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Sunday, September 14, 2014

New creation

Pr. 14, Yr. A
Exodus 14:19-31
The Rev. Betsy Hooper-Rosebrook

     I want to be an Israelite. Not one of the whiny ones looking longingly back at slavery under Pharaoh as some sort of golden time--I'm gonna assume they were a vocal minority--but one of the rest of the host who were so grateful to have shed the shackles of their oppressors, those plagues a set of miracles if there ever was one. I want a pillar of fire to lead me by night and a pillar of cloud to have my back at day. I want the waters that threaten to engulf me to part down the middle and leave me with a comfortingly straight, dry path to traverse. I want to know I'm on the way to freedom, leaving behind all that enslaves me. I want someone to follow to the promised land.
     By contrast, I don't want to be an Egyptian. I don't want the horror and heartbreak of plagues and the death of those I love. I don't want to feel like I have to be in pursuit of others, and I don't want to feel like I'm on the wrong side of what's right. I don't want to have my wheels clogged by mud and debris, and I most certainly don't want to drown in chaos and wash up on the shore while my enemies exult.
     If only it was so clear, the good guys and the bad guys, and we all got to pick whose side we'd be on. That would be so easy. But we all know it doesn't happen that way. Sometimes good people become ensnared by chaos--of violence or poverty, disease or abuse, disaster or addiction, or simply because they were born in one place and time and not another--and they drown. And some people who act heinously, who show wanton disregard for the life and dignity of others, who think only of themselves and their own craven desires, sometimes they walk away unscathed. And almost all the time, the more closely we look, the harder it is to tell the good guys from the bad guys anyway. Some of the Israelites were probably gangsters and thieves, and some of the Egyptian soldiers men who just wanted to go home to quiet and peaceful lives with their families, every bit as far from Pharaoh's reach as the Israelites hoped to be.
     Amazingly, out of this chaos and confusion, God brings a new creation. Light once again appears in the darkness; the same ruach--the Hebrew for spirit or wind--that stirred over the waters of the deep in Genesis blows mightily again here; and God separates the waters from the dry land. Exodus is no less than a new creation; the power that once brought something out of nothing now brings the new life of freedom out of the darkness of oppression. God has saved the Israelites and, by virtue of this miraculous crossing, transformed them into a new people on their way to the promised land.
     It's not neat and tidy, though; new beginnings in scripture rarely are. As the wind blows and waters ebb and surge, as the cloud obscures vision, as the mud begins to entangle the chariots and their riders, we can feel how dangerous this passage is.   The enormous magnitude of repression, of an old order, of sinfulness, requires an equally great force to break it. Though scripture is biased, for understandable reasons, toward the perspective of the "good" Israelites, the amount of violence and death in this whole Exodus saga is disturbing, and I can't justify it...but it does reflect the tumult and upheaval of complete change.
     It's the same struggle we have with the crucifixion and resurrection. Couldn't Jesus have died nicely in old age surrounded by predictably faithful and highly competent disciples, then shown up alive again a few days later to send them forth? We know--deep in our bones we know--that the power of the defeat of death and of the destruction of the oppression of sin, of all that separates us from God, wouldn't be adequately represented if God had taken that route. Our longing for new life comes out of the reality of what we know of life before resurrection, that it's not neat and tidy, that the good guys and the bad guys aren't easy to distinguish and don't get what they deserve, that sometimes chaos and darkness disorient us and mud and debris confound our every move. Jesus's victory has to overcome the weight of that version of life to truly be new life, the start of a new creation. We are both the children of Israel led out of bondage into the land of promise and the offspring of Pharaoh whose greed and brutality and thirst for domination get drowned in the Red Sea.
     As you come up for communion, lay your hand on this font, claim again this sign of the Red Sea through which we have passed. The Spirit moves over the water of baptism, and we're brought through death--not around, not over, but through death--to the new creation of the resurrection, following Jesus to God's promised land.

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Pr. 17, Yr. A
Exodus 3:1-15; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28
The Rev. Betsy Hooper-Rosebrook

     Seriously, what does God expect from humans? Peter, despite his best efforts, keeps getting it all wrong, and here Jesus is really taking him to task for his shortcomings and then going on with ridiculous demands about denying oneself and taking up a cross and losing one's life. Paul trots out a list of 30+ items detailing right behavior from wrong--anyone want the Cliff Notes version?--and yet this pillar of the faith elsewhere confesses he can't seem to do what's right and refrain from what's wrong, even when he wants to. Moses, by his own description in the next chapter of Exodus, says he's slow of speech and slow of tongue, and he certainly lacks confidence when God tags him. Plus what made God think that a good way to find a new leader was this weird burning bush trick? And that's just today's lessons; the bible has falls and floods, screw ups and sinners, denial and despair, and a whole lot of incompetent behavior. In our own lives, we have much the same experience, with our pain and sense of inadequacy or just plain insensitivity, our confusion and capacity to complicate things, our pride and our prejudices, our U-turns and wrong turns. Compared to God, we don't even live more than the blink of an eye. What on earth makes God think that humans are a wise choice for partners?
      Sure, we have our good days. Mary and Joseph say yes, Noah and Daniel remain faithful, midwives outwit a power hungry pharaoh, the beloved disciple stays nearby, and the Good Samaritan stops to help a person who reviles him. We befriend the lonely, care for the needy, support the bereaved, speak up for those who have been silenced, and strive to be peace-makers and justice-bearers. Those are all very good, but when I weigh them next to the aforementioned shortcomings, I'm still left wondering: why has God chosen us as partners in creation?
     Maybe it's because God is I Am Who I Am. God just is, and has been, and will be, and thus has the presence and patience to hang out with us. God doesn't need us to be good so that God will feel better or have a sense of personal fulfillment or for endorsement of the success of creation; God already contains all that and more within Godself. But God obviously wants interaction, wants relationship, wants reciprocal love; and, dare I suggest, also wants discovery? I imagine God saying, "I Am...and who are you?" with the same joyous wonder that we might experience looking at a young person and watching who she or he grows up to be. At the very heart of God's love shown to us in Jesus is an unconditional acceptance that also longs for us to be more ourselves, and encourages us to set down the parts of ourselves that separate us from God and to embrace who we are as God calls forth our being.
     God is still God whether we do well or totally goof up, whether we come through the fire or go up in flames. God has chosen to participate in a creation that has an element of unpredictability and that's messy...and humans are exhibit #1. When Moses says that he doesn't think God's plan to involve him is such a great idea, God doesn't try to convince Moses that he actually is qualified or that he shouldn't worry; instead, God tells Moses, "I will be with you." Not a vague presence in a vague way, but I--the God of your particular patriarchs and matriarchs--will be with you in the specific world you inhabit. I, the God of Peter and Paul, the God of Desmond and Rosa, the God of Michael and James, I will be with you…in Altadena and Ferguson and Montgomery and Soweto and Israel and Palestine and everywhere you go. Because I Am, you also shall be.
     When we're at our best--loving and prayerful and peaceful and hospitable and humble and all those good ways of being that Paul suggests--we may not need that assurance, but the very fact we're at our best suggests that somewhere deep within us we remember it. When we're at our worst or at our lowest, maybe knowing that I Am is with us, that God has chosen to delight in our company, that God is inviting us to be partners in the unfolding creation of the world, maybe knowing all that will help us get through to the next day or month or year. Maybe knowing all that will remind us of the holy ground on which we stand, all the time, because God is with us, all the time, and we will find ourselves able to respond with a calling to a holy life: “Here I am.”

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