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Pentecost 11 Proper 16A August 24, 2014

Exodus 1:8-2:10
Psalm 124
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

Our first reading this morning opens on a somber note: “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” Joseph is no longer the second in command. We do not know the details, but there has been a shift in power. The new king is threatened by the Hebrew people. They are growing too numerous and he fears their power. The pharaoh enslaves the people and forces them to make bricks and do hard labor.

Then the king moves to genocide. He tells the midwives to kill the boy babies of the Hebrew women the moment they are born. The midwives, our first heroes this morning, are actually named–Shiprah and Puah. These courageous women are not going to commit genocide. They put forth a creative explanation of why they cannot carry out the pharaoh’s orders. Then the king extends his decree to the whole population. He wants these Hebrew boy babies killed. This probably makes us think of King Herod, who , centuries later, will issue a similar order. It also brings to mind so many examples of genocide over all the years of human history. The most recent and alarming example of genocide in our world involves the brutal actions of the group called the Islamic State, or ISIS. They have killed many people, including a courageous journalist and neighbor from New Hampshire, James Foley. We pray for James, and for his family. We pray, also, for God’s guidance for the leaders of the world as they deal with this serious situation.

But back to our story. Sometimes people look at the evil in the world and decide not to bring children into such troubled times. In our story, a Levite man and a woman marry; they are people of hope. They have a son. The woman keeps her son secret as long as she can. and then she makes a little waterproof boat and puts him into it, and hides it in the bulrushes along the Nile. The baby’s sister, Miriam, keeps watch, and the miracle happens. The little one is rescued by the very daughter of the murderous king and is raised in the castle with his own mother to nurse him.

The king’s daughter knows that this is a Hebrew baby, yet she also knows that she will be able to protect this little one. She has her father wrapped around her little finger. Here this young woman, who enjoys every privilege, gives a new life to this little one and to God’s chosen people.

This is a choice we all face. When certain races or nationalities or kinds of people are being oppressed or even killed, we have the choice to realize that all people are human beings who deserve respect. The women in this story all make that choice. Because of their courage, Moses grows up to be the liberator of his people.

In the epistle, Paul is calling us to offer our whole selves to God. Not just our minds, not just an intellectual assent to the tenets of our faith. Not just our emotions. Yes, we are called to believe in God with our minds. We are called to love God with our hearts. But we are called to give all that we are and all that we have to God so that God can work with us and transform us. That is the second part of this reading. First, we have to offer all of ourselves to God, Then we have to allow God to change us, to transform us.

If we do these things, we will begin to realize on a whole new level, that we are members of Christ as our arms and legs and eyes and ears are members of us. We make up the living body of Christ.

Everyone has been given gifts by God, and each gift is equal to the next. Preaching is not more valuable than paying the bills. Teaching is not more valuable than sweeping the floor. Every person and every gift is infinitely precious and beloved by God.

In our gospel, Jesus and the disciples are in the region of Caesarea Philippi. Herbert O’Driscoll reminds us that this region is way up north near the source of the Jordan River. (The Word Today, Year A. p. 101.) First Jesus asks the disciples who people say that he is, and they report the responses they have heard. But then he asks, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter responds, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Herbert O’Driscoll wonders why Jesus has led the disciples so far north. He theorizes that our Lord leads them to Caesarea Philippi because it is far from their usual world. O’Driscoll says that as Christians, we are being led out of our former world in which the Christian faith was dominant. He writes, “We are being hauled out of the familiar, vaguely Christian culture we were formed by, into a tougher, harsher reality. And here he asks us again, in all sorts of ways and at all kinds of moments, Who do you say that I am?” (The Word Today, p. 102.)

At the end of May, Bishop Tom issued an inspiring statement called Becoming More Missional: The Episcopal Church in Vermont/ AnInvitation to be Part of a Year-Long Journey of Visioning, Discernment and Planning for Tomorrow. Beginning with the Ministry Fair at St, Paul’s Cathedral on Saturday, September 27, continuing with the pre-convention hearings on Vermont Interactive Technologies at 2 PM on Sunday, October 5, (Our group would meet in St. Albans), we in the Diocese of Vermont will be looking at ways in which our Lord is calling us to do mission. There will also be a gathering in our area in early spring.

On a local level, Bishop Tom wrote to me this past June, “It is my hope that during the Spring of 2015, you and the people of Grace Church will enter into a process we might call ‘Focusing on Grace Church’s Missional Ministries.’ This process will involve my office and is meant to take a look at the ongoing and future ministries of Grace Church. I hope this process seems a good idea to you and the congregation.” These are exciting times, and we have much good work to do.

May we again pray our Collect for today: “Grant, O merciful Lord, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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