Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Exodus 12:1-14 AND Psalm 149:1-9, Ezekiel 33:7-11 AND Psalm 119:33-40, Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20

It may be helpful to give a little background about my “meeting” with the lectionary texts each week. Quite a few years back (although I was already “retired”), when I started offering these reflections, my agreement was to bring a lifetime of experience and study to the effort. This was in contrast to undertaking in-depth new research and study for each set of passages. Occasionally something intrigues me and drives me to dig deeper, but I do not intend my primary approach to be intellectual---although, being who I am, it sometimes takes that kind of turn.

It starts with preparation for a Tuesday morning group of people who meet over breakfast to share our lives, connecting with one another and with scripture. We meet at a local restaurant, beginning with the sharing of prayer concerns, followed by prayer. Members of the group are then given time to read an abbreviated version of the lectionary readings I have prepared. Starting on the previous Sunday, as I have read through the readings, I have thought about what questions or topics I might suggest to kick off our attempt to connect scripture to our lives. Often I look for a common theme running through the various texts. Sometimes I just leave it open-ended and members comment on something that stuck them as they read, or they ask a question---and off we go.

Pastor Jeanne has talked about two different methods of using questions to get into the scriptures---one using a regular structured sequence of questions, the other just jotting down every queston that comes to her mind. Both are good and productive approaches. My preparation for the Tuesday morning breakfast often involves questions, but with a slightly different twist. I’m asking myself, “What question or questons, arising from these texts, would make a good starting point for our conversation around the table?” Where might we start in our effort to connect with one another and with scripture?

With that background, I’m going to offer you the questions, with a little comment, I put before the group this week?

1. The reading from Exodus provides instruction for the Hebrews captive in Egypt to mark their doorpost and lintels with the blood of an unblemished year-old male lamb. (Exodus 12:3, 5, 7) “The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.” (vs. 13) It is presented as part of the story of the plagues and the escape from Egypt, but also as something written after the fact as an instruction for an ongoing festval of remembrance. “This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.” (vs. 14)
The phrase, “perpetual ordinance,” caught my eye. Here’s the question(s) I posed for the breakfast group, and now pose for you: What are your perpetual festivals? What do you think is worth perpetual celebration?

2. Two of the passages led me into reflection on our responsibility in influencing the behavior of others. In the United Church of Christ, we are so consumed with acceptance (for which I am ever grateful) that we cringe when we read about “wicked ones” in Ezekiel. (Ezekiel 33:8) Never would we call someone wicked! Yet there are those, even in our churches and families, whose behavior is disruptive and destructive---to themselves and to others. The reading from Ezekiel lays a heavy burden on us. If “you do not warn the wicked to turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but their blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from their says, and their ways, and they do not turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but you will have saved your life.” (vss. 8-9)

The Gospel reading from Matthew places a teaching from Jesus in the context of the life of the early church and how to deal with members whose behavior is tearing down rather than building up. “If another member of the church sins against you,” it begins. It’s not likely that Jesus would have used the word “church.” Some translations say “brother” or “brother or sister.” The Contemporary English Version begins, “If one of my followers sins against you.” (Matthew 18:15)

The process is first to talk directly with the person. If that doesn’t work, take one or two others along with you. Finally, if necessary, bring the whole church into the discussion. (vss. 16-17) It’s a troubling process that can lead to expulsion. Some denominations and congregations have set up a committee to oversee this process. Our concensus around the table was that it’s not about organization but attitude. The goal is not to exclude people but to draw them in, help them grow, find reconciliation. And it emphasizes that this is not a vigilante activity. We are a community working together to heal one another and include all, “for where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (vs. 20)

Here’s the question I posed for the breakfast group, and now pose for you: What is our responsibility when someone is acting in antisocial, destructive, or self-dstructive ways?

3. The reading from Romans reiterates Jesus’ teaching about the summary of the Commandments. They “are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:9-10)

The question(s) to the breakfast group, and to you: What is most important in Christianity for you? How would you summarize Christian teaching? What is it that you connect with in Christianity?

A footnote: The readings from the Psalms have elements that could make some of us uncomfortable. Psalm 149, basically a Psalm of praise, seems to connect praise with vengeance. “Let the praise of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands, to execute vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples.” (Psalm 149:6-7) Never can I condone an attitude of vengeance, but I think it’s important to notice the next verse. The target here is oppressive leadership---“king with fetters and . . . nobles with chains of iron.” (vs. 8) God always stands with the people against injustice and oppression.

The emphasis throughout the lengthy 119th Psalm is upon law and statutes, something we free thinkers find troublesome. We could note its repeated emphasis upon law being a matter of the heart, but today I notice an important contrast in verse 36---“Turn my heart to your decrees, and not to selfish gain.” The meaning of life is found in love, not in selfish gain.

Consider the questions I have posed. Ask your own. Let’s read and reread the texts each week and find places where they connect with, where they impact and affect, our daily living. “Turn my life from looking at vanities; give me life in your ways.” (Psalm 119:37)

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