Image: The Rylands Haggadah, detail, 14th century
by Mike Kreutzer
Churches have to deal, at least at times, with shortages: shortages of money, of time, of volunteers. But one shortage that they never seem to have is a shortage of people who want to give their opinion on what “somebody” in the church should be doing – not themselves of course, but somebody else, or maybe just the generic “they.”
There is, of course, good biblical precedent for that approach. A prime example is the account of God’s self-revelation to Moses in chapters 3 and 4 of Exodus.
When the story begins, Moses is taking care of his father-in-law’s sheep. At Horeb, he encounters the burning bush, from which God speaks to him. After Moses’ initial shock and fear, he would have been thrilled with God’s message (3:7-8). God has observed, heard, known, and come down to deliver the people. “Great! You go for it, God. These people have suffered for far too long. It’s time for them to be set free.” I think we can picture Moses receiving God’s announcement with great enthusiasm.
But that enthusiasm quickly disappears when God continued, “So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” “Whoa! Wait a minute! Time out, God! I thought you said that you were going to deliver the people.” “I am, but I’m going to do it through you.” “No. Unh, unh. No way. You’ve got the wrong person! Sure, maybe somebody should do it, but not I.”
For the rest of chapters 3 and 4, we have a fascinating exchange. God tells Moses to go to Pharaoh to present God’s demands; but Moses counters that he is not able to do the job. God comes back, promising to be with him, but Moses protests that the people will want to know the name of the God who sent him; so God reveals the sacred name.
Then God presents a Plan B: “Alright then, if you’re not willing to do it alone, take the elders with you.” Moses comes back again, insisting that the people still won’t believe him; so God gives him signs to perform.
Moses then protests that he is a terrible speaker, and so it would be a huge mistake to have him address Pharaoh, even if the elders are with him. God again counters: “OK. Then how about if we scrap Plans A and B and go to Plan C? Forget about you speaking to the Pharaoh. And forget about taking the elders along. What if you were to take your brother Aaron with you and let him do the talking?”
And so it goes, back and forth. The plan to set the slaves free is not God’s invention alone. It is a shared divine-human creation. God and Moses work out the plan and its details together.
Terence Fretheim (Exodus, pp. 52-3) observes: “This dialogue is theologically significant. The recognition of holiness (3:6) does not lead to passivity in the presence of God… It is Moses’ persistence that occasions a greater fullness in the divine revelation. Human questions find an openness in God and lead to fuller knowledge. God thus reveals himself, not simply at the divine initiative, but in interaction with a questioning human party. Simple deference or passivity in the presence of God would close down the revelatory possibilities.”
Among the many insights into God, ourselves, our fellow human beings, and the web of relationships that bind all of them together that Exodus presents to us is the insistence that we are somebody. When we are convinced that “Somebody ought to do this or that,” that “somebody” might just be us.
A second vital message is that God doesn’t simply present us with pre-packaged programs, ready for us simply to follow the instructions. Our role is to engage with God in an ongoing dialogue, listening attentively, but also remembering that God is listening to us. The work of God is still a divine-human endeavor.
A third reminder emerges as the story proceeds and as more and more people are brought into leadership roles in accomplishing the great work of deliverance. We are all in this together, and we need one another in our sometimes difficult journey from here to there.
As Michael Walzer (Exodus and Revolution, p. 149) observed: “What the Exodus taught: first, that wherever you live, it is probably Egypt. Second, that there is a better place, a world more attractive, a promised land. And third, that the way to the land is through the wilderness. There is no way to get from here to there except by joining together and marching.”
This week Karl Stevens and Daniel Bogart dive into Ch. 2 of Exodus during their Chevruta Bible Study. You can subscribe to the podcast through iTunes or other fine podcast distributors, or listen to it using the player below. Show notes are also below. (more…)
Painting: Pharaoh’s Daughter & Moses by Marc Chagall
As we go deep into the story of Exodus, and learn more about Jewish midrash from Karl Stevens and Daniel Bogard’s “Lost in the Wilderness” podcast, it makes sense to explore some of the “cultural midrash” that have been drawn out of the biblical narrative by both Christian and secular artists and writers. A beautiful example of this is Eleanor Wilner’s poem Epitaph. Wilner teaches in the Warren Wilson MFA program, and has received the Juniper Prize, two Pushcart Prizes, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the MacArthur Foundation. In describing her own poetic vision, she writes: (more…)
This week Karl and Daniel plunge into Exodus Ch. 1 for their Chevruta Bible Study. You can find the podcast in the iTunes Store, or listen to it right here. The show notes are below the web player.
Daniel directed us to Sefaria: A Living Library of Jewish Texts Online.
Karl is using Robert Alter’s The Five Books of Moses for this study.
by The Rev. George Glazier
During the 3rd to 6th centuries in the deserts of Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and Arabia, a movement of spiritual seekers was happening. Christian monasticism was beginning to flower. Some of these men and women lived as hermits while others lived in communities. Either way they learned from the silence, from the desert, from the intentional time with God and sometimes from each other. This story comes from that time and speaks to something implied in our story from Exodus today. (more…)
by Karl Stevens
In the 5th century, one of Christianity’s strangest saints became famous in Syria. His name was Simeon, and his fame derived from his decision to spend his life standing on top of a pillar. People began to come to him to learn spiritual wisdom and marvel at his asceticism. But they also came to him to settle land disputes, because he had proven himself so indifferent to worldly affairs that they knew he’d be an entirely impartial judge. This may seem like a strange beginning to a blog post about Moses, but Moses and Simeon Stylites held this in common – they were strange, and because of their strangeness people trusted and listened to them.
In this episode, Karl Stevens (the priest) and Daniel Bogard (the rabbi) introduce Chevruta scripture study by looking at “The Oven of Acknai,” a story from the Babylonian Talmud. A link to the podcast is below, and the podcast is available through the iTunes Store and other fine podcast suppliers. The text of the story is below the podcast feed.
This past Sunday, Saint Timothy’s had the privilege and joy of hearing from one of the nation’s foremost Biblical Scholars, Walter Brueggemann, who both preached and led an adult forum. They’ve very kindly offered to share Brueggemann’s wisdom with the rest of the diocese. David Dreisbach took video of both sermon and forum, and you can watch them below. (more…)