Sermon. 31 August 2014
Rev Felicity O’Brien
St Mary’s Whitby
Exod 3:1-15, Rom 12:9-21, Matt 16:21-28
Moses was a man who noticed things. Maybe this was to do with his upbringing – at first he was raised by his mother, in the Hebrew culture, and then he was returned to the princess who had adopted him when she took him out of the river. Imagine how different life would be at the court of Pharaoh for the young boy – he would have had to watch carefully to learn what to do, how to behave, even learn a new language. He was educated in all the Egyptian ways, and learnt a great deal.
When he was a young man he noticed one of his country men being abused, so he did something about it. He noticed. He acted. Maybe he acted out of hot-headedness, and his actions in killing the Egyptian weren’t exactly a good example for us to follow.
In today’s reading we have another example of his noticing. He was out tending the sheep, when he noticed a bush on fire. Well, that was nothing out of the ordinary – apparently some bushes in the desert give off such a cloud of volatile terpenes that given the right conditions they will catch fire. This can happen in Australia too with some of the gums in a hot summer.
No, Moses didn’t just notice a bush on fire. He looked again – and he must have looked long and hard, because he spotted something odd about it. The bush was burning, and yet was not consumed!
Fire is often a symbol for God in ancient religions, and this bush caught Moses’ attention.
When God speaks to Moses, Moses realises that God too is a being who notices. God had noticed the cries of the Israelites in Egypt, he knew their plight, that they were oppressed, and God had a plan, which involved Moses, to deliver them.
You see, God is a god of justice. God doesn’t want people to be oppressed and exploited. That’s why he commissioned Moses to go and do something about it.
These days, there are many people who are oppressed in the world. It’s good to pray for them, but just as in Moses’ day, it took a human who was prepared to follow God’s command to get justice for the people, today we too need to act. Praying is good but it’s not enough. “‘Here I am Lord, send someone else.” That should not be our cry!
The Epistle reading tells us the marks of a true Christian – very direct instructions for how to live as Christ would have us live. ‘Let love be genuine’. That’s a great way to start. ‘Hate what is evil, hold fast to that which is good’.
To do this, we need to be like Moses. We need to notice. ‘Bless those who curse us.’ That’s not an easy word to live by. Or is it? Remember, we are not called to do this alone, because we have the
Holy Spirit, and we have each other. The words of today’s baptism service say, ‘welcome to the family of Christ’, to N and T. We are all the family of Christ. Our duty and our delight is to love genuinely, extend hospitality to strangers, and all the other wonderful lines from the passage. Today’s Epistle reading would be a good excerpt to put on calendars I think – taking on one challenge a day.
Baptism is all about belonging, and not just belonging to this particular church family at St Mary’s. Today N and T join in a huge family of over 2 billion people, a third of the world’s population, all the brothers and sisters they could possibly want.
For those of us who have been on this journey for longer, we are encouraged to remember that we are all part of the family of God, and that there is guidance as to how to behave and react and act. Some of Paul’s challenges are really hard for proud human beings – and we are all proud at times. ‘Do not repay evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.’ Again, we have to notice. Notice where the good is. Also notice where the evil is, name it, but let God deal with it. Vengeance is mine, says the Lord. That verse should give us a wonderful sense of freedom, knowing that whatever injustice we suffer, God will sort it, but so often people take it into their own hands to get payback. This is a huge problem among children in our primary and intermediate schools, and I believe that teachers and parents have an important role in teaching our children how to live in a way that doesn’t keep accounts, that forgives. Being nice to mean people may seem impossible when you are 9, but it’s God’s way.
Life won’t always be easy as a Christian. N and T are joining an exciting journey today, but no-one promises that it will be a smooth road. Many of us have experienced setbacks to our faith as life has side-swiped us in our circumstances, our health, our families.
It wasn’t easy for Jesus either, but when he tried to tell the disciples what was ahead, Peter couldn’t hear it. He didn’t want to even contemplate the idea that Jesus might suffer, at the hands of the religious leaders of his own community, those who served the God that was Jesus’ own father.
Jesus speaks harshly to Peter, but he was really rebuking the idea that Peter had, that life didn’t need to have suffering in it.
Yes, Jesus went on to to say. Following me comes at a cost. Keeping your life safe for yourself means that you will lose it, but losing it for my sake will bring eternal life.
That’s a bit upside down isn’t it?
How can saving our life mean we will lose it?
If saving our life means holding on to what matters for our own comfort and security, if it means focussing on our own needs and never noticing any one else, that’s how holding onto our own life will mean that we lose it. We have all heard tales about people who are miserly during their prime, but as they grow older are left alone. Holding on to our own stuff, our own possessions, even our own family, at the exclusion of anything else, can make us selfish, and stop us seeing other people as God sees them. God sees all of us as beloved and special, and it is only when we can see with God’s eyes that we can truly find our life.
There is another saying, that it is more blessed to give than to receive, and that’s what Jesus is talking about here. As we give of ourselves, serving others, we become truly alive. As we notice the needs of others, we can serve them.
Let us be like Moses, people who notice. People who are aware. People who see the evil and name it, and the good and rejoice over it.