Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18)
10 September 2023
Sermon By: Rev. Dr. Robin A. Reed+
Sunday Cycle of Prayer
The Church of Ireland
St. Timothy’s Church, Daytona Beach
Church of the Holy Presence, DeLand
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
God delivers us from slavery: do you obey or hardened your heart?
A few years ago, William P. Young, penned a book called The Shack. Perhaps you read the book or even saw the movie. The Shack is an important, and at times, painful story about healing, forgiveness, and redemption.
A man, Mac, receives a mysterious letter signed by “Papa,” the name his wife calls God, inviting Mac to wooden shack where his young daughter had been murdered the previous summer so Mac might discover who and where God is in the midst of tragedy and who he, Mac, was as a child of God.
In a favorite scene of mine Mac hears from the Jesus character before he walks on top of the water, across the lake by the shack. “You know” says the Jesus character “I am not a Christian, I am a Jew.”
You and I are not Jewish, we are Christians yet as I prayed over our Exodus lesson
I was reminded how often you and I can forget our spiritual identity is Judeo-Christian, for Christianity and Jesus have deep roots in Judaism.
Our story is intertwined in God’s story. THE Story which begins universally in creation and moves specifically in a Grand Narrative to the story of God’s chosen people, the Israelites who Jesus teaches to carry God’s message to all people who are beloved in God’s eyes, chosen and invited to become God’s people.
This morning’s Exodus lesson is the climax of the Jewish people’s time in Egyptian slavery as God breaks their chains and protects them from the plague of death. The Feast of the Passover, the most important Feast Day in the Jewish year created by God as an everlasting ordinance is to be celebrated and remembered.
Celebrating the Passover is like celebrating our Baptism when we profess Christ as our Lord and Savior, die with Christ to rise again and are set free in a community of love. Christian and Jewish spiritual journeys begin at Baptism and Passover, respectively.
The Passover story reminds us: God’s desire is to free the Jewish people and you and I today from whatever enslaves us. Will you trust and obey with your whole heart or harden your hearts in pride, like Pharoah?
The Exodus lesson fast forwards a few years in history. Moses refuses to go to Egypt five times, concedes and goes forth with his older brother Aaron to confront Pharoah to release their people. But Pharoah, whose heart was already quite callous, denies the brothers’ request to release the people. to worship their God in the wilderness, tightens the screws on the people even more snug that Moses people challenge him and Pharoah refuses to see the miracle God provides in Pharoah’s very own court.
Aaron and Pharoah’s wise men, sorcerers, and magicians throw down their staffs which God transforms into snakes and Aaron’s snake consumes all the Egyptian snakes! Pharoah’s heart becomes harder and harder and God launches not one, but nine plagues: blood, frog, lice. Flies, dead livestock, boils, hail, locusts and darkness, darkness for three days over the Egyptians while the Hebrews lived in the light.
Just before our lesson today God warns Aaron and Moses, who in turn warn Pharoah, there will be one last plague, the Lord will pass over at midnight and all first born children and animals in Egypt will die.
Yet again another warning and Pharoah takes no heed he closes the door of his heart for the people of Egypt, and Pharoah himself, considered he was divine, godlike and held life and death in his own hands.
As theologian Ellen Davis writes, God seeks to be known and shows up in the world in perceptible ways. If God’s desire to be known is not met with the human desire to know God, then the human heart hardens in opposition to God.
Pharoah had no interest in knowing God only reveling in what he believed was HIS power. But God sends a message to the Jewish people inviting them to know and to trust God more fully, to remember God is holy and wants to deliver them while holding them accountable for their sins.
Each house, each person is offered deliverance if they repent, trust God, and follow God’s specific instructions. Specific instructions for a complex meal, for a whole new nation sacrificing an unblemished lamb they had had in their home for 4 days to keep it pure, taking the blood and marking their doorposts, eating the meal reclining as free person dressed and ready to follow when God called wherever God went to, places known and unknown, the wilderness.
Now you and I know our all-knowing God did not need visual cues, the lambs’ blood on the doorposts to know whose heart was open, prepared and whose heart was closed and hardened. Offering a sacrifice and following God’s orders was and is for the people and for us to demonstrate we need God to deliver us and are willing to obey God even when the way seems confusing or challenging.
Centuries later, like the Jewish people, we too need the blood of our sacrificial lamb, we need Jesus. Jesus, the innocent sinless lamb of God gave his life to cover sins done and left undone, you and I and others have committed so that we might be healed, like the Jewish people, centuries ago from the ongoing wounds of violence and oppression and our own bondage to sin.
As Christians we no longer are required to perform animal sacrifices in church for God provided God’s own blood for that purpose. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, Jesus devout Jew that he was celebrated the Passover, a ritual which can be experienced as a “thin space,” as theologian NT Wright coins a place where the veil between heaven and earth, past, present, and future grows sheer a place where participants realize they belong to God’s story too.
Jesus, God’s innocent lamb no doubt realized at some point that he too was part of God’s story in a very unique way and he re-interpreted the Passover ritual just as he had re-interpreted the law in a new way at the Last Supper. Presiding with his disciples, presenting them with bread and wine symbolic of his pending sacrifice.
This is my body, this is my blood, do this in remembrance of me.
Today, each Sunday is a day of remembrance, remembrance of the life death and victory of Jesus Christ over death and the grave. As we come to God’s table we experience, like the Passover, a means of grace, a timeless intergenerational event where the veil between heaven and earth grows sheer and the cloud of witnesses who go before us celebrate with us around the altar.
Jesus is our host and THE host, the one who shapes our understanding of who we are as Judeo Christians and our place in the Passover and in God’s stories. Jesus is the lamb, the consecrated first-born of Mary & Joseph, God’s only Son — whose blood remains like the blood painted on the doorframes of houses in Egypt as an eternal sign for you and me.
Just like the Jewish people of long ago at the Passover we need the blood of Christ, we need Jesus for in the blood of Christ we are sheltered from oppression, forgiven of our sins, liberated from bondage, equipped with a story of redemption and set free to pursue works of reconciliation and love in the world.
Jesus did not die for a bunch of nameless, faceless people. As I emphasize each week in the Eucharistic prayer Jesus died FOR YOU and you and you and you and you and calls you to feed on HIM, his story, his words, his values in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving.
Jesus died for you, for me, for our sins and invites us to be baptized to return again and again to the communion rail to remember and pray to let go of our hearts’ hardened places, to surrender and let go and let God cleanse and feed us with the body and blood of Jesus Christ so we might follow and obey him even into the wilderness of our lives.
This morning I invite you to remember the Passover, remember the Exodus, remember the Holy Eucharist. The Holy Eucharist, the meal of grace where God is present in the thin space linking us with the past present and future, connecting us with God’s cloud of witnesses, remembering Jesus’s sacrifice and receiving His body and blood as He empower us to discern God’s will, let go of those hardened places in our heart and venture out with God often into the unknown to follow and serve him.
Cover Image: https://www.momsrising.org/blog/molding-the-hardened-heart