Prayer: God of love and glory, teach us how to love each other, show us how to be neighbors, instill in us the desire to do both daily. Amen.
I have never been one to accept that everything happens for a reason. Many times, I gasp when I hear someone telling another, “Oh, God doesn’t give you more than you can handle!” In our time and culture of picking and choosing scripture to enhance one’s personal viewpoint and opinions, it can be easy to establish a personal theology. With that being said, I am going to do just that this morning. Throughout our Exodus journey we have been hearing about Moses’ life, leadership and ministry. Most of which is spent wandering with very tired, very cranky people. Folks who rejoice in a God who rescues, and who just as easily forget about that same God when their needs seem to go unnoticed.
On their journey out of oppression, the Israelites faced trial after trial, obstacles that obscure their vision for the future and temptations that take them away from their restorative God. When you read about these experiences in Exodus, you hear things like this from chapter 15:
There the Lord made for them a statute and an ordinance and there he put them to the test. He said, “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in his sight, and give heed to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians.
This is a hard Divine concept to grasp. For me, God does not place anyone in danger. God is the God of everyone. Reading ancient words favoring one people over another, does not describe the God I know and love. But, what comes directly after these verses makes me rejoice: Exodus 15:26b claims:
“For I am the God who heals you!”
That, I can understand. These are words I will pick and choose and hold close.
“For I am the God who heals you!”
These words, for me, are at the heart of all of God’s commandments. Often times the difficult work of appropriating biblical texts for particular causes within our modern context goes undone and many remain under oppression. But when we live our lives knowing and believing that God is the God whose healing balm touches not only us, individually, but everyone equally, the work of Greatest Commandment begins.
This is one of the most moving of the African-American spirituals because it illustrates the way in which the enslaved tried to encourage those who were feeling especially weighed down by the burden of their captivity.
This is the description for the hymn; “There is A Balm in Gilead” on page 553 of the New Century Hymnal. The hymn Carole played for us earlier. We sing:
There is a balm in Gilead, to make the wounded whole,
There is a balm in Gilead, to heal the sin sick soul.
If you cannot preach like Peter, if you cannot pray like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus, who died to save us all.
We need these words today more than ever before. To an alien of this world, humanity must seem like it is in shambles. I can’t even begin to imagine what God is thinking. We need to get it together, otherwise our journey through this wilderness is only going to become more cloudy and harder to travel. We need restoration for our sin sick souls. We need to remember Christ’s answer to the lawyer’s question: “Which commandment is the greatest?”
“Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself!”
In her book, Standing Naked Before God: The Art of Public Confession, the Rev. Molly Baskette, recalls this story from a member of her congregation, First Church, Sommerville UCC. Heather May says:
I heard this analogy during a recent TED Talk:
If someone told you that someone you loved was dying from a disease with no cure, you wouldn’t simply do nothing. “Eh, terminal brain cancer, whelp, guess I’ll go update my Facebook status.” No, of course not, because love dictates that you will do everything in your power to change the course of those events. And then he asks the question, “Do you have that kind of love?”
I found myself thinking about it days later. A voice, and it wasn’t mine, was asking, “Do You have that kind of love?” I believe I have that Love when it comes to immigration reform, gun control, about saving our planet… I have that love… what I lack is the action.
Luckily for me when I come here to church, you people, have THE LOVE, and many of you have the action to back it up. I need to back it up myself, because I have that LOVE too and the world needs my action.
“For I am the God who heals you!”
Many of us have been "raised in the faith," and perhaps haven't stopped to think about it as a gift that transforms our lives, or even to think of our lives as needing transformation. Nevertheless, this is what the scriptures teach us. Although today we may not always follow the 10 Commandants, we know them. Which is why when tragedies like Las Vegas happen we are left questioning how and why? What does our faith tell us about a person’s motives? How can we live out Jesus’ plea for us to love each other? In moments such as these we should ask ourselves: do we think of faith as something we have or hold or live with, or do we think of ourselves as being held by God, as being grasped by Christ, as being Christ's "own"?
Anne Lamott, the matter of fact author and theologian, captures these faith questions as well as life’s transitions when she claims:
Reading maps can change a life, a person, returning us to dreams, to our childhood, to the poetic, to what is real. They can move us forward to what we didn’t even know we were looking for. The point of life, a friend said, is not staying alive, but staying in love, and maps give us a shot at this, taking us to the wild brand-new, the old favorite and back home.
On a trip Lamott once took with a close friend to Japan to visit the place her father spent most of his childhood, she laments about a scene they happened to stumble upon in Hiroshima:
I waited for Tom to catch up, and we headed down to the river. And there we saw something that shocked us into joy, full presence, into blown-away: a dock full of Hawaiian folksingers, in aloha regalia and leis, slack-key guitarists and small children, all singing to the people of Japan.
These first Americans attacked by the Japanese had been welcomed by and were singing to the first people in the world whom Americans had bombed with a nuclear weapon. It stopped me. It gentled me. This is one meaning of meek, as in ‘Blessed are”…
“Love your neighbor as yourself!”
“For I am the God who heals you”
Where do you see such faith and forgiveness in your life? How is God Still speaking, encouraging you onward? How are you doing Faith, living out the Greatest Commandant, Loving your neighbor? I close with this poem by Kathleen Norris who searched the Gospels for parallels to the Exodus’ Commandants. She writes:
Look at the birds consider the lilies.
Drink you, all of it.
Enter by the narrow gate.
Do not be anxious. Judge no one: do not give dogs what is holy.
God: be it done for you.
Do not be afraid.
Young man, I say arise.
Search out your hand. Stand up, be still
Rise, let us be going.
For I Am the God who heals you!
Baskette, Molly. Standing Naked Before God: The Art of Public Confession. The Pilgrim Press. Cleveland. 2015.
Lamott, Anne. Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy. Riverhead Books. New York. 2017.
Norris, Kathleen. “Little Girls in Church” Spiritual Formation Bible. NIV.