During the interminable season after Pentecost (the big green portion on the left of the picture above), the Revised Common Lectionary allows congregations to choose between two Old Testament tracks. The first is the so-called “semi-continuous” lesson, which pulls lessons that are a “semi-continuous” telling of an Old Testament story. The second track is “thematic” in that the lesson has something to do with some other lesson. The trick is often finding what theme the RCL powers-that-be had in mind.
At Saint Paul’s, we’ve been using the Track Two lessons this summer. The choice was made, for the most part, because unless one is going to preach the OT for an extended period of time, the “semi-continuous” lessons can raise a lot of questions that never really get answered for people sitting in the pews. This Sunday, the obvious theme between the Exodus lesson and both New Testament lessons (1 Timothy and Luke) is sinfulness. Jesus is accused of hanging out with sinners and tax collectors. Paul gives Timothy a saying that is true and worthy of full acceptance – Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. The Hebrews whom God has saved from bondage in Egypt have sinned egregiously by making and worshiping a golden calf. It is a rare Episcopal priest who will preach about sin, but if there ever were a Sunday to do it, Proper 19C is it.
Not that I want to avoid preaching sin, but as I’ve read over the lessons for Sunday throughout the week, I couldn’t help but notice that there is another, more subtle connection between lessons in Exodus and Luke: humor. These stories are two of the most ridiculous scenes in all of Scripture. The Exodus lesson is a snark battle between God and Moses. I hope your lectors will highlight the sarcasm.
The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it…”
But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, `It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’?”
Meanwhile, Luke sets up the Lost Parables through a hyperbolic scene of his own.
All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable…
Picture that scene for a moment. As I see it, Jesus is in a room having dinner with all the tax collectors and sinners in a given town, while the Pharisees stand outside, peering through the doors and windows, grumbling among themselves. Jesus, looking up from his plate of mutton, clears his throat, and begins to tell this immense crowd these wild stories about a shepherd who puts 99% of his sheep at risk to find one that was lost and a woman who spends a huge sum of money throwing a party over finding a single lost coin.
These stories are a helpful reminder that the Bible is not a drab history book for us to study for an exam. It is the story of God’s relationship with humanity, in all our faults and foibles. It is full of poetry, of myth, of humor, and most importantly, it is full of love: God’s unimaginable love for everything God has created.