Creation-Life-Light

Creation-Life-Light

A Sermon for The Last Sunday after the Epiphany; Exodus 34: 29-35, Psalm 99,
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2, Luke 9:28-36, [37-43a]

If you ever go to Rome, to the church of San Pietro in Vincoli to visit Pope Julius II tomb and take in Michelangelo’s statue of Moses, be ready. Michelangelo uses today’s reading from Exodus as a model for Moses. No, you will not be blinded by the light, but ~ you will see two horns protruding from either side of Moses’ head. No, Michelangelo did not make an error. In fact, there are several paintings of Moses from the Renaissance that show Moses with horns (Wikipedia). The Hebrew word actually means both horn and shine. Translations of the Old Testament made around 200 BCE use ‘horns’, which may imply some touch of divinity. In ancient languages of surrounding cultures, the kindred word is used to combine horn and light, so we get a phrase like horns of light. Imagine Moses’ head back-lit creating a halo-like effect, and the artist uses lines to represent the vision (Keener and Walton). It is also interesting to note the word also implies power (Epperly).

Chasing the point much further will just distract us from the lesson of the reading. Moses goes up the mountain to talk with God. Moses comes down the mountain changed, whether its horns, or a shining, or some other expression of divine power doesn’t matter, Moses is now different than he was before. God changed Moses, and that is what has the Israelites frightened (Epperly). Frightened enough to ask him to cover his face, who knows, this divine presence thing could be contagious. They whisper to each other “Do you to be changed by God like that?”

The Gospel story for today also involves a shining, Jesus’ transfiguration. His face is changed (notice we are not told how) and his clothes become dazzling white. We have another word note here. Jesus is with Moses and Elijah and they are speaking of his departure (Luke 9:31). A commentary points out they are literally speaking about his exodus (Lewis). ‘Exodus’ sounds so different in our ears. It just may remind us of Israel’s Exodus, a transformative event, the divine revelation that forges the Hebrew tribes into the nation of Israel (Carey). Moses and Elijah (the personification of the continuing divine revelation in the Law and the Prophets) know something of exodus journeys. We are not privy to their conversation; one commentator postulates Jesus may be just a bit apprehensive and they are providing him a little encouragement to continue down the path that leads to salvation for all creation (Hoezee). Broadly speaking we can see that: like Moses, Jesus is changed in the presence of God, like Moses, Jesus comes down the mountain, and like Moses Jesus immediately faces a challenge.

At the bottom of the mountain, there is a crowd, in the midst of whom is a father who begs him to look at his son. Immediately a demonic spirit takes hold of the boy and causes him to convulse. Quickly Jesus rebukes the spirit, heals the boy and returns him to his father. Everyone is astounded. This not the first time in Luke Jesus has faced a demon, nor the first time he has healed. However, when reading such a story with Jesus’ transfiguration, along with horned/shinning face Moses coming down the mountain fresh in our memories it is easier to notice how everything is being changed by the presence of God, just as Moses and Jesus were. Not only are Moses, Jesus, the boy physically changed, the way they interact with others changes; and, the way others interact with them changes. Everything changes.

The vastness of the change is seen when we notice that it is not just the boy’s father who is amazed, but everyone is amazed. In all the stories about Jesus, some are amazed, some are angered, some find hope, but one way or another everyone is forever changed (Woods).

There is one more phrase to look at. After rebuking the spirit, and healing the boy, Jesus gave him back to his father. (Luke 9:42). It is easy to overlook because it is such a natural next thing to do. However, it is not the next thing. Giving the boy back to his father is continuing the act of healing begun in rebuking the demon. The boy is not the only one harmed by the demon-spirit; the father is harmed, the family is harmed, their home village is harmed, everyone in that family’s social circle is harmed. Returning the boy to his father continues the healing, by extending healing to the father, and through the father the family, and through the family the village and through the village on until everyone is healed; until shalom is restored for all creation.

Here at the end of Epiphany, a season of Light, with the horned shinning face of Moses, the brilliant transfiguration of Jesus, all this light reminds me of John 1

All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (John 1:3-4).

The brilliant light of Jesus is the fullest expression of the life-light God has given each and every one of you. That initial creation light immediately is in darkness, and it shines, and most significantly ~ the darkness does not overcome the light. Moses comes down the mountain to face darkness, Jesus comes down the mountains to face the darkness and the darkness did not overcome the light.

We live in troublesome times, in a time of darkness. Last Sunday the preacher said our society is tearing itself apart. He is correct enough I would not be surprised if more than one person does not attempt to cover that bit of enlightened divine truth with a vale. There are many stresses all around us. Some are international like Pakistan and India, both of whom have nuclear weapons, escalating towards direct armed conflict. The escalating war of intolerant words over abortion, Trump, Brexit, Palestine and Israel, race relations, gun control, medical care, drug prices, climate change, school lunches and so on creates such a well of darkness I wish all social media would fail in the hope that if we slowed down maybe we would calm down, and being a bit calmer, we might just hear the truth the other is sharing. In the fear-driven vitriol, the hate, in all these varied disagreements we are losing our ability to talk about those things we disagree about; even with our loved ones. Information that is crystal clear to one side is fake to the other; find another issue and it is the other way around. Take for example climate change and the southern border emergency. It is a dangerous time; a dark time, a time one might wonder if creation light may flicker from time to time. I am sure there were similar disagreements among the Hebrews in Exodus, for example, will God find water, and meat for us in the wilderness. I am sure there were similar disagreements among Jesus’ earlier followers, I don’t know, maybe the question of what is the right thing to do with an alabaster jar of perfumed ointment. I am sure there were similar disagreements in the early church, we would not have any letters from Paul if there had not been such disagreements. That we are here at all is a testament to the eternal power of creation light.

We stand at the edge of Epiphany, and though this season is closing the time of light is not over. Yes, beginning next Wednesday we will follow Jesus on his exodus to Jerusalem, and those tragic events. It was a dark journey. No one took time to slow down or time to listen; it was them or us. Following the journey will be dark. It is a part of season’s function to be a time to raise the hiding-vale and take a look at our darkness, said, or unsaid, done, or undone. But it gives me some courage to begin that exodus remembrance journey to know there is light. There is the life-light of creation in each of us. There is the horned light of Moses in each of us. There is the transfigured light of Jesus in each of us. There is light in you. There is light in me. There is light in the other. And that light will go with you and with me as you and I, together and on our own, work the work God has given each to work (John 9:4), each lighting way for the other. That that light has not yet been overcome is a testament that it never will be overcome. By that light we are being healed and so and bring healing to the family, to the village, to the tribe, to the nation, to the world God made us to be a part of until everyone is healed; until shalom is restored for all creation.


 

References

Carey, Greg. Commentary on Luke 9:28-36, (37-43). 3 3 2019.

Epperly, Bruce. Transfiguration Sunday, March 3, 2019, Exodus 34:29-35. 3 3 2019. <patheos.com/blogs/theperipateticpreacher/2019/02/transfiguration-sunday-march-3-2019-exodus->.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel – Luke 9:28-36. 3 3 2019. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/last-epiphany-c-2>.

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

Lewis, Karoline. Liberating Glory. 3 3 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Wikipedia. Moses (Michelangelo). n.d. 3 3 2019. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moses_(Michelangelo)&gt;.

Woods, Joshua. “Forever Changed, Last Sunday in Epiphany (C).” 3 3 2019. Sermons that Work. <episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon/forever-changed-last-sunday-epiphany-c-march-3-2019>.

 

 

Being Where We Are Supposed To Be

A sermon for Proper 12; 2 Samuel 11:1-15, Psalm 14, Ephesians 3:14-21, John 6:1-21

When Samuel grows old Israel tells him “You are old, and your sons do not follow in your ways” (1 Samuel 8:5), which is a reminder of Eli’s disastrous sons. The elders ask Samuel to appoint a “king to govern us, like other nations.” Samuel seeks God’s guidance. God tells him to solemnly warn them, about ways of the kings. Samuel tells them “The king who will reign over you:

  • will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots;
  • he will appoint for himself commanders and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots.
  • he will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.
  • he will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards
  • he will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards
  • he will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work.
  • he will take one-tenth of your flocks You shall be his slaves. (1 Samuel 8:5-19)

The people didn’t care so the Lord tells Samuel, “…set a king over them.” (1 Samuel 8:22). Saul is anointed; it begins well enough, but it ends badly. David is anointed as Saul’s successor and after a brutal civil war becomes king over all Israel. In the last few weeks, we have heard about David’s success in establishing Israel, Jerusalem, and himself.

You have seen those string of firecrackers where one fuse is twisted around the next, so when it goes bang, it lights the next fuse which goes bang and so on. Well, there is a firecracker string effect in the story of David’s rape of Bathsheba (Bratt).

David is not where he should be (Brooks). It is spring, the typical time for military campaigning in the ancient Near East. While kings did not always go it is customary for them to accompany their armies (Keener and Walton). David does not go to the siege of Rabbah (Birch), so he is at home and sees Bathsheba, he rapes her, then he involves his commander in the murder of her husband, to cover up his sin. Bathsheba is in her rightful place. The ritual bath David sees is required by Levitical law as part of a ritual cleansing rite in order to return to temple worship (Brooks; Keener and Walton). It is unlikely that David does not know her (Keener and Walton). David is solely responsible for his actions. Bathsheba is powerless against the king (Harrelson). There is no justification, no scapegoats, no rationale, no romance, the king simply does what the king wants to do (Birch). In the only words she speaks Bathsheba reveals she is pregnant (Harrelson). We know the rape takes place at the end of her purification bath, following her period, so there is no question, David is the father (Birch). 

David schemes to cover up his rape. He calls for Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, one of his long-time faithful warriors, to bring him a report about the progress about the war. He asks only a few general questions, which may have raised Uriah’s curiosity (Gaventa and Petersen). Then David tells him to go home. Uriah does not, he stays faithful to his fellow soldiers and the Ark, and sleeps in the doorway, with the rest of David servants. The next day David tries again, this time with the addition of a little, no ~ a lot of wine. Uriah stays faithful. Not to be deterred, David sends Uriah back to the front with orders for Joab, to put Uriah in the front of the most dangerous place so he will be killed. Now the second firecracker goes off, David is successful in killing Uriah. The third goes off, at almost the same time, because Joab is now involved in David’s growing sin.

The effects of David’s sin continue. Among David’s adult children are Absalom, and Tamar by Maacah and Amnon by Ahinoam (1 Chronicles 3). Amnon falls in love with his sister and following in his father’s footsteps, takes Tamar (Birch). Bang – the next firecracker. Her brother Absalom kills Amnon in revenge; bang. Later he leads a revolt (2 Samuel 15) and Ahithophel, Bathsheba’s grandfather, betrays David in favor of Absalom’s conspiracy; bang (Keener and Walton). The revolt is put down; but, Absalom is killed; bang, bang.

It gets more complex; because all this contributes to Solomon becoming king. And yes, he is said to be the smartest man in the world; however, he splits God’s Kingdom, in two, the Northern Kingdom, Israel, and the Southern Kingdom, Judah. This results in civil war; many bangs. The weakened kingdoms are more vulnerable to the war campaigns of neighboring kingdoms. This results in the Northern kingdom being defeated, exiled, and is gone forever; bang, well ten bangs for the ten lost tribes. The Southern Kingdom is also defeated, sent into exile; she returns, but is never again an independent kingdom; she is finally destroyed by Rome in 77 AD. Bang, bang, bang, bang, are we running out of firecrackers?

The rape and dehumanization of Bathsheba and Tamar are horrific stories. They are the story of women and men everywhere who disappear as their stories go untold, or unbelieved (Brooks). They, and how they are seen in today’s world, deserve a deeper study of their own. They are part of the story of the arrogant misuse of power for personal whim, and strip bear the illusion that the powerful are in control of their own destiny and can define the terms of the morality that governs their actions (Birch). These stories demonstrate that kings everywhere will do what kings will do; and how lies, deceit, and murder follow in attempts to cover their offenses.

David’s story reveals the tragic consequences of not being where you are supposed to be.

In John’s Gospel story this morning Jesus is where Jesus should be, among God’s people. Jesus sees the large crowd, and asks the disciples “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” (John 6:5) Philip answers with the very practical observation “Six months wages wouldn’t do it.” Given the remote location, it is unlikely that the surrounding villages would have enough bread even if there is been enough money (Keener and Walton). Andrew observes “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” (John 6:9) Another rational observation (Harrelson). Jesus has the crowd sit down on the grassy field. Then, Jesus becomes the host who welcomes and invites the community to share in God’s hospitality. Following Jewish tradition, he takes the food, gives thanks for it, perhaps using a blessing something like, “Blessed are you, Lord our God, king of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth” (Keener and Walton; Birch). Then Jesus gives it to the people, as much as anyone wants (Birch). After they are done, Jesus has the leftovers gathered up; there are 12 baskets! The crowd recognizes the similarity to Elisha miraculous feeding in 2 Kings (chapter 4), and the Moses telling the people not to leave any extra manna (Exod. 16:19) and realize Jesus is a powerful prophet (Birch; Hylen; Keener and Walton). They want to make Jesus King. Sound familiar.

However, Jesus knows better, he does not want to be made a king who will just keep producing more wonder bread (Hoezee). So, he withdraws to the mountaintop to show them, and anyone else who hears the story, including us, that he will not be held to the world’s expectations of him. (Harrelson).

That evening, although it is a bit odd, the disciples leave for Capernaum on the other side of the lake, without Jesus. A strong wind comes up; however, John says nothing about them being at risk (Hoezee). When they are a good way across the lake, they see Jesus walking on the sea and coming near their boat, and then they are terrified. (John 6:19) They are not afraid of Jesus, they do not mistake him for a ghost (Hylen). They realize who he is, they know they are witnessing a theophany, a revelation of God and fear is an appropriate response (Hylen; O’Day). Jesus says to them “I am, ~ do not be afraid.” This is the first of Jesus’ “I am” statement in John, which connect Jesus to Moses, and to Yahweh, the Great I Am of Israel (Hoezee; Gaventa and Petersen; O’Day). In perhaps the strangest verse in all scripture immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going (John 6:21). This is a theophany in itself; it shows that Jesus shares in God’s work and identity; it reveals that God provides the safe passage to those in distress (O’Day). It reminds us [that] when you’re in the presence of God, you are always right where you should have been all along and where you will always want to be from then on (Hoezee).

Jesus’ retreat to the mountaintop shows how difficult it is to receive Jesus’ gifts on his terms and not immediately translate them into our own model for life. To do so risks twisting divine grace into existing false systems of power and authority, that destroyed it. The glory, revealed in both stories, is lost if one does not recognize its presence in the quiet places of Jesus’ grace (O’Day).

We have seen, in David’s story, how being in the wrong place leads to sinful actions that have consequences beyond any expectations. We have seen, in Jesus story, how being where you are supposed to be, leads to grace and glory meeting our needs for food, and rescue from danger (O’Day).

Being where you are supposed to be, is a result of knowing who you are, which leads to how you decide what’s decided. David is in the wrong place in part because he has forgotten whose he is, God’s servant, and he acts from kingly power, as we understand power, and we have heard the tragic consequences. Jesus is where he is supposed to be, proclaiming the Kingdom of God, healing the sick, feeding the crowd. He avoids the earthly powers of a king’s crown, so he is able, again, to be where he is supposed to be, walking across the lake which reveals who he is.

Today we are where we are supposed to be, together ~ in community, sharing God’s word, sharing Eucharist (in a minute), in thanksgiving for the week just done, and getting ready for the week to come by reconnecting with the divine glory, and sharing grace that sends us back into the world to continue Jesus’ mission – sharing the presence of the kingdom of God – healing the sick, and – feeding the people. Tomorrow, we will have to decide how to treat those we meet, which is in part determined by our deciding where to be. And it helps to know that we are God’s people; that God is always with us to feed us, to get us where we ought to be, and to remind us I am is I am where ever we are.

References

Birch, Bruce C. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary Frist and Second Books of Samuel. Ed. Leander Keck. Vol. II. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. X vols. OliveTree App.

Bratt, Doug. 2 Samuel 11 B(12). 29 7 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/&gt;.

Brooks, Gennifer Benjamin. “Commentary on 2 Samuel 11:1-15.” 29 7 2018. workingpreacher.org. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3020&gt;.

Cox, Jason. “Take, Bless, Break, Give, Pentecost 10 (B).” 29 7 2018. Sermons that Work.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 29 7 2018. <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. The Lectionary Gospel John 6:1-21. 29 7 2018.

Hylen, Susan. Commentary on John 6:1-21. 29 7 2018.

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

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

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

The Living Church. More than Forgiveness. 29 7 2018. <livingchurch.org>.

 

 

 

Transformation – Listen to Him

A Sermon for Last after Epiphany Transfiguration; 2 Kings 2:1-12, Psalm 50:1-6, 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, Mark 9:2-9

You know the story of Jesus’ transfiguration. You know the mountaintop, that boundary place between heaven and earth, is similar to one of Moses’ cloud covered mountain top excursions. You know how visually stunning Jesus’ clothes are; glowing so bright they outshine even White Brite® Laundry Whitener.

They glow so brightly it is easy to forget the visual reference to heavenly beings (Perkins). You know the word ‘transfiguration’ means change and its root is the same as the word ‘repentance’ to change one’s behavior. You know Moses and Elijah represent the twin pillars of Jewish life the law and the prophets (Sakenfeld). You heard this morning that Elijah is taken into heaven and did not die, and you may remember Moses’ burial place is a secret and that he did not really die but lives in heaven with God (Perkins). You remember that Peter answers Jesus’ question “Who do you think that I am?” “You are the Messiah.” just a before Jesus take him, James, and John up the mountain. You all have heard that Peter’s 3 booths is an effort to capture the moment or contain it, by making a reference to the Festival of Booths (Harrelson) or maybe to Moses’ Tent of meeting (Perkins). You connect that God’s announcement This is my Son, the Beloved (Mark 9:7 with You are my Son, the Beloved (Mark 1:11) at Jesus’ baptism. We might be so caught up with this connection that we miss the complete surprise that in the middle of a Super-Bowl size visual extravaganza (Hoezee; Butler) the most significant moment, literally the final act, is spoken as God says …listen to him! Jesus’ transfiguration has been so central to study and preaching of this story that we focus only on Jesus’ transfiguration and not the broader transformation swirling around Peter, James, and John.

There is no question of the significance of this story in Jesus’ ministry. One indication of that is that it is also in Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospel accounts. And though it is not directly evident, there is also a lot going on in the discipleships of Peter, James, and John. I mentioned Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah. But, it is also important to mention that just after this Peter tries to rebuke Jesus for predicting his suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection, only to be rebuked by Jesus himself (Mark 8:31-33). It doesn’t take James and John long to make their request for positions in Jesus’, soon to be established, royal court (Mark 10:35-40). These, and the other similar signs, that the disciples do not truly understand Jesus’ calling, are steps in the wrong direction. However, they are also signs of their transformation, which by the way shares the same root as repent, and transfiguration.

That the disciples have trouble following Jesus should not surprise us. We heard the story of Elijah’s being taken up into heaven. It includes a story of Elisha’s dedication, and his request for a double share of Elijah’s spirit. The Living Church’s reflection notes that Elisha is formed under the direction of a human master, which is a slow learning process, it takes time (The Living Church). To get caught up in Jesus humanity versus his divinity is to miss the point that Peter, James, and John, indeed, all the disciples, including us, are all human. Their learning, our learning is a slow timely process.

Having witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration Peter, James, and John can never be same. The heavenly living presence of Moses and Elijah, the cloud, the brilliant light, associated with heavenly beings, the commanding voice of God, telling them, directing them to listen to him, is enough to change anyone’s life. True, it takes some time, and it takes some miss steps, nonetheless their presence at Jesus’ transfiguration is part of their transformation to the fullness of discipleship (Lewis).

By way of sacred story our witnessing the disciples witnessing Jesus’ transfiguration is a part of our story. This is not just another miracle story. This is not just another affirmation of baptism. This story intrudes into our lives. Though we may put into action our own version of three booths, we can no longer stay where we are. The transfiguration experience propels [us] to make manifest the Kingdom of God (Lewis). Inspired imagination redirects our attention from a glowing Jesus, up-there somewhere, to sharing the Kingdom that is right here, right here in River City, right now. Are we ready? Of course, not but, that is okay; we will go anyway, the disciples did, and Jesus will lead us just as he led them.

Today we stand at the very edge of Epiphany For the past 7 or 8 weeks we have been in the light of Jesus’ birth – the incarnation God coming among us, as one of us; we stand in the visionary light of the Wise men who follow the strange star and listen to urgent dreams to find the Christ child and to not unwittingly lead Herod’s fear-driven murderous action. Jesus was majestically transfigured revealing the light of his divine being. We have been mystically immersed in transforming light of divine presence. We stand at the boundary of that light and retrospection. The fruit of our next journey is born of the commitment ~ to listen.


References

Black, C. Clifton. Commentary on Mark 9:2-9. 11 2 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Butterworth, Susan. “Behind the Veil, Last Sunday after Epiphany (B).” 11 2 2018. Sermons that Work.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 11 2 2018. <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. The Lectionary Gospel Mark 9:2-9. 11 2 2018.

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

Lewis, Karoline. It Is Good To Be Here. 11 2 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.

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

The Living Church. Ascending Flame and Descending Love. 5 2 20108. <livingchurch.org>.

Thomas Nelson. The Chronological Study Bible NIV. Nashville: HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. (NIV Chronological Study Bible) Genesis 1:1, 2014. OliveTreeapp.

 

 

 

 

Prophetic Peace

A Sermon for the 4th Sunday of Epiphany; Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Psalm 111,
1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Mark 1:21-28

 

The first unusual thing I can remember in a worship service was a sermon that was preached from behind the altar. Near the beginning, our priest pulled a big the dollhouse out from beneath the altar and used it as a prop. It was a long time ago a really, long time ago, and I don’t know what he said, but I remember the prop.

The second one was after a Mother’s Day service when the priest pretty much blamed mothers for all things wrong in the universe. As we stood up after the service to leave, the lady behind my mother tapped her on the shoulder and quietly said: “Well, we know who got cold grits for breakfast.”

My little brother developed a habit of using his finger to shoot the choir members as they processed. She worked for weeks to get him to stop. And one Sunday he did; of course, that was the Sunday our Rector used his finger to shoot my little brother as he went by.

There were a couple of worship disruptions that were obvious to the whole congregation. One Sunday an older lady passed out as communion started. A couple of parish doctors went to her side, the priest came down the aisle and blessed her. Some young men carried her to the lobby and the local ambulance, this was before the days of EMSs, came and took her to the local emergency room. She was back in church the next Sunday, and all things were mostly forgotten.

Perhaps the most exciting liturgical disturbance happened during the reading of the Gospel. The crucifer was facing me I was reading the Gospel when I saw his eyes roll back in his head. He was passing out with the heavy cast iron processional cross, with lovely but very pointed ivy leaf ends. I recall him going one way; me just missing grabbing him as he fell backward the cross going the other way; and the people in the pews going every which a way to get to the acolyte and dodge the cross. His parent got the acolyte to the office and called the EMTs. The congregation dusted themselves off, shook the wrinkles out of their clothes. Next week all was back to normal.

None of these misadventures rises quite to the level of having a daemon possessed member W A I L out at the end of the sermon. More importantly none of them reveal a prophetic voice, which is one of the things that happens in this morning’s Gospel. But before we get there, let’s explore what Deuteronomy is leading us to understand about prophets.

We heard Moses say

 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; (Deuteronomy 18:15).

What kind of prophet is Moses? Is he

  • a prophet from the royal prince of Pharaoh’s house?
  • or the newly arrived older brother who breaks up the fight between two Hebrews and then flees when challenged “Who are you, ~ will you kill us like you killed the overseer?”
  • or perhaps the shepherd who hears voices from a flaming, but not burning bush off the side of the sheep path?
  • or maybe the chosen one who constantly tries to avoid the assigned task?
  • or the brave one who challenges God on behalf of the Hebrews?
  • or the committed one who calls the Hebrews to account for their miss deeds?

When we look at Moses’ story we see that he is a complex figure. He is often a dynamic, brave, inspiring leader, and we can see his prophetic character. He is also a spoiled, privileged, timid, uncertain man we cannot imagine leading anyone anywhere. The learning here is that since as complex and flawed a person as Moses is a prophet, actually, one of the model prophets, then there is no reason for us to relax, because any of us may be called to give voice to God’s words, any of us may be called to be a prophet for God’s people (Bridgeman; Bratt). While this may raise our expectations, or our anxiety, it does not help us understand who a prophet is? Just who is a prophet? What is a prophet?

Our word ‘prophet’ comes from the Greek interpretation of the Hebrew navi which means “someone who is called” or “someone who calls upon the gods.” A prophet may also be called seer, or a man of God, (Sakenfeld; Hatchett; Easton) Those who shared a message from God are generally referred to as a prophet; those with a divine vision are often called a seer (Easton). Women could be prophets; Deborah, one of the Israel’s early Judges is also a prophet. Prophets spoke predictions, judgement, they also

  • spoke to God,
  • they critiqued and gave advice to the kings,
  • they called Israel to honor God,
  • they wrote,
  • they tested Israel as a people and as individuals,
  • and they served as ‘watchmen’ for moral compromise again for individual and the nation, as ministers, and intercessors for Israel and sometimes for her enemies.

God realizes that Israel would be, and that we are, tempted to adopt the practices of her neighbors’ competing value systems (Bratt). God knew the inherited offices of priests and kings were vulnerable to being unresponsive to the changing religious and social circumstances (Clements). Divine awareness of Israel’s and our failures includes times of crisis, and other pivotal dynamic moments, in their and our, social history (Clements). This includes the collapse of both kingdoms that fell apart in the face of unstoppable external and internal pressures. Some sought to retrieve many of their fundamental values (Clements). Nonetheless it was necessary that qualified people be available to mediate between the people and God (Clements). It still is.

Who these divine moderators are is difficult to determine. Just who is a prophet? And who is a false prophet? Prophets are often rejected, so a prophet has to be prepared to be called a heretic, be rejected by Kings, priests, and scorned by the people, including family, friends, and neighbors (Lewis). True prophets serve only God, they cannot be discovered by divining, soothsaying, hydromancy, sorcery, astrology, spellcasting, or necromancy because this kind of magic corrupts the proper relationship between God and creation (Gaventa and Petersen – Deuteronomy). I expect modern algorithms are equally ineffective for similar reason. Magic and math aside, the supernatural is not. Many prophets are associated with miracles – including healing (Hatchett). A true prophet stands up to the authorities, challenges established and assumed powers, is committed to law, and justice, that is equitably administered, crosses into spaces where no one has dared to go, and rips apart the barriers, boundaries, and borders that separate God’s people from God or each other (Lewis; Clements). A true prophet bears witness, their life is an example of phileos those deep personal bonds of affection (The Living Curch; Clements). Perhaps the truest way of identifying a prophet is their deep awareness of God’s agency within the human-divine relationship; the way in which God had guided Israel in the past and guides us today and how they acknowledge the invaluable divine gift they have (Harrelson Psalm 111; Gaventa and Petersen – Psalm 111).

Jesus is often referred to as a prophet. The people’s amazement at his teaching in the synagogue, that is something new with authority is one sign of his prophetic calling. That his presence in the synagogue disturbs Pharisees, and Scribes who are distressed by his teaching that challenge their traditions and expertise is another sign of his prophetic calling (Perkins). The conflict between Jesus and the daemon is a conflict between powers of good and evil (Kittredge). The question What have we to do with you? is an effort to control the encounter by distancing Jesus; and it emphasizes the hostility of the encounter (Thomas Nelson – Mark). Casting the Daemon out demonstrates Jesus’ divine authority and identifies him as a miracle worker (Perkins); which is a continuing theme in Mark’s Gospel story and sign his prophetic calling (Keener and Walton – Mark) The daemon’s defeat reveals that Satan’s power is failing, because Jesus is here to redeem God’s people, which indicates the Kingdom of God is drawing near (Perkins). Jesus silencing the daemon overcomes the threat of gaining a reputation of being an exorcist (Perkins). All of these are part of reveling that Jesus is a prophet in Moses’ tradition.

The problem in Corinth beneath the question about eating meat offered as a sacrifice is the nature of the social classes in the Christian community in Corinth (Gaventa and Petersen – 1 Corinthians). Paul’s basic argument is that

Christian community is founded on the one fact: Christ died for each person. That, and nothing else, is the common basis of Christian community. Therefore, to cause harm or even stumbling for someone for whom Christ died is [a slander] against Christ (Sampley).

The Corinthians, as should we, should be making all their decisions not based on power, privilege or right, but on love and on building up everyone in the community (Harrelson – 1 Corinthians). Scott Hoezee asks What is the loving thing to do here in Christ? Borrowing an old phrase, I foresee and new wrist band WLTWJD – what loving thing would Jesus do (Hoezee, 1 Corinthians).

I mentioned earlier that Moses’ complex flawed personality raises the possibility that at some completely unexpected time we may be called to speak a prophetic message or share a prophetic vision. Yes, ~ I know the feeling. And in today’s world in which we are experiencing so many cultural, social, political, and moral traditions and rules fading away we struggle not only to keep our bearing and stand strong, we also struggle to see the relevance of God/Jesus/Spirit.

So soon after Christmas, there are no halleluiahs in the air. In such a time when halleluiahs stick in our throats Psalm 111 offers renewal. It is one of the Psalms of “Orientation” … a reminder that the world is ruled by our gracious and compassionate God. Yes, everything looks like it is all wrong; but appearances are deceiving; God is righteous, God knows and loves each and every one of you (Mast). The psalmist or the psalm itself is a prophetic voice; sharing with us that the knowledge and wisdom to navigate these seemingly unhinged times lies not in ourselves, though we will be instruments, but in God’s eternal commitment to you, and God’s eternal love for you (McCann Jr).

 I would just as not experience another memorable disruption in a worship service. And I expect you’d just as soon that today’s turbulent times quickly become calm waters. I cannot see through the shadows of this valley. However, I do trust God; I trust God to continue to govern all things on earth. I do trust divine peace is yours to receive,

 so that you need not fear the changes of life,
but that you can look to them full of hope as they arise.
God, whose you are, will deliver you from them.
He has kept you safe this far,
and he will lead you safely through all things;
and when you cannot stand it any longer
God will hold you deep in his arms.
Do not be afraid of what may happen tomorrow;
the same ever-loving Father who cares for you today
will take care of you then and every day.
He will shield you from suffering
or will give you unfailing strength to bear it.
So, let’s put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations
and be at peace (adapted from St. Francis DeSalles benediction).

Amen.


References

Biasdell, Machrina. What’s the Question?, Epiphany 4 (B). 28 1 2018. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/&gt;.

Bratt, Doug. Epiphany 4B Deuteronomy 18:15-20 . 28 1 2018. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Bridgeman, Valerie. Commentary on Deuteronomy 18:15-20. 28 1 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Clements, Ronald E. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Book of Deuteronomy. Vol. I. Nashville: Abingdon, 20151. XII vols. OliveTree App.

Easton, Matthew George. “Prophet.” Easton’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary. WORDsearch Corp. n.d.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 28 1 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

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

Hannan, Shauna. Commentary on Psalm 111. 28 1 2018.

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

Hatchett, Randy. “PROPHECY, PROPHETS.” Holman Bible Dictionary. Ed. Trent C. Butler. Prod. Holman Bible Publishers. n.d.

Hoezee, Scott. Epiphany 4B Mark 1:21-28. 28 1 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

—. Epiphany 4B 1 Corinthians 8:1-13. 28 1 2018. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-18c/>.

Kamudzandu, Israel. “Commentary on 1 Corinthians 8:1-13.” 28 1 2017. Working Preacher. <workingpreacher.org>.

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

Kittredge, Cynthia Briggs. Commentary on Mark 1:21-28. 28 1 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.

Lewis, Karoline. “What Is This?”. 28 1 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

Mast, Stan. Epiphany 4 B Psalm 111. 28 1 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

McCann Jr, J Clinton. The New Interpreter Bible Commentary The Book of Psalms (NIBC) Job 42:10. Vol. III. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. XII vols. Olivetree App.

Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.

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

Sampley, J. Paul. New Interpreter’s Bible Commemtary The First Letter to The Corinthians. Ed. Leander E. Keck. Vol. IX. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. X vols.

The Living Curch. 1/28: Witness to the Word. 28 1 2018. <livingchurch.org/1/28: Witness to the Word>.

Thomas Nelson. The Chronological Study Bible NIV. Nashville: HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. (NIV Chronological Study Bible) Genesis 1:1, 2014. OliveTreeapp.

Walton, John. Chronological and Background Charts of teh Old Testament. GrandRapids: Academie Books, 1978.

 

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 >.

 

A Time to Choose

A sermon for 6th Sunday after the Epiphany; Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Psalm 119:1-8,
1 Corinthians 3:1-9, Matthew 5:21-37Epiphany 6,

In 1985 I worked for a small software company, and it was my job to coordinate all our interactions with existing customers. When the owner decided to move offices, I was tasked with keeping us available to our customers through the entire move. But remember in those days there were no cell phones, there was no internet, we did everything by land-line which meant we had to have an office. I arranged to have the existing lines left on after the new lines were turned on. I arranged for one desk and chair to stay behind and another to go on ahead. The plan for the move was to start Friday afternoon, move Saturday, finishing setting up on Sunday and be open for business as usual on Monday morning. It was a good plan. There were no obvious difficult places in this short journey.

And so, we started. Friday afternoon everything except one desk was packed and ready to be put on the truck. Then the phone rang. The contractor spoke to our boss, and everything had to be delayed to Monday. There was some sort of delay involving the paving, which kept the building inspector from doing the final inspection, which kept the fire inspector from issuing the certificate of occupancy, which meant we could not have the keys. Without getting into all the details, in a miniature Exodus style, we journeyed in stages. What was to take 3 days, took an entire week. The next Friday evening we were finished.

Moses is almost finished. His task of leading Israel out of slavery in Egypt is almost finished. His task of leading Israel through the wilderness is almost finished. His task of bringing Israel to the Promised Land is almost finished. Moses’ life’s work is almost finished.

This morning we heard the end of Moses’ 26-chapter farewell sermon (Ellingsen) (Clements). In the very next verse, Joshua assumes leadership of the camp, the leadership of the people of Israel, as they begin to take possession the Promised Land. Moses’ final words are a challenge. Israel has a choice; they can choose to follow God and thereby choose life and prosperity, or they can choose to follow something else and thereby choose death and adversity.

If you recall the story of the Exodus journey, it is not at all an obvious choice. It is a choice that is complicated with Israel’s history of choosing not to follow God, and as a result suffer all sorts of death and adversity.

This is not the only time Israel faces this choice. Scholars teach us that all the Pentateuch was actually written down while in captivity in Babylon in sometime in the 6th century BCE. In returning from exile, they are entering the Promised Land again (Bratt). It is as awesome a challenge as the journey from Egypt, and thus, they chose to re-enact the choosing liturgy. They call upon what many consider a discredited faith, after all, they are in captivity in the land of another god. They call upon the God who shepherded them through their meta-journey to shepherd them once again as they struggle to break the bonds that bind them to a strange land, as they struggle to cross a wilderness to cross the Jordan and repossess their land. And they can only do this by acknowledging their prior failures, confessing their complete dependence on faith in God, and recommitting to divine loyalty through a new wilderness journey (Clements).

But would it surprise you to know, this is not the first time Israel has been asked to make the choice Moses challenges the to make. Twice Joshua requires Israel to choose: be loyal to God and have life, or be loyal to another god and face death (Howard). Nor is this the last time. All the post return prophets put the same choice before Israel. And finally, Jesus, the Son of God, put the same choice in a different form, before Israel, before all humanity, they can choose to believe in me, as the Son of Man, and live in God’s gracious presence, or not and know darkness and chaos.

When we are honest with ourselves, we know that Jesus’ challenge to choose is not the last time we have faced Moses’ challenge. Through the first five or six centuries, there were varying versions of Christianity and the early Church faced the challenge choose God/Jesus/Spirit and life or choose darkness, chaos, and death. In the 16th century, the Church was faced with the upheavals of the reformation, and all must choose how to follow God/Jesus/Spirit, or another way. We see it as a choice of styles; then it was much closer to choosing God/Jesus/Spirit and life or choose darkness, chaos, and death. This time of choosing flows into the 18th century when some people chose to journey to a new promised land where they could choose God and know life in the presence of God’s grace.

In this country in the 19th century, after the Civil War people in the former Confederate States faced a great anxiety. There had been a surety that God was on their side and would assure their victory. Defeat, put them in a bind similar bind as Israel, in captivity. Again, it was a time to choose God and life, a time to acknowledge their failures, not only in war, but in the oppression of a peoples, and by accepting God’s redeeming work, they could accept God and know life (Bratt). Some did. But, some decided to abandon any larger issues of faith and national destiny; they chose their self-interest and gave no attention to the larger fate of the nation. That choice has led many into darkness and chaos. In the 20th century the sordid brutality of those who chose to keep oppressing a people because of the color of their skin, or their gender, or their nation of origin persisted.

Since 1790 when only male property owners had the right to vote there have been 28 legal changes affecting the right to vote. Since 1870 when the 15th amendment gave the right to vote to former slaves and protected the voting rights of adult males of all races there have 23 legal changes affecting the right to vote (Rowen). In the 21st Century, we have faced more choices; some have chosen to make a stand of non-discrimination against those differing sexual orientation and to continuing to fight for racial and gender equality, and religious equality.

In the past two years, we have seen how we are asked to choose life. But have you ever wondered what this looks like this time? It looks like it was before, choosing life looks like

  • Loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and to keeping his commands, decrees, and laws.” (Deut 30:16)
  • tilling and keeping creation’s gardens (Gen 2:15) (Howard)
  • nurturing leading causes of life (Gunderson)
  • loving our neighbors – all of them
  • doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God (Micah 6:8) (Bratt)
  • feeding the hungry, dressing the naked, and tending to widows and orphans
  • releasing the oppressed
  • allowing a voice for the silenced
  • showing deference for the disrespected
  • finding the image of God in those declared un-human, humanizing the objectified, and sharing Solomon’s song with those made sexual objects (Lewis).

What have we, as a nation, chosen? I suspect we have chosen economic prosperity. We have commoditized or monetized:

  • agricultural products
    • and seen small local farms collapse
  • retail business
    • and witnessed far too many local stores and business close
  • airlines, car manufacturing and seen all sorts mergers lead to bigger profits
    • at the cost of millions of jobs, and decline of the related families
    • corporate citizenship as many leading US corporations, have chosen to go overseas for tax benefits
      • a move that also deprives our nation of revenues, which could be used to help those in need; and it also, deprives stockholders of dividends, which are important to those living on 401ks
    • housing
      • you know the continuing story of 2008 collapse
    • education
      • and are seeing school loans that are so large they are delaying graduates from buying cars, starting families, and buying houses
    • medicine
      • there has been merger after merger of pharmaceutical companies and medical suppliers sometimes to improve business but often to eliminate a competitor and rarely, if ever, to get a badly need product to the people who need it
    • hospitals
    • and now insurance companies.

As a nation we have not chosen to live in the presence and service of God.

I believe that as a nation we are standing at another border. Once again, we are being asked to choose:

  • life and prosperity, or death and adversity (Deuteronomy 30:15)
  • life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness or the tyranny of false hope
  • living in the presence of the Lord God or the formless void, darkness and the chaos of waters (Genesis 1:2).

It is not an easy choice (Lewis). To choose God is messy (Howard). It is not a majority decision no matter what we hear people say. It stands over against many cultural values revealed in decisions, that so many others make. It may be costly, just ask the prophets. It requires true trust in God/Jesus/Spirit. It is the subtlety of what Paul is talking about: choosing God/Jesus/Spirit not Paul or Apollos or whichever religious leader is popular today. It is what Jesus is doing when he is saying “you have heard … but I say,” and then lays out choices that emphasize the values of relationship (Howell).

I believe that as a nation we are losing our ability to choose God as seen in our relationships with other people, especially those who we disagree with. Watch Facebook and social media carefully, and you will see it. More and more frequently I see people defriend another, or just give up what has been a value to them. More and more I hear leaders not arguing about diverging views of this or that policy but about the quality of a person who holds a dissenting view. We are losing our ability to disagree and still be in a relationship that reflects the image of God. And that is death.

Today is set before us life or death, being and seeing the other as the image of God or being and seeing the other as less than, which means as not human, and this is death for both. Today is set before us life or death, trusting the power of God who raised from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep or the all-consuming formless void, darkness and the chaotic waters of nothing.

I know you are a good and generous people; you give of your time, your considerable skills, and your money to supports Jesus’ ministry to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is right here, right now. Which is a measure of choosing. I know that all of us are all free to: continue living into that choice, are free to make the choice for the first time, or free to renew a choice gone fallow.

As for me and my house we will choose (Joshua 24:15) to continue the journey and follow the Lord God with all our heart, soul, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5) loving our neighbors as the image of God in whose image we live and breathe and have our being (Acts 17:28).

References

Bratt, Doug. Epiphany 6 A Deuteronomy 30:15-20 . 12 2 2017. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Clements, Ronald E. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Book of Deuteronomy (NIBC) Numbers 36:13. Vol. I. Nashville: Abingdon, 20151. XII vols. OliveTree App.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 12 2 2017. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 12 2 20127. <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.

Howard, Cameron B.R. Commentary on Deuteronomy 30:1520. 12 2 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Howell, Miguelina. “The Gift of Reconciliation, Epiphany 6 A.” 12 2 2017. Sermons that Work.

Lewis, Karoline. Choose Life. 12 2 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.

Rowen, Beth. U.S. Voting Rights. n.d. 12 2 22017. <infoplease.com/timelines/voting.html>.

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

 

Called – Needed

A sermon for Lent 3; Exodus 3:1-15, 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, Luke 13:1-9, Psalm 63:1-8

 

Harley was orphaned as a young child. He was fortunate to be placed with foster parents who were there for him. They were not alone. In Jr. High a football coach notices him and asks him to play football. Harley answers “I don’t know how.” The coach replies “That’s okay; I will be your coach.” In Sr. High, Harley is asked to move positions from guard to tight end. He answers “I don’t know how to catch.” The coach replies “That’s okay I will be your coach.” Harley’s college playing time was limited but good. In his Junior year, the head coach tells him “We are shorthanded, I need you join the kickoff special team.” Harley answers “I don’t know how to tackle.” The coach replies “That’s okay I will be your coach.” To most peoples’ surprise, Harley is invited to the NFL combines. There are some four or five hundred college players there, all of them very good. One team expresses an interest. Harley says “I don’t know how to be a pro.” The coach replies “That’s okay I will be your coach.”

So yes you can tell I’ve been creative. But the story is not simply made up. It is crafted from multiple stories I’ve read over time and recently. And yea, I may have woven in a theme from today’s scripture reading.

It is hard to read this story of Moses meeting God in the burning bush on Mount Horeb, without thinking of, Ben Kingsley in 1995, or Burt Lancaster in 1974, or Charlton Heston (1956). But when you think about the story, Moses grew up in Pharaoh’s house. He learns about his heritage as an adult and only then re-joins his people. He soon kills an abusive overseer and flees into the desert. Wandering around in Midian, Moses comes across a fine lady and joins her father’s tribe.

As today’s story opens Moses is keeping Jethro’s, his father in law, and a priest of Midian, flock. He has led the flock beyond the wilderness, on to Horeb. Moses is tending the sheep. He knows little if anything of God. How could he, for most of his life, he was Egyptian. And he had little time with the Israelites. For Moses Mount Horeb is just another high place. Nonetheless, in the form of a burning bush, God calls him. In scripture fire is a prominent characteristic of God appearing to humans. Moses not recognizing God in the fire shows that he does not know the God of his fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Harrelson). Apparently God knows Moses.

Having gotten his attention God lays out the situation. Israel is in trouble. God shares with Moses the divine plan to save them. The specifics hint at more than a mere rescue, there is the insinuation of a new creation (Fretheim). Then God tells Moses “I’m going to send you.” Now, Moses does not know God, but he does not lack in understanding. He realizes that he will be taking all the risks of God’s plan (Brueggmann). Moses also knows he is not prepared (Fretheim). Who could be prepared to take on the Egyptian dynasty and free the labor, that is the underpinning of their social fabric (Pankey). Moses is a nobody; he lacks any kind of authority. His question “Who am I? “is legitimate. (Brueggmann). God doesn’t really answer Moses; however, God does provide divine assurance “I will be with you.” And there are more affirmations in God’s sharing the divine name ‘I am’ that reveals God’s power, fidelity, and presence (Brueggmann).

A couple of observations about this story.

  • Saving Israel requires a human agent. It involves a specific and dangerous human responsibility (Gaventa & Petersen) (Fretheim).
  • We should understand that Moses’ work is socio-political, it is not church related or priestly (Fretheim).
  • In the Bible, a divine commission is always task oriented (Harrelson).
  • God’s name “I am,” which is more likely “I will be who I will be,” is unusual because it is a verb. The tense is imperfect, meaning it is ongoing (Harrelson, Pankey). It puts the focus on divine action not on being (Harrelson, 2003).
  • Although God’s reassurance “I will be there,” tells us Moses’ task is a shared risk it does not include a guarantee of success (Harrelson).

The leap from Moses to the tragedies and an unfruitful tree, in the reading from Luke’s Gospel account, isn’t intuitive; but stick with me.

Jesus shares two tales of tragedy. Pilate killed Galilean Jews offering their prescribed sacrifices in the Temple in Jerusalem and allows their blood to mingle with the blood of the sacrifices (Ellingsen, 2016). It is as much sacrilege, as it is murderous. The other is the accident when the Tower at Shalom fell killing 18. As we do today, the people in the crowd think that people get what they deserve. It is generally believed there is some connection between peoples’ moral standing and the quality of their life, the good and bad things that happen to them. Jesus is saying that’s not how it works. John echoes Luke’s unique stories in his story of the man born blind when the disciples want to know who sinned, and Jesus says no one (Richter).

In short, we learn that life is capricious. We learn that we should not equate good luck or misfortune or another’s good luck or misfortune with either special blessing or sin (Skinner). One of my least favorite sayings is “There, but for the grace of God, go I. “Why do we assume the said person doesn’t have God’s grace? Why are we elevating our own spiritual status based on someone else’s worldly misfortune? Jesus is telling the crowd, and us, to be careful (Hoezee). Just as Moses has no guarantees, there no guarantees in life no matter our faith or our faith tradition (Epperly). Augustine wrote,

Christians differ from Pagans, not in the ills which befall them, but in what they do with the ills that befall them.”

“Our Christian faith does not give us a way around tragedy. Faith gives us a way through tragedy” (Richter).

Now about that tree. We tend to read it as an allegory, with God as the land owner and Jesus as the gardener. But, it may just be a warning against false assurance. Just because you have not been cut down, do not presume that you don’t need to repent. It may be assurances, to those struggling to repent, that everything possible is being done to nurture you (Skinner). It may help to know that ‘leave it alone’ comes from the Greek word aphis which is the root for ‘forgiveness’ (Hoezee). The story of the tree does have its moral implications. Repentance is a theme. You know ‘repentance’ is grounded in the ideal of changing your ways. It can be expanded to include finding a new way of seeing the world. Yet the story of the tree does imply that it is more about being found than it is about finding (Skinner). And here we discover the link to Moses on the Mountain.

God finds Moses on Mount Horeb. God needs Moses for the divine plan to set his people free. Imagine for the moment that we are the gardener; imagine that God needs us for the divine plan for the tree to bear fruit. You know it is God’s desire to reconcile all people to unity with God and each other in Christ (BCP, p. 855). Imagine God needs you for that plan to work. You may wonder “Who am I? “so did Moses. You may know you are not prepared; so did Moses. You may ask for help, so did Moses. God’s “I am,” will be with you, like it was with Moses. And just how does God do? Which, by the way, is a fair question.

Well:

When Moses argues with Pharaoh – God is there.

When Israel is backed up against the Red Sea – God is there.

When they are wandering around in the wilderness -God is there.

As they approach the impenetrable wall at Jericho – God is there.

When Israel is in exile – God is there.

When they live under Roman occupation – God is there

As Jesus hangs on the cross -God is there (Pankey).

As were Moses’ people, as was Israel in the first century, today people, all around the world, are in trouble. There is a plan for a new creation. We may not know its details; nonetheless, we know, like everyone else, that we are called, that we are needed, and at this very moment in this very place, ‘I am’ is right here right now. Our challenge is to trust and follow our divine coach.


References

Brueggeman, W. (n.d.). New Interpreters’ Bible Exodus (Vol. 1).

Ellingsen, M. (2016, 2 28). Lent 3, Cycle C | Lectionary Scripture Notes. Retrieved from Lectionary Scripture Notes: http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/

Epperly, B. (2016, 2 28). The Adventurous Lectionary. Retrieved from Pathos: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly

Fretheim, T. E. (1991). INTERPRETATION Exodus. Louisville: John Knox Press.

Gaventa, B. R., & Petersen, D. (n.d.). New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville.

Harrelson, W. J. (2003). The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press.

Hoezee, S. (2016, 2 28). Advent 3C | Luke. Retrieved from Center for Excellence in Preaching: http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel

Lewis, K. (2016, 2 28). Longing for More. Retrieved from Working Preacher: workingpreacher.org

Lose, D. (2016, 2 28). Lent 3 C: Suffering, the Cross, and the Promise. Retrieved from In the Meantime.

Pankey, S. (2016, 2 25). The Power of “I Am”. Retrieved from WordPress: Draughting Theology.

Richter, A. (2016, 2 28). What Did They Do to Deserve That?, Lent 3 (C) – 2016. Retrieved from Sermons that Work.

Skinner, M. (2016, 2 28). Commentary on Luke 13:19. Retrieved from Working Preacher: http://www.workingpreacher.org/

The Episcopal Church. (1979). Book of Common Prayer.