Sunday, September 28th, 2014 – Sermon on Matthew 21:23-32

Matthew 21:23-32

23 When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

28 “What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. 30 The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

The past couple of weeks, Jesus has been speaking with his disciples and offering guidance on what it looks like to be his follower, one who helps to bring about the kingdom of heaven. Jesus has talked about how to handle conflict among the community of Jesus followers. He’s talked about how many times to forgive someone, which can be summed up as – if you are keeping track it isn’t really forgiveness. And Jesus has taught about how God is not fair when it comes to God’s love, but rather God is gracious – giving and distributing love even to those who we might think don’t deserve it.

Today, there is a scene change. Jesus is no longer standing around his disciples, but rather he is standing in the temple of Jerusalem surrounded by the religious authorities. And the tension is thick. Just a couple of verses earlier, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, with people waving palm branches and shouting “Hosanna in the highest!” But not only did Jesus ride into Jerusalem, but he entered the temple complex, that holy and sacred space where there were people selling animals for sacrifice and exchanging Roman money for Jewish money, and he tore the place apart. Flipping over tables yelling and screaming, driving out, because as he put it, they were turning his house of prayer into a den of thieves.

Now, imagine that Jesus comes into your house, tears down all the wall paper, breaks the windows, flips over the furniture, and then has the nerve to show up the next morning.

Well, that is where our story picks up. It’s the next morning and Jesus has re-entered the temple area, that he had torn apart the day before. And it is important to remember that to the religious authorities, Jesus is a temple nobody (Feasting on the Word, vol. 4, pg. 116.) To them he is this unwashed preacher from the streets, who comes striding into town like he’s the Messiah.

Which would be like me putting on a suit and trying to walk straight into the House of Congress in D.C. so that I could tell them how to do their job. They would laugh and says, “And who do you think you are?”

Which is exactly the question the high priestly religious authorities in charge of the temple ask Jesus. “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Who do you think you are Jesus, strolling in here and destroying our temple marketplace and acting like you own the place? What gives you the nerve to do that? They ask him because they think they are the only ones with that authority.

Well….it’s not like Jesus can say, “God told me to do it,” because that would just sound crazy. So like a good rabbi, Jesus answers the question with a question: “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” Interestingly, Jesus turns the attention away from himself and towards John the Baptist. That other rag-tag street preacher, who got thrown in jail for being a threat to the religious authorities and then had his head cut off by King Herod, an actual person with religious authority in Israel.

And with this question, Jesus traps them. They can’t say that John was from heavenly origin or else they will be asked why they didn’t follow him. And they can’t say he was only of human origin, because that big crowd gathered around Jesus thinks of John as prophet and they just might revolt and causes trouble if they say he was only of human origin. So they punt and say, “We don’t know.”

Why does Jesus turn the attention to John? Well, John was another person who was challenging what it meant to have authority. John was the one who invited people out into the wilderness for a baptism of repentance, which Jesus participated in. This wasn’t standard religious practice. It wasn’t the way things were supposed to be. People were supposed to go to the temple for their religion and to sacrifice an animal to have their sins forgiven, but John was just offering it freely in the woods. As you can imagine, this threatened the big wigs, the big deals in the temple. So by pointing to John, Jesus is saying, “Well, I’m like John. I come from the margins. I come from the outsiders. Just like John. And you couldn’t see God at work in John, so how could you possibly see God at work in me.”

“Jesus, where do you get your authority?”, they ask. “Not from any place you are familiar,” Jesus responds. Whatever and wherever Jesus’ authority comes from, it won’t be a traditional form of power and authority. He won’t be like any of the typical religious authorities that hang around the temple. He will be bringing a new way.

So, it is at this point, right after Jesus has trapped them with his question about John, that Jesus speaks three parables to these religious elites.. Today, we heard the first. The other two comes in the next couple of weeks.

Jesus tells them a somewhat simple parable about a man who has two boys. He asks the first to go and work in the vineyard and the son says no. But then a couple of hours later, the father looks outside and there he is working away at the vines. The father asks his second son to go out and work in the vineyard. This son says yes, but then four hours later, he’s still on the couch playing video games.[1] Jesus asks these religious authorities which one fulfilled the will of the Father. Of course, they know the answer – the first one. The one who obeyed.

It seems simple, but it isn’t the clearest of Jesus’ parables. But then again, none of them really are. And if we are not careful, we can easily turn this parable into being about morality. ‘Actions speak louder than words’, or ‘Don’t be a hypocrite’, or ‘Obey God or else!’ We could say this parable is about about being good, obedient boys and girls, and then you would all leave here feeling guilty and thinking that the message from today is that you need to go and be better than you have been. But I don’t think that is the message. Or at least if it is, I think it’s kind of boring.

But whatever this parable is about, it seems to be about changing one’s mind. Jesus said that the tax collectors and prostitutes changed their minds about John. But the Pharisees didn’t.

I find that to be much more interesting. That Jesus wanted them to change their minds but they didn’t. We don’t like it when people change their minds. It makes them look weak or too unpredictable. Just look at John Kerry in the 2004 Presidential campaign. It appeared that he changed his mind on the war in Iraq and he was called a flip flopper and destroyed his campaign. We don’t like the idea of people changing their minds. Especially in politics.

But Jesus seems to be open to it. In this story, changing your mind is a good thing. To change your mind is to be open to something new.

For the Pharisees and the temple authorities, they had no interest in changing their minds about what God could be up to. For them, God and God’s action was confined to the temple. It was quite literally God in a box. God could not possibly be at work in a crazy man out in the woods offering baptisms of repentance, and therefore God certainly couldn’t be at work in this peasant carpenter’s son from Nazareth who is causing trouble in the temple, knocking over tables and telling people to get out.

They couldn’t or wouldn’t see it. They couldn’t be open to God doing something new. But even,, and perhaps especially the people who seemed godless (like the tax collectors and prostitutes) could see it.

And so we are confronted with the same question: can God do something new? Can God be at work inviting you to change your mind on something you have always believed?

This past week, something significant changed. I have often heard the complaint that if Muslims are against terrorism and violence, how come they never come out and say it? This week, they did. Twice. In Rochester, a moderate Muslim was frustrated by the lack of Muslims speaking out against ISIS and terrorism. So, she did something. She organized an interfaith event in Rochester last week calling for tolerance and peace.[2] On top of that, this past week 120 Muslim scholars wrote a letter to the fighters and followers of ISIS saying that they are not following in the teachings of Islam.[3] And they are, in fact, calling on all of us to no longer refer to them as Islamic. Because they aren’t.

Something has changed. Could God be at work, doing something new within the Muslim community that could lead to greater understanding and a more peaceful world?

Or take Sara Miles’ story. Sara Miles was raised a devout atheist, and as a result, she was never baptized as a child. But then, during a particularly difficulty time in life, at the age of 46, she found herself wandering into a church. She had never heard of a Gospel reading, never said the Lord’s Prayer, and had no interest in becoming a Christian. But then, inside there were 20 people holding worship and they invited her in. And to Communion. And she went. And there, at the table of Holy Communion, she discovered a faith that fed her – literally. And that newly discovered faith led her further into the trenches of hunger and food insecurity as she proceed in the years ahead to turn that church into a food pantry for hungry people in San Francisco. Now, she is a well-known and highly sought after speaker and author for the Christian church. Atheist and unbaptized, yet invited to the table of Holy Communion. Could God be at work doing something new with people like Sara Miles, inviting the Christian church to make more room at our Communion tables for people we wouldn’t typically invite there?

So, can God do new things? And if so, what new thing might God be up to now? In the world? In this church? In your life? Because the moment we try to put God into a box and try to keep God there, like an old treasure in a museum in need of protecting, is the moment God will break out. In an unknown carpenter’s son from Nazareth who will speak of God’s love and forgiveness to people who will kill him.. In courageous outspoken Muslims, in Christians inviting atheists into the sacraments, and atheists brave enough to partake.

God is up to something new in the world. God is up to something new in you. And we are called to go out and look for it. And not only that, but to participate in it. So as you leave here and get back to your daily lives and the paths you’ve taken many times before, may you discover new eyes for God at work in the world and in your own life. And may the peace which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ, now and always. Amen.

[1] http://www.zumbrolutheran.org/uploads/worship/sermons/2011-worship/9.25.11-matt%2021.pdf

[2] http://www.postbulletin.com/news/local/area-muslims-speak-out-against-isis/article_6520983c-e744-55fa-b037-8e0264533d81.html

[3] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/24/muslim-scholars-islamic-state_n_5878038.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000051

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Sunday, September 21st, 2014 – Sermon on Matthew 20:1-16

Matthew 20:1-16
1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4 and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5 When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6 And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.’ 8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Lauren and I were out to dinner at Andiamo last Friday night. They were packed of course and Lauren and I had this short window of time. Of course. So we rush in, ask how long the wait is, and figured that we could make it work.

But then as we stood there, and as the hostess seated people, with every passing couple, we did this sort of mental calculation…Have they been waiting longer than we have? Im pretty sure we got here before them. Have they forgotten about us? What kind of an establishment is this? And there were moments when we were certain that we had been overlooked, as people seemed to come in, and were immediately seated. It felt totally unfair. (As a side note, we were soon seated and had a lovely meal. Nothing against Andiamo).

Or imagine you are one of those insane Apple fans who sits outside for weeks in line, just so that you can be one of the first people to get the new iPhone 6, and the moment the doors open, the store manager walks out and says, “Okay, we’ll be starting at the back.” And you watch as the guy who showed up 10 minutes ago, freshly showered and clean shaven, and fully rested from a night’s sleep in his own bed, walks past you to go and claim his reward. It’s totally unfair. You can imagine the feeling, I suspect.

Well, I think it is that kind of feeling the creeps up in all of us when we hear that parable about the generous vineyard owner. It is a parable that grabs a hold of that nerve of fairness that runs through all of us and then sticks pin in it, causing us to writhe and twist in discomfort.

Jesus is talking about the kingdom of Heaven again. And a friendly reminder that Jesus isn’t talking about us going off to Heaven when we die, but more so about the kingdom of Heaven, the kingdom of God, coming here. To this place. And what that will look like. And according to this parable, it will look radically different than what we are used to. Or than what we want it to.

Jesus tells a parable saying that the kingdom of Heaven is like a vineyard owner who gets up early in the morning, goes down to Mills Fleet Farm, and finds some people looking for work. He hires them on the spot and they agree to a fair price for the day. A couple hours later, he’s back at Fleet Farm, and he still sees some people standing there looking for work. He motions to the back of the pick up and tells them to get in and he hires them for the day. This happens again at noon and then at 3pm. All these workers coming to his vineyard throughout the day to work. Finally, 5pm rolls around, and he swings past Fleet Farm one last time and there are still people there looking for work. “Why have you been standing here all day?”, he ask. “No one has hired us!” they say. “Get in,” he says, motioning to the back of the truck.

Night time comes and the landowner tells his manager to go and pay the workers, starting with those who came last. All the laborers come in from the vineyard, tired but anxious for that envelope of cash. The ones who came in at 5pm get their payment and discover it is an entire days wage. Or here in America – about $70. The gasps and the shocked look on their faces was probably hard to hide. $70 for one hour. Awesome. So word starts getting out and down the line. They got paid for a full day!. They got paid $70 an hour! How much do you think well get? How much?! And things start to escalate as each group starts doing their own form of mental calculation, trying to figure out how much they will rake in.

But as they all received their payment, the room goes silent as they all realize that everyone got paid the same. $70. Everyone. Whether you worked 10 hours. Or 1.

So they start to grumble. And grumble. And you know what they said. All together with me now… BUT ITS NOT FAIR!! They only worked 1 hour and we worked all day! To which the vineyard owner replied, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

It’s just not fair. It’s not fair if you’ve been waiting for a table for 20 minutes, and another couple walks in and gets seated right away. It’s not fair if you’ve waited in line for hours for something and then they start at the back of the line. It’s not fair if you work your tail off for hours and hours and then get paid the same amount as someone who just showed up at the end. It’s not fair; life is not fair. Which, as one preacher likes to put it, is exactly why we feel God must be fair and why this parable about God drives us nuts. “God should be the one authority you can count on to reward people according to their efforts, keeping track of how long you have worked and how hard you have worked and who does not let people break into line ahead of you…Life may not be fair, but God should be.” [1](BBT, p.104)

But the vineyard owner pays them all the same. And it’s not fair, when you view yourself as the one who has been working all day. Which what we all do, right? We all view ourselves as the one who showed up early and worked the longest day in this parable. Which is kind of funny, because if we are honest with ourselves, there are some of us here who are really skilled at looking like we are working hard. Like a couple of months ago, when a group of us got together to build the playground set, I was here for most of the time, but I was not working very hard. I was just the guy in the background saying, “Oh, yep, yeah, that bolt looks good there. Why don’t you just put that in there, Jared. Oh and we will probably need someone to hold that up. Hey, can someone come and hold that piece up for Brett?” And yet, I still got to eat all the yummy snacks and sandwiches that Alicyn Prestegard brought. But I was not working hard.

But that’s what we do. We assume that we are the ones who have been working all day in the parable. And therefore, absolutely, it is unfair.

But what if you are the person who only worked an hour? You see, that’s another assumption that we make. We assume that the people who worked less hours were lazy and latecomers. Like they slept in and didn’t get to Fleet Farm on time. But that’s not what the text says. The vineyard owner asked them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” Because none one would hire us, they replied. So it’s not that the people who worked less were lazy or irresponsible. They’ve been there all day too. It’s that no one would hire them. And they were probably ready to call it a day. They had given up hope and would soon make a long shameful walk home back to their family, with nothing and no money to show for the day. But then imagine the moment when that pick up truck, that’s been gathering people up all day to work, pulls up to Fleet Farm one more time. And finally, you’re picked. You’re chosen. And then not only that, but you are paid for the entire day.

It is sheer grace, isn’t it? Grace meaning God’s unconditional love that is free and forever and for all. It is this underserved gift that can never be lost.

We call it amazing grace. How sweet the sound.

If you are the person standing around all day, waiting, it is complete and utter grace. But it is also unfair. Grace is unfair. And thank God for that. Because if grace was doled out to those who deserve it or have earned it, all of us would be out of luck. None of us, in the end, could measure up. But grace is this amazing thing that is given not to those who deserve it, but to those who need it. And we all need it.

Because the truth is that at some point we all are the ones left behind, standing there at Fleet farm, waiting to see if someone will pick us. We all feel unchosen. Unpicked. Insecure. Not enough. None of us have our life fully together. We all fall short of who we wish we were. And yet, God chooses us anyways. God is there for every single person. And it is not fair. Because none of us deserve it.

And so that’s what we learn about God today. That God is not fair. But God is loving. God the landowner does not give the workers what is fair. God gives them what they need – a daily wage. Enough for all of them to get through the next day with food on the table.

It’s not about fairness. It’s about need. And we all are in need of God’s grace and love and forgiveness.

Last week I asked the question if we are surprised by God’s forgiveness and grace anymore or is it just assumed? Are we amazed by grace? Or are we just kind of bored with it?

This past week, I had the joy of getting to meet and hear Jay Bakker speak. Do any of you remember Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker? They were widely popular televangelists in the 80s, until everything came crashing down. Tammy Faye became addicted to drugs, news leaked that Jim was having an affair, and then the final straw was that Jim Bakker was investigated and found guilty of fraud and conspiracy with their business. In fact, Jim Bakker spent 5 years over in Rochester at the Federal Prison.

Well Jay is their son. He spent his whole life in the public eye as Jim and Tammy’s boy. Well, naturally, he started to spiral down too. At 13 years old, he started drinking and doing drugs just to get away from the chaos that was his life. But now he has been sober for 18 years and is a pastor in the Cities and a well-known speaker and author.

But this is what Jay told us last week. He said that he was in church his entire life, but never discovered grace until he was 20 years old. Sure, he heard people talk and sing about grace, but it always sounded empty and meaningless. Instead, the message he was really taught was that God hated him and that he was bound for hell unless he could be a good enough person. Which is not grace, right? No, that’s the message of the people at the front of the line in the parable. Ive worked my tail off all day. Im a good enough person. I deserve grace and forgiveness. They dont.

But Jay said that grace, real grace, amazing grace, saved his life.[2] Because Jay was the guy at the back of the line, who felt over looked and unchosen all day. One who thought God didn’t love him for squat. Until finally someone came along and told him – Jay, God loves you unconditionally exactly as you are. Whether you are drunk or sober. Whether you’ve got it together or whether you don’t. God loves you the same as everyone else.

And then Jay told our group that when he was invited to speak to us, he was told not to spend too much time on grace, because we’ve all heard that before and the organizers didn’t want u getting bored and to start playing on our smart phones. And so Jay said, “Well, I know you guys know grace. But I’m afraid you’ve become bored with it. What you need to know is that there are thousands of people out there who have never heard about grace.” (paraphrase)

Friends, we are accepted by God. You are accepted by God. As you are. Right now. Not when you are nice and all cleaned up. But when your life is a mess and you don’t have it all together. That is grace. That you are accepted. All of us are. And by “all”, I mean all. Even our enemies. Grace is this unfair and offensive thing, because there will always be someone who we think doesn’t deserve it. But it is the message that Jesus has called us to proclaim. But people aren’t hearing the message. And Jay Bakker says we need to be louder. So let’s be louder.

We have this great honor and gift to preach this good news of grace to people. But they can’t hear us. So let’s be louder. Because people like Jay, and let’s be honest, even us, really need to hear it. May it be so.

[1] Barabara Brown Taylor, The Seeds Of Heaven, pg. 104.

[2] Jay Bakker, Fall to Grace, pg. xiii.

Sunday, September 14, 2014 – Sermon on Matthew 18:21-35

Matthew 18:21-35

21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. 23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Last week, we learned about Jesus’ conflict resolution strategy. How to deal with conflict in the church. And why deal with conflict? Not because it is good advice (which it is), but because God wants our community to be whole. God desires our relationships to be healed, rather than broken. God hopes for us to live full lives – and that can’t be done when we are holding onto the hurts of our pasts. As part of that sermon last week, many of us were introduced to Susan and Rebecca. Briefly, Susan and Rebecca are members of the same church, but they haven’t spoken to each other in 8 years. All because one day, Rebecca said a rude and nasty comment to Susan. As the story goes, Rebecca was making biscuits from a box for the council meeting one morning, when Susan comes in with three trays of her hot, homemade cinnamon buns. And in response, Rebecca says to Susan, “Do you always have to take over wherever you go?” And that was that. The end of their relationship for 8 years.

Perhaps you thought last week that you heard the end of Susan and Rebecca’s story. Too often, nothing happens in situations like this. And it can last a lifetime. I know of siblings who haven’t spoken for 20 years, but neither of them can remember what they are so mad about. Too often nothing changes. But not in Susan and Rebecca’s case. Their story changed when a new pastor came to the church and heard about this ongoing conflict. The pastor brought them together and asked them to retell their experience of that day. Susan told her story, which we heard last week. But then Rebecca told her side. She said, “I got up especially early that Saturday morning to bake. I wanted to bake some peanut butter biscuits for the meeting. And I put three trays into the oven. And then I got a call and I lost track of time and all the biscuits burned. And I was so angry. And so when I saw Susan with three trays of perfectly brown, hot cinnamon buns, my anger got the better of me. And I spoke those harsh words before I even knew it.”[1]

Jesus’s first step in conflict resolution is to go to the other person face-to-face. Because we learn things when we talk. When we communicate. Which is exactly what Susan and Rebecca never did! For 8 years. And look what Susan learned when they finally did come face-to-face…she learned that Rebecca was a hurting person when she said those hurtful words. Susan learned that it wasn’t Rebecca who spewed such harsh words… it was Rebecca’s pain. Is it an excuse? Of course not, but knowing the rest of the story allowed Susan to come to a place of forgiveness.

What do you think? If you were Susan, do you think you could forgive Rebecca for saying something hurtful like that to you?

Well conveniently enough, forgiveness is the next place that Jesus goes. So Jesus tells his disciples about how to manage conflict when it comes up, but then the issue of forgiveness arises. Peter wants to know from Jesus how many times he must forgive another person. He wants to get to the bottom line – the numbers game. If someone keeps sinning against me, how many times do I have to forgive them before I can just say, “To heck with you.” Seven? Which is kind of a lot of times, right? It is one thing to give someone a second, or maybe a third chance. But seven? That’s pretty generous.

But Jesus, like he does, raises the bar even higher. A lot higher in fact. “Not seven times, Peter” says Jesus, “But seventy-seven times.” Or some translations say seventy times seven, meaning 490 times. Either way, the numbers don’t matter because Jesus isn’t saying, “Yes, give them 77 chances, but then on the 78th cut them off.” Really what Jesus is saying is that you should not be keeping track at all….otherwise it’s not really forgiveness, is it? The point Jesus is making is that “calculating limits on forgiveness is out of bounds.”[2]

To drive home his point, Jesus does what he does best. He tells them a story. A parable, really. A parable filled with such exaggeration that it is almost laughable. The parable is about a king who has decided it is time to settle his outstanding accounts. The king comes across one of his servants who owes 10,000 talents. Now a talent was equal to about 15 years of daily wages – and he owed 10,000 of those. Which adds up to 150,000 years worth of daily wages. Or based on our average household income here in America, the slave owed $7.5 billion dollars to the king. Which is utterly ridiculous – an amount no one could ever pay off, let alone a slave. Realizing this, the king decides to cut his losses and sell the slave and his family. At least he could get something from them, instead of nothing.

The next ridiculous thing to happen is how the slave responds. He drops to his knees and pleads with the king saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ Right. Sure, you will. All $7.5 billion of it.

But then the most laughable thing of all happens – the king forgives his entire debt. All of it. The slave is now no longer a slave – free of all debts.

But now the story shifts. The debt-free slave leaves and comes across another slave who owes him money. How much? 100 denarii or about $15,000. And suddenly the forgiven slave has an opportunity to repay the favor. To pay it forward as we would say. But he doesn’t.

“Pay what you owe!” the freed slave says, seeming to forget what had just happened to him. The second slave pleads for patience. In fact, he says the same words the first slave said to the king – “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” But there was no mercy. And the first slave throws the second slave into prison. If my math holds, that’s like someone forgiving you 1,000,000 debt, and then you not forgiving someone their $2 debt.

Well, soon enough, the king finds out what happened. The king calls back that freed slave and says, “”You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?” And then he sent the slave off to be tortured until he could repay his debt. All $7.5 billion of it.

And we are tempted to respond with – Good! That ungrateful jerk deserves it. But then Jesus turns it around on us[3] and concludes with this little gem – “So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

A couple of weeks ago, journalist James Foley was killed in Iraq by ISIS soldiers and the horrific event was put on display all over youtube. When James Foley’s parents were ask if they could forgive the terrorists, they said, “Not today…but as Christians we have to.”[4]

So, what do you think? Do we as Christians have to forgive? Can you do that? Can you forgive your brother or your sister an unlimited number of times from your heart as Jesus commands?

Forgiveness is this slippery thing that I have been wrestling with all week. And it begs the question – what does it mean to forgive?

Does forgiveness mean forgetting? Forgive and forget, they say. But sometimes we shouldn’t forget the things that have happened to us.

Okay, forgive but don’t forget. You’ll hear people say that sometimes, “I can forgive what you did, but I will never forget it.” Which, I don’t know about you, never really sounds like forgiveness. It sounds like that person, like Peter, is still in the counting game. Strike one, buddy. You got 76 left. Watch out.

Does forgiveness mean letting someone off the hook? As if there are no consequences to our behavior? If you live in an abusive relationship, does forgiveness mean forgetting the abuse and continuing to stay? I’m not so sure that’s forgiveness. Forgiveness is not letting people walk all over you. It isn’t tolerating wrongdoing or injustice.

Or is forgiveness for your own benefit? Do you forgive so that you can let it go and not be haunted by it the rest of your life? Nelson Mandela was put in jail for 27 years for his role in trying to end the racial segregation in South Africa. Painted on a wall in the Owatonna Junior High is a quote from Nelson Mandela – “If I didn’t forgive them, I would still be their prisoner.” Maybe forgiveness is about freeing yourself from what has happened.

I’ll be honest. I’m still not entirely sure I know exactly what forgiveness is. Maybe it is sort of like – you know it when you see it. Or better said, you know it when you receive it.

Have you ever had to ask forgiveness? Not spitefully, like, Geez, will you just forgive me? But honestly – like, I’m really sorry and I need your forgiveness. It’s hard. It’s humbling. We don’t do it a lot. We will say we are sorry. But it is something else to ask for forgiveness. It almost seems a little ridiculous these days. And then have you ever received forgiveness? Forgiveness that you knew you needed? What did that feel like?

And it makes me wonder – do we feel the same way about God’s forgiveness? I wonder, do the majority of us feel like we’ve had a debt of $7.5 billion forgiven by God? Are we wowed by God’s forgiveness anymore or is it just assumed? Never once have I proclaimed forgiveness at the beginning of worship and someone has burst out in tears and rejoicing that they were forgiven. Never once. And I’ll make it a little more personal – I don’t know that I am wowed by God’s forgiveness. At our young adult group on Friday night, the question was asked whether you would prefer to stand before God with all the wrong you’ve done or whether you would rather stand before youtube and the internet with all the wrong you’ve done. I can’t speak for all of us there, but the sense was – most of us would rather stand before God. God knowing all that we’ve done doesn’t seemed to frighten us as much as everyone else knowing all that we’ve done. It’s almost like we think, “Well, you’re God. You have to be forgiving.” But the world? It can be a cruel place.

But what if that’s Jesus’ point. What if that is why Jesus wants us to strive to forgive as God forgives? What if we cannot experience God’s unconditional forgiveness unless we experience it through the world. Through flesh and blood. What if here, in the messy world we live in, is the very arena in which God’s forgiveness needs to be enacted and practiced.

Like I said, I’m not exactly sure what forgiveness is. And perhaps it changes with every situation. And I don’t think it is something we do once, but rather is something we have to keep doing over and over again. What ever forgiveness is, Jesus’ point is clear. He’s trying to motivate us to be forgiving people. Why? Because how can we proclaim God’s forgiveness to others, if we can’t even practice it ourselves.

Does that mean forgiveness will always be easy? No. Will it always be clear? No. But maybe what it means is that it is something we never stop searching for, never give up on – both for those who have wronged us and from those whom we have wronged. Because perhaps what is true in the somewhat petty situation of Susan and Rebecca is true for all the wrongs in the world – when someone hurts another, it’s only because they have been hurt themselves. If we can listen long enough to one another and we can see that, perhaps forgiveness will be possible. Or put one more way – perhaps we are called as Christians to strive to view forgiveness as God does – “Forgiveness is not to be dispensed with an eyedropper, but a fire hose.”[5] Perhaps, living that out, we will all come to a place where we see each other as God does – drenched and soaked to the skin in the water of grace and forgiveness. Amen.

[1] Alan Storey, http://www.cmm.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/20110904-sermon.mp3

[2] Tom Long, Matthew, pg. 211.

[3] Long, 212.

[4] http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/james-foleys-parents-prepared-forgive-4092566

[5] Long, 213.

Sunday, September 7th, 2014 – Sermon on Matthew 18:15-20

Matthew 18:15-20

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

Her name was Susan. She was very involved in her local church. She was on the finances committee. The outreach to the elderly. The worship team. She helped out with the children. She lead a bible study group. And on this particular morning, she found herself awake very early. A few hours before the council meeting for that day. So she thought she had better put the time to good use. So she baked three trays of cinnamon buns, that everyone loved. She arrived at the meeting with these cinnamon buns still hot. She placed two trays on the counter, returned to her car to fetch the third tray, and as she was placing the third tray on the counter, Rebecca was on the other side of the counter pouring two packets of biscuits, that she had just bought from the store, in to a bowl. And Rebecca said to Susan, “So do you have to take over wherever you go?” Well that was enough to silence Susan. She just left her cinnamon buns on the counter and turned away. And she was silent for the rest of the day. At lunch time, when both Susan and Rebecca were both working in the kitchen together, they made quite sure that they were serving on opposite ends of the kitchen. The next day, it was the Sunday service. And when Rebecca arrived, she made sure to see where Susan was sitting, because they used to sit quite close to each other. And she decided to sit in a new seat, so that when the pastor asked them to stand up and greet one another, they would not be near enough to have to greet each other. That Wednesday evening, it was Bible study and someone commented out loud how lovely Susan’s cinnamon buns were that past Saturday. And as they mentioned that, Susan began to cry and then she explained to the Bible study group what Rebecca had said to her, and now the whole church knew.

Eventually, the church secretary started making sure that Rebecca and Susan were never paired together for any church activities or events. And sometimes, one of them was invited to something and the other wasn’t. Or whenever the church gathered around tables, people made sure to strategically place themselves between Susan and Rebecca.

Time passed. Until a new pastor arrived at the church. And Susan, out of kindness, welcomed the new pastor with a tray of cinnamon buns. Which the pastor loved! The pastor was going to be meeting the youth that Friday night for the first time and he thought it would be a wonderful idea if Susan could make some of those cinnamon buns for the youth. So he asked Susan and she said, “Yes, how many trays would you like?” And the pastor said, “I think three will do.” And something happened to Susan’s face at the mention of three trays. The pastor said, “Oh, I’m sorry, is that too much?” And Susan said, “No. I just haven’t baked three trays for a long time.” And then she told the pastor the story. After she told him and see that she was still emotional, the pastor asked her, “When did this happen?” And Susan said, “In October, it will be eight years.”[1]

Have you ever seen conflict like this in the church? We all know stories like this, don’t we? At some point, I imagine we’ve all heard or been part of a story just like this. Anyone who thinks the church is filled with perfect people is fooling themselves. In fact, sometimes the church can be the place where we feel hurt and judged the most. I heard just a couple of weeks ago from a young person who said he is afraid to go back to church because he feels like everyone knows his past and is judging him.

It is a sad reality, but the church is filled with conflict. And sometimes it is even the birthplace of conflict. So, how do you respond when conflict arises? Do you fight or do you flight? Do you run towards the conflict to fight and win or do you run from away from it?

I think most of us have a tendency to run away from conflict. It is part of that MN Nice that is in us, because we don’t want to hurt the person’s feelings. But then as we saw with Susan, ironically, we have no trouble hurting their feelings behind their back. Or else we run from conflict because we think that conflict means fighting. It feels like you are at war with someone. But theologian Peter Rollins offers a different interpretation about what it means to be at war with someone. He has said that countries at war with each other are not countries in conflict. They are countries that couldn’t handle their conflict. War, fighting, is the result of not being able to handle conflict!

Today in our gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus is giving us conflict resolution counseling. As many of us return to school with new teachers and as Sunday school starts with new classes, today all of us have the great gift of having Jesus as our teacher. And he is teaching us about how to manage conflict.

Which is good news, because it tells us that conflict in the church is nothing new. But rather it has been around a long time; it is part of being human.

So let’s look at what Jesus has to say. Jesus says first, “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.”

Now, I don’t think this is Jesus’ most eloquent moment. I don’t think any of us would be too successful if we just go up pointing out people’s faults to them. Hey, I see you have some faults there. Would you like me to point them out to you? But rather, I think the emphasis of Jesus statement should be – go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. Go to them face-to-face. Speaking directly to them. Because it is so easy to speak around them. Which is called triangulation. Triangulation is when you speak to another person about someone else, with whom you really should be speaking. In our story earlier, Susan didn’t speak to Rebecca about what Rebecca did, Susan spoke to others about what Rebecca did. It is the same way with rumors, isn’t it? Instead of going to the person who the rumor is about to see if it is true, we go and tell others and wonder together if it is true. A friend of mine was a new pastor, and after only three weeks at this church, early one morning his wife had to leave for a long drive to go visit her family. But a woman who lived across the street from the parsonage saw her pack up and leave very early in the morning, and suddenly, the rumor was going around town that the pastor’s wife didn’t like it here and she’s leaving him. And no one came to ask them if it was true or not. So friends, let me know just say this…if you have a conflict with someone, please go and speak with them directly. Don’t whisper and spread it around because it will only lead to deeper hurt. Or if someone is talking to you about someone else, please stop them and say, “It sounds like you should be talking with them about it.” Otherwise it will only get worse. I promise.

And notice that the goal is not to get the other person to agree with you or to say you are right or to compromise. According to Jesus, the only goal is listening. That we might hear each other. So what if that doesn’t work? What if they don’t listen? Jesus says to take a couple of people with you and to try again. Which I imagine wouldn’t be all that comfortable for the other person. Suddenly, here is this gang of people coming to your door. But the point isn’t to bully or to gang up on, but rather to help each other listen. To account for the words spoken. Now, if that doesn’t work, Jesus says to tell the church. Which is even more awful to think about. Could you imagine having your dirty laundry aired out in the sermon on Sunday? Okay, everyone, it is time we talk about so-and-so and all the sinning he is doing. But I cannot imagine that this is so everyone can shame and look at so-and-so, but it is so that the whole church can help. Help to listen and help resolve the conflict.

And if that doesn’t work, Jesus says to treat them like the Gentiles and the tax collectors, who were the hate groups back them. And some of us might get excited at this point, because now we can finally kick this person out of the church. Now we can hate them. We’ve done everything we were supposed to do, but now I can really just get rid of this person. And that’s how people often hear this passage – as permission now to exclude. But we can’t forget that Jesus ate with gentiles and tax collectors. Perhaps what Jesus is saying is that if none of this works, take them out to dinner. Spend more time with them. Spend more time with them until you can understand one another and listen.

So that is Jesus’ conflict resolution strategy: go and speak with them one on one, then bring others to help, then tell the church, then spend more time with them. And while at times it might sound utterly ridiculous to our ears and we can’t imagine ever doing this in the church, there is one thing about this strategy that stands out to me….it is that Jesus’ strategy never gives up on the person. It never quits trying to resolve the conflict. Jesus doesn’t say give it one chance then give up on the person. But rather Jesus says to keep after the person. Keep trying to preserve and reconcile the relationship.

You see that is what this is all about – relationships. It isn’t about keeping people sinless and well-behaved. It isn’t about pointing out to others how bad they are or what they have done wrong. But it is about tending to our relationships.

Why? Not because it is just good advice. You can get that in a book at the library. Why tend to our relationships? Because God lives in our relationships. Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered, there I am.” God dwells in our community. Among us, among people is where God makes God’s home. God is one who dwells in community. and that is an incredible promise. That God is with us. Now. But also to say, if God dwells within us as a community, what happens when part of that community is broken? What happens when our relationships aren’t right? God’s heart is broken as well. God is in the presence of the people. We tend to the community. We tend to our relationship because that is the very place where God will show up to us. When we gather to manage conflict, Jesus is there.

So, how are our relationships? As we all gather together at the start of a new fall and as it feels like we are gathering the whole family back together, it is quite possible that some of us are reunited with the person whom we’ve been trying to avoid. With someone we are in conflict with. And we invited to wonder – how shall I respond?

Amen

[1] http://www.cmm.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/20110904-sermon.mp3

Sunday, August 31st, 2014 – Sermon on Exodus 2:11-3:15

Exodus 2:11-3:15
11One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and saw their forced labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk. 12He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. 13When he went out the next day, he saw two Hebrews fighting; and he said to the one who was in the wrong, “Why do you strike your fellow Hebrew?” 14He answered, “Who made you a ruler and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” 15When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh. He settled in the land of Midian, and sat down by a well.

16The priest of Midian had seven daughters. They came to draw water, and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. 17But some shepherds came and drove them away. Moses got up and came to their defense and watered their flock. 18When they returned to their father Reuel, he said, “How is it that you have come back so soon today?” 19They said, “An Egyptian helped us against the shepherds; he even drew water for us and watered the flock.” 20He said to his daughters, “Where is he? Why did you leave the man? Invite him to break bread.” 21Moses agreed to stay with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah in marriage. 22She bore a son, and he named him Gershom; for he said, “I have been an alien residing in a foreign land.”
23After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. 24God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 25God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.
3
Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” 4When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
7Then the Lord said, “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, 8and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”
11But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” 13But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’“ 15God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.

We continue this morning with the story of Moses. Last week we heard about the birth story of Moses and that Moses was born into a particularly atrocious time in Egypt. There was a new king in Egypt who didn’t remember Joseph, a Hebrew, who was a friend to Egypt, and therefore, due to his prejudice towards people who were different than him and his irrational fears, this King began to enslave the Hebrew people. We learned that a fearful leader is a loveless leader.

This king ordered that all the newborn boys be killed, and then eventually that all the Hebrews boys be killed, regardless of age. But then we also got to learn about the power of women to stand up to evil. Pharaoh was afraid of the boys, when really he should have been afraid of the girls. Because they were his downfall. They were the ones who disobeyed him, so as to bring about love and life, rather than discrimination and death. And we learned that in the midst of such an awful time of history, people were still falling in love and making babies. Which is such a hopeful act. And this one Hebrew baby, a boy, was protected by his mother, and then sent down the river. It was Pharaoh’s daughter who rescued him and disobeyed her father by letting the child live and eventually adopting him as her own son. That boy’s name was Moses.

Today we continue with Moses story. Now, many of you know that the readings we have each week at church are pre-assigned readings from what is called the lectionary. It is a three year cycle of scripture readings that takes us through much of scripture, but not all of it. I typically am in favor of the lectionary. I love it throughout much of the world, people are preaching on the same texts each week. But sometimes the lectionary does us a disservice. Last week, our reading ended at Exodus 2:10. And then this week, the lectionary wanted us to skip the rest of chapter 2, and simply begin with chapter 3, which is an exciting chapter because it is when God speaks to Moses through a burning bush.

But what happened in the rest of chapter 2? And when you look through the entire lectionary, all three years…chapter 2 is nowhere to be found. Now, either the lectionary people didn’t think it was important enough to include, or they’re hiding something from us. Something they don’t think we should know. And as you can see, it’s right there in the beginning of our reading for today – 11One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and saw their forced labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk. 12He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.

Moses, the great Moses, the one who will lead the Israelites out of slavery. Moses, the one who is so important to God’s story that Jesus is portrayed as the NEW Moses. That Moses is a murderer! Moses is now all grown up. He goes outside and he sees the Egyptians, which he is believed to be since he was raised in the palace by Pharaohs’ daughter…he sees the Egyptians enslaving the Hebrews. And then he sees an Egyptians beating a Hebrew and something inside him snaps. He kills the Egyptian. And he knew it was wrong – he looked around and made sure no one else would see and then afterwards, he hid the body.

This is rated-R kind of stuff we are dealing with here. And so no wonder why the lectionary wanted to protect us from this story about Moses. It’s hard to hear. But as is so often the case, the very thing that is meant to protect us is the thing that hurts us. Because as a result of not hearing this story, we’ve put Moses up on a pedestal, as a hero of the faith, and we’ve been brought up to believe that God uses those who behave themselves. We’ve been taught that God works through squeaky-clean people, which none of us are, and then as a result we doubt whether God is at work in our lives at all.

When really, what we ought to learn is, and what is true to the story is that God comes to Moses, a murderer, and calls him to be the one who will save the Israelites from Egypt. You see, when we cut out part of the story, we miss the gospel. That even when we were yet sinners, God can and will still use us for the sake of a better world. Therefore we must never discount anyone from being an agent of God in this world.

When we cut out part of the story, we miss the gospel. This happens at funerals all the time. At funerals, it is so, so, common for us to lift up all the good things about a person. All their accomplishments and how selfless and loving they were to everyone. In fact, just about every single funeral I’ve been involved in, someone has said, “So-and-so always thought of everyone first.” And what I’ve found myself wondering is, if what we say at funerals is true, then the world should be a much better place. But it isn’t. And so often, at funerals, we cut out part of the person’s story. And when we do that, we miss the gospel. The God saves us even when we are still sinners.

A couple of years ago, when I was an intern pastor in Minneapolis, I would spend time at a nursing home nearby. And the nursing home was this old, frail nun, who was just awful to be around. She was mean and crabby and demanding. She could suck the life out of any room. And then she died. And many of us went to her funeral. And the pastor got up there, and we all held our breath. What on earth could be said about this woman, we thought? But the pastor stood up, shared some details about this woman’s life and then she said, “You know, Sister So-and-So was really hard to love. And most of us didn’t get along with her. But she is a child of God, a sinner in need of grace, and now part of the great community of saints.”

And suddenly, we all could breath again. Because the part of her life that we all knew and the part that we all expected to be cut out wasn’t. And we could hear the gospel then, because of it. That God saves imperfect people.

So Moses is a murderer. And we can’t forget that part of the story.

Okay, so the next day, Moses goes out and now two Hebrews are fighting. So we learn that even the Hebrews aren’t perfect either. Even they are fighting with themselves. So not only does God use imperfect people, but God uses imperfect people to save an imperfect nation.

So Moses asks them why they are fighting and they turn on him, saying, “Who are you to judge us and rule over us? What are you just going to kill us like you did the Egyptian?”

Whoa. So now it’s out there. What ever Moses did to try and hide his actions didn’t work. And even these Hebrew men called him out on it, who you would think would be glad that Moses had killed an Egyptian who was beating one of their own. But no. All they can see when they look at him is a killer. And soon enough, Pharaoh finds out what Moses did, and now Pharaoh is after him. But it’s not just Pharaoh. Remember? It is Moses’ adoptive grandfather, seeing how Pharaoh’s daughter adopted Moses.

So Moses runs away. Understandably. And he meets a woman and get married and they have a child together.

But then the next thing we learn is that Pharaoh has died. Which you would think would be the best news ever, since this Pharaoh is the one who enslaved the Israelites. But as we know from our own governance, sometimes bad practices and corruption can be passed from one administration to another. And it appears the new Pharaoh continues the slavery, because the text says, “The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out.”

Where do you hear people groaning and crying out in suffering these days? Either in our own community or this country or the world, where do you hear people crying out in need? And now listen to what comes next…

Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. 24God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 25God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.

And then the very next thing to happen is the scene we’ve all been waiting for – God comes to Moses in a burning bush and speaks to him. And God says to Moses, the murderer, “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, 8and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey….The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

God is a god who hears the cries of the people. And God is a god who calls on the least likely to do something about it. God uses imperfect people to save and rescue imperfect people.

So, God uses the likes of you and me. God calls us to do things we’d never imagined, even as God knows we’ve failed and messed up and doubted God so many times. God always seeks us out and calls us to new risks, new pathways, new life. What is it God is calling you to do? What has stopped you in your tracks and you know it’s something you have to do? So, have you ever felt like God was calling you to something? Have you ever felt like it came to you so clearly, like a burning bush, that you couldn’t help but stop and listen?

I don’t care who you are or what age you are, I think God is calling you to something.

So if we take anything away from our short jaunt through the story of Moses, (which doesn’t end here of course), it can be this – don’t cut out part of someone’s story. It is what makes us who we are. And what makes God’s love for us all that more profound. And never think that anyone is so far gone that God cannot use them for the sake of a better world.