Exodus to a new creation

 

 

A sermon for Proper 19; Exodus 14:19-31, Psalm 114, Romans 14:1-12, Matthew 18:21-35 

I have mentioned our family beach traditions. One of my favorite is riding the waves. We love the rough water; wading out waist to chest deep, waiting for the perfect wave, timing it just right and riding it in using your body as a surfboard. It is exhilarating. There are moments not quite as exciting but are none the less memorable. There are times when the water going back into the ocean is literally rushing, so much so it can knock you down, and pull you out to sea. Hurricane Irma delivered an extreme example when all the water on some west coast beaches was blown out to sea. There are also times when the waves break unexpectedly; on more than one occasion I remember being hammered as a wave, taller than me, broke right on top of me driving me into ocean bed. Irma delivered an extreme example of this when all the water blown out to sea came rushing back. All the stories showing people walking on dry ocean floor warned people not to stay because the water would come back violently and far too fast for them to get out of the way. Irma’s blowing the ocean away and the ocean rushing back sounds a bit like this morning’s exodus story of crossing the Red Sea; except for the walls of water on either side. However, before we get there, let’s review what happened after last week’s Passover liturgical story.

The Passover Liturgy is given through Moses to Israel. That night death swept across the land. We touched on the complex reality that the story includes the death of every 1st born male (child or animal) in every Egyptian household, irrespective of their role in the oppression of Israel. Egypt is so mortified and terrified, that Pharaoh allows Israel to go. They also gave Israel a bounty of silver, and gold jewelry, and clothing (Exodus 12:35). There are additional liturgical instructions for unleavened bread and for the redemption of firstborn sons. Then, after 420 years, Israel, 600,000 strong, sets out. They wander around in the wilderness for a time and the Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night (Exodus 13:21). Then Pharaoh has a change of heart, gathers 600 chariots and goes after Israel. Chariots functioned mainly as vehicles for archers, who were relatively safe on their mobile platform; think tank. The typical number of chariots deployed is 200 to 250; so, 600 chariots is much larger than anyone would ever expect. Collectively they are a weapon of mass destruction, which is Pharaoh’s intent (Keener and Walton). Egypt catches up to Israel at the sea side; Israel complains:

Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt?  Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness. (Ex 14:11-12)

Moses answers

Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today (Exodus 14:13)

We pick up the story this morning with the Angel of God and the Cloud swapping places.

We all know Israel walks across the dry sea bed to freedom, and the Egyptian army is completely destroyed. As with last week’s story there is a difficult bit of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart which leads to the death of the Egyptian soldiers. There is no reason to hash that point again. What is interesting in today’s reading; however, are the references to creation stories, both from Genesis and of the surrounding cultures.

Israel is between the waters of the sea and the Egyptian army. God and Moses encourage them to go on. They would of course, except to move on        is to enter the deadly waters of the sea. The sea is an image similar to the chaos that cover the face of the earth, before creation, it is a symbol of death (Bratt). In Isaiah, we read about God who “pierced” the sea “dragon Rahab” (another name for Leviathan) “and dried up the sea” to make a way for Israel out of Egypt (Isaiah 51:9-10) (Harrelson).

The story is also recounted in Psalm 74 (vs 12-15).

We heard this morning that The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night (Exodus 14:21); ‘wind’ is the same word in Genesis 1:2 a ‘wind’ from God swept over the face of the waters. (Olive Tree); thus, “God does a deed as powerful, original, and life-giving as the very newness of creation” (Harrelson, Brueggeman). I wonder if future stories about Irma will evoke similar memories? Or, if the story of new creation within Exodus will inspire recovery efforts in the devastation following any disaster, to be a commitment to a new creation?

In surrounding cultures, there are similar stories. Baal defeats Yam and Nahar, the “sea and river” gods, marking a victory for order, creation, and fertility. Babylon’s god Marduk defeats Tiamat, a sea monster, in the creation myth of Enuma Elish (Harrelson).

God’s control of the sea is central to Israel’s salvation story; it begins with the story of crossing the Red Sea and ends with Israel crossing the Jordan River, which God dries up so Israel can enter the promised land (Josh 4-5) (Harrelson). God not only shows Israel the path, God clears the way; more than seven times.

Another piece of the story found in surrounding countries is the Cloud. For Israel, the cloud is a rear guard protecting their escape. It also provides light at night (Brueggeman); it takes a while for 600,000 people to move even a short distance. The cloud brings darkness to the Egyptians, a reminder of the 3 days of darkness of the 9th Plague (Exodus 10:22) and yet another symbol of the “pre-creation chaos” (Bratt) earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, (Genesis 1:2).

The Hittites have stories of gods coming to their aid causing it to rain, and sending a cloud that causes darkness so their enemy could not see their camp, or goes before their troops hiding them (Keener and Walton).

Creating light and darkness are part of the Genesis creation story (Bratt). In the control of both the chaos of water, and control of the dark and light we begin to see that Israel’s’ exodus is also Israel’s new creation. (Sigmon).

One more little creation related bit. In observing Yahweh’s control over the chaos of water and the light and dark, the Egyptian Army recognizes that Yahweh not Pharaoh, or any other Egyptian god, is the Lord of all creation. This is a key lesson of the Genesis creation stories. The sovereignty of God, revealed in binding and losing the chaos of water, is significant to Israel coming to faith (Bratt).

So, this is where all this leads. Not unlike ancient Israel our world is shaken. We face our own exodus from the known, that is, to the unknown, that is to come. There are uncontrolled tyrants, of international, national, business, and faith persuasion, threatening all kinds of people, including us, with all kinds of weapons of mass destruction. It doesn’t matter if it is

  • the North Korean nuclear missiles,
  • or the loss of medical care or the DACA program,
  • or the rise of Neo Nazi, white supremacy,
  • or leftist purists driving any and all dissenters away,
  • or voraciously greedy financiers,
  • or corporate executives,
  • or degenerate ministers and priests,
  • or corrupt local, state, or nation politicians,
  • or dominating local school teachers,

tyrants disrupt our world; they bring fear into our hearts. Such fear often provokes the worst in all of us. We may seek to return to the known, as difficult, and oppressive as it is. Or we may abandon the core of our faith, and anoint our own abusive oppressive tactics with divine imprimatur, the authority of God.

  • We forget the beginning of Jesus last days. Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey, not a horse, which is a symbol of imperial power and an integral part of the Roman Legions, the emperors’ weapon of mass destruction.
  • We forget, God alone has the power to cast out the tyrant’s weapons of mass destruction; God alone cast the horse and rider, the purveyors of chaos, fear, and oppression, into the sea (Sigmon).
  • We forget, God alone brings creation, light, and life, out of chaos, darkness, and death.
  • We forget, the amazing grace and love of God, who is the singular causal act of creation, has, and is, and will bring new creation out of existential exodus.

In the mist of your exodus from the known, that is, to the unknown, that is to come, trust the Spirit to direct and rule your hearts, revealing the images of creation, in which the divine shows you your path, and clears the way to a new creation, renewed life in the presence of God.

Amen


References

Bratt, Doug. Proper 19 A Exodus 14:19-31 . 17 9 2017. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Brueggeman, Walter. New Interpreters’ Bible Exodus. Vol. 1. n.d. 12 vols.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 17 9 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Olive Tree. Olive Tree Cross References: Expanded Set. Harper Collins Christian Publishing, 2015.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Sigmon, Casey Thornburgh. Commentary on Exodus 14:19-31. 17 9 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

 

 

 

 

 

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Being a part of the continuing story

A sermon for Proper 18; Exodus 12:1-14, Psalm 149, Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20

My family is all for traditions. They have changed since we grew up and started families of our own, but we have traditions. Growing up we had birthday traditions, Easter traditions, including the Golden egg, Thanksgiving traditions, Christmas traditions and beach traditions. My mother saw to our keeping our traditions. But ~ she also was not one to let an opportunity, go by.

In college, my middle brother took to buying all his clothes at Goodwill. He had good reasons, they were inexpensive so when, not if but when, he tore something up, it was not such a big deal They were clean. They were in reasonable shape. And best of all ~ no one ever asked.

When it came time for his wedding rehearsal, mom, and a few of her best friends we all knew and loved, went to the Goodwill store, and bought their outfits. They were, well at least ten years out of fashion, and none of us will ever forget the brilliant blue dress with the huge (hold up hands shoulders apart) bright yellow flower. At the rehearsal, everyone erupted in a joyous uproar as they, in place of the bride’s maids, gloriously came down the center aisle.

Some years later it was my parents 50th wedding anniversary. There was a big to do at my sister’s house; and beforehand there was a family thing. No one quite knows how he pulled it off. But, he let us all know he would be just a bit late. We were all there, yapping and waiting for my brother. We hear the front door open and close and all turned to see who had arrived. There he was, in the brilliant blue dress with the huge (hold up hands shoulders apart) bright yellow flower. Mom erupted in laughter and we all joined her. There has been one wedding in his family. Another is on the horizon. We are all waiting for this tradition to continue so we can be a part of the continuing story.

We know the story of the Passover. Or we think we do. It begins with God telling Moses that from now on this is the first month of the year for Israel. It is as if God is starting their history over again right then and there (Hoezee). And there are a host of other details we might not have noticed.

The Passover story is 52 verses long. 23 verses of them are liturgical instructions, intended to become the center of Israel’s tradition (Hoezee). They are the instructions for a ritual reenactment and remembrance of the exodus from Egypt so that it will never be forgotten (Gaventa and Petersen). The liturgy makes the exodus liberation present so that it can be a part of defining and shaping the social reality of current and future generations (Brueggeman). This is clear in the rituals’ wording. Jews observing Passover do not say:

We remember this night how God led those people long ago out of Egypt and through the Red Sea.

They say:

 We remember this night how God led us out of Egypt and through the Red Sea.

In observing the liturgy participants become the people of the story (Hoezee). How do we continue to become the people of Jesus’ story in our storied remembrances?

The Passover is totally inclusive. We read how every family is to have a lamb. At the time this was extraordinarily expensive, so families were to join together so everyone would be included (Brueggeman). We are also inclusive in our liturgies; the Prayer Book welcomes all people baptized with water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our invitation welcomes all those called to God’s table to encounter our risen Lord.

In a small way, we remember the Passover in our weekly Eucharist. We used a form of unleavened bread. The tradition continues in Passover celebrations. Scott Hoezee writes:

The Passover is a traveler’s meal, eaten with your coat already on your back, your best walking shoes on your feet, and your bags packed (Hoezee).

The meal must be eaten in a hurry; people must be ready to go, ready to travel, ready to depart from the empire. It must be done in a hurry remember that leaving Egypt is a dangerous, anxiety-ridden business. The use of leavened bread ignores to urgency and anxiety which is central to the story’s shaping prowess (Brueggeman). We too can ignore portions of our liturgical traditions; I once heard someone say If you can identify the eucharistic wine, you’ve rather missed the point.

The Passover liturgy also reminds participants that there is more to escape than the oppression of an evil empire. Israel must also escape the creeping presence of other gods the empire uses to legitimize their oppression and abuse (Brueggeman). Israel will struggle with the gods of other lands through the entirety of the Old Testament. There is the golden calf, the gods of the people in the lands they will occupy, Solomon’s offerings to the gods of his hundreds of wives and the continuing kings who did what was evil in the eyes of God throughout 1st and 2nd Kings and 1st and 2nd Chronicles. We are no better; only our gods look like philosophy, political theory, economic theory etc. that we use to justify immoral behavior in all aspects of our lives, personally, socially, in business and religiously. Our personal and national behaviors raise questions about our relationship to empire.

There is an ambiguous aspect to the Passover ritual. Yes, it is a remembrance of Israel’s escape from oppressive abuse and slavery in Egypt. However, that escape requires the death of every Egyptian first born male child and animal. The deaths are not limited to Pharaoh’s house, or the royal court, or the willing participants; every family, is indiscreetly touched by death. If the mid wives Shiprah and Puah, from last’s week’s story, are Egyptian, and the scripture does not say one way or another, do their first-born sons die? Such unilateral violence has been justified throughout the ages. We see it today in the polarization of politics and culture; in the behaviors of extremist of all kinds of causes (Epperly). We heard it in a pastor’s claim that the president has divine permission to “take out” another country’s leader. Personally, locally, and nationally we must be cautious that we do not exploit God’s story for our own selfish desires. This caution includes our tendency to approach all things rationally.

Liturgy involves a certain suspension of disbelief, setting aside our rationality so we can walk with the people of the remembrance story and reenter a defining memory, allowing the remembrance to mold who we are. At the same time, we must live within the story’s boundaries so, we can withstand the current winds of fads and criticism. Yes, we must have good informative material to enlighten our understanding of the story; however, we must live in the memory of our bellies of a hastily eaten meal, in front of our blood marked door post and lintel.

If we don’t,

  • we risk becoming too familiar with empire;
  • we risk forgetting the leaving Egypt is a dangerous anxiety ridden venture (Brueggeman);
  • we risk forgetting the lamb is slaughtered

to identify with the deaths in Egypt long ago as a reminder of the grace of God that alone secures life in the midst of a world where the innocent still suffer, still die, and where God’s long battle with evil continues (Hoezee).

Our Eucharist Liturgy requires suspension of our rationality and being vulnerable so we can be molded by the remembrance by our ancient story. We are part of the betrayal, suffering, and death of Jesus. We are the benefactors of his death because we are the benefactors of Jesus’ resurrection.

In our opening collect, we pray Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts. The Exodus story is a story of trust. God asks Moses and Moses asks Israel to trust. There is no rationale that enables Israel to escape slavery in Egypt. The deaths of the firstborn could just as easily have brought on the wholesale slaughter of all of Israel in angry revenge. The liturgical remembrance of the Passover is to yet again, place ourselves and our families into the hands of God, trusting it is God’s love that brings salvation from everything that threatens us, both externally and spiritually. As Exodus is the defining story for Israel, Jesus’ resurrection is the defining story of Christians. The liturgical remembrance of the Last Supper is to yet again, place ourselves and our families into the hands of God, trusting it is God’s love that brings salvation from everything that threatens us, both externally and spiritually by the betrayal, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It takes trust to welcome the outsider gentile, or traitor tax-collector, as Jesus welcomes them after they have offended you and the whole church agrees with you (Matthew 18:15-17). It takes trust to put on the armor of light, to put on put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for our more mortal needs as Paul suggest, because as he writes salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near (Romans 13:11-14); more so now than then not quite 2000 years ago.

So,

my prayer for you this day is that you trust the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, mind; so that you may Love your neighbor (from Luke 10:27) and be a part of the continuing story.

References

Brueggeman, Walter. New Interpreters’ Bible Exodus. Vol. 1. n.d. 12 vols.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 10 9 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts, and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Helmer, Ben. “Congregations and Conflict.” 10 9 2017. Sermons that Work.

Hoezee, Scott. “Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Exodus 12:1-14.” 10 9 2017. Working Preacher.

Lewis, Karoline. God Is With Us. 10 9 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Sigmon, Casey Thornburgh. Commentary on Exodus 12:1-14. 10 9 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

 

 

Tuesday Morning

A sermon for Proper 17; Exodus 3:1-15, Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c, Romans 12:9-21, Matthew 16:21-28

 

It started like any Tuesday morning, with the usual morning home rituals; getting kids ready, getting wife and self-ready, each car safely heads off in their usual directions. Traffic was about the same. Even the news was it’s customarily nothing self. Morse was looking forward to a typical and routine day. Then he saw the fire in his boss’ eyes. At first, he thought he’d slip on by, but his curiosity got the better of him. So, he stopped to wave hello to Yancey, who was on the phone. And then he excitedly waved Morse in. He heard Yancey say “that is excellent. I will call you tomorrow with the final details.” and then he hung up. Before Morse could open his mouth, Yancey launched into an excited explanation. It involved the company’s long pursuit of a contract with a major corporation to provide a software solution to a massive inventory control need. It is what they did; however, it was a monumental commitment, requiring extensive modifications to interface with the existing accounting, billing, and other systems. Morse stuck his hand out to congratulate Yancey when he heard him say “… so tomorrow I want you to fly up there and start the design interviews. It shouldn’t take more than two or three weeks.” Morse was dumb struck. He’d never done design interviews before. He’d never flown anywhere for the company before. He’d never managed anything near this big or complicated before. Besides, who is going to help his wife with all the family stuff; the shopping, the pets that needed to go the vet, the yard needed cutting, and both cars needed an oil changed and a washing. He heard himself stammer “I … I …. I …. I’ve never managed anything like this; why me?” Yancey assured him he had his back, told him to clear his calendar, get all his assignments to Yancey’s assistant who’d reassign them, review the customer’s RFP, and at lunch he’d give Morse the project details, and they’d start outlining the broad process. Morse mumbled “What am I going to tell my wife?” and Yancey answered, “If she needs anything, have her call me.” In a strangely exhilarating mix of emotions and thoughts, Morse started off towards his cubical.

 

There is nothing more usual than a Tuesday morning. There is nothing more usual than a bush, or fire, or a bush on fire. Unless of course, your boss signs the deal of his company’s lifetime and gives you the responsibility to get it off the ground. Unless of course, the bush doesn’t burn and God has seen, heard, and knows his people’s misery and gives you the responsibility to set his people free. So, starts Morse’s and Moses’ Tuesday.

A couple of details about Moses’ and the burning bush. There are lots of reasons to take your shoes off in certain places. One is to acknowledge that the place is special or holy. Another is to be able to relax and feel at home; don’t you take your shoes off when you get home? So yes, God is naming this place as holy, and Horeb or Sinai will be a holy place throughout Exodus and much of the bible. It is also possible that God tells Moses to take his shoes off because God wants Moses to be himself; to remove all pretense, to be vulnerable and open to what God has to say (Suomala). And Moses needs to vulnerable and open. God has seen, heard, knows, and has decided to act on behalf of Israel and that ~ is going to require a human agent. (Epperly, Gaventa and Petersen, Brueggeman). Moses is it. Moses is understandably taken aback. He asks, “Who am I?” which may reflect identity confusion. Is he a son of Israel, is he an Egyptian Prince, or a Midian shepherd (Harrelson)?

A bit later Moses asks for God’s name. The answer is “I am who I am.” or “I will be who I will be.” or both at the same time. Have you ever noticed how similar Moses’ question about himself “Who am I” and God’s name “I am who I am” actually are? Bound up in all this is the possibility that: Moses’ unspoken question is “Who will I become?” and that part of God’s “I will be” is “with you” which is necessary for Moses, to hear and answer God’s unexpected call, and to become God’s chosen leader of God’s chosen people (Bratt, Gaventa, and Petersen).

One of my favorite lines from Lord of the Rings is

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to (Tolkien).

Morse isn’t looking for a major assignment and to be away from home for a couple of weeks, nonetheless, Yancey’s call sweeps him off. Moses isn’t looking for God, nonetheless, God’s call sweeps him off. Both their calls come on an ordinary day at ordinary work (Epperly). It doesn’t matter if the call is to a small thing or to a big thing, it can come any day at any time and always, in the same way, ~ completely unexpected. A divine calling is another way God is constantly moving in our lives (Epperly). The challenge for us is not so much can we hear it? but will we accept it? Peter helps make my point.

Last week Simon proclaims Jesus to be the Messiah, and Jesus renames him Peter saying he and/or his confession will be the rock the church is built on. The very next verse is this morning’s Gospel story when Jesus begins to tell the disciples about his betrayal, suffering, and death. Peter, back to being Simon, rebukes him. Jesus call’s him skandalon … a stumbling rock (Hoezee). Peter and the disciples have a political, Davidic warrior vision of Jesus, who they expect will bring them just enough more power to kick the Romans out. Betrayal, suffering, and death do not fit their image. They do not understand Jesus isn’t bringing them, bringing us, just a little bit more, God/Jesus via Jesus’ resurrection is setting them, setting us free (Lose). At this point, Simon and the others don’t understand what Jesus is doing, and what it requires, any more than Moses understands what God is doing and what it requires.

Jesus isn’t expecting Peter to lead the disciples in telling Israel and then the whole world, that he is offering just a little bit more political and military strength. God isn’t expecting Moses to lead Israel and then the whole world to a slightly more comfortable life. God and God/Jesus are calling Moses, Simon, and the disciples, to proclaim God’s offer of transformative freedom from everything that binds them to the oppressive forces of their lives.

God has seen, heard, and knows what oppresses the Hebrews and he calls Moses to lead them, and the whole world, to divine freedom. God has seen, heard, and knows what oppresses Israel and via the incarnate Jesus calls Simon Peter to lead them, and the whole world, to divine freedom. God has seen, heard, and knows

  • the cries ringing out across our world from poverty ridden peoples, in overseas countries and here in the USA
  • the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Philippines, and the too many more war-torn countries
  • families burdened by lead poisoned water in Flint Michigan
  • the cries of Black Lives Matter
  • the cries of police officers killed in the line of duty
  • those in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, and parts of Arkansas who are suffering from the torrential rains of Harvey
  • farmers and others suffering from dicamba drift
  • in the vitriol and hatred of those who denigrate people they deem are other, because of race, national origin, sexual preferences or orientation, illness – mental and other, or anything they deem not normal, and
  • people in all sorts of places, oppressed in all kinds of ways.

God has seen, heard, and knows the cries ringing out across our neighborhoods from those

  • needing help with groceries
  • a ride to the drug or grocery store
  • assistance taking their medicine
  • need the yard cut
  • a listening ear
  • a presence to break the isolation of living alone.

God, God/Jesus is here to deliver them. Such a delivery requires human agency, like Moses, and Peter and the disciples. Which ~ may make us squirm just a bit. And it doesn’t matter if the task seems big or small, the same questions loom. What will your burning bush look like? How will your Tuesday morning go? What world views or political, philosophical, theological, or other thoughts obscure or muddle your Divine call? Will we know who we are? Will we risk becoming who we will be?

I do not know what your burning bush looks like. I do not know what your calling may be. I do not know the nature of its agency. I do not know much of anything. But! this I do know. I know I am who I will be is with you now, and will be with you Tuesday morning, till the end of ages.

 

References

Bratt, Doug. Proper 17 A Exodus 3:1-15. 29 1 2017. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Brueggman, Walter. New Interpreters’ Bible Exodus. Vol. 1. n.d. 12 vols.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 3 9 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts, and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. Proper 17 A Matthew 16:21-28. 3 9 2017. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Lose, David. Pentecost 13 A: Can You Imagine? 3 9 2017.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Smith, Mitzi J. Commentary on Matthew 16:21-28. 3 9 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.

Suomala, Karla. Commentary on Exodus 3:1-15. 3 9 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings. n.d. <//www.goodreads.com/quotes/137661-it-s-a-dangerous-business-Frodo-going-out-your-door-you >.

 

Transformation, Discernment, Speak, Act

A Sermon for Proper 16; Exodus 1:8-2:10, Psalm 124, Romans 12:1-8, Matthew 16:13-20

 They buried the last of their siblings and cousins of their same generation. All their parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents are dead. All those family connections that used to link them to the broader world are gone. They are not without family; they have their children, grandchildren and nieces and nephews. Nor are they without friends. There are business connections. But still, it is different. All those ancient connections that grounded life are gone. Truth be told, they are the ancient connections, even if they don’t think they are all that old. At times, they feel as if they are adrift. When unexpected troubles arise, which seems to be more often than before, there are no elders to turn to, and all the advantageous connections are gone, they are just another customer, no one knows Uncle Joe anymore, why would they remember his youngest niece. Yet there is something in the air that keeps despair at bay.

Paul writes

being transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God.

He continues about how we are members of one body. However, I think we skip over that notion of transformation, too quickly. Being transformed helps us

 to see what is going right and notice and name where God is at work (Lose).

It is this transformation that enables Simon to see and say that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ. The rock Jesus will build the church on is Peter’s confession, which is the fruit of his transformation (Harrelson). Simon and the disciples have long known who Jesus is, what Simon Peter recognizes is that confessing Jesus to be the Messiah begins to nurture a new community (Boring). Simon Peter is able to discern God’s will and to publicly confess it, at least to Jesus, at least for the moment.

The descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob lived in and prospered in Egypt. Not only did they escape famine driven starvation, they grew into a nation. The story is no longer about the multi-generational struggles of a family; it is about the emergence of a nation, Israel. But now all the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, are dead. Even Joseph is dead. There is a loss of cultural and national memory. One wonders “Has Israel forgotten the Lord (Harrelson)?” Pharaoh is dead, at least the one who knew and gave all that power to Joseph, that allowed him to rescue and propser his extended family. So, what about the promise? The new Pharaoh is decisive, active, and shrewd (Harrelson). He enslaves Israel. Then he plans a final solution to their threat to Egypt (Hoezee, Exodus).

The name ‘Hebrew’ indicates they have no social standing (Brueggman) and their status as slaves (Harrelson). We heard nothing about God today; so just where is God (Hoezee, Exodus)?

Let’s listen with the discerning ear of a Pauline transformed mind.

The more Pharaoh and Egypt oppress the Hebrews the more they multiply and spread over the land. The nation multiplying and spreading is a reminder of Genesis 1:22 where God tells creation to be fruitful and multiply. It is a reminder of the numerous promises that Abraham’s descendants will be exceedingly numerous (Gaventa and Petersen). Multiplying and spreading is the power of blessing at work and the empire cannot stop it or even slow it down (Brueggman). Oh, Pharaoh tries, he orders the mid wives to kill all the baby boys. They do not. Their story is a story of civil disobedience (Harrelson). Their description of Hebrew women giving birth reveals a liberating power for life which is nothing less than the results of the presence of God at work (Brueggman). We do not know if the midwives are Israelites or Egyptians (Harrelson). We do know the only direct mention of God in this story is their reward for defying Pharaoh, bountiful children. Besides Moses Shiprah and Puah, the mid wives, are the only two people named in this story, which reveals the mothering power of God (Brueggman). A Hebrew mother defies Pharaoh and hides her son. Her ‘fine baby’ (Exodus 2:2) prompts memories of the all the times in Genesis we read “God saw that it was good.” (Brueggman; Harrelson) The baby’s river basket is the same word as Noah’s ‘ark’ (Genesis 6-8) (Gaventa and Petersen; Harrelson; Brueggman) Her daughter defiantly follows the ark downstream and at the right moment connects Pharaoh’s daughter to the baby’s mother as a paid nurse maid. Pharaoh’s daughter is fully aware of her actions, as she forms an alliance with and protects the Hebrew baby, sparing his life (Brueggman). The name ‘Moses’ is a play on the word ‘son’ (Harrelson) another way his daughter is defying Pharaoh.

And what does all this reveal? The Hebrew low-class slaves are oppressed yet multiply and spread across Egypt inspiring fear in the Egyptian leaders. The hand of God is at work. Two midwives defy Pharaoh refusing to kill the Hebrew baby boys. An action inspired by God. A mother sees how fine her son is and acts to till and keep creation (Gen2:15) by hiding her son from death. An action inspired by God. Pharaoh’s daughter defies her own father; adopts a Hebrew boy that came to her humbly in an ark, recalling the birth story of Sargon (an Assyrian King, notable to Jewish readers (Sakenfeld) but what get the attention of the Egyptians is the story’s similarity to Horus’ (an Egyptian god) birth story (Gaventa and Petersen). An insight inspired by God.

So, what we see, with our Pauline transformed mind, is in a story of oppression, enslavement and death, the quiet presence of God at work:

  • inspiring the Hebrews to meet impossible workloads,
  • inspiring couples to marry and start families,
  • inspiring 2 over worked mid wives to defy the Egyptian god-king allowing Hebrew baby boys to live,
  • inspiring a mother to hide her fine son,
  • inspiring his sister to follow and act on his behalf,
  • inspiring Pharaoh’s daughter to knowingly adopt a Hebrew boy into the Egyptian Royal house.

In the shadow of death, the living God of life is: very present, powerfully present, transformationally present.

At any time, there are those whose lives are lived out in the shadows. Sometimes, those in the shadows change. Sometimes, in the light of good news, like decreasing unemployment, and increasing economic activity, there are shadows, we know of towns and counties and almost entire states where there is continuing economic decline and increasing opioid addiction and related health concerns. The questions of Charlottesville’s troubles weeks a ago rage and defy simple answers; perhaps because they are complex questions. The anger about police shootings and police being shot, both of which have happened in the last couple of weeks is real and justified. The effect of changes in immigration policy threatens some families, and is already having an effect on some agriculture operations. Shadows abound.

We live in our own shadow. St. Stephen’s is vibrant in its own way, but we are not growing by the customary ways of counting and our financial wellbeing is declining. Blytheville and Mississippi County have a multitude of jobs, and thousands of people unfit, for a variety of reasons, to fill them. Arkansas with an ever-declining unemployment rate still struggles: with low wages, to improve education, and a stubbornly high number of unhealthy people.

In any of this, in any one of these, we could see the justification to ask, “Where is God?” However, my prayer for us is to be transformed so that you may discern what is the will of God, proclaim it, and act on it. As we have heard such discernment, such proclamations, such actions bear fine fruit that multiples and spreads across the land.

Amen.

References

Boring, M. Eugene. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Brueggman, Walter. New Interpreters’ Bible Exodus. Vol. 1. n.d. 12 vols.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 27 8 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. Proper 16A Exodus 1:8-2:10. 17 8 2017. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

—. Proper 16A Matthew 16:13-20. 27 8 2017.

Lewis, Karoline. Speaking Up for a Living God. 27 8 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Pentecost 12 A: Pausing to Give Thanks. 27 8 2017.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Sikkema, Chris. “12th Sunday after Pentecost (A).” 27 8 2017. Sermons that Work.

Smith, Mitzi J. “Commentary on Matthew 16:13-20.” 27 8 2017. Working Preacher. <workingpreacher.org>.

Suomala, Karla. Commentary on Exodus 1:8–2:10. 27 8 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

 

 

 

Changing Hearts

A sermon for Proper 15; Genesis 45:1-15., Psalm 133, Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32, Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28 

 

Is Joseph right God is involved in his story. A question today’s Genesis reading raises is, well it is lots of versions of the same question, how is God involved? Did God cause his brothers to sell him into slavery? Did God cause Potiphar’s wife to try to seduce Joseph, who refused, enraging her to the point of accusing him of seduction leading to his being thrown in Jail (Gen 39)? Did God cause the baker and cup bearer to behave suspiciously causing their arrest and imprisonment? Did God send them dreams? Did God give Joseph the interpretation? Did God cause Joseph to share it (Genesis 40)? Did God send Egypt’s Pharaoh dreams? Did God send Joseph the interpretation of this dream also, and cause him to share it (Genesis 41)? Did God inspire Pharaoh to give Joseph power over all Egypt (Genesis 41)? Did God direct all of Joseph’s instructions about how to prepare for a famine? Did God send the famine to Egypt and all the surrounding area? Did God direct the back and forth between Zaphenathpaneah; (Joseph’s Egyptian’s name) and his brothers (Gen 41-44)? Did God lead Jacob to make the crushing decisions to send Benjamin to Egypt, and to move the whole clan to Egypt?

We read this morning that Joseph believes God caused it all. We do not read if his brothers believe him. However, it is reasonable to believe they should have, because, in the day, gods were the causal agents of the cosmos; they were responsible for everything from sun rise, to eclipses, to the stars of the night sky. The question now becomes, how do we think God acts today? We no longer believe in a host of godetts controlling all the cosmos. So why would God micromanage human behavior? I do believe God is intimately and actively present in the world and in our lives. I do not believe God causes anything. I believe God/Spirit suggests many things from all imaginable to many things unimaginable. But it is up to those who hear the divine whisper it is up to those who receive divine inspiration to act. To believe in a God who is intimately and actively present, but is not the active causal agent of anything at the same time makes every bit as much sense as believing in a God who is God the Creator, God incarnate, and God the continuing Holy Spirit presence at the same time; which, as you know, is a basic tenet of our faith.

More than raising the difficult question of how God is present in the world, this morning’s reading is also a source of hope. No matter how badly Abraham’s 4 generations of misfits mess up following God’s call, God does not abandon them. Paul says it powerfully,

God has not rejected God’s people. … the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

Folks, God isn’t going to let you, or me, or anyone else go.

The Gospel reading for this morning is another source of hope. There is some considerable debate as to what is really going on here. Is Jesus as insensitive as it appears? And no, we cannot take away the insult of “dogs” by insisting it really means household puppy pets; it is an insult. And yes, it is not the picture of Jesus we so cherish; none the less, it is Jesus. This is a story of the fully human Jesus. We do not tend to read Gospel stories this way, this one is clear. One way or another, Jesus and his disciples have ended up in Canaanite territory; which for us would be like being in North Korea, or ISIS territory, or some other geography we consider to be the domain of an existential enemy. A woman asks for help healing her daughter. Jesus is silent. The disciples tell him to send her away. In a position of reverence and worship, she asks again. Jesus speaks an inconvenient truth, he has been sent to the house of Israel, the gifts he has are not to be wasted on Israel’s enemies, the dogs. The woman says, “even the dogs eat the crumbs.” The human Jesus is inspired, recognizes a truth he had not previously seen, Canaanite’s are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26) so all people are God’s people, and then he grants her daughter wholeness, shalom. In the process Jesus knows shalom; he now has a more complete, a whole, or closer to it, image of God’s people and the love of God. He has it as fully human. This means we can have a similar experience, we can learn a more complete image of God’s people, and the power of God’s love.

In this morning’s collect, we ask to

receive thankfully the fruits of [Jesus’] redeeming work.

We now realize they may come to us in the image of crumbs, discarded leftovers, and that is more than enough to bring us Shalom. All this is important because of the events prior to, of, and that have and are following Charlottesville.

This morning’s Gospel story reveals the ugly truth of Israel’s superiority relationship over the Canaanites, we are better than you. Charlottesville reveals that there continues to be in the United States those who believe white people are superior to other people, we are better than you. Jesus learned that thinking is wrong, and acted on his learning by bringing shalom to a mother and daughter. We must learn white supremacy is wrong, and we must learn the as Jesus did, we must also act. God is our inspiration, but God will not be the causal actor bringing healing and shalom to the errors of white supremacy and other forms of racial discrimination and oppression. We are inspired to see the truth. We are called to act.

Drawing on Martin Luther King’s book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry points the way. He wrote

 the way through the chaos … is the way of love … the way to be right and reconciled with God … and each other.

The life, ministry, and death of Jesus teach us that the way of love does not confront violence with violence (Curry). We must not confront armed Neo Nazi, White Supremacist, KKK hate with arms of our own; and there were Antifa counter protesters in Charlottesville who were armed. We may have to practice keeping a nonviolent manner, which includes the nature and tone of our speech, in the face of a demeaning, violent charge, as the Civil Rights movements of the sixties practiced. We will have to remind ourselves, that like generations Abraham’s people, we will mess it up; but that God will never abandon us, the Great Shepherd walks with us through every valley darkened by shadows of evil intent. We will have to remember Jesus healed the Canaanite woman after he was healed from a limited view of God’s people; so, our first step may be to look deeply into our own hearts. Remembering, not only did Jesus have a change of heart, so did Joseph; in the previous couple of chapters, he is abusive and highly manipulative towards his brothers, including Benjamin, and his father. We too can see and repent of a less than divine heart.

I do not know if you have realized it, and I have not read much and haven’t heard anything about it, nonetheless, there were three armed opposing groups in Charlottesville, the Police, who should have been, some of the Alt-right, and some of the Antifa of the counter protestors. Not a shot was fired. Just maybe all sorts of people followed the Spirit’s whispering guidance; who knows, I don’t know; but, I find it both hopeful and just may be a sign of how the Kingdom of God is present. Which means we have nothing, nothing at all, keeping us from joining our neighbors, of all races, nations, and creeds and powerfully, peacefully, and lovingly face down the forces of racism and discrimination that we face right here, right now; and by that, I mean right here in Blytheville, in Mississippi County, in Arkansas. And remember God is with us to the end of the ages (Matthew 28:20).


References

Boring, M. Eugene. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Bratt, Doug. Proper 15A Genesis 45: 1-15 . 20 8 2017. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Butterworth, Susan. “On Breaking Boundaries, Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost.” 20 8 2017. Sermons that Work.

Curry, Michael. “Presiding Bishop reflects on Charlottesville and its.” Episcopal Church Public Affairs. New York, 17 8 2018. web. <publicaffairs@episcopalchurch.org>.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 20 8 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Fretheim, Terence E. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary; The Book of Genesis. Ed. I. Vol. XII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. App Olivetree.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts, and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. Proper 15 A Matthew 15: (10-20) 21-28. 20 8 2017. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. “Learning How to Preach Again.” 20 8 2017. Working preacher.

Lose, David. Pentecost 11 A: The Canaanite Woman’s Lesson. 20 8 2017.

McLaren, Brian. What I Saw in Charlottesville. 14 8 2017. <http://auburnseminary.org/what-i-saw-in-charlottesville/&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Smith, Mitzi J. Commentary on Matthew 15:[10-20] 21-28. 20 8 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.

Tanner, Beth L. Commentary on Genesis 45:1-15. 20 8 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

 

 

 

3,2,1

A Sermon for Proper 14; Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28, Psalm 105, 1-6, 16-22, 45b, Romans 10:5-15, Matthew 14:22-33 

I rarely title a sermon at this point; however, today’s title is 3, 2, 1; 3 news stories, 2 bible stories, and a revelation.

We start with the continuing Bible story of Abraham’s family and the state of the promise. A lot has happened in two weeks. So much so we’ll simply have to leave it at Esau and Jacob reconcile, jointly attend Isaac’s burial, and go their own ways. Jacob’s sons are grown the youngest are in their teens. Joseph, the first son of his favorite wife Rachel, is his favorite son. Jacob shows it, giving him a long-sleeved robe, which is a public sign of favor (Gaventa and Petersen). Joseph doesn’t help by telling the story of two dreams. We do not read those verses this morning, but both dreams indicate that his brothers will serve him and that they and their parents will bow down to him. Once again, the younger is favored over the older. We pick up the story with older brothers out tending sheep. Jacob sends Joseph to check up on them. It seems like a silly idea given the public nature of their strained relationship. And through the help of a stranger, he finds them. They see him coming and plot to kill him. Ruben, the oldest brother intercedes and convinces them to put Joseph in a pit for now; because he plans to rescue him later. However, led by Judah they decide to sell him to a caravan of Ishmaelite and Midian traders. Judah, may have seen a rescue opportunity here, or he may have been motivated by profit, we cannot really tell (Fretheim). In the end, Joseph is sold by his brothers to his cousins (remember Ishmaelites and Midianites are descendants of Abraham) (Fretheim) Joseph is sold to his cousins for 20 pieces of silver. We don’t read it; but, the brothers take Joseph’s special coat, rip it up, drench it goat’s blood and use it to tell Jacob that Joseph is dead. What was a sign of favor has become a sign of death. Yet again egregious, terribly frightful behavior puts God’s promise at risk. For the next 13 chapters, God is silent (Bratt).

We have 1 grim bible story. Now for 3 news stories.

On August 4, Religious News Service published a commentary about how Trump’s evangelical prophets are curiously silent about the RAISE Act, to reform immigration by deemphasizing family relationships. Their silence is curious because in 1980 Jerry Farwell wrote

The family is the fundamental building block and the basic unit of our society, and its continued health is a prerequisite for a strong and prosperous nation. It appears that the President’s house prophets either tell him what he wants to hear or forever hold their peace.

Mark Silk goes on to explore the story of Israel’s King Ahab’s effort to get King Jehoshaphat of Judea to join him in waging war against Ramoth. They consult Ahab’s 400 prophets who say God supports the plan. Jehoshaphat isn’t convinced and asks if there isn’t there another prophet. Well, there is, but Ahab doesn’t like him because he never says anything in his favor. Nonetheless, Micaiah is consulted. He too supports the plan. Strangely enough, Ahab insists that he tells the truth, which he does, painting of a picture of sheep without a shepherd. Stranger yet

19 Micaiah continued,

 “Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne with all the multitudes of heaven standing around him on his right and on his left.

20 And the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?’ “One suggested this, and another that.

 21 Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will entice him.’

 22 “‘By what means?’ the Lord asked.

 “‘I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,’ he said.

“‘You will succeed in enticing him,’ said the Lord. ‘Go and do it.’

 23 “So now the Lord has put a deceiving spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The Lord has decreed disaster for you.” (1 Kings)

Ahab doesn’t believe the truth he asked for, imprisons Micaiah, goes off to war and is killed (Silk).

On August 8, the Washington Post prints a story about Robert Jeffress, one of President Trump’s evangelical supporters, releasing a statement saying the president has the moral authority to “take out” North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. He cited Romans 13 giving the government authority to deal with evil doers. It is a complex rationale. Christians in Germany debated this same passage about supporting the Nazi government in WWII. They split some supporting the government, others forming a resistance (Bailey); including Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the author of Cost of Discipleship who was executed in a Nazi concentration camp, two weeks before it was liberated by US soldiers, and a month before the end of the War in Europe (Wikipedia). By the way, Romans 13 can also give Kim Jong Un the authority to govern (Bailey).

On Friday David Brooks, a New York Times columnist whom I greatly admire wrote a column arguing Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, should resign over the firing of James Damore, the author of the controversial memo about women and technology. His reason is not that he supports the memo, the reason is Pichai failed to stand up to the mob. It turns out Damore cited multiple credible scientific sources about the difference between men and women and how our brains are formed; the measurable differences in how men are interested in things, and women are interested in people. It involves the continuing conflict between the debate over environment and genes in shaping human behavior, which it is turning out to be far more complex and far more interrelated than first anybody ever thought. Multiple credible scientist backup Damore’s summary of the research.

Moreover, Damore makes sure to write that the research applies only to populations not to individuals. Brooks goes on to note that we live our lives as individuals, and it is true women in the tech world face a difficult challenge. He continues, there is real tension here between the competing truths of population science versus gender equality. Brooks acknowledges that the media did a terrible job of covering the complexity of the story and its competing truths. He states that Damore was hounded just as mobs on college campuses have been hounding speakers whose positions they disagree with. It doesn’t help that Google’s diversity officer also ignored the scientific subtlety of the memo and declared it to advance incorrect assumptions about gender.

For Brooks, Pichai fails when he chooses not to wrestle with the tension between population research and individual experience. Instead, he followed the mob writing

To suggest a group of our colleagues, have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not O.K.

which Brooks writes is “a blatantly dishonest characterization of the memo.”

The risk Brooks sees is that

We are at a moment when mobs on the left and on the right ignore evidence and destroy scapegoats (Brooks).

Brooks is right. It is as Matt Skinner wrote

We’re talking a lot right now about preaching in a culture of fear stoked by media, political polarization, and cultural panic (Skinner).

Now to connect the five dots. The story of Joseph, the whole story of Abraham’s family, raises the difficult question of how God works in the world (Fretheim). Is God the single cause of every action? Or is everything random? Or does God just make do, with halfhearted, risk free action or with the evil intentions of the likes of Joseph’s brothers, or the selfish intentions of Joseph, or the biased actions of Jacob, or the failed efforts of Ruben, or the profit driven efforts of Judah to avert death and gain wealth (Epperly) (Fretheim)? In part, we learn that evil and or sinful behavior can disturb God’s plans, but they cannot stop them (Fretheim). But, that does not mean we can ignore the abusive, oppressive, self-absorbed, greedy evil, sinful actions we see.

We also see in this story that if everyone one is guilty we ignore the role of family and community (Fretheim). There is such a thing as social / community guilt. If we turn God into an all controlling deity we negate our responsibility and encourage passivity in the face of evil (Fretheim). Neither Godly determinism nor Godly noninterference, or interaction grasps the truth. The truth is in the fifth dot; the boat.

Jesus has sent the disciples across the sea. After his prayer time, he sets out walking across the sea to catch up with them. They see him and are terrified he is a ghost. Jesus tells them “I am, ~ take heart, ~ do not be afraid.” They recognize him; well maybe. Peter asks, “If it is you” which is so close to what Satan says in the wilderness temptations. Jesus says “come” and Peter steps out of the boat and starts walking to Jesus, until he sees the wind, his heart is transformed, and he panics and cries out for help. Jesus reaches out for him and gets both to safety.

Once they are in the boat Jesus asks, “Why did you doubt?” We always presume Jesus is talking about Peter’s misadventure on the water. However, living with an artist, who favors icons full of images that suggest the true story, I was caught by the realization that the boat is an ancient symbol ~ of the church (Hoezee). It is plausible Jesus is asking Peter, Why, did you step away from your faith community? Why did you step away from the church (Richter)?

We can glean that when we face the winds of a tempestuous world, and as we have explored, they are wildly stormy at the moment, the place from which we should operate is from the God/Jesus/Spirit’s spigot of the strength the church. A further gleaning is that Jesus did not hesitate, immediately he reached out. In this, we learn that Jesus will never let you go. God has not, is not, and will never give up on you, will never give up on his church (Epperly).

 I had completed my writing Friday evening. Saturday morning as the news from Charlottesville broke, I knew I should add a post script. So, this is my post script, albeit, not following the previous end. However, before Charlottesville, a story from Princeton Theological Seminary.

Earlier this year a protest arose over the Seminary’s decision to award Rev. Tim Keller the Kuyper Prize,

because the Presbyterian Church in America does not ordain women or LGBTQ+ individuals.

After multiple phone calls including protesters and Rev Keller, Dr. Craig Barnes, president of the seminary, decided it was more important to hear Rev. Keeler speak than to award a prize, so the awarding the prize was set aside. Additionally, a preaching event featuring female and LBGTQ+ voices was organized. People were invited to attend both events. There were no disruptive protest on the days of the event.

Dr. Barnes notes that people who disagreed spoke to each other were a significant factor. He also believes that Princeton is a Christ Centered community, that we all belong to Christ, and as long as we are clear about that there can be disagreements, but everybody still belongs (Barnes).

Now to Charlottesville. If you do not know, White Nationalists organized a protest over removing a statue of Gen. Lee from a city park formerly named for him, now known as emancipation park. There was a large counter protest. For unknown reasons, the barriers separating the groups began to come down, the police retreated and the two sides engaged in a fight, in which people were injured, including a police officer. Later a car drove into a group of counter protesters. Everybody condemned the violence. Jeff Sessions, Melina Trump, Gov. McAuliffe, his Republican election opponent Ed Gillespie Speaker of the House Paul D. Ryan, and President Donald Trump condemned the actions. But, no one is acknowledging how their previous language and behaviors contributed to the problem. It does. The white nationalist protesters chanted Nazi-era slogans and phrases like

 “You will not replace us” and “Jews will not replace us.”

Former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke said

We’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump” to “take our country back (Tiefenthaler).

How we act in response to events or words that offend us ~ matters. What we say in the face of what we oppose matters. Our actions that denigrate, exclude, or harm others is never helpful.

Charlottesville is not a single one-off incident. It is not the sole responsibility of the alt right or the left or whatever position we see the other as. Charlottesville is only the latest example of the breakdown in civil discourse lead by our National legislators who will not even speak to each other. It is the result of decades of increasing separation of people with opposing views. It is the result of the failure of the Church to take a stand in the public square, putting our theological differences aside, and proclaiming that everyone belongs to God in Christ. The result is we are losing the ability to talk to each other. And if we cannot do that; how can we negotiate our differences; if we cannot talk to each other how can we work for the common good of all God’s people?

So yes, we live in stormy times. And yes, we are called to be prophets, and speak the radical truth in the face arrogance, discrimination, oppression, and especially mob “they versus us” think. For there is no they, everyone is made in the image of God. And yes, we are called to courageously mediate the tension between complex conflicting truths of divergent views of the world. This means we are also called to listen respectfully and deeply to what “they” have to say and to be open to be changed. For there is no absolute truth, other than God’s love for all creation. And yes, we are to stand between any mob, to the left or to the right and their intended scape goat, bringing them, by our hand, into the safety of our boat, into the safety of the church. For there is no moment when God/Jesus/ Spirit is not by our side, is not by their side.

Finally, our 1 revelation. In our opening collect we ask for the wisdom and strength to think and do what is right. And we can always make the effort so long as we Search for the Lord and his strength; continually seek his face (Ps 105:4) for his strength faileth never and his face is always shining upon you.

References

Bailey, Sarah Pulliam. ‘God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un,’ evangelical adviser says. 13 8 2018. <washingtonpost.com /news/acts-of-faith/wp/2017/08/08/god-has-given-trump-authority-to-take-out-kim-jong-unevangelical-adviser -says>.

Barnes, Craig. What I learned from our seminary’s conflict about hosting. 16 8 2017. <christiancentury.org /article/what-i-learned-our-seminary-conflict-about-hosting-tim-keller>.

Bratt, Doug. Proper 14 A Genesis 37: 1-4, 12-28 . 13 8 2017. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Brooks, David. Sundar Pichai Should Resign as Google’s C.E.O. 11 8 2017. <nytimes.com /2017/08/11/opinion/sundar-pichai-google-memo-diversity.html>.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 13 8 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Fretheim, Terence E. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary; The Book of Genesis. Ed. I. Vol. XII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. App Olivetree.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. Proper 14 A Matthew 14: 22-33. 13 8 2017. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Lose, David. Pentecost 10 A: Something More. 13 8 2017.

Richter, Amy. “Our Faith inside the Boat, Tenth Sunday after Pentecost.” 13 8 2017. Sermons that Work.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Silk, Mark. Keep up the good work, evangelical prophets! 4 8 2017. <religionnews.com /2017/08/04/keep-up-the-good-work-evangelical-prophets/>.

Skinner, MAtt. That Sinking Feeling. 13 8 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.

Smith, Mitzi J. Commentary on Matthew 14:22-33. 13 8 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.

Tanner, Beth L. Commentary on Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28. 13 8 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Tiefenthaler, Ainara. Car Hits Crowd After White Nationalist Rally in Charlottesville Ends in Violence. 12 8 2017. <nytimes.com /2017/08/12/us/charlottesville-protest-white-nationalist.html>.

Wikipedia. “wikipedia.org.” n.d. Dietrich Bonhoeffer. 13 8 2017. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passover_Seder&gt;.

 

 

Persistence and Resistance

A Sermon for The Transfiguration: Exodus 34:29-35, 2 Peter 1:13-21, Luke 9:28-36, Psalm 99

 

Let’s see I graduated college in 1975, meaning I graduated high school in 1972. No, I didn’t do four years of college in three, I simply got High School credit for college Freshman English. This means I finished the 6th grade in in 1968. So, sometime between 1963 and then one of my sisters, came home from school and told my mother she would get an “A” in health if mom quit smoking. There is nothing quite so persistent as a child on a mission for an “A”; unless it is a newly reformed smoker. By the way, there is nothing more resistant than someone threatened by change. Our mom did quit smoking, but it was many years later, and it had nothing to do with a child’s health grade. The readings from both Exodus and Luke this morning have elements of persistence and resistance.

The story we heard from Exodus is best read with the story of The Golden Calf in the back ground. God established the covenant with Moses; but before they can even get it finished Israel breaks it. Moses convinces God not to obliterate Israel. And they renewed the covenant (Yarchin)

By the time it is all over Moses has spent so much time with God his face is either filled with horns, near eastern iconography often depict divinities with horns, or his face shines with the glory of God’s presence (Gaventa and Petersen). We don’t know because the word ‘shine’ or qā-ran seems clear enough, except that nowhere in scripture does it have either meaning, so we don’t really know what they are trying to say (Fretheim). But whatever it is the Israelites recognize that Moses mediates the restored covenant (Yarchin). It doesn’t matter if Moses’ face is shining, or covered with horns, his face is a reminder that God is close; perhaps too close for comfort. Moses and God are persistent, but Israel is resistant.

56 Books, and a many more centuries later Jesus goes up on the mountain to pray. He takes Peter, James, and John with him. They see his face change and his clothes become brilliant white, and witness Moses and Elijah appear and begin speaking with Jesus. They get a behind-the-curtain glimpse of Jesus’ glory (Gaventa and Petersen).

Peter wants to make dwellings or tents for them. Typically, we have been told Peter is trying to keep Jesus in the box he is comfortable with. We see Peter as being resistant. But that is not necessarily what is happening. It is possible that Peter does understand that something transformative is happening. Remember that just a while ago he proclaims Jesus to be the Messiah (Luke 9:20b). He may only partially grasp the significance of the event. Nonetheless, Peter recognizes this is a turning point, (Lewis). So far, no resistance. What he wants to freeze the moment and commemorate the place (Culpepper). He wants to capture it, to capture the feeling, and hold it forever (Lewis).

A past mentor of mine Fr. Gray Temple wrote Molten Soul. The idea he presents is that to be changed by the Spirit requires that our soul be malleable like molten metal so that, they can be shaped like molten metal. It is a powerful experience, it is invigorating, it is energizing. The experience changes everything, it changes everything about ourselves, it changes everything about how we see the world around us, and where we see God’s presence in the world. It is so strong that often our initial reaction is to try to hold on to that moment, in part so we can pass it on. Just like Peter tries to do. The trouble is that when we do that, we often freeze our souls, and what we try to pass on is much more like a hard metal bar, and in passing it on, it is like hitting folks over the head with it. Have you ever been hit in the head by a metal bar? So maybe Peter and the other disciples show a kind of resistance.

Peter has had a molten soul experience on the mountain top. He wants to freeze it. Temple points out the danger. Alan Culpepper writes:

that the dangers of close encounters of the divine kind are that we fail to learn from them, we reject the experience, or we try to make them the norm and either withdraw,

 or as Temple writes assault others with it (Culpepper).

It would appear, from this story, that there is always a temptation to stay on the mountain top, or in glory’s light and to use that sacred space as a hiding place from the problems of the world (Cox). Peter recognizes that if Jesus changes, then Peter will be changed. He knows he can never be the same, and maybe, just maybe he doesn’t want that (Lewis). Once again resistance of some kind. Israel wants to distance themselves from the presence of God; they recognize that if they are too close they can be changed, not exactly like Moses, but changed nonetheless. They are either repelling, or rejecting, or claiming it can wait, or really it isn’t necessary, and you know that this is just not the right time (Lewis). Israel is definitely resisting. We also resist change that comes with divine encounters, or many other kinds of encounter.

The disciples wanted to build booths and stay on the mountaintop. But they could not stop time and live on in the radiance of that moment (Culpepper),  Neither could Israel; and neither can we stop time.

We cannot stay on the mountain top, we cannot continuously bask in glory’s light. God needs us to go down from the mountain and away from divine light and go out into the world, taking with us some of God’s transformative love with us to share with others (Cox). Discipleship involves following, and going on. Faithfulness is not achieved by freezing a moment but by following on in confidence that God is leading us and that what lies ahead is even greater than what we have already experienced (Culpepper). Divine persistence.

Temple encourages us to encourage each other to keep our souls molten so we can continue to be shaped by the presence of the Spirit; but also, so we can share the presence of the Kingdom that is, as it always has been, right here, right now.


References

Cox, Jason. “Be Transfigured, The Feast of the Transfiguration.” 6 8 2017. Sermons that Work.
Culpepper, R. Alan. New Interpreter’s Bible Luke. Vol. 8. Abbington, 2015. 12 vols. Olive Tree App.
Fretheim, Terence E. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary; The Book of Genesis. Ed. I. Vol. XII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. App Olivetree.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Lewis, Karoline. Why We Need the Transfiguration. 8 2 2015. <workingpreacher.org>.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.
Temple, Gray. The Molten Soul. Church Publising Inc, 2000.
Yarchin, William. Commentary on Exodus 34:29-35. 6 8 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.