Week of Proper 11: Thursday, Year 1   12 comments

Above:  Near the Peak of Mount Sinai

Image in the Public Domain

Approaching God

JULY 27, 2023


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


With this post I rotate translations again.  The Torah readings come from Richard Elliott Friedman’s Commentary on the Torah with a New English Translation and the Hebrew Text (HarperCollins, 2001).  The New Testament lessons come from 1972 revised version of The New Testament in Modern English, by J. B. Phillips.  I recommend that any serious student of the Bible who reads English obtain and use a copy of each of these volumes.


Exodus 19:1-20 (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

In the third month after the exodus of the children of Israel from the land of Egypt, on this day, they came to the wilderness of Sinai.  And they traveled from Rephidim and came to the wilderness of Sinai and camped in the wilderness.  And Israel camped there opposite the mountain.

And Moses had gone up to God.  And YHWH called to him from the mountain, saying,

This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and tell to the children of Israel:  “You’ve seen what I did to Egypt, and I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to me.  And now, if you’ll listen to my voice and observe my covenant, then you’ll be a treasure to me out of all the peoples, because all the earth is mine.  And you’ll be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation to me.”  These are the words that you shall speak to the children of Israel.

And Moses came and called the people’s elders and set before them all these words that YHWH had commanded him.  And all the people responded together, and they said,

We’ll do everything that YHWH has spoken.

And Moses brought back the the people’s words to YHWH.

And YHWH said to Moses,

Here, I am commanding you in a mass of cloud for the purpose that the people will hear when I am speaking with you, and they will believe in you as well forever.

And Moses told the people’s words to YHWH.  And YHWH said to Moses,

Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow; and they shall wash their clothes and be ready for the third day, because on the third day YHWH will come down on Mount Sinai before the eyes of all the people.  And you shall limit the people all around, saying, “Watch yourselves about going up in the mountain and touching its edge.  Anyone who touches the mountain shall be put to death.  A hand shall not touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot.  Whether animal or man, he shall not live.”  At the blowing of the horn they shall go up to the mountain.

And Moses went down from the mountain to the people.  And he consecrated the people, and they washed their clothes.  And he said to the people,

Be ready for three days.  Don’t come close to a woman.

And it was on the third day, when it was morning, and it was:  thunders and lightning and a heavy cloud on the mountain, and a sound of a horn, very strong.  And the entire people that was in the camp trembled.  And Moses brought out the people toward God from the camp, and they stood up at the bottom of the mountain.  And Mount Sinai was all smoke because YHWH came down on it in fire, and its smoke went up like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled greatly.  And the sound of the horn was getting much stronger.  Moses would speak, and God would answer him in a voice.  And YHWH came down on Mount Sinai, at the top of the mountain, and YHWH called to Moses at the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.

Canticle 13 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Song of the Three Young Men, 29-34, plus the Trinitarian formula

Glory to you, Lord God of our fathers;

you are worthy of praise; glory to you.

Glory to you for the radiance of your holy Name;

we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.

Glory to you in the splendor of your temple;

on the throne of your majesty, glory to you.

Glory to you, seated between the Cherubim;

we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.

Glory to you, beholding the depths;

in the high vault of heaven, glory to you.

Glory to you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit;

we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.


Psalm 24:1-6 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it,

the world and all who dwell therein.

2 For it is who founded it upon the seas

and made it firm upon the rivers of the deep.

3 “Who can ascend the hill of the LORD?

and who can stand in his holy place?”

4 “Those who have clean hands and a pure heart,

who have not pledged themselves to falsehood,

nor sworn by what is a fraud.

5 They shall receive a blessing from the LORD

and a just reward from the God of their salvation.”

6 Such is the generation of those who seek him,

of those who seek your face, O God of Jacob.

Matthew 13:10-17 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

At this the disciples approached him and asked,

Why do you talk to them in parables?

Jesus replied,

Because you have been given the privilege of understanding the secrets of the kingdom of Heaven,” but they have not.  For when a man has something, more is given to him till he has plenty.  For if he has nothing even his nothing will be taken away from him.  This is why I speak to them in these parables; because they go through life with their eyes open, but see nothing, and with their ears open, but understand nothing of what they hear.  They are the living fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophesy which says:

By hearing ye shall hear, and shall in no wise understand;

And seeing ye shall see, and shall in no wise perceive;

For this people’s heart is waxed gross,

And their ears are dull of hearing,

And their eyes have been closed;

Lest haply they should perceive with their eyes,

And hear with their heart,

And should turn again,

And I should heal them.

But how fortunate you are to have eyes that see and ears that hear! Believe me, a great many prophets and good men have longed to see what you are seeing and they never saw it.  Yes, and they have longed to hear what you are hearing and they never heard it.


The Collect:

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


The reading from Exodus builds up to the giving of the Ten Commandments.  In preparation, the people receive instructions to live according to ritual purity, including abstinence from sexual relations for a few days.  They hear also that nobody ought to touch–even brush up against, on pain of death–the mountain upon which YHWH will descend.  The belief at the time held that God was so “other” that the people needed intermediaries, such as Moses.

The Incarnation of God in the person of Jesus of Nazareth eliminates the needs for intermediaries, not that I object to intercessions by saints on earth or in heaven.  People were not supposed to touch God’s holy mountain–on pain of death–but people could touch God incarnate, Jesus.  Indeed, many people did, and some of them had him over for dinner.  This is the understanding of God I prefer–God among the people and approachable by all.

Parables included references to circumstances many people could understand easily, but not all who heard the parables grasped them.  One needed to listen with the ears of a disciple to understand, and even the Twelve Apostles were confused much of the time.  Yet the message was there, presented plainly, for all with faithful attention to the details.

The greatest and most succinct of my theology resides in Hebrews 4:14-16, which I quote from the Revised Standard Version:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

This is how I approach God:  respectfully and honestly, holding back nothing, especially the unpleasant aspects of myself.  God knows about those anyhow.  I praise, intercede, and kvetch.  Never have I felt anything other than divine love and compassion.  I have approached God in the best of times, the worst of times, and all manner of circumstances in between.  My sense of the presence of God has saved my life on more than one occasion.  The holiness of God is most evident in divine approachability, not mysterious aloofness.

In the Name of God:  the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.



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