June 18 2017

 ElCaminoReal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Proper  6- Year A

A Sermon Preached by The Rev Ian M Delinger

 

The story of the Exodus is ripe and rife with theology and meaning. Though there is very little archeological evidence for the Exodus, we glean so much from it for our daily living and our spiritual journeys.


Throughout the story of the Exodus (which spans the Books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy), there are many liberating or life-giving actions by YHWH, and many responses demanded.


I don’t think that it is accidental that the framers of the Lectionary chose to put Psalm 100 after this reading from Exodus 19. It’s all about context. Nothing really happens in Exodus 18. The last significant action was in Chapter 17 when the Israelites ran out of water, and YWHW told Moses to take his snake-stick and strike it against the Rock at Horeb. Lo-and-behold, water came out. Then they were attacked – at Rephidim, mentioned at the beginning of this reading. And after a bit of struggle, Joshua, Moses’ assistant, defeated the Amalek. And if you go one more chapter back, to 16, it’s the story about Manna from Heaven. So, there has been quite a bit of deliverance and liberation going on by the time the Israelites reach this point, which is at Mt Sinai.


So…God’s liberating actions demand a response. The framers of the Lectionary place Psalm 100 alongside this reading from Exodus. When we put some context around it, it is clearly a perfect fit:

 

Be joyful in the Lord, all you lands; serve the Lord with gladness and come before his presence with a song. For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his faithfulness endures from age to age.


What this tells us about Israel’s early relationship with YHWH was, as one commentator puts it:


“The initial community of liberated Israel is a community of praise. This can be especially seen in the Psalms where praise is Israel’s natural response in celebration of God’s acts of grace…and Exodus themes are at the heart of Israel’s praise.”


YHWH’s liberating acts during the Exodus demanded a response, and the Israelites responded with praise.


We are no longer in the Desert, and we are no longer under the laws and modes of worship of Nomadic Israel. Yet, God still takes liberating actions for us, which demand responses. The most significant of those liberating actions seem remote now that we are embarking on our journey into the Green Season or the Season of Pentecost. Those liberating actions of The Incarnation and The Resurrection are far off, now. Yet, here we are in worship.


I’m going to suggest that the response demanded by The Incarnation – or one of the responses – is gratitude – of a depth we cannot attain. We need to offer gratitude that God would deign to join our miserable lives is somewhat and legitimately inconceivable.


The 13C theologian Duns Scotus purports that “The Incarnation was primarily not a way of rescuing humanity from sin, but of bringing creation to its divinely intended fulfillment.” “Bringing creation to its divinely intended fulfillment” – that certainly calls for some gratitude. And we give that gratitude in our worship, particularly at Christmas. But as we embark on a season of Sunday readings that don’t point us toward The Incarnation, we need to remind ourselves to be deeply, deeply thankful for God coming to dwell with us. The Incarnation was an amazing act, so says theologian Adrian Hastings:


“Here is something wonderful enough to be divine; nowhere else do we find anything quite comparable. Thirdly, in the fact that 2,000 years later there are many millions of Christian believers in every part of the globe. The vitality, endurance and expansion of faith in Christ could be proposed as evidence of its correctness.”


In legal and political terms, that’s called precedence.


Hastings continues:


“The Incarnation…transcend[s] all formulas and continually fertilizes incarnational religion by the very freedom it provides for those who, knowing or unknowing, constitute in the world, and in the flesh, an extension to the body of the Incarnate Lord.”


The Incarnation, like the Exodus, is an act of liberation by God that demands our response.
The response demanded by The Resurrection (among others) is Mission. Even though today’s Gospel in which Jesus chooses the 12 and sending them out is prior to the Crucifixion and Resurrection, there are similar commissionings after the Resurrection. This pre-Resurrection commission is to “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’” The post-Resurrection is the proclaim the good news of Eternal Life.


Jesus knows that His commission is a dangerous one, both before and after The Resurrection:


“I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me.”


And, boy, was He right! There has been persecution of Christians in various forms over the last 2,000 years. Today, Syrian Christians, Coptic Christians, and others are being actively persecuted – a reported 90,000 Christians were killed for their faith in 2016. Some believe this persecution to be closer to home. Last year, the Bishop of London, the Rt. Rev Richard Chartres, and Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, jointly asserted that Christians in Britain are under threat. Evangelical Christians in the United States believe Christianity to be under threat through legislation that erodes their forms of Christian values, such as being able to refuse to provide their business services to LGBT persons, or include contraception in their healthcare plans. I believe that to be on an entirely different level than the 28 Coptic Christians in Egypt pulled from a bus and killed last month.


Perhaps not in the category of persecution, but being sheep among wolves can be subtle. I spoke last week about the need, the real need for invitation. The response demanded of us by the Resurrection is the share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others. In the reality of 21C American liberal Christianity, that does NOT mean standing on the street calling people to repentance. It’s doesn’t even mean asking people if they know Jesus Christ. For us, the response of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ starts with the invitation.


I just want to briefly follow-up from last week. I asserted that Episcopalians are bad at inviting people to church but good at welcoming people. That is absolutely true. I also illustrated how we are actively using our 150th Anniversary events to meet one of the Objectives of the Diocesan Strategic Plan:


We have been cultivating the treasures within our neighborhoods, expanding our horizons of mission and ministry, connecting with our community, fostering leadership and capitalizing on local opportunities.


We have been affirmed in doing that, and been given the incentive to do more. We applied for and have just been awarded a Mission Opportunity Grant from the Diocese. This will offset the funds we have been taking from the Endowment for the costs of the 150th events, and allow us to do a bit more publicity, as well as ensure that each event doesn’t have to be on a shoestring budget.


The grant isn’t about the money, my friends. The grant is an affirmation that the Diocese believes that we, St. Stephen’s, can truly connect with our community through mission and ministry, which requires the genuine, heartfelt and deliberate act of invitation to our friends, families and colleagues. They didn’t give us the money to print more flyers. They gave us the money to encourage us to serve the Lord with gladness and come before His presence with a song with those around us. And as much as I and they at the Diocese understand your trepidation, your reticence, your fear in extending the invitation, Jesus Himself gives us the assurance in today’s Gospel story:


“Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”


Enough of that. You know what needs to be done. The response demanded of us by the Resurrection is to spread the Good News of Salvation through Jesus Christ, and that starts with the invitation.
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The other response that is lurking among these readings, not well-hidden at all, is borne out of God’s liberating action of justification, of validating our worth, of deeming us worthy of these liberating acts in the first place. And the response demanded of us for that is faith, so says Paul. Justification must be understood as God’s unconditioned and unconditional love for humanity in Jesus Christ. It’s a two-way covenant only when we open our hearts to God through faith, because the one-way love of God is ever-constant.
Whether that justification came through

  • The Crucifixion (made explicit in today’s Letter to the Romans),
  • The Incarnation (Christ as the new Adam who sanctifies humanity, thereby making us worthy of justification) or
  • The Resurrection (Christ’s conquering of death, human death, by rising to new life and taking us with Him),

…well…that is for your next theology degree. Nonetheless, God’s liberating action of justification comes through God’s love for Humanity, and the response demanded of us is faith.


One last liberating act that demands a response is the Eucharist…Christ’s giving of Himself: His Body given for us, and His blood shed for the forgiveness of sins.


The Incarnation and The Resurrection, the central liberating events of our history and lives as Christians, demand responses. The response demanded by the Incarnation is that we thankful; the response demanded by the Resurrection is that we spread the Good News.
We are to sent out into this world by Jesus’ summoning and sending of the 12. And through God’s grace, we can proclaim God’s truth with boldness. And like the Israelites responded to God’s liberating acts, we, too can do as they did:


The people all answered as one: “Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.”

© 2017 St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
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