Monday, March 23, 2015

Let the Light Shine in the Darkness

Sermon
Christ Church, St. Michaels Parish - March 22, 2015
John 12:20-33

This coming week marks the end of our Lenten journey; a time of intentional reflection, prayer, meditation and self-denial. A time during which we were tasked with pondering the nature of our relationship with God as we journeyed with Jesus, his face set towards Jerusalem; his teaching filled with prophesies of his impending death and resurrection; his passion to fulfill his role as the “Beloved Son of God” so very evident as he expressed over and over again, and in so many different and urgent words, the way to eternal salvation.

In Mark, “If any want to become my disciples, let them deny themselves and take up their crosses and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)

In John, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will be my servant also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.” (John 12:26)

Again in John, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:31-32)

Lent – a powerful five weeks in which we, once again, seek to discern the centrality of Jesus and our relationship with God to our way of life. Five weeks during which we perceive anew Jesus as the universal truth; the universal path. Jesus as the decisive disclosure of God in our lives and in the world. Jesus, as the way, the truth and the light.

I am fairly certain that there are many among us who, over the course of this brief Lenten journey, have also been confronted by personal challenges both big and small. Situations that, despite the best of intentions, cause us to ponder anew our relationship with God – situations that generate questions such as “Where is God in all this,” and “What is God trying to tell me.” Situations that make feeling and recognizing the centrality of Jesus in our lives an even more complex and challenging task.

Personal crises, business challenges, family responsibilities that at times seem overwhelming; FOX News, CNN, Facebook, pages upon pages of email, and the myriad social media that blast us out of and into bed and follow us throughout our day to day lives – all of these fast-paced distractions make it even more difficult to carry out our Lenten journey mandate of focusing on our relationship with Jesus and with God.

Jesus  - without whom our day to day life is meaningless, draining, dead - lost in the hub bub of day to day life. Jesus, the decisive disclosure of God in our lives, slowly fading from our hearts and from our minds as each wave of day to day living engulfs us.

I don’t know about you, but for me, when I lose sight of Jesus, when he has fallen away from my mind and my heart, I am lost, confused, and unable to love myself much less others. The light goes out of my life, and I am no longer a light to others. And, that is what we are called to be – a lamp shining forth the love and compassion of Jesus – a lamp that brings those living in darkness into the light.

In Matthew Jesus said to his disciples, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness.” (Matthew 6:22-23)

In the Gospel of John light and darkness define the major theme of the Gospel. They represent the opposing powers of righteousness and evil – belief and disbelief. In the opening words of the Prologue the light is the life that was manifested in Christ. Through him the divine radiance was focused on the world as a searchlight plays on a dark landscape.

The underlying concept of dark versus light is apparent on almost every page of John’s Gospel. In every contact that Jesus made, he penetrated the dark recesses of the human spirit and revealed its true character. The light of his holiness uncovered hidden hypocrisy in sharp relief. Every sign he performed was a manifestation of the light that was in him illuminating the darkness of the world.

Now, we are called to be the light that illumines the darkness. We are asked to, “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.” (Luke 12:35-36)

Our Lenten journey was a mandate to seek the light of Christ within ourselves and within others through reflecting on our relationship with God.

My Lenten journey, despite its many moments of darkness, was a time in which I saw the light of Christ and the gift of God’s love more clearly than ever.

It was a time during which I experienced the incredible love and compassion of my family and friends both here and in Florida as that bright searchlight on a dark landscape. A searchlight that found me, encompassed me in its scope, and kept me safe from darkness as it carefully followed me throughout the wilderness journey of my husband’s complex and complicated surgery and recovery.

Looking back, I can still feel the experience of that light, the light of Christ shining forth from within those many friends and family, the warm embrace of their love, compassion and concern. A light that allowed me to hope, to function, and to know that God was with me every step of the way.

The light of Christ that burns within us and then shines forth throughout the world is central to our way of life; to our ability to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. It is the decisive disclosure of God within us, God around us – God throughout the world.

In a recent blog, Bishop Dan Edwards of the Episcopal Diocese of Nevada – the bishop who ordained me – wrote, “I am convinced that all the church growth marketing and charismatic clergy we can buy will not enliven the Church. Our deadness comes from our lack of belief we have anything to offer that the world wants or needs. The problem is we don’t have Jesus in our hearts. We are not being transformed ourselves so that we can, in the power of the Spirit, transform the world. Cosmetics won’t help if our heart is not beating. For our heart to beat, there is one and only one way: we have to follow Jesus.”

Just as we have engaged in the process of examining our own relationship with God over the past few weeks, our own commitment to hold Jesus central to our way of being – so Jesus asked of his disciples so many years ago, just days before his betrayal, crucifixion and resurrection.

Jesus asked his disciples to follow him without question, without hesitation – always. Jesus is asking us to follow him to the cross and beyond, without question, without hesitation - always; dying to an old way of life so that we may be raised to a new way of life. A way that sheds love and light into a world of darkness and fear.

How did light and darkness manifest itself in your Lenten journey? When the light of Christ is extinguished on Maundy Thursday how will you feel? What will the return of light to the world through the resurrected Jesus mean to you?

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Give me the joy of your saving help again and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit. (Psalm 51:1-13)   AMEN


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Keeping the Bridge Open


Today, in the Episcopal Church, we celebrate World Mission Sunday and, as an Anglican Community, we also celebrate the Transfiguration of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Today is a Sunday that we come face to face with Christ in all his glory as he sets his face to Jerusalem and the passion of the cross. It is a Sunday that reminds us that, as disciples of Christ, we are heirs to the mandate from our Savior to Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them everything that I have commanded you. (Matt. 28:19-20)

It is a Sunday that brings to life in every way the incredibly important, complex, and salvific work of mission in the world. Mission - a way of fulfilling the vows of our baptismal covenant.  Mission - a way of truly experiencing ourselves as children of God and brothers and sisters in Christ. Mission a way in which we carry out our most profound responsibility of seeking and serving Christ in all persons, and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

In our gospel reading today - Marks account of the Transfiguration of Christ - we are reminded of the divinity of Jesus, the Beloved Son of God. And, we are reminded that as brothers and sisters in Christ, we are also children of God. We are reminded that as children of God, we are part of a global family and, as such, we are mutually responsible for one another.  

We are reminded that the price of discipleship can be costly, discouraging, painful, and lonely. But, we are also reminded that to bear the cross of discipleship is to see the face of God and to experience His grace and salvation to enter into a peace that passes all understanding both now and forever more.

Today is a day when we celebrate our lives as Children of God - Disciples of Christ agents of healing, compassion, justice, and dignity for all.

What better Sunday for a deacon to be preaching!

In Christian teachings, the Transfiguration of Jesus is a pivotal moment.  The setting on the mountain is presented as the point where human nature meets God: the meeting place for the temporal and the eternal, with Jesus himself as the connecting point; Jesus acting as the bridge between heaven and earth.
Thomas Aquinas considered the Transfiguration "the greatest miracle. He wrote, By his loving foresight he allowed them to taste for a short time the contemplation of eternal joy, so that they might bear prosecution bravely. (Summa Theologiae, III, 45.1)
In other words, in seeing Jesus transfigured, the disciples had the opportunity to see the glory of God radiate from their teacher and to learn that the road to personally experiencing this glory is not necessarily a road easily traveled but, that it is a road most definitely worth traveling. It is a road that leads from the trials and tribulations of this earthly dwelling to Gods Kingdom both here and beyond.
Anointed at our baptism as Disciples of Christ, we have historically struggled with the hows of this enormous, both gift and responsibility, that we have inherited as Christians.  How do we perpetuate the existence of this bridge between the temporal and the sacred? How do we keep God present among us so that the world can know and experience the love, compassion and the salvation that God has given to us through his Son, Jesus Christ.
How do we keep Jesus among us?
In 1963, 16,000 Anglicans from around the world gathered together for an Anglican Congress to discuss issues of mutual ministry, and to live into the belief that the Anglican Communion is one family, mutually interdependent on one another.

The congress struggled with issues of interdependence in an economically unequal world. The congress discussed moving away from the idea of giving and receiving, and decided to instead focus on equality, interdependence and mutual responsibility. The congress talked about needing to examine rigorously the ways in which we use the word mission in describing something we do for someone else.

Perhaps the one of the most revealing comments in the final document published by this congress is, We do not do mission for others. Mission is not the kindness of the lucky to the unlucky, of giving a little out of our excess. Mission is about
being in a fully mutual and interdependent relationship in which we recognize that we are blood of the same blood, flesh of the same flesh.

In other words, when one person hurts, we all hurt. When one person is not able to live fully into their humanity because of a lack of human rights, then we all are in pain. We are all intimately connected to one another.

In her book, Being a Deacon Today, Rosalind Brown writes, Without rootedness in the world, life and ministry are meaningless. From the very beginnings of the biblical narrative, the story is of God who comes among us - asking the hiding Adam and Eve, Where are you? (Gen 3:9), saying, I have seen the misery of my people and have come down (Exod 3:7-8), and giving the name Emmanuel, God is with us, to the incarnate Son (Matt 1:23). And it is this incarnational self-giving of God [this involvement of God in our lives] that sets our agenda as the people of God. An agenda that calls us to be present in the lives of others.

In a challenge to the Anglo-Catholic Congress of 1923, Bishop Frank Weston said, You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the tabernacle of you do not pity Jesus in the slumnow go out into the highway and hedges and look for Jesus in the ragged and the naked, in the oppressed and the sweated, in those who have lost hope, and in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus in them and when you have found him, gird yourself with His towel of fellowship and wash His feet in the person of his brethren.

Tough marching orders. Tough marching orders for deacons - and, tough marching orders for laity called into mission through the vows of their baptismal covenant.

This work of mission has, in one way or another, been my lifes calling - first as a social worker intent of serving and bringing dignity and justice to very marginal populations - the dying, those living with HIV/AIDS, and the sexually abused. Now as a deacon my missional work has taken a slightly different path. I am called to bring educational opportunities, food and basic healthcare to communities of Episcopal school children and their families in Haiti.

Over the years, I have learned, at times as the result of grave mistakes on my part, that there can be no doing, no helping, without first being present. Being present among and seeking Christ in those to whom I have ambitious hopes of directing my assistance and support.

This business of being present among and finding Christ in the other is very hard work - it requires prayer, discipline, courage and a servant point of view. It requires incredible humility, with a frame of mind that is comfortable with the concept of I know nothing, - I need to be silent, present, and watch, listen and learn.

I have learned, very clearly, that the act of being present assumes that you lay down your I in search of the other.

Being present allows you to see Christ in everyone you meet and to know that God sees no difference between us and them. To God, we are all one, coming together in prayer and hard work to keep that bridge - the bridge between heaven and earth, the bridge to God that Christ gave us  - to keep that bridge open to traffic 24/7.

My job as deacon is to inspire you to take up, and then to lead you in your missional journey. My task is to encourage us all to move away from the goal of giving to to the task of being with. My prayer is that together we will go into the world, joining our hearts and souls with those who suffer, becoming a light to those who are in darkness, and creating a way for us all to worship, live, and be as a community of brothers and sisters in Christ - both in our own community, throughout our nation, and in a world that is torn by terrorism, famine, and disasters to numerous to imagine.


It is in community and servanthood that the light of Christ shines and the bridge to God remains open.  AMEN.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening


“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” ( 1 Sam 3:9)

Today we hear three different versions of a central theme…Look - listen - pay attention, or you will miss God’s call to you. The call that will bring you into direct and right relationship with God and into loving and compassionate community with those in the world around you.

Today’s reading from 1 Samuel is, for me, the simplest, yet the most eloquent, expression of this theme as it has played out in my life - perhaps Samuel’s struggle to identify who it is that is calling to to him and what is required of him through that call rings true in your lives as well.

Samuel’s story reminds me of a time in my life that was not terribly good. A time when I was most definitely lost and lonely. A time when my little bubble of a “dream world” crumbled and I was truly alone in a wilderness that I had never before experienced.

As I strolled down the main street of the small town that I had settled in for a time of re-grouping, I passed the local Episcopal Church. It was a very large church with bright red doors and a big “Welcome” sign posted on the lawn. Let me hasten to add that although I had been born and raised in the Episcopal Church, I had not entered any red, or any other color, Episcopal doors for quite a few years.

There was really no reason in my current state of self-pity for me to even look at this particular church, or its red doors, but… but I heard a call. I heard a call that was loud and clear. I heard a call that said, “Come in.”

At first I hesitated. “Why should I go in? It’s the middle of the week, no one is around, what purpose would it serve?” I started to walk on.

“Come in,” said the voice again. I stopped mid-stride and turned back to look at the red doors. “The doors are probably locked,” I said to myself. But the voice persisted, “Come in,” it commanded.

Reluctantly, I turned back, furtively approached the doors and turned the big brass knob. The door opened. OK, now I was in real trouble. No turning back at this point, so in I went.

It was a big and very beautiful church. I looked around for a few moments and then decided to sit down. Perhaps, I thought, I should pray for help. So, down I sat and began my confused comments to God - I would hardly call these comments a prayer.

Very soon I noticed a priest standing next to my pew. “Can I help you,” he asked. Looking up I experienced a huge wave of relief, and after a moment I answered, “Yes.”

So began my journey back into right relationship with God. A journey in which the Spirit has sometimes gently, sometimes harshly, directed me away from my “dream bubble” world and the tantalizing temptations of prestige, power and money. A journey that has been from time to time, bumpy, scary, smooth, and peace-filled. A journey that has been sometimes incredibly bold and daring, and sometimes incredibly calm and collaborative. A journey that has taken me to places, both physical and spiritual, that I would have never dreamed possible. A journey that has landed me here at Christ Church, St. Michaels Parish.

I am quite certain that there is no one here today who has not experienced a life situation similar to mine. At some point, no matter how privileged, we all come to a time of rough waters; a time that leaves us questioning, seriously questioning, the work that we are doing and the values that we hold.

I am also quite certain that I am not unique in experiencing a call from God. Indeed, I think you would all agree that God calls each and every one of us, each and every day - every moment of every day. The call from God is always there, but not always heard. I believe rather that we, like Samuel, like Paul and like Jesus’ disciples, experience specific moments in our lives in which we hear God’s call - we hear it loudly and clearly. The question for us then is, when we hear our call from God, do we listen to it? Do we respond as Samuel responded, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”

And, once we have cried out, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening,” how do we respond to what we hear?

Our response, of course, is key, for if we do not listen with open hearts and open minds, God’s call will fade from our hearing, it will be gone as quickly as it appeared.

If, however, we respond with the eyes and the ears of our heart wide open - if we welcome God into our lives, his call will increase in volume and meaning as we embark on our Spirit-led journey away from the “dream bubble,” and into right relationship with God.

Opening our hearts and minds to God’s call allows us the opportunity to become members of the loving and compassionate communion of saints, who act as a light to the world - a light that shines brightly enough for those in darkness to come out of the darkness and into the grace-filled world of hope and salvation.

My friends this “listening” and “responding” is tough stuff - hard work. It requires courage, endurance and patience. It requires love and forgiveness in situations that are appallingly anger-provoking; patience and courage in situations that are horrifically tragic; dignity and leadership in confusing and frightening wilderness situations; and above all, it requires faith and perseverance as we go into the world carrying forward the mission of Jesus Christ - to love and to serve, in peace.

Responding to God’s call is not for the feint at heart. Throughout Scripture we witness the trials and tribulations of those chosen by God to be his servants. Beginning with Abraham in Genesis right through to the New Testament gospels, we are witness to countless calls from God and their outcome. The overarching story of God’s call to mankind culminates, of course, in the incarnation, teaching and healing, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who though his life and death created a standard for us to set for ourselves in our life’s journey.

God calls us to be one with him through living a life that in word and deed reflects our baptismal vows - to live in prayerful community; to repent and return when we have gone astray; to proclaim the good news of Christ in word and deed; to seek the Christ in all whom we encounter; to love our neighbors as ourselves; to seek justice and peace for all; to respect the dignity of every human being.

To live, as Walter Brueggemann would say, “for the good of the neighborhood.”

Beautiful words - wonderful thoughts - however, a very complex and difficult job description.

As I indicated earlier, my journey since responding to God’s call to “Come in” has not been smooth sailing guided by some fancy GPS instrument that ensures getting from one point to another without, many times over, getting lost.

My journey has not always allowed me to be politically correct, to live in comfort, or to know what is just around the bend.

However, I can tell you - and I would imagine that you could tell me when discussing your own journeys - that it has been, and is, a journey from which there is no turning back - neither the desire nor the possibility. It is a journey that I share with many people - all of you included. It is a journey led by our Savior Jesus Christ - our travel companion and guide the Holy Spirit. It is a journey to which God has called us through his Son Jesus Christ who said, “Follow me.” It is a journey in which we travel beyond the cross to the world of darkness that yearns for the light of Christ and the salvation of God. AMEN

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Our Christmas Story

Sermon
Christmas Day 2014
Christ Church, St. Michaels Parish, MD
Luke 2:1-14 [15-20]

Merry Christmas!!

First of all I want to thank all of you for the warmest welcome that I have ever received - anywhere. Devin and I are deeply grateful for your love and support.

I also want to thank Mark and the Vestry for their faith in my ministry and the opportunity to serve alongside them here at Christ Church. My hope is that I will be with you all for a long time, and that together we will continue to carry out our mission as Christ’s disciples, lighting this, sometimes, very dark world, and inspiring hearts and lives with the love and compassion of Christ.

As I began to plan my sermon for today, I thought about stories and how stories shape our identity and our lives. I don’t know about you, but the older I get the more stories I have to tell – and, for the most part, my stories reflect who I am - who I have become over these many years – they form my identity.

I am quite proud of some of my stories. But, truth be told, I am not very proud of many of my stories. When I look back at all the stories that remain in my memory – the good and the bad – I see how impossible it is to live a life that is comprised of only “good” stories, and how easy it is to accumulate stories that lack any saving grace. Indeed, my good stories are few and far between, and, for the most part, came at a price. Perhaps you would all agree, good stories – stories that we are proud of – are rare and achieved only through hard work, sacrifice, persistence and courage.

This Christmas Day we hear a story that is, in every sense of the word, a good story. It is a story that far outdistances our various and meager life stories. It is the story of the birth of the Christ child- the baby Jesus –the overarching and ultimate story of all time. The Nativity story is the story that defines what all of our stories should look like. It is the story that provides the norms by which we should all live our lives. It is the story that encourages us all to regulate our way of life, according to the model provided by Jesus, as we proceed in our work as Christ’s disciples in our personal lives, in this community and in the larger world.

It is a story that both guides us and walks beside us, lovingly and compassionately, as we struggle with the challenges of a darkened world, personal difficulties, desolate grief, and the anxieties generated in the chaos of this post-modern world.

It is a story told year after year. It is a story that never changes. It is a story for each and every one of us. It is a story that we read and listen to with joy and great hope as, each year, we celebrate the birth of Jesus.

We have no way of knowing the historical accuracy of facts reported in Luke’s birth story. However, we do know that about 4 BCE Jesus was born somewhere in the Galilee area, and we do know that his parents were poor. These are salient historical facts, but more important than historical accuracy are the elements of the story.

Jesus is born to Mary, a virgin who had found favor with God and in whose womb a baby was conceived. A baby who God commanded would be named Jesus. This Son of God arrived not in a mansion; not in a comfortable place fit for a king. Jesus arrived in a cold and dirty manger, attended only by his mother Mary and his father Joseph. The first to learn of the birth were shepherds, the lowliest of the low. Asleep at night they were awakened by a terrifying light and an Angel who spoke to them. The angel informed these cold, dirty, and bedraggled shepherds that their Saviour had just been born. “Hurry along to pay him a visit,” commanded the angel. Off they went, in faith I might add, to see this miracle with their own eyes. Astounded by the power of their visit, they rushed back to their meadows, excitedly telling all whom they encountered of what they had seen and heard.

The Nativity story is indeed much more that a story based on historical fact. It is Luke’s way of alerting us to the fact that God is with us. The God who created the world and who has spent the rest of historical time wanting to heal and restore a broken creation, that it may become an organism of true reconciliation and peace, is with us in a very real and urgent way. For God so loved the world, that he sent his Son to be with us, to be among us, to experience the full range of human emotions and to be in dialogue with us – to show us the way, the light, the gate that will open our hearts and minds to the Kingdom of God.

Luke is telling us that the God of Creation has sent his Son, Jesus to be a player in the massive effort to restore creation. Jesus who will restore sight to the blind, who will heal the lame so that they may once again walk, who will heal the sick and restore hearing to the deaf, raise the dead and bring good news to the poor is among us. Jesus whose compassion will rock the world, refocusing attention and worship away from the empire ruled by Rome and return it to the Kingdom of God is here to show us the way, the truth and the light.

The story of the Nativity, or God’s involvement with the world, is a story that never changes. The gift of the baby born to a virgin somewhere in a cold, dark Galilee over two thousand years ago, is the same gift that we – you and I - have received, and will receive, from God each year. Each year the gift of Christ our Saviour remains the same, and the fact that this gift was meant for all remains the same. Our gift from God in the person of his Son Jesus, is our reminder that we are now and always will be in relationship with God.

What then does this mean for us and our personal stories? A great deal I believe. I believe that the Nativity gift of Jesus calls us to be terrified shepherds in the cold and dark field; to, in faith, follow the commands of the angels to visit the newborn child; to travel a difficult journey in order to see and to experience – to know - the Son of God; and then, to return to our communities and spread the good news of great joy to all.

In other words, our stories, if they are to be good stories, should reflect intentional efforts to receive the gift of Jesus in a way that allows us to know him, know him deep within our hearts and our souls. Our stories should be developed out of a dialogue with God, making every attempt to understand his will and not ours. Our stories should be uninhibited in their proclaiming the good news of great joy – news that informs the world of the need to reconcile and to heal. Our stories should make history and make faith possible for future generations.

Throughout Scripture we read, and experience, in one way or another, that we are all created in the image of God; that God dwells within us all – at the very center of our beings; that we are all holy, because God, the God within us, is holy; that we are all sacred beings called to servant hood – servant hood to God and to all God’s creation; that our ultimate duty is to do right and trust in God.

In this challenging time of violence, terrorism, political unrest, and economic uncertainly, let us, more fervently and prayerfully than ever, seek the holy within us; put on the armor of God; and go forth in faith in seeking ways to bring God’s creation back into right relationship with him. This is the dialogic response that God is seeking as acknowledgement of the gift of Jesus in the manger this Christmas morning. This is the template from which our stories should be formed.

It does not matter that Christ was born long ago in Bethlehem unless he is born in you today.  (Meister Eckhart) AMEN.



Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Speak to God...He Will Listen


Sermon

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Exodus 33:12-23; I Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22: 15-22

 

These days it’s not uncommon to overhear or participate in conversations that include comments such as “I really don’t know what is happening in the world today – ISIS and the Mideast situation, Ebola, all these hurricanes, tornados and earthquakes – it’s really frightening. Maybe the world really is coming to an end.”

 

Another common theme that literally screams out at us, not only in face to face conversations but in Facebook posts, Twitter tweets, and other media sources is the apparent decline of Christianity.  Ethnic cleansing of Christians in many areas of the world, strife at General and other theological Seminaries, and blogs that state boldly “Even your new pastor won’t be able to save the church” all underscore a deep and real concern about the state of Christianity, especially in America.

 

And, right here in our own backyard – right here in Delray Beach – we are faced daily with the grim issues of poverty, hunger, homelessness, and a sea of people lost and searching, victims of abuse and addiction.

 

Without a doubt, after a quick glance at the daily newspaper, or listening to a few CNN or Fox News talking heads discuss the latest spin on who’s who and what’s what, there is a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty to shoulder through as we head out into our individual worlds of work and responsibility.

 

Yes, indeed – at times it really does seem pretty grim. What to do – who to turn to in these challenging times.

 

In fact, after reading today’s passage in Exodus, I wonder if we aren’t all feeling a bit like Moses did way back in the “good old days” when he stood on the mountain shaking in his sandals after having been instructed by God to lead a rebellious group of people into the unknown, barren and certainly dangerous wilderness, through the Red Sea and into the land of Canaan.

 

However scared Moses might have been though, he was not afraid to speak up about it. He was not afraid to challenge God. His message to God was crystal clear. Standing  there on the mountain top, he said, “Look if you want me to carry on with this task of leading your people out of the mess that they are in I need your help and I need you here – right here, by my side. Without your presence it just is not going to be possible.”

 

God listened to Moses, and God responded. God said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest…I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.”

 

Moses spoke directly to God. God listened to Moses. God responded. And Moses carried on. He led his people through the wilderness, all the way – right up to the plains of Mount Nebo, where he died.

 

The very last passage of Deuteronomy eulogizes Moses, proclaiming, “Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.” (Deut. 34:10-12)

 

Moses spoke to God. God listened. God responded. Moses acted and performed displays of power in full sight of all Israel.

 

By the time Paul comes around, many years later, God, through the presence of his Son, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, has been made manifest, not to all, but to many.  The exclusivity of God speaking only to Moses has been radically altered. No more mountaintops. Jesus has been with and among the people. God, through the gift of his Son made man, Jesus, has come down from the mountaintop to walk alongside us as we journey through troubled waters and the challenges of life.

 

Jesus through his teaching, healing, death, resurrection and gift of the Holy Spirit has proclaimed the good news message that God is there for us – all we have to do is open our hearts to his presence. If we acknowledge God as our Creator, the one who loves us, and if we speak directly to Him for guidance and support, God will listen; and, God will respond.

 

In his Letter to the Thessalonians, Paul’s encouragement and support to the struggling new believers in Thessaloniki, remains a relevant message for us even today.  Paul says, “For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in the power of the Holy Spirit and with full conviction…in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example for all…For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known.”

 

Paul praises the Thessalonians for their receptivity both to the gospel and to the gift of the Holy Spirit – a receptivity that Paul’s characterizes as having “full conviction.” He commends the converts’ commitment to their difficult and oftentimes dangerous existence as they model the love, compassion, peace and glory of God’s Kingdom through both their words and actions.

 

Paul reminds these new believers that in receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit they have chosen, despite threats of persecution, to be led by the Spirit as they carry out their Christian mission. They have become a model for others, so that “the Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of God’s name.”

 

The Thessalonians led by the Spirit modeled the courage and faith needed to weather the persecution of the early Church. As they weathered these grim challenges, they, like Moses among the Israelites, were seen and heard by thousands of Roman citizens, and Christianity as we know it today emerged.

 

Jesus is, of course, the ultimate model for us. We encounter him in today’s gospel reading, standing face to face with the Pharisees. Pharisees who are yet again plotting to catch him in words and actions that will be seen as treasonous by the Roman authorities.

 

“Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” they question him.

 

Jesus does not mince words – “Give to the emperor what is the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” he replies, knowing full well that everything we have belongs to God – whatever small pittance of money is due the emperor has no relation to the commitment we have to God. It is to God whom we turn. It is to God that we listen. It is from God that we seek a response that will carry us forward in facing the challenges of life. It is from God that we will receive our salvation.

 

“When the Pharisees heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.”

 

Amazed at what? Jesus’ courage? Jesus’ passion? Jesus’ defiance?

 

I would imagine that the Pharisees were amazed by it all – the courage, the passion, the defiance, and the authority of Jesus as he perseveres in his mission to re-establish God’s Kingdom in Jerusalem and beyond.

 

Jesus’ courage in leading God’s people out of a wilderness of power and money established by the Roman Empire, the priests, the Sadducees and the Pharisees.

 

Jesus’ passion as he barrels forward at a breathless non-stop pace to spread the gospel – the good news of God – the Kingdom of God that has come near.

 

Jesus’ defiance as he flies in the face of authority – an authority that desecrates God’s Kingdom here on earth.

 

Jesus’ authority that leaves people amazed.

 

Moses stood alone on a mountaintop and confronted God, asking for his presence as protection and help. Paul encourages us to speak directly to God asking for his presence in our lives and his protection as we fight the perils that face us. Jesus demanded that we acknowledge the sovereignty and authority of God’s Kingdom in the here and now, and forever and ever.

 

Moses on the mountain. The Thessalonians in Macedonia. Jesus in the Temple. All in direct communication with God. God listening to them all. God responding with the gift of his Son and the Holy Spirit. God with us and in us – always.

 

All this tells me there should be no “shaking in our sandals” as we face the challenges of today’s world. There is, indeed, reason for deep concern. There is, without a doubt, a pressing need for us as Christians to actively seek God’s response as we pray for guidance from the Spirit. There is a legitimate need for us to ask God to be at our side as we journey through a wilderness of terrorism, ethnic cleansing, and ravaging illnesses.

 

However, there is also an urgent need for us to be models – examples – to all believers throughout the world. There is an urgent need for us, through our words and deeds, to preserve the works of God’s mercy, that the Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of his Name. Perhaps this is the greatest need of all.