Monday, September 08, 2008

Proper 18A... The next day...

Yesterday's sermon got revised to use for Middle and Upper School chapel services at St. Andrew's today. Charlie came to lead music - he sang "Show the Way" as a prelude, and then got everyone up to sing the opening and closing songs. Don't tell anyone, but some of the students actually sang and enjoyed it. There are even reports that during "We are walking in the light of God" two students were clapping as they sang.

Exodus 12:1-14; Psalm 36:5-9; Romans 13:8-14

Summer is usually the season of blockbuster movies, of films filled with action and drama and heroes and dazzling special effects. Of course, when one of your movie buddies is a seven year old, those special effects have more to do with how real Wall-E looks than with how amazing Iron Man’s suit is (it is pretty amazing!). Still, the stories are epic and extraordinary. In something of the same way, according to the Episcopal calendar of reading through the bible, summer is the season of blockbuster stories, of scriptures filled with action and drama and heroes and yes, even special effects. The stories are epic and extraordinary.

It started on a Sunday back in May, when we watched Noah load the ark with two of every animal just as the first drops of forty days of rain were falling. We heard God promise Abraham and Sarah their descendents would number more than the stars. We held our breath when Isaac was nearly sacrificed, and again when he gave his final blessing to the wrong son. We fled with Jacob into the wilderness and dreamed there of angels and ladders. We arrived in Egypt with Joseph just in time to stop a famine in its tracks. We peered through the reeds as the baby Moses was set afloat in his basket, and found ourselves on holy ground when, years later, he stood before a burning bush.

More than one blockbuster movie has been made about what happened next. Nine plagues, each more terrible than the one before – flies and frogs and locusts and lice and sores covering the skin – incredible special effects designed to show Pharaoh the persistence and power of Israel’s God. But Pharaoh wasn’t impressed, and so a tenth plague, the most terrible, was pronounced.

That’s where we are as we begin today’s reading from Exodus. The action and drama have reached a frenzied state, and the ultimate effect is about to be unleashed… when suddenly everything starts happening in slow motion, and on the edge of our seats we shout out, “Come on!” But even the hero takes a step back, and we see God step onto the stage. With great deliberation, and with attention to every detail (I spared you most those details in our shorter version of the reading), God instructs the people on how they will remember the remarkable thing that is about to take place. It is the Passover of the Lord.

All of the action and drama and special effects, all of the heroes from Noah right through to Moses, all of the stories have led to this moment. For person by person, adventure by adventure, through rainbows and stars and dreams and burning bushes and lambs, God has been building a community. God has been strengthening a covenant, a promise of being in relationship. God has been creating a people who know that they are, before they are anything else, loved by God.

The blockbuster story will pick right back up again as Moses leads his people out of Egypt and through the waters of the Red Sea (a special effect that has baffled every film-maker who has tried to capture it). And just when we think it’s time for a happily-ever-after ride into the sunset, things get tough again. It will take forty years of wandering through the wilderness to find the Promised Land. The people will argue and complain and worry and doubt and rebel. Even Moses loses his temper once or twice.

It’s really been like that ever since, right? Following faithfully one minute, fighting fatigue the next. Being aware of God’s goodness one minute, being aware of hurt feelings the next. Trusting those with whom we travel one minute, suspecting them the next. Out there in the wilderness, we forget about the night when time stood still, the Passover of the Lord.

The Hebrew word is pesach, which we have come to translate as Passover, but it more closely means have compassion on or protect. And so it is as if God said on that night when time stood still, It is the Passover of the Lord…I will have compassion on you…I will protect you. And God did, through all those wilderness years, and God does, through all our wilderness years, and God always will.

And so we are called to be compassionate people, to love first and foremost, as we are first and foremost loved by God, even when we argue and complain and worry and doubt and rebel. Perhaps one day someone will make a blockbuster movie out of our lives. Perhaps not. There will be plenty of action and drama in our lives, and who knows what special effects that haven’t yet been imagined. Let us not forget, though, to slow down once in a while and with great deliberation and attention to every detail ask how God is passing over, how God is having compassion, how God is protecting. For, in the words of songwriter David Wilcox, It is Love who mixed the mortar, and it’s Love who stacked these stones, and it’s Love who made the stage here, although it looks like we’re alone. In this scene, set in shadow, like the night is here to stay, there is evil cast around us, but it’s Love who wrote the play. And in the darkness, Love will show the way. Amen.

Artwork: by Camilla Armstrong

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