Sunday September 8, 2020

Exodus 12:1-14, Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20

Centering Words

We are called to love one another!

We are called to answer God’s invitation!

We are called to walk in the light of God’s love!

Opening Prayer

Father, we ask that you open our hearts and our minds, that rather than just listen to a sermon, we would hear what YOU would say to us this morning and help us to walk in your light throughout all of our days. Amen

Call To Worship

Leader : Prepare for the exodus!

People: We are ready for the journey to freedom!

Leader: Leave the darkness behind!

People: We are ready to live in the light of God’s love!

Leader: Come into the holy life! The life of community!

People: We are at home with Jesus in our midst!

Scripture

Exodus 12:1-14

12:1 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt:

12:2 This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you.

12:3 Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household.

12:4 If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it.

12:5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats.

12:6 You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight.

12:7 They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it.

12:8 They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.

12:9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs.

12:10 You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn.

12:11 This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD.

12:12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD.

12:13 The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

12:14 This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.

Romans 13:8-14

13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

13:9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

13:10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

13:11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers;

13:12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light;

13:13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.

13:14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Matthew 18:15-20

18:15 “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.

18:16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.

18:17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

18:18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

18:19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.

18:20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

Sermon 

We know that the focus of the entire bible – both old and new testament, is a picture of God receiving glory by restoring fellowship between all people groups and Himself through His son, Jesus Christ. “ Bill Jones from the book “Putting Together the Puzzle of the New Testament” The readings this week have a thread of anger running through them. God’s anger at the oppression of the Israelites by Egypt, Paul mentions quarrelling and jealousy. Matthew writes a list of tools to deal with sin in the church. 

As always, I am preaching to myself. 

Exodus is part of the origin story of the Jewish people. It draws you in. There is drama, violence, heartbreak, anticipation, fear, and hope! It’s also a picture of Jesus – the blood of an unblemished lamb, sacrificed to atone for our sins. Egypt was a place that the Jewish people had lived in for so long that they lost track of time. Our reading today begins with God telling them what day it is so they will be able to celebrate the holy days. They had become so immersed in the culture of Egypt that they had forgotten who they were. We become so immersed in what is going on around us that we sometimes  forget who we are.  

Exodus is part of a story that on the one hand, we can focus on God delivering the Israelites from the oppression they were experiencing in Egypt but it can also leave us uncomfortable, because punishment is coming to an entire nation, including those who are too young to be guilty of the sin of oppression. It leaves us with hard questions. How can a loving God punish an entire nation including children, babies, who’s only fault is being born into the wrong nation – even the firstborn of the animals! The Israelites are to remember this and celebrate it! 

A question that we often ask in this life is why did something bad happen to someone who seems to us to not deserve it? Things happen that make no sense to us. It can be painful to the point of causing us to question our understanding of God. Next week you will hear about the Israelites following Moses through the Red sea. Don’t you think there were people walking through that wall of water with all different levels of faith? Some may have been smiling from ear to ear, knowing that their God is faithful! Others might have been quickstepping, trembling at the thought of that water coming down on them.  All of those people at all different levels of faith but still following Moses are going to get to the other side and they would be free. They would have to get used to their new normal. It would take forty years of wandering to do it. 

When I read the text for this week, I was dismayed at first. I admit that I am a little nervous about this talk. I wondered how I could talk to you about something that I don’t understand myself.  I prayed about it and asked God to show me what the text is supposed to be telling me. Then I started thinking about the texts from the last few weeks and so to get to where I think I want to end up I need to go back. 

Spoiler alert. There are really no answers here today. If you are hoping for answers you might want to ask for your money back now. This is my attempt to come closer to understanding. My hope is that we all might understand a little better as we walk through these texts. I would like to think that less answers and more questions is how we grow.

So let’s back up a bit and see what we can find.

In the text for the week before last, Jesus asked the disciples who people said He was. They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets. But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus told Peter that he was blessed. Peter had been gifted with a divine revelation from God that told him who Jesus is. 

Not long after that conversation, we find Peter again in conversation with Jesus.

In last weeks’ text, Matthew 16:21-28 Peter could not bring himself to believe that his friend and teacher, Jesus, would have to suffer and die. Jesus’ response was “Get behind me Satan!” In a split second, Peter went from being the rock to being a stumbling block. Peter was certain that he KNEW who Jesus is. He didn’t actually DO anything wrong. He just started to think wrong thoughts. The commentary I read, said that we, like Peter, want to find a way to Easter, without going through Good Friday.

Avoiding suffering is a natural human response. But suffering happens. We can’t stop it, we can’t control it, and often we can’t fix it. We are powerless.

Jesus chose to be obedient and to suffer and die. That suffering and death produced transformation. That transformation was Jesus’ resurrection. We can’t avoid suffering in this life. But we do have some control over how we walk through it and what kind of transformation it will create in us. Again, looking back at previous weeks  – Romans 12:2 said “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

We move to the New Testament and Pauls starts with Romans 13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. It is almost as though Paul is saying okay, ten commandments is too much for you? Here is the simplified version. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. 

In Exodus, God reminds the Israelites what day it is and then we fast forward and Paul also gives a caution about time. In 13:11-12 he says “Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light;” 

In Matthew we are given a list of steps to use as tools for resolving conflict ending with a passage we have all heard many times. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

I have heard that phrase many times but never understood it in this context. I have heard it said in bible study, in worship, in prayer, that as long as two or more are gathered in His name He is there. Does that mean that if there is not two, Jesus is not present? No! We are told in The Great Commission “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

So in this context, we learn that there has been another shift from what the Jewish people knew of the principle of sin and punishment. They have gone from destroying an entire nation to an eye for an eye and all the other old testament rules for meting out justice, and now to a completely different way of thinking. Kingdom living is about reconciling people to each other and to God. 

Mathew gives us a few clues that are a little hard to swallow. People will sin against each other even in the church. People in the church will not always listen to each other. When we encounter a painful situation in the context of being part of the church we are to do everything we can to restore the relationship. When we have done all we can, we can trust that the author and finisher of our faith, Jesus Christ, who knows a lot about suffering and death, will be in the midst of it. 

We have questions. We suffer. We feel anger sometimes when the cause of the suffering is another person and we tend to think it is worse when the person causing the suffering is a Christian. 

Maybe you don’t feel this way but I confess that I struggle with feeling like Jonah sometimes. In my anger and hurt I don’t always want the person that hurt me to be restored. 

I’m also not fond of the idea of spending time inside a whale belly so it comes down to trust. We have to work at accepting that there is uncertainty rather than easy answers. We have to remember that God’s ways are higher than our ways. We have to wander ourselves out of that anger and suffering wilderness and trusting God, even when I don’t understand, that the Jesus who went from wilderness to mission to the cross to resurrection, will be right there in the middle of the pain, working. We have to constantly answer the question for ourselves, no matter where we are in our faith journey – who do we say Jesus is? And maybe hardest of all, we have to be willing to submit to suffering sometimes while searching for ways to find grace in the midst of it because that is where Jesus meets us. 

Are you quick stepping fearfully or trudging along wishing for the good old days,  between two walls of water? You are not alone. Have you been holding on by the skin of your faith and now you are just trying to navigate changes in a shifting world? You are not alone. Are you trying to understand what God desires from you? You are not alone. Do you feel like your faith is strong and you have it all together one minute and the next you are unsure and confused about everything? You are not alone. Have you been hurt by someone and you wonder how it can ever be fixed? You are not alone. Jesus is there – always, to the very end of the age.

The Israelites fled to Egypt to escape a famine. Then, life changed. If we have questions, imagine what it would have been like for the Israelites in this text! They are obediently fleeing from the very place that helped them to survive. They had settled in and become part of the community. There is conflicting information in the bible about the length of time the Israelites spent in Egypt. One part of Exodus says 430 years and another part says four generations, but however long it was – it was a long time. The Israelites would not have known any other home. For me, it seems difficult to reconcile this God who destroyed the first born of an entire nation with God that we see through the lens of Jesus. The Israelites were told to trust God and obey when and how they were told. They trusted and believed and obeyed and were saved. But not without some suffering. Mistakes were made, consequences came about. It would seem that like those wandering Israelites, we are still wandering and having to learn over and over again, that the world changes whether it is Egypt or Texas. Only Jesus remains the same. Yesterday, today, and forever. In Jesus we can lay down our questions, hand over our pain, and trust that He will complete what He started and sometimes it is not for us to understand. We just have faith.

Paul tells us in the letter to the new Christians in Rome, that there is a yardstick we can use to determine what God desires of us. Life was complicated then and it is sure enough complicated now, and if we are trying to discern what the right thing is in any situation, Paul tells us to measure every decision, every interpretation of the law against loving our neighbor and reconciling the relationship with them and with God through that love. 

We learn what that kind of love means by answering the question – who is Jesus Christ? Answering that question does not tell us how close we are to being justified. It shows us how wide the chasm is between us and Kingdom living and shows us the depth of our need for our savior, Jesus Christ. 

Prayer

Father, when you created man, you said “Let us create man in our image.” Help us to line ourselves up with that image. When we, like sheep, wander off, we ask that Jesus, the loving shepherd, lead us back to you. If you require us to leave what feels safe and familiar, remind us that you are present. We ask for the same blessing that you gave Peter – that we will know that Jesus Christ, Your Son is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Teach us how we should think, so that what flows out of our hearts becomes how we live. If suffering is required of us, help us to walk with grace so that even in painful times, people will see You and be reconciled to You. Amen

Benediction

Leader: Put your sandals on your feet!

People: We are ready, staff in hand!

Leader: Walk out of the darkness, into the light!

People: We enter into the joy of God’s love!

Leader: Respond to God’s call today!

People: We go out into the world with Christ’s love in our hearts!

Blessing 

2 Corinthians 13:14 says

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Go in Peace!

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