September 09, 2008

Looking Ahead to September 14, 2008 -- 18th After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:

  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Exodus 14:19-31
  • Responsive Reading: Exodus 15:1-13 (VU p.876)
  • From the Letters of the Early Church: Romans 14:1-12
  • From the Gospel: Matthew 18:21-35

The Hymns this week are:

  • 245 Praise the Lord with the Sound of Trumpet
  • 684 Make Me a Channel of Your Peace
  • 606 In Christ There Is No East or West
  • 651 Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah

The Sermon Title is Rejoicing in Vengeance and Death?

Early Thoughts: Does one group's freedom always have to come with the tears of another? Is mass slaughter something to celebrate? How do we respond to the knowledge that our victory is another's defeat?

There is something of a horror story here, depending on whose viewpoint you use of course. Most of us read the Exodus story as a sign of great victory and liberation. Of course that is how it is written -- a clear case of the victors writing the history. But what if you read it through Egyptian eyes?

AS the Scripture tells of great rejoicing the Jewish tradition has an undercurrent of questioning. Within Jewish tradition there is the practise of midrash. In essence midrash is an interpretive retelling of the story (although that is a simplification). Midrash adds new insights and dimensions to a story. In the case of the Exodus story there is a midrash that has God weeping while the Israelites celebrate. God weeps with God's people the Egyptians. For Egypt this is a horror story.

The big question this contrast between celebration and weeping asks is "what is the place of redemptive or vengeful violence?". THe story suggest that redemptive violence is how God brings justice to the world. But Scripture as a whole is ambiguous about it. Is God is an "enemy of my friend is my enemy" kind of GOd? OR is God one whose hope lies beyond win/lose situations? Either point can be argued from Scripture.

In the end my experience of GOd, my understanding of GOd is that GOd does not want us to rejoice in another's pain. Even when such rejoicing can be seen as justifiable it is not necessarily good. THe Hebrew people had bee freed from terrible slavery, we can easily understand why the drowning of their oppressors would be seen as good. IT slaked the thirst for vengeance and retribution. But human history shows that when we respond to oppression with violence, revenge, and oppression we get drawn into a circle of violence. The only cure for oppression is to move out of the circle. But how do we do that?


  1. Beautiful reflection Gord. I shy away from this reading for the very reasons you raise... so hard to preach this text. I remember teaching a jolly song to a bunch of kids in VBS, taken from Miriam's words. Yikes!

    Thanks again...

    A Midrash friend.

  2. Quite timly for us in the US, with an upcoming election and a war going on.
    Promises made to end a war and talk of ways to talk befroe a war starts (thank goodness), promises to continue to fight (4x over) a war and bring an end to "them" and talk of who God is wanting to if God has a side picked.
    Good stuff, you ahve me thinking more