Matthew 16: 21-28 Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III
Exodus 3; 1-15 September 3, 2017
“I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them...”
Prayer: Holy One, our eternal companion and Friend, please open our minds and hearts to hear what you are speaking to us in this your Word. Amen.
It’s good to be back with you! I wanted to share with you how I experienced my sabbatical, and I promise, I will tie my project in a bit later. For now though, let me first speak how we respond to people’s needs, and the energy we have to do that. We’ve seen it again and again, haven’t we? And thankfully so… there’s nothing like a natural disaster to fire up our resolve to get in there and help out, right? After Katrina hit in 2010, people nationwide rallied and put together truckloads of supplies for the needy in New Orleans. For years afterwards, many weeklong mission trips brought thousands of people to the disaster areas, helping folks rebuild. The same took place for Hurricane Sandy.
And now, throughout the country, people are energized to help those homeless and stranded in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. We see the devastation on the news. We hear the cries of people suffering. We listen to their misery. And something within us kicks in. Complacency evaporates. Compassion and empathy take hold. We rally. We get fired up to pitch in, ready to help deliver relief. TV stations, restaurants, and churches like us and helping organizations like the American Red Cross are all raising money to help relieve the suffering. Truckloads of water, clothing, shoes, and other supplies are heading down to Texas. We hope that the resources we give will assist those victims suffering from the disaster, helping them to get back to normalcy… back on their feet… helping life get restored to the way it’s supposed to be, even if it takes years to recover.
Let it be said: God is listening to their cries. God hears their misery. God is acting… through people everywhere helping out. Through us.
Our story from Exodus metaphorically illustrates the same thing. God was listening and God heard the cries of the Israelites held in bondage. According to the story, their Egyptian taskmasters were brutal. Terrible working conditions existed. No pay. No rest for the weary or the elderly. They were beaten with whips and rods. They were trapped. Brought low. Pressed down by a dictator Pharoah. They were in misery. Their cries went up to God (Exodus 2: 23). Biblical commentator Gerald Janzen wrote “Every cry, and every individual throb of suffering it expressed went not on deaf ears, but went to the heart of God,” (Exodus, Westminster Bible Companion).
God was listening. This was not the way God intended life for people to be. God remembered the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So, God brings Moses up the mountain and shares a plan with him… a plan for Moses to be the one to liberate all of God’s people out from under the Egyptian oppression and suffering. God needs Moses to do this.
But, Moses is reluctant. He resists at first by asking a bunch of questions. God answers all of them. Still, Moses didn’t get on board easily. God even has to get mad at Moses and say Aaron was going with him before he agrees do it. But when he does Moses gets energized. Moses saw God’s fire in the burning bush, and now a fire was lit in him. He was fired up to deliver Israel out of bondage. And, Moses became the greatest liberator in the time of ancient Israel’s history.
Fast forward, sixteen hundred years later, or so, God was listening to the cries of people suffering under the oppression of the Roman government. But, mostly they suffered from of a broken covenant. They struggled because of failed religious leaders who were more interested in jamming the religious rules down the people’s throats instead of nurturing their faith. Life became so distorted economically, politically, and spiritually that people were like sheep without a shepherd… cut off from God, their source of life and love.
And, God was listening. This was not the way God intended life for people. God remembered the promise to send a Messiah to redeem humanity and make the covenant new again… God sent Jesus. God needed Jesus for this.
But, when Jesus shared God’s plan of redemption which included
him suffering in Jerusalem, Peter resisted. He was like ‘This plan must be wrong!’ Peter’s mindset was set on a human perspective… that somehow Jesus was going to be the Messiah who would overthrow the Roman government and restore Israel as a nation.
But Jesus knew that God’s plan of redemption meant that he WAS the Messiah, but that he was to restore humanity’s relationship with God, not to restore Israel to national power. Jesus would show God’s abundant life and redemptive love the way it was supposed to be lived—in covenant with God and with others. He would show total commitment and faithfulness to God and God’s plan, even when it cost him his life on the cross.
I don’t know about you, but when Jesus heard Peter’s rebuke, I think it fired Jesus up! He had that little intense argument with Peter telling him basically to get on board with God’s ways. Then I think, still frustrated, and with maybe some intensity in his voice, he says to all his disciples, “Listen! You want to be my follower? You’ve got to give up all your personal interests and identify with mine. You’ve got to take up your cross which is the same as my cross. You’ve got to get on board with me! You must want the same thing I want… I’m restoring a relationship with God, a life the way God intends life to be!” I think in this moment Jesus was fired up to deliver God’s redemptive love. And Jesus became humanity’s great Redeemer for all time.
Fast forward two thousand years or so, to today. As I said, I believe God hears the cries of people in Texas dealing with the aftermath of Harvey’s fury and devastation. And, I believe God is using people nationwide to help restore life back to somewhat of a normal state. God needs people to do this.
But, let it also be said that God hears other cries where people are hurting or feel the oppressive pain of exclusion. God feels the pain, I believe, of those who suffered in Charlottesville, a few weeks ago. God is listening to the cries of those who struggle because their loved one died of cancer while a loved one in another family survived. I think God hears the cries of those penalized, or lose their jobs, or are excluded from common privileges all because of their sexual orientation. God I think hears the hearts of those who don’t have full basic human rights.
Thankfully, God has us. Because of God’s redemptive work done through Jesus Christ, a new covenant with God was made, I believe. The essence of God’s life and love exists within us, and that is the part of us that responds to the cries of those in need. As I see it, God works in our hearts and our actions . God uses us to help restore a life that God intended for people to have all along, no matter how big or small our efforts may be.
“Former President Jimmy Carter collapsed while working on a Habitat for Humanity building site in Winnipeg, Canada last July. After spending the night in the hospital, he was back on the job the next day. President Carter is showing his age at 92: he walks gingerly and with a slight stoop. He admitted that the Winnipeg doctors told him to take it easy. But he said, “Just building houses, just hammering a nail or putting in a screw, or sawing a board—in a way, that is our small contribution… to human rights” (Christian Century, “Century Marks,” August 16, 2017, p. 8).
Even though President Carter’s aging body is putting up some resistance, he still knows that he is needed to help restore the kind of life that God intends for people to have… the kind of life where human rights are upheld. The kind of life where God’s all-inclusive love is manifested through him, shared, celebrated, affirmed, and no one is ever left out from it.
And this, of course, is where my sabbatical project fits in. I believe that as people living in a new covenantal and restored relationship with God through Jesus Christ, God needs us fired up to deliver a church that thoroughly welcomes everyone. I invite us to boost our already existing sense of all-inclusivity by developing some best inclusive practices. Some of these best practices might include, officially declaring we will not exclude anyone in our church, no matter what. No matter what viewpoint you may have, no matter if you’re conservative, or liberal, or traditionalist or contemporary, no matter if you are physically able, or not, no matter if you like the big screen or not… no matter if you use certain language about God and others use a different language, I invite us to move toward the best practices of all-inclusivity more than ever before.
Because God needs us, I believe. God needs us fired up to deliver God’s all-inclusive message with the same fire Moses and Aaron had
when they went to Pharaoh and said “Let my people go!” Let my people go, out from the oppression. Let my people go, out from under the thumbs of bondage and slavery. Let my people go, to come to me. May we be fired up to deliver our message of God’s all-inclusive love so that no one will ever feel the oppressive power of exclusion here. Amen.