Psalm 27:1-6; Genesis 46:28-47:31; Matthew 16:21-28

Crisp air after a bit of rain )although more would have been nice); the sun rising almost directly behind Mt. Diablo as we move inexorably to spring.

Psalm 27:1-6  Like the previous psalm, this psalm bespeaks immense confidence in God and his protection: “The Lord is my light and my rescue./ Whom should I fear?”  And this is not just temporary protection, but “The Lord is my life’s stronghold.”  An impregnable castle, an unassailable fortress.  I have to believe Luther had this psalm in mind when he penned “A Mighty Fortress.”

Like the verses of “A Mighty Fortress,” this reality of protection is heightened dramatically with the almost cannibalistic description of enemies advancing relentlessly, “evildoers draw near me to eat my flesh.”  But with God at our side, even “Though a camp is marshaled against me/ my heart shall not fear.”  Because “He hides me in His shelter / on the day of evil.”  This psalm limns a portrait of God as mighty warrior yet at the same time the psalmist can “behold the Lord’s sweetness.”

This seeming contradiction of protection and sweetness is one of the best descriptions of God that we have.  Our cultural images of God as an avuncular old man or as some crazed death-demanding entity hurling lightening bolts miss the mark.  Here is where we see at once the fierce God of justice and God who is the very definition of love.  And with the psalmist, our response can only be”sacrifices with joyous shouts” and singing.

Genesis 46:28-47:31  Following a poignant reunion with his father at which, as with Benjamin, Joseph “fell on [Jabob’s] neck, and he wept in his neck a long while.”  (46:29), Jacob and a delegation of brothers are presented to Pharaoh, who asks “What do you do?” (47:4).  They are shepherds and assigned to live in Goshen. There is a long, intimate conversation with Pharaoh wherein Jacob reveals his age of 130.  Interestingly, because of his advanced age, it is Jacob who blesses Pharaoh (47:10), in an almost ironic echo of the blessing Jacob received so many years ago.  I’m struck by the detailed description of the conversation between Jacob and Pharaoh, clearly underscoring the amity with which the relationship between Israel and Egypt began.

The scene returns to the reality of the famine and Joseph’s brilliant administration that not only keeps the people fed but shrewdly ends up with Pharaoh owning a fifth of all the once-private land.  But there is a foreboding note as the people volunteer to become slaves to Pharaoh (47:19), making it clear that slavery was already part of the Egyptian culture and that Israel probably fell into slavery almost imperceptibly but inexorably.

Jacob’s dying wish is “do not bury me in Egypt.”  And the last of the Patriarchs leaves the scene–while his descendants remain in Egypt. The stage for the next Act in the drama is set.

Matthew 16:21-28: Now that Peter has acknowledged Jesus as Messiah, he clearly has great visions of Jesus coming to Jerusalem and overthrowing both the Romans and the church authorities.  Jesus is now speaking very clearly and directly about what is going to happen.  No ambiguous statements or parables.  Peter does not like what he hears and at least has the good sense to take Jesus aside rather than expressing his dismay publicly, saying, “God forbid! This must never happen to you.”  And here we have it: Peter–and all of us–want to control circumstances so that we get the outcome we want and think is best.  The eternal conflict of “setting [our minds] not on divine things but on human things.”  We often like to call our plans for what Jesus ought to do “vision,” but too often and exactly like Peter, we suffer from spiritual myopia. The “vision” is about us and not about what God has in mind.

And then the ugly truth: we may not like what God has in mind at all. Which I think is what taking up a cross is all about.  It’s about subjugating our desires and our sense of what “should” happen, abandoning those grand dreams and first discerning (not a trivial task!) and then being open and accepting of what God has in mind.  At least it is for me, I have to take up that cross again every morning.

Just a side note: our small group had an excellent discussion last night about hospitality which led to us discussing your points, Kevin, about open communion and then exploring the nature of faith and then grace.  We may not be a “Lutheran Church” anymore, but it’s encouraging to see that the Lutheran distinctive is still reasonably alive and well.

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