Sermon Preached September 10th, 2017
Perhaps you have heard the phrase by the novelist James Joyce, “in the particular is contained the universal.” This idea might be helpful to keep in mind when considering today’s readings. The portion of Exodus is all about the details of the Passover ritual meal, Paul’s letter to the Romans reminds us that love is the fulfilling of the law, and the Gospel of Matthew gives instruction on how to deal with difficulties between members of the church.
Over the course of a few months I noticed that a set of drawers were not functioning properly, with some effort I could get them to work but then after a little while of using them they’d not work again. Eventually I took all the drawers out and realized that a tiny but important part was missing.
A life of faith can sometimes feel like that, we can forget that in the very details of our daily lives is where we find God. We can forget to ask what’s missing --- we assume it’s all there and sometimes we need to get back to the basics, turn things over, look for the original instructions.
Rituals help us slow down and pay attention, whether that ritual is Passover or simply saying a short prayer before we begin eating a meal. Perhaps those who put together the lectionary wanted us to see that practicing forgiveness is as important a ritual as Passover and requires a level of discipline, patience, planning and intention. Just like the Israelites were given specific instructions about how to prepare the Passover meal, from how to cook the lamb to what to wear while eating it, the Gospel of Matthew gives a step by step process for how to confront someone who has hurt us.
1) First talk to them.
2) If they don’t listen, bring a few folks with you
3) If that doesn’t work, bring it before the whole community, and if that doesn’t work
4) Treat them as you would a non-believer or a tax collector.
Of course, Jesus hung around a lot with nonbelievers and with tax collectors but I think the point is that this means you just move on, and let go of the matter regardless of how you feel about it, don’t let that wrong pollute your heart and mind or take you away from your walk with God.
This has been a profoundly challenging time for our nation and for the world. In the midst of so much fear and anxiety, from hate groups marching on Charlottesville to multiple deadly storms, heat waves and wildfires, remembering who we are, and whose we are can provide us with courage and hope.
Our reading from Exodus today reminded me of a story that former President Barack Obama shared at his last Hanukkah celebration in the White House recalling a story of Ellie Wiesel:
In one of his memories of the Holocaust, Elie watched a fellow prisoner trade his daily ration of bread for some simple materials with which to piece together a makeshift menorah. And he wrote that he couldn’t believe the sacrifices this man was making to observe the holidays. A stunned Elie asked him, “Hanukkah in Auschwitz?” And the man replied, “Especially in Auschwitz.”
The Passover, is the most important of all Jewish holidays, and is about remembering God’s liberating power, freeing the Hebrew slaves from bondage in Egypt. This story is foundational to our faith tradition as well, much of our Eucharistic language surrounding the meal of bread and wine we share each week in Protestant and Catholic Churches is connected with Passover. While communion is a reminder of and mysteriously an enacting of Jesus' last supper the very meal Jesus shared with his disciples was Passover. There are so many things to say about Passover and about the connectivity of this powerful tradition with our own. But there's also a danger I think in many of our Christian traditions to over explain, to say far more than needs to be said, forgetting to honor the simplicity, the earthiness, and the mysterious timelessness of these ritual meals of liberating power.
Whatever the context we are in, or our world may be in, the Passover and communion meals in staying pretty much the same over many century's hold an immense power to shift things in human minds and hearts toward hope and courage. As Paul might say, these rituals, can awaken us for loving our neighbors as ourselves. Imagine for a moment all the places Passover or communion has been observed, from those in mortal danger to those at the front lines of movements for human rights. One of my seminary professors often reminded her students of when during the Vietnam war era seminarians and clergy opposing the war held a service of communion at the entrance to the Pentagon.
As a priest working with faith communities of all sorts on addressing the moral questions of the climate crisis these readings remind me that our faith traditions have so much to share with movements for positive change. A Berkeley artist friend who has made a life of helping activists communicate their messages through the visual arts reminded me once that faith communities are so valuable because we know the importance of sharing stories. Without stories our faith traditions would be largely long lists of dos and don'ts, and the same is true for social movements. If we don't tell stories of how we got from one place to another, how humanity has overcome mighty empires, systemic evil and unbelievable suffering than how will we find our way through our current struggles?
So today we are reminded to tell stories of liberation, to share food and to reach out to those who may have wronged us. One of the gifts of my current job is I get to visit many communities of faith and hear the stories of their engagement on climate change, from planning a solar rooftop project to championing fossil fuel divestment and clean air protections. What has been so inspiring is discovering that these communities by doing these things are remembering and embodying values they've always had, love for neighbor, concern for the suffering and a commitment to work across difference for the sake of the common good. I am so glad to know the Sei Ko Kai is exploring solar and I hope that as you embrace this shift in how you power your building that you think through how this connects to your community’s long history of advancing human progress. Add this new 21st century development to the powerful narrative of your community’s resilience, perseverance, and enduring commitment to love your neighbor as yourself.
I look forward to hearing your stories after the service this week and next. Thanks so much for welcoming me.
-The Rev. Will Scott