Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
Proper 16/Year A August 23, 2020
Gospel: Matthew 16: 13-20
Celebrant and Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes. Sermon: "Let's Be Clear" (Exodus 1:8-2:10; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20) Crucifer/Candles: Mr. LeGrand Jones Gospel Book/Bells: Mrs. Dianne Jones Readers: Mr. LeGrand Jones (First Lesson), Ms. Ester Marion (Epistle) Intercessor: Mrs. Dianne Jones Altar Guild/Flowers: Ms. Christine O’Donnell Visibility: Dr. Gerene Thompson (video) Music: Ms. Gina Spano (Keyboard); Choir: Ms. Katherine Knippel Greeter: Ms. Karen Bauer Usher: Ms. Christine O’Donnell Counters: Ms. Christine O’Donnell, Ms. Karen Bauer
Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, August 23, 2020
Let’s Be Clear
As a priest, one of the many joys of serving as a pastor is listening to the many stories woven throughout the congregation. These life journey accounts inevitably feature the natural twists and turns of life, with careful attention to include the joys that produced belly laughs and the sorrows that forced tears to flow.
In the sharing of these winding, sacred stories, the gift of a spiritual narrative emerges which offers glimpses into when God felt present for the person and how the person experienced God clearly acting on their behalf. These revelatory moments of God’s presence and intervention, throughout one’s life, allows for rich deposits of faith points that connect to strengthen their faith foundation. “I know that the Lord was with me,” is a common theme of these spiritual narratives.
Woven throughout our Old Testament reading in Exodus, are instances in which God was with his people. This narrative tells of the Egyptian king who had just come to power and was taken aback by the fruitfulness of the Israelites. So many Israelites stoked his fears of rebellion, and he choose to prophylactically oppress them. But God was with his people, and acted through the system of oppression in order to move His will forward for the liberation of the Israelites.
The king intended to deal shrewdly with the slaves by increasing the forced labor, but his efforts to curb their population failed. The more he oppressed the Israelites, the more they multiplied.
So, Pharoah turned his tactics toward two Hebrew midwives—Shiphrah and Puah—to make life and death decisions according to his will, ordering them to kill the newborn boys, and to let the girls live. This was his genocidal plan to prevent the possibility of violent uprisings. We read that the midwives feared God and did not carry out Pharoah’s murderous plan.
When Pharoah asked why they had defied him, the clever midwives positioned themselves, not as disobedient, but as latecomers to the vigorous birthing of Hebrew women, claiming that the babies arrived before they could get to them. Twice, Pharoah had set out to, in his words, “deal shrewdly” with the Hebrews, but he was the one being shrewdly dealt with by the midwives.
In our epistle in Romans, Paul said, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom X). We see the midwives risking their lives, acting in opposition to the human will of Pharoah, and in obedience to God.
And, because the midwives feared God, and did not conform to the ways of Pharoah’s world, God rewarded the Hebrew people with families, further increasing their population. Pharoah’s tactics could not stop God’s forward movement of God’s people.
It is ironic that Pharoah’s escalated, and final, order to drown the Hebrew boys in the Nile, would systematically eliminate the necessary male workers needed for productivity in society. The king’s irrational tactic was also used against him to move forward God’s will for the deliverance of his people.
Had it not been for the terror created by Pharoah’s murderous actions, the Levite mother would have had no need to hide her newborn son, and after three months, place him amongst the reeds in hopes of preserving his life. Once again, Pharoah was being shrewdly dealt with by God. Out of all of the Hebrew boys to be drowned, the one whom God would use to liberate His people not only survived, but would be raised as the son of Pharoah’s own daughter. She would name him Moses.
I am reminded of the image of the sluice gate—a tool of engineering used to control water flow in a river. As the sluice gate controls and retards water flow it forces the water into different directions, resulting in rich deposits of gold and gemstones. The redirected water flows into places that are outside of its anticipated path, but the water is not stopped.
Metaphorically, the Israelites represent God’s flowing water, redirected, not stopped, by the interventions of the human sluice gate, represented as the Egyptian king. The sluice gate is at once an instrument of redirection and an instrument of God’s grace, with deposits of God’s favor showing up as life’s river continues to flow.
Along life’s winding rivers, sluice gates appear in the form of people, institutions and circumstances. While life flows ahead, the sluice gate can certainly redirect one’s movement, and divert one’s attention, from discerning the will of God to conforming to the ways of this world. I believe that we can look to the Hebrew midwives in Exodus for the clue about how to flow with life’s sluice gates when they appear in our lives, and how to recognize the residual gifts which manifest as rich deposits of faith points connecting to strengthen our foundation of faith. And, here’s the clue: THE MIDWIVES FEARED GOD. They were clear that the God of Israel, was the one true God, and they lived in awe of Him. Clarity about God’s identity translated into clarity about their own identity as God’s people.
Similarly, clarity about who Jesus’ identity is the foundation of our faith as his followers. In our gospel passage in Matthew, Jesus asked his disciples two questions: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” and “Who do you say that I am?”
The answer to the first question ranged from Jesus was John the Baptist, or Elijah or one of the other prophets. Those people were correct that Jesus was a prophet, but they were unclear that he was more than a prophet. “Who do you say that I am,” Jesus asked his inner circle. And, Peter’s confession was clear, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Peter’s clarity about Jesus’ identity established the rock-like strength upon which Jesus’ church would be built.
Because of the clarity of Peter’s confession, Jesus gave him the keys of the kingdom of Heaven with the authority to bind and loose in heaven and on earth.
Our clarity about Jesus’ identity as the Son of the living God, the head of the church and the author of our salvation necessarily gives us clarity about our own identity as Christ’s body in the world.
As this expression of the body of Christ, Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, much like the body of a human child, is entering a new phase of life—from toddler church plant to adolescent mission church. We would be wise to anticipate the challenging growing pains and potential dangers to the life of the faith community caused by internal and external sluice gates that will emerge to redirect our path.
One self-imposed sluice gate that can inevitably hinder our growth as a beacon of Christ’s light in the inability to be clear about who Jesus is. Be clear that Jesus is God incarnate—fully human and fully divine. Be clear that Jesus is the only son of God. Be clear that the sinless Jesus died for the sin of the world. Be clear that after he died, God raised him from the dead on the third day. Be clear that in baptism we are not only joined with him in a death like his, but joined with him a glorious resurrection like his. Let us be clear. Let us use that power of clarity to bring others to the one who saves all souls.
And, as long as we fear God, and are clear that the Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, we can live with clarity and with hope of functioning, each with our different God-given gifts, as one, unified body, of which Jesus Christ is the head.