My friends, as I said in the bulletin, this Sunday gives us the opportunity to truly come to know our God if we carefully study the messages within the Scriptures today.
Let’s begin with the reading from Exodus. The 1st thing we should notice is that God initiates the encounter with Moses, not the other way around. This is important! This truth reminds me of the 23rd Psalm in the biblical translation, The Message. The writer of this translation opens up the traditional line, “Only goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,” to “Your beauty and love chase after me, every day of my life.” I don’t know about you, but I rather like the idea that God is, “chasing after me” through the ups and downs of my life. It speaks to the intimacy of our God and that wanted relationship with us.
If we look at God’s words to Moses, we can see this most clearly. “I am…a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger and rich in kindness and faithfulness.” This is really such a beautiful and telling reading and one unfortunately, that I have heard far too many homilists get stuck on—the beginning that is, which is apparently God’s answer to Moses’ question of, “Who are you?” God says, “I am who I am,” or some form of that. This again, is an example of “staying” on the top level of a message and failing to go deeper to truly understand what is being said.
It doesn’t matter what we call God, as much as who God is and we learn that going deeper— “I am a God of tenderness and compassion…”
This reminds me of a young man who was interviewed on public radio, MPR, this past week. He is the valedictorian of his high school graduating class and will, as a result, be giving the commencement address to them. The interviewer was interested in knowing what he might speak to them about.
He was quite clear that he didn’t want it to be about him alone, what he had done and so on, but he wanted it to be about all of them. He wanted them to know that just because his grades allowed him to have the highest place in their class, academically, he had the same worries and struggles that they all had and that they were all in this together. He realized that he hadn’t gotten to where he was alone, and that he had much to be thankful for. He saw himself as no better than anyone else and he wanted his classmates to know that.
The interviewer had also invited several adults to be on the show who had given commencement addresses in the past to learn what they had imparted to the newly graduating students. One man said it best I think when he shared a general list of good things, he had heard other speakers remind graduates of as they look at their lives ahead of them. Some of the things that we would expect to be on the list, included, work hard, when you don’t quite make it, pick yourself up and try again, and so on. He ended his comments sharing an idea he had heard along the way that he found very compelling, in making your way in the world— “be kind.”
This notion seems to be in sync with what Moses heard from God on Mount Sinai—his, and our God said that we all could expect, “tenderness and compassion, one, slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness.
So, if we were merely to stop in the Exodus reading with, “what should we call God?” we would miss the deep relational response that God offers here. The valedictorian that I mentioned above ended his comments by saying to his peers, “It is my hope that each of us will make our own particular way.” A “kind” response, I would say.
Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians says as much; “Encourage one another –live in harmony and peace.”
And John’s gospel today confirms this idea through Jesus’ words: [God does not] “condemn, but through Christ, the world may be saved.” Once again, we must get beyond the surface meaning. The “saving” that our brother Jesus came to do was in showing us—each of us, through the justice, mercy, understanding, and kindness, that he showed in his own life, how in fact to do the same in our lives.
And as always, we must take the Scriptures and apply them to our own lives. To read about Jesus but fail to do the same in our own lives, or to at least try, seems to miss the point of Christian living.
If we were truly, each of us, following Jesus, there could not be two tiers in our society in so many ways—the rich and the poor, white and black—we call that, “racism,” by the way, something our country is far from getting its arms around. We call this, “white privilege,” –another concept to take to our prayer. We might be closer to a resolution if we laid our “hearts” and not just our “heads” on these issues.
If we were truly following Jesus, gender issues—sexism, which really is about patriarchy—who has the “right to speak and act,” would also, not be an issue. This is true in state, country and Church. Again, we must look back to our brother Jesus and what he had to say about these issues. He was crucified in the time he lived, “not for our sins,” but because he was speaking, in his time, against inequality, patriarchy, and more, and the powers that existed then, needed to silence him. Pure and simple. Makes me think of women today following our God-given calls to be ordained. We have been told that this will immediately excommunicate us if we do, as they wish to silence us too. So, if we get caught up in that old theology of “reparation for our sins” in the face of a tyrannical God, that takes us off the hook to really follow in Jesus’ footsteps.
We would do better to look to the beautiful words of Psalm 8 today, and remember who God truly is, “Who are we that you should be mindful of us?” Being “mindful” seems to me, a “relational” skill. In this regard, this past week, I heard a news special on the social and political divide in our country. All of those interviewed were asked to state their beliefs, and on the merit of what they said, were then paired with someone who held an opposite view. They were asked to sit together and “truly listen” to each other.
The amazing thing that they discovered was, when you, “put a face” to the opinion, trying to see why each other felt as they did, it helped break down some of the animosity. Now, you might be thinking, and questioning as I have, “what do you do if you have someone in your life who has told you, they don’t want to hear your opposing view.” And my friends, this is precisely why being a Christian is not for wimps.
Our lives today in the midst of so many concerns, many of which I have mentioned here, call for what I will name, “eucharistic moments.” If you think about it, you probably could all name for me a time when something truly wonderful and unexpected happened between you and another person, or group that was able to move you and them, beyond the things that divided you to a place where you could truly be one. Naming such times, “eucharist moments” where the “body and blood” of our Savior Jesus, was truly evident—not on the altar, but in the humanity of our every day lives seems to be most appropriate and what Jesus had intended the Eucharist to be. We will continue this conversation next week when we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi—the Body of Christ. Amen? Amen!
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