Proper 21A (OT 26)


239: Oct 1, 2017

  1. Exodus 17:1-7 
  2. Matthew 21:23-32 

  3. Philippians 2:1-13


  • Associate Pastor of First Church of Christ, CT, Suffield, CT

Featured Musician: Jennifer Knapp

Tasty Wafer:World Communion Sunday Resources

82: Sept 28, 2014

  1. Exodus 17:1-7
  2. Matthew 21:23-32

Featured Musician - My Anchor Holds


Exegetical Notes

Matthew 21:23-32

Initial Thoughts

Bible Study

  • Context:

    • What are these things?

      • He had just entered Jerusalem and ‘cleansed the Temple.’

        • Turning over the tables of the money changers

        • Healed the blind and the lame.

        • Children shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David”

        • Chief priests and legal experts were angered, “Do you hear what these children are saying?”

      • Entire scope of teaching and ministry.

  • Authority

    • By whose authority?

      • Question implies that they understand he has some authority

      • “Jesus is exercising authority of some kind (this is implied by the second question, ‘Who gave you this authority?’). It asks, ‘What is the nature of the authority you exercise?’ The second question presupposes three possible sources: Jesus’ authority is derived from God, from Satan (see 4:9, 9:34, 12:24), or from himself.” (Douglas Hare, Interpretation: Matthew, p. 245)

      • Question has been asked over and over in gospel - they don’t question what he is doing, they question how.

    • Asked by those who were in places of human authority: politically and religiously

    • Jesus’ authority or God’s authority? Hauerwas (see below) and Kathryn Blanchard (from Feasting on the Word) claim Jesus acts by his own authority, but Jesus himself does NOT claim this but God’s authority- Even Jesus point onward to God, not himself

      • "to establish grounds more determinative than Jesus's life, death, and resurrection for why we should believe in him results in idolatry. If one needs a standard of truth to insure that Jesus is the Messiah, then one ought to worship that standard of truth, not Jesus." (Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006), 185)
  • John and Jesus

    • Similar messages - repentance, turn toward God, don’t be a hypocrite, your lineage or worldly power/ position doesn’t matter to God - who you are and what you do matters to God

    • Different locations: John preached in the desert, Jesus is preaching in the temple and Jerusalem

    • “Jesus answer appears to be a clever ruse to escape the trap… His question, however, is to be seen not so much as an evasion as an indirect response.” (Hare, p. 245)

    • The priests and scribes cannot answer because they are afraid…afraid to answer and are afraid to arrest Jesus

      • afraid to lose their authority? They don’t have it to begin with

      • afraid to lose their power? wealth? self image? The radical love of Jesus should be both terrifying and liberating

  • Parable

    • Repentance vs Hypocrisy - Jesus declares it is better to be a repentant sinner than a hypocritical “saint”

    • Deeds matter more than words

      • BUT WORDS MATTER! This is not an either/or but a both/and - we must remember that Jesus is not talking to the prostitutes and tax collectors, but to the priests and scribes- these are words for them in response to their actions/questions. We know that words to matter to Jesus for those that cause someone to stumble from the righteous path should be thrown into the sea (Matt. 9:42)

    • The tax collectors and prostitutes will enter the Kingdom of God ahead of you - note Jesus does not say that they will NOT enter the Kingdom, they will just enter behind the tax collectors and prostitutes

      • Why is this a problem? Should we celebrate that we are all going to the Kingdom and if not, perhaps that is what is keeping us away

Preaching Thoughts

  • How would you feel about someone coming off the street and overthrowing the money changers (that is the questionable practices, the endowments, the security systems and locked doors) in your church? WOuld you call their “authority” into question or would you call the authorities?

    • From postChristian, “If you could completely realize the mission of [your] congregation today, here, and now, but in order to do it, you’d have to close the doors of [your] church and walk away forever, would you do it?” p. 197

  • How do we begin to repent from hypocrisy? What is the first step? How do we do this as a community?

  • “Although the context applies this parable of judgment to Jewish religious leaders, Matthew probably intended a wider application as well. Christians too can become blind to what God is doing in the world around them. How easily “church work” degenerates into little more than simply maintaining the institution, with no excitement concerning what God’s active grace is doing and consequently no enthusiasm for evangelism and renewal. We say that we are going to work in the vineyard, but instead of harvesting the grapes we spend our time rearranging the stones along the path!” (Hare, p. 248)


Exodus 17:1-7 

Initial Thoughts

  • Context:

    • Immediately after the giving of manna and meat.  This time the people have no water.

    • First, manna from heaven.  Now, water from rock.

    • Second time they lacked for good water.  The first time, Moses was instructed to put a piece of wood in the water.

Bible Study

  • Terrence Fretheim calls this period the “adolescence” of Israel.  (Interpretation: Exodus, p. 171)

    • Adolescence is a time of growth, challenging, finding independence.  Learning how to have an identity.

    • The Israelites are “forged in the fire” of the wilderness.  They learn to completely depend on God.  They have no food. It falls from the sky.  They have no water. It comes out of rocks.  They are attacked, they prevail simply by having Moses raise his hand.

    • “Even in the wilderness God is responsive to the needs of these complaining people.  God provides what the context cannot.  The protests are answered, the cries are heard, quite undeservedly.  Deliverance comes, but not in being removed from the wilderness.  A table is spread in the very presence of the enemy.  There is a gift of food where the resources are only ephemeral.  There is a gift of water where only rocks abound.  There is a gift of healing where the pain never ends.  The movement from death to life occurs within the very experience of godforesakenness.  Death is transformed into life from within a death-filled context.  A sanctuary is provided, but in the wilderness.” (Frethiem, p. 172)
  • Continuing motif of “moving”

    • The people are on the move.  Moving toward the fulfillment of a promise.

    • The movement, however is agonizingly slow.  It has already been said that the delay of the promise will be 40 years.

    • Here it is said that the people are moving “in stages,” but could find nothing to drink.

  • Continuing the motif of “murmuring”

    • Fretheim points to two different kinds of Wilderness stories.  Murmuring in response to genuine need, and murmuring without cause.  This story falls into the first category of murmuring as a response to genuine need.

    • Water is a legitimate request, so there is no sense of judgment from God (as opposed to later, when God’s response is more negative)

    • The people’s murmuring now so bad that they are about to stone Moses.

  • Continuing the motif of “testing.”

    • Over and over, God tests the people, and the people test God.

    • This is a new relationship, both sides are testing.

      • Kids test parents’ boundaries

      • “Honeymoon” period in a marriage ends when people start testing.

      • Only when relationships are mature do people stop “testing,” and settle into a more comfortable intimacy.

    • “I wonder if all these tests Moses and God keep referencing are intended to teach the people radical trust in a god who is opposed to hoarding and yet who is also present and responsive to their needs. This display of divine power is far less dramatic than controlling the waters of the Red Sea and turning them into dry land, but it does seem to present that act, in which the sea became dry, in reverse. The dry rock here flows with water. God brings water -- and with it, life -- to the arid wilderness.” (Amy Erickson from the Working Preacher)

Preaching Thoughts

  • The same staff that poisoned the water in Egypt is now providing water in the wilderness.  The same God that delivered them from Egypt is now providing for their sustenance in the wilderness.

  • The wilderness is not without benefits.  Though not without its pitfalls, the wilderness provides the people a chance to learn about who they are.  The people are strengthened by this experience, and are learning to depend upon God.  

  • God brings water out of rock, just as God brings order out of chaos, and life out of death.  God’s creative work continues.


Philippians 2:1-13

Initial Thoughts

  • Another passage often taken out of the context of the preceding verses (I [Eric] am often guilty of this)

    • Philippians 1:27-30 (NRSV) Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God's doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well— since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
  • Paul is responding to a problem - division within the church

Bible Study

  • For the sake of the community

    • “You are standing first in one spirit”

    • “Be of the same mind”, “having the same love”, “being in full accord”, “of one mind”

    • Not your own interests, but the interests of others

    • Everything is given for the sake of the greater community

    • Dismantles our individualistic notions of a separate and personal salvation and ties our salvation to a greater community

    • Ubuntu philosophy, “I am, because we are”

      • 'A person is a person through other people' strikes an affirmation of one’s humanity through recognition of an ‘other’ in his or her uniqueness and difference. It is a demand for a creative intersubjective formation in which the ‘other’ becomes a mirror (but only a mirror) for my subjectivity. This idealism suggests to us that humanity is not embedded in my person solely as an individual; my humanity is co-substantively bestowed upon the other and me. Humanity is a quality we owe to each other. We create each other and need to sustain this otherness creation. And if we belong to each other, we participate in our creations: we are because you are, and since you are, definitely I am. The ‘I am’ is not a rigid subject, but a dynamic self-constitution dependent on this otherness creation of relation and distance”. Eze, Michael Onyebuchi (2010). Intellectual history in contemporary South Africa. Palgrave Macmillan.
      • “One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can't exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can't be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.” Desmond Tutu
      • “A traveller through a country would stop at a village and he didn't have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food and attend him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu, but it will have various aspects. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?” Nelson Mandela
  • Kenosis - the Self emptying of Jesus in v. 7

    • Christ as Examplar

    • What does it mean to limit our power or privilege for the sake of the greater community?

    • We must first be aware of our power and privilege- Jesus was not ignorant of his divinity, but still chose to limit himself, to die on the cross instead of violently resisting.

    • Jesus showed a way of obedience and forgiveness, even unto death on the cross, not because he had to, but because he chose to in order to show the way of true forgiveness and non-violent love (even for one’s enemies)

    • We humble ourselves, we empty ourselves because we know that we cannot succeed unless all succeed

      • “In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be...This is the inter-related structure of reality.” MLK Jr. Letter from a Birmingham Jail
    • To be Christ-like, to impersonate Christ is to have an extroverted view of creation, church and self.

  • Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling

    • Salvation is offered, eternal life- living fully as God intended- is offered to us, but we have to live and love into it.

    • We have to allow God to work in and through us

    • Limiting and humbling ourselves allows God to work through us and others in ways we cannot imagine

    • God is at work in “you”- the you in plural. God is at work in the community

      • Take risk, be bold in love, be extravagant in forgiveness, take great leaps of faith in one another.

Preaching Thoughts

  • Fear and Trembling - this is not easy. Imitating Christ means surrendering control to God and to others. Western culture hates surrendering control to anyone.

  • Having an extroverted worldview does not mean ignoring or denying your own needs. Rather it is the acknowledgement that our needs can only be met within a greater community. I cannot be unless we are.

  • How can we imitate Christ? Nonviolently speaking truth to power, seeing the humanity (and divinity?) in our enemies, focusing on the greater community. My life only matters because black lives matter.


Thanks to our Psalms correspondent, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan (,@pomopsalmist). Thank you to Scott Fletcher for our voice bumpers, Dick Dale and the Del Tones for our Theme music (“Misirlou”), Nicolai Heidlas (“Sunday Morning”,"Real Ride"and“Summertime”) and Paul and Storm for our closing music (“Oh No”).