Who can stand before you
when once your anger is aroused
From the heavens you uttered judgment;
the earth feared and was still
when God rose up to establish judgment
to save all the oppressed of the earth.
The book of Deuteronomy as we have it is a reshaping of Moses' words in light of the later experience of exile. We read of the hope that Moses was sharing and realize that, even after failure and loss, we are still offered hope.
The passage begins, "When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you..." We aren't where we want to be, but Moses says that we're going to be.
A second point that was true for Moses' first audience, for the readers of the compiled Deuteronomy, and then for us as well: we won't get there by ourselves--we are going as a congregation, and the achievement is not due solely to our own efforts; rather, the Lord God is making a gift.
Now, what are we supposed to do with this gift? Not hide it or hoard it. Rather than ownership, we have assumed something more like trusteeship. We are supposed to use this gift to continue God's work.
In Moses' time, the distribution was through the priests. We still use the church as one of our conduits.
And not just do it--Moses commands us to say what we are doing, and why.
I'm trying to imagine a church service at offering time when all of us sitting in the pews might say something--either individually or together--as we put our money in the plate. Once again, I am grateful for the choir who takes care of this part for us. Yet, I can't quit wondering what I would say to help me remember that it is God's gift to me that I am sharing with others that day.
And who are these others? Moses reminds them that they themselves were immigrants in somebody else's country and that now that they are at home they need to celebrate with the immigrants who are now living among them. How do we celebrate our gifts with people we might consider to be not like us?
Imagine the exiles finally being able to return to the temple for worship. Remembering their hard times and celebrating their release, they could also remember the generation who had escaped from enslavement and had been given a home.
Now, imagine the journey of your own congregation. Remember your history. What traps have you fallen into? What powers have you been obedient to?
Still thinking about your church, consider the reminder that the Lord not only brought them there but also provided them with abundant resources--a land flowing with milk and honey. What are the good things that you have had available for your nourishment and enjoyment? Do you think you got them because you deserved them or do you think the Lord had a hand in them?
Moses told the people to present their first fruits to the Lord. How willing is your congregation to give anything, to give a lot, to give their best to God's work?
Moses then describes the group gathered at the altar that day--not only family but also aliens. Look around your congregation. How many aliens worship with you?
I was amazed when as an adult I learned that a traditional interpretation of the roles of Mary and Martha was that Martha depicted service and Mary contemplation. Therefore, whereas good works are good, they aren't as good as listening.
Mary had been my model for a different reason. I had interpreted the distinction between their actions as doing unseen work back in the kitchen or getting to sit in the room where people are discussing important things. I really liked the idea that Jesus thought this was the better part.
Shelly Cochran, in The Pastor's Underground Guide to the Revised Common Lectionary stresses that we shouldn't use it to make women like Martha fell inferior to others. I concur with her and can say that I have heard words of discomfort about this passage from several women whose call has been to work in the kitchen so the other church folks--including a happy-to-be-fed me and enjoy good meals and companionship.
A further point--is Jesus saying silent listening is the only best thing a follower can do? No, go back and read about the good Samaritan again.
Prayer for Today: O Lord our God, we give you thanks for the many gifts that you have given us. Help us discern how best to use those gifts in order that we can be part of forwarding your kingdom. Amen.