Exodus 1:8-2:10; Psalm 124; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
August 23, 2020 – 12th Sunday after Pentecost
Life is full of surprises. We cannot guess what will happen next. We can only prepare as best we can…watch with eyes that see and open hearts that receive…and move forward into what confronts us… now…as faithfully as we can.
We are in one of most surprising passages of the generations now living. The novel corona virus of 2019 circled the world and embedded itself everywhere before we saw it for the threat it is.
In fact, we are still struggling to understand it…and discover the best way to contain it…and banish it. We want to believe that we want to believe…and that has frustrated in our efforts to contain it and be done with it.
We Americans have made our response to it as a question of political preference, thinking that we can gain the upper hand…one way or the other…with our choice. While we might gain the upper hand over each other in this way, our quarrel between ourselves benefits only the virus.
We are the richest, most powerful, the most technologically…most medically…advanced nation in the history of the world. Therefore, we presume we can solve this problem with what we believe and get on with our lives.
How humbling it is for all humankind…and especially Americans…to learn that an un-technological life form…a simple virus…can evade and outsmart us all…and the more effort we put into being right… being smarter than our neighbors… the deeper the hole we dig for each other.
Our problem isn’t what other people are or are not doing. Our problem isn’t who started it. Our problem is our sense of entitlement to drive the narrative…with our history of successes…rather than the abilities God has bestowed on each human soul.
This is not a new story. It is as old as the Bible. Today we read of the most powerful man in the world, the leader of the most advanced civilization the world had ever known.
He, too, wanted to believe what he wanted to believe what he wanted to believe. Four hundred years – almost twice as much time as our nation has existed – have passed since Joseph.
Like America, Egypt at that moment in history had triumphed over the great adversities of an earlier day. We have forgotten the hardships our greatest generation faced…just as Egypt had forgotten that it was Joseph…a foreigner who came into their land to be sold as a slave … who saved them.
History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme. It has now been 400 years since the first slaves were brought into our land of the free and home of the brave.
The descendants of those slaves read our Book of Life with different eyes than we do. African Americans draw different lessons from our mutual story than we do.
This is human. This is true from generation to generation. While I offer the same sermon to you all each Sunday, each of you hears a different message.
We each have a different collection of stories…a different vantage point from which we look down…or up … on the world. Each of us recalls different events that we compare to what is happening now...through which we interpret our present collective experience.
That is a problem, but it is also a gift. Many of you remember my friend Wendell, the African American classmate I had at Wesley Theological Seminary.
I don’t know why we became friends, but I’m glad we still are. He can see my blind spot and he is comfortable enough to hold the mirror up to me when I get caught in it.
One day he gave me the wonderful gift of listening to me complain about something…and then he said, “Kelly, you have a rich man’s problem.”
I don’t think of myself as a person of property, but the thing I was complaining about was a problem …he told me…that he would sure like to have.
That is Pharaoh’s problem this morning: He’s got a rich man’s problem and he can’t see how lucky he is.
The immigrants – the people of Israel who have been living in the part of Egypt they called the land of Goshen – have become so numerous that Pharaoh comes to see them as a threat.
He oppresses them…but they only become more numerous. Next he orders the midwives to throw their boy children in the Nile. Once again, we hear the Bible tell us that ordinary people will not do terrible things just because a leader decrees it.
In all of this, Pharaoh is sowing the seeds of his own downfall. Today, Moses’ mother hides him in a basket of reeds in the Nile and Pharaoh’s daughter finds him and takes him home.
She needs a nurse for him and Moses’ sister offers to find one for her. Pharaoh’s daughter gratefully accepts and Moses’ sister gets the best nurse she can for this innocent child – his mother.
The more we try to overpower the world, the more we set ourselves up to be overcome. The more we seek to solve our problems with violence, the less we see what the problem is…the less we hear the solution.
The more I try to tell God what I need the harder I make it for God’s gifts of grace to find me. I am blinded by a sense of entitlement and I fall into the trap of complaining about the rich man’s problem I am dealing with that my friend Wendell would love to have.
It struck me this week as I prepared for this morning that both Moses and Jesus came from precarious backgrounds. Pharaoh wanted to kill Moses and Herod wanted to kill Jesus.
In both cases the one least likely became the salvation of his people …and the salvation of the world. It made me think…once again…of my great hero, Abraham Lincoln who was born in such poverty and obscurity that no one thought him worthy to be President…until they heard him speak.
He had seen real problems and survived them. He knew the great sorrow of his mother’s death when he was a young boy…and the loss of his first true love, Anne Rutledge, when she died of a fever.
He could see below the thin veneer of society we call civilization and he knew that he would have to grow in order to get ahead in this world.
Because of his humble background …the disadvantages he had to contend with…he could see the evil side of slavery clearly. He saw that the wrong being done outweighed any advantage that their masters gained, squeezed or whipped or beat out of them.
Like Moses and Jesus, he, too, was the one least likely to do a great work…which made him the perfect one to get the job done.
And when he landed in Richmond the day after the Confederate army and government had fled from it, the true depth and clarity of his character shone through.
He walked from the landing on the James River to Jefferson Davis’s residence…the Confederate White House. He was oblivious to the danger he was in as he walked on the streets, terrifying his body guard.
African Americans saw him and started calling out to him “Father Abraham!” (They knew their Bible.) When one of them knelt down before him, he made the man stand up again and told him, “Don’t kneel to me. That is not right. You must kneel to God only, and thank Him for the liberty you will enjoy hereafter.”
We hear Jesus ask the disciples this morning who the people say the Son of Man is. Some say John the Baptist or Elijah or one of the prophets.
Then he asks them who they say he is, and it is Peter who says, “The Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”
Moses was the one least likely to bring Israel out of Egypt. Jesus was the one least likely to save the world. Lincoln and Grant were two of the least likely people to save the Union.
Peter may have been the one least likely for Jesus to call his rock and build a church on. But Moses did brought Israel out of Egypt. Jesus saved the world. Lincoln and Grant saved the Unio. And Peter was the rock upon which Christ’s church was built.
They all did it by seeing what was right there in front of them, considering…at some length…the options that were open to them… and opening their hearts wide so God could work the one true way of salvation through them.
So what great work is there to be done that you are the one least likely to do it? You have a unique insight into the problems of humankind and planet earth and God’s great hopes for us all.
There is some great thing that only you can do. It won’t make you famous. It won’t make you rich. It is unlikely that anyone will know what you did.
Maybe you will find a nurse for a child. Maybe you will save someone from injury or an early fate. Maybe only you are in a position to do it.
There is some situation where only you can see the need and the solution. And that task…that moment…that insight… is God’s great gift to you that makes you a great gift to the world.
We are blessed to be a blessing.
Like Moses in the Nile, Israel at the Red Sea, Jesus at his baptism and you in your mother’s womb, we have all been drawn from the water into a world that needs God’s love and ours, God’s faithfulness and ours, and God’s grace and ours.
So let us ask once again this morning: O Lord, what is it that you want to do through us…through me…this day? Amen.