Year A, Season of Pentecost, Proper 17

Exodus 3:1-15with Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c                  Trail Marker

Jeremiah 15:15-21 with Psalm 26:1-8

Romans 12:9-21

Matthew 16:21-28

Such rich images of dialogue between God and God’s messengers, God’s messengers and God’s people, are present in the lectionary texts this week. In the Hebrew scripture texts we hear question and debate, lament and reassurance, stern though it may be. The psalms give us praise, thanksgiving, and supplication. The epistle is an exhortation from the apostle Paul to God’s people in a new church start in Rome to live in love no matter what the circumstance. The gospel reveals Jesus’ tough message to his disciples about his ultimate choice to give all he has for God. There is resistance in the ranks followed by a sharp rebuttal and a pointed, poignant ultimatum of the cost of discipleship. Rich Dialogue!

So how does that lead us to story? Dialogue is at the heart of storytelling and works best orally when there are two characters speaking. In a literary story we can hold in our imaginations more than two characters speaking in conversation. We can always go back and re-read if necessary. In oral performance of story it is more difficult to follow dialogue with more than two characters. In all our scriptures this week we have dynamic two character dialogues. Which one will you choose to work with?

  • “Just” telling the story of the burning bush using the words of scripture is incredibly powerful for a congregation. If you consider this, look at The Five Books of Moses (The Schocken Bible, Vol 1) by Everett Fox. His translation brings an incredible immediacy to the text.
  • The Jeremiah passage is tough. It is part of a dialogue in which God has professed to give up on the people of because they insist on turning from God’s ways. God, it seems, at least according to the experience of the prophet, has had enough of rebellious, wayward people. Hard to hear! Yet so honest on the part of God and of Jeremiah as he pleads his case as a faithful follower. And God hears. Can you put this dialogue in contemporary language and context of a situation in the world in which God could be, in our imaginations, ready to give up on humanity’s warring, greedy, destructive ways? Who will plead for the people and challenge God with lament?
  • Could the words of Psalm 26 be told as from the mouths of immigrants seeking asylum and justice or told from perspective of a marginalized population seeking recognition and justice? Could they be woven into a story of how your congregation is hearing the cries of contemporary injustice and helping to create justice through a mission effort? Even small children understand the need for justice, the need to be heard and to receive food and shelter. What simple story with a dialogue between someone in need and someone who can meet that need could be told to them?
  • Consider reading the Roman’s text as a dialogue between two people trying to understand the exhortation. Have them question one another with the words rather that simply read and accept them placidly. These are words to live by…but not easy to live by. They take some debate and discernment so that they are not given lightly or trivially. Perhaps one character is the messenger from Paul reading the letter and one is a community member listening to the letter and trying to fathom it.
  • In light of the themes of the other texts, how will you tell the gospel text? Jesus is a messenger like Moses and like Jeremiah. He has to deliver hard words and he knows he will be persecuted. He knows how to give praise and to pray with supplication with the psalms. These are not empty exercises of shallow ritual for him. He is living Paul’s exhortation to the church.
©Jane Anne Ferguson, 2013. May be reprinted only with permission.

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