Exodus 17:1-7 † Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16 † Philippians 2:1-13 † Matthew 21:23-32
Moses is just full of questions in this episode from Exodus.
Full of them…..
I have been thinking a lot about questions these past few weeks and months. Some of you know that I am in a new job – alongside the one I have here. New places. New situations. New life stages. They bring lots of questions, don’t they? Easy questions, and questions that can be a little harder.
I am working at the School of Theology and Ministry at Seattle University. Besides being in a new place, trying to figure out the photocopier and how to find someone to go to lunch with – the job itself involves asking lots of questions. The team I am working with is partnering with faith leaders from all sorts of different places and we are asking them what they have seen as they have lead their groups in serving neighbors who are unhoused. They are telling us what they have come do know through being in the work, and what they want and need, to be able to serve as well as they would like to. And then together we are turning to some scholars and some teachers who have done some thinking about the kind of issues that our faith communities are encountering and we are asking them…..what have you seen, what do you know…..so that together we can figure out our next best question about how to be present to the issues our communities face. As we go on our way together trying to figure out the honest-to-goodness, best next question, and then the next. I am hopeful as we go in this way we’ll see new things about who we are called to be as a community that embodies love of God and love of neighbor.
The next best question and how it gets us closer to what we are called to be. I have been wondering about this lately. It seems that we are asking questions in our local and national conversation that are not really the honest-to-goodness, best next question. Not really the thing that will promote deeper understanding and move us closer in our care for each other and the world.
I wonder instead how can we come at our questions about how we engage the issues of our time while remembering and reflecting honestly on where we have been and what we have seen, while remembering the values we have given ourselves to, and while being honest about what we really want, or really need. What would it be like to let all of these things give life to our questions of each other and of God.
I think it is significant that there is a story later in Numbers that tells us that based on the yelling and screaming that went on in this story in Exodus, Moses never made it to the promised land in his life time. He saw his people make it, but was not himself able to find the peace he had been leading his people to. I wonder if he had engaged his people and his God in questions that were formed from his memory of what he had experienced of God before, formed from his reliance on the values he had given himself to, and honest about what he really wanted and what he really needed if things might have been different. Moses, we might ask him, based on what you have seen, what you have given yourself to; based on what you really want and need, what is the next best question for your people and for you God? What are the questions that will get you closer to the peace you are looking for.
Haven’t you seen, haven’t you known, Moses, a God who is persistent and insists on freeing people from oppression. A God who has not failed to provide what you needed even when it seemed impossible. A God who has acted in the most unexpected ways to lead those who are hurting to where they need to go?
And why did you give yourself to this way, Moses? You were compelled by God’s value of love and care for God’s people, a God who will not abandon us.
And what is it that you want Moses? That you really honest-to goodness need? You want peace. You want injustice to stop. You want a community to belong to. You want to live for something better, something good. You want the promised land.
So based on all of this Moses, based on all that you have seen, and all that you value, and all that you want and need, just what is the next best question? Because the questions you have asked well they seem not to reflect these things. These questions you pose really are full of blame and vitriol for people God loves, people you promised to care for, promised to serve. And these questions they seem to emerge from a fear that God won’t show up and that you will be held responsible.
If you could find a way to let what you have what you've seen, what you know, and what you want and need, inform your questions you might ask this community to move away from the fear that God has abandoned them and instead you might think with them about where they have known God before, known love, known sustenance, and what this says about where they can find God now? Instead of blaming and yelling at those who are coming to you frightened and panicked you might consider the love that grounds you and ask… "Can we go together and look for God in unexpected places?" What if instead of worrying that you need to keep it all under control, you ask your community to hold on in the uncertainty. To help each other and to remember God's faithfulness, remember how they have seen and known God before, and trust that they will see God again.
Could those be the next best questions for Moses and his community? Could they be the next best questions for us? As we find ourselves immersed in the questions, the issues of today can we help each other to remember the ways we have seen God before? Can we go together and look for God and what God has for us in unexpected places? Can we trust that God will show up?
Jesus knows that there are pressures on us to not engage such questions. When faced with questions of his own, questions designed to entrap him Jesus asks his questioners these very questions. Could God be in the places you don’t expect, hoping to nourish us and guide us towards peace. How do you measure the presence of God? Didn’t you see God in John the Baptist? Is it possible he asks, that God might be discernible in such an unexpected place. This disturbing outsider in this inacceptable, unexpected place, but doing what God does – asking us to look for the love of God, and offering God’s forgiveness. Didn’t you see God with John? Please form your questions out of what you have seen, what you know God to be about and what you honestly, really want, and then we can have a real conversation about how God is present here now, right in front of you. But they can’t do it. They actually give no indication that they are even interested in engaging the question for what it asks. They are much more concerned with the power they wield and what they stand to lose. We hear them maneuvering, couching their answer for fear of outside pressure, fear of loss of status and control. I wonder what a different story if could have been if only for a moment, if only in their lives, if they had dared to engage Jesus’ honest question, dared to remember what God is really about, dared think together about how God comes to us in unexpected but sure ways.
So what about you? In what unexpected place has God shown up for you? Where last week, last month, did you find the sustenance you needed? Where have you gotten a glimpse of some joy, some hope that might be calling to you to come near? Did you offer some love and remember your immeasurable worth? Did you witness or maybe receive some kindness and remember who you were created to be and the kind of community you were made for? Did you see someone do something hard, were you brave, and did you catch in that bravery the breath of what’s possible in you? Have you dreamt of peace, held a sorrow, prayed with sighs for healing and a way through? Beloved in all of these things, you have been where God is. Holy Ground. And I wonder what the next best question, the next honest-to-goodness question is that's being formed in you as a result of being with God in these places. What do you want to now next because of where you have been? How do you form that question out of the love that claims you? I hope you'll find a way to share the next best question all of this raises for you. Because I think it is by following these questions together with the community God placed you in, that we get closer to what we need for all to be well.
Thanks be to God.
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St. Andrew Sermons