Lent 3C 2019

On March 24, I preached at Grace and St. Peter's in Hamden. I've been very busy with school, life, and work, and it is only on June 16, that I'm getting a moment to post it.

You can listen to the audio on SoundCloud (Lent 3 C).

Below is the text as I prepared it.

May the words of my mouth and the mediations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

As some of you may know, I sometimes worship at an Eastern Orthodox church and one of the things they do there is, at the beginning of the service, that is really like, is the priest asks forgiveness of the congregation. So, in that spirit, let me start off by saying, if I have sinned against any of you or hurt any of you in any way, known or not known, I am deeply sorry, and I ask your forgiveness. Thank you.

When Bob asked if I would be willing to preach this week, he suggested that maybe I could talk about the Lenten Study Group and what we’ve been talking about after church. I replied that I’d have to see how the scriptures appointed for today fit with what is going on in our group.

Well, it turns out that they fit together pretty nicely. A starting point for our discussions has been where we see God at work in our daily lives. Some of this comes from a discussion that took place at the faith study group sometime ago when we were reading Acts. Do miracles, like those which took place in Acts, or like Moses experienced when he saw the burning bush, take place today?

I suggested then, and I maintain today, that miracles are still happening, or to use a motto from the United Church of Christ, “God is still speaking”. One way to approach this is from one of my favorite quotes from Jewish wisdom, “The miracle was not that the bush was not consumed. The miracle was that Moses noticed”. Let me explain by looking at the text a little more closely.

The lesson starts off, “Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro.” Moses wasn’t out looking for some great spiritual experience. Moses was simply doing his daily, and I imagine, somewhat tedious job. When Moses stopped to look more closely, he wasn’t looking for God. He was trying to figure out why the bush wasn’t being burned up. It is only then, when Moses stopped to look at something that seemed a little out of the ordinary in his daily life that God spoke to him.

To bring this into the present day, I work in Middletown. It is a long and tedious commute. One day, I was passing the reservoir on Route 66 and it struck me that it looked a lot like a section of Route 6 heading into Provincetown out on Cape Cod. Two similar views: one part of a tedious commute, the other part of a vacation. What if we could see the miracle of God around us all the time, and not just when we are on vacation, but also when we are commuting to work or facing tedious chores? This is a challenge I offer to each of us for the coming week. Look for the beauty of God’s creation around us in our daily lives.

Now I know some of us difficult challenges right now. If this applies to you, the sermon up until now may be enough, and you’re welcome to tune out until the final part. However, I’m not satisfied to end the sermon here as a sort of Pollyanna feel-good sermon. Sorry. Because that’s not where this week’s lesson goes. We must now look at what God said to Moses when Moses stopped to look and listen. God said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry”. Where is the misery of God’s people today? What is their cry?

The city of Beira, Mozambique was 90% destroyed by Cyclone Idai a week or so ago. The death toll now exceeds 700 and now cholera is starting to rear its ugly head. It illustrates what climate scientists have been telling us all along: As the earth’s temperature rises, the poor are going to be hit much worse than the wealthy, and it is the wealthy that contribute most to climate change. In a sense, we, through our lifestyles are contributing to the suffering of others. And we only have to look at the flooding in Nebraska and Iowa to see that it strikes close to home as well.

This is where Jesus’ words in the Gospel might apply to us today. Adapted to the current day, “Do you think that because these Mozambicans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than the rest of us? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, we will all perish as they did.”

In New Zealand, they are still grieving the mass shooting of people of God who were shot at their weekly services. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, in her first address to parliament after the shootings spoke of the dead saying, “They were New Zealanders. They are us. And because they are us, we, as a nation, we mourn them.” We are gathered here to pray, just like our Muslim brothers and sisters in New Zealand were. They are us. We all suffer because of white supremacy and deep seated racism.

So, once we stop to notice the suffering in God’s creation as well as the beauty, what do we do? God sent Moses to set his people free. I believe God is sending us to set people free today. It is much more complicated today than it was back in time of Moses, and we all know how complicated it was for Moses.

We are caught up in human systems that contribute to goal warming. We are caught up in systems that contribute to the hatred by white supremacists toward people of color. When we confess our sins after the sermon, we will start off by saying “We have sinned”. Sin is not just individual poor choices. It is also corporation actions we are part of, at times even unconsciously. We will confess that we have sinned by what we have left undone. We will confess that we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. Think about these words as you say them today.

I know that some of you already get this. Yesterday, I saw people from Grace and St. Peter’s share a post on Facebook that says, “You cannot love your neighbor while supporting or accepting systems that crush, exploit, and dehumanize them.”

Of course, ending here might leave us paralyzed with guilt, shame, or lack of hope. Yet that is not what happens to Moses. It is not what the Lent is leading up to. The collect acknowledges “that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves”. The Epistle reminds us that “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond our strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”. I know this is not something you say to people in grief, but I do want to emphasize one part of it. One of the ways out that God provides is the love of our brothers and sisters. Sometimes, we rely on those around us to get us through tough times. Other times, those around us rely on us. I hope we can all be the sort of people that can rely on others and that others can rely on. And, the Gospel ends with the fig tree that hasn’t yet born fruit being cared for, nurtured, and given yet another year to produce fruit. Let’s be cared for, nurture ourselves, that we may bear more fruit this coming year.

So finally, join us for the Lenten Study Group after church to talk more about how we can produce more fruit. And this week, as we keep our eyes open for the burning bushes in our own lives, let us keep our eyes open for chances to help one another and to disrupt systems that crush and exploit our neighbors.


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