Lectionary: EK sermon text Matt. 16, 13-19; 1st reading Acts 19, 1b-6a (Roman Cath.); 2nd reading Numbers 11, 11-12,14-17, 25-29 (Roman Cath.); Gospel John 3, 16-21 (Roman Cath.)
by Rev. Rosalind Gnatt, United Church of Christ, Wiesbaden (Germany)
When we talk about sustaining anything, be it the environment and its multiplicity of life – from plants and animals to the air we breathe and the water we drink – or the striving for humane and respectful living on this earth for all of God’s creatures, we need to practice sustainable thinking. For anything to be sustainable, it needs to have roots; it needs to grow, be flexible, stay connected – like the parts of a tree. A leaf cannot exist without its connection to the root. Interconnectedness is vital to life in all its forms.
Whether we like it or not, we are connected. We can’t go it alone. This is one of the reasons we need to read, preach and include the readings of the First Testament in our theological learning and teaching.
Numbers 11, 11-12,14-17, 25-29 When Moses couldn’t take it anymore…
You know the story – people are complaining. They’re tired of eating the same stuff day in and day out. They miss the comforts of the good old days in Egypt. They don’t see an end to the months and years of wandering. Moses complains to God: “Did I give birth to these people?” he asks. “Why am I supposed to carry them in my arms like a mother with a nursing baby? I can’t do this alone! I can’t carry them all myself! If this is the way it’s going to be, just kill me now. Do me a favor and spare me the misery!”
Don’t we all, in our service to family, church, the worthy causes we strive to support, sometimes feel like Moses – like it’s beyond our power to go a step further? I do. God’s remedy was not to just fix the problem, but to help Moses ask for help. God told him to gather a core of reliable people together to help carry the load. God spread Moses’ spirit among the group so that Moses wouldn’t be carrying the burden alone. Interesting, isn’t it? God spread Moses’ spirit among the group. The spirit was already there, waiting to be shared. God’s magic was the magic of sharing – sharing the burden.
Acts 19, 1-6 Repenting, believing and action
Paul visits the small group of believers in the city of Ephesus – the home of the great temple to the Goddess Artemis. He asks them if their change of heart – their belief – transformed them – if the Holy Spirit came to them. They said no – what is a holy spirit?
As a child, I used to wonder what the grownups meant by believing… it certainly didn’t seem to mean what Jesus had in mind. It was just a word, a phrase: I BELIEVE. It seemed to have little to do with Jesus and the way he tried to teach us to live. Just “believing” isn’t enough – If belief doesn’t lead to change, the declaration alone is an empty gesture.
There are three things in play that are essential to change:
Repentance – something is wrong; I am a part of the problem; I need to change.
Belief – Jesus gave us a roadmap to the kingdom of heaven on earth; this roadmap guarantees the reign of peace and justice. But building the kingdom is too great a task to accomplish alone. Like Moses, we need to ask for help.
Action – the Holy Spirit, the God-voice in Moses and in us, accomplishes with us, what we cannot do alone.
Jesus asked his followers, “why do you call me Lord, Lord, but you don’t do what I tell you?” If we do what Jesus told us to do; if we believe what he told us about how we should live, we would, he promised, have the power to move mountains.
Matthew 16: 13-19 – Peter; not the best and the brightest.
From what we know about Peter, he was neither the most loyal nor the most intelligent of the group of friends Jesus had gathered around him. A fisherman by trade, he was a laborer and would have had no formal education. We see him in his various misadventures as a hothead – one who leaps to action without thinking about the consequences. Historians suspect he was a Zealot – one of the groups that advocated violent resistance against Roman rule.
Peter wanted Jesus to say that he, Peter, was the greatest of his followers. Jesus shows the group a little child: if you want to be the greatest among you, be like this child – quite a put-down since Peter was among those who had tried to shoo the children away from Jesus. Peter, among the small group that witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration as he talks with Moses and Elijah, jumps in an offers to build each of them a hut – he just had to make himself important. The list goes on: Peter cutting off the ear of a soldier sent to arrest Jesus; Peter denying he even knew him after Jesus was arrested. The hothead big shot Peter was constantly getting it missing the point, doing the wrong thing. Despite his bravado, he wasn’t brave enough to stand by Jesus in his hour of crisis. He wasn’t able to understand Jesus and his message of peace.
But Peter got one thing right: when Jesus asked his friends, “who do you say I am?” Peter spoke up: “You are the anointed one, the living son of God.”
When the Spirit calls someone to action, that someone may not seem the best person for the job. Peter certainly wouldn’t have been my choice to be founder of the church of Jesus. But the Spirit does call us to the work of building the kingdom of God on earth. We can refuse, of course. But we can also take Jesus’ advice and, like children, say, “Okay – I’ll give it a try.” God knows, the world needs us – imperfect as we are and yet perfectly made as children of God.
I want Jesus to walk with me (African-American hymn)
Vertraut den neuen Wegen – EG395
Von guten Mächten – EG65
Brother, let me be your servant (Sacred Harp tradition)
Words of Wisdom:
A human being is part of the whole, called by us “Universe”; a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts, and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of our consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures, and the whole of nature in its beauty.
(Albert Einstein, 1879 – 1955)