Saturday, 10 October 2020

Thanksgiving and Service

 Readings

Deuteronomy 24:17-22

 “Do not deprive foreigners and orphans of their rights; and do not take a widow's garment as security for a loan. 18 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God set you free; that is why I have given you this command.

19 “When you gather your crops and fail to bring in some of the grain that you have cut, do not go back for it; it is to be left for the foreigners, orphans, and widows, so that the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do. 20 When you have picked your olives once, do not go back and get those that are left; they are for the foreigners, orphans, and widows. 21 When you have gathered your grapes once, do not go back over the vines a second time; the grapes that are left are for the foreigners, orphans, and widows. 22 Never forget that you were slaves in Egypt; that is why I have given you this command.

Matthew 14:13-21: Jesus Feeds Five Thousand

13 When Jesus heard the news about John, he left there in a boat and went to a lonely place by himself. The people heard about it, and so they left their towns and followed him by land. 14 Jesus got out of the boat, and when he saw the large crowd, his heart was filled with pity for them, and he healed their sick.

15 That evening his disciples came to him and said, “It is already very late, and this is a lonely place. Send the people away and let them go to the villages to buy food for themselves.”

16 “They don't have to leave,” answered Jesus. “You yourselves give them something to eat!”

17 “All we have here are five loaves and two fish,” they replied.

18 “Then bring them here to me,” Jesus said. 19 He ordered the people to sit down on the grass; then he took the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, and gave thanks to God. He broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 Everyone ate and had enough. Then the disciples took up twelve baskets full of what was left over. 21 The number of men who ate was about five thousand, not counting the women and children.

Thanksgiving and Service

The Gospels all have at least one story in which Jesus and his disciples feed thousands of people with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. Not only were all these people fed adequately, but there were baskets of bread left over. The phrase “loaves and fishes” conjures up a variety of images of giving and sharing – perhaps images of soup kitchens; of helping those in the community who have less than we have. It also conjures up the image of all that is put in our Saviour’s hands being more than enough, however little it appears to be. Certainly, at this time of year we are all reminded not only to give thanks for our blessings, but to share them with those who have so very little.

Although we are now back into a partial lockdown, at the height of the pandemic – when full lockdown was in place – supermarkets and food shops remained open. And so, especially at harvest time – but indeed throughout the year – even in the most difficult of circumstances – we give thanks for the food and for the labour that makes it possible to shop for groceries. Thankfully, we don’t have to grow food ourselves – we’re able to buy it – thanks to the labour of others. There are indeed many folks to be thankful to and for – those who grow and pick fruit and vegetables; those who harvest wheat and barley and other similar crops; those who raise the animals that go into our food chain. We think of farmers and their cows that provide dairy products such as butter and cheese. And we cannot forget those who process, pack and transport goods and those who serve in shops and supermarkets. But you know, food, clothing, and the necessities of life for us are often taken for granted – such things are for all the earth’s inhabitants to enjoy. Sadly, though, there are many who cannot in fact take them for granted, largely because of our deliberate and selfishly uneven distribution of the world’s bounty – and our wilful damaging and squandering of the earth’s resources. Today then there is an element of sorrow and repentance, of seeking God’s forgiveness, for our part in the unfairness and recklessness of the world.

Put it this way, do we have a right to thank God that we have received the lion’s share of the planet’s gifts? Shall we thank God that the planet’s gifts are slid so askew into our laps? Did God do this? Of course, not – we did it and are doing it. And now we are reaping what was sown in rampant consumerism and greed. Yes, indeed we are facing enormous challenges as the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage the earth – but we can still eat, have shelter, stay warm. We might have to tighten our belts as the cost of the pandemic hits our economy – not to mention Brexit – but by-and-large, we can still eat and be comfortable. Many elsewhere will go without food or shelter today – even people in this city. 

None of us, I suspect, would claim to be particularly rich – but it’s all relative: With my modest income – if  I lived in some countries in Asia, Africa and South America, I’d be considered extremely wealthy. For me, sacrifice means rejecting cakes and chocolate biscuits for the sake of my waistline, not my life. I’m not rich but in the eyes of many in our world it sure looks pretty much like it. That’s the imbalance of the world. The lifestyle that most of us enjoy is, in fact, is a very comfortable life. Yes, there are always richer and poorer people around, so we can generally place ourselves in the middle somewhere – but that’s an okay place to be. The real question is of generosity and of sharing – of equality in our world.

In fact, in many ways, the people of these isles are a generous people: We give to good causes around the world and across the country and at a local level. We give as individuals, as groups, as churches and as a nation. Yes, we may consider ourselves to be generous – but inequality is there, and poverty remains, and people still starve. My cats are better fed than many people in the world and that is surely a disgrace: Not that cats shouldn’t be fed but that humans most certainly should! In fact, from ancient times we have been advised, indeed commanded, to give of God’s resources to less advantaged people. In Deuteronomy 24:19 – 22 we read:

“When you gather your crops and fail to bring in some of the corn that you have cut, do not go back for it, it is to be left for the foreigners, orphans and widows; so that the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do. When you have picked your olives once, do not go back and get those that are left; they are for the foreigners, orphans and widows. When you have gathered your grapes once, do not go back over the vines a second time; the grapes that are left are for the foreigners, orphans and widows. Never forget that you were slaves in Egypt; that is why I have given you this command.”

It seems clear that generosity of spirit towards those less fortunate, those on the margins, was ever the mark of the people of God or at least it ought to be: Not lip-service though – genuine concern and a true willingness to act! Here also I am reminded of another story from the gospels found in both Mark and Luke. Here is Mark’s version:

As Jesus sat near the temple treasury, he watched the people as they dropped in their money. Many rich men dropped in a lot of money then a poor widow came along and dropped in two little copper coins, worth about a penny. He called his disciples together and said to them, “I tell you that this poor widow put more in the offering box than all the others. For the others put in what they had to spare of their riches; but she, poor as she is, put in all she had – she gave all she had to live on.”

The story of the widow’s mite certainly teaches us a lesson in giving – that real giving must be sacrificial. The amount of the gift never matters so much as its cost to the giver: It not the size of the gift but the size of the sacrifice that matters. I think to our shame we’re largely unwilling to give unless we get something back in return. However real generosity gives until it hurts. Furthermore that story reminds us that if we put all that we have and are at the disposal of Christ, all our resources, he can do things with it and with us that are far beyond our imagining. Today, as we thank God for his harvest, we pray that God may give us a true generosity of Spirit which cares not so much for ourselves and our needs but thinks of the needs of others in grace, generosity, humility and love.

But thanksgiving, however heartfelt, must be more than just gratitude. As one theologian put it “religion begins in gratitude and ends in service.” We begin with gratitude by virtue of being alive on a wonderful planet. Gratitude sustains us and lifts our spirits. Gratitude seeps into our consciousness even in the midst of loss and pain. Gratitude is all very fine, but for the Christian it must lead to service – service of Christ, of his Church of our fellow human beings. Whenever we reflect on why we have been so blessed; we have to then ask: What obligations flow from that blessing?  You see it’s not so much thanksgiving but “thanksliving” that should characterise our lives. It implies living with an attitude of thankfulness that might just inspire us to give of ourselves. In the words of a Latin American prayer: “O God, to those who have hunger, give bread; and to us who have bread give the hunger for justice.” The gift of life is yours and mine. Let gratitude sustain us and let service be our prayer and our goal. Thanks be to God. Amen.


Saturday, 3 October 2020

Righteousness

 Readings

Philippians 3:4b-14 : True Righteousness

If any of you think you can trust in external ceremonies, I have even more reason to feel that way. I was circumcised when I was a week old. I am an Israelite by birth, of the tribe of Benjamin, a pure-blooded Hebrew. As far as keeping the Jewish Law is concerned, I was a Pharisee, and I was so zealous that I persecuted the church. As far as a person can be righteous by obeying the commands of the Law, I was without fault. But all those things that I might count as profit I now reckon as loss for Christ's sake. Not only those things; I reckon everything as complete loss for the sake of what is so much more valuable, the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have thrown everything away; I consider it all as mere garbage, so that I may gain Christ and be completely united with him. I no longer have a righteousness of my own, the kind that is gained by obeying the Law. I now have the righteousness that is given through faith in Christ, the righteousness that comes from God and is based on faith. 10 All I want is to know Christ and to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings and become like him in his death, 11 in the hope that I myself will be raised from death to life.

Running toward the Goal

12 I do not claim that I have already succeeded or have already become perfect. I keep striving to win the prize for which Christ Jesus has already won me to himself. 13 Of course, my friends, I really do not[a] think that I have already won it; the one thing I do, however, is to forget what is behind me and do my best to reach what is ahead. 14 So I run straight toward the goal in order to win the prize, which is God's call through Christ Jesus to the life above.

Matthew 21:33-46: The Parable of the Tenants in the Vineyard

“Listen to another parable,” Jesus said. “There was once a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a hole for the wine press, and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to tenants and left home on a trip. 34 When the time came to gather the grapes, he sent his slaves to the tenants to receive his share of the harvest. 35 The tenants grabbed his slaves, beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again the man sent other slaves, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37 Last of all he sent his son to them. ‘Surely they will respect my son,’ he said. 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the owner's son. Come on, let's kill him, and we will get his property!’ 39 So they grabbed him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.

40 “Now, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” Jesus asked.

41 “He will certainly kill those evil men,” they answered, “and rent the vineyard out to other tenants, who will give him his share of the harvest at the right time.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Haven't you ever read what the Scriptures say?

‘The stone which the builders rejected as worthless
    turned out to be the most important of all.
This was done by the Lord;
    what a wonderful sight it is!’

43 “And so I tell you,” added Jesus, “the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce the proper fruits.” 44 [a]

45 The chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus' parables and knew that he was talking about them, 46 so they tried to arrest him. But they were afraid of the crowds, who considered Jesus to be a prophet.

Sermon

Righteousness

Setting Covid-19 aside, the world in which we live is substantially different from it was say fifty or sixty years ago. In the immediate post-war period, the Church still had a degree of influence and sway in British society. And even if people did not follow the Church's religious teachings – or even attend church – they still by and large adhered to her then moral values: For instance, divorce was frowned upon; people generally didn't live together before marriage – and  same-sex relationships were regarded as moral aberrations. The Church provided the framework of 'dos' and 'don'ts' in society and people were reticent to deviate from them – even if they were not themselves believers. Then, in the 1960s, there was a social and sexual revolution and British Society changed. Some would argue that this was largely linked to the emancipation of women – in that it was always the females that encouraged reluctant males to attend church (except from the male power brokers) – but when women stopped attending, so did their husbands and sons. People ceased worshipping in vast numbers and effectively rejected, en masse, the moral precepts of the Church. Society began to evolve into the post-Christian reality that we recognise today – where Christianity becomes but one option amongst many other possible choices of how to live our lives.

 

Society has changed in other ways too – in that it has become a much more egalitarian beast – where class and background are not as important as they used to be. For instance, there used to be pew rents in this church – the more affluent you were – the seat with greater status you could afford to occupy was available to you. And those who couldn't afford pew rents at all – or the mandatory smart clothes to wear to church – were generally consigned to the mission hall.

Coming from a lower working-class background, in that sort of class-driven society, I could never have gone to university – far less have become a minister of the Kirk. As one of our hymns states: 'pride of status, race or schooling, dogmas that obscure your plan'. Mind you, you only have to look at UK Government circles (of all hues) to see how many of them are Old Etonians, and you realise that such 'pride of status or schooling' has not completely faded from the corridors of British power.

 

What place does pride of background or status occupy when placed alongside the grace of God? Well let's look to the example of the Apostle Paul: From a 1st Century Jewish point of view, he comes with a very impressive pedigree: He was an Israelite by birth, hailing from the prestigious tribe of Benjamin and he was a Pharisee – one who observed every exacting aspect of Jewish Law. He said: “As far as a person can be righteous by obeying the Law, I was without fault." No Jew could have had a better pedigree than that of St. Paul – he was one of the elite of Israel: And, of course, he persecuted the Church – believing she and her Lord to be the greatest threat to the Orthodoxy of his day.

However, Paul is at pains to describe his prestigious Orthodox Hebrew background – not in order to boast – but for one reason only: to say that he counts it all as nothing since he met and embraced the Lord Jesus Christ. Greater than any of this noble background and of such impressive religious attributes is one simple but mind-blowing thing – the joy of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord – that completely changes his life.

 

In fact, everything in Paul's background and religious practice that he might have claimed to have set down on the credit side of a balance sheet; he now writes off as nothing more than bad debts – since his encounter with the risen Lord. The things that he believed to be his glories and triumphs were in fact quite useless. All human background and achievement had to be laid aside in order that he might accept the free grace of Jesus. He had to divest himself of every human claim of honour that he might accept, in complete humility, the mercy of God in Christ. So, Paul proves to God's people of old that he has a right to speak. He is not challenging their religious perceptions, practices and understanding of God – from the outside as it were – but as one who had been fully immersed in it. Paul had experienced it at its highest point; and he knew that it was nothing compared with the freedom and joy which Christ had given him. He knew that the only way to true peace was to abandon the way of pride of background or status – and of human achievement; and accept and embrace the way of grace......

 

In this passage, one of the key words is 'righteousness'.  Paul says, "I no longer have a righteousness of my own, the kind that is gained by obeying the Law. I now have the righteousness that is given through faith in Christ, the righteousness that comes from God and in based on faith."

However, it's not always easy to understand what this word 'righteousness' really means. We tend to ally it to the word self; so, when we talk about someone who is self -righteous; we are thinking about a pompous oaf.  

 

But what does Paul mean when he talks about righteousness? Well the great basic problem of life is to find fellowship with God and to be at peace and in friendship with God. That's what, as believers, we're all searching for! For Paul, the way to that fellowship is to develop the kind of life and attitude to God that God desires: Fundamentally, it's about our relationship with God.

We now understand that – and Paul knew that – and so nearly always for Paul, the word 'righteousness' simply means 'being in a right relationship with God'.

 

All his life, Paul had been trying find that right relationship. He tried to find it by strict adherence to the Jewish Law; but found this to be worse than useless in his attempt to achieve that goal. Then he encountered the risen Christ on the road to Damascus and gave up trying to create a goodness of his own. Rather, he came to a humble faith in God as Jesus told him to do, and so he found that fellowship, that he had been searching for so long. It was an amazing, life-transforming experience. To get onto a right relationship with God is not dependent on background or status or staunch religious observance – but is about having a humble heart – and turning to God – and then seeking God’s loving friendship – as Jesus both described and demonstrated. Paul had discovered that a right relationship with God is not based on strict observance to a religious law code – but on faith in Jesus. It is not achieved by anybody – but is gifted by God – it’s called grace. It cannot be won by any words or actions or even good deeds – but can only be accepted in trust. For Paul, the only way to get into a right relationship with God is by taking Christ at his word – and by accepting what God, himself, offers: Acceptance, forgiveness, love and grace. Then and only then can we find that joy and that peace of God which passes all understanding. Let’s rejoice in our relationship with the Lord today.

 

Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

 

 

 

   

 

Saturday, 26 September 2020

Unity vs Disunity

 Readings

Philippians 2.1-4:

Christ's Humility and Greatness

Your life in Christ makes you strong, and his love comforts you. You have fellowship with the Spirit,[a] and you have kindness and compassion for one another. I urge you, then, to make me completely happy by having the same thoughts, sharing the same love, and being one in soul and mind. Don't do anything from selfish ambition or from a cheap desire to boast, but be humble toward one another, always considering others better than yourselves. And look out for one another's interests, not just for your own.

Matthew 21:23-32: The Question about Jesus' Authority

Jesus came back to the Temple; and as he taught, the chief priests and the elders came to him and asked, “What right do you have to do these things? Who gave you such right?”

24 Jesus answered them, “I will ask you just one question, and if you give me an answer, I will tell you what right I have to do these things. 25 Where did John's right to baptize come from: was it from God or from human beings?”

They started to argue among themselves, “What shall we say? If we answer, ‘From God,’ he will say to us, ‘Why, then, did you not believe John?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From human beings,’ we are afraid of what the people might do, because they are all convinced that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We don't know.”

And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you, then, by what right I do these things.

The Parable of the Two Sons

28 “Now, what do you think? There was once a man who had two sons. He went to the older one and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 ‘I don't want to,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. 30 Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. ‘Yes, sir,’ he answered, but he did not go. 31 Which one of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The older one,” they answered.

So, Jesus said to them, “I tell you: the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the Kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John the Baptist came to you showing you the right path to take, and you would not believe him; but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. Even when you saw this, you did not later change your minds and believe him.

Sermon

Unity vs Disunity

One of the great characteristics and conundrums with the Church, especially the Reformed Church, is its propensity for disunity; the readiness with which it splinters into factions that may then go on to lead to the formation of new denominations: For instance in the year 2000, the Free Church of Scotland split into two separate entities - the Free Church and the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing). Ostensibly, the divide was over the alleged sexual impropriety of a professor at the Free Church College – but deeper theological tensions over levels of adherence to the Westminster Confession of Faith may also have been at play. So, there are now two denominations both claiming the physical assets and true heritage of The Free Church tradition. I don’t know if this dispute has, as yet, been legally resolved. Of course, we’re the Church of Scotland - and the C of S has been involved in the coming together of ecclesiastical bodies such as the 1929 union of the United Free Church and the Auld Kirk to form the present day National Church. However, there are still forces within the contemporary National Church which threaten its unity. The recent and ongoing debates over human sexuality represent a case in point – and sadly, some congregations and ministers have left the C of S because they consider the Church’s recent stance to be too liberal. To me, that’s a tragedy both for them and for the Church. Personally, I think the C of S is a broad church – broad enough and gracious enough to hold together, in Christian love, many shades of opinion – even when we find it hard to agree. There were similar debates about the ordination of women both to the eldership and then to the ministry in earlier periods in the church’s life. Such debates may be for church courts rather than church pulpits – but they do remind us, though, that the danger always exists for disunity to win the day. It seems to me that we should always tend to focus on what unites us rather than what divides us as Christians; but perhaps that’s just too simplistic and too optimistic an approach in the real world. It’s a sign of our sinfulness – and of why we need a Saviour.

 

So, let’s look at what the Apostle Paul has to say on the vexed topic of unity – remembering of course that the one great danger which threatened the Philippian church was that of division and disunity. Indeed, there is a sense in which that is the danger inherent in every Christian fellowship or denomination. It is when people are initially truly staunch in their faith and that morphs into entrenchment, that they are apt to get up against each other: The greater their zeal, the greater the danger that they may collide. It is against that danger Paul wishes to safeguard his friends.

In verses 3 and 4 of Philippians 2 he gives us the three great causes of disunity: He says firstly, there is selfish ambition - that’s where people in churches work to advance their own cause, rather than that of the church. Any organisation that has structures where people are placed in positions of responsibility and authority are open to such dangers. Yet if we look to history, we find it extraordinary how time and time again many of the great figures of faith almost fled from office in the anguish of the sense of their own unworthiness. Take John Knox – when the preacher in the pulpit in St. Andrews summoned the great reformer to the ministry, Knox was horrified – he didn’t think he was fit for such high office. The same happened, of course, with some of the great Old Testament figures such as Moses or Jeremiah. Far from being filled with ambition, these great figures of the past were filled with a sense of their own inadequacy and unworthiness. Perhaps there should always be a sense, not of false modesty, but of our own unworthiness to serve in whatever capacity God’s call comes to us; coupled also with the trust that God will give us what we need to fulfil his calling: You know, if we know our own weaknesses, we will also know our need to rely on the unfailing strength and mercy of God.

Paul then identifies what he calls the cheap desire to boast. We might describe this as the craving for personal prestige. Prestige is for many people an even greater temptation than wealth. To be admired and respected, to have a seat at the top table, to have your opinion sought; to be known and be the centre of attention, are for many people most desirable things. But the aim of any Christian whether preacher or not; is that people should point not to them; but that through them people should be orientated towards Jesus. Christians should do good deeds, not that people may glorify them, but that they may glorify Our Father in heaven, the Lord our God. Christians should strive to focus people’s eyes not upon themselves but on God. The final and perhaps most poignant title of the Bishop of Rome is ‘Servant of the Servants of God’.

And thirdly, Paul says: “look out for one another’s interests, not just your own”. Here he identifies the danger of obsession with self. If a person is forever concerned first and foremost with their own interests, they are bound to constantly wrangle and tussle with others. If, for them, life is a competition whose prizes they must win at all costs, they will always think of other human beings as enemies or at least as opponents who must be pushed out of the way.

Present day society is so much like that, or at least it was before Covid-19, it was so often dog eat dog out there. The only way you could get on was by trampling over others in the process – by constantly putting others down. Concentration on self inevitably means elimination of others; and the object of life becomes not to help others up but to push them down. That’s the world but it shouldn’t be the Church. Maybe, Covid-19 has taught us a levelling lesson – that service to others is finer than constantly promoting ourselves.

Fundamentally, our values must be those of Christ – which means lives lived in love and adoration for God; and love and respect for our neighbours. This is the topsy-turvy world of the Christian Church: The first shall be last and the last, first!

So how does Paul respond to the threat of disunity in the Philippians Church? Well he says in verse 1“Your life in Christ makes you strong” No-one can walk in disharmony and disunity with their fellow believers and in harmony and unity with Christ. A person’s relationship with their fellow human beings is no bad indication of their relationship with Jesus. The sort of person who constantly fights with the world maybe must look at themselves rather than to the weaknesses and inadequacies of others. Secondly, Paul says “His love comforts you”. In other words, the power of Christian love should keep us in unity. Christian love is that level of good-will which cannot be defeated or subverted; which knows no bitterness and never seeks anything but the good of others – even those who dislike us, who seek to harm us, those whom we do not like – and those whom we consider unlovely. It is surely one of the hardest of Christian ethics to put into practice and many of us including myself struggle with it. Love is the very essence of the Christian life; and it affects us in time and in eternity. Paul then goes on to say: “And you have kindness and compassion for one another” Society cannot function where people are constantly at each other’s throats. Where that is the case, society breaks down and enmity, violence and war are the result. Likewise, wherever in Churches there is a lack of kindness or compassion, then unity crumbles.

Ultimately, disunity breaks the very structure of life. Paul’s final appeal is the personal one: “I urge you, then, to make me completely happy by having the same thoughts, sharing the same love, and being one in soul and mind.” There can be no happiness in any situation where love is excluded; and unity is undermined. Love is that accent which must ever be the characteristic of every Christian and every Christian fellowship: For it is the ultimate accent of Jesus and the defining characteristic of God; and it is what ultimately conquers all causes of disunity and division. And so, let us learn to live in love and serve in unity as committed followers of the Lord, today and every day.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

 

 

Saturday, 19 September 2020

The Outrageous Grace of God

Readings

Exodus 16.2-15

There in the desert they all complained to Moses and Aaron and said to them, 
“We wish that the Lord had killed us in Egypt. There we could at least sit down and eat meat 
and as much other food as we wanted. But you have brought us out into this desert to starve 
us all to death.”The Lord said to Moses, “Now I am going to cause food to rain down from 
the sky for all of you. The people must go out every day and gather enough for that day. In 
this way I can test them to find out if they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they 
are to bring in twice as much as usual and prepare it.”So Moses and Aaron said to all the 
Israelites, “This evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt. 
In the morning you will see the dazzling light of the Lord's presence. He has heard your 
complaints against him—yes, against him, because we are only carrying out his instructions.” 
Then Moses said, “It is the Lord who will give you meat to eat in the evening and as much 
bread as you want in the morning, because he has heard how much you have complained 
against him. When you complain against us, you are really complaining against the Lord.”
Moses said to Aaron, “Tell the whole community to come and stand before the Lord
because he has heard their complaints.” 10 As Aaron spoke to the whole community, they 
turned toward the desert, and suddenly the dazzling light of the Lord appeared in a cloud. 
11 The Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the complaints of the Israelites. Tell them that 
at twilight they will have meat to eat, and in the morning they will have all the bread they want.
Then they will know that I, the Lord, am their God.”13 In the evening a large flock of quails 
flew in, enough to cover the camp, and in the morning there was dew all around the camp. 
14 When the dew evaporated, there was something thin and flaky on the surface of the desert.
It was as delicate as frost. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they didn't know what it was and 
asked each other, “What is it?”Moses said to them, “This is the food that the Lord has given 
you to eat.

Matthew 20:1-16: The Workers in the Vineyard

20 “The Kingdom of heaven is like this. Once there was a man who went out early in the morning to hire some men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them the regular wage, a silver coin a day, and sent them to work in his vineyard. He went out again to the marketplace at nine o'clock and saw some men standing there doing nothing, so he told them, ‘You also go and work in the vineyard, and I will pay you a fair wage.’ So they went. Then at twelve o'clock and again at three o'clock he did the same thing. It was nearly five o'clock when he went to the marketplace and saw some other men still standing there. ‘Why are you wasting the whole day here doing nothing?’ he asked them. ‘No one hired us,’ they answered. ‘Well, then, you go and work in the vineyard,’ he told them.

“When evening came, the owner told his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, starting with those who were hired last and ending with those who were hired first.’ The men who had begun to work at five o'clock were paid a silver coin each. 10 So when the men who were the first to be hired came to be paid, they thought they would get more; but they too were given a silver coin each. 11 They took their money and started grumbling against the employer. 12 ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘while we put up with a whole day's work in the hot sun—yet you paid them the same as you paid us!’ 13 ‘Listen, friend,’ the owner answered one of them, ‘I have not cheated you. After all, you agreed to do a day's work for one silver coin. 14 Now take your pay and go home. I want to give this man who was hired last as much as I gave you. 15 Don't I have the right to do as I wish with my own money? Or are you jealous because I am generous?’”

16 And Jesus concluded, “So those who are last will be first, and those who are first will be last.”

The Outrageous Grace of God

(Exodus 16:2-15 & Matthew 20:1-16) 

 In today's reading from Exodus chapter 16, we find the Children of Israel continuing their exodus journey: Having fled slavery in Egypt, they now find themselves wandering in the wilderness – in an unfamiliar and uncertain world: Food and drink are running short. It's a familiar story of many refugees who have been forced to flee their homes and their land – often at the brutal hands of others – and thus to find themselves destitute in unfamiliar surroundings. This desperate situation forces the people of Israel to wonder if they would have been better to have eaten the bitter bread of slavery than to now languish in the wilderness – free – but famished – and facing death. So, they start grumbling – ostensibly against Moses and Aaron – but ultimately against God.

 Can we understand this? Have any of us ever been in that situation? I doubt it. Maybe our experiences cannot allow us to truly empathise with what is means to be a displaced people. But perhaps we do know what it means to complain against God – when the physical and emotional circumstances of life conspire to give you a hard time – and God seems to be oblivious and thus becomes the obvious target of dissatisfaction. However, in this desperate situation, God does provide. In spite of the People’s negativity, God provides. There, in the wilderness, where death should have been expected, God offers life. It’s a sign of God’s grace – grace given to a people who were ostensibly ungrateful and disobedient – and who yet are still recipients of unmerited generosity.

At one level, people have a short memory; it didn't take them long to forget that God had saved them once before; and so it becomes more difficult to understand the lack of gratitude of a people who have witnessed powerful expressions of God’s mercy and generosity so recently in their past. But maybe we shouldn’t judge them too harshly. For here, also, we are reminded that the desert is always a testing place – at least metaphorically – and change is nearly always a journey through the desert – as it were; and change comes in many ways – physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally – and intellectually. There is safety in what has always been. The unknown always carries uncertainty, worry and risk. You might think that given our knowledge of the God of the Bible we might be better equipped to be embracers of change. But we, too, are as tested and in need of daily reassurance as we have always been. The desert may be a necessary part of the journey to the ‘promised land’ for every generation – but every person and every spiritual community – in order to cope with this – needs to rediscover reliance on the Lord – and to draw near to the life-giving presence of the Lord – needing spiritual as well as physical food and drink for the journey.

It is also worth noting that the imagery of this story of grace, though cloaked in the miraculous, is resolved by ordinary means: It’s through the provision of food – of daily bread in the form of manna – that the people are saved. The food is illustrative of God’s desire to feed both a physical hunger but also a deeper spiritual need. God is a God who not only saves as a one-off event; but who journeys with his people – and whose saving grace continues constantly to provide for them – for us – physically, spiritually, and in so many other ways. Such people in no way merit such providence – it is a gift of love and grace alone.

If grace is at the heart of this story; so, it is central to our Gospel lesson also: The parable of the labourers in the vineyard needs very little explanation in one sense – for it tells us of God’s radical and – for some – outrageous grace. What do we mean, outrageous? Well this parable is not about a fair wage for a fair day’s work; nor is it handbook on workplace relationships or on good working practices. The parable is not about fair play – indeed, it seems to describe a situation which is inherently unfair: Why should people hired late on in the day be paid the same as those who were taken on at the beginning of the shift? No, it’s not about such things – it’s fundamentally about God’s grace, which does not rest on long hours worked – which, like the manna in the Desert incident, does not rest on merit.

 However, the parable forces us to reflect on our response to the story. What do we think or feel towards the vineyard owner, and the workers who have borne the heat of the day as they worked, and the workers who were hired at the eleventh hour?  Do we feel with the former group their sense of indignation?  Do we feel as 'good' Christians that we deserve a richer fuller reward then those who have just recently come to faith? And what of those who have been wicked all their lives, yet still for whom Christ died, and who yet might know the salvation of God?

 

Grace is a word we cherish within the Church – for it has to do with God’s mercy towards undeserving people. However, if we overuse it, or misunderstand its radical nature, we can be in danger of devaluing it.

Grace does not equal permissiveness – it doesn't give us carte blanche to do what we like. Grace challenges our understanding of God – who is outrageously self-giving, and our understanding of ourselves – who are totally undeserving; and our understanding of our neighbour whom Christ commanded us to love and for whom Christ died.

 God’s grace is a consistent Biblical theme – it's found in the story of Jonah when God spared Nineveh; it's found, in the parable of the self-righteous Pharisee at prayer observing the ‘sinful’ tax collector; and of course, it’s found in the parable of the Prodigal Son – which should really be called the parable of the Gracious, Forgiving Father. Divine grace is to be seen not as a reward but as God’s free gift to all who turn towards God or back to God. Grace is nevertheless costly, and far from sentimental. Christ died that we might know God's grace. Moreover, to be ourselves gracious to others, means sometimes we must swallow both our pride and our seemingly natural sense of justice.

 This parable about grace challenges our sense of what is right and wrong. Politicians often talk about the appropriateness of hard-working families being rewarded. Moreover, from childhood we are told we will be rewarded if we behave well and punished if we behave badly. However, this is not the theme of the parable – for grace doesn't work that way:  It's not about dispensing what is earned. Grace mirrors the gospel ethic itself which turns the values of the world on its head; and challenges what we perceive to be natural justice. With this parable, we are not being encouraged to use our good behaviour as a bargaining tool with the Almighty. The vineyard owner pays his workers not on the basis of their merits, but on the basis of his compassion. Viewed in that light, is such generosity unjust? Jesus believed in divine justice, but he had a greater belief in divine compassion. Our challenge is to imitate that generosity of grace and compassion and not begrudge it. God’s goodness is for all – for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. There is no hierarchy in God’s favour and God steadily refuses to choose between his children – all of whom are equally loved. Our challenge is to mirror this in our own lives. Let us, then, chose the values of the Kingdom rather than the ways of the world.

Thanks be to God. Amen. 



 

Saturday, 12 September 2020

The Journey(God with us)

 Readings

Exodus 14:19-31: Crossing the Red Sea

The angel of God, who had been in front of the army of Israel, moved and went to the rear. The pillar of cloud also moved until it was 20 between the Egyptians and the Israelites. The cloud made it dark for the Egyptians, but gave light to the people of Israel,[a] and so the armies could not come near each other all night.

21 Moses held out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind. It blew all night and turned the sea into dry land. The water was divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with walls of water on both sides. 23 The Egyptians pursued them and went after them into the sea with all their horses, chariots, and drivers. 24 Just before dawn the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw them into a panic. 25 He made the wheels of their chariots get stuck, so that they moved with great difficulty. The Egyptians said, “The Lord is fighting for the Israelites against us. Let's get out of here!”

26 The Lord said to Moses, “Hold out your hand over the sea, and the water will come back over the Egyptians and their chariots and drivers.” 27 So Moses held out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the water returned to its normal level. The Egyptians tried to escape from the water, but the Lord threw them into the sea. 28 The water returned and covered the chariots, the drivers, and all the Egyptian army that had followed the Israelites into the sea; not one of them was left. 29 But the Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground, with walls of water on both sides.

30 On that day the Lord saved the people of Israel from the Egyptians, and the Israelites saw them lying dead on the seashore. 31 When the Israelites saw the great power with which the Lord had defeated the Egyptians, they stood in awe of the Lord; and they had faith in the Lord and in his servant Moses.


Matthew 18:21-35: The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, if my brother keeps on sinning against me, how many times do I have to forgive him? Seven times?”

22 “No, not seven times,” answered Jesus, “but seventy times seven,[a] 23 because the Kingdom of heaven is like this. Once there was a king who decided to check on his servants' accounts. 24 He had just begun to do so when one of them was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. 25 The servant did not have enough to pay his debt, so the king ordered him to be sold as a slave, with his wife and his children and all that he had, in order to pay the debt. 26 The servant fell on his knees before the king. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay you everything!’ 27 The king felt sorry for him, so he forgave him the debt and let him go.

28 “Then the man went out and met one of his fellow servants who owed him a few dollars. He grabbed him and started choking him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he said. 29 His fellow servant fell down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back!’ 30 But he refused; instead, he had him thrown into jail until he should pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were very upset and went to the king and told him everything. 32 So he called the servant in. ‘You worthless slave!’ he said. ‘I forgave you the whole amount you owed me, just because you asked me to. 33 You should have had mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you.’ 34 The king was very angry, and he sent the servant to jail to be punished until he should pay back the whole amount.”

35 And Jesus concluded, “That is how my Father in heaven will treat every one of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

Sermon 

 The Journey (God with us)

'Life is a journey; long is the road,' wrote Salvation Army General Albert Osborn in his song reflecting on John chapter 4 (as found in the Salvation Army Song Book [430]) – and we certainly get from our Old Testament reading today the sense of God's people being on the move – journeying in both faith and life – from a situation of slavery and oppression to, ultimately, a land of blessing to call their own. The passage we heard read is of course the well-known portion documenting the parting of the Red Sea as depicted in a number of epic motion pictures. We also learn from our Exodus reading that God sometimes leads his people down the long road for their own sakes. But every step of the way the Israelites are certain of the nearness of the Lord.

The fact that verse 19 speaks of an angel of God who has been travelling with Israel’s army tells us that, in this case, God chose to accompany the Israelites on their journey with a concrete manifestation of God’s own presence. When we come to verse 21, and later again in verse 26, we see the Lord commanding Moses to 'stretch out' his hand in order to implement the action of parting and rejoining the waters. Of course, the action of Moses is a display of the way God’s Spirit can work through individuals in order to produce something truly amazing.

This particular miracle is an example of God's presence working through the faithful obedience of others; particularly leaders and teachers. Perhaps if we let him, God might even be able to work through us – admittedly not perhaps to part a great sea – but to enable us to accomplish something positive in the world in his name – however small – to bring even just a flicker of light into a world that’s blighted by so much darkness – especially in the midst of a brutal pandemic – that shows no signs of going away. For every such act, however apparently insignificant it may seem, is a minor miracle, in itself.

We can note also in verse 21 the mention of a 'strong east wind' as the way the waters were held back. While some scholars look on this as a natural phenomenon it is unlikely that the Israelites saw this happening as a purely natural thing. There would be no question in their minds that God is more than capable of using the force of the nature God created. This reminds us that God is what we call transcendent – that although God created the natural world – and gave life to all within it – including our own lives – through whatever process that came about – that God is also above a beyond creation – indeed is above and beyond all things. That we are able to know anything at all about God is in itself a miracle and a gift of his grace – and the greatest expression of this grace is Jesus – who came in the flesh to show us, in person, what God is like: And we know from Scriptures – that God is love and that those who dwell in love, dwell in God and God in them.

This Exodus passage, in fact, brings us to the conclusion of Egypt's rule over the Israelites – and actually to the climax of where the first 14 chapters of the book of Exodus have been taking us. After Pharaoh, had let the people go, God leads Israel out on the long rather than the short route to avoid conflict with the Egyptians (13:17). God then chooses to harden Pharaoh's heart (14:4) in order that the Egyptians will have the opportunity to learn that God is indeed Lord. Moses, confident in the presence of God with them in all the danger to come, wisely instructs the Israelites not to be afraid but instead to 'stand their ground' knowing that God will fight for them (14:13-14).

As we said, the Israelites are certain of the nearness of the Lord. I guess in our lives too we should have the faith to know the near presence of God – and rejoice in that – and find encouragement and safety and strength in that – and in the knowledge that – if we are faithful – God will fight for us too: That God is on our side – at least on the side of those who do what is right in God’s sight – those who are honourable, decent and dependable.

Of course, the presence of God can be found in our midst every day. We can see it in God’s handiwork; in the wonder of creation, in the awesome beauty of the natural world, in the power of the elements, in the creativity and intelligence of human beings who are made in the very image of God. We can see it in the vital work of scientists and researchers who are striving to find a cure for Covid-19. We can find the presence of God through God’s people, the faithful who have passed on great scriptural truths and have led others to faith in Jesus. We can see it in the very people who led us to faith, who have prayed for us in life and supported us spiritual, physically and emotionally when we needed it. God sometimes works in mysterious ways, but let’s not, by the same token, allow the everyday ways that God works in our lives, go unnoticed. For these too, are manifestations of God’s presence.

This presence of God – this blessing of God – does not imply that life for us will always be a bed of roses. We are imperfect beings in an imperfect world – indeed, in a presently ravaged world – that’s why we need a Saviour. Challenges and obstacles often come our way, we know joys and sorrows – this is in the nature of humanity. As we said, sometimes God leads us the long rather than the short way – the arduous rather than the easy path – often to protect us! But, we know from passages such as this one from Exodus, that whatever we face, we face it in the strength and presence and love of God.

If we now move on to our New Testament passage, the verses there remind us of the danger of becoming distracted from the presence of God. We well know that intolerance and especially lack of forgiveness can turn us away from the joy of walking with the Lord and can stop us listening fully to what God desires for us. Through this we risk becoming bitter and twisted people. I know people who feel embittered by life and it’s a corrupting, negative, nasty thing.

The passage we heard read from Matthew concerning the subject of forgiveness comes towards the end of Jesus’ ministry and in the previous chapter there has been a particular focus on teaching the disciples, in order that they may teach others after his death and resurrection. Here, Peter wanted a rule to obey when it came to forgiveness; a clear directive as to how many times he should forgive the same person. It is difficult to respond to the negative actions or behaviour of others, particularly when we are directly affected. We know we should forgive, but to what degree? Where is the limit to our forgiveness? What is the extent of the situations in which we find ourselves having to forgive?


In the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, the amount owed in the first instance was, by all accounts, a pretty enormous sum – the Good News Bible describes it as millions of pounds. Traditionally the sum has been described as ten thousand talents; the largest Greek numeral and the largest unit of currency. One talent was a small fortune, but ten thousand was almost inconceivable. The second sum owed, is described in comparison as being a few pounds. Traditionally it is rendered as one hundred denarii which was around one hundred days’ wages; significant but not unimaginable. In comparison, the second man owed but a tiny fraction of the first and there was no forgiveness offered.

God’s grace is as unimaginable as owing ten thousand talents or millions of pounds and having the debt paid for us. At great cost, God has forgiven us in order to re-establish a relationship with us. Therefore, it is expected that as we have been forgiven by God, we will forgive others for their significantly lesser debts against us. If we do not, then we suffer the consequences; not only of emotional stress and relationship breakdown, but of separation from God.

If we forgive, because we have been forgiven by God, we find that the consequences are just as significant. Our fellowship is strengthened, we share a mutual understanding and can build the Kingdom in the places we find ourselves. As we share in the Lord’s Prayer together as a congregation of God’s people – week by week – sharing our faith journey together, we are reminded to ‘forgive our debts, as we forgive our debtors’. It is vital that by our payers and our actions, we maintain our communion with God to keep walking in God’s way daily.

In concluding then we can say that God revealed himself in a concrete way in Exodus through various signs of his presence – the appearance of an angel, and the pillar of cloud and fire – but to many, the concrete way God reveals God’s self today will be through the testimony of the lives of people like us.

One of the ways we might do that is considering our lifestyle choices and whether they truly reflect a Godly care for creation – for the world and the people around us. Living as a good steward of God’s creation can be a powerful witness to others and encourage a change in attitudes that words alone cannot manage.

As a constant companion on life's journey, God teaches us that we are loved and forgiven and that in turn, we should love and forgive too. People will see the presence of God with you and me by the love that we show through word and deed, and come know that they too have been in the presence of God.

Let’s reveal that presence as faithfully and lovingly as we can, today and every day.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

 

Saturday, 5 September 2020

Remembering Deliverance


Readings

Exodus 12:1-14: The Passover


The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron in Egypt: “This month is to be the first month of the year for you. Give these instructions to the whole community of Israel: On the tenth day of this month each man must choose either a lamb or a young goat for his household. If his family is too small to eat a whole animal, he and his next-door neighbour may share an animal, in proportion to the number of people and the amount that each person can eat. You may choose either a sheep or a goat, but it must be a one-year-old male without any defects. Then, on the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, the whole community of Israel will kill the animals. The people are to take some of the blood and put it on the doorposts and above the doors of the houses in which the animals are to be eaten. That night the meat is to be roasted, and eaten with bitter herbs and with bread made without yeast. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled, but eat it roasted whole, including the head, the legs, and the internal organs. 10 You must not leave any of it until morning; if any is left over, it must be burned. 11 You are to eat it quickly, for you are to be dressed for travel, with your sandals on your feet and your walking stick in your hand. It is the Passover Festival to honour me, the Lord.
12 “On that night I will go through the land of Egypt, killing every first-born male, both human and animal, and punishing all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord13 The blood on the doorposts will be a sign to mark the houses in which you live. When I see the blood, I will pass over you and will not harm you when I punish the Egyptians. 14 You must celebrate this day as a religious festival to remind you of what I, the Lord, have done. Celebrate it for all time to come.”

Matthew 18:15-20


When Someone Sins

15 “If your brother sins against you,[a] go to him and show him his fault. But do it privately, just between yourselves. If he listens to you, you have won your brother back. 16 But if he will not listen to you, take one or two other persons with you, so that ‘every accusation may be upheld by the testimony of two or more witnesses,’ as the scripture says. 17 And if he will not listen to them, then tell the whole thing to the church. Finally, if he will not listen to the church, treat him as though he were a pagan or a tax collector.

Prohibiting and Permitting

18 “And so I tell all of you: what you prohibit on earth will be prohibited in heaven, and what you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.
19 “And I tell you more: whenever two of you on earth agree about anything you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them.”
Reflection

Remembering Deliverance
Last week we looked at the Burning Bush story – where God called Moses to free his people from slavery in Egypt. However, due to Moses’ protestations, God agreed to send his brother Aaron with him to be his spokesman. So, Moses took his family, met Aaron on the way, and went back to Egypt. They went firstly to the Hebrew people and got their leaders together and told them of the Lord’s plans. The Hebrew people believed them and bowed down and worshiped the God who had heard their cries. So, the first obstacle was overcome, that Moses had no credibility with his people – because he had grown up in Pharaoh’s household.
The next stop is an audience with the Pharaoh. Remember that the Pharaoh who had ruled while Moses was growing up had died. We could reasonably assume that the new Pharaoh was a son of the old one and that he and Moses would have known each other growing up, but the bible doesn’t actually say that. Anyway, they came before Pharaoh with this message: “The LORD, the God of Israel says, ‘Let my people go, so that they can hold a festival in the desert to honour me.’”  Pharaoh replied, “Who is this God, that I should heed him and let Israel go? I do not know this God, and I will not let Israel go.”  Pharaoh knew nothing of the God of Israel. His name, now normally written as Yahweh, but in previous generations written as Jehovah, meaning ‘I am’ would not have been among all the names of the gods he knew, and he had no reason to fear the consequences if he did not do what was asked. As far as he could see the Israelites had no God who exerted any power.
Not only did Pharaoh not grant the request, he told the taskmasters to treat the slave labourers even more harshly. No more would straw for making bricks be provided, they would have to find it on their own – but they would still have to make the same number of bricks as before. Working harder would take their minds off wanting to follow Moses out to a religious gathering. Of course, when the slaves began experiencing this new reality, they were very angry at Moses and Aaron. All they had done was make matters worse for them. Moses complained to God, “Why have you mistreated these people?  Why did you send me here?  Since you sent me here their lot has got worse and you have done nothing at all to help them.” God told Moses what to say to encourage the slaves, but this time they were having none of it. It’s at this point that the infamous plagues begin. Nine times Moses and Aaron come before Pharaoh asking him to let them take the Israelites to the wilderness for a religious festival. Each time he says ‘no’ and they institute a plague. Each plague is terrible, and after a little while Pharaoh calls them in and asks them to pray to God to end it and he will let the people go to worship. They do so, but Pharaoh always changes his mind and decides not to let them go after the plague ends.
Pharaohs heart was hardened. God mercifully gave him nine chances before coming to the final fatal solution which was the death of the first-born. Death was a language the Egyptian Empire knew well. The Empire which had not thought twice about the killing of male Hebrew babies would never change unless it was visited with the same kind of devastation. After the ninth plague was ended God had Moses warn Pharaoh what the tenth plague would be if he did not allow the Israelites to go as requested: The firstborn of every Egyptian family and animal would die, and all his officials and people would then beg Moses to leave and take his people with him. But still Pharaoh refused to budge.
The stubbornness of Pharaoh is maybe not that surprising for he was operating under the philosophy that says, “if you give them an inch, they will take a mile” How could Egypt operate without slave labour?  How could slave labour be counted upon without total domination and submission? This is the mind set of despots – and Pharaoh is about to learn the hard way. He has been given chance after chance to do the right thing.  Now he is truly going to learn who God is and why he should fear him. And the Hebrews are truly going to learn who God is and why they should serve him. During the interlude of today’s reading, God turns to this task. He instructs Moses and Aaron both how to prepare for the night’s events and how to commemorate those events in the future. Each household is to slaughter a lamb. Some of the blood of the lamb is to be sprinkled on the lintel and doorpost of the home. This is the sign for the Lord to pass over these homes and not afflict them with the death of the firstborn. They are to roast the lamb and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs – perhaps to remind the Hebrews that this is a nasty and bitter business. They are to eat hurriedly and wear their sandals and have their staffs in their hands. When Moses and Aaron told the Hebrews all of this they bowed down and worshiped, then went and did just as they had been told. Sure enough, when midnight came and the angel of death passed over, great lamentation arose over Egypt. Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and ordered them to go and take all the people and their flocks and herds. The Egyptian people urged the Hebrews to leave quickly before all of them died. So, they left in haste in the middle of the night. 
What I would like to focus on from this story is how the seeds of remembrance are planted in the midst of the experience. Memory is so important to us, both individually and collectively. Egypt’s troubles in the Exodus story began with the fact that after 430 years they no longer remembered Joseph. They had forgotten the important role this Hebrew had played in the survival of their society, and the fact that his family was brought to live in Egypt as honoured guests due to their gratitude for Joseph’s contributions.  But that memory was lost, and the Hebrews came to be seen as outsiders, aliens, threats to Egyptian society. So, God carefully outlines for Moses and Aaron the shape of the future, the heart of which is remembrance. The first thing he tells them is that the Hebrews are to begin marking time from this moment. The month of the Exodus is to be the first month of the year, the first month of the rest of their life if you will. Time begins with God’s deliverance of Israel from bondage to freedom.
You know when Pharaoh is in charge of time, each day is a repetition of a drudgery that never seems to end. Past and future are just limitless extensions of an intolerable present full of pain and despair. However, when God controls time – then each day is full of hope and joy. The Passover celebrates Israel’s experience of God’s redemption, which turns the past into a fountain of celebration to which people can return annually in remembrance and turns the future into an open prospect that people can anticipate in hope. Sadly, many people are still living on Pharaoh’s time, seeing themselves trapped within a meaningless repetitive cycle of doing the same things day after day with no prospect of change. They are in need of an exodus, a deliverance from that mind set into the life of the God who makes all things new.  It is a shift from living in chronos, the Greek word for time as on a watch, to living in kairos, the fullness of God’s time which makes life worth living.
Another important memory is the slaughtering of a lamb and the placement of some of its blood on the doorposts. God’s deliverance is costly, there is a price to be paid. And though we sometimes might feel we are nothing more than powerless slaves or small cogs in a big impersonal machine called society, God is paying attention and can bring down whatever power stands in the way of our liberation.
Then there is the whole remembered aspect of being ready to move when the Spirit says move. Sandals on, loins girded, staff in hand, that’s how the Passover meal is to be eaten because you might have to leave in a hurry. You eat unleavened bread because the Hebrews had to leave in haste. The Passover commemorates the way in which Israel had to flee Egypt quickly, before they had time to put yeast in their dough. This signifies that God’s deliverance, which sometimes seems as though it will never come, can then come so quickly that there is no time to prepare for it. You just have to pick up what you have to hand and move forward in haste and in faith.
For Jewish people, the Passover becomes an annual sacred meal with significance to every element of it. That the Passover meal is still celebrated 3,000 years later is testimony to the power of such sacred meals to keep memory alive. Egypt had forgotten Joseph in 430 years. However, the people of God have not forgotten his name or how he brought his people out of Egypt with miracles and wonders and a mighty hand.         
And we remember another meal that was actually a celebration of the Passover, when Jesus and his disciples had their last meal together. It was the beginning of a new act of deliverance by God, and words were said about how it should be remembered. “This is my body, which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me. This is my blood, the cup of the new covenant, poured out for the forgiveness of sins. As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you remember and proclaim my death until I come again.” The next day the body of Jesus was broken and his blood was shed for a new exodus: the deliverance from sin and death. Yes, God’s deliverance is costly.
Sometimes in the humdrum of everyday life, working for our Pharaohs, we forget, the nature and price of God’s salvation – we plough on regardless – sometimes going in the wrong direction. Also, how easy it is to pray for help when the plagues come then go on our merry way with no changes when they leave? You know, people who want to live in the light need to know the importance of remembering – remembering who they are and whose they are. We are God’s people. He brought us out of slavery with a mighty hand. 
He brought us out of sin and despair by sending his Son to save us.  He is a God who delivers in this way not just once but time and time again. So, let us remember – let us remember whose we are and whom we serve. let us continue to share the stories of faith. Let us remember and celebrate our deliverance. And may we always know the joy of salvation. Thanks be to God. Amen.