Sermons

Sermons From St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

Sermon for July 11, 2021 768 1024 johnpaddock

Sermon for July 11, 2021

Sometimes our liturgical formulations just don’t seem to fit with some scripture texts.

For example, Psalm 137 ends with this line: “Happy shall be he who takes your little ones, and dashes them against the rock.” And the proper liturgical response immediately follows: “Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.”

Today we heard Herodias’ daughter, Salome, say:

“I want you to give me the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. 

And then the Deacon said, “The Gospel of the Lord.” And we all replied, “Praise to you, Lord Christ.”

Not everything in the Bible is Good News or even comforting news. It’s just news. Some news is good; some of it’s bad; and some of it’s just plain grotesque. 

So, it seems to me that on some occasions we should instead of saying, “Glory to the Father,” “The Word of the Lord”, or “Praise to you, Lord Christ”, we should have the option of saying nothing . . . silence . . . as we contemplate evil and tragedy.  

Since I don’t have any idea about how to bring good news out of John the Baptist’s head on a platter, I’m not going to try. I can’t, as they say, put lipstick on a pig, and have it look like anything other than a pig.

So this seems like a good time to talk about the Bible. What it is. What it is not. How to think about it. 

Although we think of the Bible as a single book, one volume that you can hold in your hand, the title in koine Greek, common vernacular Greek that was spoken in the first century, the title is “ta Biblia”—“The books.” So the Bible is actually a library of books divided into three sections that we Episcopalians commonly call the Old Testament (39 books), The Apocrypha (13-19 books depending of which are included), and The New Testament (with its 27 books). Jews and Roman Catholics include the Apocrypha in the Old Testament. But because the Apocrypha was written in what we call the inter-testamental period, between the Testaments—Anglicans have traditionally grouped them in their own section. Many other Protestant groups don’t include the Apocryphal books at all. 

But the larger point is that the Bible is a whole library of books that are bound together in one volume. The earliest ones were written around a thousand years before Jesus was born and the latest were penned as late as 120 of the Common Era. They are the work of hundreds of authors and thousands of editors and scribes. The contents include folk tales and ancient myths; wisdom sayings, prose, poetry and songs; histories; prophecies; legal codes; liturgies; worship practices and requirements; gospels, letters, and apocalypses. 

Some individual books were written by multiple authors whose works were combined by later editors into a single book. In Genesis, for example, there are two creation stories, one right after the other, and they’re completely different. There are also two different Noah’s Ark stories that are not side by side, but have been interwoven into one by a clever editor. Hebrew scholars can distinguish them line by line, because the two were written hundreds of years apart. It’s like the difference between Elizabethan and modern English. 

The Bible was written in three different languages:  Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic—and unless we can read those ancient languages fluently, we read them all in translation. And as you know, some things get lost or added in translation. There are some Hebrew words that scholars don’t know the meaning of even to this day—depending on the version, there is either a blank or a wild guess.

None of these books were written to be “Holy Scripture.” Each author had a particular point of view, wrote in a particular time in history, and addressed a particular issue, concern, and audience. Some were the equivalent of today’s “paid political announcements”, stressing a highly partisan perspective, while others were written as refutations of the first. St. Paul, for example, never intended to write chapters for the Bible—rather, he wrote letters to the Romans, Ephesians, and the Corinthians, among others, to address contemporary matters and/or disagreements in those communities.

In fact, the first attempt to collect and distribute Paul’s letters was by a heretic named Marcion who, around 140 CE, edited out the parts he didn’t like, in the same way that Thomas Jefferson created a highly edited New Testament, removing the passages that he didn’t care for. The early church didn’t officially put together the New Testament as we have until 382 CE. Prior to that the only “Bible” they had was the Old Testament. And there was quite a debate about which books to include or not. The most highly contested was The Book of Revelation. In fact, no less a light than Martin Luther once commented that “The Book of Revelation is the most un-Christian book in the New Testament.”

What most of the books have in common is that their authors and editors were engaged in wrestling with God and what it meant to be a people of God. Sometimes they were highly complementary of the Divine and at others they complained about God and lamented their fate to him. Some wanted to dash the heads of the children of their enemies against the stones while others wanted to “love their neighbors as themselves.” Some contrasted the evil in the world like the beheading of the Baptist and the crucifixion of Jesus with the Holy Spirit’s call to live into resurrection life.

So it’s all there in the Bible, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Taken as a whole, it’s a vast range of material, gathered over millennia, that’s the record of people attempting to respond faithfully to God and the stories of their failures to do so. As one Rabbi once said, in that sense the Bible is brutally honest . . . a rarity among books of all kinds and especially among religious texts. 

Several cautions about the Bible. The first is what we might call bibliolatry—making the Bible into an idol that we then worship as a false God. We honor the Bible for what it is—but we don’t bow down to it. The Bible is never an end in itself but points beyond its pages to the Divine. 

A second caution is to understand that this book is inspired in the sense that the human authors were motivated by the Holy Spirit to write of their experiences and insights. But it wasn’t dictated by God. The Bible is not the words of God, but it can and does lead people to worship the One who is The Word of God, the Messiah, the Christ. 

A word about interpretation and understanding the Bible. Here are some questions that we should always ask about any particular book or passage.

  • Who wrote it and what was their perspective?
  • When was it written and to whom was it written?
  • What was the situation at the time?
  • How would the message of the text have been understood at the time?
  • And how has the Church interpreted it in different eras?
  • What application does the text have in our own day? 

All this is to say that the Bible is a complicated library. You do not have to have a theological education to read and understand it. But it does pay to have a good Interpreter’s Bible with introductions to each book and extensive commentary. I personally recommend The New Oxford Annotated Bible, New Revised Standard Edition with the Apocrypha, an Ecumenical Study Bible, Fully Revised Fifth Edition, published in 2018. There are many other resources to assist people who want to delve more deeply into the texts, and I’d be pleased to share some of those with anyone interested. But that’s beyond the scope of this sermon. 

I hope and pray that these remarks are a helpful summary to the books that form the bedrock of our faith. May God bless you and keep you.

Let us pray.

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

A Matter of Fair Balance 968 1024 johnpaddock

A Matter of Fair Balance

I invite you to ponder with me the relationship between religious faith and our country. We’re gathered here in church on a Sunday morning, as we contemplate and anticipate the Fourth of July celebration next Sunday. As one looks around this sanctuary, there are  American flags as well as crosses. So we here at St. Christopher’s believe that there’s a relationship. And the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag proclaims such a relationship as we say that we are “one nation under God.”

Of course, when things are going along rather smoothly, questions about God and country might not even come up. But when a former Attorney General of the United States quoted St. Paul to justify splitting up families and incarcerating infants, toddlers, and children, then lots of questions emerged. What should be the relationship between religion and the state? 

There is also idolatry that must be avoided at all costs, where folk can worship the symbols (crosses, flags, bibles) rather than the God and nation to which they point. 

These are not just questions for The United States—they’re being asked and wrestled with around the globe, where some predominantly Muslim countries are being encouraged to substitute Sharia law for the law of the state. Or in Israel where the extreme religious right is often the tail that wags the dog. In India, the current government favors Hindu religion over Islam. In other places there are clashes between religious groups. Which religious laws should predominate—if any at all?

Here in the US, we’re a melting pot of religions as well as various cultures and tongues. There are widely varying interpretations of Christianity. If we decide in favor of Christian guidance for the laws that govern our common life, which of those interpretations should prevail? Fundamentalism? Mainline Christianity? Roman Catholic? Or Mormonism? And within each of these groupings, we find wide varieties and variances. For example, Lutherans and Episcopalians don’t even agree on the wording and numbering of the Ten Commandments – not to mention that the commandments started off as Hebrew Laws; there’s nothing particularly “Christian” about them. Do we simply take a vote on each issue that might arise and follow the rule of the majority? And what about the losers of any such votes? Do they have any rights or recourse?

I don’t propose to resolve these very difficult questions in a short sermon. What I would like to suggest is that there are some considerations to keep in mind as we contemplate these matters—some values, if you will, that our faith brings to the table as we contemplate the relationship between civic and religious life. 

I take as a starting point some words of St. Paul to the Corinthians. He was asking them to give generously to an offering that would go for the relief of the Saints in Jerusalem who were experiencing a famine. He said that “ . . . it is a question of a fair balance . . . . “[1] He was referring to the fact that the Corinthians were rather well off while their sisters and brothers in Palestine were living in poverty. The concept of “Fair Balance” is a biblical value that St. Paul calls isotes, meaning equity or evenhandedness. It’s not that everyone has the same, but rather that everyone has enough: enough food, enough clothing, shelter, security, opportunity and so on.

Another form of fair balance involves justice. Think of the image of Lady Justice—blind-folded to suggest that the administration of justice should be without prejudice or bias. She’s holding a scale, indicating that justice is to be dealt out evenly to all. Justice is obviously a prominent biblical theme. Amos’ famous declaration: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”[2] Or Micah:  

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
   and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
   and to walk humbly with your God?[3]

So the law, and the administration of justice, is to be mitigated with kindness and mercy. No one expresses it better than William Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice:

The quality of mercy is not strained;

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:

‘T is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes

The throned monarch better than his crown:

His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,

The attribute to awe and majesty,

Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;

But mercy is above this sceptred sway;

It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings,

It is an attribute to God himself;

And earthly power doth then show likest God’s

When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, . . . 

Though justice be thy plea, consider this,

That, in the course of justice, none of us

Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;

And that same prayer doth teach us all to render

The deeds of mercy.[4]

Micah also reminds us to be humble. “Walk humbly with your God.” There’s nothing more dangerous than absolute certainty. No nation, no people, no state, no laws are perfect, and we Christians realize that we’ve been wrong before. We were wrong that the earth was flat, that the sun revolved around the earth, that we were created in perfection, that the Crusades were right and just. Many good Christians (some of them Anglicans even) wrote a Constitution with slavery enshrined in it. Just because something is the law does not automatically make it right. Some of us in this room can remember the battles against Jim Crow and legal discrimination. There are powerful forms of injustice embedded in our laws to this day. Humility and the related value of “hesitation to be too certain of our righteousness” are important and useful in community life.

Another value featured prominently in both the Old and New Testaments is hospitality—hospitality to the foreigner, the stranger, the alien. The Torah regularly reminded the Hebrews that they were once slaves and strangers in Egypt, and so they were to be vigilant to welcome those who would sojourn among them. Jesus was clear that those who welcomed the stranger welcomed him: welcomed the very image and being of God.  

A definition of democracy I learned in Junior High School was this: “Democracy is the rule of the majority with respect for the rights of the minority.” There may well be far better and more accurate definitions—but the idea of “respect for the rights of the minority” should never be lost. When that pillar of democracy wobbles, the whole structure is in danger of collapse into some form of totalitarianism. 

I don’t think that it was an accident that when we American Episcopalians last revised The Book of Common Prayer, we made one plank of the baptismal covenant the promise to respect the dignity of every human being. And I might add, without regard for whether they are in the majority or the minority.

And so we Christians, as we ponder our country, bring to our reflection these values. 

  • Fair balance, equity, evenhandedness, and enough for everyone
  • Justice seasoned by kindness and mercy
  • Humility and hesitancy to be too confident in our own righteousness
  • Hospitality, especially for the other and the stranger
  • And respect for the rights and the dignity of every human being.

The question of whether we should be a Christian, Moslem, Jewish or other religious state should be an obvious “NO.” The state should never be the monitor nor the enforcer of religious doctrine or orthodoxy. At her best our country will exhibit those values that are commonly held by what is best in all of the world’s great religions—and even by many non-believers who are ethical people of good will.

As we approach our national day of Independence this Fourth of July, I’m reminded of the words of the old folk singer Utah Phillips who used to say, “Love of country always; love of government when it deserves it.” And I might add, “An insistence that we live up to our most deeply held values—not just giving them lip service but working tirelessly to see them become the reality for all.

Let it be so.


[1] 2 Corinthians 8:13b

[2] Amos 5:24

[3] Micah 6:8

[4] William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene 1.

Sermon for the 3rd Sunday of Easter 580 427 johnpaddock

Sermon for the 3rd Sunday of Easter

“Peace be with you.” That’s the word of Jesus to his followers. “Peace be with you.”

But we’re not at peace.

We’ve been fighting this COVID-19 for over a year, and just as we get the vaccines to keep people healthy, we see the numbers of sick increase and the number of variants grow and new waves of infection spread around the world. The greatest spread here in the U.S. is among our neighbors in Michigan and Pennsylvania—Ohio’s numbers are growing. Too many people not wearing masks and distancing even while the new variants are demonstrating that they are far more contagious and dangerous to younger people.

“Peace be with you.”

But we’re not at peace. 

There’s another pandemic—a pandemic of gun violence. A graphic in yesterday’s NYT shows the number of mass shootings this year alone from Georgia to California, from Texas to Indianapolis. Many claim that the more guns we have the safer we are. The population of the US is approximately 330 million and the estimated number of guns in America is 434 million. We’ve got 104 million more guns that we have people. This should be the safest place on the planet if more guns were the answer. 

“Peace be with you.”

But we’re not at peace.

This week we observe Earth Day, number 51. Earth day is the annual reminder of the degradation of our environment and the rapid pace of global climate change. Despite all of the proclamations, the planet is in far worse shape today than it was in 1970.

Peace be with you. 

But there is no peace in a nation where there are, on average, three police shootings a day. That is too many. Justified or unjustified, we have got to work together as a people to find better ways to do policing in America. 

“Peace be with you,” says the Lord. This was not and is not a proclamation of what is . . . rather, it’s a prophetic call to action for us to create with passion the Divine will of God. It’s not enough to say, “Ain’t it awful,” and then go back to doing whatever it was that we were doing before. The call of the Gospel is a call for repentance and transformation.

For far too many people Christianity is all about getting to heaven.

This kind of thinking is alive and well. One can see it along the freeways. There’s a series of billboards asking, “If you died today, do you know where you would spend eternity?”  And there’s a display of the Ten Commandments as a kind of roadmap to help drivers locate the happy side of eternity.

But there’s another point of view in the Gospels and in subsequent Christian theology that thinks about sin in a very different way. Rather than understanding sin primarily as bad behavior that prevents us from getting to heaven, and rather than understanding the cross as Jesus substituting himself for our sins and paying the wages of sin with his own death—so that we can get to heaven—this other perspective isn’t even primarily about heaven. It’s not about ghostly spirits, wing-ed creatures, or wispy beings in lives and worlds beyond this one. It’s about earth, as you and I know and experience it. The death and resurrection of Jesus happens where the very real body of Christ has been broken — in this world and in this life. 

That’s the point of these post-resurrection stories about Jesus having people touch him, walk with him, eat with him. The Gospel writers were affirming that the risen Christ isn’t a ghostly apparition drawing us to an existence in another realm . . . the Christ, rather, is very much a part of this reality, and it’s here that we’re called into mission. It’s not that the afterlife is un-important, but we’ve got plenty to do right here and right now.

Christian theology affirms that Sin with a capital “S” is not so much about bad behavior as it is separation from God. So that’s what Jesus was doing when he came down from heaven and became incarnate among us. He is fully human and fully divine—in himself he brings humanity and God together. The theological term is atonement—at one ment.. No division between us and God. That’s why the writer of I John says, “No one who abides in him sins . . . .” It is not abiding, not being one with God, that is Sin. All bad behaviors are just symptoms of this root cause.

The early Christians talked about the stone rejected by the builders, which became the head of the corner or capstone in an arch. It was a metaphor to speak about Jesus, rejected and despised, whom God raised from the dead and made the center of human existence. In God’s economy, the rejected stones and the injured people are the ones to whom Christ’s broken body is offered.

The Christian life isn’t about escaping this world. It’s about transforming it—making it a residence for the Risen One . . . a residence that exists “on earth as it is in heaven.” 

And so we bring our message of God’s love and abiding in Christ to the world. We do that by sharing the message in our families, neighborhoods, places of work. We insist on letting leaders in business, government, and our local communities know about our aspirations for the Peace of God. Write letters, emails, texts, and make phone calls. Pay attention to the issues of the day and subscribe to EPPN, the Episcopal Public Policy Network and join your efforts with theirs.

I often hear anxiety that St. Christopher’s doesn’t have a signature outreach program like a food pantry, clothing bank, or homeless shelter. I suggest we make working for the peace of God our mission—peace where fewer people are getting sick or shot—peace where the Climate is moving in a healthy direction, peace where there isn’t as much need for food pantries, clothing banks, and homeless shelters. Peace—on earth as it is in heaven. 

That’s a signature mission program that comes straight from Jesus.

God bless you. God bless this parish family. And may God’s peace be with us all. 

Amen.

Sermon for 2nd Sunday of Easter 580 682 johnpaddock

Sermon for 2nd Sunday of Easter

Doubting Thomas. You all know the story. We just heard it read once again. The heart of the matter was that the other disciples had encountered Jesus on Easter evening. They had evidence that Thomas didn’t have. And so he was skeptical. 

I recently participated in a focus group that was considering proposals for changes in our homeless system in Montgomery County. In one exercise we were asked to divide the proposals into three categories: I approve, I’m conflicted, I disapprove.

I imagine that Thomas was in that middle category: conflicted. His friends believed in the resurrection and seemed to be enthusiastic about it. But resurrection? I imagine Thomas’ interior dialogue going like this. “I’m devastated by Jesus’ death. I desperately want to believe that he’s alive. I want to trust my friends’ testimony. But this kind of thing just doesn’t happen in normal experience. Maybe the others are deluding themselves. Perhaps they buried their sorrow in too much wine. I just can’t bring myself to go there without more evidence.”

The people who scare me the most in this life are those who are absolutely certain. You may know what I mean. We encounter folk like that in almost every walk of life and in every arena: true believers. Among some in the Christian world, it’s expressed in the mantra: The Bible says it. I believe it. And that settles it. 

The world is flat and was made in six days, and Eve talked to a snake who talked back, and there was this Tree, and God is Up and is a He, and boys are better than girls, and sex is only for baby-making, and there will be Pie in the Sky Bye and Bye. And so the blessing Thomas gets for having doubts is turned, by some, into a kind of curse against those who raise their hands at the end of the lecture, because they still aren’t completely convinced.

I’ve lived much of my life with doubt. To say that the Bible says something doesn’t fully settle the matter for me. I find myself asking questions like:

  • Does the Bible really say that? 
  • What does the Hebrew and Greek say?
  • Are there other explanations?
  • When was it written?
  • Who wrote that text, in what context, and with what agenda?
  • Has it always been interpreted that way, or have there been other perspectives?

As a boy and a young man I thought that I had things figured out. But then I started discovering that certain people weren’t quite as bad as I thought. Discovered in myself mixed motives. Realized that some of my heroes had clay feet. Ideals like freedom of speech, capitalism, and democracy have both upsides and downsides. 

For the longest time I said the creeds with fingers figuratively crossed behind my back, because they contained words or phrases that stuck in my throat. There were times that I thought that I was a fraud for being a priest and questioning some tenet of the faith. 

I’ve come to learn that this is a particularly Anglican sensibility. We’re true to our British roots, muddling through as they say. Even to this day the British are hard pressed to be clear about whether they want to be part of the continent of Europe or not. They like to look at all sides of a question. 

And you know what? Because I’ve doubted myself, I’ve never wanted to excommunicate, shun, or banish anyone else – with the rare exception of those who were so certain that they were willing to throw others off the bus for disagreeing or differing with them. 

Doubters save us from Nazism.

Doubters prevent us from engaging in genocide.

Doubters mitigate racism.

Psychologist and Middle East reporter Lesley Hazelton once delivered a TED talk entitled Believers and Doubters in which she called for a new appreciation for doubt and questioning as the foundation of faith and an end to fundamentalism of all kinds.

Hazelton points out that the prophet Muhammad was convinced that his first encounter with God was either an hallucination or evidence that he was possessed by an evil spirit. He was overwhelmed not by conviction—but doubt. In fact, Hazelton insists that doubt, rather than the opposite of faith is actually essential to faith. Faith arises out of struggle. Mohammad struggled to understand his experience. Jacob wrestled with the angel. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness striving with satan. Thomas strove with himself for a week—and out of that struggle he knew exactly what questions needed be answered in order to come to faith.

What is often mistaken for faith is fanaticism, an absolute conviction that those who believe like we do possess the truth with a capital “T”. “Without doubt, what is left is absolute heartless conviction.” Others, who do not accept our truth are then disposable as infidels, from the Latin, meaning “faithless”. It was applied by Christian Crusaders to Muslims and more recently, by Muslim extremists to Christians, Jews, and even fellow Muslims who disagree with them. In fact, says Hazelton, fundamentalists of all stripes are the infidels, the faithless, because they have no questions, only answers. It’s the perfect antidote to thought and struggle: certainty. 

Real faith has no easy answers. It’s difficult, because it requires an ongoing questioning of what we think we know. It goes hand in hand with doubt. 

This understanding is why many of the more certain churches grow and have large campuses and numbers. It’s why many of us in the mainline of Christianity are witnessing declining membership. Because too many are not willing to engage in the hard work of doubt and coming to faith. 

Of course, there are many other factors at play which are beyond the scope of this reflection. But Be encouraged to know, as you struggle with what to believe and question certain affirmations, that you are being faithful. You are faithful to the traditions of the world’s great religions and to our own Anglican and Christian heritage. As cracks may appear in your faith from time to time, they are allowing an opening for the Holy Spirit. As our United Church of Christ friends say, “Do not put a period where God has only placed a comma.”

In the name of God: Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier of life. Amen.

Sermon for Easter Day 534 600 johnpaddock

Sermon for Easter Day

The story goes that little Johnny was asked about Easter. Johnny responded, “Isn’t that when Jesus comes out of his grave, looks around for his shadow, and then goes back in for six more weeks?”

 Johnny had part of it right. Jesus rose from the dead. 

  • But why? 
  • What is the meaning of Easter? 

Of course, in order to understand what Easter is about we need to know why Jesus was in the grave in the first place. 

The stories of the Passion—the Suffering of Jesus in all four Gospels make it clear that Jesus was arrested, tried, and was nailed to cross in a collaborative effort between Temple authorities and the State. Jesus was a threat to both religious and secular order.

We’re familiar with his many conflicts and arguments with the Scribes and Pharisees  It’s clear from Gospels that the Temple authorities were keeping track of his many violations, and they were looking for opportunities to put an end to him and his heretical teachings. 

The threat was that they had a religious system in place where the authorities and hierarchy were in control—where everyday behavior was regulated—where conformity to established norms was the order of the day, where wealth and privilege went to a select few. Jesus’ laser focus on justice and the welfare of all and his growing popularity couldn’t be ignored. 

What may not be so obvious is why Jesus was perceived as a threat to the might of Rome. Empires maintain their hegemony by force and threat of violence. They understand that any challenge must be addressed forcefully before it grows and expands. The Pax Romana (the Peace of Rome) was based on violence. Military legions patrolled the Empire putting down both internal rebellion and external threats. Historians speak of how the Appian Way, the main road into the city, was lined with crosses—with bodies in various states of decay as a warning and means of social control. “Step out of line—and see what awaits you.”

Jesus’ followers had begun to refer to him as Messiah, Anointed One, Lord, Prince of Peace, Son of God, Born of a Virgin, Savior of the World—all titles and attributes affiliated with Augustus Caesar and the Emperor cult. When Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God, he was talking about a realm that was in direct opposition to the Kingdom and the values of Rome. 

The earliest creed of the church was the simple statement, “Jesus is Lord.” To make that affirmation was also to deny that “The Emperor is Lord.” 

In the several days after Jesus’ Palm Procession into the City of Jerusalem, hailed as King and cheered by crowds, he overturned the tables of the moneychangers and merchants in the Temple—and called into question whether it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. They had to get rid of him.

So Jesus was arrested, found guilty of heresy by the Temple Authorities, guilty of sedition by Pilate, and crucified as punishment for his crimes. A mockery of his kingship and his kingdom was made with a crown of thorns, a purple robe, a cross as his throne, and a sign attached to the cross, announcing for all to see, that here reigns the King of the Jews. 

The contrast between Jesus’ peaceable kingdom and the violence of his murderers was emphasized at the time of his arrest when one of his disciples raised a sword. “Put down the sword,” he said. “He who lives by the sword dies by the sword.”[1]

In his dialogue with Pontius Pilate, Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’[2]

Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann suggests that against this background, Easter is subversive of the death-dealing dominant culture with its focus on security, order, enforced social norms, short-term gains, and ignoring the common wealth that trades on fear, violence, and death.

Quoting Brueggemenn:

There is a countertruth that surfaces in Christian worship. It is a small counterpoint without great voice or muscle. It has been a minority perspective for a very long time. The ones who practice the counterpoint know very well that ours is not and will not be a dominant voice. It is a sub-version of reality, one that sounds beneath the loud sounds of the dominant version, one that flies low beneath the radar surveillance of the dominant version.

This delicate tension between dominant version and sub-version, I believe, is the true character of worship. The claims made in the sub-version, claims such as “Christ is risen,” are a deeply felt, eagerly offered truth. And yet in its very utterance the community at worship knows that the facts on the ground, the data at hand, contradict this and give evidence that the odor of death is still very much in play.[3]

Johnny was right about Jesus coming out of his grave. But the Resurrection of Jesus is about so much more than simply one individual who escaped the tomb. 

But we continue to affirm that “Jesus is Lord” and “Christ is Risen.” It may be a minority report. But that doesn’t lessen our confidence that it is the ultimate reality, rooted in the One who is the Ground of Our Being. 

We live in an age of violence and death, real, imagined, threatened. Gun violence, terrorism, nuclear sword-rattling, Climate Change, and this past year, a Global Pandemic. Some days that’s all that we can see or hear. Easter invites to embrace the alternate vision of a non-violent order and a different way—where lions lay down with lambs, where swords are beaten into plowshares, where universal human rights are connected to universal resurrection, where death is not the last word. This is the poetry, the deep meaning of Easter.

Brueggmann again:

“The church, by its words and by its odd acts of generosity and emancipation, opens the world to new possibility that make all the old possibilities impotent . . . .  The powers of death did their best—or their worst—on Friday; those powers did not prevail. They are shown to be helpless before God’s power for life. And the church continues to mock death and to celebrate God’s gift of life that will not be defeated.”[4]

Alleluia. Christ is risen.

The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia.


[1] Matthew 26:52

[2] John 18:36

[3] Walter Bruggemann, A Gospel of Hope, Westminster John Knox Press: Louisville, 2018, p. 14

[4] Ibid., p. 18

Sermon: Christmas Eve, 2020 150 150 johnpaddock

Sermon: Christmas Eve, 2020

At the beginning of his Gospel, Saint Luke spent more than a chapter setting up the events that led to the coming of Jesus into the world. But then Luke used only one verse to describe the actual birth.

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. –-Luke 2:7

Mary gave birth in a stable, wrapped her son in strips of cloth to keep him warm, and laid him in a manger. Her baby’s crib was a feeding trough for farm animals . . . because there was no place for them in the inn.

No place. No place for them. No other place to lay one’s head.

It doesn’t take much imagination to realize just how widespread is this experience of “no room in the inn,” no place to call home; no place to be at ease. So much of our modern Christmas mentality and Christmas mythology is about family, about home, about having a place. What’s the holiday song, “I’ll be home for Christmas?” 

And yet the one who’s birthday we celebrate was uprooted from home and extended family in Nazareth and forced to be born in a barn and to sleep in a feeding trough. And in the Gospel of Matthew, who with St. Luke also wrote a birth narrative, the infant Jesus is forced into exile in Egypt.

For many of the world’s people, both in the first century and today, the experience of homelessness is an ever-present reality. For some, they have no place to lay their head because of addiction or mental illness. Others are victims of poverty and economic dislocation. Far too many have had their homes destroyed by the forces of nature. Still others are refugees from home and hearth because of the evil, violence, and hatred that grasps and twists some human hearts.

In Bethlehem’s around the world tonight, God’s children are laying down to sleep with a cardboard box for a manger, some old newspaper for swaddling clothes, a bit of plastic stretched over a pole for a stable . . . because there is no place for them in the inn.

But we don’t have to be homeless refugees to be dislocated and to feel as if we’re not at home. So many of the certainties and securities, which many of us thought we knew, have vanished. In a world of Pandemic, massive job losses and business failures, racial and political distress, global climate change—in a universe of multiple realities, where truth is relative or time-limited, we are afloat, cast adrift, lost in a sea of ideas, beliefs, experiences and ideologies. 

The consumer culture teaches us to value things over relationships through which we discover our humanity.There is a dis-ease in the center of our souls wherein we know that we’re lost, but haven’t a clue about how to get home. This is especially true in a time where we cannot be home with all those we deeply love without putting them and ourselves at risk of illness and death. 

These past few nights many of us have been watching the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter. When we look up at the vast array of stars and galaxies in the night sky, it’s a humbling, disorienting realization that we’re but a speck in God’s vast universe. We’re refugees even when we have beautiful homes, paid up pensions, and good health insurance. We yearn for something, someone, more. We have a deep longing for a place that we can call home.

The deep mystery of God calls to us from Bethlehem’s manger. For it’s there that God became human and dwelt among us, experiencing the dislocation and alienation of the human condition. And it’s in that same manger that our hearts can discover their true home. 

G.K. Chesterton captured the wonder of such a thought in his poem, entitled The House of Christmas.

There fared a mother driven forth

Out of an inn to roam;

In the place where she was homeless

All men are at home.

The crazy stable close at hand,

With shaking timber and shifting sand,

Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand

Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,

And strangers under the sun,

And they lay their heads in a foreign land

Whenever the day is done.

Here we have battle and blazing eyes,

And chance and honour and high surprise,

But our homes are under miraculous skies

Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,

Where the beasts feed and foam;

Only where He was homeless

Are you and I at home;

We have hands that fashion and heads that know,

But our hearts we lost – how long ago!

In a place no chart nor ship can show

Under the sky’s dome.

To an open house in the evening

Home shall men come,

To an older place than Eden

And a taller town than Rome.

To the end of the way of the wandering star,

To the things that cannot be and that are,

To the place where God was homeless

And all (people) are at home.

Sermon for Advent 4, 2020 150 150 johnpaddock

Sermon for Advent 4, 2020

Blessings and joy and exultation. Such celebratory emotions have felt mostly absent this December with the possible exception of the approval of the two coronavirus vaccines. 

The Gospel speaks of the time that Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Both women were pregnant, and we’re told that when Elizabeth heard the sound of Mary’s voice she said, “The child in my womb leaped for joy.” And shortly after that Mary broke out in song, singing the Magnificat:

“My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.”

The news of the day, whatever it might have been, would probably have not been encouraging about a hopeful and joyful world. But here we discover joy and rejoicing nonetheless, despite the darkness of the world around.

A key to understanding Elizabeth and Mary’s joy is embedded in the Magnificat in the line, “He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.” The more contemporary translation is, “He has scattered the proud in their conceit.” And while that may be true, the problem as stated in the older version is with our imaginations. As we look around at the darkness and the anxieties with which we live, can we imagine a different world, a better way—more meaningful and compassionate? So Mary sings her heart out, imagining all sorts of reversals of power and wealth and help for the hungry and lowly when God reigns. 

Some years ago a professor told me, When it comes to preaching at Christmas time, don’t try too hard to explain it. Tell the story. Sing the carols. Let the poetry of the season carry the message.

Writer and researcher Diana Butler Bass tells the story of her friend, theologian Phyllis Tickle, who was lecturing in the Episcopal Cathedral in Atlanta. During a question-and-answer period, a person asked, “Do you believe in the Virgin Birth?” Immediately, another person jumped up and proclaimed, “Of course, the Virgin Birth is true! If it’s not, then how can we believe any of the rest of the Gospels?” And then a shouting match broke out with people loudly arguing various positions. 

Later on, after calm was restored and the session was over, Tickle was approached by a teenager who’d witnessed the whole spectacle. He asked, “What was that about, all those adults arguing about the Virgin Birth?” Before she tried to explain, Phyllis Tickle asked the young man what he thought. And he replied, “The Virgin Birth has to be true, because it’s so beautiful — whether it ever happened or not.”

“Sing Out My Soul” – based on Magnificat by Janet Morley 

Sing out my soul,


sing of the holiness of God: 

who has delighted in a woman,

lifted up the poor, 

satisfied the hungry,


given voice to the silent, 

grounded the oppressor, 

blessed the full-bellied with emptiness,


and with the gift of tears 

those who have never wept; 

who has desired the darkness of the womb, 

and inhabited our flesh.


Sing of the longing of God,


sing out, my soul. 

One of my favorite philosophers is Arlo Guthrie who said, “You can’t have a light without a dark to put it in.” 

Diwali in November – Hindu Festival of Lights

Just concluded Hanuhukkah – the Jewish Festival of Lights

Skandinavia – Dec. 13, Santa Lucia, Teenage girls wear crowns of candles in their Hair

Chinese New Year will be observed with lots of fireworks.

We’ve been lighting our Advent Candles—adding an additional candle weekly—increasing the light.

Here in the shortest days (at least in the Northern Hemisphere), the darkest days of  the year we Christians celebrate the birth of one who is the Light of the World. We decorate our homes and trees and communities with lights. And then after twelve days we observe the Feast of Epiphany with the wisemen following the bright light of a star.

The author of the Fourth Gospel does not have a birth story as such. But here’s how St. John spoke about Christmas.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

Joy to the World! Sing of the longing of God, sing out, my soul.

Sermon for First Sunday of Advent, 2020 150 150 johnpaddock

Sermon for First Sunday of Advent, 2020

Gurdon Brewster was a seminarian at Union Seminary in New York City in 1961 when he did a summer internship at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. Brewster was white. His father was a lawyer and his mother a pediatrician. He’d gone to boarding school at Philips Exeter Academy. He has written a fascinating account of his Atlanta summer in his book entitled, No Turning Back.[1]

What was distinctive about Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1961 was that the co-pastors were Martin Luther King, Sr. (known as Daddy King) and his son, Martin Luther King, Jr. Brewster, who’d never preached a sermon before he stood in the Ebenezer pulpit, preached a few times that summer to shouts of  “Amen!” and “Preach it, bother!” and “Praise Jesus!” It was quite disconcerting for this New England Episcopalian. But the shouts of encouragement from the congregation, were punctuated by the deep voice of Daddy King, seated nearby, saying “Make it plain, Brewster, make it plain!”

Not a bad bit of advice for any preacher, especially when the texts seem so dense, so laden with forgotten history and hidden meaning as these from Isaiah and Mark with their images of the end of the world, the great judgment, the coming of Messiah: the heavens torn open, mountains quaking, fires so hot the waters boil, sun and moon darkened, stars falling from the sky, and the powers of the heavens shaken. 

These are apocalyptic texts about the end times. But “apocalyptic” also means “an unveiling” or “revealing.” Biblical authors like Isaiah and Mark use these dramatic images of a supposed distant future to reveal something about the present. The 13th chapter of Mark was written around the year 70 of the Christian Era just as the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed and the residents of Jerusalem fled the city. The text purports to come from the mouth of Jesus forty years before as a future prophecy, but for the author of the gospel, it’s really a description of current events.

The apocalyptic language of Isaiah was actually a contemporaneous description of the destruction of Jerusalem in the first part of the Sixth Century Before the Christian Era. The Babylonians destroyed the city and the Temple, and carried the residents off into captivity for a period of fifty years. 

The Markan language about “the desolating sacrilege” and “the Son of Man coming in clouds” is actually taken directly from the Book of Daniel, another apocalypse written during the time of the Antiochus IV, the Seleucid Emperor who in 167 BCE desecrated the Temple with the sacrifice of pigs on the high altar and banned all Jewish religious practices.

So what we have here, to make it plain, are apocalyptic projections lifted from earlier contexts and applied to new, current situations.[2]

These authors are looking around at their contemporary world – especially at the earth-shaking events that called into question the survival of the world as they’ve known it – and they’re asking, “What does it mean?” and “Where is God?”

Isaiah laments, “You used to speak clearly to our ancestors, the great heroes of our past, so where are you now? You talked plainly to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Elijah. But you’ve hidden your face from us.” “Our world is falling apart. But you are the potter and we are the clay. Make us anew, and sculpt a new world for us.”

When terrorists strike, when hurricanes and earthquakes and fires and famines and floods and Pandemics occur – we, too, look back at the apocalyptic predictions from the past and ask, “Is this the time?” Is this the end? Daily, we listen to the news: economic news, the number of positive COVID tests and hospital admissions; we spin the dials of our radios, scanthe newspapers, click our keyboards, surf the channels of our televisions searching for pundits (prophets) to interpret the signs. 

  • “Is this the time?” 
  • “What does it mean?” 
  • “Where is God?”

Theologian Christopher Hutson has written:

Amid the smoke of battle, the fog of politics, the confusion of economic distress, the babble of would-be leaders wearing God masks and claiming divine authority, how shall we know which way to turn? God’s people should not be surprised or confused, because Jesus warned us ahead of time that such things would happen. 

The powers that be will lull us to sleep by reassuring us that they have our best interests at heart as they pursue their worldly agendas. They play to our fears, our prejudices, our self-interests, so we do not notice their demonic behaviors. Beware. Keep alert. Keep awake. The one who endures to the end will be saved.[3]

The reality is that although there may one day be a final apocalypse, there have already been multiple apocalypses – ends of worlds as we have known them. The Babylonian Captivity, the Antiochine desecrations, the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, The Black Plague, the Middle Passage, the Trail of Tears, the Holocaust, 9/11, multiple hurricanes and tsunamis, Global Economic Recession, climate change, the Covid Pandemic. Each was an unveiling. 

  • September 11 brought to an end the view that we were immune from evil; and revealed that the United States was not the City on a Hill and a New Jerusalem for all people.
  • Katrina revealed the racism and poverty that had been so carefully hidden from plain view. 
  • The economic apocalypse of 2008 unveiled the greed and collusion that was rampant among bankers, financial institutions, markets, government, and rating agencies. And it revealed the cooperation of many of us who – even if we didn’t know the details of what was happening – nevertheless enjoyed the easy credit, consumer lifestyles, and the upward-spiraling Dow Jones. 
  • And the pandemic has certainly revealed just how fragile we are—fragile health, fragile jobs, large and small businesses as risk.

Here at the beginning of Advent, we’re invited to open our eyes and to stay awake. As the world rushes toward another Christmas, with its Black Fridays, Electronics Mondays and 4 a.m. store openings and stampedes, let’s pause to recognize that whenever one world ends, a new one emerges. The Potter’s hand is at the wheel as she reworks the clay and recasts her creation.

The people of God are asked to watch for signs of it, and to listen for the voice of God. It’s a time of waiting for the holy to be born. 

But it’s not just a passive waiting, like a person standing at a bus stop. Rather, it’s an active time of caring for one another, serving the victims, and ministering amidst the brokenness of the latest apocalypse — all the while listening, watching, waiting on God. 

Advent – God is coming – when, where? 

God is speaking – how, what?

God is creating – why, who?

God is. Listen! Watch! Wait!


[1] Gurdon Brewster, No Turning Back: My Summer With Daddy King, Orbis Books: 2007.

[2] See David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 2008, p. 22. 

[3] Ibid., p. 24.

Sermon for The Last Sunday After Pentecost, November 22, 2020 150 150 johnpaddock

Sermon for The Last Sunday After Pentecost, November 22, 2020

Always Aim for the Center

This is Christ the King Sunday. Actually, that title is a designation that was adopted in the 1925 by Pope Pious XI.  The Episcopal name for today is The Last Sunday after the Feast of Pentecost. But since the collect for today refers to Christ as “King of Kings and Lord of Lords”, and this morning’s Gospel refers to the Son of Man sitting upon his heavenly throne—It’s been very easy to adopt the Roman Catholic term. 

The Good Friday image, of course, has Jesus wearing a crown—it’s made not of jewels and gold, but of thorns. His kingly robes are stripped from him and he reigns from a throne of wood in the shape of a cross. And on the cross is a sign naming him “King of the Jews”.

But the title of “King” still rankles in our context with its suggestion of royalty and wealth, earthly power and empire. It even spills over into our liturgical life where our bishops wear the trappings of royalty with their purple shirts, copes, and miters. 

Libby Howe, a pastor in our partner denomination, The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, recently wrote the following: 

At least in the United States, Christ the King has become a triumphalist and militaristic image of Ameri-canity bearing no resemblance to the ethic of compassion envisioned in Matthew 25. Because of this perversion, I along with other church leaders, grumble about Christ the King Sunday every year. Can we just not do Christ the King Sunday? Can we skip over the Sunday where we feel compelled to proclaim Jesus as king but use our theological scalpels to detach him from everything associated with kingship and consumer culture like wealth, conquest, victory, supremacy, and nationalism? The grumbling about Christ the King Sunday has become as much a part of the script as the holiday itself, not unlike the annual Feast of Complaining about Commercialization that accompanies Christmas. You know, right before we all go out and buy stuff.” Howe then goes on “to imagine Christ the King Sunday as Christ the Center Sunday.”[1]

Now that’s an intriguing idea. It is immediately stripped of thoughts of hierarchy and power, and it focuses us on what should really be the center, the heart of it all. Another writer, Audrey West, who teaches New Testament at the Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, shares this story of a short video about archery. 

It begins with a young man gently tossing a six-inch wooden disk into the air above his head. Seconds later an arrow speeds its way into the face of the disk, fracturing the wood into pieces that scatter on the ground beside the man’s feet. A high-speed camera, replayed in slow motion, captures the arrow’s impact nearly dead center in the disk. 

The next target is a two-and-a-half-inch plastic ball. Again, the arrow launches toward its target and hits it nearly on center. Whether viewed in real time or in slow motion, the evidence is clear.

The archer’s arrow flies three more times, each time into an ever-smaller target, a golf ball, then Life Saver candy, and finally an aspirin tablet. In each case the arrow goes straight to the mark, even when the target is not larger than the diameter of the arrow itself. 

When the show’s host asks how it’s possible to shoot an arrow so accurately using a handmade bow, especially when the target seems so small, the archer replies, “The center of an aspirin is exactly the same size as the center of a beach ball. Always aim for the center.[2]

Christ as the center of our lives: our worship, our prayers, our work, our play. Christ the center. 

I was thinking about this parable of the sheep and goats. What’s striking about them is that neither the sheep nor the goats were aware of what they were doing or not doing that would earn them eternal life with God. Both groups asked, “When did we see you hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, in prison?” 

The difference between the sheep and the goats was that the sheep were focused on doing right and caring for others—especially the weak and the poor and the vulnerable. They had the same values as Jesus. Like a laser they are those who are centered on the love of neighbor. And in this parable Jesus is saying that loving and caring for the neighbor is the same as loving God and God’s Son. “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

So here we are today, marking the end the Church year, and poised to begin a new one next week on the First Sunday of Advent. The year ending has been one of great difficulty, struggle, and grief. The year to come promises to be similar—at least until late spring or summer—in terms of the Pandemic. We’re hopeful that there will be vaccines and treatments that will be broadly available by mid-year. But both years—and all years are years of the Lord—time marked with Christ at the center . . . at the center of our devotion, the center of our ethics, the center of our behavior. 

One of my favorite hymns is St. Patrick’s Breastplate, and my favorite verse goes like this:

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

Always aim for the center.

Amen!


[1] Christian Century, November 4, 2020: Reflections on the Lectionary p. 23

[2] Christian Century, October 7, 2020: Reflections on the Lectionary p. 21

Exodus: Walking in the Wilderness 150 150 johnpaddock

Exodus: Walking in the Wilderness

Today, we begin a nine-week series of lectionary selections from The Book of Exodus

Exodus is about the birth of the nation of Israel. Gilgamesh in Babylon, and Romulus and Remus in Rome are examples of the foundation stories in other societies. In Genesis we were introduced to Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel and a host of others who represented the matriarchs and patriarchs, the ancestral tribes. In Exodus we witness the formation of a national identity as the tribes escape from Egypt, wander in the Wilderness, begin to formulate laws and worship practices that will define them as a people. In fact, the rest of the Torah and the books that follow in the Hebrew Scriptures are a continuation of these same themes that arise in Exodus. 

The great prophets of Israel continually refer back to the Exodus period as the time when the essentials of Israel’s identity emerged—not unlike the ways that some people in our land refer back to the founders to find clarity about American identity and mission…Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, Adams and so on. 

The Book of Genesis ended with Jacob’s son Joseph serving as Pharaoh’s right-hand man, administrator of Egypt’s vast food stores that had been put aside against a coming famine. The famine began and Joseph brought his extended family from Palestine to Egypt where they were shielded from starvation.

Exodus begins when, we’re told, “a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” Actually, it was at least several hundred years later, and a new and different dynasty of Pharaohs had arisen. Over those centuries the Hebrews had flourished and multiplied. 

The new king was afraid of this large number of foreigners in his land. So he “set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor to build supply cities for Pharaoh. But they continued to flourish and multiply, “so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites.” They became ruthless, imposing more and more harsh labor and tasks. 

Finally “the King of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, ‘When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him . . . .’” But the midwives refused and they lied to Pharaoh with a tale about how the Hebrew women were so vigorous that they gave birth before the midwives could arrive.

Then came the directive to the Egyptians that they throw all the male Hebrew children into the Nile to be drowned. Of course, this sets up the story of the birth of Moses and how he survived with the connivance of his mother, sister, and Pharaoh’s daughter.

These stories were so formative and powerful for the Jewish people that when more than a millennium later a young woman gave birth in the little town of Bethlehem, some early Jewish Christians told the story against the backdrop of Exodus: a child was born to be God’s anointed. When the evil king Herod heard the news, he tried to kill him by ordering the deaths of all the young male children. The baby Jesus’ parents, Joseph and Mary, fled into Egypt, only to return some years later after Herod’s death. So the new Moses also came up out of Egypt. Moses the lawgiver on the mountain of Sinai; Jesus, in his sermon on the mount, reinterpreted the law. Exodus becomes a template which we can lay alongside subsequent experience in order to discover its meaning. 

In our Exodus passage this morning, please note that the midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, are named. Pharaoh, the powerful king of all Egypt, is not. 

John Goldingay, an Old Testament scholar, wrote the following in his commentary on this passage:

Telling us the midwives’ names makes them real people; not just anonymous functionaries. They are people who revere God. Exodus knows them by name; we know them by name; God knows them by name. We’ll later discover the names of Moses’ parents and his sister. They’re real people. It is less important for the representatives of the Egyptian court to be so. Not naming them suggests that they are subordinate to the story. . . . The Scriptures have a different scale of values; it’s not Pharaoh and his daughter who count. Pharaoh is someone the newspapers think is important and powerful, yet he can be defeated by three or four women.[1]

We have all observed in recent decades, that the role and place of mainline religion and institutions have diminished in our society. New kings, new values have emerged, that don’t know the old ways. There are a plethora of new spiritual associations. The rise of social media have provided millions with virtual friendships and community that were once experienced in neighborhood faith communities. For some, the reaction has been a tighter grasp on what they call the fundamentals. Fundamentalisms have emerged in almost all of the world religions.

Others have simply left their faith traditions and communities. Some have called them the “nones”—n-o-n-e-s, not n-u-n-s—the box they check when surveyed about their religious preferences; or what Bishop Spong has called “the Church alumni association.” 

Still others, like you and me, are wrestling with questions about how to go forward when the landscape has changed. What do we do in this new environment? We’ve left the settled ways—as difficult as they might have been in Egypt. Now we wander in an unknown wilderness without familiar landmarks or maps. Is there a Promised Land in our future? What is it and what will it look like? How do we live in the meantime? These are the questions of Exodus. 

So I invite you to walk this Exodus journey with our ancestors in faith, seeking their wisdom, their insight, and the light of God. They eventually left Egypt where they were enslaved and walked into an unknown future. They walked that way, some resisting, others trusting, but everyone uncertain. May we continue to walk this way together.

In the name of God: our Creator, Redeemer, and Guide. Amen.


[1] Exodus and Leviticus for Everyone, John Goldingay, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville: 2010, p. 10

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