Monday, August 29, 2011

God Calls....Sermon for Proper 17

Last week I preached about the Exodus text.
About Shiphrah and Puah, the two midwives,
who refused to follow Pharaoh’s orders
to kill the boy babies of the Hebrew women.
And about Pharaoh’s daughter who pulls a baby from the Nile,
embraces him as her son and names him Moses.

It was not one of my shorter sermons.

I decided last Saturday night
to try to write the essence of that nine page sermon
in haiku form.
Haiku, if you recall, is short three line generally non-rhyming poem--
5 syllables in the first line, 7 syllables in the second,
5 syllables in the final line.
You get the idea.
It’s short.

So here is what I wrote based on that Exodus text from last week:

Shiphrah and Puah
sparing babies Pharaoh’s doom.
Moses laughs down river.

A three line sermon.
Even when I read it slowly,
it’s only ten seconds.
For some of you that might be your sermon dream come true!

This week our lectionary continues the Exodus story.

This week’s old testament reading
is about Moses and the burning bush,
about answering a call from God.

I believe we are all called by God.
Not just Moses.
Not just those who have had burning bushes
flame before their very eyes.
Not just clergy.
God calls every one us
to do God’s work in the world.

What is this work of God?
For Moses it was leading the Israelites out of bondage.

For Peter and the first disciples
it was to try to make sense of what Jesus was saying to them
so that they could tell others.
Even when they didn’t understand it all,
they still knew it mattered.
And they felt called to share that good news.

God calls us to different work,
using our different and very diverse gifts.
Throughout theological history,
people have tried to give us some guidelines
on how to live a holy life,
a life that nourishes us with goodness
as our opening collect says this morning.

Paul’s letter to the Romans
tells us how we should go about doing God’s work.
You heard that list of things we need to do.

Sometimes I think we tune out Paul.
We start to read or to listen and our brain goes,
Oh goes Paul with his list of
oh don’t you wish you were as perfect as I am.
I don’t think that was Paul’s intent.
I think he’s just trying to help us brothers and sisters in Christ.

It’s probably a lot like preaching a sermon--
sometimes people will leave the services
and say, “Well, I know you were preaching to me this morning!”
Actually, about the only person I think I can preach to is myself.
But God opens our ears
to hear what we need to hear sometimes.

So I want us to imagine,
this portion of Paul’s letter to the Romans as a t-shirt.
That’s right a t-shirt.

Paul’s Top 20 List for following Jesus

(Now I am going to use the language from THE MESSAGE, Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the New Testament, but you can follow along with your scripture insert which has the New Standard Revised Version translation)

1. Love from the center of who you are. Don’t fake it.
2. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good.
3. Be good friends who love deeply.
4. Practice playing second fiddle.
5. Don’t burn out. Keep yourselves fueled and aflame.
6. Be alert servants, cheerfully expectant.
7. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder.
8. Help needy Christians.
9. Be inventive in hospitality.
10.Bless your enemies (no cursing under your breath).
11.Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down.
12.Get along with each other.
13.Don’t be stuck up.
14.Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.
15.Don’t hit back.
16.Discover beauty in everyone.
17.If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody.
18.Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. That’s God’s job.
19.If you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink (your generosity will surprise him...)
20.Don’t let evil get the best of you. Get the best of evil by doing good.

It’s not a simple to-do list.
Perhaps there are one or two things that really called your name.
Maybe each of us only needs a top 2 or 3 things list.

Jesus kept it simple:
Love God. Love one another.

Paul is giving us some tips on how we live into that kind of love.

This kind of love is not easy.
It may cost us everything.
But it’s worth it.
It’s so worth it.

Now back to Moses and burning bushes and being called by God.
When you go through the discernment process
for the priesthood
you are asked (make that required)
to write a spiritual autobiography.
Depending on your age and your journey,
that can take pages and pages.

I had one of those pages and pages spiritual autobiographies.
But during that time of discernment,
I was still doing consulting work for museums
and was traveling--a lot.
One stormy afternoon I was sitting in an airport
waiting on a delayed flight.
To pass the time
I decided to write my spiritual autobiography--
the abbreviated version.
I had a little notebook and I decided it had to fit on one page.
Not quite a haiku--but short.

I don’t remember the whole thing--short as it was--
but here is how it started:

God called.
I was appalled.
I was resistant.
God was persistent.

God calls each of us.
We have to listen.
Maybe we hear clearly.
Maybe we see the burning bush on our first morning out on the mountain.
Or maybe it takes years.
But remember,
God is patient and God is persistent.

God expects something from each of us.
There is a holy way of living we are called to discover--
and to live.

We can try to line it out like Paul did--
our top 20 list--
or we can just try to keep it simple--

Love God. Love one another.
This love is costly. This love is difficult.
But it’s worth it.
It’s so so worth it.

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