October 6, 2019
Exodus 1:8-14, 3:1-15
This is our fourth sermon in a series around our identity as church. This week our focus is on the aspect of our mission statement that says we are a people who are “Reflecting Christ through our actions.” As I hear that as a statement of who we are, our relationship with the divine should define us so much so that, those who are looking on can come to better know the divine through our actions.
But who is the divine that we seek to reflect in our daily lives, and is it the same one we are in relationship with? I ask this because one of the arguments regarding the hypocrisy of Christians is that we hold one set of standards for ourselves and a whole other set for others. That we find abundant welcome and salvation for ourselves and then, set conditions for others. So, we do need to ask ourselves what reflection of the divine are we intending to show? Instead of just looking at the Gospels to determine who Christ is that we seek to reflect, it is important to look at the whole of scripture regarding the relationship that the divine held with God’s people.
In the end of the second chapter of Exodus starting with vs 23 we hear, “After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.”
Not trying to gloss over the implication that God had forgotten the covenant that had been made with Abraham and his descendants, but it was out of the groaning and crying out that God was reminded of the divine’s relationship with the Israelites, and God acted. Where God acted in such profound way that it has been immortalized with the iconic depiction of Charleston Heston as Moses in the “Ten Commandments.” It is in the hearing the cries of the oppressed that God remembered the divine covenant with this people.
But God doesn’t act independently of the world in rectifying the Israelites oppression. Instead God acts in relationship with Moses. God, calls a murderer, an exile, someone who benefited from the oppression of his own people, to bring them up out of Egypt. God worked through this imperfect, and flawed man to answer the cries of the people. And it is this man that has been used throughout the Old testament to compare the messiah to. A prophet like Moses.
This also becomes a moment that defines how God expects the Israelites to treat others, especially the stranger or foreigner or alien. Explicitly in Leviticus 19:33-34, “Do not mistreat foreigners who are living in your land. Treat them as you would an Israelite, and love them as you love yourselves. Remember that you were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”
In the same way that the people are called throughout the Old Testament to treat the foreigner with justice, so too are they called to care for the least of these. Time and time again when issues of justice are raised it is with concern for the least of these that those in power should be mindful of the orphan, widow, alien, outcast, lame, and the other. Time and time the people who have the means are expected to be mindful of the least of these. There is the expectation that the people will keep their ears attuned to the cries of the oppressed just as God does.
But as our social circles can insulate us from the brokenness of the world, simply because we are not aware of the cries within our community, or we intentionally ignore them because it is easier to live as if we don’t know about the ills of the world. I know at times it is easier for me to stay in the office than go to community meetings where I hear of the brokenness of the world. It is easier to limit myself to the immediate community because one can be inundated with the cries of the world that are too much for one person or local community to deal with. It can be exhausting to constantly hear and listen to stories of brokenness in the world, without having a good way to tend to each and every individual. But we aren’t expected to fix every problem or heal all the brokenness on our own, but to work with the divine to do what we can in our part of the world.
Even though we aren’t expected to fix all the ills in the world there is still the expectation for us to encounter the brokenness in the world and hear the cries of the oppressed as we are called by God to work for justice in the world. We are called to reflect Christ through our actions, and some times we need to learn those lessons that Jesus had to learn according to the Gospels.
We have the question before us that needs to be answered. Who do we say that Christ is? What are those names that we give our savior?… If we are to reflect Christ in our actions then are we not called to also reflect those names as well?
Now there is another text I would have you consider today, that points back to the issue of hypocrisy that I raised earlier. Matthew 15:21-28, “Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.”He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.”
Sometimes we are faced with those issues of the world that call us to question those walls that we have placed within our lives. Those standards of who is in and who is out. Who is worthy and who is not. Earlier this week in the Tuesday Bible study we spent some time on this text and I found myself summarizing the Cannanite woman’s argument like this, “Are you willing to withhold salvation for my daughter because I am not Jewish and you think I am not worthy even though I have faith?”
Yes, my summary leaves out the dialogue between the woman and Jesus, but it gets to the heart of the debate taking place. And it points to those arguments that take place in churches all around the world today when we have higher expectations of others than we do for ourselves in regards to salvation.
As we find ourselves being faced with the brokenness of the world, and even in those spaces where we are called to question those unwritten requirements to salvation, we are still called to reflect Christ in all that we do. We are called to be present in those places where brokenness abounds at the minimum.
Simply being present with communities that are being oppressed, or shunned tells them that they are not alone. That there are people who are willing to hear their stories, willing to listen to their pain and be present, when they may feel alone otherwise.
It means speaking up for change in our society, and uplifting the voices of the ignored. And speaking out against those who would seek to further oppress those in our community with false rhetoric or hate speech.
To say that we are a community called by God to reflect Christ in our actions, is simple, forgets that the ministry Jesus calls us into is difficult and hard work. It forgets that as we are called to reflect Christ in the world so much so that others are able to better understand who the divine is because they know us, puts a great deal of responsibility on our shoulders. We should always be mindful of how we behave and treat others, especially how we listen to the cries of the oppressed and respond accordingly.