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;.