Proper 18A(1) Exodus 12: 1-14; Romans 13: 8-14
Grace and peace. “Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost” doesn’t sound like much of a festival, but certainly for us this morning it’s a big day. The old Sunday after Labor Day “Round Up” at the beginning of the fall this year retitled “Renaissance Sunday.” Formally marking the culmination of more than three years of work with the Opening Doors Capital Campaign, concluding successfully with pledges substantially above our initial goal of $1.5 Million. A bit more finish left here and there, as you can see for yourselves, but also a day to dedicate all the renovations and improvements this stewardship has made possible. Assuring the structural integrity of the church, providing a new floor, an accessible passageway from the church to the parish house, the new entries, restrooms, and stairways on all three floors of the parish house, a new larger meeting room downstairs in the parish house, an elevator, new heating and ventilation equipment, electrical service, plumbing. And with the creation of new resources for a reinvigorated commitment to ministry and mission and outreach locally and around the world.
It has been quite a year. A year of gestation. As the child is knit together in his mother’s womb. And now a day of celebration. New birth, getting started again. It’s going to be a gradual exploration. With a lot of listening and experimentation. Not just to go back to what everything was like before we got started, but with a nicer facility. But to open new doors, test new possibilities. To ask God to take this as an offering and to make of it what he will, to guide us in new directions.
The words at the beginning of the passage appointed as our Old Testament reading this morning seems to catch something of the spirit of the day. God’s commands to his people about the observance of the Passover, which is to be the foundation of their life as his people. A mighty miracle of deliverance is about to be accomplished before them. Something never seen before. The great historical anticipation and foreshadowing of the universal deliverance that was to be known in Christ Jesus.
You will remember what I am about to do for you, and you will tell your children and your children’s children forever. God’s Chosen, those who remember that it was he who saved them, lifted them from bondage, carried them safely though many dangers, toils, and snares, to bring them safely home. “This month shall mark for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you.”
This is a day of course when we are acknowledging what is in a sense a great accomplishment for this congregation. We’re not all that big and strong, and when we first looked at the challenges we were facing we weren’t at all sure we were going to be able to do what we thought needed to be done. But to use a baseball metaphor, the people of this congregation really did step up to the plate. There are some special heroes, as we all know. But it was truly and is truly a team effort. The whole village. Hard work, creative planning, excellent leadership, inspired and inspiring stewardship. And a home run, no question about it. A home run.
The reality is and of course the deeper point of this reading from Exodus is as a reminder of perspective. Moses didn’t free the Hebrew slaves. Moses didn’t part the waters of the Red Sea. Moses didn’t write the Commandments or lead the trek though the wilderness. Moses didn’t defeat the enemies they encountered along the way. Moses didn’t feed the hungry multitudes with manna for the heavens. Moses is chosen by God to tell the people what God is going to do--and then God does what God does.
So what is God going to do with a reinforced foundation and some new rooms and improved accessibility and an elevator? I think we’re just beginning to catch a first glimpse. There’s so much we don’t know yet, so much we can’t see yet. But if the past is any indicator, the word we might have emblazoned overhead today is something like this: “Fasten your seatbelts!”
And with that word in mind, I would ask us to turn our attention to the 13th chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans, verses 11-12, “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
And just to place along side that the words of Jesus himself, in Luke 12: “from those to whom much is given, much will be expected.”
It’s an exciting day. But it could be a dangerous day, a spiritually catastrophic day, if what we celebrate today were to tempt us to think highly of ourselves and our accomplishments.
This is a day most of all for deep humility, and for preparation, and for commitment.
It’s a great privilege to be here, of course, at this moment of new beginning. But what is happening today is not that we are being presented with a prize, but with some new tools, some equipment that will be necessary for a much bigger job that God now apparently has in mind for us.
As we have said before, if God gives you a hammer, you are right to expect that there are nails in your future.
I hope there’s a lot of excitement for that. Time to wake up and smell the coffee, as Paul has said this morning. The energy of renaissance. But I hope that there’s also some anxiety. Something of an edge. Do I know what I need to know for the work God is preparing? Am I in the right kind of shape? Where am I in terms of my manner of life, my conduct, my relationships? How am I doing in the inner space of my mind and heart?
Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.
Simply to know that God has moved in this congregation in a new way, not for our purposes but for his purposes. It’s an honor for us, something that we will now with all our heart and mind and strength want to prove worthy of. As we are honored, so as Paul says, that we would live honorably. To hear the word of the returning master in the Parable of the Five Talents, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things.”
We’ll enjoy the celebration today. And know that he who has done this great thing for us has more in mind for us, and better, than we could ever ask for or imagine.