumph.

The transfiguration certainly showed three of them a glimpse of what was to come. Jesus chose a core of three disciples. James, the first to die and John, the last. And Peter, the one he chose to lead the church. When it happened, the experience was overwhelming. They all wanted to linger on the mountain top and worship their experience.

Anyone who has had such an encounter with God wants to linger and sustain the bliss of the moment. Peter was bold enough to speak out to Jesus while the Lord was in his Glory, and Jesus, shining with radiant light, even then allowed him access. Jesus was transfigured, but he was still Jesus. Peter wanted to memorialize the experience by building temples for Jesus and the two patriarchs from centuries before. Our planet is filled with giant cathedral buildings testifying to that urge. But worship of past experiences is not really how we must spend our time. In that moment, God created his own temple – a huge cloud that filled the space. And God gave us our instructions: “Listen to him.”

When the cloud evaporated, Jesus remained standing as he normally appeared. The shining white robe returned to its dark colour. His hair and skin appeared dark again. He instructed the three to keep the experience to themselves. And he led them down the mountain.

We talk, in the Church of mountain top experiences as if they must needs be temporary and fleeting. We say we must roll up our sleeves and return to the valley, as Jesus did, where the work of mending the brokenness of humanity is laid out for us. I am grateful for Mark’s story of the Transfiguration. It reminds me that there is a Kingdom I cannot imagine, as close as the mist of a cloud or morning fog.

But we are not left with one story, written centuries ago to lift our spirits. If I open my eyes and heart, I can see many glimpses of God’s glory, in my home and outside my door. As I write, I hear the wind struggling to push Spring into being tomorrow at the Spring Equinox. Transfiguration. All of these things are miracles that hint at the Glory of the Lord. And none of them require me to build a memorial booth.

[Peter Mansell]

Thursday, March 26, 2020
Mark 8:27 – 9:1

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’ And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’ And he said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.’

Some, we’re told, will see the kingdom of God coming with power. Living our faith would be easier if we had that sort of dramatic assurance. We’d look less foolish to a lot of people, too.

What did that mean to the early Christians, that some of them would see the kingdom become manifest? Were they expecting Jesus to return any day (some early Pauline writings reflect this worldview). Or is it referring to the Crucifixion and Resurrection? Is that terribly sight — ironically — the coming of the kingdom, in a reversal of our ordinary understanding of power? Or, as this reading comes right before the Transfiguration, is that mountaintop scene what Jesus and/or the gospel writer are pointing to? Was the Transfiguration a glimpse into the coming kingdom?

There seems to be some truth in all of these possibilities. And that speaks of what it is like to have God’s grace working in our lives. It needn’t be understood as a one-time thing. God is working on us all the time; the kingdom is popping up repeatedly — it’s just that we don’t always have eyes to see it.

Think of Peter in today’s passage, who one moment has the ‘right’ answer, but then in the next one, he’s showing that he has no real understanding of Jesus’s mission.

We’re like that a lot of the time, aren’t we? Faithful one moment, faithless the next. Glowing exemplars one day, but mired in crooked habits and systems the rest of the time. But the good news is that God is still working on us. In our ups and downs we always have the opportunity to work out what faith means and looks like. It can take a lifetime to learn and appreciate what it means to “take up your cross” and follow Jesus.

[Matthew Kieswetter]

Wednesday, March 25, 2020 (The Annunciation of Our Lord to the Blessed Virgin Mary)
Hebrews 2:5-10

Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels. But someone has testified somewhere,

‘What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
or mortals, that you care for them?
You have made them for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned them with glory and honour,
subjecting all things under their feet.’

Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

Here we are exactly nine months from the Feast of the Incarnation — Christmas — December 25th. And so we celebrate how the angel Gabriel came to Mary to tell her that she was to be the bearer of the Saviour of the world. Occurring as it does during Lent, Holy Week, or Easter, this feast reminds us that our salvation entails both the Incarnation and Passion.

The writer of today’s reading emphasizes how the Incarnation was a radical act of solidarity with the human race. Like the beautiful hymn in Philippians 2 similarly expresses, in the Incarnation the Word “did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.”

I’ve been reading an excellent book by James K.A. Smith with a friend of mine in Montreal (via video conferencing), On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts. In a chapter on “justice” (‘why do bad things happen to good people?’) Smith describes God’s love for us in the Incarnation in a powerful way: “God doesn’t abstractly solve a ‘problem’; God condescends to inhabit and absorb the mess we’ve made of the world…. This isn’t an answer to evil; it is a response. Hope is found not in intellectual mastery but in divine solidarity” (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2019), 186.

[Matthew Kieswetter]

Tuesday, March 24, 2020
1 Corinthians 11:17-34

Now in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, to begin with, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it. Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine. When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you!

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgement against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If you are hungry, eat at home, so that when you come together, it will not be for your condemnation. About the other things I will give instructions when I come.

We’re familiar with much of this reading, simply from the institution narrative that is found in 99% of eucharistic prayers. And we’ll return to this reading on Maundy Thursday, on the day when we give thanks for the institution of the sacrament of the Eucharist. What’s interesting is that when we read the institution narrative in its wider context in 1 Corinthians, we notice that Paul isn’t writing academic theology, but passing on teaching he has inherited, and doing so for the purposes of church administration and care of the congregation.

Paul is quite stern at the beginning of this passage, in his talk of the necessity of eating and drinking “worthily.” At our 8 o’clock service on the First Sunday in Lent I read “The Exhortation” (sounds intimidating, doesn’t it?) that reminds the congregation of this. “For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgement against themselves.”

But if we remember that there is a ‘pastoral’ matter underlying this passage (divisions in the church; the well-off arriving to the liturgy in a state of drunkenness), we’ll see that Paul isn’t just talking about the importance of recognizing Jesus in the consecrated bread and wine. There’s a double meaning at play here. “The body” is often a way of referring to the Church. So, Paul is saying: ‘Hey, be aware that Jesus is present in the gathering of the Church, including in the people that are different from you.”

When we gather (and Lord, I hope it is soon, but I know it might be a while…) Jesus is present in and with the person that is loud and distracting. AND in the person that’s awkward and withdrawn. And in the person that’s unkempt. And the person that seems overly preoccupied with his suit or her hat. Jesus is present amongst us when things are peaceful, and in those times when we disagree. And if we recognize this, then I think we will find the maturity and perseverance to work through those things that divide us.

[Matthew Kieswetter]

Monday, March 23, 2020
Genesis 49:1-28

Then Jacob called his sons, and said: ‘Gather around, that I may tell you what will happen to you in days to come.

Assemble and hear, O sons of Jacob;
listen to Israel your father.

‘Reuben, you are my firstborn,
my might and the first fruits of my vigour,
excelling in rank and excelling in power.
Unstable as water, you shall no longer excel
because you went up on to your father’s bed;
then you defiled it—you went up on to my couch!

‘Simeon and Levi are brothers;
weapons of violence are their swords.
May I never come into their council;
may I not be joined to their company—
for in their anger they killed men,
and at their whim they hamstrung oxen.
Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce,
and their wrath, for it is cruel!
I will divide them in Jacob,
and scatter them in Israel.

‘Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
your father’s sons shall bow down before you.
Judah is a lion’s whelp;
from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He crouches down, he stretches out like a lion,
like a lioness—who dares rouse him up?
The sceptre shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
and the obedience of the peoples is his.
Binding his foal to the vine
and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine,
he washes his garments in wine
and his robe in the blood of grapes;
his eyes are darker than wine,
and his teeth whiter than milk.

‘Zebulun shall settle at the shore of the sea;
he shall be a haven for ships,
and his border shall be at Sidon.

‘Issachar is a strong donkey,
lying down between the sheepfolds;
he saw that a resting-place was good,
and that the land was pleasant;
so he bowed his shoulder to the burden,
and became a slave at forced labour.

‘Dan shall judge his people
as one of the tribes of Israel.
Dan shall be a snake by the roadside,
a viper along the path,
that bites the horse’s heels
so that its rider falls backwards.

‘I wait for your salvation, O Lord.

‘Gad shall be raided by raiders,
but he shall raid at their heels.

‘Asher’s food shall be rich,
and he shall provide royal delicacies.

‘Naphtali is a doe let loose
that bears lovely fawns.

‘Joseph is a fruitful bough,
a fruitful bough by a spring;
his branches run over the wall.
The archers fiercely attacked him;
they shot at him and pressed him hard.
Yet his bow remained taut,
and his arms were made agile
by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob,
by the name of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel,
by the God of your father, who will help you,
by the Almighty who will bless you
with blessings of heaven above,
blessings of the deep that lies beneath,
blessings of the breasts and of the womb.
The blessings of your father
are stronger than the blessings of the eternal mountains,
the bounties of the everlasting hills;
may they be on the head of Joseph,
on the brow of him who was set apart from his brothers.

‘Benjamin is a ravenous wolf,
in the morning devouring the prey,
and at evening dividing the spoil.’

All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said to them when he blessed them, blessing each one of them with a suitable blessing.

An important narrative at the core of Jewish culture, and with implications throughout world history — including the present day — is the story of Abraham and Sarah. Old and unable to have children, they are nonetheless chosen to bring forth a people through whom God will work, and bless all nations. So, you’ll recall those parts of the Bible where God is referred to as “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Abraham’s grandson Jacob will have a large family out of which come the twelve tribes of Israel. (It’s interesting to note that even this family that has such an important role in salvation history is not spared conflict and dysfunction, thinking of the Joseph story.)

Scholars tell us that this poem in Genesis 49 is likely one of the oldest-written parts of the Bible. (One of the rationales being that poems or songs that punctuate stories were originally independent, used in worship, or around the fire.)

As Christians we’ll be drawn to the section about Judah, the tribe out of which King David and Jesus came. I wonder if this lesson was selected for the Lenten season, as the reference to the donkey will bring to mind the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. I wonder, too, about the wine and vines. Verse 11 seems to imply that the grapes will be so plentiful that it’s no problem to let the donkey eat from them as it’s tied up. Perhaps the early followers of Jesus thought of this when recounting the story of the miracle at the wedding at Cana.

This poem might have us reflecting on our family and our own story. Looking back, taking stock, at both the failures and successes, and looking ahead, maybe with high, or maybe low expectations, or some mixture of both.

[Matthew Kieswetter]

Sunday, March 22, 2020
1 Samuel 16:1-10; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

What is this faith, the faith of the Christian? We worship a King who was beaten, mocked, and hung to die on a cross. Through this artefact of the world’s brutal power, our Lord proclaims his everlasting Kingdom of peace. Through the Cross, dying and rising are made one. Christ plumbs the depths of his Creation in death, then ascends to the highest height of all, right next to God. That is the faith we affirm each time we say the Creeds.

To all appearances, then, our faith is utter foolishness. There is nothing at all appealing about the Cross itself. It was barely decorated: just a man and a handful of nails. It took the blood, sweat, and tears of one man—the life of our Lord, a labour of love—to free the world from bondage, and to reverse our estrangement from God. That is exactly how God chose to reveal his Son’s victory to us. Without God’s revelation of his Son, that is surely not how we would picture victory. Without the Word of God, we could not even begin to imagine such a victory. As Christians, we see a world transformed: we have ceased to “look on the outward appearance” and have begun to look “on the heart.”

This lesson from the Book of Samuel echoes through the entire Bible, and is seen in today’s Gospel when Jesus condemns the Pharisees, who look on things not in faith, but with their eyes: “If you were blind,” he says, “you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains” (John 9:41). We cannot be helped unless we acknowledge our need of help. The season of Lent is a time to take a hard look in the mirror. It is a time to stop denying that we are broken. I cannot remember a time when the world’s clock was so well adjusted to accomodate the demands of the church calendar. Things have slowed down, and most of us are staying as close to home as we can. The burning question these days is “what should we avoid?” Turning this question towards spiritual matters, let us avoid what merely seems good to us, our compulsions and selfishness, the very sources of our sickness. Let us take this time of “social distancing” to draw closer to God. And as God calls us to serve others, let us do so to his glory.

[Craig Love]