Ex.1: 8 – 2:10; Mt 16: 13-20
In the first chapter of the American classic, young castabout and half-wild pre-teen scallywag Huckleberry Finn tells us about how the good Widow Douglas has thought that she might rescue him from his life on the run from his alcoholic and abusive father and take him into her home to “sivilize” him, as he says, and on the first evening after a ritual of cleaning and dressing and eating at the table, all so strained and even painful for Huck (though he knows she means well and tries his best to receive her attention) , the good Widow opens the Bible. Huck says:
“After supper she got out her book and learned me about Moses and the Bulrushers, and I was in a sweat to find out all about him; but by and by she let it out that Moses had been dead a considerable long time, so then I didn’t care no more about him, because I don’t take no stock in dead people.
Pretty soon I wanted to smoke, and asked the Widow to let me. But she wouldn’t. She said it was a mean practice and wasn’t clean, and I must try not to do it anymore. That is just the way with some people. They get down on a thing when they don’t know nothing about it. Here she was, a’bothering about Moses, which was no kin to her, and no use to anybody, being gone, you see, yet finding a power of fault with me for doing a thing that had some good in it. And she took snuff, too; of course that was all right, because she done it herself.”
It’s a resonant allusion here in Huck Finn. The story of an endangered child cast out upon the waters of the mighty river in a fragile vessel. A raft.
A basket of woven grass. Yet one destined first to become a savior.
To think about the escaped slave Jim. (I don’t think we need a Huckleberry Finn spoiler alert here.) We know about him, an adult man, married, with a daughter, risking everything, his life literally on the line, in his journey from a Land of Bondage to a Promised Land. His dear hope to make it to the Free States, to work and save, and then to buy his wife and daughter out of their slavery. His only hope, the only thing in the world that matters to him. Worth everything. Risking his life. And putting it all into the hands of this boy. What is Huck? Eleven? Twelve? A boy he doesn’t really even know. But the reality is, without Huck, Jim doesn’t stand a chance.
I guess to think about Moses. As we hear a little ways on at the Burning Bush, he’s also not a likely candidate for the big job. An inarticulate, wanted criminal on the lam, married to a foreign woman. Yet he was the one who was called. And without him—somehow it has come to this, without him the Children of Israel don’t stand a chance.
A funny memory I have of a moment in my childhood. In September, 1959, --and I had to look the date up in Wikipedia—Nikita Krushchev came to the U.S. for a summit meeting with President Eisenhower. It must have been a Sunday evening that I remember, because we were at my grandparents’ house in West Los Angeles, where we often went for dinner on Sundays. The adults were all watching the news while I was sitting on the floor looking at the Sunday funny-papers. There was this moment when Eisenhower and Kruschchev were standing on an airport tarmac, and my grandfather said, pointing at the screen, “there are the two most powerful men in the world.” I remember looking at the t.v. set--. (Kind of a tiny screen in this great big mahogany console) at those black and white figures. Two bald and portly old men in dull gray suits. I mean, that’s just astonishing. Most powerful in the world?? What about Superman? What about Batman? These old guys didn’t look like they could go even 30 seconds with any self-respecting superhero!
Not sure I did any deep theological reflection at the time. But something in the scene caught my attention, and the moment has kind of lingered in my memory, as you can tell. A little bit of a funny story, but maybe also a deeper meaning, a reminder, what we might have before us this morning--that real power, real strength, sometimes is to be found in unexpected places. Unexpected people.
Another literary reference, and then I’ll stop, but perhaps what catches our attention in the film “Slumdog Millionaire.” If you saw that—really an excellent film. But just to reference the consternation and disbelief. How is it possible that this boy from the streets can know the answers?
Real power, real strength, the one who can carry us from slavery to freedom, from the land of bondage to the land of promise. Certainly the long narrative of scripture tells us that this is how God keeps working in our lives and in our world. Old Abraham and old Sarah, to be the parents of a new nation. Moses. The Boy David. Elijah and Jeremiah, pretty much all the prophets. A peasant girl in a backwater village of a backwater country. And then, the child Mary sang to sleep in the straw of the manger—perhaps an echo of that wicker basket of a raft that Moses’ mother pushed out into the Nile. The radiant glory of the Father, all Power and Might. But hard to recognize. Not what we expected.
So bringing us this morning to Matthew 16. The question at Caesarea Philippi. Confession of St. Peter. The question echoing around us and certainly before us as we come to this place. As we participate in the Memorial of his Passion. Look straight on into that ancient phrase, “the mystery of faith.”
Jesus asking. “But you. Who do you say that I am?” What do you see, when you look at me?
From the First Chapter of St. John’s Gospel. “The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.”
It is a gift, eyes that can see him, a mind that can know him, a heart that can love him. Even when he comes to us in such an unexpected way. Even when he reveals a way of life and faith for us that doesn’t make sense at all in the world as we had thought we understood the world to be.
The unexpected savior saves us in an unexpected way, so that we might be changed and made new, in ways that we never expected.
As St. Paul says in the First Chapter of First Corinthians, “we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews, foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
And so on this summer morning, as he is made present for us in Word and Sacrament, the prayer: “open, we beseech the, the eyes of our faith, that we may see him, Jesus, recognize him, know him, who will be for us Lord and Savior.”
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.