- Posted on Sep 10, 2019
13 Pentecost September 8, 2019
RCL, Year C Emmanuel Parish
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him and holding fast to him. Deuteronomy 30 19-20]
Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:26
How do we choose life when all the rules seem to have changed?
When life does not quite go according to plan?
We hear in the Book of Deuteronomy that life always sets before us life and death and blessings and curses.
We often choose to focus on our blessings but some of life’s predicaments—our seeming curses—can be the way to new life.
It is particularly when we don’t quite see the road ahead that we have the opportunity to follow God.
Last Wednesday evening, our Choirmaster Dr Scott Rieker told the story of salvation history in 30 minutes as we surveyed the beginning of Christian hymnody for the benefit of our FSU Sacred Music Interns as well as Emmanuelites in the gathered group.
One of the stories he mentioned was the Exodus.
The Exodus is a critical story for not only the Jewish faith but the Christian faith as well.
The Exodus involves the captive Hebrews (slaves to Pharaoh and the Egyptians) walking through the Red Sea to freedom under the leadership of Moses.
Moses challenged Pharaoh and led the people through the Red Sea to dry land and the wilderness—where the People of God roamed for 40 years on their way to the promised land.
That’s what the biblical text tells us.
But the Jewish faith also expands on the biblical text through the stories and reflections on that text by rabbinical scholars over the centuries.
Where the biblical texts are sparse, the rabbis fill the empty spaces with challenging ideas and tantalizing stories.
These stories and reflections are known as the Midrash.
According to the Midrash, a big CHOOSE LIFE moment was when the Hebrew people got to the shore of the Red Sea—pursued by Pharaoh’s army—and they stood at the water’s edge.
The waters of the Red Sea had not parted. There was much anxiety for to lead the people of Israel into the water would be to drown, BUT to wait without action would be to give themselves up to capture and punishment by the Egyptians.
They were trapped.
Someone needed to be the first to go into the water to test the promise of God—who had promised to deliver them from the hand of the Egyptians.
The Midrash goes on to say that at that moment, the leaders of the tribes of Israel all gathered at the water’s edge, sat down and argued with one another about who should go into the water first!
Action was needed, but the leaders did what they knew how to do—have a committee meeting.
As time went on, the arguing continued, the hooves of horses of Pharaoh’s army could be heard approaching in the distance.
No decision was forthcoming. Anxiety and fear abounded.
One person in the group—Nashon, son of Amminidab, simply remembered why they were there and the promise of God that had brought them there, so Nashon stood up and began to walk into the water.
As the story is told, Nashon walked into the water up to his ankles and the waters did not part. He walked into the water up to his waist and the waters did not part.
Up to his shoulders, up to his chin, and the waters did not part.
Finally, as Nashon took the step that would have put his nose under the water, the waters parted.
And the Hebrew people escaped from the yoke of slavery to freedom.
Choosing Life in this instance was an act of quiet courage.
“No memorable words to be included in the biblical text, no persuasive arguments—not even the hero’s assurance that he knew what he was doing.
Nashon simply remembered the purpose of fleeing the Egyptians, remembered the promise given to Moses, he quietly got up and did what was required.
Purposeful, poised, risky.
While others argued about the right way to do things, quiet courage stepped up to fulfill the intended purpose of the moment.”
This story begins a book called Quietly Courageous: Leading the Church in a Changing World by longtime church consultant Gil Rendle. (see pages 3-4)
Main-line denominations are in a time of CHOOSING LIFE when there are no easy answers.
From our Hebrew forebears, the people of God have always faced such times.
Wilderness times. Seeking to build the Kingdom of God with no easy roadmap to follow.
Rendle argues that “instead of looking for saviors (or magic formula) we should be calling for leadership that will challenge us to face problems for which there are no simple painless solutions—problems that require us to learn new ways.”
Unlike in the 40s, 50s and 60s, when church work had a certain proven formula that seemed successful—build the buildings and programs and they will come—we are in a different time.
We no longer need church technicians who come in and apply known solutions to known problems (in the business world, called Technical work)….No, in order to choose life, we must do what the Israelites did—
We are called to do ADAPTIVE WORK—work that is done when one is faced with a solution that is not a problem, but a changed environment.
Something is not broken to be fixed…life is simply different.
I think that New Testament folks—Followers of the Way—would call this kind of work—the Cost of Discipleship!
At the waters of baptism—just like at the edge of the Red Sea—hard choices will be made in order to choose life.
Discipleship is not a onetime action but a process.
A process that takes time and involves false starts and modest successes.
A process that is a journey of fits and starts as we learn to live the holiness that resides in each of us and as a community.
It is a process of facing life’s challenges and joys, blessings and curses with a spirit of love, hope, faith and peace that leads us ever deeper into a radical life of witness in the world.
We become like Nashon and begin to take risks in Christ.
As we remember the millions that have been affected by Hurricane Dorian, we might think about what happened in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 some years ago.
Rather than accept the slow pace of the federal government in the rebuilding of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, many people of faith traveled to the area—often repeatedly—to help rebuild, using whatever skills they had and resources they could gather.
This is an example of the People of God coming alive as disciples of Christ to help their neighbor.
In these moments of decision between death and life, the People of God—knowing whose they are and what they are to do—step out in faith.
Often we don’t know what that looks like until we are challenged by the curses and deaths in life.
For example, look at how a wall of peeling, wet plaster in the John the Baptist Chapel has revealed a whole new unexpected part of our life as Emmanuel.
We would never have this beautiful space of the Chapel of the Resurrection without taking the first step to address the plaster—which seemed like a symbol of the decline of the church.
In our weaknesses, we find our great strengths. We learn how to choose life again.
In our wildernesses, we give up control and can be transformed, be made new.
As we move toward the Celebration of the Berry Bequest on Sunday, October 6, the Emmanuel Vestry is again at the water’s edge.
We have a great legacy to uphold here at Emmanuel.
God is giving us signs of new life—often in the challenge.
Just as in the wilderness, one challenge is met and gives way to another.
Our next challenge is our Washington Street stone wall.
On your way home today, take a walk down Washington Street and look at our stone wall.
It is beginning to break apart.
A century and more of wear, tear and water build up—clearly part of our drainage issues lie within that wall.
You will see that for the safety of Emmanuel and our community, we will have to address the wall….we’ve consulted the experts and it means taking it apart, addressing the drainage underneath and rebuilding it will require a goodly amount of money
It’s time to act…so you will hear more about our wall, the bequest which is confined to Rose Hill Cemetery and more at our Parish Meeting on October 6.
We’ll paint an honest picture with you all of our current reality.
There is no going back.
There is going forward in quiet, purposeful courage—as the People of God.
In the wilderness together toward the Promised Land.
Choosing Life in Christ at every turn.
(c)2019 The Rev. Martha N. Macgill