Proper 17A 2020
Exodus 3:1-15; Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c
Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28
As we listen to our Exodus reading of the Burning Bush our human senses connect us instantly to the fires that seemingly surround us and have been filling the Central Valley with smoke this summer.
I watched a person interviewed on TV this past week who had rushed to her parent’s ranch, after they had evacuated days before, only to find everything gone. What hurt her the most, as tears flowed down her cheeks, was the loss of all their horses and animals to the flames. How heartbreaking!
For many of us, our animals are members of our family and to witness their suffering or death is, through our own human empathy, witnessing our own suffering.
In his day, Moses, as shepherd of his flock, wandered the fields with his sheep watching for danger. Wolves immediately come to mind, but flash floods or wildfires could easily overcome his beloved animals. It is during this state of awareness while caring for his flock that Moses notices a bush burning.
Fire can be such a contradictory experience for us. Properly contained, in a campfire or fireplace, fire can be attractive, comforting, and reassuring, particularly on a cold, dark night. Left to the whims of the wind, fire becomes dangerous, frightening, and full of chaos and destruction.
When Moses sees the burning bush he’s startled at first, but when he notices the bush is burning, but not being consumed—not spreading—not spewing black smoke—he goes over to investigate this oddity and ends up encountering God speaking to him through nature.
Remember, this is Moses, the man without a country, and a man without a tribe. He was raised in an Egyptian family, but wasn’t considered “Egyptian” by Egyptians. Being raised by Egyptians, he wasn’t considered to be a Hebrew by the Hebrews.
Stuck in this state of not-belonging, struggling as a young adult with who he “is”, he sees an Egyptian mistreating a Hebrew and murders the Egyptian in cold blood. There’s no other way to describe his rage-filled action!
The Hebrew’s react by reporting this outsider, Moses, to their Egyptian overseers, forcing Moses to flee. This fugitive murderer is the one who God calls to lead his people out of bondage?! Was there a shortage of available candidates that day?
As Christians we might think that Jesus did a better job of finding qualified candidates to be leaders of this new Jewish movement, but hold on! Not so fast!!
In our Gospel reading today we hear of another one of Peter’s blunders. A few lines before this, which we just heard last week, Peter had declared that Jesus is the Messiah!
As Jesus goes on to explain to his disciples just what kind of a suffering Messiah he must become, Peter blurts out “God forbid it, Lord. This must never happen to you.”
Peter goes from God-inspired, calling Jesus the Messiah, to Satan-inspired, calling for Jesus to seize an Earthly kingdom, in just a few lines.
- This is Peter, who walks on water, then has doubts and starts sinking.
- This is Peter, who brings a sword to the last Supper, then violently cuts off the ear of a servant, before running away.
- This is Peter who shows up in the courtyard during Jesus’ trial, then denies that he even knows him.
- This is Peter, who hides as Jesus is executed, leaving the women to be Jesus’ final witnesses.
This is the same Peter, though, who Jesus declares is the rock the Church will be built on. He sure doesn’t seem like much of a rock!
Lutheran Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber wonders how Peter could even have gotten out of bed the day after Jesus died with the weight of his failure pressing on his shoulders, or how he was even able to look Mary Magdalene in the eye.
In recounting Peter’s many failures Pastor Nadia wonders if there had been a redaction by the writers in some way and suggests that perhaps Jesus really hadn’t called Peter a rock, but instead a bucket of rocks, because he was just so thick-headed in not getting this whole Kingdom of God thing straight.
Yet God called this thick-headed, prone-to-violence, easily-scared Peter. God called this fugitive murderer Moses. It seems as if God calls the most broken people to preach God’s message, not because they are broken, but because as broken people they understand best just how forgiving God’s mercy is to themselves, and to us.
What brokenness do you carry within yourself, and how does it feel to know that God loves you anyways and is calling to you?
- As I think about the fires caused by storms on the West Coast, and the floods caused by hurricanes on the Southern Coast, I can’t help but wonder what God is calling us to do.
- When I see the injustice of peaceful protestors being killed by an armed white man, who is then allowed to go home, and a defenseless black man being shot (7) times in the back in front of his children while walking to his car, I can’t help but wonder what God is calling us to do.
- When I see a virus spreading, and infecting, and killing people because others won’t take simple precautions, I can’t help but wonder what God is calling us to do.
I already know that in this hyper-political season some of you listening to this are rolling your eyes in dread, or cheering for some political pronouncement, but I’m here to tell you that I’m not here as a Republican, a Democrat, or an Independent. Are you?………..Think about that simple question!
In these challenging times, how do you identify yourself? As a member of a political party? As Red or Blue? As good or bad? As us rather than them?
Jesus calls his followers to take up their cross and follow him. What does that mean to us today?
We’re not being asked to be crucified. We’re being asked to set aside our natural instincts of anger, envy, and revenge and instead follow the Way of Love. In some ways, that is an even more difficult task.
When we think of the problems this country and the world is facing today we should be asking ourselves “What is the Gospel calling us to do?” Peter was looking for military and political solutions when Jesus rebuked him with “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Yet this is the same Jesus who encouraged people to pay their taxes, participate in their government and military, and be active in their community. Jesus, throughout his ministry, peacefully protested against the injustices of the world around him, and those in power crucified him between two violent revolutionaries in an attempt to smear his peaceful message of hope and love. Wow, does this sound familiar to us today?
As we look at the world through the Gospel of Love, the seemingly intractable problems around us can leave us feeling helpless, confused, lost, and overwhelmed. It’s the evil one, though, who whispers to us “Forget about it! Lock your doors! There’s nothing you can do! It’s someone else’s problem!”
There is something we can do, and Paul tells us, in pro-active verbs, in his letter to the Romans, how to live in this broken world as followers of Jesus:
- Let love be genuine.
- Be ardent in spirit.
- Rejoice in hope.
- Be patient in suffering.
- Persevere in prayer.
- Contribute to the needs…
- Extend hospitality.
- Live in harmony with one another.
- Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
- Overcome evil with good.
How different would the world be if everyone lived this way?
As followers of Jesus we aren’t called to change the world–We are called to change the world around us, and the world within us. We can’t force others to live this Way of Love, but perhaps as we persevere in following the Way of Love we may inspire others to follow along, too.
In this coming political season, we are not Democrats, or Republicans, or Independents. We are not bigots, or socialists, or communists, or fascists. We must define ourselves as brothers and sisters in Christ, each forgiven through God’s infinite mercy, and each a cherished member of God’s family.
We are Americans who have the freedom to make our own choices. Let us make our choices based on the Gospel. Let us vote as faithful citizens, but most importantly, let us love each other as followers of Jesus.
In these troubling times when things can seem bleak, let us call to mind a prayer from St. Teresa of Avila:
“Let nothing disturb you,
let nothing frighten you,
all things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.”