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Advice about Advice and Life Savings

Today Mike Gill, one of our Vestry members led our service, and gave us the homily - some very good advice!!



August 30, 2020

RCL: Exodus 3:1-15; Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28

One thing I like about our Anglican service structure is that we always hear parts of the Old Testament, a Psalm, the New Testament and the Gospel in every Sunday service. It’s like we’re getting a well-balanced spiritual meal without specifically saying which is the meat, the vegetable, the fruit, the dairy. And I like that our readers, our “servers” if you will, are varied among the congregation, showing that God’s word is indeed directly with people, not just priests. What I’m often challenged with is understanding how the scriptures selected for a particular day were intended to pull together for some kind of lesson. Like this one. So I’ll try.

Our Exodus passage about Moses is today is rather lengthy so I think he’s the main character to discuss. The prior week’s reading was about Moses as the Israelite baby in the basket floating in the Nile. A lot has happened since then. Moses grew up in royal Egyptian household but then killed an Egyptian who was mistreating an Israelite. Moses ran away and reestablished his life as a shepherd, basically keeping a very low profile when God meets him in the burning bush.

After casting a passing glance at the burning bush, Moses decided to take a few moments to investigate. So he turned aside from his needy sheep to go check it out. God called his name, twice. Not just Hey You. Then even before being asked, God announced who He is. Already we have a learning point that we often rush past: Taking a few curious moments out of our ordinary life may let us see God an incredible way. Moses understandably hides his face but doesn’t run away like some of us would. So the conversation continues… God appeals to Moses’ heart for rescuing his fellow Israelites in Egypt. Moses probably wanted to cheer! Then God tells Moses that He will send him to Pharaoh. What a shock in the other emotional direction! Did you notice that God gave a command, not asked Moses if he would please go?

Based on his past, Moses realizes his credibility would be incredibly low with Pharaoh/Egyptians, so he asked Who am I to do that? We don’t know if he’s really asking for evidence or if he’s trying to find a way to dissuade God from the idea. God offers his presence and even gives Moses a hopeful promise: a future of worshipping on that same mountain.

Though God has already stated who He is, Moses’ next question is what he should tell the Israelites about who sent him. The response: I am who I am. Or as many translations simply state: I AM. Moses was probably expecting a noun but received a perplexing state of being. Seeing Moses’s subtle attempt for personal comprehension, God repeats that He is God of Abraham/Isaac/Jacob, with the same name forever. Isn’t it interesting that Moses had asked Who am I about himself and God stated I AM because He is so sure.

Our Psalm is evidence that Moses did indeed go as God commanded. And the Israelites still celebrate that to this day. Christians do too. Moses has quite a story. But what today’s section of text leaves out is how the conversation continued in Exodus 3 and 4. I checked next week’s reading to be sure I wasn’t spilling the beans, and I’m not….in saying Moses continued to challenge God, even after receiving several miraculous signs as evidence, and then still asked God to please send someone else. God was angry, said he would send his brother Aaron as help, and that Moses was still going!

Remember that situation as we now turn for a moment to Peter in our Gospel passage. After all Peter has seen first-hand by being a follower of Jesus, professing that Jesus is the Christ, even being told that Christ’s church would be built upon him ….he also is not keen on Jesus announcement (aka God’s plan) and decides it’s best to give Jesus some strong advice. How wise is that? At least Peter took Jesus aside before he essentially embarrassed himself, because Jesus gave him an even stronger rebuke. Being called a stumbling block, even Satan? Jesus succinctly diagnosed the situation that Peter had his mind on human things. It’s not clear if Peter gave that opinion so Jesus would appear better, more glorious or victorious before the world….or if he had an element of self-protection in it, not wanting to be counted as a follower of a martyr….but the passage does not show that Peter doubted resurrection as a possibility with Jesus. Regardless, it was a human focus.

Wasn’t that Moses’ problem too? Though it does seem more obvious to me that Moses was more focused on himself than Peter. In asking God to send someone else, Moses put himself first.

Aren’t you glad that we have such human characters as Biblical examples to relate to? I can only imagine what kind of pointed questions I would have asked to demand specific evidence of God’s authenticity and plan. Or the responses I would have given to avoid excess responsibility.

To the chagrin of dumbfounded Peter, Jesus thought it best to use the situation as a lesson for all the disciples. If you try to save your life, you’ll lose it. But if you give it up for Christ’s sake, you’ll actually save it. All the world is not worth forfeiting one’s life. Another incredibly perplexing statement from the same great mind that said I AM! After some pondering, it does make sense, though there is undoubtedly some fear of what doing all that would entail. This reminds me of a saying that stuck with me a long while back: If I own anything that I cannot give up, then I don’t own it….it owns ME.

Moses and Peter are showing us that when we’re focused on ourselves, we are trying to save ourselves. And we have a tendency to challenge God, even giving Him advice after He has really shown Himself to us. God may not take too kindly to that, but He doesn’t just walk away from us with a Done With You attitude. No, he instead continues the Fatherly role to reel us in to what He wants to do. And that’s for our good. It may take us some time to see things His way, but this grows us personally and with Him. It’s what we were created to do and be.

I AM. Please find peace in that certainty, especially when life is so uncertain right now. Jesus has paid for all our past/present/future sins. Nothing shocks Him. And what’s more, the Holy Spirit lives inside us. We will find it much easier to reflect God’s love to other undeserving people when we ourselves realize we have been so blessed without justifiable reason. It’s incomprehensible, yet much appreciated.

That’s where I see our 2nd reading coming into the picture to weave all 4 of these passages together. Remember that I had a goal? The Bible is telling us that we really can enact those Christ-like qualities of losing our lives for His sake and in turn, finding their fulfillment. In fact, He’s already empowered us to do it. Just remember that whole process may start by taking a few moments to turn aside from the routine of life and letting Him adjust our perspective. Talk to Him, ask Him questions, knowing that it may be best if we don’t ever know all the answers to them. And maybe think twice about where our focus is before offering Him strong advice.

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