Proper 25, 21st Sunday after Pentecost [by Bishop Marc Andrus]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Deu 34:1-12
Ex 22:20-26
2nd Reading
1 Thess 2:1-8
1 Thess 1:5c-10
Matt 22:34-46
by Bishop Marc Andrus, Episcopal Diocese of California

Comments and Interpretation on Deuteronomy 34:1-12

1 Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the LORD showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, 2 all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, 3 the Negeb, and the Plain — that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees — as far as Zoar. 4 The LORD said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” 5 Then Moses, the servant of the LORD, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. 6 He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. 7 Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. 8 The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended. 9 Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the LORD had commanded Moses. 10 Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face. 11 He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the LORD sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, 12 and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.

God shows Moses the land that became the Kingdom of Judah. This scene comes at the end of a 40-year sojourn between the end of a centuries-long period of slavery in Egypt. In the context of our Care of Creation, it is well to remember that the enslavement of the Hebrew people begins with an environmental disaster – a severe, seven-year drought that encompassed not only Egypt but a vast area that included the land over which the semi-pastoralist Hebrew people traveled in seasonal cycles.

There is a thread that runs through the entire story of the Hebrew people moving into Egypt, their wandering in the wilderness after God frees them from their enslavement, and up to this point, the passage into a land where they will establish a new relationship with land. I have already noted the drought that occasioned the original entry of the Hebrew people into Egypt. The story in today’s lectionary, Moses surveying the land that marks the end of their wandering, his not being allowed to pass into the land with the people he has been leading for forty years, and his death, this story is also a Creation Care story.

During the period of wandering, the people again suffered from drought. They complained to Moses, who took their cries to God. God commanded Moses to use his staff and strike a rock in the presence of the assembled people, and God would cause water to flow from the rock. The text (Numbers) says that Moses did just as God said, but that he upbraided the people and then “struck the rock twice.” The water flowed, as God had promised, but God told Moses that because of this show of intemperance, Moses would not be allowed to enter the new homeland.

What will be the Hebrew people’s relationship to this new land? How will they meet environmental disasters in the future? The preceding story contains a double warning: about trusting in earthly powers (Pharaoh, the stand-in for all monarchial power); and about seeking to solve the environmental crises “under our own steam,” without trusting in the grace of God. The outcome of giving ourselves over to either of these temptations is enslavement and frustrated futility.

I was recently attending a United Nations and faith bodies environmental conference that concluded with a multi-national, interfaith panel. A Clan Mother of the Onondaga Clan in upstate New York spoke about environmental ethics that derived from everyday practices of the clan in working within an ecosystem. One principle that guides the clan as they gather berries, or fish, or hunt is that the food must be “given.” A counter example Clan Mother Jacques gave is fracking; the intensely extractive, effortful drilling, blasting, pumping that goes into fracking is the opposite of taking what is “given.”

The Deuteronomy lesson is not to be taken as a call to passive piety, but rather, positively, as understanding that the love of God, indeed God’s Spirit is the source of all life, of all that is. A life lived in mindful reverence and gratitude is a posture that will shape our actions and help lead us to the “place where we should be,” a sustainable life.

Comments and Interpretation of Matthew 22:34-46

34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together,35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” 41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42 “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying, 44 ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”‘? 45 If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” 46 No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

The second half of today’s Gospel lesson may be off-putting and less than attractive as the basis for preaching, and for preaching on Creation Care, as it is another instance of sparing between Jesus and his opponents. But the first half, also framed as an encounter meant to entrap Jesus, is bursting with the sap of meaning, and meaning for how we live together on the Earth.

The love that Jesus says is the branch from which the whole body of the Teachings of Moses hangs is agape love, which I translate positively as “overflowing love” (chosen rather than “unconditional,” a translation choice parallel to positively translating the Sanskrit “ahimsa” as “soul force” rather than the negatively cast “nonviolence”).

As one elderly, life-long Episcopalian said to me recently, “Love (and he meant agape love) is the most powerful equation in the universe, more than e=mc2.” He and I talked further, and I found that this wise man was talking about what I call the dynamics of the Beloved Community.

The Beloved Community is a way of speaking of what is normally translated as the “Kingdom of God,” or the “Kingdom of Heaven” in the New Testament. Calling this reality the Beloved Community moves us out of the language of domination and patriarchy. Neil Douglas-Klotz’ fecund translation of Jesus’ prayer translates “Thy kingdom come” in this way:

3. The Creative Fire Teytey malkuthakh (KJV version: Thy kingdom come)

Create your reign of unity now-
through our fiery hearts
and willing hands. Let your counsel rule our lives,
clearing our intention
for co-creation. Unite our “I can” to yours, so that
we walk as kings and queens
with every creature. Desire with and through us
the rule of universal fruitfulness
onto the earth. Your rule springs into existence
as our arms reach out to
embrace all creation. Come into the bedroom of our hearts,
prepare us for the marriage of
power and beauty. From this divine union, let us birth
new images for a new world
of peace.

Douglas-Klotz, Neil. Prayers of the Cosmos (p. 19). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Notice the use of “unity,” “co-creation,” “universal fruitfulness onto the earth,” and the “embrace [of] all creation.” These are phrases of Creation Care and equally of the Beloved Community. Two central features of the Beloved Community are that is an interconnected reality, and that the interconnection is effected by agapé love. The Beloved Community is the interrelated community of all life, including but not limited to humankind.

Preaching from the Hebrew Scripture and Gospel lessons

The way forward in the light of the planetary environmental crisis is neither one of carefully studied opacity – climate denial or climate “ignoring” as one friend put it – nor of the hubris of believing that we can engineer our way out of the crisis while leaving our over-consuming, materialistic ways in place. Refounding our ethics based on agapé love, and knowing and acknowledging that this love flows from God is to live consciously within the Beloved Community; it is to live the prayer, “Thy Beloved Community come.” Living the life of loyalty to the Beloved Community means navigating away from the two traps that the sprawling Hebrew Scripture story, from Joseph’s family coming into Egypt, through four-hundred years of slavery, through a period of testing and tempering in the wilderness, and to the brink of entry into a new home warns us about – trusting in our own or another’s power. And, living the life of loyalty to the Beloved Community means not only a sustainable life, but an ethical life (all the Law and the Prophets depend upon this love), and, at heart the most satisfying of lives.

by Bishop Marc Andrus, Episcopal Diocese of California