Trinity 11: Who do You Serve?

As I read the passage from Exodus (the Old Testament reading set for this week), there is a sense of familiarity with our own cultural climate: Joseph’s family had grown and his descendent became numerous, God had certainly blessed Israel’s inheritance. As time moved on, though, Joseph was forgotten. The way in which Joseph served Egypt and Egypt’s king, the way he had heard God’s warning about famine, and had governed Egypt so that it would thrive in such difficult times, had been forgotten. All that Pharaoh knows is that these Israelites are numerous, too strong and many for his liking. Pharaoh feared the strangers in his land, even those who had been born there, whose parents and grandparents had been born there, Israelite-Egyptians who knew no other home. But Pharaoh was scared that should an attack come, the Israelites would choose to fight against Egypt instead of with Egypt.

So Pharaoh listened to his fear, he spoke fear to others and put fear into practice as he chose to oppress the Egyptians forcing them into slavery, treating them bitterly and ruthlessly; but God continued to bless Joseph’s descendent, and despite their forced labour, they continued to grow. The fear in Pharaoh grew to dread, oppression to hatred, slavery to murder.

But this isn’t a story of men in power or even corrupt men in power, or how fear and power can corrupt men. This story is about the women who refuse to be corrupted: the women who fear God more than Pharaoh, the women who value life more than they fear death. When Pharaoh hits upon his plan of ethnic cleansing, wiping out the Israelites by killing off the newborn boys, the midwives refuse to play. The midwives, ordered to kill all newborn boys, instead fulfilled their vocation of aiding women to bring life into the world, and when they were challenged, claimed that the Israelite women were too strong and too quick to need the help of a midwife.

This is also the story of the mother who refused to let her son be murdered: the woman who looked upon the child she had given birth to and saw that he was ‘good’, just as God, at creation saw humanity as good. This is the story of the woman, who when she realised that her son had a voice that demanded to be heard, built him an ark and launched him out on the waters. This is the story of the big sister who kept watch and kept her wits, so that she was able to offer her mother to be her baby brother’s wet-nurse, thus keeping the family together. This is the story of the Egyptian princess, who despite the decree of her father to all his people to kill Israelite baby boys, chose to keep this one as her own child and to raise him as a prince within the Pharaoh’s own palaces.

This is a story of people, of women, who have chosen love over hate, who have chosen perseverance over oppression: this is the story of faithfulness, of keeping faith in the God who had saved them from famine and would now save them from slavery. Each of these women chose to serve God: not hate or fear or dread, and certainly not the Pharaoh.

Who do we choose to serve?

In the gospel passage we are reminded of how Peter recognised in Jesus something more than just a good teacher or religious leader, something more than a rebel with a cause of justice, mercy, peace and love. Peter recognised in Jesus divinity ‘you are the Messiah’, he says.

You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.

It is in this understanding, this knowledge of the divine and recognition in Jesus of someone worth not just following but worshipping too, that Jesus will build his church. Peter’s faith is the rock on which we all stand when we choose to follow Jesus, when we recognise that Jesus is the only one worth living for, worth living our lives for, living them in accordance with his guidance and direction and purpose. Just as the midwives chose despite the dangers, just as Moses’ mother chose God despite her fear and dread, just as the princess chose love instead of the hate that her father was breeding.

And what of us? Who do we choose in a culture of fear of being overrun by immigrants? Who do we choose when our healthcare seems to be breaking under the strain of refugees? Who do we choose when our own children can’t get a place in the local school, or struggle to find a job? Who do we choose when English isn’t the most common language we hear spoken? Do we choose, love or fear? Do we listen to the midwives or to the Pharaohs?

Paul encourages the Roman Christians living in a time of fear and persecution, to hold on to the calling that Jesus has placed upon their lives, to keep listening to God:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect. [Read it here.]

The midwives refused to be conformed by the commands of the king of Egypt, they continued to worship God, to serve God, and to bring life and hope to the suffering Israelites.

Something to watch:

Something to think about:

  • How do you think you would have responded if you were a midwife in the time of Pharaoh?
  • What enabled the midwives to act for good?
  • Why do you think Pharaoh’s daughter rescued Moses?
  • How do you think Pharaoh would have felt when he discovered what she had done?
  • Are there times when you have been asked/ordered to do something that you have felt uncomfortable with?
  • How do you remain faithful when under pressure?
  • How do you choose what is good and Godly when other voices speak louder?
  • How can we support each other to be ‘living sacrifices’ for God an not to be conformed by the world about us?

Something to pray:

Great and wonderful God,

we thank you for your gracious call to be your people, your children, your Church; to live and work together as the Body of Christ, bearing witness to him through our words and deeds.

Remind us today of the responsibilities that involves but also the privilege, the challenges it entails but also the rewards, the expectations it brings of us but also the promises it brings from you.

Come now, and equip us to honour your call, to your glory. Amen       Nick Fawcett

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Trinity 10: Let them eat dog food?

I am always a little stumped by this passage. It was one of the first that I ever preached on, when I was first beginning to explore where God was leading me, a female Gentile. In preparing for that first sermon, I imagined Jesus with a cheeky glint in his eye, a smile and a wink for the woman to let her know that he wasn’t testing her, but those around him. They surely would expect Jesus, a Jewish teacher, to turn this unclean woman away: he isn’t really challenging her, but them, and the proof of this is in his ultimate meeting of her request and the healing of her daughter. Read it here.

But over the years I have looked at this in many different ways. The parable of the lost sheep, after all, is a story in which the shepherd doesn’t go searching for other people’s sheep in order to give them a better home, he goes searching for the rebellious sheep from his own flock who has gone astray. Jesus seems serious about the statement that he is not here to look out for outsiders, for Gentiles.

Today, however, I notice for the first time that this episode is taking place in Gentile territory. Jesus and the 12 have taken refuge away from Jewish eyes, and are taking a break on her turf. She is a desperate mother and he has brought himself close to her home.  Jesus wasn’t a stranger to travelling through Gentile areas, for him it was a place of relative safety, a place where he could rest and spend time teaching his disciples without the Pharisees and others seeking him out and trying to entrap him. Certainly his reputation has gone ahead of him: this mother has faith in him to heal her daughter, she refers to him as ‘Lord’ and ‘Son of David’. This encounter also comes directly after Jesus has been preaching and teaching about what defiles a person, what makes them unclean – he shakes up the old standards of insiders and outsiders: If eating food that isn’t Kosher, or from bowls and dishes that have not been ceremoniously purified, doesn’t make a person unclean, then surely spending time with Gentiles doesn’t either.

Jesus refers to the woman as a dog. It still isn’t a pleasant term to call a woman. It was a common racial slur, but the woman turns it around, she uses the term to mean a ‘lap dog’ or ‘favoured pet’, and even they get to eat the titbits from their owner’s table. Jesus is moved by her passion as she pleads for her daughter, for her healing and for the right to be accepted into Jesus’ kingdom, welcomed at his table.

Today we meet at Jesus’ table: we who should be the outsiders, the dogs begging for crumbs, are welcome. At the Lord’s table we find healing and hope and a sense of belonging. Jesus calls us, invites us, to meet with him there. And as we do so, we remember this story, this woman’s bravery? Courage? Wit?

We do not presume to come to this table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table. But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy.                                                       1662  Book of Common Prayer

What are we seeking as we enter church each Sunday? Do we come with any expectations or with a sense of entitlement? We so often take for granted the mercies which have been bestowed upon us, the mercy which bids us welcome; do we perhaps need to remind ourselves of the humility of the Canaanite woman who came begging upon her knees?

Something to watch:

 

Something to think about:

  • What is the most unusual invitation you have received?
  • Have you ever been turned away from somewhere because you didn’t ‘belong’ or fit in?
  • How do you receive the invitation to meet at the Lord’s table?
  • Do you feel like the welcome guest, the favoured pet, or an unwelcome outsider? What made the difference?
  • Why do you think Jesus treated the woman as he did?
  • What do you think made her respond in the way that she did?
  • How do we extend Jesus’ invitations to others?

Something to read:

The Desperate Mother

Something to Pray:

Gracious God, remind us as we worship you that you see not the outside but the person beneath; that you look beyond the appearances to the thoughts of the heart. Save us then, from empty show or superficial piety, and teach us to approach you instead in faith and humility, knowing that your love extends to all who truly seek you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen                                      Nick Fawcett

 

 

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