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;.

 

 

 

Tear down our own … get outside our …. to plant … build up the presence of the Kingdom of God

14th Sunday after Pentecost

Proper 16: Jeremiah 1:4-10, Psalm 71:1-6, Hebrews 12:18-29, Luke 13:10-17

Listen to my sermon here: http://www.saintstephensblytheville.org/sermons-2013.php

or read on …

Do not be afraid …. Go where I tell you to go …. Speak what I tell you to speak …. All these rather terse instructions are okay, ~ for prophets. Not so for us, isn’t this why God calls others to be prophets? Terry thought so.

Decades ago, as a part of his seminary field work, Terry interns with a church that has a lunch ministry. Rotating with other churches in town, every Wednesday they feed the homeless & hungry. When it is the church’s turn, Terry gets an early start, opens doors, sets the heat and A/C properly, makes sure the kitchen, pantry etc. are all ready to go, and he helps the volunteers, on the serving line, washing dishes, emptying trash cans, doing whatever needs doing, he serves as a general all around go-fer. One day the soup kitchen director calls him over. She tells him: Get out from behind this counter go eat with our guest. In short ~ go be with God’s people.

Some years later Terry is serving on a board which sponsors a habitat house. Terry does fund raising, calls around for supply donations, recruits volunteers, makes presentations to any organization, any interested group, about the good Habitat for Humanity does. One day the construction director calls. They are in a real pinch, the family whose house they are currently building is a bit behind on the hours they are required to help. They are ready to be there this weekend and they can catch-up; actually get ahead. However, they are short volunteers, they only need one more, Terry is the last person the director can call, she asks: Please come work with the He’sus family! In other words, ~ come help God’s people.

More time passes, Terry is in a small group that meets weekly to discuss anything church. This week’s discussion about ministry has gotten kind of strange; they’ve gotten to talking about missionaries. Terry keeps hedging, he’s having spontaneous ideas, rapidly countered by huge Oh No! Impulses. Someone, who notices his discomfort, says, Relax Terry, if God’s calling you, you will want to go. Terry replies: You don’t understand; I don’t want to, want to go! No one has ever admitted to speaking, but the voice was clear, Yes you do. Briefly ~ go to God’s people.

More time passes and Terry has a chance to go on a trip to Africa. Not as missionary, just a visit to various ministries. His group visits a leper colony. The patients there live 3 or 4 to a thatched hut. They are invited into one hut. Terry speaks to 3 of the patients; the 4th speaks too softly to be heard. He waves for Terry to bend over he does. Suddenly patient sits up surrounds him in a bear hug. Terry shivers, as the patient lies back down and the open sores on his arms drag down the length Terry’s body. In a nutshell ~Be present to God’s people.

Go where I tell you to go. Say what I tell you to say. Pluck up, tear down, destroy, and over throw: your own inhibitions, your own fears, your distrust; trust me, then you are ready to build and to plant.

For 11 chapters Hebrews, has been building a long complex argument, to Christians, who are considering returning to Judaism, that Jesus is the far better choice. Today, Paul’s argument compares two mountains: Sinai, the mountain of the covenant, originally given to Abraham, then confirmed to Moses with Zion the mountain of Jesus’ cross, where the blood of Jesus speaks better than the blood of Able. Erik Heen writes: the whole passage point forward (13:12):
Jesus suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. [i]
You won’t be surprised to hear me say we can go, we can even speak as we proclaim the Kingdom of God in our worship and beyond, outside our walls. But isn’t this a bit offensive to family, friends and neighbors in our “I” whatever I want to believe culture to proclaim Jesus is the better way, to profess faith in Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and awaited return as the Word of God? Probably. But isn’t it a greater offense to affront God by letting folks walk into judgment, to let folks walk into eternal divine absence? Go where I tell you to go. Say what I tell you to say.

Pluck up, pull down, destroy, overthrow, are not typical healing words. Jesus calls a women bend over for many years. I’ve always assumed she suffers from some sort of medical condition, some sort of osteo-whatever. But, there are other views. Luke frequently describes the breakdown of the body with some sort of spiritual weakness. Satan is reeking havoc. On the other hand it is the Sabbath, and Jesus breaks all the rules to: either heal the woman of her infirmities or to drive Satan away. Either way it is breaking the rules. But Jesus’ says no, the Sabbath is all about enjoying God’s presence. The 613 rules and regulations designed to ensure you don’t do any real work, not only makes a donkey more important than this woman, they actually weigh folks down. Jesus steps outside the limitations of tradition, The purity code, and the Law. He shatters the status quo. Jesus will not tolerate a domesticated form of God’s Word. Which rules need to be plucked up, what walls are to be pulled down, what limitations need to be destroyed, which traditions need to be overthrown, so that the Word of God may have its way with us [ii] with all who come with in its embrace?

Do not be afraid …. Go where I tell you to go …. Speak what I tell you to speak …. Pluck up, pull down, destroy, overthrow whatever stands between me and any of my people even yourselves.

Trust me, the fiery God of Sinai, the incarnate God of Zion, and you will plant you will build the presence of the Kingdom of God right here.

[i] Working Preacher, Hebrews. Heen
[ii] Sermons that Work, August 25, 2013, Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek
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lectionaryscripturenotes.com http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/
Proper 16 | OT 21 | Pentecost 14, Cycle C

episcopaldigitalnetwork.com http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2013/08/09/
14-pentecost-pro per-16-c/, Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek

This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching
cep.calvinseminary.edu http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php
Luke 13:10-17,  Scott Hoezee
Jeremiah 1:4-10, Scott Hoezee
Hebrews 12:18-29,  Stan Mast
Psalm 71:1-6, Doug Bratt

Working Preacher,      http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1753
Jeremiah 1:4-10, Alphonetta Wines
Hebrews 12:18-29, Erik Heen
Luke 13:10-17, Emerson Powery