Saturday, September 6, 2008
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, 2008
The Finding of Moses by Pharaoh's Daughter, 1904, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912)
August 24, 2008 XV Pentecost (RCL Proper 16A) Exodus 1:8 – 2:10; Matthew 16: 13-20
In the year or so since we began using the Revised Common Lectionary I’ve made the point a number of times that in its ‘narrative track” the lectionary is designed to give us longer connected passages of the Old Testament, and in a general sense anyway is plotted out week by week without any explicit attention to the themes and concerns of the other readings. And yet at the same time, again and again, as we hear the readings, I just can’t help but see connections.
I suppose not surprising, as we would say that in and through and over and above all the different stories of the Biblical tradition there is the golden thread of the one story, the deep and persistent and ultimately triumphant story of God’s loving intention to bring all things and everyone into new and reconciled relationship with him.
So of course there are connections all over the place. And this morning, at least to say that this morning the wonderful ancient story of the birth of Moses, in the time of a Pharaoh who no longer remembered the special role of this Hebrew people in the days of Joseph. In a forgotten corner, in a time of persecution and hopelessness, there is this one mother who hopes against hope. Who tries this crazy plan, launching her newborn out into the river in that fragile ark. And there is the brave sister, who approaches the Pharaoh’s daughter. And of course the royal daughter herself, tenderhearted, perhaps the one person in the Ancient Kingdom who would dare to disobey the royal command. No way in the world this could work.
And yet, underneath it all, we know it will. We know that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who sustained Joseph in his slavery and his imprisonment and who led him in his day to fulfill the vocation of God and to be the savior of his father and brothers—never was that God going to abandon his people. He hears their cries, and a baby floats downstream, and a new chapter begins. The great story of deliverance and transformation, the children of the Patriarchs now about to become a new nation and people, God’s Israel. A new chapter begins.
And then this conversation at a resting place on the road outside Caesarea Philippi. All the great readings of the past few chapters of Matthew in the back of our mind. The Sermon by the Shore in Chapter 13, the Feeding of the 5000 and the incident in that storm out on the Sea of Galilee, as Jesus came to them walking over the waves in chapter 14, and the healing of the Canaanite woman’s daughter in chapter 15, as we heard that story last week. All these things jostling together in the minds and hearts of the disciples as they sit with him here, resting after a long walk on a warm afternoon. What to make of them?
And then here a breakthrough, as Peter, jumping in with the same enthusiasm that he showed when he leapt out of the boat a few chapters back to walk on water himself, Peter feels it all and sees it all click into place and blurts out this Confession of Faith, this word that suddenly reframes everything: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And all at once these strange and wonderful moments in the remote backwater of rural Palestine are lifted to their place in the great story. Here too, a new chapter. When they stopped for their rest they were a group of friends on a journey, but when they got up again, they were the Church. They were the Church, in all the richness of that word in sacramental life and salvation history. The Church on a mission. The old story of deliverance now the story of their lives: God’s loving intention to bring all things and everyone into new and reconciled relationship with him.
So that’s the connection. How again and again through this great story God acts to create and renew and transform his people. Oppressed slaves cross through the parted waters of the sea and are reborn as a great and holy nation. Simple peasants from a forgotten backwater encounter God’s living presence in the person of Jesus and are filled with the Spirit and sent forth to announce the Kingdom. “And even the gates of Hell will not prevail against you.”
And of course the moral of the old stories is that there is more to these stories than old stories. That they speak not just to a world long ago and far away, but that they are and can become our story as well. If we let them. Open our eyes and ears and minds and hearts to their spirit and power. That the same God whose loving hands sheltered that tiny paper boat as it floated down the waters of the Nile has his hands and his arms around us as well. He didn’t abandon his people then, but was faithful to them, and worked through them to fulfill his promises, and to bring them into a new generation of life, freedom, and holiness.
And he is faithful to us. Light in our darkness. The hand that carries us, so that we don’t slip down into the water. That the same God who stood with the Twelve on that road outside of Caesarea Philippi, the friend whom they knew now for the first time to be their Lord and their Savior—he is with us as well. With us to heal what is broken, to forgive, to restore the lost, to lift us up into the fullness of his everlasting life.
Stories of identity, of meaning, of healing and transformation, of the goodness of God’s presence and of his faithfulness. Old stories, that can be and are, generation after generation, new stories, and that can be our stories.
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.