September 7, 2020

MESSAGE – Sunday 6th September 2020

Remember, Restore, Renew

God’s Covenant in community

A vivid memory from childhood television viewing is the scene that always terrified me during my family’s annual viewing of the classic movie, “The Ten Commandments”: the Angel of Death passing over Egypt, killing every firstborn, bringing tragedy to every Egyptian household, including Pharaoh himself, but leaving the Jewish people untouched.

The young son of Pharaoh, a little boy, lying dead on a bier, with his father over him, a broken man.

After nine gruesome plagues, it was unfortunately necessary for God to strike Pharaoh at his heart, to “get him where he lives”–his beloved, firstborn son (in those days, they were even more precious than they are today, if we can imagine that).

You knew that, finally, the great king (the fearsome Yul Brynner) would listen to Yahweh’s demand, delivered by Moses (the formidable Charlton Heston) to “let my people go.” With this kind of material, it’s no wonder that it’s a classic film.

Remembering the story and how it speaks to our present predicament

Remembering the story – God the bringer of death? (Exodus 12.1-14) This week’s Exodus story stands, and we tell it, and remember it, again and again, year after year.

We do more than watch it re-enacted on the television screen by actors long dead. We Christians remember it in worship, in our churches, when we too gather for a meal to remember who God is, and to be reminded who we are, too.

Without minimizing the suffering anyone is experiencing right now during the COVID 19 Pandemic, we might draw some inspiration from the stories we have heard of our ancestors in faith.

From an intolerable present, filled with despair, under the heel of the Egyptian gods, the people are launched into a new beginning: God tells the people to begin each year with a remembrance of what  came before–their deliverance–and to ground their hope for the future in God’s protection and care.

Because this Exodus story is not just a story from long ago; the memory, and the worship, and the sense of God’s protection are living, vibrant, renewing and restoring, yet impelling us toward God’s future, here and now!

So, we look at this story in ways that included both the pain and the hope but also nurtured a deep trust in the goodness of God who is behind every story of redemption, mercy, and grace.

A living hope that renews, restores and impels.

Hank Langknecht suggests that the challenge within this worship may have something to do with not being ready to move: how can we be both a “pilgrim people” and a “settled community” with our buildings, our stability, our lack of mobility? We’re hardly girding up for a time in the wilderness!

A living hope that renews, restores and impels

And so, in the church, in our worship, we “gather” regularly, virtually, and with deep care, with great attention to detail, to remember who God has been and who God is in our life together, and to remember who we are because of who God is, and what God continues to do.

Why we tell the story again and again

Again, from Walter Brueggemann: when we tell this story and celebrate what God has done in the past, we “are indeed sojourners dreaming of a better land, filled with God’s abundance. The engaged memory of pain evokes hope for a transformed world. The children of this community cannot afford to be protected from either the pain or the hope.”

I wonder, then, when I look back on my childhood fears in hearing this story, how it might have been told more fully, in ways that included both the pain and the hope but also nurtured a deep trust in the goodness of God who is behind every story of redemption, mercy and grace.


Chapter 18 includes other teaching about hospitality, searching, and forgiveness

    • This passage is a part of Jesus’ response to their question, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  His answer is complex, and includes some of the most quotable lines of Jesus:
      • I assure you that if you don’t become like a little child, you will not enter the kingdom (18:3) – vulnerable and powerless (not innocent)
      • Whoever welcomes one such child, welcomes me. (18:5) – Jesus identified with the vulnerable, powerless and those who welcome them
      • If someone had a hundred sheep and one of them wandered off, wouldn’t he leave the ninety-nine on the hillsides and go search for the one that wandered off? (18:12) – God is not interested in Return on investment or the ends justifying the means- all people are valuable and everything is risked to save even one who is lost
      • Then our passage: “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and correct them…”
    • NEXT WEEK: Then Peter said to Jesus, “How many times should I forgive my brother?”
      • “Not just seven times, but rather seventy seven times.”
    • In other words, this passage is a part of a larger piece where Jesus is responding to the disciples’ question about greatness.
    • It comes immediately before he talks about the extravagance of grace and the power of forgiveness.
  • Conflict Resolution
    • The focus is not winning but reconciliation: “regaining a brother[sic]” v. 15
    • This is simply good sense.  Jesus is teaching “Thou shalt not triangulate,” and uses a simple premise found in Deuteronomy (one witness isn’t reliable), and applies it to a personal relationship, and how we live in community.
    • He is ordering the life of discipleship to be different from rest of culture.
    • Sin has consequences.  Unresolved sin must be addressed.  Sin must be honestly confronted.
    • Relationships
      • There is debate over the words “against you.”  This could be sins that are well known in the community, or sins that are about an interpersonal relationship.  Since the response is a interpersonal response, it seems as if the “against you” is appropriately included in the text.
      • Relationships that are loving must be honest.  Without authenticity, a relationship is no longer healthy.

Jesus is interested in the way we relate to each other, and this teaching reminds us that truthfulness is important.